"These concerns are strong baits which can be very useful as we go to the polls in 2019."    

There is a lot of baiting going around these days. There’s one on the economy as Malacañang pushes for the second part of its tax reform agenda—TRAIN 2—aimed at rationalizing the tangled and problematic incentives program being implemented through various agencies, the most notorious being those under the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. Records show that that in 2015, close to P4 trillion worth of goods were imported through PEZA-registered enterprises, ostensibly for capital equipment, intermediate goods and the like—all with incentives. Sadly, only P1.5 trillion worth of goods were processed and exported.

That’s a clear leak of P2.5 trillion worth of imported goods which went directly to the local market to the detriment of our own producers. With such a dismal equation, why should we, the ordinary taxpayers, tolerate the status quo that, for all intents and purposes, benefits only the PEZA companies and their powerful owners? Yet, despite this and other facts pointing to the abuse of our fiscal incentives system staring them in the face, it appears most of our senators do not want to budge from their earlier opposition to the reform effort. Unable to explain their situation, the senators have engaged Malacañang and its economic managers in baiting. First, they blamed the earlier passed TRAIN 1 as the root of our dismal (?) economic situation, pointing out the spike in the prices of some basic goods and the inflationary pressures caused by the rapid increase in the price of gas and related products.

Of course, they all know that the price spike and other pressures were not caused by the earlier TRAIN 1, which was passed almost unanimously  by the legislature. They have been advised by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Department of Finance, and other private research institutes that the gas price increase has less than 1 percent impact on the higher-than-expected inflation rate. They are also aware that given our better  economic performance and the rush to get as many of the “Build, Build, Build” projects off the drawing boards, more money is now in the hands of our people. That increased buying power has since triggered some spike in the prices of certain goods. Add to that the fact that we missed out on our rice supply due to internal wrangling at the National Food Authority, of course, the series of typhoons which visited us in succession over the past three months and voila you have an inflationary environment.

The catch is this will not be the situation for long. In fact, there has been an easing in the price of rice and other basic goods as we bring in more rice and other imports into the market. Yet, the senators continue baiting President Duterte and his team into making unwarranted adjustments in the reform plan—a call which, if pushed, can only add more problems to government’s fiscal position. And this is just one of a number of critical concerns being ping-ponged around through various guises. The main option right now being used as bait to scare the public is the fear of inflation, depressed peso, dollar rate, among others, all of which will not be there for long based on various factors. But these concerns are strong baits which can be very useful as we go to the polls in 2019.    

Another favorite bait used by anti-administration forces is the South China Sea/West Philipine Sea issue which has remained on top of certain groups’ bait pool. This issue got activated once again as China announced it has constructed and is now going to operate three (3) research and monitoring centers—a maritime observation center, a meteorogical observatory and an environmental and air quality center —in some of the disputed islands being occupied by the Chinese. This development has engendered a paroxysm of denunciations from the usual suspects to the point of baiting Malacañang into issuing a statement that “it was ready to file a protest” over such a development. That statement, of course, downplayed its impact with Palace spokesman Sal Panelo advising that they will wait for further developments and leave the filing to the better judgment of President Duterte.

Which is well and good. After all, we have yet to understand and get more information about these “research and observation centers” which are ostensibly scientific undertakings. Premature, knee-jerk protests may amount to much ado about nothing. If these are open to experts and scientists from other countries specially those belonging to ASEAN as part of a regional or even global effort to monitor developments in our seas and oceans what’s wrong with that? If these will be used to enhance safety in that very busy international commercial route, then all the better for all of us. In fact, we have yet to hear whether the other claimants are preparing to issue their own protests over this development. If not, what’s egging us to issue one?

Finally, we need to understand the meaning of the award we got from the UN Tribunal on the

disputed islands which, in effect, ceded to occupants of these reefs and outposts control over their use. Unfortunately for us, we were remiss in protecting the gains we had in the ’70s when we managed to occupy our very own Kalayan Island Group. At that time we could have expanded our reach and took control of the other islands. For some reason, we did not until the other claimants. China included, occupied and fortified their part of the pie, so to speak, and warded off the others. So, now we are reduced to being onlookers and will remain so unless we do the next best thing—fortify our occupied islands and move to have the entire area an international zone of peace and amity. Then, connect ours with that of China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan into one scientific, commercial and  maritime safety nexus to serve the region and the world. Unless we move in that direction, that area will be a bait for possible live skirmishes which can possibly even result in unwanted limited warfare. We should avoid that from happening at all.    

Topics: TRAIN 2 , Malacañang , South China Sea , West Philipine Sea , Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas , Department of Finance
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