Lacson Wants ‘Savings’ from Debt Payments Channeled to Health, Education, Research

With the peso projected to strengthen further well into 2008, Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson proposed channeling “savings” from debt interest payments to basic services like health, education and research. 

Lacson said that with the peso’s exchange rate presently at P42 to $1, the government can re-channel some P11.534 billion to health and research services, without sacrificing debt servicing.

“If we compute interest payments for foreign borrowings at P42 to $1 we’ll be saving something like P11.534 billion and that is where I’m coming from. I would propose we restore the budget of the Department of Health, which was slashed by the Senate version by P4.192 billion. And the amount will be taken out of the savings generated by the appreciation of the peso, using a very conservative estimate of P42 to the dollar,” he said.

He noted that when Malacañang formulated the proposed P1.227-trillion national budget for 2008, it assumed an exchange rate of P46 to $1 for the peso. At present, the Senate version of the budget allocates P290.051 billion for interest payments for debt servicing.

Lacson said that with projections by banking groups indicating the peso may even hit P37.50 to $1 in 2008, the “savings” could be reallocated to health services.

“We eliminated the anti-TB program, these are pro-poor programs. The No. 1 casualty is the anti-TB program, P720 million was slashed and TB remains one of the top 10 killer diseases today. Another is vaccine self-sufficiency. We allocated a measly P30 million for the budget for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, they are asking for P250 million,” he said.

Lacson also reiterated his proposal to allocate an additional P20 million for research for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Senate finance committee chairman Juan Ponce Enrile, who was sponsoring the budget, readily obliged to Lacson’s amendments.

Also, Lacson waived anew his pork barrel allocations, following his advocacy against corrupt practices stemming from the use of the controversial fund.