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BIZ BUZZ: Appeal to the President

/ 05:18 AM May 06, 2022

The National Food Authority (NFA) is no longer the all-powerful agency that once had singular control over the price of rice in the Philippines, but it still exercises important regulatory functions that help ensure ample supply of this important grain across the country.

So it is alarming that its employees have gone on the record to publicly appeal to President Duterte to replace the agency’s current administrator, Judy Carol Dansal.

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Speaking at a press conference yesterday, NFA Employees Association national president Maximo Torda said replacing Dansal would “save the agency from further deterioration.”

In particular, the agency’s union head said his boss had been accused of graft, corrupt practices, grave abuse of authority, “wanton” disregard of rules and regulations, as well as union busting.

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According to him, the NFA chief faces three graft complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman, an administrative charge with the Civil Service Commission, and has allegedly violated the NFA procurement rules. Allegedly, she approved the purchase of rice in Region IV despite the absence of an emergency—an act that supposedly resulted in losses for the agency.

The union also claims that Dansal favored certain people in the NFA, including those who were supposed to have been retired. They accused her of nepotism for having allegedly appointed her daughter-in-law and her mother to key positions in NFA.

Finally, the union official said Dansal abused her power when she terminated some employees while retaining others who were “similarly situated.” She also has not granted “overdue” benefits such as subsidies for … what else? … rice, of course, as well as other incentives, he said.

So what are the NFA employees asking for? They’re appealing to Mr. Duterte in the last few weeks of his presidency to live up to his promise of a clean and corruption-free government by firing Dansal.

There’s only one thing though: she’s a law graduate of San Beda—a preferred source of appointees over the last six years. She was appointed NFA administrator in June 2019, six months after her retirement from the food agency where she served for nearly 42 years. She was the deputy administrator at the time of her retirement.

Will the employees’ appeal be heard? Or will it fall on deaf presidential ears? Abangan!

—Daxim L. Lucas

New tax academy bosses

No less than the Department of Finance’s (DOF) chief economist, retired undersecretary Gil Beltran, has been elected as the Philippine Tax Academy’s first president.

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Together with also-retired DOF Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa Habitan, who has been appointed chancellor, Beltran will lead the training of civil servants to be adept at fiscal discipline, taxation, and customs administration.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who chairs the Philippine Tax Academy’s board of trustees, had nominated Beltran as president until June 30 of this year, “without prejudice to his subsequent reappointment in the next administration,” the DOF said in a statement on Tuesday.

Beltran has been serving as board member at the Philippine Tax Academy since January 2022, following his appointment by President Duterte.

Beltran is no stranger to the academe, as he had been a lecturer at his alma mater, the University of the Philippines, as well as the Development Academy of the Philippines.

During his stint at the DOF, Beltran became undersecretary for the agency’s corporate affairs and privatization office, as well as policy development and management services groups, up to his retirement last year.

Habitan, meanwhile, was a moving force at the DOF’s domestic finance group, which formulated and planned fiscal policy, until her retirement also in 2021.

Both Beltran and Habitan had also served as representatives of the Philippines to the Washington-based multilateral lender World Bank.

Besides Beltran, Habitan and Dominguez, also part of the Philippine Tax Academy’s board are Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero and Internal Revenue Commissioner Caesar Dulay as co-vice chairs, as well as Bureau of Local Government Finance executive director Niño Raymond Alvina as member.

Also this month, the Bureau of Customs inaugurated its own Customs Training Institute at Port Area in Manila.

—Ben O. de Vera

Unity and continuity

A leading presidential candidate’s battle cry is “unity,” but for President Duterte’s chief economic manager, it was “continuity” that sustained economic expansion prepandemic and steered the return to this growth path after a slip during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

Speaking to his predecessors at the Department of Finance during a dinner to celebrate the agency’s 125th anniversary last Friday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III noted that the DOF “boasts of policy continuity.”

“From one administration to the next, we improve rather than change standing policy. During President Duterte’s administration, we did not alter any major policy. We built on all the successes,” Dominguez told former Finance chiefs Cesar Virata, Jose Isidro Camacho, Jose Pardo, Roberto de Ocampo, Margarito Teves, and Cesar Purisima.

“Our team, which you trained and recruited, did their utmost to prepare our economy for this new world. We maximized their training and learnings to be able to pass and effectively implement the comprehensive tax reform program, which is now about 90-percent complete. Throughout the process of getting these measures passed, I want to thank my predecessors for sharing their wisdom and valuable advice,” said Dominguez, who has always acknowledged reforms made by past administrations.

“I will soon join your exclusive club… At the end of the Duterte administration, I am proud to say that the DOF worked hard to maintain a strong fiscal position as well as to prepare our economy for inclusive and sustainable growth. This is merely a continuation of the great work my predecessors have done,” Dominguez said.

Earlier that day, Dominguez told DOF employees that “there is still much work we have to do together in the coming months before the current presidential term ends.”

“Over the next few years, translating the reforms into real economic progress for our people will be an urgent task. Our economy is now on more solid footing and ready to compete. The DOF is preparing a comprehensive fiscal consolidation and resource mobilization plan for the next administration to ease the transition and to keep the momentum of our recovery,” the Finance chief told civil servants.

Various economic officials had said fiscal consolidation may include new or higher taxes, cuts on non-priority spending, as well as drivers to economic growth so it can outgrow the government’s record-high outstanding debt and increase public revenues to narrow the yawning budget deficit wrought by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked last month if the DOF’s fiscal consolidation pitch would include tax hikes, Dominguez replied: “That will include various measures, and various suggestions. Remember, that is a plan that is for the adoption of the [next] administration. So since we are not in the administration anymore, I cannot tell you, ‘this is the plan — we do this, we do that.’ I can’t do that anymore. But we have some suggestions for them.”

We’ve heard the presidential aspirant leading the surveys, during a recent TV interview, expressed apprehension to higher or new taxes, claiming he doesn’t want to burden the Filipino people while the pandemic raged on.

If that’s the case, in mid-2022 when a new Philippine chief executive takes charge, will we still see continuity, as was done by previous administrations?

A flurry of names had already been floating around as the next DOF chief (at least for the presidential front-runner; curiously, no one’s being identified yet by the camp of his main challenger). Can the new chief economic manager, who will take Dominguez’s place at the DOF in July, sustain continuity as well? As we always say here in Biz Buzz: “Abangan!”

—Ben O. de Vera
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TAGS: Biz Buzz, Carlos Dominguez III, Gil Beltran, National Food Authority (NFA)
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