By Ben Rosario
Economic managers of the Duterte administration are pursuing closer working relationship with Congress in a bid to speed up action on several legislative proposals that will help achieve President Duterte’s economic objectives to provide comfortable life for Filipinos.
In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the economic team headed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, proposed the conduct of more informal and technical-level meetings of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to smoothen and ensure better working relations with lawmakers.
The Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) will engage the leaders and committees of both the Senate and the House in providing them with vital and timely inputs on the various economic and fiscal bills pending in the 18th Congress.
The economic managers were in full attendance at Thursday’s initial hearing of the proposed 2020 national expenditure program (NEP) conducted by the House Committee on Appropriations.
In the letter, the group stressed that there is a “need for more clarity on the basis where the executive can support bills with fiscal or economic implications” to manage the expectations of lawmakers on such measures.
“The DOF, DBM, and NEDA look forward to working more closely with the 18th Congress, under your leadership, to better align the priorities of the legislature with the President’s development agenda,” the letter stated.
“This is to ensure that we can move our country forward and achieve our Ambisyon Natin 2040 objective of becoming a high-income country where poverty is eradicated,” the group said.
They said the DOF, for one, has reorganized to assign more full-time directors and staff to engage with the Congress on a regular basis.
Aside from Dominguez, also signing the letter were Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and former DBM Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Secretary Janet Abuel.
The letter writers said that pursuing the fiscal reforms proposed by the Duterte administration can be a good start in setting in motion this close collaboration between the Executive and the Congress to ensure that the Philippines gets “a good chance” of reaching an “A” credit rating in two years’ time, they said.
“Securing an ‘A” investment-grade credit rating “means that the government, businesses, and ordinary Filipinos can borrow more cheaply to invest, create jobs, and improve their lives,” the economic team said.
The group stated: “Thus, pursuing these reforms is not just about getting a credit upgrade. It is about upgrading everyone’s life.”
Economic managers also pointed out that “effective collaboration between the executive and legislative branches” during the previous Congress was crucial in the passage of key economic and fiscal reforms in support of the President’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
These reforms include, they said, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, Estate Tax Amnesty, Tobacco Tax Reform, Rice Liberalization, National ID System, Ease of Doing Business (EODB), and Universal Health Care (UHC).
They said Filipinos are already feeling the benefits of these reforms as shown by the decline in the inflation rate to 3.4 percent, which is now within the official target range of 2-4 percent; and the drop in the retail cost of rice, which now sells for up to P10 per-kilo cheaper compared to the peak market rates last year.
Also, more jobs were created and people now have more money to spend, as a result of tax savings equivalent to a 14th month pay because of TRAIN, the economic managers said.
“The total value we give back to the people reached P111 billion in 2018. Spending on infrastructure was 41.3 percent higher in 2018, thanks in part to TRAIN revenues, helping create employment of over 300,000 in the construction sector.
Likewise, larger Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) premiums, free tertiary education, and rice subsidy to the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) beneficiaries were made possible by higher revenue collections,” they said.
These positive developments have led to a high growth rate of 6.2 percent in 2018 and a lower poverty rate from 27.6 percent in the first of 2015 to 21 percent in the first half of 2018, thereby lifting six million Filipinos out of poverty, even as inflation was higher in 2018, they said.
“These game-changing reforms led to a credit rating upgrade from Standard and Poor’s. The upgrade, from ‘BBB’ to ‘BBB+’, is a strong vote of confidence in the Duterte administration’s reform agenda.
“This would not have been possible without the strong support of the Congress,” they said in their joint letter to Sotto and Cayetano.
Apart from ensuring that the Congress pass more game-changing reforms needed to secure an “A” rating for the Philippines, the economic team also underscored the need to guarantee fiscal discipline.
This means “taking a strong position on what is not in the best interest of the people as a whole.”
“While some bills seek to benefit some sectors, they take away money from millions of other poor and jobless people who also deserve our help,” they said.