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President Duterte may have flip-flopped on his stance on several issues, but he has been consistent in his accommodation of Chinese investments and loans. And understandably so. Chinese money has filled the gap vacated by Westerners and has covered the funding requirements of developing nations. Critics, however, argue that China may use its economic foothold to gain political influence in its host country.
The campaign season officially kicked off last week, marking the start of a three-month period that will no doubt be filled with theatrics and mudslinging. After all, the outcome of the midterm election is, in some ways, a litmus test for the popular support for this administration. Other than re-electionists, at least three hopefuls closely associated with President Duterte are vying for a seat in the senate. And in the latest Pulse Asia Senatorial Preferences survey, the former Special Assistant to the President finally broke into the coveted twelve spots, overtaking even more seasoned politicians.
Duterte’s economic managers finally got a much-needed reprieve at the start of 2019. After months of struggling to contain increasing commodity prices, the inflation rate finally showed signs of slowing down. First, it clocked in at 6% in November, before easing further to 5.1% in December, recording a month-on-month deceleration of -0.3% and -0.4%, respectively. This is the lowest inflation rate since June. The latest inflation figure puts the full-year average at 5.2%, matching the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) 2018 forecast but exceeding its 4% target.
IN August, inflation clocked in at 6.4%, once again exceeding official targets and market expectations. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected inflation to be within 5.5% to 6.2%. Last month’s inflation also marked the highest increase in almost a decade. Month-on-month inflation also picked up to 0.9% in August from 0.5% in July, after it started losing its momentum in the last few months. For the first eight months of the year, inflation already averaged at 4.8 %, exceeding central bank’s upper end target of 4% for 2018.
In what was a surprising deviation from his usual off-the-cuff remarks, President Duterte stuck to his script as he delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA). Echoing his economic managers, he fended off criticisms of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) and asserted that it has made funds available to build infrastructure and develop human capital. The President extolled the seven-month-old law, claiming that it is already helping poor families and senior citizens cope with rising prices. He added that the government has set aside P149 billion worth of subsidies this year, a figure that will increase by P20 billion by next year. He also enumerated measures that the government has rolled out so far, including unconditional cash transfers, discounts in gas stations, and fuel vouchers for public utility vehicles, without mentioning the delayed implementation of these social mitigating measures. As he closed his segment on tax reform, the President urged Congress to pass the succeeding tax proposals.
THE CHORUS of lawmakers and various groups calling for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN)’s suspension amidst inflation rates peaking to four-year highs has only grown louder. The chief architects of the law have been put on the defensive, vehemently explaining that the rise in prices was predominantly driven by external factors. Even the president himself, who usually refrains from talking about economic issues, has offered his two cents on the debate. While he acknowledged that TRAIN is one of the factors driving up inflation, he emphasized that he needed money to run the country.
Just a few months into office, bureaucrats from the Department of Finance (DoF) wasted no time and lined up five tax packages ostensibly to...