MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to go to war with Canada was just a “figure of speech” the country’s defense minister said, amid increasing anger in the southeast Asian nation over a garbage disposal issue.
Duterte told the Cabinet earlier this week that he had given Canada a deadline to take back tons of garbage that were illegally shipped and dumped in the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.
Previous reports said the waste was wrongly declared as scrap plastic intended for recycling, when it really contained household trash, used adult diapers, and electronic waste.
“I cannot understand why they are making us a dumpsite?” Duterte was reported to have said. “I will not allow that kind of s***. I will declare war against them. We can handle them anyway.”
But the country’s defense minister played down Duterte’s threat. “It's just a figure of speech to dramatize his extreme displeasure,” Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Wednesday. “If it were me, I would run after the importer of this garbage,” he added.
Canada, for its part, appeared taken aback by Duterte’s displeasure.
“Canada is strongly committed to collaborating with the government of the Philippines to resolve this issue and is aware of the court decision ordering the importer to ship the material back to Canada,” read a statement from the embassy in Manila.
“A joint technical working group, consisting of officials from both countries, is examining the full spectrum of issues related to the removal of the waste with a view to a timely resolution.”
Canada amended its regulations on hazardous waste shipments to prevent such events from happening again.
“We are committed to working collaboratively with the government of the Philippines to ensure the material is processed in an environmentally responsible way.”
But its attempts to appease the Philippines, invoking “common interests” and “mutual commitments,” may not be enough.
“The 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries will be put to naught if Canada will not act with dispatch and finality the resolution of this undiplomatic episode to which we take outrage,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, warning of a diplomatic fallout.
The presidential palace acknowledged “Canada's quick but vague statement” in response to Duterte’s comments on the waste issue, he added.
“We take note that its response is not appropriate to the strong statement we made against its throwing its garbage to our land,” he said, and emphasized that the Philippines’ stand against being treated as Canada’s waste disposal unit was non-negotiable.
“It cannot dilly dally ... It must retrieve them pronto or we throw them back to its shores. Its offensive act can not be countenanced and any further discussion on the matter is unwelcome and unnecessary. Not only has it not taken any decisive action on this arrant hostile demeanour, it has not likewise expressed regrets thereto. That it (Canada) even considered performing such an outlandish disposal of its garbage to an ally is dangerously disruptive of our bilateral relations.”