Quezon City. As Congress prepares to scrutinize the P1.4-trillion proposed budget for 2009, environmental groups pressed lawmakers to deny public spending for “fraudulent, wasteful and/or useless” debts which are eating into the country’s social spending funds.
The EcoWaste Coalition and its 75 member groups joined debt watchers led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition in asking legislators to exercise Congressional vigilance against what has been labeled as “illegitimate debts.”
“We urge Congress to act against the injustice of illegitimate debt burden by invalidating proposed payments in the 2009 budget for debts that are challenged to be fraudulent, wasteful and/or useless,” Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator
“We specifically ask Congress to cancel out the wasteful payment for the 26 obsolete incinerators in government hospitals and to serve formal notice to the government of Austria that no further payment will be paid,” Calonzo stated.
The EcoWaste Coalition is referring to the controversial loan package entered into by the governments of Austria and the Philippines in 1996 that involved the importation of medical waste incinerators and disinfection units for 26 hospitals under the Department of Health.
The incinerators were later decommissioned in July 2003 when the phase out of medical waste incineration under Republic Act 8749 or the Clean Air Act took effect.
Citing a detailed study by Greenpeace, the EcoWaste Coalition described the package as a classic example of dirty technology transfer that saw the Philippines importing highly polluting waste burners, vouched by the Austrian government as “the most efficient, safest and comparatively cheapest,” without basic pollution control devices.
Subsequent emission testing of some of these incinerators showed that the so-called “state-of-the-art” equipment released excessive levels of cancer-causing dioxins, the most toxic chemical substances known to science.
The Dr. Paulino Garcia Memorial Hospital in Cabanatuan city, for instance, exceeded the limits set by the Clean Air Act by nine times for particulate matter, 12 times for hydrogen chloride and a monstrous 870 times for dioxins and furans.
On top of the adverse health and environmental effects, the repayment for the obsolete incinerators represents a chronic bleeding for the country’s measly health budget, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized.
In 2008, for example, the government put aside almost P100 million to pay for the “toxic debt,” which, according to the Coalition, could have been used to augment funds to support the needs of indigent patients or to help hospitals comply with the non-incineration treatment of their infectious and pathological waste streams.
Bankrolled by the Bank Austria, the project’s original cost of over P503-million is to be paid in 24 semi-annual payments until 2014. The Filipino people pay nearly $2-million annually for the principal amortization and interest payment of 4% per annum.
The Freedom from Debt Coalition, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm and Greenpeace Southeast Asia are partners in “Stop Toxic Debt” campaign that seeks the cancellation or repudiation of the illegitimate and odious Austrian incinerator loan.
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