MANILA, Philippines—Campaigners from more than a hundred local and national organizations here will gather on Saturday, January 12, at the St. Joseph College Mater Dei Auditorium, E. Rodriguez St. in Quezon City for the public launch of People's Petition calling for the creation of an Independent Citizens' Debt Audit Commission whose members will include civil society leaders, political analysts and respected economists.

In a press briefing, leaders of People Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID!)* movement said the event marks the first General Assembly of its member and affiliate organizations and individuals. The event will also feature speakers from the debt campaigns of other countries who will share their experiences and recent major developments in the international debt movement.

Lidy Nacpil, vice president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), said that it has been more than five years since they sounded the alarm of a full-blown fiscal and debt crisis and still the government failed to what is right for the country. She said that among the indicators of the debt and fiscal crisis include: the government's huge deficit since 1999; interest payments on the National Government (NG) debt has skyrocketed; and, government borrowings have reached unprecedented levels.

"FDC has been campaigning for an official Congressional Audit of Public Debt and Contingent Liabilities and we have been working with lawmakers in the House of Representatives, especially Rep. Edcel Lagman who re-filed a legislative resolution calling for an official audit of all public debts and contingent liabilities. We believe that an Independent Citizens Debt Audit is also crucial. Hence, together with the People Against Illegitimate Debt Movement the process, we are starting the process with then opening of the this new year" said Nacpil, also the international coordinator of Jubilee South.

"The citizen's initiative will raise questions beyond the limits of the parliamentary initiatives, and by put forward bolder recommendations based on people's perspective on the problem," said Nacpil.

PAID! leaders explained that citizen's debt audit 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; studies prepared by working groups and technical teams; and, testimonies and inputs from affected communities, sectors and people's organizations.

The audit also aims to formulate policy proposals and advocacy platforms.

"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.

FDC described this as the 'great white elephant stampede', referring to loan agreements and 'development projects' that are on the pipeline or have overwhelming potentials of becoming 'white elephant' or useless yet expensive projects.

"This gives further credence to our assertion that a big chunk of debts claimed from the Philippines were spent on unnecessary and over-priced infrastructure programs and projects. These are hidden in our national government budget and expenditure books," said Nacpil.

During the 13th Congress, the debt watchdog was successful in getting the joint resolution on debt audit passed unanimously by the House of Representatives. However, it was stalled in the Senate due to the inaction of some legislators, coupled with the political crisis involving no less than Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself. -30-

* The People Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID!) is a broad network of different social movements, civil society leaders, people's organizations, communities and personalities that are committed in developing and strengthening a popular movement against illegitimate debt.

It aims to broaden the debt discourse by raising critical questions about the issue by not reducing the problem to mere queries concerning affordability, management and sustainability but rather by posing the question of the illegitimacy of the debt based on historical, political and social roots.

In the immediate, it aims to introduce and popularize the concept of illegitimate debt by campaigning against debts and/or "obligations" that were incurred to finance flawed and anti-people development projects, loans that were conceived by illegitimate governments or debts that undermine genuine human development and ecological balance, while calling for its immediate cancellation and repudiation.

PAID! also intends to build a strong public clamor for the creation of an Independent Citizens' Debt Audit Commission. This citizens' initiative will complement the highly awaited Congressional auditing of public debt by filling gaps in the inquiry, raising questions beyond the limits of the parliamentary initiatives, and by putting forward bolder recommendations sourced from the people's genuine standpoint on the problem.

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