MANILA, August 2 , 2004 (STAR) A pro-administration lawmaker called yesterday for a congressional inquiry and audit of the country’s staggering P5.4-trillion public debt.

Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita said Congress must ascertain which of the debts are fraudulent, behest, and onerous. "In flesh and blood terms, every peso that goes to the coffers of foreign and local creditor banks is a textbook, desk and chair taken away from schoolchildren in our remote barangays," he said.

Zialcita said only Congress under the Constitution can appropriate funds and determine the purposes by which they may be used. "Every dollar siphoned out of the country by transnational creditor banks is another burden on the backs of teachers who have to teach oversized classes," he said.

Zialcita said the results of the debt credit could lay the ground for a ceiling on allocations for debt payments and tighter government regulations on borrowings and awarding of sovereign guarantees. "Ultimately, the loans that will be repudiated, restructured or renegotiated will free up funds and other resources, which can be channeled to programs and services to benefit the people," he said.

The public debt does not only affect the government’s fiscal status, but that it also makes an impact on other spheres of the economy like money supply, inflation and interest, international reserves, and exchange rate, he added.

Zialcita said the consolidated public debt in 2002 had amounted to P5.16 trillion or 128 percent of the GDP, and that by 2003 it has increased by P230 billion.

From 1995 to 2003, the debt payments had averaged more than a third of the national government’s expenses, and that the payments accounted for virtually half of government expenses over the last two years, he added.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said Congress must be given oversight powers over the loans of government- owned and controlled corporations since they automatically become part of the national debt once these firms fail to pay them.

On the other hand, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman proposed that a Congressional Commission on Debt be created to review and assess the country’s debt policies and recommend measures to reduce the debt stock.

The planned commission shall be comprised of the chairmen of the House committee on appropriations and the Senate committee on finance, with six members from each chamber, he added. — Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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