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Friday, August 23, 2019

Wenceslao: The gambler

KARAOKE enthusiasts in the Philippines love Kenny Rogers for such songs as “Through the Years,” “I Will Always Love You,” “You and I,” “You Decorated My Life” and even “Coward of the County.” But there’s this lesser-known Rogers song that I like. I am referring to the country song, “The Gambler.” It’s about, but of course, a gambler and a travel playing a card game on a train that is “bound for nowhere.”

The gambler was obviously observing the traveler for a while, then told him: “Son, I’ve made a life/ Out of readin’ people’s faces/ Knowin’ what the cards were/ By the way they held their eyes/ So if you don’t mind me sayin’/ I can see you’re out of aces/ For a taste of your whiskey/ I’ll give you some advice.”

And what was the advice? It’s in the chorus: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em/ Know when to fold ‘em/ Know when to walk away/ And know when to run/ You never count your money/ When you’re sittin’ at the table/ There’ll be time enough for countin’/ When the dealin’s done.”

The song actually played in my mind when I read about the Duterte administration’s “Dutertenomics,” whose backbone is the “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure program. President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers, led by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, unveiled the what can be described as ambitious program in a forum in Pasay City last April.

Just consider the figures. The administration earmarked P8.4 trillion for infrastructure projects for the duration of the President’s term. From 2018 to 2020 alone, the so-called three-year rolling infrastructure program (Trip) would cost the government P3.6 trillion. That’s a lot of money considering that it is not only billions of pesos we are talking about.

But there are positives. Imagine the country finally spending massively on “big-ticket” infra projects and realizing those that we could only dream about. Most of the “mega” projects are in Metro Manila and Luzon based on the unevenness of the country’s urbanization. But the spending will also trickle in Cebu, where population growth has outstripped government’s ability to deliver basic services.

I live in southern Cebu, so the construction of bypass or coastal roads in the area should give the needed breathing spell for traffic-choked Talisay City, Minglanilla town and Carcar City. This setup has hampered economic growth in the south, so the major infra projects should pump prime development again.

But there are worries, legitimate ones. Funding the “Build! Build! Build!” program would be tricky. The money would come from loans (mostly from China) and taxes. The latter would not be generated from improving, say, tax collection efficiency but by the proposed tax reform. To make the new impositions palatable, government plans to lower income tax impositions. But bigger taxes would be imposed on gasoline and other oil products, even on sugary and salty food the poor eats.

Then there’s graft and corruption. What percentage of those trillions of pesos would go to the pockets of government officials? And how will we pay the massive loans?

Ah, the gambler’s advice: “You never count your money/ when you’re sitting at the table/ There’ll be time enough for counting/ When the dealin’s done.”
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