Senator Imee Marcos on Wednesday told Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that she is not the enemy, but the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) when she insisted that the government should suspend payment of the country’s debts.
“Do not to take things personally when I stand my ground,” said Marcos as she reiterated the supposed money can be used to fund more urgent cash aid for millions of Filipinos who will surely go hungry if the lockdown lasts longer due to the pandemic.
“I understand Secretary Dominguez’s frustration that COVID-19 is slowly undoing all the hard work that the Department of Finance has put in to keep the country’s economy in good shape,” she said.
Marcos, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, said a debt moratorium, she said, is neither mendicancy, nor theft, nor hopeless indebtedness.
“It is a necessity, according to the International Monetary Fund, if nations with meager resources and weak health care systems are to survive this crisis,” said Marcos, noting that in Southeast Asia, COVID-19 has hit the Philippines the hardest.
President Rodrigo Duterte has emphasized that government resources are not inexhaustible.
A debt moratorium can substantially stretch the lifeline of resources that must reach as many people as cry out for help, as far as the remotest barangay infected by the virus, and hopefully as long as this crisis will last.
While Dominguez and I are still lucky to have three square meals a day, Marcos said hundreds of thousands if not millions of Filipinos with no access to the media are going hungry.
She said unseen Filipinos whose patience and belief in government are being tested every single day that promised aid does not arrive.
Dominguez turned down Marcos’ call to temporarily suspend loan payments to foreign lenders and instead use the funds to effectively respond to the coronavirus crisis.
She related this was a tactic used by her father, the late President Ferdinand Marcos so that the government can extend more subsidies to struggling families and companies forced out of business due to lockdowns.
Marcos said this would unlock some ₱451 billion under the 2020 national budget. That amount covers interest payments on both domestic and foreign loans, a check with the General Appropriations Act showed.
“Debt moratorium has not crossed our mind. It was never entertained or will ever be a part of our crisis response measures,” Dominguez said in a statement. He warned that doing this would put the country’s track record in peril.
The Philippines has been regularly paying its loans to both local and foreign debtors as they are due. The debt burden is a mix of short-term and long-term borrowings, which have piled up as the government invests for development.
The country’s debt burden is at 44.2 percent relative to the economy, lower than a peak of 78.3 percent in 1986, the DOF said.
That was the year then President Ferdinand E. Marcos was booted out from power by a popular revolt that installed Corazon Aquino as the country’s leader.
“We have built a 34-year track record, beginning with the Cory Aquino administration, of honoring our country’s obligations. Honoring our word has allowed us to remain as one of the most attractive investment destinations and one of the world’s favorite bond issuers,” added Dominguez.
He said the Philippines’ regular debt payments made it trustworthy in the eyes of global banks and financial institutions.
Earlier, Marcos told the Finance chief to “have a heart,” saying that postponing debt payments would be a better option to shore up funds compared to Duterte’s suggestion for the economic team to sell assets and steal if they have to.
She also cited a debt relief program granted by the International Monetary Fund to 25 poor nations — mostly from Africa — that will restructure their loans for the next six months./Stacy Ang