FINANCE Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III has expressed confidence that the Philippines will thrive in the post-pandemic era owing to the Duterte administration’s willingness to pursue further reforms.
In his keynote address at the opening plenary of the Asian Development Bank-hosted Southeast Asia Development Symposium, Dominguez said these reforms include improvements in the country’s information and technology infrastructure to expand the use of digital tools, enhance revenue collection performance and achieve greater financial inclusion for Filipinos.
He also stressed that the government should pursue sustainable policies targeted toward bolstering the healthcare system and keeping a strong fiscal position to withstand future headwinds.
“We are very optimistic about the near future. That optimism is based on our willingness to undertake the reforms necessary to rebuild a strong and inclusive economy that thrives in the 21st century. We are also doing our utmost to provide a sustainable, greener, and healthier future for our Filipino people,” said Dominguez, who sits as ADB Governor for the Philippines.
The finance chief also underscored the need to intensify global collaboration and redefine the challenges that confront the world today as it reemerges from a debilitating Covid-19 pandemic, so that countries can be better prepared to deal with future outbreaks.
Despite supply challenges, most countries—including the Philippines—have begun rolling out their vaccination programs, a development that has “inspired market optimism” and “a sense that the worst is over and our economies can be fully functional in a matter of months,” he said.
“The availability of vaccines, however, should not lead us to neglect equally urgent concerns. We still need to do the tough things we must undertake to cope with the severe weather conditions induced by global warming or with the possible emergence of new viruses,” he said.
Unlike Covid-19 for which vaccines have been produced in a matter of months, Dominguez said there is no quick solution to the climate crisis.
Dominguez, who is chairman-designate of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), reiterated his strong push for a legislative measure that will ban single-use plastics as a way to jumpstart the country’s fight against climate change.
In the same speech, he admitted that the pandemic also exposed the country’s “weaknesses” in providing emergency aid to low-income families as it does not have a national ID system in place to speed up the delivery of cash assistance to the intended beneficiaries.
This experience, he said, showed the need to accelerate the rollout of a unified national ID database and taught the government to adapt quickly by embracing digitalization which was what happened with the successful implementation by the Department of Finance (DOF), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Social Security System (SSS) of the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program for displaced workers in small businesses.
The limitations forced by the pandemic, he said, paved the way for upgrading the country’s digital transaction systems, including the use of electronic means to improve the government’s tax collection.
Digital tools to broaden financial inclusion were also launched amid the pandemic, among them the Digital PERA (Personal Equity Retirement Account) and the Bonds.PH mobile application for the country’s domestic bond offerings.
Apart from continuously implementing the Build, Build, Build program, Dominguez said the government will remain focused in pushing for the pending reforms, including the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) as well as the remaining packages of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program on improving property valuation and simplifying the tax system on passive income and financial intermediaries.
To further open up the economy and bring in foreign investments, he also reiterated that Congress also pass doable reforms such as the amendments to the Foreign Investment Act, the Public Service Act, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.
“A crisis is both a threat and an opportunity. The pandemic seriously threatened our people’s health and our economy’s vigor. We have gone through a difficult test. From here, we are focused on the opportunities in the horizon,” he said.
Image credits: AP