Put life before debt in the Philippines, says Christian Aid

(AP)A girl walks through the destroyed Our Lady of the Holy Rosemary church as mass is delivered at a neighboring construction site, Sunday, November 17, 2013 in Palo, Philippines

Christian Aid has released a statement calling for the cancellation of the Philippines' national debt.

The organisation has joined with the Jubilee Debt Campaign, the Freedom from Debt Coalition and Jubilee South in contending that the financial burden of the Philippines – at present standing at about $60 billion – will prevent the country from recovering from the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that struck last month.

They have released a petition asking lenders to lift the debt.

The Philippines currently pays out more than $20 million a day - $8 billion a year – in interest payments to international leaders.

According to the government, debt repayment accounts for around 20 percent of the country's revenue each year.

This debt is largely as a result of huge loans being given to the Marcos regime during the Cold War. Western governments and institutions, including the World Bank, supported the dictator to encourage him to remain allies with them against the Communists.

This lending totalled an estimated $115 billion and though the Philippines has thus far paid back $132 billion of that, interest rates mean it still owes around $60 billion.

Over $5 million, which equates to around £335 million, has been spent on debt repayment since Typhoon Haiyan hit, which resulted in over 5,000 deaths and left millions struggling to survive.

In addition to this, the nation's debts have actually increased as a result of the typhoon, as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have both given loans totalling $1 billion to help with the recovery.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported losses of $261 million to agriculture and related infrastructure alone, and estimates suggest a cost of rebuilding of up to $15 billion.

"The Philippines is prone to natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. Debts that should have been cancelled years ago are limiting the country's capacity to respond and prepare for future emergencies. Action on this is clearly needed before any new debts are added," contends Senior Economic Justice Adviser at Christian Aid, Joseph Stead.

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, has said: "The Philippines urgently needs funding for relief and reconstruction efforts, as well as to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and support communities who live in areas that are beyond adaptation.

"International lenders should put life before debt and cancel the Philippines' foreign debt obligations as a matter of urgency."

Ricardo Reyes, Freedom from Debt Coalition President, has also commented on the situation, saying, "Justice for the Filipino people demands debt cancellation, especially the illegitimate debts, which are odious, onerous, illegal, violate human rights, harmful to the people, environment and climate, and bereft of institutional processes and the consent of the people."

The petition can be signed at http://jubileedebt.org.uk/actions/philippines-life-before-debt