Philippines recalling its diplomats from Canada over trash shipments

The Philippines is recalling its ambassador and consuls in Canada over Ottawa's failure to comply with a deadline to take back garbage that Filipino officials say was illegally shipped to the Philippines years ago.

Duterte threatened to 'set sail to Canada and pour their garbage there' if it wasn't removed

Filipino environmental activists wear mock container vans filled with garbage to symbolize the containers of waste that were shipped from Canada to the Philippines. (The Associated Press)

The Philippines is recalling its ambassador and consuls in Canada over Ottawa's failure to comply with a deadline to take back truckloads of garbage that Filipino officials say were illegally shipped to the Philippines years ago, officials said Thursday.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that the Philippines "shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there." The drastic move is the latest strain in Philippine relations with Canada under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte threatened last month to forcibly ship the containers of garbage back to Canada and dump some at its embassy in Manila if Canadian officials don't take back the waste. Officials later set a May 15 deadline for Canada to comply.

"Canada has repeatedly conveyed to the Philippines government its commitment to promptly ship and dispose of the Canadian waste in the Philippines," a statement from Global Affairs Canada said. "We remain committed to finalizing these arrangements for the return of the waste to Canada.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seen in this 2016 photo, said last month that he wanted a boat prepared to ship the garbage back to Canada. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

"Canada is disappointed by this decision to recall the Philippines ambassador and consuls general. However, we will continue to closely engage with the Philippines to ensure a swift resolution of this important issue."

Locsin said in his tweet that letters for the recall of the Philippine ambassador and consuls in Canada have been sent and that they were expected back in Manila after about a day.

"That recall shows that we are very serious in asking them to get back their garbage, otherwise we're gonna sever relations with them," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference.

'Sore point' for Filipinos in Canada

At least 103 containers of household trash, including plastic bottles and bags, newspapers and diapers, were shipped in batches from Canada to the Philippines from 2013 to 2014. Most of the shipping containers remain in two ports in Manila and northern Subic freeport, sparking protests from environmental activists.

Philippine officials say the trash was falsely declared by a private firm as recyclable plastic scraps and have asked Canada to take back the garbage.

The Liberal MP who chairs a parliamentary friendship group between Canada and the Philippines says the ongoing garbage war between the two countries is both embarrassing and unlikely to end soon.

Kevin Lamoureux says it's "a sore point" for some of his constituents, many of whom have family in the Philippines and are embarrassed by Canada's inaction.

"I'm disappointed that we were not able to try to get this thing resolved before the May 15 deadline, but it just wasn't possible," Lamoureux told the Canadian Press.

Duterte raised the garbage issue in a speech last month while officials from both countries were already discussing a resolution to the matter. The volatile president said he was ready to "declare war against" Canada over it.

"I want a boat prepared. I'll give a warning to Canada, maybe next week, that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail to Canada and pour their garbage there," Duterte said, adding he would ask Canadian officials to "prepare a grand reception."

"Celebrate, because your garbage is coming home," he said. "Eat it, if you want to."

Court ordered waste be sent back

The Canadian government said through its embassy in Manila after Duterte's provocative remarks that it "is strongly committed to collaborating with the government of the Philippines to resolve this issue." It said it was aware of a Philippine court ruling that ordered a private importer to ship the waste back to Canada.

Lamoureux said Canadian laws mean the garbage couldn't simply be moved overnight. He said Canada issued a public tender on Monday seeking a company willing and able to bring it back. He said he hopes there will be a decision within two weeks and that the garbage will be Canada-bound before the end of June.