Protest Greets ADB’s Annual Meeting
MANILA, Philippines – As the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors commenced here Wednesday, various cause-oriented groups, led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), trooped to the Philippine International Convention Center, the venue of the ADB meeting, to protest the Bank's role in the privatization of the energy and water sectors and in pushing coal and other dirty technologies in Asia and the Pacific.
Bearing signs such as "ADB: Serving the rich since 1966," "Anti-Development Bank: of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" and "Our power, water: not for sale," the protesters lambasted ADB for coming out with another mantra, called "inclusive growth," to cover up its failure to accomplish its declared objective of freeing Asia from poverty. They added that ADB only advanced the "corporate greed" of the United States, Japan and other global corporations, at the expense of the people and the environment.
The protesters also staged a satirical Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May)-inspired action, dubbed as "ADB de Delubyo (Disaster): A Parade of Protest." In Philippine culture, "Flores de Mayo" is a flower festival celebrated in the month of May, in honor of the Virgin Mary. The highlight of the festival is a colorful pageant parade known as "Santacruzan," which commemorates the search of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son, the newly converted emperor Constantine.
Featured during the protest were "Queen of High Power Rates," who represented the burden of Filipino people as having the highest power rates in Asia; "Queen of Thirst," representing ADB's push for privatizing the country's potable and irrigation water; "Mother of Degraded Environment," representing the effect of climate change and ADB's callous support of dirty energy; and, "King of Indebtedness," representing the social and economic cost of being highly-indebted.
Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of Jubilee South-Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JSAPMDD), said that ADB bears a large share of the responsibility for the privatization of water and power services in Asia.
"There is no doubt that privatization of these services cause harm to peoples and the environment as shown by the experiences of communities and peoples in Asia. Because of privatization of these basic services, millions of impoverished and marginalized have much less access to safe and clean fresh water with the deterioration of the quality of service and the sharp increases in the cost of service," stressed Nacpil, also FDC vice president.
The ADB has been involved in privatizing water services in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. It is also involved in power privatization-related projects in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Indonesia, and at least nine states in India received financing from ADB.
Ricardo B. Reyes, FDC president, said that one concrete example of an ADB-finance program was the Philippines' Power Sector Restructuring Program that led to the legislation of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).
This has compelled the government to increase the generation rates to attract more investors to participate in the privatization of government's generation assets. It also legitimized the debts arising from and payments to expensive and onerous contracts of National Power Corporation with independent power producers.
According to FDC, EPIRA failed to achieve its two categorical promises to the Filipino consumers – clean, accessible and reliable power supply to all and affordable electricity rates.
"After more than 10 years of EPIRA implementation, the Philippines now has the most expensive electricity rates in Asia. Mindanao, the southern part of the country, is still experiencing rotational blackouts. Worse, the Philippine government is holding people hostage: pay more for electricity and accept coal," stressed Reyes.
According to FDC, privatization of water services, in effect, contradicts and cannot co-exist with the people's human right to water. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly had declared that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, expressing deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.
Citing the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) as example, FDC said that water distribution under corporate control has negatively affected Metro Manila residents, especially the urban poor communities.
"Contrary to the positive promises of water privatization, what we experienced is the opposite. In just 12 years, water tariffs have risen exponentially by almost 1000%. Water lost to leakages in the West zone is higher than pre-privatization levels. The MWSS has still continued to incur more debts," FDC said.
Arze Glipo, convenor of the Asia Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty (APNFS), said there is an urgent need to expose the flawed logic behind the current drive to transform water into a source of profit and to assert our people's basic right to water.
"We need to assert our right to water, our right to life. We need to expose ADB and World Bank's promotion of a host of programs and policy reforms aimed at de-emphasizing the traditional view of water as a right and a common resource and its replacement with the concept of water as a tradable commodity," stressed Glipo, also FDC vice president.
The protest is part of the People's Forum against the ADB, which is a parallel event to the ADB's 45th Annual Meeting and is being held at the Bayview Park Hotel and Malate Catholic Church.
Topics discussed at the parallel event were ADB's "Inclusive Growth" theme, Energy for All policy, Water for All policy which include Framework and Policy on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and Water in Agriculture, and the Bank's investments in coal and technologies that aggravate climate change.
Organizers of the People's Forum include the Philippine Working Group (PWG) on the ADB, NGO Forum on ADB, JS-APMDD and APNFS.
Aside from FDC and JS-APMDD, those who joined the protest were leaders and members of, Faith-based Congress against Immoral Debts (FCAID), Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod (KPML), Matinik, Akbayan, Koalisyong Pabahay sa Pilipinas (KPP), Sanlakas and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).