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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

End the global debt bondage

A visitor to 'Starved for Attention,' a free interactive exhibit by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Union Square, in New York Citylooks at photographs that focus on the topic of childhood malnutrition, in New York City on Sept. 13, 2011

A visitor to 'Starved for Attention,' a free interactive exhibit by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Union Square, in New York Citylooks at photographs that focus on the topic of childhood malnutrition, in New York City on Sept. 13, 2011. (Photo: AFP)

Published: August 24, 2022 03:18 AM GMT
Write off foreign debt of poor nations and in return cancel climate debt owed by rich nations to the poor

The Church’s social teachings need to be practiced, according to Pope Francis. "The price of unbearable sacrifices” is the debt of human suffering imposed on the poor and exploited caused by international debt, he said.

The Argentine pontiff said five million children will die in one year due to the extreme poverty caused by unbearable debt. He referred to his home country which is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resolve the national debt owed to rich nations.

There is one thing above all others that humans can never escape — the burden of debt. Almost everyone carries the burden of debt. Everyone seems to owe someone else. There are different kinds of debt, the debt of honor which can control the lives of the underling to the person in the ascendancy.

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The phrase in the Philippines, Utang na loob, or debt of one's inner self explains it well. Parents, relatives, benefactors and schools all claim we owe them something. Religious leaders claim we even owe a debt to God, although Jesus declared that once we repent and do penance for our sins then all our debts are forgiven and if we are Good Samaritans he gives us friendship debt-free.

Political debts are crushing and like some Church leaders control people by debt. The ruling patriarch of the family dynasty holds almost everyone in some debt in their town or province when he dispenses public services which are considered personal favors rather than rights. Then there is debt owed to banks, to real estate owners, the mortgage and car loan that have to be paid. Now runaway inflation has increased living costs and the debts pile up further. There is no end to debt.

The world economic system runs on debt that must be paid and can never be forgiven. Restitution to victims must be paid, war reparations must be paid. All international debts must be paid on time. There is no escape — pay or perish.

Nations borrow and nations must pay. The IMF is the great lender and debt collector for rich nations; banks that lend to poor countries are an extension of colonial control. They pressure poor nations that cannot pay to open their natural resources to multinationals for extraction and exploitation. This is simply colonialism in another form.

In the Philippines, President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. borrowed billions of dollars and in 1977 passed Presidential Decree 1177 known as the Automatic Appropriations Law for debt servicing. It decreed that the national treasury must pay the loan with interest, leaving the nation without much money for public services or development and poverty soared. Former Senator Antonio Trillanes tried to repeal this decree but failed. The Philippines is the only country with such a law.

The borrowing goes on. Foreign debt stood at US$109 billion as of March 2022, according to the Philippine Central Bank. The national debt increased by 3.1 percent, up from $106 billion. Economists are still trying to figure out where it all went.

On the Covid crisis, perhaps, on infrastructure, yes, but most went on importing oil upon which the government levies a high tax. The beneficiaries are the “new seven sisters” as the oil-producing nations are called. They are Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, CNPC of China, NIOC of Iran, Venezuela's PDVSA, Brazil's Petrobras and Petronas of Malaysia. These are the big players in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a price-fixing cartel that holds nations and the world to ransom. Led by Russia, they hike up the prices and become vastly richer because of the Ukraine war that is funded by Russian oil and gas sales to Europe and elsewhere.

These are nationalized corporations and they control one-third of all the oil and gas in the world. They control the price of oil and gas. By increasing production, the price will fall; by reducing production they create a shortage and the price will rise. The law of supply and demand rules the world. They have the power to manipulate the world economy and cause inflation, job losses and social unrest that threaten the stability of governments. Nations owe big debts to OPEC. This creates great inequality.

Pope Francis told the world: “These are solvable problems, there is no lack of resources. There is no determinism that condemns us to universal inequality. Let me repeat: We are not doomed to universal inequality.”

Argentina cannot pay its debts to the IMF and is running out of foreign currency. Putin is fanning the flames of inflation by cutting off gas supplies to Europe.

Oil is power and the fossil fuel oil industry is still shamefully subsidized by many governments, giving corporations everywhere incentives to explore for more oil.

Some rich nations pressure poor nations that cannot pay their debts to open their natural resources of oil and gas to multinational corporations to exploit for profit. This is the colonial exploitation that goes on today. This is the debt trap and China plays it all too well. It is a form of national bondage on a global scale.

This oil rush goes on despite the need to stop burning fossil fuels and cut CO2 emissions and build renewable power sources to save the planet from global warming. Humans are in self-destructive mode. The burning of oil and gas causes dramatic climate change and global warming causes the earth to dry up and burn.

This is adding more CO2 to the atmosphere which leads to an increase in global warming, causing more drought and less water for crops, leading to food shortages, hunger and more social unrest, pushing poor nations further into debt just to survive.

The poor southern nations suffer most from destructive climate change and they generate only a tiny fraction of the CO2 in the atmosphere that is causing global warming. In fact, 85 percent is generated by rich industrial nations. They cause huge losses and they now owe the poor nations climate reparations. Because of their polluting habits, the rich nations have a massive responsibility and huge climate debt to pay to the poor nations that owe them money.

So why not call it quits? Cancel the foreign debt of the poor nations and in return cancel the climate debt owed by rich nations to the poor.

The forced repayments of interest and capital by poor nations will stop and go to support food production, renewable energy projects and this will result in less debt to buy oil. But that can only happen if the poor population can stop their corrupt rulers from stealing what’s left in the national coffers.

The rich nations will lose power and control over the poor and stop exploiting them with every devious dirty deal to enslave poor nations in debt bondage.

A massive effort to mobilize international public opinion for this deal is needed. Most of the rich have no compassion, no mercy, just self-interest so it is the common people, the poor that have to act and demand their leaders refuse to pay these unjust debts until the rich polluters of the world pay them for the damage caused by climate change and do climate justice.

“In not a few situations, we are facing a lack of will and decision to change things and mainly, the priorities,” Pope Francis said.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia