Today is a special day for me and I want to thank, appreciate, and mention certain groups and people who have helped me all these years.
But before that, I want to mention the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Finance Ministers Meeting (FMM) held on Oct. 19 and 20 in Bangkok, Thailand. This seems to have escaped the coverage of many local business reports.
The period 2020-2022 have been years of severe fiscal challenges for practically all countries around the world. Finding new revenues, cutting certain expenditures and subsidies, reducing borrowings while controlling inflation and encouraging fast growth are multiple challenges that responsible governments must address.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno attended the APEC-FMM and in his panel on “Digitalization for Fiscal Policy and Efficient Tax Collection,” he mentioned that the Philippines’ online filing and payment even improved collections amid the pandemic — a 5% increase in the number of tax payers, an 84% increase in electronic payments in 2021, and revenue collections expanded by 5.2% that year. Collections from January to August 2022 grew by 18% compared to the same period in 2021.
I support with caution the rapid shift to digital commerce and payment system. It is faster, convenient, and more transparent. But caution should be put in place when governments have more data about people and companies because when authoritarian leaders and political parties rise in power in any country, they will definitely weaponize the digital information for their political repression and economic central planning agenda.
The Finance, Budget, and Economic departments can use the digital information to rationalize the expanding welfare system. If some people are added to the system, some must get out and their subsidies should not be forever.
Now, I have 10 groups of people to say a big “Thank you” to.
One, my family. My wife and our two girls, Elle Marie and Bien Mary, for the gift of fatherhood. They are 16 and 12 years old and growing pretty and healthy. I practice my firm belief that there should be more personal and parental responsibility, and less government responsibility, in running people’s lives.
Two, my siblings, especially my sister Marycris Oplas, the single biggest donor in kind to my think tank, Minimal Government Thinkers (MGT), all these years; and my sister Lilibeth and younger brother Bonifacio who helped take care of Papa and Mama when they were still alive.
Three, my non-biological siblings, the Millora family who took me in as part of their family too, especially Dr. Judea Millora who has become my personal doctor. The Millora family has a big agro-forest farm in Pangasinan which I helped monitor since 1992. The farm allowed me to have firsthand insight into rice, mango and animal farming, forestry practices, and harvesting.
Four, my friends and co-founders of MGT. And allies, in particular the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF, Berlin, Bangkok, and Manila offices), the Property Rights Alliance and the Heartland Institute (both in the US), the Geneva Network and previously International Policy Network (both in the UK), the World Taxpayers Association, the Lion Rock Institute (Hong Kong), and IDEAS (Malaysia). And certain friends and supporters in the US and the UK — Jo Kwong, Cathy Windels, Grover Norquist, Lorenzo Montanari, Julian Morris, and Philip Stevens.
Five, my past and current editors, from interaksyon to BusinessWorld — Arnold Tenorio, Ricky Torre, Boojie Basilio, Roby Alampay, Alice Herrera, and Willy Reyes. And BusinessWorld CEO Miguel Go Belmonte. I thank them for their continued trust in me as a writer and researcher.
Six, the Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC PH), for their courage in fighting the authoritarian lockdown, the mandatory use of face shields and masks even outdoors, the mandatory vaccination, and discrimination based on the vax card.
In particular, I wish to thank past CDC PH presidents Dr. Benigno “Iggy” Agbayani, Jr., Dr. Homer Lim, and current President Dr. Marivic Villa. Other key leaders and weekly Huddle hosts Ann Cuisia, Mari Kaimo, Francis Abraham, and Eli Abella. The brave doctors and allies of CDC PH, Docs Eric Tan, Jade del Mundo, Allan Landrito, Romy Quijano, Rafael Castillo, and Jody Dalmacion. And brave lawyers Tanya Lat and Ting Bello. And many other supporters and donors of CDC PH. I still wish that the next Health Secretary will be either Dr. Iggy Agbayani or Dr. Jody Dalmacion.
Seven, my classmates and batchmates from Cadiz City High School batch 1980 in Negros Occidental. My friends and classmates from the University of the Philippines (UP) — UP Sapul, UP ETC, UP Cebu, UPSE batch 1984, UPSE Alumni Association (UPSEAA), UPSE PDE batch 33, UP Narra dormmates. My three good friends from ETC who have gone to the afterlife — Fermin Taruc, Roger Ynzon, Raul Tomas — thank you for the laughter many years ago.
Eight, folks in the energy sector here, both government and corporate. I particularly want to thank the guys in the competitive generation sub-sector for continuously expanding the country’s power capacity and giving Philippine consumers competitive power rates. Then the guys in the partly competitive power distribution sub-sector, especially the private utilities.
See the comparative electricity rates that I gathered in the table. I wrote to some friends in the provinces to get a photo of their electricity bills for the October 2022 billing. So far I got five plus our bill here in Metro Manila. So, two from private distribution utilities, Manila Electric Company (Meralco) and Davao Light and Power Company (DLPC); and four electric cooperatives (EC) — Central Pangasinan EC (Cenpelco) and Cagayan EC 2 (Cagelco 2) in Luzon; Iloilo EC 1 (Ileco 1) and Northern Negros EC (Noneco) in the Visayas.
ECs must work on getting cheaper generation rates and cutting or reducing their big system losses. Private distribution utilities (DUs) have higher distribution charges but they have stable power supply and blackouts are very rare, unlike in most EC areas. DUs also have much stronger distribution lines that do not easily fall down during strong storms.
Last week, the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP) held a media briefing. Among the important data presented in the briefing were:
First, there were higher spot prices, from P7.26/kilowatt hour (kwh) in August to P9.12/kwh and P9.31/kwh in the September and October billings. The main reason was the higher demand and lower supply and hence, lower margins in October.
And second, that the average peak demand for the third quarter were as follows: July-Sept. 2020 was 12,419 megawatts (MW); July-Sept. 2021 was 12,611 MW; and July-Sept. 2022 was 13,462 MW, a 6.7% growth. This number bolsters my view that GDP growth in Q3 is around 7-7.5%, so that the full year 2022 GDP growth would be around 7.5%.
Nine, other friends from other business sectors and NGOs. In particularly my classmates in Rotary Year 2006-2007 District 3830 led by past governor Butch Francisco. And my classmate who later became governor, Edwin Afzelius.
Ten, the economic team of the Marcos Jr. administration. I still believe that they are the most experienced, most respected economists and the most cohesive team to instill more business confidence in the country.
Thank you, friends and family.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers.