Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Reallocate Interest Payments for Illegitimate Debts to Philhealth, Harm Reduction Strategies
Amid the national discourse regarding the country’s foreign aid, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros today called for the suspension of interest payments for “illegitimate debts” in the proposed 2017 national government budget.
In the Senate’s hearing of the Department of Health’s (DOH) proposed 2017 budget, Hontiveros also called for the reallocation of the said funds to important health services, particularly to Philhealth to achieve universal healthcare coverage and harm reduction programs to address the country’s drug problem through a public health approach.
“Foreign aid or loans by themselves are not bad. They can be a tool for development or a symbol of solidarity between nation-states. I am however opposed to aid or loans with neoliberal economic prescriptions and other grossly unfair and unconscionable terms; as well as debts that were not used for the benefit of the people. These loans take a large part of the people’s money, which could have been allotted instead to important social services like health,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, citing the study of the debt watchdog, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), said that there are at least 13 debt contracts in the government budget with interest payments amounting to P 739.54 million. The amount does not include the debts’ principal amortization worth P 5.39 billion. The said debts are: Sixth Road (Tullahan) Project, Power Sector Development Program, Pampanga Development Flood Control, Bohol Irrigation Phase II, Angat Water Supply Optimization, Philippine Rural Development Project, Agrarian Reform Communities Project, Agrarian Reform Communities Project 2, Third Elementary Education Project, Small Water Impounding Management, Help for Catubig Agricultural Advancement, Global Maritime Safety and the Emergency Network Project. The FDC challenged the debts as “fraudulent.”
100 % healthcare coverage
Hontiveros, who is the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said part of the fund originally allocated for the said debts can be reallocated to Philhealth to attain 100% healthcare coverage, over and above the allocation it receives from sin taxes.
Harm reduction programs
The senator also wants part of the fund diverted to the building of more rehabilitation centers, and community-based drop-in centers and outreach services, and other out-patient rehabilitation services to address the health needs of the country’s drug dependents.
“I ask the Duterte government to match its rhetoric against tied aid with concrete policy. The deliberations of the 2017 national government budget are a good opportunity to demonstrate this. The government must stop prioritizing payments to illegitimate debts at the expense of public health,” Hontiveros said.
Special provision in 2017 budget, debt audit
Hontiveros said that she will introduce a special provision in the proposed 2017 budget to put on hold interest payments for the said questionable loans. She said that she will also push for a comprehensive audit of the country’s outstanding debts.