Activists from across Asia on Monday, June 27, staged demonstrations in their respective countries to dramatize their call for the cancellation of foreign debts amidst the global economic, health, and climate crises.
“Our governments spend more on debt service payments than on peoples’ needs and still continue with their borrowing spree,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the group Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD).
In the Philippines, the group held a demonstration outside the German Embassy in Manila and symbolically repudiated the debts claimed from Asian developing countries.
Protesters ripped a mock foreign debt bill representing Asia’s debt amounting to more than US$1 trillion and the Philippines’ external debt of US$109.8 billion as of March 2022.
APMDD’s coordinated activity joined mobilizations worldwide that are taking place as part of the “Days of Action” from June 24 to 28 in time with the ongoing G7 Summit in Germany.
Nacpil noted that even climate finance for adaptation, mitigation and loss and damage, to which the G7 countries committed new and additional funds, comes heavily in the form of loans.
“In truth, rich countries owe us a huge climate debt that is far beyond the pledged US$100 billion in climate finance, which remains unfulfilled to this day,” she said in Manila.
“Climate change will cost South countries up to US$6 trillion by 2030 if rich countries fail to pay their climate debt,” said Nacpil.
The protest actions across the region highlighted the massive debt burdens of Asian developing countries and the failure of debt relief efforts promoted by the world’s richest countries.
Low and middle-income countries remain in the grip of the crises intensified by the pandemic, with millions pulled into absolute poverty in only the last two years.
Asian countries alone face US$1.23 trillion in public external debts, of which US$750 billion is owed to private lenders and US$482 billion to official lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other governments.
Nacpil also said that G7 countries are “among the world’s largest historical and continuing greenhouse gas emitters” and “are principally responsible for global warming and the climate crisis.”
“We challenge them to go beyond their latest pledge to end fossil fuel finance by 2022,” she said, adding that rich countries must include both direct and indirect financing, “must leave no room for loopholes and exceptions, and should translate to a rapid shift of public finance to clean and renewable energy.”
“Further, they should deliver on their full climate finance obligations and fair shares of global climate actions,” added Nacpil.
Manjette Lopez, president of the group Sanlakas in the Philippines, said the country’s increasing exposure to private creditors is alarming, and cited the case of Sri Lanka, which has defaulted on its debt payments and was recently sued by bondholders.
“Will we be another Sri Lanka, now pressured into accepting numerous austerity conditions for the IMF to bail it out?” said Lopez.
She said it will mean “greater suffering for a people already fighting daily against hunger and deprivation.”
Sri Lanka’s debt problem is a cautionary tale for the Philippines, and the Sri Lankan people’s valiant protests, a source of inspiration for all, Lopez said, adding that G7 measures have only encouraged, and not required the participation of private lenders in debt relief despite their increasingly bigger share of public debt.
Rene Ofreneo, president of the group Freedom from Debt Coalition, called out G7 countries for ignoring the growing call for debt cancellation, especially “illegitimate debts.”
Ofreneo said that under the Automatic Appropriations law enacted by former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the Filipino people automatically pay for loan-funded fossil fuel projects that are destroying the environment and for large-scale infrastructure projects that are displacing communities and wrecking local livelihoods.
He stressed the long-standing demand for the repeal of the law and called for “an independent, transparent and inclusive citizens debt audit” to weed out illegitimate debts.