In her “over an hour long” SONA (State of the Nation Address) president Arroyo tried to be more realistic this time by focusing on government efforts to lessen the burden of the Filipinos cope with high inflation rates. She described her administration’s goal as insuring food self-sufficiency and lesser energy dependency to counter the effects of global crisis to the Filipinos.
With this perspective in mind, she wants VAT (value added tax) on oil products to remain. As if people will never be burdened at all if the additional cost of oil products through VAT will further increase the already way up high cost of energy.
VAT be with you
Unperturbed by the demands of legislators and militant groups to lower or remove the VAT on oil products, she instead insists to continue collecting energy sales tax from oil products as this “shores up our fiscal independence,” funds the infrastructure needs of the country as well as programs for the masses.
“Take VAT away and you and I abdicate our responsibility as leaders. We shall pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis,” she said at the law makers. It appears from this that she could not afford to lose VAT. The hen that lays the golden eggs for her administration.
Her administration seems to have the mindset that without VAT it could no longer withstand the negative effects of global economic crisis. But some economists are on her side also believe that VAT money scooped from the consumers wallet is vital to finance infra-structure and other subsidy programs of her administration. But is it not also a fact that VAT on oil products will further crucify the public against high cost of living? That is if we believe Chiz Escudero on his assessment is right. But whatever we say against it VAT, for sure, will have to stay in this administration. President Arroyo will never part ways with VAT, not in her administration.
“If we remove the VAT, business confidence will decline, interest rates will go up, the more the value of the peso will fall, and the more commodity prices will rise. If we remove the VAT on oil and electricity, we will lose P80 billion for the poor. It will strip the majority of our people of the means to ride out the world food and energy crisis,” she said.
She added that future VAT collections would be used to fund more subsidy programs while investing in long-term solutions to address the problem of high fuel prices and food self-sufficiency. She said among the programs funded by VAT include an irrigation component of the San Roque Dam Project, more LandBank loans for farmer and fisherfolk, and subsidized rice procured by the National Food Authority.
As a result of her government’s decision to raise and keep the VAT, she said the peso appreciated from P56.50 to the dollar to P40.20, but fell to P44 after world oil and food prices shot up.
Arroyo said removingVATon oil would mean losing billions of pesos that could be spent on pro-poor programs that include one-time cash gifts to smaller power consumers, food-for-school subsidies and college scholarships and subsidies for conversion of diesel-run jeepneys to LPG, CNG or biofuel.
In Extending the CARP
Also in her SONA, Arroyo also urged Congress to extend the 20-year Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law before the end of 2008; further saying that its a legacy of her father that she was also wanting to finish.
“My father started land reform in 1963. In order to complete this, the extension of Comprehensive Agrarian Reforms Program (CARP) with reforms is a top priority. I will continue to do all I can for the rural and urban poor,” Arroyo said.
“Be with me on this. There must be a path where justice and progress converge. Let us find it before Christmas,” she said.
What then is the significance of the president talking about agrarian program in her SONA? She needs to show to the public that her administration never remises on resolving agrarian problems . This will, in effect, boast the administration’s claim that it is very sensitive to the needs of the poor, particularly farmers. The delivery of basic social services to the poor may also be a way to win support from this group of electorate to insure the winning of her 2010 annointed candidate.
On graft busting
With various issues of graft and corruption hurled against her administration, it is also important for the President to mention about her administration’s graft busting effort in the SONA. This will probably clear the tainted image of her administrations having been accused of various anomalies. She is unfazed by various issues of irregularities like the ZTE broadband scandal; at least she could project her administration as out there fighting against graft and corruptio in the government. She then urged Congress to pass a more stringent anti-graft law to aid her administration’s efforts to eradicate corruption. With this she can now tell her critics to stop speculating against this administration’s “immaculate image of governance” as it is dead serious in combating corruption..
The president also asked Congress “to lift the 10 percent cap on SSS housing loans and pass a Consumer Bill of Rights against price gouging, false advertising and other marketing malpractices.”
In her SONA, President Arroyo praised the Office of the Ombudsman for increasing its conviction rate by 500 percent, which led to the dismissal and criminal prosecution of dozens of corrupt government officials.
She said the government allocated more than P3 billion to boost the gathering and filing of hard evidence against alleged corrupt officials.
She said more advanced corruption practices require a similarly advanced response from the legislative branch. “Colleagues in Congress, we need a more stringent Anti-Graft Act,” she said.
Under Republic Act No. 319 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, any public official found guilty of receiving bribes or kickbacks or of using his position to enter into a contract that would directly benefit himself or a relative would be penalized with a prison sentence and a hefty fine. A separate law, Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law of 1991, imposes a life sentence to government officials who use their position to steal at least P75 million from public coffers.
Ending the Mindanao Conflict
In the SONA the president is also projecting an image of a crusader for peace and progress when she touched on the link between insurgency and poverty in Mindanao. She called it an irony for Mindanao, being a food basket of the country, to have higher incidence of hunger in the country and has six of the nation‘s poorest provinces. And this according to her is caused by the the endless conflict in Mindanao.
“The prime reason is the endless Mindanao conflict. Don’t get me wrong. The peace and order situation has significantly improved and along with it economic progress. I am exerting all efforts to forge a just and lasting peace consistent with my Constitutional powers and functions,” she said.
“The demands of decency and compassion urge dialogue. Better talk than fight, if nothing of sovereign value is anyway lost. Dialogue has achieved more than confrontation in many parts of the world.”
Reaction in Filipino
And what is new with the president’s SONA? Kung halimbawa ako’y isang estudyante at tatanongin ako bukas sa eskuwela ng aking teacher, ang isasagot ko wala.Sabi nga ng mga negosianteng napagtanongan, mababaw daw. Lumulutang ang isipan at tila nangangarap lang… Ganon pa rin ang sinasabi, ang pagpapaunlad sa kabuhayan ng mga mahihirap at ang pagpundo ng mga pangunahing proyekto ngayon sa pamamagitan ng VAT.. Ganon pa rin, hindi pa rin inaamin ng Makanyang ang kanyang sariling kapalpakan, at kapabayaan ding maituturing, kung bakit nagkaproblema ng ganon na laang sa mga crisis pang-ekonomya ang ating bansa.
Umuunlad na nga daw an ating ekonomya ngunit inabotan daw ito ng pangkalahatang krisis sa ekonomya ng buong daigdig. Kasalanan pa ito ng pagtaas ng presyo ng langis sa pandaigdigang merkado, pero hindi ang pamamalakad ni Pangulong Arroyo. Kaya ito naman ngayon ang pinagsisikapan gawin ng gobierno, ang pagbibigay ng mga subsidy programs para sa ikagagaan ng bulsa ng mga mahihirap nating kababayan.
Mainam, ngunit bakit kailangan pang lalong pataasin ang presyo ng mga gasoline at langis sa pamamagitan ng VAT. Bakit hindi na lang ito tanggalin o kaya i-reduce ang amount ng buwis na sinisingil sa mga consumers kada litro ng kudo at gasolina. Ba’t kailangan pa ang VAT? Wala na bang ibang paraan? Totoo ba na ang mga mayayaman lamang ang tanging maapektohan nito? Pero sa pangkalahatan sino ba talaga ang pinakamalaking consumers ng oil products, di ba ang mga mahihirap ding kababayan natin? Kung kailangan man ang VAT para makalikum ng malaking pondo para sa mga subsidy programs ng gobierno, sino ang pinahihirapan ninyo.