Senators want to revisit VFA, probe on toxic waste dumping

THREE senators on Tuesday filed separate resolutions seeking to revisit Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and investigation on the alleged dumping of hazardous waste in the territorial waters abutting Subic Bay by a US Navy contractor for violation of all existing laws in the protection of the environment.

Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Loren Legarda all agreed to have the probe in aid of legislation, by revisiting provision in the VFA on waste management, to look into possible violations of environment laws by Glenn Defense Marine USA, and to prevent the recurrence of the incident.

Santiago said that the contractor may have violated our environmental laws including Article 8 of the VFA, which provides “Vessels operated by or for the United States armed forces may enter the Philippines upon the approval of the Government of Philippines. The movement of vessels shall be in accordance with international customs and practice governing such vessels, and such agreed implementing arrangement adds necessary.”

“The overarching principle in the VFA is that all activities of the United States armed forces in the Philippines, and the entry and exit of its aircraft, vessels, and vehicles to and from the Philippine territory, shall be subject to the prior approval of the Philippine Government , however, Glenn Defense Marine reportedly has not secured any permit required by the Philippine government to collect and dump waste in the Philippine waters,” Santiago explained.

She said the contractor violated the Administrative Order No. 2001-28 dated October 12, 2001 which is the Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) on the Protection and Preservation of the Environment during the VFA-Related Activities in the country, which reads as:

“Military exercises and related activities undertaken under the VFA shall be in accordance with the country’s existing environmental rules and regulations such as the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, Solid Wasted Management Act, Clean Water Act, Indigenous People’s Rights, Wildlife Act, Cave Management Act, Toxic Substance and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990 and other related environmental laws, rules and regulations.”

Santiago reiterated that under Section 2 of same administrative order: “Activities that shall involve or result to the following are prohibited in the exercises: generation of toxic and hazardous waste, use of nuclear materials and substances that result to permanent pollution of air and water bodies.”

For his part, Pimentel said that the VFA cannot be used as a cloak to violate Philippine environmental laws and thereby allow any person or firm to deliberately contaminate our seas with impunity

“There might be a need to revisit the VFA to ensure that under no circumstances may the US or any of its agents be allowed to freely dump their toxic, hazardous, and possibly radioactive wastes in any part of our territory, be it on land or in our seas, with impunity,” Pimentel said.

On the other hand, Legarda stressed that there is a need to establish how the VFA commission ensures, in coordination with Philippine agencies, the enforcement of the VFA provisions guaranteeing respect for Philippine laws in connection with the implementation of the agreement and its related activities.

“This investigation, in aid of legislation, will be a necessary step for us in order to re-evaluate the implementation of our environmental laws and to ensure that implementation of Philippine treaties and agreements with other countries will continue to serve the paramount objective of protecting the national interest,” Legarda concluded.

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