QUEZON CITY – Around 100 members of the Women’s Committee of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (WC-FDC) rallied the House of Representatives this morning, in time with current budget plenary debates.  They joined thousands of other activists worldwide marking ‘Debt Repudiation Day’, which is a part of the week-long Global Action Against Debt and International Financial Institutions (IFIs) annually organized by Jubilee South – Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JS-APMDD).

This year’s Debt Repudiation Day honors the memory of Thomas Sankara, former president of Burkina Faso in Africa (1983-1987), who fought against “odious debts” and women’s rights. Shunning all foreign aid, Sankara and his government eroded the influence and power of IFIs, which pushed loans among developing countries in the name of poverty alleviation in order to use their position as creditors to gain domination and control.

Debt repudiation is a long-standing call for the non-recognition and non-payment of “illegitimate debts,” or those debts damaging to communities and the environment, and fraudulently contracted by or at the behest of people in positions of power. One popular example is the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) contracted by the Marcos regime. FDC pursues an audit of debts deemed illegitimate through an independent body composed, among others, of respected national and sectoral leaders, human rights advocates and academics.

The women also marked International Rural Women’s Day. Women in rural communities work up to 12 hours a day, doing housework, engaging in fisheries and agricultural production, and vending and marketing their products. But these are often rendered as unpaid work, resulting in the invisibility of women’s work in economic production. They are also among the least served in terms of social and health service delivery. In support of rural women, the rallyists called for an increase in the government’s budget for social and economic services, including for the enhancement of the agricultural sector’s developmental and productive capacities.

The rallyists chanted “Stop paying illegitimate debts! Debt audit now!”, to the tune of beating drums. They likewise strongly demanded Congress to urgently and immediately repeal the Marcosian Automatic Appropriations provision for Debt Service in the 1987 Revised Administrative Code. The women activists also stressed the need for this policy in the light of the country’s financial difficulties and the urgency of financing social and economic programs.

Toward this end, FDC’s female activists also loudly called on the Congressional leaders to declare a debt moratorium pending the thorough audit of all debts; repudiate blatantly illegitimate debts and renegotiate those with onerous terms; and investigate illegitimate debts, starting with 14 cases of “debts…challenged as fraudulent, wasteful and or useless”.  

These 14 cases have already been identified in both Special Provision No. 1 (“Use of the Fund”) and Special Provision No. 2 (“Reporting Requirement”) covered under the heading “Debt Service-Interest Payment” Bicameral Conference Committee Report for House Bill No. 2454. The probe into these debts had earlier been proposed for the 2008 General Appropriations Bill duly ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Mae Buenaventura, one of FDC’s Vice-Presidents, said, “the audit of potentially illegitimate debts and their non-payment could free up funds for urgent needs, such as health, employment generation, food security, housing and disaster preparedness.” She added that, “unmet social and economic needs translate to heavier burdens for women and girls who, by default, render care labor to make up for the services that are no longer publicly subsidized.”   

Judy Miranda, one of the coordinating team members of the Women’s Committee and Secretary-General of the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) noted that, “because of the government’s inability to effectively finance social and economic services, households are forced to make out-of-pocket expenses for education and healthcare, which strains the very limited family budget. Women shoulder the brunt of this unjust situation because, aside from the unpaid care labor they do at home, they have to earn additional income just to make ends meet.” ###

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