Biggest headlines today: Attaché loses original copy of broadband deal (Philippine Star), Signed RP-China telecom contract stolen, official says (Inquirer). Fishy, fishy, fishy! As if the deal could get any murkier.
While the Times gets its nuances wrong in saying Malacañang says President forced Bunag to step down (the right nuance is in the Inquirer report, BIR chief fired, blames economic team, because yes, what the President did was fire her BIR chief), it’s proven true that Bunag was really on his way out; this report, I think, gives a sign of what the score really is: DOF reveals data that broke fiscal back on Buñag’s fate.
It seems plausible to me, that Bunag wanted to dress-up the government’s numbers by getting companies to pay their taxes ahead of time; for him to do so, it required the Finance Secretary and, ultimately, the President, to sign off on it: only by telling companies that advanced tax payments had the President’s ok did the BIR chief get companies to comply. But, the taxes having been paid, government numbers would eventually take a hit, which they did: at which point, a scapegoat would have to be found. And so, the BIR chief was sacked. So when a report like this comes out –Buñag: Teves convinced Arroyo to sack me– it suggests that Teves (who, lest we forget, is like his cabinet peer Favila: a politician as much as a technocrat) sensed someone would have to be sacrificed, and that Bunag had outlived his usefulness.
Now, Morales denies resigning as Customs chief. Other shoe about to drop? It gets curiouser: Fake resignation letter came from Customs chief’s office.
The thing is, no one is obeying the President. The latest is Palace set to clarify revamp plan: clarify what? That she’s the boss? Why else would you have this report: Palace extends resign deadline? As An OFW Living in Hong Kong puts it: it’s a mess, disorderly, and unpresidential.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the Bunag-era window-dressing has begun to be felt: BIR tightens watch on big business tax payments. Finance Sec. Teves tries to reassure everyone: Government says all efforts on to meet budget deficit goal. The President chimes in, too. In its editorial, the Manila Times tries to put the whole thing in context:
In its latest annual report on the Philippines, Moody’s explained at length why it withheld its vote of confidence on the government’s recent fiscal performance.
The credit-rating company’s decision went against Philippine officials’ expectation of an improvement in the country’s rating outlook to positive. Instead, Moody’s, much like Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services earlier, maintained its stable outlook, which means that the country would continue to bear the burden of a junk or below investment-grade credit standing for the next six to 12 months.
The burden comes via costlier borrowing, which the taxpayer – all of us – would have to bear in terms of higher taxes, poor public service, or both.
Moody’s said that the government’s success in keeping its budget deficit below ceiling last year, while noteworthy, was insufficient to keep up improvements in the fiscal sector over the long run.
This, it said, can be seen from the government’s difficulty in raising ample funds for its priority infrastructure projects. We may recall that the country’s economic managers just came from a road show in Japan, where they managed to convince foreign investors to pool a fund from where the government can draw funds to finance its priority projects.
Unfortunately, the fund pool is not exclusive for Philippine use – something our economic managers would prefer to mention as an aside.
A government or company usually undertakes a road show preparatory to borrowing other people’s money. The objective is to raise enough interest for investors to vote with their wallets and buy either the issuer’s new shares or debt papers.
In the case of their recent trip to Japan, Philippine officials said it was a nondeal road show aimed only at explaining to the investor community the government’s recent accomplishments. In other words, it was a junket.
That the country’s economic managers should return home with only commitments to invest in a fund pool meant not just for the Philippines says a lot about how people outside our borders regard our fiscal performance to date.
This is not meant to denigrate the achievements of the country’s economic managers. But as Moody’s said, the country’s current credit rating reflects its heavy debt burden relative to its peers. This burden leaves the country susceptible to financial shocks, similar to the Asian crisis of a decade ago, which closed down numerous businesses and rendered many Filipinos jobless.
Unfortunately, Moody’s statements, like those of Standard & Poor’s and one other major rating firm, are holy words for the international financial community. The government’s failure to meet tax collection goals in the first quarter only confirms these rating firms’ beliefs – that the Philippines is clearly not yet out of the woods.
Focusing purely on the political, my view is that where the President deserves to be pinned down, is that she’s suffering from political paralysis. She refuses to crack the whip (even the Bunag issue festered longer than it should). For example, the way the fight for the speakership is getting nastier and nastier (see De Venecia: ‘I’m up against Garcia dynasty’) is partly due to the inability of the President’s very own pet party, Kampi, to discipline the rebels within its ranks (Villafuerte, et al.), and the President’s apparent disinclination to exercise a traditional prerogative of the presidency: the Speaker of the House, since time immemorial, has been designated by the President of the Philippines.
But she refuses to anoint her chosen one, which means the fight’s getting more furious among her allies. Scuttlebutt is that what was supposed to result in the toppling of Villafuerte from the presidency of Kampi was called off, on the President’s instructions, which means she’s unwilling to call the shots -so it’s a cannibalistic status quo. Jet Damazo thinks the President’s in “legacy” mode: but the subtext in his report is that a big player, here, is the military. And the military is unsure of what to do. Esperon tries to pass the buck when it comes to Antonio Trillanes: and why would he do this? Because he’s in a lose-lose situation, in terms of military opinion, perhaps?
The Marcoses continue their offensive. First against Lucio Tan, now to reclaim property in Pasig: Bongbong Marcos stakes claim on Pasig prime land.
Overseas: Caste-based hiring widens divide in India; while in France, Regulations stifle French labor market; an interesting snapshot of Indonesian politics (reminiscent of ours) in We are good at destroying, but bad at building; and a look at how Taiwan’s diplomatic prospects keep on dimming, in Taiwan’s Weak Diplomatic Hand; and Bloomberg quits the Republicans (after having previously left the Democrats) and so, Bloomberg stokes rumours of 2008 presidential bid. Party-switching isn’t apparently a problem for Americans (as it wasn’t, in an earlier time, a problem for Churchill in Britain).
In the punditocracy, my column for today has a simple title: Lost.
Lito Banayo takes an interesting peek at goings-on in the Palace, but also, makes an interesting proposal:
Why doesn’t Congress first rationalize the number of our barangays? For instance, Manila with its 2 million population has 897 barangays. Why, it’s almost one street per barangay in certain places. Some barangays do not even have enough registered voters to fill up one precinct. On the other hand, Antipolo City with a population of half-a-million, has only 12 barangays. And Quezon City, which has about 2.6 million souls, makes do with a little over a hundred barangays.
In the same manner that we are supposed to have one congressman for every 150,000 voters, why can’t we likewise re-do the number of barangays so they are indexed to population? Assume that one barangay must manage 25,000 people, then Manila would have 80, Antipolo would have 20, and Quezon City about 100.
He also suggests something I’ve covered elsewhere:
I propose that we abolish city and municipal councilors, and give the task of legislating ordinances to our barangay chairpersons. In the case of Manila or QC or Cebu or some such other huge cities, they could elect among themselves who should sit in the council, or, they could take turns sitting in the council, assuming we adopt what I believe should be a standard term of office — six years for all elected positions.
In the case of provinces, do away with the board members, also called “bokal” in Tagalog. Let the municipal mayors take turns legislating for the province, much like a board of directors. For provinces with a dozen or so municipalities, they could all sit in the board for six years. For provinces like Pangasinan and Cebu with more than 40 towns each, let them take turns at terms of three years.
And he also makes a pitch for bloc voting:
And if we adopt bloc voting for all executive posts, voters would have a very simple ballot to fill every six years, whether manually or computerized as it should be. A vote for the President is automatically a vote for his vice; for the governor and mayor and their “vices” likewise. One congressman. And if we elect senators by region, at two each, regardless of size or population, then the voter writes two additional names. Six names is all it takes. In the case of cities, like those in Metro Manila and the other highly-urbanized cities, all it would take is five names. Simple and less expensive. And believe me, much more efficient and service-effective.
In the blogosphere, The Journal of the Jester-in-Exile painstakingly dissects Executive Order 464 and what the AFP Chief of Staff can and can’t get away with vis-a-vis Senate investigations.
Philippines Without Borders tackles the inefficiencies in ports management and interisland shipping -and why government won’t go past cosmetic solutions.