Neoliberal agenda in SONA 2020


In his upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) this July 27, expect Rodrigo Duterte to once again aggressively push for the implementation of neoliberal economic reforms to further squeeze the already overburdened Filipinos. As what happened with the Anti-Terror Law, these schemes will surely be railroaded by his majority as Congress resumes its sessions.

The measures are being pushed by Duterte’s World Bank-trained technocrats under the guise of boosting the economy which has seen a sharp downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are focused on “attracting foreign investments,” borrowing money, and passing the burden on the people in the form of of new taxes.

Duterte’s economic managers have set on a media campaign this month to aggressively push for the implementation of an utterly regressive “Junk Food Tax” which aims to levy additional excise taxes on almost all food products. These include dried fish, noodles and canned goods that are staple to many poor households. Excise tax will also be levied on deep-fried and salty snacks; candies, sugary desserts and sweetened beverages; and fastfood products. The fiscal reform is justified as “sin tax” purportedly to discourage Filipinos from eating unhealthy food. Filipinos will be set back by at least P72.97 billion in should the tax be implemented. The tax burden is heavier for the poor majority who pay proportionally more out of their already meager incomes. This is doubly reprehensible especially now that majority of workers have lost their jobs to the pandemic.

Duterte’s economic managers are busy finding other things to tax for debt servicing. The Department of Trade and Industry recently compelled small online sellers to register their businesses in order to impose taxes on them under pain of facing criminal charges. After­wards, it stated that barter trading is illegal and must be taxed. New barter arrangements such as “online barter trading” have emerged as these have provided people with an alternative source of food and other basic needs amid the pandemic and imposition of work restrictions.

Last July 9, Malacañang announced that Congress and Duter­te’s economic officials have already agreed on which programs to prioritize under the so-called Bayanihan 2. The package primarily aims to lower corporate income tax, railroad the regime’s infrastructure projects, and extend Duterte’s emergency powers. (Read related article in Ang Ba­yan, Ma­y 21.)

Simultaneously, Duterte’s hench­men are aggressively pushing to expedite the privatization of government properties to purportedly augment public funds amid the Covid-19 crisis. Senator Francis Tolentino recently filed the “Covid-19 Economic Lifeline Act” which aims to create a Covid-19 Privatization Commission. The said commission will oversee the disposition of state-owned assets. Earlier in April, Duterte himself expressed his intent to sell the land where the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center stand on. The said area has long been targeted by big bouregois compradors who are seeking to expand their reclamation activities in the Manila Bay.

Neoliberal agenda in SONA 2020