Unfulfilled political promises
Judging from Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s recent statements, it looks like he has taken on the role of “apologist” for President Duterte for the latter’s pre- and postelection promises that may be difficult to fulfill due to financial constraints.
Diokno said the promised increase in the Social Security System pension should come only after the proposed tax reform law is enacted by Congress, or the financial viability of the SSS would be put at risk.
The same situation applies to the commitment that Mr. Duterte made to the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to double their basic salaries by December 2016.
No doubt, the prospect of getting an upward adjustment in their SSS pension encouraged thousands of retirees and their relatives to vote Mr. Duterte to the presidency. And for the uniformed security forces, the promised salary increase was like a carrot dangled before them to motivate them to vigorously participate in the government’s campaign to eliminate illegal drugs in the country.
Diokno is now saying that these promises can be met only if the government gets additional revenues from the proposed tax reform program that is yet to get to first base in the House of Representatives.
To justify the turnaround, Diokno said, “Candidate Duterte is different from President Duterte and you see that all over, even worldwide. Candidate Trump is different from President Trump. There are promises you make that turn out can’t be fulfilled when you look at the data.”
In effect, Diokno was saying that Mr. Duterte did not know how the SSS pension system works when he vowed to increase the retirement benefits. And that he was unaware that when the salaries of the uniformed forces are adjusted, the monthly pension of their retired personnel should be similarly adjusted as it is indexed to existing salary rates.
This would mean allocating several more millions of pesos to the AFP and PNP, which may have to be done at the expense of other government offices that perform equally essential public functions.
From the looks of it, when Candidate Duterte made the promise to raise the SSS pension, he did not get the proper briefing from his economic advisers; or if he did, he threw all caution to the wind and raised false hopes for the retirees to get their vote.
The same thing applies in the AFP salary issue. Mr. Duterte had already taken office and had named Delfin Lorenzana, a retired major general, as his defense secretary, when he tickled the soldiers with the salary adjustment. Thus, there is no excuse for him not to know the long-term effects of this promise.
So now, the fulfillment of those promises appears to be dependent on Congress enacting the administration’s tax reform program. With the way things move in the legislature, there is no predicting when the proposed tax measures will be taken up.
And there is no assurance that the lawmakers will dance to the tune of the administration in the manner it wants. This early, some of the administration’s allies have expressed opposition to raising the tax on certain products to compensate for the lowering of individual and corporate income taxes.
If the package of tax reforms envisioned by the administration is not approved by Congress, does it mean the scrapping of the promised SSS pension adjustment and salary increase of AFP and PNP personnel?
President Duterte, not his spokesperson or other apologists, must publicly admit that he made a big mistake in making those promises.
In the same manner that he has conceded that he cannot meet his campaign promise to solve the problem of illegal drugs in the country within six months, he should own up to his errors and ask the affected parties to give him additional time to make good his commitments to them.
Whether or not ego or braggadocio will stand in the way of this action is a big question mark.
Raul J. Palabrica (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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