MANILA – This week’s hosting by the Philippines of the 30th ASEAN Summit and related meetings is giving the country a venue for polishing its image before the world.
The message? More action, less politicking.
Cabinet officials in the economic cluster touted big ticket projects on Tuesday under the banner of Dutertenomics: this time, to businessmen and international media currently in town for the ASEAN summit.
The message was that the Duterte government will do one better than its predecessor.
“So we are saying we can do it a bit faster, and secondly, we can also borrow money cheaper, and we can [fund] PPP the project at any stage,” said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
He added, “we have been in discussions with a lot of the large retirement funds from abroad. Those guys typically don’t want to take the construction risk, so for them they will come in after the project has been completed.”
The country’s flagship public private partnership program (PPP) was in fact developed under the Aquino administration. But, Dominguez claims, projects took too long to roll out.
This time around, the government will change tack and take the lead in most PPPs: a strategy officials say will make investors come running.
“In that way we think we could even attract more funds or you guys at the private sector can attract more investors in the project if you come in towards the end. So we borrow money cheaper, we save time on negotiations, and eventually we will either sell the project or go into an O & M method.”
Still, the government needs big money.
The first of five tax reform bills is expected to be passed sometime in October, three months behind schedule.
Analysts also worry about more compromises down the line.
According to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, “this tax reform is a good one, it’s been supported by former finance secretaries, former NEDA chiefs, by the business sector, and so I don’t understand why this is taking so long.
Diokno said government will spend P8-9 trillion. “Let me repeat that. [That’s] 8-9 trillion in public infrastructure for the next six years, from 2017 to 2022, to make up for the past — and to realize what we call the golden age of infrastructure.
The option to borrow externally, on the other hand, is highly dependent on the Philippines keeping its investment grade status.
In its latest report, Moody’s says political risk in the country remains low, but has become more unpredictable.
Like many in the Cabinet, however, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano largely dismissed concerns over Duterte’s war on drugs.
“But they’re not using the same apple to apple instruments of measurement with the past administration. If you use the same definition with EJK [extra-judicial killings] in the Aquino and Duterte administration, then there will be 77,000 EJKs during the Aquino administration.”
Cayetano, a staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said the message they wish to convey is build, build, build.
“So could the media please do away with politics, politics, politics?” he asked.