Cancel the debt! – Asian activists press for debt cancellation as World Bank – IMF hold annuals

The Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) today joined hundreds of organizations worldwide participating in a global week of action to demand debt cancellation amid multiple crises as international lenders led by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meet in Washington DC for their annual meetings. 

Public actions in the Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia and India denounced the failure of lenders to heed the  growing demand to cancel the debt in the face of skyrocketing prices of food and fuel and intensifying climate emergency. 

Hundreds of Filipino activists marched to the Philippine Senate to call for immediate debt cancellation and the repeal of the Automatic Appropriations Law. Several participants each wore a mock ball and chain around their neck, symbolizing the increasing gravity of the country’s debt burdens. 

Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) President Rene Ofreneo slammed a decree by the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. that remains in place, which automatically prioritizes debt payments. “This is a legacy of the Marcos dictatorship that is grossly unjust and must immediately be repealed. The Filipino people do not even know what they are  paying for, when these debts were contracted in their name. It’s time for a debt audit to weed out loans that did not benefit us at all. Surely, this is common sense that should be plain to all, not least the current President.”  

He cited the record-high national government debt of PhP13.02 trillion as of August. “That’s about PhP127,000 of  debt for each Filipino, which will be paid out of public funds at a time when public support for public basic services is urgently needed by our people,” Ofreneo lamented the additional $2 billion added to the Philippines’ debt bill when the newly-installed administration of Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. sold its first global bond.

APMDD Coordinator Lidy Nacpil stated that the Philippines is one of many countries around the world caught in multiple crises of public health, economic recession and climate change. “Mounting debts mean mounting debt service, resulting in cuts to budgets for healthcare, and education, decent housing and other essentials. Burdensome debts are also stopping governments from decisively tackling the climate crisis,” said Lidy Nacpil, APMDD coordinator.

Nacpil cited Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zambia, Lebanon and Ghana as the most recent examples. “Pakistan, in particular,  which has recently experienced devastating floods because of the climate crisis, has seen 33 million people displaced. Yet the government is still expected to pay US$18 billion in debt payments to foreign lenders. This situation cannot continue.”

These are also countries that have been paying debt service and complying with structural adjustments and austerity conditionalities by lenders, despite the budget cuts these entailed in social spending. In Asia, unsustainable debt levels pile up with dire consequences for developmental needs such as in Sri Lanka which defaulted in May, and Pakistan where public funds continue to be siphoned into debt service. 

Farooq Tariq, General Secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee said, “As humanitarian organizations scrambled for emergency funds, a familiar face reared its head once more. The IMF, recently approved a bailout request with a plan to release $1.1 billion to the country. At first glance, this may seem like a vital step in Pakistan’s  recovery, but to pile further debt on a country already in the grip of a financial crisis will only end in greater disaster and injustice.”

Echoing the global call, protesters stressed that “we will not be held hostage by the lenders and global rule-makers who are leading us down a path towards greater inequality, impoverishment, deprivation and ecocide.” As public  institutions, the IMF and the World Bank remain influential peddlers of loans among Global South countries and still fail to account for their responsibility in creating the vulnerabilities to pandemics, economic recessions and  climate change.

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