That’s me. I’ve lost my bus ticket, so I guess I’ll just stick around and see what is happening hereabouts.
One, the improved rating was largely accidental. The Aquino Administration has not spent money because it does not have a rigorous infrastructure (capital) or value building (expense) plan. It just keeps doing what has been done before, but holds back on expenses that are deemed political. That is Joe Am’s technical description, not Moody’s.
Two, Moody’s intimates that ratings could be improved further if revenue sources were firmed up. “Intimates” is one of those words you use when you don’t really understand what they are saying, and want to wrap it up in something other than a wild guess, or SWAG. I think Moody’s is intimating that there is a road that the Philippines could follow to continue to work toward investment status.
I’ve argued before that the Philippine tax structure is unsound, but now with the weight of Moody’s behind my credibility on this point, I will restate it.
The Philippines depends too much on fee-based taxes rather than taxes keyed to value creation. Fee-based taxes too often destroy value. For example, court fees constrain who gets justice. Justice in the Philippines favors the favorites. The poor are not among them. Fees don’t promote the value of “justice for all”.
Customs assessments represent 22% of the entire revenue stream. Operating under a taxation charter, Customs does little to build Philippine trade competitiveness. Indeed, outrageous Customs’ fees and burdensome paperwork undermine Philippine global competitiveness. Can you imagine the benefit of uncorking the export and trading markets? The Philippines would return to its 1800’s stature as a hub of Asian trade. But Filipino officials can’t imagine this state of affairs so they can’t figure out how to get there. They just tax away.
VAT is a good tax as long as it does not become so onerous that people stop making purchases. It is keyed to value creation. A retailer creates value when he buys goods for X and sells them for X+M, where M is the markup. The amount the customer pays is X+M+T, adding in the VAT. Well, if the mark-up M is 12% and T is 12%, then government has piled on pretty heavily. The State is essentially saying that it deserves as much money as the retailer who has worked hard to build a store, build a customer base, buy goods, and build and sell products.
Seems greedy to me.
A 12% VAT is not conducive to fostering a vibrant retail industry. It is just easy money to grab for the State.
Two other taxation sources that are roundly ignored are income taxes and property taxes. Why? Because they hit the moneyed friends of the political families. So much value created, so few taxes levied. Property taxes, which could fund school improvement, are a joke. I’ve funded the purchase of two properties and both times the attorneys advised to understate the actual purchase price to avoid taxes. Then the annual tax bill arrives and I pay like P100 for a lovely beach paradise. The annual tax could and should be P10,000.
A friend who worked in the assessor’s office said they could not tax at fully authorized rates because the people who backed the mayor would complain.
Therefore, all the kids of the Philippines suffer through insufferable, overcrowded schools with weak teachers.
So the mayor can stay in office.
That, my friends, is Filipino sacrifice and patriotism. It is the jolly, good-hearted, considerate way this island paradise stays stuck in the mud. We incidental tourists just shake our heads in wonder.
In concert with my new advisory slogan, “Man up, Philippines”, I say: find where value is created and tax it reasonably. Make the whole community wealthy, if not in money, then in service and respect, instead of coddling the rich and well-connected.
Rise up, even. Like Edsa the hell out of this baby. Throw tea into Manila Bay, or a case of San Mig. Demand taxes that will benefit your kids. Demand taxes that build wealth instead of constrain productivity.