No Free Lunch: Economics in Bite-Sized Pieces: Selected Columns from the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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The archipelagic structure of Philippine marketing requires the establishment of regional centers and adds considerably to distribution costs, foreign domination of much of marketing, direct government participation, and the proliferation of small firms.

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Makati City is the business center of the country and hosts a number of distribution centers, trading firms, commercial banks, and high-end retail establishments. Cebu City is the trading center of the south. Small stores typify retail trade. Manila has major shopping centers and malls. Generally, sales are for cash or on open account. Retailing is conducted on a high markup, low-turnover basis.

A law provides for price-tagging on retail items.

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Direct marketing, particularly of foreign name-brand products, has gained in popularity. English is the general language of commercial correspondence. Most advertising is local; the chief media are newspapers, radio, television, posters, billboards, and sound trucks. Shops are usually open from 10 am to 8 pm, Monday through Saturday, but these hours can vary. Most department stores and supermarkets are open on Sunday. Banking hours are weekdays from 9 am to 3 pm.

Office hours, and hours for the Philippine government are generally from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, with a one-hour lunch break from 12 to 1 pm. Some offices are open from 8 am to 12 pm on Saturday. Staggered hours, with up to three shifts, are common in the metropolitan Manila area. The Philippines' traditional exports were primary commodities and raw materials. However, by , machinery and transport equipment made up the majority of exports.


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Other exports included garments 6. In , machinery and electronics accounted for over three-fourths of all exports. In , the major exports were: electronic products Primary imports were: capital goods Japan and the United States continue to be the Philippines' primary trading partners. In percentage terms, for , the Philippines' leading markets were: Japan Leading suppliers included: Japan Since World War II , the Philippines experienced frequent trade deficits, aggravated by inflationary pressures. Foreign investment in the stock market and remittances from overseas workers helped to offset the deficit and avert a balance-of-payments crisis.

This was the first surplus in 12 years. Merchandise exports, in double digits through most of the s, slowed to a single-digit growth pace in , reflecting fewer export receipts from electronics and telecommunications parts and equipment. The and trade surpluses were the first since ; during the intervening period, expensive mineral fuel imports had thrown the balance into a deficit.

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Traditionally, exports of primary products failed to balance imports, leading the government to restrict imports. Structural change accelerated in the s, as the contribution of industry including construction to GDP rose from The Aquino assassination in August had immediate economic consequences for the Marcos government, as did the broader Third World Debt Crisis.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital fled the Philippines, leaving the country with insufficient foreign exchange reserves to meet its payments obligations. The government turned to the IMF and its creditor banks for assistance in rescheduling the nation's foreign debt, and an austerity program was set up during — Monopolies established under the Marcos administration in coconuts, sugar, meat, grains, and fertilizer were dismantled and a ban on copra exports was lifted.

All export taxes were abolished; and the government allowed free access to lower-cost or higher-quality imports as a means of improving the cost-competitiveness of domestic producers. Many difficulties remained, however. The prices of commodity exports, such as sugar, copper, and coconut products, were still weak, while demand for nontraditional manufactured products, such as clothing and electronic components, failed to rise.

The structural reforms produced an initial recovery between and , but this was arrested by the series of natural disasters in — In , Aquino had also embarked on a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme, but its goals remain unfulfilled.

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The country also had five debt reschedulings in the period to with the Paris Club — for official debt owed to aid donor countries — on which some payments are still owing. The Philippine banking structure consists of the government-owned Central Bank of the Philippines created in , which acts as the government's fiscal agent and administers the monetary and banking system; and some 45 commercial banks, of which 17 are foreign-majority-owned.

Other institutions include more than thrift banks, rural banks, 38 private development banks, 7 savings banks, and 10 investment houses, and two specialized government banks. The largest commercial bank, the Philippine National Bank PNB , is a government institution with over local offices and 12 overseas branches. It supplies about half the commercial credit, basically as agricultural loans. There are also 13 offshore banking units in the country, and 26 foreign bank representative offices.


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The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 8. Philippine stock exchanges are self-governing, although the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission SEC , established in , has supervisory power over registrants. A computer link-up was effected a year later, although the two retained separate trading floors until November Only companies were listed as of But in , only 10 of the largest companies accounted for more than half of trading volume.

In , a financial scandal in which the SEC failed to regulate the market properly drove the stock market down by a quarter and destroyed investor confidence. The Government Service Insurance System GIS , a government organization set up in , provides life, permanent disability, accident, old age pension, burial insurance and salary and real estate loan benefits. Compulsory third-party motor liability insurance went into effect on 1 January In addition, workers' compensation and personal accident insurance for workers abroad are compulsory.

The Insurance Commission of the Department of Finance oversees the insurance industry. Life and nonlife insurance companies provide coverage against theft, fire, marine loss, accident, embezzlement, third-party liability, and other risks. The principal sources of revenue are income taxes, taxes on sales and business operations, and excise duties. Infrastructural improvements, defense expenditures, and debt service continue to lead among the categories of outlays. The government's commitment to fiscal balance resulted in a budget surplus for the first time in two decades in The surplus was achieved by higher taxes, privatization receipts, and expenditure cuts.

Public debt in amounted to The International Monetary Fund IMF reported that in , the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were p Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, The individual income tax consists of taxes on compensation income from employment , business income, and passive income interests, dividends, royalties, and prizes. Dividends are not subject to taxation if paid from one domestic corporation to another domestic corporation, or to resident foreign corporations. Some cities, such as Manila, levy their own wholesale and retail sales taxes.

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Higher rates for activities. Excise taxes are imposed on selected commodities such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, jewelry and petroleum products. In addition, the government levies a variety of other taxes, including mining and petroleum taxes, residence taxes, a head tax on immigrants above a certain age and staying beyond a certain period, document stamp taxes, donor gift taxes, estate taxes, and capital gains taxes. A document stamp tax is charged on stock certificates, proofs of indebtedness, proofs of ownership, etc.

The Philippines, as a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC forum, is also committed to the establishment of free trade in the region and is expected to eliminate intra-regional barriers by Investments have been concentrated in manufactures for exports, utilities, mining, petroleum refining, and export-oriented agriculture, with accelerating interest in labor-intensive textiles, footwear, electronics, and other nontraditional export industries.

Investment is affected by import controls, exchange controls, and equity controls that favor Filipino participation in foreign ventures. Attempts to liberalize the economy of the Philippines are fighting three centuries of entrenched interests. Filipino political science research points out the influence and effects of Spanish colonialism that delivered the control of politics and economics into the hands of a small number of families. In the name of nationalism these families legislated against foreign competition in the s.

Serious restructuring began in the wake of the Third World debt crisis and the turn to the IMF for assistance. The foreign investment negative list is comprised of three categories where foreign investment is fully or partially restricted by the constitution or by specific laws. Restriction on setting up export processing zones has also been considerably relaxed. The Export Development Act of signaled the government's conversion from an import substitution model of industrial development to an export-led growth model, more in line with its Asian tiger neighbors.

The banking and insurance sectors were also significantly liberalized by legislation in Since the four existing foreign banks had not been allowed to open branches. Under a law, each was allowed to open up to six new branches, plus up to 10 new foreign full-service banks could be licensed with up to six branches each.

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Rural banking, however, continues to remain closed to foreign investment. The next year, in , the Special Economic Zone Act, and separate laws for independent ecozones in Zoambanga and Cayagyu, established the framework for the collection of four government-managed ecozones and over 40 private ecozones, all with liberalized incentives to attract foreign investment.


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Amendments to the FIA in enhanced the investor-friendly framework, albeit leaving the country vulnerable to the rapid divestments of the Asian financial crisis the next year. With recovery, the government embarked on further reforms aimed at attracting foreign investors. Also in , the Estrada administration opened the retail trade and grain milling businesses to foreign investment. There remain, however, major restrictions on foreign investments in the Philippines besides the natural hindrances that this most disaster-prone of countries is liable to, not the least of which is the complexity and detail of the investment regime.

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Under the FIA, the government is obliged to promulgate a Foreign Investment Negative List FINL consisting of a List A of foreign ownership limited by the constitution and specific laws, and a List B of foreign ownership limited for reasons of security, defense, risk to health and morals and protection of small and medium-scale enterprises.

On List A, by its terms, no foreign equity was to be allowed in the mass media except recording, nor in any of the licensed professions including law, medicine, accounting, engineering, environmental planning, interior design, teaching, and architecture. Small scale retail and mining, private security, utilization of marine resources, the operation of cockpits, and the manufacture of fireworks, are off-limits to foreigners, as are, on another level, the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons.

In , President Arroyo, a trained economist, launched a high profile campaign to attract foreign investment. Former president Fidel Ramos and four other senior government officials were appointed as envoys to promote trade and investment. The Philippines' newly deregulated and privatized energy sector was the main draw, the center piece being the Malampaya natural gas project, which was officially inaugurated on 16 October following the completion of its mile km undersea pipeline and the conversion of three power plants in Batangas to natural gas usage. The Philippine government, despite its attempts to attract more foreign investment, has failed to invest in the infrastructure that is crucial to foreign and domestic investors — roads, communications, healthcare, and education.

The government has been unable to address the issues of congestion and pollution in Manila. Beginning in , the main tenets of the Marcos government's economic policies, as articulated through the National Economic Development Authority, included substantial development of infrastructure, particularly through the use of labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive i.