President Aquino has signed the two-trillion peso Philippines 2013 budget (GBP 30 billion and approx. 16% of GDP) into law. Main priority areas are infrastructure development, health, education and support to the conditional cash transfers programme. Growth and increased revenue allow for extra spending while also reducing debt as a percentage of GDP. No pre-election splurge, but some in civil society still see too much discretionary spending by legislators and a lack of transparency. Overall, the Philippines 2013 budget shows the government’s credentials for strong management of the economy are likely to remain high. Moody’s indicated the possibility of an credit rating upgrade to PHL’s first investment grade.
The macro picture
The Philippines 2013 budget was passed on time and with little controversy. It assumes significant growth in revenues of 14%. This should be realised, although it is dependent on increased “sin taxes” (Aquino has just approved a separate bill) from alcohol and tobacco generating an additional P40 billion. The national Philippines 2013 budget assumes a 14% increase in imports, making the Philippines a larger net importer of goods. The Philippines 2013 budget also assumes a reduction in tariff revenues (in line with policy). These will lead to a 2% of GDP deficit. However, with growth likely to remain above 6%, the level of government debt will reduce as a percentage of GDP to its lowest since 2001, maintaining the government’s focus on achieving investment bond rating, something unimagined in the Philippines even a few years ago. A slightly higher inflation rate is assumed confirming central bank’s comments on allowing higher inflation to counter expected global economy headwinds.
Social and economic services get the biggest increases in line with anti-poverty objectives and investment in infrastructure. The government will continue to invest heavily in publicly procured infrastructure, mainly on building and maintaining roads. Health and education are the other winners. Infrastructure and social service spend now account for more than a quarter of the total budget, up from when Aquino came to power.
And the rest
Half of the Philippines 2013 budget will go to government departments while a quarter will go to automatically appropriated items (mainly debt service). The final quarter will go to special purpose and unprogrammed funds. A good portion of this is uncontroversial consisting of support to state enterprises and disaster relief funds. However, PhP436 billion (up from PhP233 billion in 2011) will be allocated to unprogrammed and special purpose funds, which includes countrywide development funds to be disbursed by individual legislators and a new fund called priority social and economic fund. The increase on 2011 is accounted for by the social and economic fund.
The money allocated to legislators has often in the past been a source of poor governance. Many in civil society view the amount allocated as lacking in transparency, poor practice and still too high. Each member of Congress gets over £1 million of discretionary spending, a Senator nearly three times that.
Reactions from commentators
The Philippines 2013 budget has been generally well received. Some local commentators were hoping for a long-term government employment programme, arguing that employment creation has been private-sector led. But this has been resisted. Most view the budget as continuing the recent trend and priorities.
Opportunities for UK trade and investment
Infrastructure, health and education will continue to be strong growth areas, although the ability of government to spend the money allocated will continue to be variable. The growth in imported goods will also see a larger consumer-driven market in the future, with the UK well placed in the mid-priced and luxury goods sectors, entertainment and contracts in the services sector. Demand for innovative systems and high-tech infrastructures will also grow, with local firms looking for foreign partners. Defence spending will be supported through the allocation of PhP10 billion for modernisation of the armed forces.
The speed of PPP roll out will also be a significant factor for UK companies. PPPs are mostly funded outside of the national budget and have been moving slower than the government would like due to capacity issues. Mr Swire talked about this with the Finance Minister in mid December and we will continue to engage / support by sharing UK skills, training and experience.
The Philippines 2013 budget seeks to use growth to address deep rooted poverty and development issues whilst maintaining strong financial discipline. On 19 December Moody’s released a report on the Philippines which many local experts think suggests a possible upgrade to investment grade in the foreseeable future. If that materialises it will be the first time that Philippines sovereign debt has ever reached investment grade, a very positive indicator.
This summary of the Philippines 2013 budget approval was published by UKTI.