Cronyism Wins Over Reforms in Espiritu’s Exit

Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu’s decision to resign from his plum cabinet post is a just position and a courageous action. When so-called peers undermine his authority and when the President condones cabal schemes to oust him, the honorable option then is to resign. The conspiracy to remove Espiritu is a repeat of the tragedy that befell Karina David, something that is becoming a regular occurrence in the Estrada Cabinet.

Moreover, the President’s acceptance of the resignation betrays his ignorance of or indifference to the accomplishments and good deeds of Espiritu during his shortened term as finance secretary. We would have been tempted to ask Espiritu to reconsider and stay on at his post, for he is but one of the few remaining reformers in the Estrada Cabinet. It is worth mentioning some of the reform initiatives undertaken by the Department of Finance (DOF) under Espiritu’s leadership.

  • Through the Bureau of Treasury, interest rates have been significantly reduced to below the double-digit level.
  • The development of the capital markets has been boosted by
    innovative measures such as the introduction of low-denominated
    Treasury bills (the small investor program) and the flotation of
    Treasury bonds.
  • The process of overhauling the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs has been set in motion.
  • A set of progressive revenue-generating measures (e.g. taxes and fees on luxury consumption) has been put forward.

We likewise cite Espiritu, together with other reformers, for the spirited action in resisting attempts of crooks and cronies to plunder the public treasury and social security funds. He has supported the pro poor public housing program of the resigned Karina David and likewise opposed the use of the pensioners’ fund to finance controversial housing projects by developers notorious for scams. What is perhaps not well-publicized is Espiritu’s opposition to Lucio Tan’s plan to merge Allied Bank with the Philippine National Bank. If consummated, the merger would lead to government’s minority but still-significant stake in the privatized bank being swallowed up by Lucio Tan’s empire.

To be sure, Espiritu, or, to be precise, the DOF under the leadership, is vulnerable to some criticisms. For instance, the BIR and the BOC revenue-collection performance was below their targets. It must be qualified though that low revenue collection has been a chronic problem, which takes time for a decisive resolution. If only the resigned secretary had a longer time to serve, he ands his DOF colleagues would have earnestly addressed the problem, especially in light of the challenge posed by a growing budget deficit.

All told, Espiritu’s resignation is a resounding alarm that crooks, cronies, opportunists and other cabal interests have tightened their grip on economic and financial policymaking.

The rise of cronyism–Chinese cronies, in particular–is indeed very unsettling. But let us likewise be reminded of Teddyboy Locsin’s words that “blue eagles turned blue vultures are now feeding on the public through (sic).” We hasten to add that though that a sniping green archer and his ilk are conspiring with supposed blue-eagle rivals to
tear the economy apart.

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