President Rodrigo Duterte’s bold initiatives to “disturb the status quo” one year into his presidency are in pursuit of his campaign promises to make economic growth inclusive for all Filipinos and decentralize power from so-called “imperial Manila” to the regions and countryside, the Department of Finance (DOF) said in a statement.
Far from concentrating on amassing more political power, the President has instead given top priority to the political and economic enfranchisement of the people primarily through a massive spending program focused on infrastructure and social services, the DOF said.
“Furthermore, a series of tax reforms programs are being worked out with the legislative body to fund these increased spending plans for inclusive development. They are never intended to increase the budget of the military and the police forces,” DOF Undersecretary and Chief Economist Gil Beltran stressed in a statement.
He likewise pointed out that President Duterte’s political policy centers on the “de-concentration of power from ‘imperial Manila and into the countryside” so that his administration can fulfill its inclusive growth agenda.
Beltran issued the statement in reaction to the latest report of the Hongkong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd on its assessment on political governance in selected Asian economies.
PERC gave the Philippines the lowest mark among 12 Asian economies, but Beltran noted that the HK firm also took note of the fact that the grades it handed out in its report “reflect the personal opinion of PERC’s senior analysts rather than something that is based on quantifiable scientific evidence.”
“If these were so, then PERC’s analysts have failed to appreciate the basic facts on the ground and have failed miserably in their exercise of good judgment,” Beltran said.
Beltran also pointed out that the PERC report “is but a figment in the imagination of PERC’s analysts” as it was based on poor research, inconsistent judgment and “ill-founded speculations.”
He said PERC had based its assessment of the Philippines on the President’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the erroneous conclusion that the government’s increased public spending program “is more likely to beef up the military and police, which have been seriously over-extended, than in addressing pressing infrastructure deficiencies.”
“If any, the budget of the military may never be greater than the budget allocation for education, per the 1987 Constitution. The combined budget for the military and police this year and the following year shows that it comprises less than 9 percent of total spending,” Beltran said.
As for the limited declaration of martial law in Mindanao, Beltran noted that this was a constitutional response to decisively deal with the threat of ISIS extremists, an action that was not done arbitrarily, but was even upheld by the Congress and the Supreme Court no less.
‘The bigger picture, however, is that the President is making bold steps in coming up with a resolution of the Mindanao issue and achieve lasting peace in the island. He has initiated dialogues with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) groups but has taken a tough stance with the Abu Sayyaf and its Islamic State affiliates. PERC’s analysts have only taken a look at the latter but failed to see the bigger picture,” Beltran said.
Beltran noted that PERC also failed to take into account that hostages were involved in the Marawi conflict, which was the basis for the President’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. This reality made it complicated for the military to launch a surgical strike, “thus, the seemingly long duration of the war to retake Marawi,” he said.
“Furthermore, they have failed to conduct a little more research. Noteworthy here were the offers of the MILF and the New People’s Army (NPA) to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in fighting the extremists. Thus, far from gaining more sympathizers, the extremists actually received alienation thereby losing their credibility as revolutionaries. It must also be borne in mind that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group as early as 2014, way before Mr. Duterte took oath as president,” Beltran said.
As for PERC’s criticism of President Duterte’s foreign policy recalibration toward Asia, Beltran pointed to the rollout of big-ticket infrastructure projects made possible by, among others, Chinese official development assistance loans.
“If only PERC’s analysts waited a little longer, they would have heard about P5.97 billion China-funded Binondo-Intramuros and Pantaleon-Estrella bridge projects. Not to hide behind the excuse that bilateral agreements take some time to come to a closure, we believe that PERC’s analysts should have at least adopted a wait-and-see attitude,” Beltran said.
He also pointed to a glaring inconsistency in PERC’s assessments, noting the sharp contrast between the firm’s rating of the Philippines and Thailand, which effectively has been under military control since 2014.
In PERC’s vulnerability index, it gave Thailand a score of 6.00, while the Philippines got only 3.32 largely because the former is “providing stable and effective government” and “faces no credible challenge.”
“What PERC’s analysts mean by ‘stable’ government is when the opposition party is muzzled and dissent put under control. But democracy in the Philippines is vibrant with a dynamic and free press and where the freedom of expression rules supreme. Political transitions in the Philippines in general have been peaceful and in accordance with constitutional rules,” Beltran said.
He added: “What is puzzling about PERC’s analysts ratings is the inconsistency in their notion about stable government. They say the military junta in Thailand is providing stable government. Suppose President Duterte declares martial law and consolidates power unto himself, won’t he also provide stable government in the process? So why fear martial law declaration over the whole country? And what’s the difference between an entire country under martial law (Thailand) and a country which has a part under martial law (Philippines)?”
“The idea of the Philippines under high vulnerability to radical political changes is but a figment in the imagination of PERC’s analysts who appear to have bias against the present government. PERC should not tarnish its credibility with ill-founded speculations, let alone poor research,” he said.