A minor quibble on the Forbes list of 14 Filipino dollar billionaires.
Were an in-depth study of privately held wealth undertaken, a handful of vice lords and politician-warlords would have been found wealthier than both Mr. Ongpin and Mr. Sia. Not in the league of Mr. Sy, of course, but definitely bigger than the tailenders.
Why do I have this feeling that some politicians are wealthier than those in the low end of the Forbes’ list of Filipino dollar billionaires?
Mr. Cojuangco’s son and daughter-in-law were clearly walloped in the 2016 elections in Pangasinan. Not really because Mr. Cojuangco’s son stood by Mr. Binay’s doomed presidential campaign up to its end days. My feeling is that they were outspent. What politician can outspend the Cojuangcos in a fight with the reputation of the Cojuangcos at stake? Definitely, a politician who can outspend the Cojuangcos. And what was spent was not, definitely, peanuts.
Otherwise, with publicly-listed holding as guide, the Forbes list was on the mark. Even under Mr. Duterte, who won the presidency on the backs of tired and huddled masses, society’s narrative from time immemorial – that the rich are getting richer – did hold true.
And we also have this certainty that Forbes or Bloomberg wealth tracker would list more than 14 dollar billionaires in 2018.
What about the tired and huddled masses? Same old, same old story. We have communities in Mindanao with 84 percent to 74 percent poverty incidences. ARMM has poverty and illiteracy indices that are worse than Idi Amin’s former slaughterhouse – Uganda.
So what happened to Mr. Duterte’s promise of mass deliverance from inequities, malaise and poverty?
Mr. Duterte ‘s government promised radical reforms across the board, but the radical policies that he pursed with zeal dealt with three things: illegal drugs, stilling the guns of communist insurgency and reproductive health.
On the economic side, which is very important, he left the policy directions to his economic team, which, tragically, is more conservative and orthodox than the economic team of Mr. Aquino. As I wrote before, Mr. Pernia, the NEDA director-general, is definitely more conservative than Arcy Balisacan. Even small gestures for the peasantry and agriculture, such as the retention of the QR on rice and a bold policy against land conversion, were easily overruled by the economic team led by Mr. Pernia.
The so-called tax reform package being pushed by the economic team, and all its regressive features, can be easily linked to the environment that, instead of fostering economic equality and bridging the great economic divide, breeds more dollar billionaires.
Why I’m saying this.
The cut in the corporate tax, which is a central feature of the “ reform package,” is not really necessary. A bold and radical policy would have this aim. Soak the rich and spare the poor and the struggling. But we have this anomaly in the reform package – a corporate tax cut bundled up with the tax cut on wage earners. Then, a levy would be imposed on fuel products, including diesel, which is the poor man’s fuel. Mass transport that moves the poor and the haulers that move cargo move on diesel. Any levy on diesel would be calamitous to the poor and the commuters. It would be inflationary.
Who would enjoy the generous corporate tax cut? The wealthy, particularly the 14 dollar billionaires. The “reform package” is a giveaway to the rich masquerading as a pro-people package.
Mr. Duterte, because he has dedicated his governing energy to the war on drugs, has lost the enthusiasm to carry out his campaign promise, which is to enact bold and radical economic programs.
The “pro-people” budget will really step up infrastructure spending and the question needs an answer. Who will mostly benefit from the massive infra spending?
If you look at the 14 billionaires, you will find out that they own and control most of the conglomerates that will undertake the big-ticket items in the spending program of government. Even the Triple A contractors listed by the DPWH do not have the financial muscle to pursue the big-ticket infra projects. Even the unsolicited proposals to modernize the much-needed seaports, airports, power projects, water projects and so forth and so on, came from the firms owned and controlled by the 14 billionaires.
Yes, the poor will have temporary construction jobs. But the lasting benefit would accrue to the dollar billionaires. They will do the construction, then manage the big projects by imposing tolls.
The supporters of Mr. Duterte are still expecting major policy shifts. That after the war on drugs, Mr. Duterte would finally attend to the economic matters. That he would, later, push Congress to enact bold and radical predistribution and redistribution policies.
And also rein in the profiteering of the billionaires.
What if he does not change course?
We are used to the would-be-results. The story of our lives, actually, which is: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting screwed.