The Long View: YOLO



 / 04:06 AM February 10, 2021

YOLO: You Only Live Once. There’s more to this acronym of our times than the traditional “Bahala na,” which still assumes there’s a Divine Providence at work. It’s not even about being devil-may-care. Most precisely, it encompasses the Western saying “The devil take the hindmost,” which according to the Collins Gem dictionary, means “to describe or comment on a situation you disapprove of because people do only what is best for themselves without thinking about other people.”

I’ve often argued that the real news — the hard news that affects us all — isn’t in the political stories but in the business pages, not least because the most durable, because well-funded and thus most cohesive, parties are those that operate as subsidiaries of our large corporations (the other group would be the Communists, if only anyone admitted to being a Communist, or if one were to believe the allegations of the armed forces that political action by Communists is funded by extortion masquerading as “revolutionary taxation”). This isn’t to discount things like the so-called “war on drugs.” But when you think that our lawmakers, for example, are really required to pass one law every year, the national budget — and that unlike their pre-martial law counterparts, they are required, and paid — to hold office year-round, there can only be so much renaming of streets and other trivial legislation they can attend to. Add to this the inevitable political senility that begins to affect every administration as it nears its end of term, and you get the purpose of those parties funded by, and led, by taipans and other business moguls.

Funnily enough, after two decades of trying — and failing — to get the economic provisions of the Constitution amended, when the present gang decided to attempt it again in Congress, businesspeople suddenly got gun-shy. It may be, as one business observer quipped, that liberalizing the economy sounded delicious when American and European companies might be the ones to be enticed, but in the present era of China’s near-hegemony in our region, our domestic business leaders have suddenly rediscovered their nationalism. Still, government has been wanting to make the business environment more attractive, and before the pandemic, it had announced it would rationalize the system of incentives for foreign investments.

To cut a long story short, the Action for Economic Reforms, which has been batting for the bill, says on the whole that government has succeeded by passing a law called the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act. Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, one of the prime movers behind the bill, gushed that it’s the “greatest economic reform of the post-Edsa years.” The AER dialed down the volume of its praise, saying “the bill rationalizes fiscal incentives and makes corporate income taxation competitive.” The law had two objectives: “First is to have fiscal incentives that are time-bound, performance-based, and transparent and that are tied to the strategic investment priorities. The second is to lower corporate taxation in response to what is admittedly an unhealthy global tax competition.” It came about, observed the AER, after the House immediately enacted what the Palace had submitted, and the Senate, for its part, went through the provisions with a fine-tooth comb.

At first, the House said it would adopt the Senate bill, and thus skip the need for reconciling the two measures. But something curious happened, said the AER: The House changed its mind, asked for a bicameral conference committee to thresh out the two bills after all, and out of the murky proceedings emerged provisions that hadn’t existed in either bill. The AER has asked the President to veto these provisions: first, the exemption on taxes and duties for petroleum refineries; second, the removal of legislative franchises’ tax and duty incentives from the jurisdiction of the Fiscal Incentives Review Board (in the spicy language of the AER: “Exempting legislative franchises’ tax and duty incentives from the jurisdiction of FIRB opens the floodgates for gaming by vested interests who want to receive incentives without being subject to rigorous scrutiny”); and third, the VAT exemption on housing.

While not everyone, particularly people who actually own businesses, agrees with the AER’s opinions on the CREATE bill, you don’t need a deep dive into economics to see how, after months of scrutiny, congressmen were encouraged to shrug and say, “YOLO!”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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