This morning, around 100 women under the banners of Welga ng Kababaihan Laban sa Kahirapan at Globalisasyon and Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) Women’s Committee trooped to the House of Representatives urging lawmakers to increase state subsidy for health and suspend foreign debt payments in the proposed 2009 national budget, in view of the food, fuel, and financial crises.

Welga ng Kababaihan Laban sa Kahirapan at Globalisasyon
Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) Women’s Committee

We are caught in a global financial crisis of potentially crippling implications for countries like the Philippines. Yet government, through the use of a measure automatically appropriating funds for debt payments, persists in its track of prioritizing debt service over all other public expenditures and violating the most basic rights.

These include our rights to urgently needed health services and resources, which have grown increasingly dismal even by government’s own standards.  Based on the slow decline in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR), from 209 in 1993 to 162 in 2006, government admits that it will not be able to meet its Millennium Development target of 52 maternal deaths in 100,000 births by 2015.  Indeed, there was a decline over the years but this has considerably lost ground and appears stuck; the target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio has in fact been recognized as the least likely to be met.

Because of large unmet needs for modern contraception and related reproductive health services and education, half of the 3 million pregnancies occurring every year are reported as unplanned, with one-third ending up in abortion. Induced abortions are the fourth leading cause of maternal deaths in the Philippines.

Access to reproductive health care hardly budged from 49 % in 2001 to 50.6 % in 2006, still far from the targeted increase to 60 % access by 2010 and 80 % by 2015. The slow decline is attributed to inadequate access to comprehensive reproductive health services by women, and also adolescents and men.

The inequities within the country are also marked in relation to highly rural areas and urban centers and economic positions.  Remote rural women, the poor and migrant women have little access to reproductive health services due to the costs involved, lack of facilities and lack of information. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has the highest MMR of 320 in 100,000 births; ARMM scores lowest in terms of other human development indicators and the highest unmet contraceptive need.  

In the 2009 proposed national budget, P111.54 billion is already earmarked for servicing the foreign debt while off-budget payment for principal amortizations on foreign loans is assured of P88.835 billion. Meantime, the health and education budgets amount to merely 6.57% and 30.06%, respectively, of what government is securing for debt service. From 1995 to 2006, the average national health spending was 3.36 percent of the GDP, way below the World Health Organization benchmark of 5 percent of the GDP. With a measly P44.78-billion allocation, the government health sector budget is only 0.52 percent of the projected GDP next year, again way below the health expenditures of most countries even in Africa. This shows that the national government is compromising the health of its people by giving it less priority in the budget.

This is no different from previous years. Social services have consistently been compromised to accommodate debt payments. Social services are also the first to be slashed to balance budget constraints, in the same way that women are among the first to be laid off when the economy contracts.

Women comprise half of the Philippine population, doing largely invisible and unpaid work. Because of deeply embedded gender-based discriminations, they are so situated that crises, deprivation and want impact more harshly on them and increase their burdens in multiple ways.  The right to health is already constrained, as it were, by gender norms and patriarchal biases; the callousness of a government unfailingly showing more concern for creditors over the well-being of half of the Philippine population, constrains the enjoyment of this right even more.

We reiterate the call for a debt moratorium in the wake of the global food, fuel and financial crises, and for channeling funds instead into much needed social services, among them health services especially for the vulnerable and marginalized. This is not only economic prudence considering the uncertainty of how the Philippines will weather the financial storm, but a just and moral imperative: the right to health is inextricably linked to the right to life, inalienable and non-derogable.

Kalusugan ng kababaihan, hindi pambayad utang!
Re-allocate debt service to social services!
No to automatic appropriations for debt service!
Debt moratorium now!

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