The cargo ship M/V Bavaria
The cargo ship M/V Bavaria waits for loading of containers as it is docked at Subic port in Zambales province, northwestern Philippines, on Thursday. The Philippines shipped 69 containers of what it's officials called illegally transported garbage back to Canada. Image Credit: AP

Manila: A shipment of waste that has become a source of diplomatic stress between the Manila and Ontario is heading back to Canada six years after the containerised cargo arrived on Philippine shores.

“Finally, the containers of garbage transported from Canada and stored at the Subic Bay Freeport for several years now have been pulled out as of today, May 31, 2019,” Wilma Eisma, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chair announced before noon on Friday.

A total of 69 containers filled with all sorts of garbage were loaded onto the Liberian-flagged container ship MV Bavaria for a several days voyage to North America. The ship was commissioned by Canada to take back the shipment to its point of origin.

“This is one proud moment for all Filipinos,” Eisma said.

The containerised trash, composing of all sort of refuse from plastic bags to household waste and soiled diapers, were part of a total 103 containers brought to Manila and Subic in Central Philippines between 2013 and 2014. The importer, Chronic Plastics of Ontario and its Filipino counterparts had labelled the shipment as “recyclable materials” to get it past customs, but as it turned out, the cargo contained garbage and possible toxic waste. Through the years, some of the wastes had been disposed off in landfills.

The shipment of trash has been a source of strain in relations between Ontario and Manila. The cargo had reached the Philippines during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, but it took up the term of term of President Rodrigo Duterte, to resolve the issue.

Duterte had earlier chided that he is ready to go to war with Canada if it continues to delay action on taking back the shipment. Canada relented and took back its trash.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said: “The garbage is gone, good riddance. I am not interested in what the world thinks … Canada pulled all stops on this: seamless cooperation.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson welcomed Duterte’s gesture but said, “we will await further developments on future garbage return expeditions to Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong and God knows where else.”

Last May 23, Duterte prohibited Philippine officials from travelling to Canada amid the spat with Canada over the trash. The directive from the Philippine leader came ten days after Manila downgraded its diplomatic presence in the North American country by ordering back to Manila several of its diplomats.

Immediately after the departure of the Canadian shipment of waste from Subic on Friday, Locsin withdrew the order for the recall of the Filipino ambassador and consuls to Canada.

“To our recalled posts, get your flights back. Thanks and sorry for the trouble you went through to drive home a point,” Locsin tweeted.