Philippines' toxic debt for 'antique' incinerator technology
September 9, 2008. MANILA, Philippines — Non-government organizations on Tuesday urged lawmakers to demand condonation of the country’s loan that was used to buy an obsolete Austrian medical waste incinerator in 1996.
In a statement, the groups who have organized the Stop Toxic Debt Campaign said it is unfair and unjust to let Filipino taxpayers continue paying for a technology that is already banned in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, for being a health hazard.
The Ecological Waste Coalition of the Philippines (Ecowaste Coalition), Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Greenpeace Southeast Asia all claim the incinerators brought to the Philippines through a loan agreement with Austria in 1996 were archaic.
The project was made possible through a loan from the Bank of Austria amounting to ATS 200,000,000 or P 500 million. The loan project was facilitated by the Austrian Embassy through the initiatives of Department of Health (DoH) officials during the Ramos Administration.
“They are ancient, virtual antiques," HCWH Coordinator Merci Ferrer said. She cited a 2002 Greenpeace Report stating the basic structure of the incinerators provided to the Philippines was a controlled air type model developed in the 1950s. She said the technology was already banned in many European Union countries even during the time our government acquired them.
Ferrer, also a member of Ecowaste Coalition said due to the compounding nature of medical waste, refinements should have been made on the incinerators such as the setting of a secondary chamber as large as the primary chamber to cover other waste. It was reported that the incinerators provided to the Philippines did not have the said refinements and the essential pollution prevention devices.
She also said the incineration method itself was obsolete. “Incinerators are major sources of pollutants, particularly dioxins and mercury that can cause hazardous effects on the people’ health. That’s why we are equally upset of our government’s poor choice of approach to eradicate medical waste and its negligent purchase of a ‘50s technology," Ferrer said.
Environment and debt watchdogs alleged that Austria deliberately dumped the incinerators in the Philippines to take advantage of our then lax environmental laws and to skirt stiff European Union Directives concerning the incineration of hazardous waste, which regulates, among other pollutants, dioxins and furans.
The incinerators were reportedly shelved in 2003 with the enactment of the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 strictly prohibiting the use of incineration. However, according to FDC, the government will still be paying for this debt until 2014. In the proposed 2009 Budget, payment for the mothballed incinerators amounts to $ 2.2 million.
“How our government budget came out paying annually for a technology as old as the Quezon Government is truly bizarre and one for the books," FDC Secretary-General Milo Tanchuling said.
"Yet, like many peculiar issues concerning government expenditures, it often points us to illegitimate loans and projects which adds up to the already heavy debt burden of the Filipino people," Tanchuling said.
Tanchuling gave a list of “bizarre" debts our government continues to pay or have fully paid through the years. Some examples he mentioned are The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) which was erected along an earthquake fault line and which did not produce a single watt of electricity, the Telepono sa Barangay Project (TBS) which provided unusable phones to different detached communities and the Small Coconut Farms Development Project (SCFDP) which was supposed to deliver fertilizers to farmers except that it didn’t.
Congress Already Concurred
Meanwhile, GAIA Co-Coordinator Manny Calonzo said the issue of whether the Austrian Incinerator Project is an illegitimate debt and whether it is an archaic and anti-environment piece of technology is already a settled matter.
Calonzo said Congress in its version of the 2008 Budget included a special provision calling for the suspension of interest payments of specific loan agreements challenged as fraudulent, anomalous and/or wasteful. This includes the Austrian Incinerator Project. He also said as early as the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1999, our legislators already concurred that incinerators that emit poisonous and toxic fumes are in fact dirty technologies.
“For these reasons alone, our government’s nonstop payment of this project in the 2009 Budget is totally unwarranted and a betrayal of the lawmakers’ intent to spend more on truly beneficial expenses for the common good," Calonzo said.
The groups blame the automatic debt servicing policy of the government as the main culprit in this issue. They said the provision providing for automatic debt payment in the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 encourages corruption and the accumulation of more illegitimate debts.
“Thus, the real challenge to Congress in the 2009 Budget is to use the budget deliberations as a platform to urge the Executive to condone specific cases of illegitimate debt and to build the necessary legislative concurrence to repeal the automatic debt servicing provision," the groups said. - GMANews.TV