MANILA, Philippines – The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) urged legislators to be resolute in seeing through the enactment of a policy to free taxpayers from paying fraudulent, wasteful or useless debts.  At the same time, FDC commended members of the Senate for agreeing to include a special provision for a debt audit in the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“We concur with Sen. Loren Legarda’s statement that it is incumbent upon Congress to know what we are paying for and why we bear such huge obligations,” Dr. Eduardo C. Tadem, FDC President, said.

Tadem was referring to Senator Legarda’s response to Senator Risa Hontiveros’ interpellation that cited FDC’s initial information on 20 questionable loans with interest payments automatically appropriated in the 2017 budget. He added that most of the loans were from the Asian Development Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the World Bank and were earmarked for large infrastructure projects.

 

“These projects were littered with corruption, bloated budgets, violations of legal procedures, and used as lender’s conditionality for implementation of policies and programs that damaged our environment and distorted our development,” Tadem added.

FDC lamented, however, that a thorough review of all public debts could have been underway as early as the 13th Congress when a joint resolution for the creation of a Congressional Debt Audit Commission was passed by the House of Representatives.

The Senate, however, failed to act on the resolution as it was caught in the midst of the political crisis besieging then President Gloria Arroyo, who was also involved in the controversial US$329 million loan-funded ZTE National Broadband Network Project. The project was later cancelled.

Tadem stressed, “At that time, we could have already avoided the hemorrhage of public money into payments for debts that never benefited, and even harmed, the people and environment. Instead of satisfying lenders’ interests, we could have used the funds for essential social services that directly address poverty and inequality.”

FDC has been pushing for a debt audit upon finding that onerous loans continued even after the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who not only bankrupted public coffers but also buried the country in a $26.4-billion foreign debt.

FDC remains optimistic that the current Congress, and President Duterte himself, will champion the principles of responsible borrowing and lending starting with a comprehensive examination of all obligations of the national government including government-guaranteed loans of the private sector.

“A debt audit is an assurance that loans will be prudently used and that the people and environment won’t again be made sacrificial lambs for unfair loan terms and misuse of funds. This is what real change should be about,” Tadem concluded. ###

17 November 2016

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