The recent ruckus on the 2008 National Government Budget involving the Executive Department, lawmakers and other stakeholders must go beyond deceptive rhetoric and deadbeat legalism. The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) believes former Senator Franklin Drilon is raising an important issue regarding pork barrel insertions in the Appropriations Bill. However, the Executive Department is using the issue to derail progressive reforms in the budget concerning debt and development.

We strongly condemn Malacanang’s hypocritical attempt to use the legitimate ire of the people against the pork barrel allocations as a pretext to reject important progressive revisions on debt payments so as not to incur the fury of the global lending community.

We must not forget that Arroyo herself enjoys a far bigger pork barrel in the form of un-auditable unprogrammed funds in the budget as well as the off-budget presidential discretionary funds.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition would be one for the first to say that the Appropriations Bill is imperfect, indeed far from being responsive to the urgent needs of the people and the requirements of equitable, sovereign and sustainable development. Not only is it riddled with pork barrel insertions, the allocations for essential services such as health, education and housing are woefully inadequate while allocations for interest payments on the debt capture a much bigger chunk of the funds.

But this particular Bill is historical because for the first time, special provisions were included that call for the suspension of interest payments on an initial set of loans identified as illegitimate as well as payments to unsecuritized Marcos debts. Though we expect that the Executive will invoke the archaic automatic appropriations law on debt payments to over-ride these provisions, the passage of these provisions by the House of Representatives constitutes a major political victory in our fight against illegitimate debts.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition urges the Bicameral Conference Committee on the 2008 Budget to exercise political will and uphold the special provisions on debt payment reductions and the re-allocation of the consequent savings to social services. We also demand the all-out scraping of built-in fat in the budget for patronage expenditures.

Lastly, we call on the Congress to pass HB 329 repealing the automatic Debt Service provision of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 (formerly PD 1177). -30-

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