The Manila Overseas Press Club or MOPC, the oldest press association in the Philippines, recently held a Finance Forum at the Manila Golf and Country Club with no less than the Secretary of Finance, Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III, as its guest of honor and speaker.
The MOPC President, of course, is our new Ambassador to the United States of America, His Excellency Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, who is now on his final round of despedidas and farewells before leaving for his country of posting. Moderator of the forum was the dynamic Tony Lopez.
According to the invitation, the forum was held to “provide a great opportunity for the public to get apprised of the proposed tax reform bill, as well as other plans and programs of the Department of Finance under the Duterte administration.
The invitation for the Finance Secretary to speak was timely, considering the various concerns regarding the country’s finances and the economy. Secretary Sonny’s speech was very clear and very precise, which is his usual style; he does not mince words, “cuentas claras”, as the old-world Spanish description goes.
Suma total (another Spanish colloquial phrase), Secretary Sonny’s speech covered the three pillars of the Duterte administration, which was to: (1) reduce poverty; (2) build infrastructure; and (3) fight criminality and the drug menace.
The Open Forum that followed was very engaging and, of course, the good Secretary was one to roll with the punches.
Secretary Sonny said that realistically only half of the 75 flagship projects of the Duterte administration under its “Build, Build, Build” program could be finished by 2022 or the end of the President’s term. Not all, like the planned Metro Manila Subway, can be finished by then. He identified the Clark International Airport, the Clark-to-Manila Railway, and the Mindanao Railway as some of those that would be completed.
On the matter of tax collection, of course we all know that this government intends to boost collection through its tax reform packages. Secretary Sonny mentioned that there was an 8.8-percent growth in tax collection in the first semester of this year from both the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC). This figure was promising and shows the commitment of the Finance Department to maintain the momentum of revenue reform.
From his speech and the way he parried those questions in the Q&A, it showed that Secretary Sonny had a clear sense of vision and focus, in spite of all of the political noise around him. These were probably part of the skills he honed as a big-game hunter, which also fostered dedication, discipline, passion and, more importantly, patience.
Secretary Sonny is not one to flinch from a good fight, but remains calm and composed in the face of emotional adversity or outbursts.
It is no wonder that, having previously served as Minister of Natural Resources and Secretary of Agriculture under the late President Corazon Aquino, he was once again called to public service as Secretary of Finance by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. If I recall it right, Secretary Sonny was one of the first, if not the first, to be asked by President Duterte to join his Cabinet.
There is one story that goes that Secretary Sonny was to be given an award as Finance Secretary of the Year, or something to the effect, by an international organization, but he declined because he believed that his guys in the Finance Department workforce were the ones who deserved the award more than him. “These are the guys doing the heavy lifting,” he was heard to have remarked in response to the award.
So effective, yet so unassuming; humble, yet hardworking.
With Secretary Sonny at the helm of Finance, trust that government revenues will not just remain secure, but also increase. May his tribe also increase in government.