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A reform long overdue

Much fuss has been raised about the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act or CITIRA (the erstwhile Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities or TRABAHO Bill), with claims that it affects the mood of investors who now choose to wait and see. What’s not emphasized enough is that much of the uncertainty results from the long-winded process the discussion on this reform takes. Proposals to rationalize fiscal incentives have been filed since the 10th Congress, mostly in the Lower House, with the Senate joining the fray starting in the 13th Congress. The push for the reform has been gaining momentum over time, getting much-deserved attention starting the 17th Congress. It has been more than two decades. The issue has clearly peaked, indicating that the reform is bound to happen. It will serve all sectors better the sooner the law is passed.

Taal: probing the judgment of scientists and the power of bureaucrats

My wife is Batangueño; some of her relatives are evacuees. So I have a personal interest in the human drama around the Taal volcano eruptions.

The UP Chancellorship

The University of the Philippines (UP), particularly Diliman, is abuzz. The process of selecting the next UP Diliman Chancellor has aroused the UP community, including the alumni.

Dina Abad’s lasting legacy

We gather with a purpose that is close to our hearts: the launching of the Dina Abad Emerging Leaders Fellowship program, and our celebration of her enduring legacy. What a fitting present for her birthday, which is eight days from today.

The Co-Chairperson’s Report

It is regrettable that the news and commentaries regarding the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” have focused on the finding that “the percentage of shabu seized is less than 1% of the total estimated consumption of shabu.”

The risk, despite the growth

The surveys show that the Filipino people are optimistic about the new year; that their lives will be better off in 2020.

Christmas 2019

Christmas is about love and peace. And hope.

The Class of ’69

The year 2019 marked the golden year of our grade school class. In 1969, we graduated from elementary school, perhaps unaware then that we would be caught up in the vortex of turbulence all around us.

Business and Human Rights

This week sees Human Rights Day, celebrated globally every 10th December to mark the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 61 years ago. The contribution of former Filipino general-turned-diplomat, Carlos P. Romulo, in drafting and negotiating that historic document remains well known at a time when human rights face severe challenges in the Philippines and around the world.

FOI Initiative is back

FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) is the youth arm of the Right to Know, Right Now! (R2KRN) Coalition. It has been advocating an accountable and transparent government by enabling youth participation in public affairs.

In memory of Ernest Leung

Those who knew Ernest from afar -- perhaps as a technocrat and a former Finance Secretary -- might ask: What on earth was he doing in Papua New Guinea where he contracted malaria, leading to his death?

On Education: Lessons from Finland and now, from Estonia

Can Philippine education learn from the experiences in Northern Europe? Conditions might be different, but basic lessons and insights can be found, considering that everyone follows some international standards or metrics.

‘Nothing is intolerable that is necessary’

That was my mantra when I rushed Dodong to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) via ambulance on that frightening morning of Dec. 29, 2014.

Grand slam for tax reforms

In baseball, a grand slam is a home run hit with all the bases loaded. That means that each base has a runner and that the single home run, the grand slam, scores four runs (points), in one fell swoop.

How I will remember Tio Nene

Tatay Nene is how his family and also his friends, colleagues, and ordinary people call the late Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.

What will influence the PET?

The recent resolution of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) requires the parties to the election protest of the loser, Bongbong Marcos, to comment on the PET’s recount of votes in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. The outcome of the recount in these provinces even increased the lead of Vice-President Robredo by an additional 14,285 votes. Thus, Vice-President Robredo’s over-all lead is now equivalent to 278,566 votes.

The Rice Tariffication Law: amidst the sound and fury

As is typical when it comes to most laws, civil society groups have taken different positions with regard to the recently passed Republic Act 11203, otherwise known as the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL). In the midst of the continued decline in palay prices at the farmgate, some groups, led by Bantay Bigas, have launched a petition to have the law repealed. Meanwhile, Omi Royandoyan of Centro Saka and Alyansa Agrikultura wants a suspension of the law, but does not want to go back to quantitative restrictions. Rather, he wishes government to observe the rice market for six to eight cropping seasons (three to four years) and use flexible tariffs to protect the rice farmers. Other groups within the circle of the Rice Watch Action Network that are equally critical of the law have diverse positions, from outright repeal to amend, but they are united in saying that, definitely there is no more going back to quantitative restrictions. And then there’s the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), led by Raul Montemayor, which does not see the need to repeal or even amend the law at this time. FFF points out that the Safeguard Measures Act can be invoked to protect the rice industry from the onslaught of imports which can be implemented alongside other measures.

Do fiscal incentives predict foreign direct investments?

The prolonged trade war between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, is hurting both countries and it is thus seen as a threat to the global economy. Yet for developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia, the ugly trade war is an opportunity, for this economic war translates into a redirection of trade and investments. Indeed, having been affected by the trade war, many companies with global value chains based in China have moved out or are seriously considering their exit.

Social inclusion for ASEAN’s long term stability

Economic insecurity bred by inequitable distribution of wealth due to globalization and trade liberalization resulted in rising populist protectionism in many parts of the world. The failure of governments to promptly address the loss of opportunity and the rising inequality has created a political backlash, recently shown by the retreat to protectionism in the US and the Brexit.

For the Filipino people’s health, we say ‘Never Again’

September 21, 1972 was a day of infamy. It was the day that Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and made himself a dictator. Thousands were jailed, tortured, or killed by Marcos and his military. He destroyed the Philippine’s political institutions, and he devastated the Philippine economy through massive corruption, profligacy, and unsound policies.

A message of thanks

A statement I often hear from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is his recognition of the contribution of his predecessors and the previous administrations in providing the building blocks for the current comprehensive tax reform program. Recently, in a thanksgiving lunch he hosted for former finance secretaries, other former senior government officials, and reputable economists and technocrats from the private sector and civil society, including critics of the administration, he again emphasized that the current Department of Finance (DoF) has built on the good work that others have done.

Understanding rice tariffication

We are firm in defending and asserting the rice tariffication reform despite the current transitional problems that it faces in its implementation. The reform will benefit both Filipino rice farmers and Filipino consumers.

‘Life, death, and the best of us’

The title of this essay does not belong to me. It is Tony La Viña’s. It is the title of his Rappler essay (Jan. 6. 2016), which gave tribute to diverse people whose deaths gave meaning to him and others.

Higher alcohol taxes will improve population health and augment UHC funds

Noncommunicable diseases have become the leading cause of death and illness in the Philippines. Alcohol consumption is associated with more than 10% of noncommunicable disease burden worldwide, including liver disease and cancer. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Compare published by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington revealed that in 2017 alone, there were 29,506 deaths attributable to alcohol use in the Philippines. The idea that moderate alcohol consumption (“one glass of wine a day”) is safe, has recently been denounced by the World Health Organization (WHO). Their report estimates that alcohol kills one person every 10 seconds. There is no safe dose for alcohol consumption.

Lex Talionis: in a time of a shooting war

President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to give the New People’s Army (NPA) tit for tat” is notable on several levels. It is perhaps the first time in the Philippines since American General Jacob Smith and Japanese Geneneral Masaharu Homma were here, that a commander-in-chief or a military commander has ordered “tit for tat,” “Do it to them also,” and “give them what they deserve” against the enemy. Whatever way this is interpreted and implemented by the military, and counter-attacked by the NPA, the result can only be an unfortunate further escalation of the armed conflict and (counter-)insurgency-related killings.

Lee Kuan Yew

August 9 is the National Day of Singapore. On this day, Singapore commemorates its independence from Malaysia.

The case for increasing alcohol taxes

In one of the rare moments of this year’s State of the Nation Address where President Rodrigo Duterte followed the speech written for him,...

Duterte’s misguided pronouncements on rice policy

In a speech in Ilocos Sur on July 25, President Rodrigo R. Duterte strongly alluded to a suspension of the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Act of 2019. Duterte proposed a “happy compromise” -- to disallow rice imports and provide price support for local rice farmers for the upcoming harvest season, regardless of cost to government.

Drop the sedition charges

The filing of sedition charges against Vice-President Leni Robredo and 35 other individuals who are identified with the so-called “yellow opposition” is alarming.

The last three years

As we enter the last half of Rodrigo Duterte’s term, economic policy-makers and policy-influencers look at the prospects of what reforms can still be done.

Rey Casambre: Peace warrior

As I was disembarking from a Manila-Taipei flight that had just landed at the Taoyuan airport, a co-passenger approached me and asked: “Aren’t you Men? Do you remember me?” I couldn’t immediately figure out who she was though she looked oddly familiar. She then gave a hint: “I’m a high school classmate of Rey Casambre.”

Japan’s Coast Guard diplomacy in Southeast Asia

In light of recent regional maritime disputes involving China and the Philippines, Japan’s maritime strategy to calm tensions cannot be ignored.

Extractives data: How can transparency stimulate domestic resource mobilization?

LET us be clear about an implicit assumption about the work of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI): Its objective goes beyond transparency of revenues, contracts, and ownership. Neither is the objective limited to generating domestic resources, done in a transparent way. The EITI’s distinct contribution is to promote revenue, contract, and ownership transparency, which in turn is a necessary condition to finance and build development, anchored on fairness, equity, and sustainability.

Hope and change

Several years ago, I, a starry-eyed millennial, had a chance to visit South Africa. It was a learning experience.

Resilience and heart

This entire story about a series of tobacco tax increases was triggered by House Bill (HB) 4144, which the pro-tobacco House leadership hastily approved in late 2016. This bill wanted to increase the then unitary rate of PHP 30 per pack to a dual-tier rate of PHP 32 and PHP 36, respectively. The reformers from both inside and outside government opposed it because the proposed rates were low and the two-tier system reverses the previous reform of having a single tax for all brands regardless of prices, thereby resulting in less revenues and allowing smokers who cannot afford the higher price to shift to the lower-taxed cigarettes.

Policy continuity

Does anyone remember the debates during the presidential elections in 2016? In one debate, then candidate Digong Duterte was asked about his economic platform. His answer was that he’d copy the economic platform of the other candidates.

Pass the Tobacco Tax

The Philippine Congress, particularly the Senate, has a handful of days left to pass important legislation. One of the urgent bills that the Senate should pass is the increase in the tobacco tax rate.

Election outcome

The Duterte administration won big in the midterm elections. Although the full tally still has to be completed, with 94.39% of voters already accounted for, the likelihood is that the opposition will suffer a shutout in the senatorial elections.

A taste of the Alternative Learning System

Imagine being at a high school one sunny Saturday in March. Instead of being surrounded by restless sulking teenagers, you are surrounded by adolescent and adult learners who are smiling shyly and who look happy to be there. There is some nervous energy as there are visitors to observe the Alternative Learning System – Education and Skills Training (ALS-EST) teaching-learning sessions, but the excitement and pride of everyone – from the school leaders to the teachers and learners – are more palpable.

Why those satisfied with the administration should vote opposition?

I address this piece mainly to the 81% of Filipinos who are satisfied with the general performance of the current administration. (See the first quarter 2019 Social Weather Stations or SWS survey, which says that the net satisfaction rating of the national administration is a record-high score of +72, broken down into 81% of Filipinos satisfied, 9% unsatisfied, and 10% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.)

Trade deficits and industry competitiveness

Widening trade deficits are usually seen as a policy problem, and understanding the pattern and sources of the deficit is important to help us formulate the correct policy advice. From a macro perspective, deficits are explained partly by economic growth and changes in relative prices measured by real effective exchange rates. Microeconomic factors also play a role, particularly the declining competitiveness of our industries and failure to upgrade and move up the global value chain.

Lux in Domino? II

“Lux in Domino?” (BusinessWorld, 14, April 2019, online version), I am happy to note, has stimulated a vigorous discussion, if not an earnest discussion.

Lux in Domino?

Irene Marcos-Araneta’s presence at the launch of the Areté Outdoor Installation Program on the Ateneo de Manila campus has created a tempest that will not pass calmly.

Will the proposed reforms address the decline of political parties?

My main message in “The Decline of Political Parties” (BusinessWorld, 1 April 2019) is that path dependence can explain how Philippine political parties have been emasculated. That is, our colonial history has determined the path of our political parties, and it will be difficult to reverse this.

The decline of Philippine political parties

What has happened to Philippine political parties?