Groups Demand Cancellation of Toxic Debt in 2008 Budget

QUEZON CITY. Philippines- Non-governmental organizations today lined up hospital beds complete with ‘patients’ at the lobby of the House of Representatives to dramatize their call to lawmakers to strike out payments for the Liechtenstein/German-made medical waste incinerators provided by the Austrian government and to augment the health budget in the proposed 2008 National Government Budget.

The Ecological Waste Coalition of the Philippines (EcoWaste), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said the loan, worth half a billion pesos of incinerators for 26 public hospitals to “help” in the proper disposal of medical waste was illegitimate and a waste of money. The said loan agreement was contracted in 1997 by Bank Austria and the Philippine Government coursed through the Department of Finance (DOF).

“We urge our legislators to strike out the payments for this loan project in the budget pending a thorough investigation that will eventually lead to its repudiation. We also demand the payment for this debt be allotted instead to augment the measly budget of the health sector,” FDC Secretary General Milo Tanchuling said.

“We are paying a lot of money for this debt which provided absolutely zero benefit to us except for the fact that it poses a clear danger to our environment. The project is truly a classic example of an illegitimate debt—debts claimed to us which financed ill-conceived development projects which are obviously not only on the pipeline but are detrimental to the people and environment’s interest,” Tanchuling said.

FDC said the proposed repayment for 2008 is $ 2.02 million or P 93.697 million. Interest payment next year, which is part of the budget, is $ 368.75 million while principal payment, which is an off-budget item, is $ 1,652.76 million. EcoWaste, Greenpeace, HCWH and FDC want both payments suspended.

The incinerators, which Greenpeace Southeast Asia claimed were substandard and did not meet the emission levels guaranteed by the supplier, had all been retired in 2003, when the incineration ban promulgated by the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 (CAA) took effect and when the DOH failed in its attempt to exempt them from the ban. They were part of the DOH’s project dubbed “The Austrian Project for the Establishment of Waste Disposal Facilities and Upgrading of the Medical Equipment Standard in DOH Hospitals.”

The loan that financed the purchase of the incinerators would have to be paid until 2014, with payments amounting to roughly US$ 2M per year.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, Chairperson of the powerful Committee on Appropriations also confirmed this contention during the formal opening of the House of Representatives’ plenary debates on the budget last week.

For his part, Ronnel Lim of Health Care Without Harm said: “As part of Austrian Official Development Assistance (ODA), the project’s purpose had the lofty goal of helping Philippine hospitals safely dispose of medical waste. But instead of helping, the ODA just exacerbated the problem. In the joint Department of Health (DOH)-World Health Organization (WHO) emission test conducted on one of the incinerators, the dioxin emission was a whopping 870 times over the limit set by the CAA. Now, we not only have a medical waste problem, we have an illegitimate debt that needs to be paid.”

“The Austrian people should call the attention of their government on this environmentally unjust loan extended as an ODA on behalf of them,” added Lim.

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 320, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376