OPINION: Dumping ground for junk

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Can we assert ourselves as a world-class country and economy if others see us as willing and happy receivers, thus a good place to dump their waste and junk? Often, this is at the cost of compromising the welfare and safety of our people.

Can we assert ourselves as a world-class country and economy if others see us as willing and happy receivers, thus a good place to dump their waste and junk? Often, this is at the cost of compromising the welfare and safety of our people.

With large numbers of poor Filipinos forced to make their living combing through trash in garbage dumps to find something of value therein, we as a country seem all too willing to be that dump for other countries’ wastes and discards in order to do the same. These have ranged from outright garbage sent to us in container loads, to used vehicles and obsolete equipment of questionable safety and efficiency, and on to dirty industries that otherwise would not be allowed to operate in their origin countries. I need not expound further on the container loads of literal garbage shipped to willing importers here, some of which we have occasionally sent back to their source countries with much hullabaloo, even as we all know that a lot more must have already gotten through.

Through the years, chemical products and drugs banned overseas for being hazardous to human lives and the environment have found a willing market in our country, where laws and regulations are slow to catch on to international safety and environmental standards — and even when in place, are easily circumvented anyway due to lax enforcement. To this date, our farmers and households routinely use harmful pesticides and other chemical products long banned abroad. Food preparations from you-know-where are all over our markets even with questionable compliance with safety requirements in both the origin country and ours. Our authorities seem happy to look the other way, especially when importers are only too willing to pay the right price for such laxity.

In the 1990s, sugar industry players acquired discarded 1950s-vintage equipment from overseas to replace their 1920s-vintage machines, and called it “modernization.” The sugar industry where they came from had upgraded to state-of-the-art technology. But here, with an exceptional 50-percent tariff protection, our own industry could afford to be 50 percent more costly and inefficient—hence the junked decades-old machines were “puwede na” (good enough). This history of persistent trade protection for a sector that wielded much political clout, coupled with a US sugar quota system that effectively subsidized our producers for decades, led our sugar industry to the vulnerability it finds itself in now that liberalization is inevitable, after pushing it back for decades. It’s the same story that we’re seeing in rice, now caught in the midst of painful adjustment.

A current challenge now has a direct bearing on our government’s ambitious “Build, build, build” infrastructure development program, particularly on the integrity and safety of the public structures it is putting in place. It has been a longstanding clamor of the country’s legitimate steel producers that their quality products are being priced out of the market by inferior, substandard and unsafe steel products flooding us from China. The latter is saddled with overcapacity and large numbers of now outlawed induction furnaces that churn out inferior-grade products from molten scrap metal. The problem with these induction furnaces is that they do not remove impurities from the molten steel that compromise the product’s tensile strength and safety, which is why the Chinese government itself has banned them. Here again, we have seemingly become a willing dump not only for the inferior products, but also for large numbers of the outlawed equipment used to make them.

Our government, through the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has finally formed a joint technical working group (TWG) to take action to curb these, after many years of pleas from our legitimate steel producers. The TWG is but a first step, and one hopes that the effort doesn’t suffer the “death by committee” that many a government initiative had suffered in the past.

They say someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure — but certainly not when it compromises human health and endangers lives.

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