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Marcos to prioritize stimulus package

Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr speaks to foreign correspondents at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, May 11. — REUTERS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. on Monday confirmed that a new stimulus measure will be part of his priority legislation for the incoming Congress, although potential revenue sources are still being studied.

At a news conference at his headquarters on Monday, Mr. Marcos said he will look at the 2023 national budget, which is still being prepared, to “find sufficient funds” for the proposed economic relief package.

He said he plans to “move some public expenditure away from non-investment expenditures to more investment expenditures” to “revitalize the economy.”

“There are slight differences because although (this year’s budget) has been disbursed, not all of it has been spent, so meron pa tayong breathing room pero konti na lang, and so that’s why we will have to look at the new budget,” Mr. Marcos said. 

Asked if he would consider selling government assets to fund the stimulus package, Mr. Marcos said: “I’m always very wary of selling government assets, so as a matter of principle I would rather not.

Leyte Rep. Martin G. Romualdez, a leading candidate for House Speaker of the 19th Congress, last week said one of the priorities is the passage of a stimulus package dubbed as “Bayan Bangon Muli.” He said the measure would allow the President to use resources available during the final months of 2022 to address the country’s pandemic response and use leftover funds to stimulate the economy.

However, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman told CNN Philippines on Monday that the next administration may not have enough funds to fund another stimulus package as the government has already disbursed 90% of the P5-trillion national budget for this year.

“Unless the new administration can find or create fresh funds, the stimulus package monikered as ‘Bayan Bangon Muli’ will be mere sloganeering and simply a change in nomenclature from the original Bayanihan,” Mr. Lagman said, referring to the two stimulus packages approved by President Rodrigo R. Duterte during the pandemic.

Economists said the next administration should first provide a clear pandemic recovery plan and assess the status of public finances to make any stimulus package more efficient and responsive to emerging needs. 

“The first order of business of the next administration is to first design a post-pandemic economic program which so far has been nonexistent,” said Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“If proven to be viable, then the questions of financing should be easier,” he said in a Messenger chat.

Zyza Nadine Suzara, a public finance expert, said the Marcos team needs to come up with a recovery strategy first, which should be broken down into specific programs that will address the most urgent socioeconomic challenges.

“How will it know how much the total funding requirement really is if there is no plan,” she said in a Messenger chat.

She said the next administration may either find available funds under the 2022 national budget or identify available cash in the Treasury to fund the stimulus package.

While working within the 2022 national budget might not be a huge problem, Ms. Suzara said passing a supplemental budget to fund the proposed stimulus might be an issue because the Department of Finance has to certify that excess revenue sources are available “to foot the bill.” 

She noted that there might still be funds left unspent or unreleased under the 2022 budget due to the recent election ban. She said the incoming 19th Congress “can authorize the reallocation of those funds.”

However, Ms. Suzara said the Marcos family could pay its pending tax liabilities, which Congress could then earmark to fund the target stimulus, “as a sign of goodwill and unity.”

Emy Ruth D. Gianan, an economist at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said it would also be prudent to examine the state of the country’s public finances to assess what kind of measure should be implemented to aid economic recovery.

“The questions should be: How deep are we in debt? Which dole outs have yet to be distributed?” she said in a Messenger chat. “We cannot rely on stimulus packages alone, and then wonder where we would get the money to support such large spending later on.”

Mr. Duterte will step down on June 30 with a record amount of debt, which reached a record high P12.68 trillion as of end-March.