Quezon City- Environmentalists and anti-debt advocates trooped today to the House of Representatives to ask lawmakers to strike out in the proposed national budget the payment for what they call an illegitimate debt to Austria involving the Department of Health’s purchase of twenty-six medical waste incinerators in 1997.
Activists from the Eco Waste Coalition, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace-Southeast Asia and Health Care Without Harm donned in gasmasks gave flowers to lawmakers urging them to sign the parliamentarians’ petition launched by Representatives Edcel Lagman and Risa Hontiveros-Baracquel asking Austria to cancel the same loan.
Among those who expressed their support and signed the petition were Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, Iloilo Rep. Janeth Garin, Agusan Del Norte Rep. Edelmiro Amante, Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong, YACAP Party-list Carol Lopez, Bulacan Rep. Pedro Pancho, Bohol Rep. Edgar Chato, Zamboanga Rep. Maria Isabelle Climaco and Butil Party-list Rep. Leonila Chavez.
The 26 medical waste incinerators which comprised the loan were distributed to DOH-controlled hospitals. But following concerns regarding their safety, emission tests were conducted by the DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO). The result of the those tests showed that the incinerators had extremely high emissions, with one incinerator exceeding the limit set by the Philippine Clean Air Act for dioxins and furans more than eight hundred times. This prompted the DOH to decommission the incinerators in order to comply with the Clean Air Act.
According to Merci Ferrer of Health Care Without Harm, “We ask our congressmen to again withhold payment of the loan in the 2009 national budget, just as it did previously in the 2008 budget. And we hope this time the President can be prevailed upon not to veto it.”
The original cost of the total incinerator project, which Greenpeace branded as a case of toxic technology transfer, was P503, 647, 200. For 2009, data submitted by the Department of Budget and Management show that the principal and interest payments for next year would amount to US $2.2 M.
In the General Appropriations Act of 2008 approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Austrian loan was included in the list of those loans “challenged as fraudulent, wasteful, and/or useless” and whose interest payments were put on hold “pending loan renegotiation and/or condonation.” The provision, however, was vetoed by the president.
The said groups also reiterated the call to Congress by social movements for a moratorium on external debt payments and the transformation of that fund into an economic stimulus package. The groups urged lawmakers to realign the total P200-billion foreign debt service earmarked for 2009 in order to boost spending on social and economic services that will contribute in shielding the Philippines from the global fallout of the current American economic crisis.
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