13 February 2008
Debt & Public Finance
Debt and environmental watchdogs ask government to prioritize health and environment over debt service payments in 2008 budget
QUEZON CITY, Philippines—As the Senate inquiry on the NBN-ZTE scandal sizzles, civil society groups assembled in front of a government hospital in Quezon City to draw attention to another illegitimate debt and to oppose any presidential veto of the P25.9 billion debt service cuts in the 2008 budget.
Members of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) peaceably assembled at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) to urge the Arroyo administration to desist from vetoing the crucial cuts in debt servicing that will allow the people to enjoy the benefits of increased spending on health and other essential services.
To dramatize the need to prioritize the people’s health over unconscionable debt payments, especially of illegitimate debts, the combined force of the “green warriors” and the “debt warriors” put up hospital beds complete with volunteer patients outside the PHC and staged a mock blood transfusion to depict the life-sustaining benefits of cutting onerous debt payments.
“An executive veto of the budget cuts in debt servicing or the reported ‘calibrated spending,’ which is a de facto veto, will have insidious effects in the efficient and effective delivery of health care and other essential social services. We urge the government to prioritize the health and other basic needs of the people and put a stop to all debt payments that have not benefited the people, the economy and the environment,” said actor – environmental advocate Roy Alvarez, Vice-Chairperson, EcoWaste Coalition.
The groups found an ally in Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Jr. who, in a text message, said that “the debt service cuts in the 2008 budget can change and uplift the lives of millions with the realignment of funds for basic social services. I join the civil society in urging the executive branch to heed the people’s clamor for relief and release from indebtedness, particularly from tainted and illegitimate debts. The government has to make courageous decisions to correct the gross injustice, including the need to repudiate some of these debts.” Bishop Iñiguez chairs the Public Affairs Committee of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Both the EcoWaste Coalition and FDC are particularly opposed to the continued payment for 26 defunct medical waste incinerators in government-run hospitals that our country imported under a development package signed in 1997 by the governments of Austria and the Philippines. The waste burners were retired in 2003 to conform to the phase out of medical waste incinerators under the Clean Air Act. The Philippines, which started to pay for the loan’s principal in 2002, will have to pay US$2 million annually until 2014 unless the debt is canceled or repudiated.
The groups lamented that the controversial loan package not only resulted to a US$2 million per year debt burden, but also endangered the health of Filipinos with the release of extremely toxic pollutants such as dioxins, the most notorious byproducts of burning garbage and reportedly the most toxic chemical known to science. -30-