Tuesday, October 26, 2004

On the Japanese ODA

On the 50th year of Japanese ODA and the mass hunger in the Philippines: A reflection and retrospective

Cesar V. Santoyo, Japan Co-Worker, United Church of Christ in the Philippines & member, Hyakunincho Church/UCCJ

“As shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep has been scattered, so will I seek my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:12)

October 2004 marks the 50th anniversary of Japanese Official Development Assistance or ODA. Early this month as well, Philippine news bannered the shocking report that 15% of Filipinos experienced hunger for the past three months as revealed by the Social Weather Station (SWS). This means that 15% of Filipinos had nothing to eat once a day at least once in the last three months - the highest since March 2001. The record showed that hunger was most severe in Mindanao (23%), followed by Metro Manila and the Visayas (13%), and Luzon (11%).

The intentionally linked current state of hunger of Filipinos to Japan’s ODA commemoration is not to give a bad taste for the occasion. Rather, this is to ventilate the fact that ODA affect peoples sufferings. This is the glaring fact that people, especially Japanese taxpayers, need to know in order to understand how the Japanese ODA has destroyed once a blissful community into poverty and has thrown Filipinos into hunger.

I am referring to the several thousands of people from Masantol, Macabebe and the adjacent villages around Pampanga and Bulacan provinces. These are the people who live before through the bounty of marine and agriculture harvest from the Pampanga River and their arable farm lands. Then their lives were suddenly changed when the Japanese ODA funded Pamapanga Delta Development Project (PDDP) came to dredge and widen the 60-70 meters river into 750-meter wide one. The PDDP project claims that it is for flood control but the project oppositionist have clear facts to say that flooding is not the real reason. At any rate, the dredging operation started in 1992 from the mouth of Manila Bay eating lands in its way for nine kilometer long until it was stopped in 1999 due to the strong peoples opposition.

Even though the project was temporarily halted, damages to the lives of people and the environment have been inflicted. To give a picture of the current condition of people affected by PDDP project implementation, below are some excerpts from a letter of a developmental worker of the Network Opposed to PDDP (No to PDDP) that was received also in the same month of October 2004:

If you will ask the situation of the people in the PDDP area, it is worse than ever. The peasants and the fisherfolks were displaced. When the PDDP project was ongoing, dislocation was so imminent but now you can see the worse reality. Now, there’s no source of livelihood at all. What people do have now is ‘pangangapa’ or scavenging or fleecing out the left-over fish after completing the fishpond harvest (owned by a private company). People in the PDDP area today have no means of livelihood. Pampanga River is not a fishing ground anymore and there’s nothing to catch in Pampanga River after it was dredged and widened. Those who want to go fishing have to go to the sea but you need boat with bigger capacity that most people do not have. With small boat, they try their luck in swamps and in the riverside. For former farmers without a boat, ‘pangangapa’ is the only option. There’s absolutely no more rice field in PDDP affected areas. The rice cannot survive the salt water intrusion due to the widened Pampanga River. So the tendency now is to convert the rice fields into fishponds that the ordinary farmers have no capital for maintaining so they have to sell their lands to big fishpond business owners.”

The letter is heartbreaking information especially to people who have followed the opposition to PDDP project implementation and who have joined the PDDP community people in the feast of foods harvested from Pampanga River and vegetables and fruits around the area. My memories is still fresh when one sun-scorching hot morning in our PDDP fact finding mission where we hid ourselves under the shade of guava tree picking and eating its sweet fruits. We were a group of around 14 Japanese church workers who were in the international fact finding mission on PDDP where we were served lunch with ‘sugpo’ (big shrimp), ‘alimango’ (fresh water crab), fresh fish (tilapia and bangus) and other delicacies and fruits that were all taken from Pamapanga River and farms by the community people.

But even this memory is painful since the guava tree and the land where we stood and where we all ate together are literally gone and that place is now part of the waters of the widened Pampanga River. The PDDP project has eliminated the entire habitat in that large area of Pampanga and has kept killing the former residents of the area with hunger as pictured by the above letter.The experiences of people in the PDDP area remain true to other Japanese ODA projects. In just three regions of the Philippines alone (PDDP in Central Luzon, rail and road widening projects in Metro Manila, and CALABARZON in Southern Tagalog), more than a million Filipinos have been displaced by demolitions without relocation to give way to Japanese programs and projects under ODA. From Luzon to Mindanao, Japanese ODA is in progress and more projects are on the way. Many of these projects have destroyed the livelihood of the people and wrought havoc on the environment. Moreover, these projects have to be repaid by the Filipino people as loans by the Philippine government to Japan. Almost 80% of Japanese ODA to the Philippines are tied loans that are added to its foreign debts. The nation is paying a very high price which has ballooned from US$2 billion in the early l970s to over US$56 billion today. More than 40% of the Philippines’ foreign debt is owed to Japan via ODA (tied loans).

Besides the immediate felt effect to the peoples livelihood and its environmental impact, need to say is that the Japanese ODA as tied loan has long term effects to the lives of all Filipinos in terms of debt repayment. There will be less national budget appropriation for basic services like education, health care, community development and others as needed by Filipinos since more than half of the Philippine national budget goes for paying the interest alone for its foreign debt. Translated to the country’s current population, every Filipino – man, woman, child - owes more PhP42,000 (US$800) for its astounding foreign debt.

We can say that Japanese ODA has caused poverty and hunger among Filipinos. It has also been part and parcel of the corruption of Filipino local elite both in the Philippine government and big business contractors. It should be mentioned that, first and foremost, the landlessness of peasants and farmers and the control of the landlords and their representatives in the Philippine parliament and the head of the state are part of the main causes of Filipino poverty and hunger. The corrupt system within the Philippine government that was induced by Japanese ODA and the globalization scheme are particular causes of poverty and hunger that need to be exposed.

If ever the lobbying to reform the Japanese ODA bears fruit other than polishing and refining the current state and government policies in implementing ODA in the Philippines, the people to people friendship, solidarity and cooperation remain to be the best and true options in redressing the grievances from both the victims of ODA mis-development (Filipinos) and taxpayers as donors of ODA (Japanese people). Visiting and meeting the ODA afflicted people as has been going in the past truly provides assistance and renders justice to the hearts and minds of the victims of Japanese ODA (since among OECD member nations who are providing ODA to the Philippines, it is only the Japanese ODAs that have brought massive dislocation to household and livelihood plus foreign debt to Filipinos).

The year 2006 will mark the 50th year of Japanese ODA in the Philippines (July 1956 is the start of Reparation Treaty between Japan and the Philippines) and as it comes closer, the Philippines is facing a fiscal crisis wherein its national budget will not be enough to pay government debt. Together with it is the certainty of increasing number of Filipinos suffering from a state of hunger.

As the commemoration date comes nearer, we have to call on the concerned Japanese and Filipino people to help in exposing the negative impact of Japanese ODA. We are encouraging and inviting all people who have heart to help the victims of developmental aggression to have exposure and study tours in the Japanese ODA affected communities in the Philippines. Together, let us all find the best solutions to the problems due to improper use of developmental aid as faced not only by Filipinos but other afflicted people of developing nations as well.