Binay dev’t agenda: No new taxes, enhanced gains
Vice President Jejomar Binay bares his economic agenda, including amending a constitutional provision that limits foreign ownership of local companies

Banyan Tree Forum. Vice President Jejomar Binay keynotes the Banyan Tree Leadership Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on May 1, 2014. Philippine Embassy Photo by Elmer G. Cato

MANILA, Philippines – The presidential elections may be two years away but Vice President Jejomar Binay is wasting no time in discussing his plans for the country, particularly his development agenda anchored on the “inclusion” of all Filipinos in economic growth and enhancing the gains of the current administration.

Binay bared his apparent campaign platform at a forum of US think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC on Thursday, May 1, days after an independent poll showed him way ahead of other potential presidential aspirants, if elections were held today.

Binay, who has openly spoken about his presidential bid, discussed a “Philippine Development Agenda” that will pursue a policy of “inclusion” – an apparent take on the Aquino administration’s “inclusive growth” bid – so that the sustained high economic growth of the country would finally trickle down to the masses.

Binay explained he had to discuss the development agenda in a speech entitled, “The Philippines: Facing a Rebalancing America and a Resurgent China” since “this is the only context that must shape our new relationships” with the two countries.  

Binay said that while the Philippines is experiencing high economic growth and has been elevated to investment grade by credit rating agencies under the Aquino administration, this macroeconomic picture is “starkly different” from the situation on the ground.

“The economic expansion has not resulted in commensurate inclusion at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  Despite dramatic macro-economic gains, poverty and unemployment still hobble about a fifth of all Filipinos,” he said.

Economic gains for all

“Moving forward, our economic agenda is therefore very clear. We must make sure that our economic gains are felt by the greater mass of our people and we must energize the manufacturing, agricultural and other sectors of our economy.  Inclusion and diversification must be the key elements of our strategy,” Binay said.

Binay said he developed his “inclusion” principle as mayor of Makati City which he governed for 24 years and grew from a “broken town, with yearly budget deficits that ended with a P200 million debt” to the premiere financial district it is today.

He did this, he said, by expanding the city’s tax base, improved revenue collection, land use and zoning policies that raised real estate values, business incentives, and public investments in infrastructure, education, health care, senior citizen programs and environment protection.

Binay said his experience as a local official taught him that “the alleviation of poverty must accrue to the poor, one Filipino at a time.”

“Inclusion is not just statistics. It must have a name, a face and an address. Now, as a national official, I understand what we need to do to achieve the full cycle of expansion and inclusion,” he said.

No new taxes, expand social services

Some of Binay’s policies did not stray far from those of the current administration, as he stressed the importance of building on the gains of the current administration. He also echoed Aquino’s stance on new tax measures.

“We must enhance and strengthen the economic fundamentals that have been achieved, continuing to expand our tax base, not by raising taxes, but by improving compliance and collection,” the Vice President said.

Later in his speech, he said, “We must keep our promise to maintain a clean and transparent government, with a stable policy regime into 2016 and beyond.”

Whether coincidental or by design, Binay made the statements a day after President Benigno Aquino III advised voters to choose a president who would continue his reforms.  

The Vice President also said infrastructure spending must be raised from  2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) “to a truly progressive 5% of GDP; investing in infrastructure that raise the quality of the lives of our people and also enhance the country’s economic climate.”

“Simultaneously, we must expand and enhance the delivery of social services, particularly in education, health, environment and social welfare. We must promote entrepreneurship development particularly in the grassroots, to provide livelihood opportunities beyond mere employment,” he said.

Binay said a “new executional paradigm” is needed so that government implementation strategies can be adjusted based on the “unique requirements” of each economic, geographic or political sector.

Constitutional amendments

He said the Philippine economy must be liberalized to “improve competitiveness and attract investments, both local and foreign, into manufacturing and the other stagnant sectors of the economy.”

Binay was apparently referring to amending the economic provision in the 1987 Constitution that limits foreign ownership of local companies to 40%, which he believed deterred the entry of more foreign investments in the country. Joey Salgado, Binay’s spokesman, confirmed this in a text message to Rappler.

“It’s in the speech. Yes, that has always been his position but it’s not a magic bullet solution. It needs to be complemented with infrastructure, power, less red tape, transparency, improved peace and order, etc,” Salgado said.

Last year, Binay deemed as “laudable” efforts by the House leadership to amend the particular economic provision of the Constitution but said he was averse to tinkering with the non-economic provisions.

In his speech, Binay said local and national laws should be harmonized “to ensure investors of orderly business operations, as in misalignment of national and local mining laws and ordinances.” He was apparently referring to the multi-billion dollar Tampakan copper-gold project which had been stalled by a local ordinance.

Binay said “policy and infrastructure misalignments” must be addressed to resolve, issues related to tourism development and power rates and supply, among others.

“In tourism for example, a true open skies policy with an aggressive airport development program has to be undertaken. Reforms in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act to lower our high costs of power and will address the energy shortages in the southern regions of the Philippines,” he said. 

Binay also discussed the Philippines’ relationship with China and the US, and the newly-signed PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. (READ: Binay: PH-US military deal deters aggression)

Binay is in the US  for the CSIS forum, and to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden, and other US leaders and businessmen. –