Benjamin Diokno

Diokno on talks of being replaced: ‘I don’t comment on rumors’

Ralf Rivas

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Diokno on talks of being replaced: ‘I don’t comment on rumors’

BUDGET. Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno attends the second day of the briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee on the proposed 2024 National Expenditure Program on August 16, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

While Diokno's statement was short, his appearance before finance beat reporters alone was already telling

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno responded to loose talk that he is supposedly being shown the door amid policy differences with the President and his allies.

“I don’t comment on rumors. That’s it. Speculations,” Diokno said in his weekly briefing last Friday, September 22.

While the finance chief refused to elaborate on the matter, his appearance before reporters gave some hints as to where he currently stands amid the current politics stirred up by inflation and differing policy proposals.

Diokno meets finance beat reporters every Friday. Stories are then embargoed and published on Mondays. His briefing was postponed by two weeks.

His last briefing before the two-week postponement was on September 8, where he admitted that the economic managers were “surprised” by the sudden order of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to set price ceilings on rice. In the end, however, Diokno still supported the price cap despite criticisms from fellow economists.

Prior to the September 8 press conference, Cielo Magno, former finance undersecretary, was fired by Malacañang for opposing the measure. Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin even claimed that Magno was “clearly set on maligning the Marcos administration” after posting on Facebook a chart depicting the law of supply and demand.

Rumors further intensified when Diokno, on September 19, opposed the proposal of lawmakers, including House Speaker Martin Romualdez, to suspend fuel taxes. Diokno noted that it is essentially a subsidy for the rich and would adversely impact government coffers.

Before the recent September 22 briefing, reporters covering the House of Representatives tried to get a statement out of Diokno when he was at the Batasang Pambansa to meet lawmakers. He did not grant an interview and hurriedly left.

Several sources told reporters that Diokno was being eyed to lead the controversial Maharlika Investment Corporation. Another source said that House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto is being considered to replace Diokno as finance chief.

Several groups have called for his resignation as well due to the government’s management of inflation.

This is not the first time that Diokno was rumored to leave his post. After all, the finance secretary is among the least popular positions, as it involves guarding government revenues and taxes.

Last year, it was rumored that Albay Representative Joey Salceda would replace Diokno. ”It’s a very, very poor time to, as I say, change horses in midstream,” Marcos said last November 2022.

Track record

Diokno has served four presidents. He was an undersecretary at the Department of Budget and Management under the late former president Corazon Aquino. He went on to lead the DBM twice, under the presidency of Joseph Estrada from 1998 to 2001, and Rodrigo Duterte, from 2016 to 2019. He also served as the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas from 2019 to 2022 before his appointment as Marcos’ finance secretary.

Diokno has implemented several tax and fiscal reform measures throughout his career, including the 1986 tax reform which simplified income tax and introduced value-added tax (VAT). In 1991, he introduced reforms in the local government code.

During the Duterte administration, he worked with the economic managers to implement several packages of the controversial TRAIN law, which lowered income taxes but raised taxes on fuel and sugary drinks, and rationalized tax perks of corporations.

Is he staying or not? – Rappler.com

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Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.