Funds tighter for basic services, used for debts

Estrella Torres

Having said earlier that sharp disparities in income and continuing civil strife in parts of the country will make it unlikely for the Philippines to attain its Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Prof. Leonor Briones, coconvenor of the Social Watch Philippines, had more bad news on Tuesday. She said continuing deterioration of basic social services and increasing debt payments would add to the difficulty of reaching the MDG.

She noted the 10-point agenda of President Arroyo under the Medium Term Development Plan does not address the main goals of the MDG.

Briones observed that over the past five years the budget for social services had been reduced year after year while debt service allocations become larger and larger.

“The government agencies charged with social development have budgets cut to the bone.”

She said, “There are broader needs of MDG and these include access to quality education among our youth and not just providing one computer unit per school.”

She said the roles of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Education are crucial in achieving the MDG, and yet their budgets have not been growing with the needs as the population rises.

This year, the budget for economic services decreased to only 18 percent from 24 percent of the national budget in 1999; and that for social services, down to 28 percent from 33.2 percent, also in 1999.

Comparatively, the budget for debt service rose to 31.4 percent from 18 per- cent of the total budget in the same period.

Target 8 of the MDG, laid down in the United Nations Millennium Declaration of year 2000, aims to improve global partnerships to help poor countries become developed and on this, the Philippines should focus at the moment by campaigning directly at the United Nations to qualify for debt relief.

At present, the Philippines could not qualify for debt relief because it is categorized as a middle income country and not as a highly indebted country. Briones said, “We must no longer wait for the Philippines to become a highly indebted country before we lobby for debt relief.”

Briones added, “We should also put political pressure on the United States to help us recover from the fiscal crisis. It should be emphasized that this [will be] to their advantage [because by helping] us recover. We can pay our debts.”

Most foreign debt notes of the Philippines are held by American entities.

Briones was speaking at the closing of a two-day workshop at the National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) in UP Diliman that seeks to advance local governance to achieve the MDG.

The MDG is a set of time-bound targets—address problems of extreme poverty and hunger, curb infant mortality and incidence of major diseases, improve access to education and health care, and promote peace-building and conflict prevention by 2015.

On the Arroyo MTPDP, Briones said it lacks interventions on social problems like gender equality, lowering maternal mortality and deaths within the first five years of children, and on diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria; it contains almost nothing on environmental problems.

Sen. Manuel Villar said, meanwhile, that “GOCC debts assumed by the government have reached alarming proportions.”

He added, “We should put on the brakes as far as government borrowing is concerned. Servicing of government debts has taken a heavy toll on the country’s fiscal health. In 2003, the government spent P28 [for debt payment] for every P100 of its revenue.

For 2005, it would be P40 for every P100 worth of revenue.”

He wants the government to be more prudent in guaranteeing loans, especially of GOCCs, by having them all pass through Congress first. “The old practice of government debts not being scrutinized by Congress should stop. This has contributed to the country’s ongoing fiscal woes.”

Villar has filed a debt ceiling bill and also asked for an audit of all public sector debts and expenditures.