"Here are what the President said in his SONA."
One disturbing thread of President Duterte’s July 22, 2019 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was its seeming lack of warmth toward Big Business. A lack of warmth that may seem to some as contempt, in 93 minutes of speech-making.
This apparent contempt is ironic considering that Duterte’s anchor economic modernization and poverty alleviation program is Build, Build, Build (BBB) which calls for 75 major projects, costing a total of P9 billion, to be started or completed within the next three years. That cannot be done without the help or participation of Big Business.
The most critical or urgent of the BBB projects, per House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Joey Salceda’s reckoning, are mostly in or just north and south of Metro Manila, the headquarters of most big companies.
• Metro Subway: Three stations (Tandang Sora, Quirino Highway and North Avenue) of the 15 targeted for operations by 2022. At the same time, they decided to use 21 boring machines.
• PNR South: DOTr has focused on the Calamba-Naga section and using new alignments to reduce protracted resettlement with partial operations up to San Pablo City by 4Q 2021.
• MRT 7: By Q4 2021 from 11 stations from North Avenue to Fairview out of 14 stations over the entire stretch to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.
• Clark-Calamba Railways: Out of 36 stations, the 16 stations from Clark to Tutuban will start operations within 2022.
• LRT Cavite: Out of eight stations of the 11-km line, the first five stations in 2021—Baclaran to Bacoor.
Without Big Business’ help or participation, no more than ten of the 75 BBB projects will be started or completed between now and 2022, when Duterte’s six-year term ends.
“Wala akong kaibigang mayaman (I have no rich friends),” the President insisted early in his SONA.
“Ayaw kong kaibigan ng mayaman because pagka mayaman ka, tatabi ka lang sa akin, pati ako napahiran na ng… kung ano-ano ang hingiin mo sa gobyerno. (I don’t want to have rich friends because if you are rich and you sidle up to me, even me will be tainted… you will ask for so many things from the government),” Duterte said, clearly distancing himself from the elite of business.
Right after saying that, the President complained:
“There are those who violate environmental rules. I am giving due notice to the LGUs and other stakeholders, kayo po, of tourist destinations to take extra steps in the enforcement of our laws and the protection of our environment.”
He seems to be blaming Big Business for the pollution in this country. Then Duterte mentions the rehab of Manila Bay.
“We will relocate informal settlers—I hope it can happen during my time—along the waterways,” he said, “and shut down establishments that continue to pollute and poison our waters.”
Warning polluters, the President bristled: “Make a choice. I’m going to the… [Malaki ba ‘yung building diyan?] I’m going to dismantle your burning—ah building or just simply burn it down so that we can have a new set-up of environment-friendly, whatever, that means.”
Duterte talked about buildings, meaning establishments of the rich. He will dismantle or burn them down. That implies no more due process, just police powers. For that, he has assigned a retired four-star general, Eduardo M. Año, the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Fortunately for Big Business, Duterte at this point hastened to mention BBB, not in appreciation of Big Business, but to praise his own cabinet men.
He said: “Through the Build, Build, Build Program in emerging economic hubs outside Metro Manila. This will swiftly gain ground, thanks to the efforts of the Economic Team led by Secretary Dominguez. Hard at work in the interconnection of our islands and cities by air, land, and sea are Secretaries (Art) Tugade and (Mark) Villar.”
An hour into his speech, Duterte talked of tax reforms “to fund our poverty reduction programs”
He implored Congress “to immediately pass Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, or the TRABAHO Bill, which shall gradually lower the income—corporate income tax, and rationalize and improve fiscal incentives. It will energize our MSMEs and encourage them to expand their business and hopefully generate, hopefully—I’m missing the words hopefully para sabihin na ‘you’re all talk’—hopefully [1.4] million jobs in the coming years. The MSMEs hold the promise of raising a lot of the Filipinos (from poverty).”
The President views the TRAIN 2 or TRABAHO Bill as a measure to empower small businesses so that they “will create 1.4 million jobs in the coming years.”
Ironically, TRABAHO Bill will empower Big Business more than the MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises).
TRAIN 2 will lower estate and donor’s tax to only a single rate of 6 percent, from 20 percent (it used to be as high as 40).
To me, a 6 percent estate tax will encourage stolen or hidden wealth to come out of hiding, paying only a penalty of 6 percent. It will trigger massive transfer of inherited wealth from parents who have earned it to the next generation, the latter paying only 6 percent of the windfall.
But there is a cheaper way to transfer ill-gotten and massive inheritance. Go, list in the stock market. You pay only one-half of one percent transfer tax.
Well, it’s hard to beat the rich. No wonder, Duterte has yet to warm up to them.