YESTERDAY'S (Wednesday) Year-end Economic Briefing by the key revenue-generating and disbursing government offices painted a rosy picture of the years ahead, prospects for growth and development matched with big words like strong macroeconomic fundamentals and fiscal consolidation.
During the press briefing there was even talk about the P50-billion reconstruction and rehabilitation fund that has to be unlocked either through a loan or excess revenue collections.
While during the briefing proper, Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Preceles Manzo proudly declared that agriculture is the key.
"You can't go wrong in food production," he said. Thus, he added, "We have to make sure that prime agricultural land should remain in agriculture."
What is disturbing is that he says that along with saying that mining remains a priority industry. We in Mindanao know that because of the nature of things, mining is always above and the farms are below. Thus, what we have are inundated farms and eroded infertile soils matched with polluted rivers and devastated marine life. If we can never go wrong in food production, then why are we destroying Mindanao lands and water?
What about that P50-billion reconstruction and rehabilitation? Department of Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran says how this will be used to help the energy crisis will all depend on the regions.
"Would you want generators? Then it will go to generators," he said. But this will definitely not be used for investments in long-term solutions precisely because government should not be investing in power plants. The Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 disallows government to go into that sort of investment. It is up to the private sector to invest.
"It works in other countries," he said, when asked if such huge investments in an island as iffy as Mindanao can be left in the hands of the private sector, but quickly admits, "But, ang Philippines naman is always a special case."
There's another oops there. A wide, gaping black hole of uncertainty.
So, what has the big boss of the Department of Finance have to share? In his presentation, Secretary Margarito Teves showed the 2009 fiscal performance (all negatives), the revenue eroding measures already in place and still to be inputted into the budget (all negatives), and their key challenges to generating greater revenues.
The key challenges include the structural weaknesses in tax system, the series of revenue eroding measures that include exemption from Individual Income Tax of the poor, the Franchise Tax on Electricity in lieu of VAT, and other laws that give incentives like the Biofuels Act, Home Development and Mutual Fund, Philippine-Japan Treaty, Philippine Reclamation Authority, among others.
This, aside from the stupendous fiscal deficit government is operating on and the sustained expenditures on reconstruction and rehabilitation brought about by climate change, energy crisis, and commodity prive movements.
How government intends to operate amid all these?
Teves has this to say, "For every one peso lost from the revenue eroding measures that was passed by Congress, a corresponding one peso or more would be raised from revenue enhancement measures."
Now, guess what revenue enhancement measures mean considering that there are so many billions of negatives government has to battle with?
Our guess is that our individual pockets form a big part of these along with our mountains for the lusted for gold and silver and copper and rocks for others to strip and grow wealthy from. And guess where Mindanao stands in all these? Still in the back burner, most likely. Anyway, we can always ask for power generators if that is what we want.