Militant groups to ADB: Back off!

Voltaire Tupaz
Protesters greet ADB governors, who are in Manila for their 4-day annual meeting. They say the ADB failed in its goal to eradicate poverty in the region

BACK OFF! Activists protest the holding of the ADB Governors Meeting in Manila. Photo by BAYAN

MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of protesters greeted the Asian Development Bank (ADB) governors as they held their 45th annual meeting in Manila on Wednesday, May 2.

Civil society groups criticized the multilateral lender for promoting programs that, according to them, only worsen poverty and destroy the environment.

In the morning, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) held a picket lambasting the Aquino government for giving the ADB meeting a red carpet treatment.

In the afternoon, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) staged a “parade of protest” against ADB for its alleged failure to accomplish its objective of freeing Asia from poverty.

Cordoned off by police, neither group was able to go near the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), where finance, central bank and top government officials from 67 member-countries of ADB gathered to discuss how to tackle poverty and promote inclusive growth in the region.

Over 4,000 delegates were expected to attend the 4-day event, which ends Saturday, May 5.

ADB ‘pro-rich’

Protesters claimed that ADB’s policies were pro-rich.

Holding a banner that prominently displayed the slogan, “ADB: Serving the rich since 1966,” FDC members said ADB was promoting the “corporate greed” of the US, Japan and global corporations at the expense of people and the environment.

ADB. Anti-development Bank? Photo by FDC

Meanwhile, Bayan activists chanted, “ADB, back off! Philippines not for sale!”

The militant group also burned a redesigned ADB logo mocking the lender’s name and tagline.

In one of the group’s banners, ADB was spelled out as “Anti-Development Bank,” while its tagline “Fighting poverty in Asia and the Pacific” was tweaked to read “Promoting poverty in Asia and the Pacific.”

“The ADB’s chosen theme for its 45th governors meeting is belied by the many of its anti-development projects. Growth for the most part has been one-sided in favor of big business and banks,” Bayan spokesperson Renato Reyes said.  

ADB loans billions of dollars to developing countries each year in a bid to reduce poverty in Asia-Pacific.

On Wednesday, the multilateral lender announced that it raised $12.4 billion new funds for its anti-poverty efforts despite weak global economic conditions.

“The replenished funds will help borrowing countries promote inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth through investment in infrastructure, education, social safety nets, and clean and renewable energy,” said ADB President Haruhiko Koruda.

Expensive social services

But the militant groups claimed that ADB proposed and bankrolled anti-poor government programs for the privatization of social services and goods in the region.

According to them, such programs caused the increase in the prices of electricity and water in the country.

Bayan cited the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), which the group said was “the reason why Manila now has the most expensive electricity rates in Asia” after 10 years of its implementation.

According to the militant think tank IBON Foundation, Epira was passed as a condition to a $300-million loan from the ADB.

Meanwhile, the FDC said that ADB is responsible for the privatization of water in Asia.

Citing the case of the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in the Philippines, FDC reported that “in just 12 years, water tariffs have risen exponentially by almost 1000%. Water lost to leakages in the West zone is higher than pre-privatization levels. The MWSS has still continued to incur more debts.” 

IBON also noted that ADB funded part of the Aquino government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

It said the program lacks comprehensive studies on its effectiveness and constitutes another debt burden for Filipinos “who will repay the ADB an estimated $508.5 million in 25 years.”

“ADB has not only increased the Philippines’ debt dependency, but has also made these loans a leverage to implement damaging economic policies like trade liberalization and privatization of social and public services,” IBON said.

However, the ADB said the CCT program is vital to narrowing the income gap in the country, which in turn, will help reduce poverty.

The CCT program provides monetary assistance to poor families under a number of conditions including that they keep their children in school.

The Aquino government has set aside over P34 billion in this year’s budget for the program, which hopes to cover 4.8 million poor families by 2014.

ADB meet: ‘Coming out party’

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has said that the Philippines stands to benefit from hosting the ADB annual meeting, dubbed as the country’s “coming out party.”

He said the meeting is an opportunity to promote the country as an investment and tourism destination. –