Presidential hopefuls woo bizmen, bare economic plans

Published by rudy Date posted on November 18, 2021

by, 18 Nov 2021

MANILA, Philippines — As far as businessmen are concerned, the job of the next president would be a very difficult one.

From an elevated unemployment rate to a state balance sheet that has been tarnished by rising debts and weak revenues, whoever wins the race to Malacañang next year would inherit pandemic-induced problems and an economy that is not yet back to its pre-crisis shape. That said, these candidates would have a lot of campaigning to do to convince voters that they are the right person for what might be the hardest job in the country.

And the courtship has started. At a business forum organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday, presidential bets, speaking in pre-recorded videos, explained their plans for the economy.

Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator, did not join the forum.

Here are the key plans presented by the people who are gunning for the presidency.

Isko Moreno

If elected, the Manila Mayor promised to focus on healthcare in the first two years of his term.

He started his message by bringing up anew a plan he had bared weeks ago as inflation becomes a big headache among voters: to reduce taxes on fuel and electricity. It’s a proposal that other presidential hopefuls are also planning to pursue at the expense of much-needed state revenues that could help in pandemic response. But Moreno believes that consumers’ gains from fuel tax cuts could help power up consumption.

To help pandemic-stricken businesses, Moreno said his government would extend “zero-interest” loans to micro, small and medium enterprises. Funds for this purpose, he explained, will come from “windfall” from a Supreme Court ruling that increased local government unit’s share in national revenues.

Also at the top of Moreno’s to-do list are socialized housing projects, continuation of the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, and modernization of the agriculture sector to reduce the need for importation.

Christopher “Bong” Go

The message of Go, President Rodrigo Duterte’s long-time aide turned senator, was very clear: what the current administration has done, he will continue. This included Duterte’s tax reforms and infrastructure program.

But perhaps the biggest promise that Go made was for the economy to fully recover from its pandemic-led collapse by 2022, something that Duterte’s economic managers themselves do not consider possible at the moment. To do this, Go vowed to provide “recovery packages” for MSMEs and the farm sector, as well as extend cash aid and zero-interest loans to 10 million poor households. All while he is hoping for the government to “achieve financial stability”.

Moreover, Go will push for the creation of more agencies: two departments for disaster management and overseas Filipino workers, and a local version of the United States’ Centers for Disease Control. Economic managers have been cool about proposals to have a larger bureaucracy that could bloat the government with undermanned and underfunded agencies, especially after tax receipts took a hit amid the pandemic.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson

If he becomes president, the first order of business for the former Philippine National Police chief turned lawmaker is to bridge any funding gaps in the Universal Healthcare program in order to “stop all lockdowns”. At the same time, Lacson said he would immediately prioritize local manufacturers in government procurement and give incentives to people to go to work, including promoting paid internship programs.

Much like his rivals, Lacson also vowed to sustain infrastructure spending, but he said he would “set realistic targets” and build “climate resilient” infrastructure. He also plans to lessen the country’s reliance on importation and “clean” the agriculture department.

Manny Pacquiao

Economic recovery will be Pacquiao’s top priority in his first 100 days if elected president. The senator, who recently retired from boxing, would have a lot of things to do: boost employment, give free housing to informal settlers, improve healthcare services and continue infrastructure development. He likewise promised zero-interest loans for MSMEs.

But perhaps Pacquiao’s most striking plan was to improve the government’s revenue collection, saying the country “do not deserve” to be saddled with debts. Interestingly, he also wants to further slash the corporate income tax rate to “a flat 15%” to attract foreign investments — a proposal that could erode state revenues. To note, the Duterte administration’s CREATE law already slashed the CIT rate, which would gradually drop to 20% by 2027 onwards from 30% previously.

Pacquiao said the government would have to “strengthen non-tax revenue income”. He did not elaborate.

Leni Robredo

Like her rivals, at the heart of Robredo’s plans is to boost the country’s decrepit healthcare system. She said she would start by increasing support for healthcare workers and accelerating the roll-out of Universal Healthcare program to provide free testing and vaccines for Filipinos.

On the economic front, Robredo promised that her administration will earmark P216 billion for cash aid to locked-down families and P100 billion for “conditional” assistance to MSMEs in which businesses will get the aid as long as they won’t retrench their workers. The vice president also promised to spend more on infrastructure that would be “for the people, not cars”.

Another key proposal of Robredo is to raise government spending on education to 6% of gross domestic product, as recommended by the United Nations. She likewise promised to increase funding on science and technology and utilize the national ID system in delivering government services. — Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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