MANILA, Philippines — Thirty (30) individuals of proven probity, credibility and expertise, and coming from different sectors of society, took their oath as members of a citizens’ commission, vowing readiness to conduct their own investigation of the country’s illegitimate loan-financed projects and programs.

Created in response to a petition initiated by the People Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID!) movement, the Independent Citizens' Debt Audit Commission was launched today at the University of the Philippines (UP) Law Center, three days after the mammoth interfaith rally in Makati City against the alleged role of the First Family and corruption in the overpriced ZTE national broadband network deal.

‘Crime of the state’

University of the Philippines Prof. Randy David, a member of the citizens’ commission, stressed that “the public debt issue is the most highly concealed crime of the state against its people.”

“In a period when our government institutions lack integrity and credibility to undertake impartial investigations on loan-financed projects and programs marred with anomaly and fraud, people should actively engage to address this problem. We owe it to the next generation of Filipinos who will shoulder the burden of paying these debts,” said Prof. David.

He added that critical analysis of the public debt system is one of the most powerful ways to reveal the flaws and malfunctions in governance.

Objectives

Milo Tanchuling, PAID! co-convener and secretary-general of Freedom from Debt Coalition, said the citizens' commission aims to conduct a critical, comprehensive, participatory and transparent examination of the Philippine public debt and contingent liabilities based on testimonies and inputs from affected communities, data and studies to be submitted by resource persons and organizations, and researches prepared by working groups and technical teams. It also aims to formulate policy proposals and recommendations for action.

"With Rodolfo 'Jun' Lozada's revelation on the aborted $329 million ZTE-NBN deal, the Philippines' debt problem and the continued accumulation of illegitimate debts has once again been put in the spotlight," said Tanchuling.

PAID! members said the Commission is also charged with recommending immediate steps as well as far-reaching solutions towards eradicating the debt burden and correcting structural and systemic flaws and deficiencies that contributed to debt accumulation and domination.

The examination of structural issues shall not be confined in the Philippine system alone but will also address the international financial architecture, they said.

The audit shall examine not only the responsibility and culpability of the Philippine government and related institutions, but also address the responsibility and culpability of international financial institutions and other lenders, they added.

More ZTE-type debts

Beckie Malay, vice president of FDC and of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) said there are more ZTE-type debts that not only continue to evade public scrutiny but also are being paid with public funds at the expense of dwindling social spending for important social services like education and health. The World Bank funded textbook project, the Cyber Education Project (CEP) and the Austrian loan funded Medical Waste project are just some examples.

"Different social movements, civil society leaders, people's organizations, communities, church people and personalities have called for the formation of the Independent Citizens Debt Audit Commission as major step forward to fundamentally address our lingering debt problem," said Malay.

To date, the National Government has a debt of P3.78 trillion or $81.6 billion. Our total consolidated public sector debt as of percentage to our Gross Domestic Product (GCP) is 81.9 percent. Each Filipino soul from the newly born baby to a dying septuagenarian is indebted by as much as P43,487, paying P7,012 annually to service the debt.

"Every minute, our government, using our money is paying a mind-boggling P1.1 million just to service the debt," Malay stressed.

Commissioners

Aside from Prof. David, other inducted members of the Independent Citizens' Debt Audit Commission include: former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, former Senator Wigberto Tanada, Bishop Efraim Tendero, Dr. Sixto K. Roxas, Fr. Ben Moraleda (CSsR), Sr. Cres Lucero (SFIC), former Representative Mayong Aguja, , Former FDC president Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, FDC vice president Lidy Nacpil, Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, Atty. Antonio Oposa, Dr. Grace Jamon, Atty. Golda Benjamin, Dr. Aurora Parong, Dr. Emmanuel Luna.

Economics Prof. Joseph Lim, Atty. Ibarra Gutierrez, Atty. Mari Paz Luna-Severino, Prof. Eduardo Tadem, Atty. Teddy Pascua, Mr. Eribert Padilla, Ms. Vaupet Pena representing the youth sector, Mr. Vic Fabe representing the farmers and fisherfolk, Teacher Benjo Basas, and representatives from the labor and urban poor sectors.

Congressional audit

PAID! members said the citizen commission will complement the highly awaited Congressional auditing of public debt by raising questions beyond the limits of the parliamentary initiatives, and by putting forward recommendations sourced from the people's standpoint on the problem.

Tanchuling confirmed that Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has re-filed a joint resolution pushing for an official Congressional Audit of Public Debt and Contingent Liabilities in the House of Representatives.

"While we are pushing for the official debt audit, we believe that an independent citizen's audit is also crucial," he said. -30-

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