Santiago eases phantom fear of waste from Japan
by Fel V. Maragay, Manila Standard Today (Philippines)
9 August 2008 – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago yesterday accused groups opposed to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement of creating phantom fears that the country will be exposed to toxic wastes from Japan if the trade treaty is ratified and implemented.
Santiago, chairman of the committee on foreign relations, said that although up to l4l waste products are slapped zero tariff under the bilateral accord, there is no basis for the allegation by non-government organizations that the country will be transformed into a dumping ground for such prohibited materials.
“Zero tariffs will not encourage importation of toxic wastes because Philippine laws and regulations strictly prohibit or regulate them. Zero tariff does not mean unregulated trade,” Santiago said.
The Junk JPEPA Coalition has warned that the new deal with Japan will open the floodgates to the entry of toxic wastes and other banned or controlled substances such as ozone-depleting substances and chemicals, organic pollutants and even nuclear wastes.
Meanwhile, Senator Mar Roxas, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, filed Senate Bill 25l6 imposing stiffer penalties on persons who are caught bringing in toxic and hazardous wastes from other countries.
The bill will amend the Toxic Substance and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of l990 (Republic Act 6969) to bolster measures to safeguard human health and the environment.
Santiago cited another major existing law, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003). To enforce these laws, she said the Environment Department has likewise issued implementing rules and regulations that ban or restrict the importation of ozone-depleting substances, polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury and mercury compounds, cyanide and cyanide compounds and recyclable materials containing hazardous substances.
According to Santiago, the Philippines and Japan are both signatories to international treaties on toxic wastes such as the World Trade Organization agreements and the Basel Convention of l989 on the control of trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal.
Citing general rule that a special treaty prevails over a general treaty, Santiago said that since the Basel is a special treaty, it prevails over the Japan-Philippines agreement, which is a general treaty as far as dealing with hazardous wastes is concerned.
She said the Japanese assurance that it will abide by the ban on the transfer of hazardous substances was further buttressed in an exchange of notes on May 23, 2007 sent by then Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Aso to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.
In that communication, the Japanese foreign minister said: “I am pleased to confirm the statement and commitment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Japan would not be exporting wastes to the Philippines as defined under the laws of Japan and the Philippines, in accordance with the Basel Convention.”
Roxas, co-chairman of the Senate JPEPA panel, said while the new trade treaty in no way allows Japan to dispose of or ship its industrial and other wastes to the Philippines, there is still a need to add more teeth to the law as a deterrent to the prohibited acts.
“Our law, RA 6969, as well as the Basel Convention, clearly prohibits the bringing in of toxic wastes into the country. The JPEPA doesn’t change this in anyway. What we can do is to raise the penalties against violators, to show that we mean business, and that our people’s safety comes first,” he said.
At present, the penalties for violation of section l3 (a) to (c) of RA 6969 are imprisonment of six months to six years and a fine of only P600 to P4,000. The Roxas bill seeks to raise the penalties to imprisonment of six to 12 years and a fine of P250,000 to P500,000. Offenses covered include: knowingly using a chemical substance banned by RA 6969; the failure or refusal to submit necessary documents upon inspection by the Environment Department; and failure or refusal to comply with the pre-manufacture and pre-importation requirements as stated by law.
Any violation of section l3 (d) of RA 6969 on the bringing in of prohibited substances, will be punishable by imprisonment of 20 to 40 years and a fine of P5 million to Pl0 million. At present, the penalty is imprisonment of l2 to 20 years. For corporations, an additional penalty of P20 million is imposed, up from the present P500,000.
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