TAGOLOAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 23 January) – As soon as the 2,400 tons (2.17 million kilos) of toxic waste that would be returned to South Korea were loaded on the cargo ship and government officials, environmentalists and most of the media had left the compound of the Verde Soko Philippines Industrial Corporation in Sitio Buguac, Barangay Santa Cruz last Sunday, several children suddenly appeared from the bushes to rummage through the mounds of garbage left behind, using their bare hands.
They had been hiding to avoid getting arrested for collecting the highly toxic waste scattered in the four-hectare facility.
Thirteen-year-old Jesmar Nabong and five other boys aged 10 to 12, were about to pick the garbage when they saw a group of journalists approaching them.
Thinking they were policemen out to arrest them, the boys ran.
It took a while to convince Nabong and his friends to come out and when they did, they told a story of how the garbage has provided them money to buy school supplies and food for their families.
“We come here after classes every day. We come here on Saturdays and Sundays,” the 7th grader son of farmer-parents, said.
Other children from Sitio Buguac also come here after classes. “There is so much garbage left here in the open and many of my neighbors come here every afternoon,” Nabong said.
Ports Collector John Simon said some 2,700 tons or 2.45 million kilos of garbage from South Korea have yet to b returned to that country.
Last Sunday January 19, some 2,400 metric tons of garbage were loaded on a cargo ship that was to sail Monday to Pyeongtaek in South Korea, leaving 2,700 metric tons more that Simon hopes will be shipped out on February 9.
A total of 6,500 tons (5.9 million kilos) of waste arrived in two batches in July and August 2018, the first shipment in July — 5,100 tons or 4.62 million kilos — immediately sent to the Verde Soko facility here.
The second shipment of 1,400 tons (1.27 million kilos) arrived in August 2018 and was also brought here.
The shipment caused an uproar among local government officials as residents of Sitio Buguac started complaining of foul smell from the facility.
Officials from Verde Soko then claimed the shipment was reusable plastic for use in their recycling factory in Sitio Buguac.
But lawyer Abbas Lao of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Northern Mindanao said their findings indicate that the shipment is hazardous and pose major health risks to residents of Sitio Buguac.
He also said Verde Soko had no import permits for the shipment.
Simon said the South Korean government paid P10 million for the Maersk MV L8H Nordmarsh to load the garbage in 60 container vans back to Pyeongtaek, its port of origin, in accordance with the Basel Convention.
Last year, the South Korean government also paid for the first shipment of 1,400 tons.
The remaining 5,100 tons were supposed to have been shipped out by February last year but it took another year before a portion of it – 2,400 tons – was shipped out.
Simon hopes the remaining 2,700 tons of garbage will be returned back to South Korea on Feb. 9 and not wait another year.
Tagoloan Mayor Gomer Sabio said the local government unit is paying around 50 persons the amount of 100 pesos each to put the garbage in big chutes so they can be loaded into the container vans for shipment.
“The problem is that most of the garbage are laid out in the open, exposed to the elements,” the mayor said.
Sabio said they have detailed a small team of policemen at the facility to drive away scavengers.
Entering the compound
The policemen rarely leave their station at the front gate so “when we see they are not watching, we enter, Nabong said, adding they search the garbage for plastics and if they are lucky, precious metals like bronze from electrical wires.
According to Nabong, a small bag of shredded plastic, can fetch 24 pesos, enough to buy them school supplies and snacks.
Bronze fetches 200 pesos a kilo and his friends hoard it to sell later. “We hoard the metal together and sell it. Sometimes we get 2,000 pesos for it,” he said.
He said if they hit it big, they buy rice for their family.
Nabong and his friends claimed they have not encountered serious health problems. “Just be careful not to pick that yellow filter on the garbage heap. It will burn your skin,” he warned.
He pointed to a discarded insulation filter that causes skin, eye, and respiratory irritations when in contact with plastic or fiberglass.
Nabong said when they touch the yellow fiber they experience skin irritation and the itch disappear when they take a bath. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)