PAID!’s 1st General Assembly

QUEZON CITY, Philippines—Expressing alarm over the extent of public debt that this administration and its predecessors have contracted through the years, around 1,000 campaigners from more than a hundred local and national organizations have gathered here Saturday and launched a people’s petition calling for the immediate constitution of an Independent Citizens’ Debt Audit Commission.

Citing the “stampede of white elephants” that rocked the administration last year, members of People Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID!) stressed it is high time the people themselves initiated a bold move to address the perennial debt problem.

Lidy Nacpil, PAID! convener and Freedom from Debt Coalition vice president, said that while their group has been campaigning for an official Congressional Audit of Public Debt and Contingent Liabilities in the House of Representatives, they believe that an independent citizen’s audit is also crucial. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has re-filed a joint resolution pushing for the official debt audit.

Debt burden

In a manifesto, the group explained that as of November 2007, the national government has a debt of PhP3.8 trillion, or $81.6 billion, with the Filipino people shelling out PhP1.1 million every minute for debt service.

“More than just the burden of payments, there is the fundamental injustice that while citizens are forced to pay, much of these debts was contracted without full public transparency and accountability, and without full compliance with democratic processes, and did not benefit the people. Many loans were accompanied by unfair terms and harmful conditionalities. A significant number have been tainted with deception and fraud, or used for questionable purposes such as financing of priced, ill-designed, unnecessary, and even inoperable programs and projects, or repayment of earlier loans for onerous projects such as the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant,” the manifesto said.

Objectives

Nacpil explained that the Citizen’s Debt Audit Commission aims to conduct a critical, comprehensive, participatory and transparent examination of the Philippine public debt and contingent liabilities based on data and existing studies by resource persons and organizations, on studies prepared by working groups and technical teams, and on testimonies and inputs from affected communities, sectors and people’s organizations.

It also aims to formulate policy proposals and advocacy platforms.

‘White elephants’

“Last year, we witnessed, through the media, a lot of controversial loan agreements entered into by the current administration as well as its predecessors. The ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) project, the World Bank textbook scam, the Cyber Education Project (CEP) and the Austrian Medical Waste Loan are just some examples of these illegitimate debts,” said Nacpil.

EcoWaste Coalition’s Manny Calonzo said the mothballed Austrian incinerator project is a “toxic debt” which will not only hurt our already empty pockets but will be the yoke of the succeeding generation because of its environmental impact. Ecowaste Coalition is calling not only for the cancellation and/or repudiation of the project but also reparation for the ecological damage it caused during the dirty technology’s two-year operation.

For her part, Bianca Lapuz of Youth Against Debt (YAD) said the World Bank textbook loan project is the height of insult. “The loan is truly wounding in the sense that it demands our poor parents, already incarcerated to a life of indebtedness to pay more for ‘debts’ that have only managed to produced erroneous schoolbooks,” Lapuz said.

Meanwhile, Benjo Basas, President of the Teacher’s Dignity Coalition (TDC) scored thecontroversial Cyber Education Project (CEP) as the result of the government’s lack of common sense in dealing with priorities. “The government should give paramount attention to the basic ills of Philippine education like its decaying curriculum, shortage of classrooms and school buildings, instead of flirting with an expensive backbone project that has all the signs of becoming a white elephant project,” Basas said.

“These debts are illegitimate and continued payment of these loans violate basic human rights, democratic principles and people’s sovereignty, and hold the Filipino people captive to the chains of poverty and underdevelopment,” according to the manifesto.
Citizen’s Commission

The Independent Citizens’ Debt Audit Commission, consisting of not more than 30 individuals of proven probity, credibility and expertise, shall be conducting a comprehensive audit of all public debt and contingent liabilities aiming for an accurate historical, contextual and comprehensive examination of the Philippine debt problem.

Further, the Commission shall, on the basis of the Audit, identify 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 to the Philippine system but address the international financial architecture. The audit should examine not only the responsibility and culpability of the Philippine government and other institutions involved, public and private, but also address the responsibility and culpability of international financial institutions and other lenders, government and commercial.

International campaign

Also present during the public launch of the People’s Petition were debt and development activists from Latin America, Africa and Asia. They took turns in sharing their experiences and plans in building a strong international campaign against global debts.

Pledge of commitment

Lighting a thousand candles, members of the Peoples Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID), together with kindred organizations pledged their commitment to undertake the necessary preparations in liberating the country from illegitimate debt in the soonest time possible. -30-

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