FDC womens dayMANILA, Philippines – A day before the celebration of International Women's Day, more than 500 women members of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) took to the streets of Manila Wednesday urging President Benigno S. Aquino III to honor the government's "social debt," especially to Filipino women who now "carry heavier burden due to the deficiencies of past and present administrations."

Led by FDC Women's Committee, the protestors, who marched from España Boulevard to Mendiola, also demanded from the government automatic appropriations for social and economic services as a solution to the government's accumulating "social debt."

FDC defines social debt as debt to the people or unfulfilled obligation of the government to its citizens. It results from the government's continued honoring of financial obligations, including odious and illegitimate debts. FDC believes that "every peso paid to service the country's debt adds to social debt."

Manjette Lopez, FDC vice president, said that women, for the longest time, have taken on the responsibility of the well-being and development of their families as they provide for food on the table, health care services, shelter and education for their children. In reality, these also comprise the basic and essential needs of the Filipino people, for which government is obligated to ensure, she added.

Food, education, health and housing are rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR) both adopted (1966); and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1984).

"But government has failed to provide for its citizens, as its programs fall short in providing these needs and services for all. Social programs are sacrificed time and again, every time government's fiscal standing falters," said Lopez.

"Past and present administrations have prioritized debt servicing over the provision of social services, particularly health, education and housing," she added.

According to FDC, from 1986 to 2011, the average annual spending for health is P15.01 billion; education, P102.87 billion; and, housing, P7.32 billion. However, the average annual debt service, both interest and principal payments, reaches P321.84 billion for the same period.

"The stark difference in allocations have resulted in high maternal mortality, children not completing education, increasing number of street dwellers, and a wide gap between rich and poor. In the end, the task of providing becomes the woman's burden, and becomes heavier during times of economic difficulties," Lopez said.

More than the difficulties, the country has a relatively higher maternal mortality ratio (deaths of women per 100,000 live births). According to UNDP 2008 data, 94 Filipino mothers die annually.

"Women need not die from giving birth especially since key international and national policies, such as CEDAW and the Magna Carta of Women that assure women's health from birth until death, have been passed over the last decades. Women's health goes beyond looking after health during her reproductive years," stressed Nora Protacio of WomanHealth Philippines.

FDC's Lopez said, "If we go by WHO standards, adequate health programs require government budget allocations equivalent to 5% of gross domestic product. This means that based on record of yearly budget allocations for health, Philippine government has accumulated a health debt of P4.8 trillion from 1986 to 2011."

For education, 6 out of 10 children in the ages of 12-15 drop out from secondary education and eventually 3 are only able to reach tertiary level, according to government data.

Gloria Santos, president of Kilusan at Ugnayan ng Maralitang Pasigeños (KUMPAS) and a teacher by profession, said that mothers struggle with sending their children to school, in their belief that education assures their children's future.

FDC pointed out that if the country abides by the UNESCO standard of 6% of GNP provision for adequate education for all, the Philippine government has an accumulated education debt of P3.56 trillion from 1986 to 2011.

Santos shared that "for many mothers increasing drop-out rates means that their efforts are not matched by ample government service, and mother's responsibility over providing for their children also continues to extend."

As regards shelter, the government has 11,947,992 housing backlog in all regions, according to the HUDCC report 2010. With P120,000 for a 45-square meter house, as estimated by the National Housing Authority, the government's social debt to the housing sector amounts to P1.43 trillion for 2010 alone.

Lynie Olimpio of Koalisyon Pabahay ng Pilipinas said, "This meager housing allocation has failed to make housing accessible and affordable to many families. In fact, about 80% of families now face the sad situation of their communities being demolished or foreclosure of their property."

"The government must honor this debt to the people and enact a law that would automatically allocate funds, based on rights enshrined in various legally binding documents, for social and economic services," stressed Lopez.

Meanwhile, women in agriculture continue to face challenges resulting from discrimination and marginalization, according to Iza Gonzales of the Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS).

"Women produce more than half of what the world eats. We spend 11 to 16 hours a day in productive and reproductive work and participate in 90 percent of planting and harvesting both in agriculture and fisheries. Sadly, the role and contribution of women in the rural sectors are often unrecognized, undervalued and unprotected," said Gonzales.

"Rural women make up less than half of agriculture and fisheries program," said Gonzales, adding, "Less than 30 percent of women small farmers have access to support services and only 9 percent have access to government-assisted capital support."

"Rural women, especially indigenous women, are not visible in baseline statistics that serve as basis for policy formulation," stressed Gonzales.