“Diokno’s boldness transformed the economy, transformed the people, transformed the Philippines.”
On Thursday, June 9, I had the immense pleasure of introducing outgoing Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjaimin E. Diokno as guest speaker of the Rotary Club of Manila.
Ben Diokno’s reputation precedes him.
He is prominent. He is a public figure. He has achieved many things—from simply to good to truly great.
He has done great service to our country and people in the course of a distinguished professional career spanning more than half a century.
Ben Diokno wants to do more as President Bongbong Marcos’s secretary at the Department of Finance (DOF). BBM is the fourth president he will serve.
What does it take to achieve the many things? In a word, gravitas. It means seriousness or solemnity of manner. Sa Tagalog: dating (accent on second syllable).
Firstly, Ben is a serious scholar. This gives him maturity and authority of intellect. Scholarship is nothing without two other attributes: one, passion for excellence and, two, love of people and country.’
These two attributes Ben has plenty of, so plentiful one cannot measure it with ordinary metrics of performance.
His leaving as BSP chief means a loss of P20 million in annual salary, to making do with P2.5 million pay a year at DOF.
His passion is like that of the Taal Volcano (he hails from Taal, Batangas, by the way)—seemingly calm on the surface but seething underneath, with occasional outbursts of energy, wisdom, and brilliance—on issues that straddle politics, good governance, and money, especially other people’s money.
He has awesome educational credentials: BA in Public Administration, UP 1968; Masters in Public Administration, UP 1970; Master of Arts in Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, 1976; and PhD in Economics, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, 1981.
As a young man of 38, as Budget undersecretary of Cory Aquino, he helped design the 1986 Tax Reform Program which simplified income taxation and introduced the value added tax.
In 1981, he helped design the Local Government Code of the Philippines.
As President Estrada’s budget secretary, from 1998 to 2001, he introduced transparency in the allocation and spending of public money. Called the WYSWIG—the acronym for what you see is what you get—the system simplified budget fund releases.
He reformed government procurement using information and communications technology.
As President Duterte’s budget secretary, he pursued an expansionary fiscal policy to finance investments in human capital and physical infrastructure.
He coined the mantra “The Golden Age of Infrastructure” or what is commonly known as Build, Build, Build, ushered the Philippines into the Modern Age because the Duterte administration poured P5 trillion into infra.
In the meantime, in his short stint as BSP governor, he enabled more than 30 million Filipinos to have a bank account, thanks to the power of digitalization.
He will also use that power to curb red tape, cut corruption, and improve governance.
He kept the Philippine banking system liquid, stable, and proactive.
At BSP, Ben became the World’s Greatest Central Banker. When the century’s worst pandemic struck, he acted swiftly and resolutely.
He poured an unprecedented P2.3 trillion into the financial system to help the economy recover.
He lent P540 billion to the Duterte government for it to procure vaccines and give ayuda to the needy and the displaced.
He said: “We searched for solutions and acted boldly in the face of difficult situations.”
His boldness transformed the economy, transformed the people, transformed the Philippines.
No other government official, in fact, no other individual Filipino, has done more to help our people and our economy to recover during the pandemic.
From the depths of despair with 16.9 percent economic decline Quarter2 of 2020, the worst slump in the country’s history, the economy has strongly recovered, with an impressive 8.3 percent growth in the first quarter of 2022.
He made our currency plastic, tactile, metallic, luminous, and waterproof; and put animals and flora and images of nature on it. Like the sampaguita, eagle, the South Sea pearl, the Tubbataha Reef.
More than seven out of every 10 Filipinos are fully vaccinated. That means herd immunity. That herd immunity restored the health of Filipinos and restored the health of the economy as Filipinos resumed spending money—to go out, to dine, to shop, or simply to enjoy everyday pleasure outdoor.
And the Philippines has proved its resilience. It has retained its investment grade ratings. This should lead to cheap cost of capital, more jobs, more financial stability, and among the highest growth rates in Asia and in the world of emerging economies.
Ben became World’s Best Central Banker while barely one year in office.
Imagine, what he can do, as the next Secretary of Finance, managing the freest democracy in Asia, the 12th largest consumer market on earth, and one of the greatest races of the world—the Filipino.
So far, Ben is gung-ho about his job as the next DOF chief.
As head of BBM’s economic team, he has made many big promises—to cut inflation down from the current 5 percent, to 4.6 percent for the whole of 2022, and to between 2 and 4 percent
in 2023; to cut the government deficit at a percentage of GDP or value of economic output, from 7 percent to 3 percent by the end of BBM’s presidency; to make Filipinos become middle income with single digit poverty incidence also during the same period; and to continue pouring money into Build, Build, Build, the education, and health of the people.
He does not seem focused on imposing new and higher taxes. But he wants to keep the present excise taxes on fuel and other refined petroleum products.
Excise tax and VAT collections this year could amount to P105.9 billion.
Instead of giving up much of that tax money, Ben Diokno wants targeted assistance to vulnerable sectors like the jeepney drivers, fishermen and farmers.’
Besides, he fears that once the excise taxes are reduced or given up, they become permanently gone.