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Fiscal Policy

Historically, the government has taken a rather conservative stance on fiscal activities. Until the 1970s, national government expenditures and taxation generally were each less than 10 percent of GNP. (Total expenditures of provincial, city, and municipal governments were small, between 5 and 10 percent of national government expenditures in the 1980s.) Under the Marcos regime, national government activity increased to between 15 and 17 percent of GNP, largely because of increased capital expenditures and, later, growing debt-service payments. In 1987 and 1988, the ratio of government expenditure to GNP rose above 20 percent (see table 4, Appendix). Tax revenue, however, remained relatively stable, seldom rising above 12 percent of GNP (see table 5, Appendix). Chronic government budget deficits were covered by international borrowing during the Marcos era and mainly by domestic borrowing during the Aquino administration. Both approaches contributed to the vicious circle of deficits generating the need for borrowing, and the debt service on those loans creating greater deficits and the need to borrow even more. At 5.2 percent of GNP, the 1990 government deficit was a major consideration in the 1991 standby agreement between Manila and the IMF.

Over time, the apportionment of government spending has changed considerably (see table 6, Appendix). In 1989 the largest portion of the national government budget (43.9 percent) went for debt servicing. Most of the rest covered economic services and social services, including education. Only 9.1 percent of the budget was allocated for defense. The Philippines devoted a smaller proportion of GNP to defense than did any other country in Southeast Asia.

The Aquino government formulated a tax reform program in 1986 that contained some thirty new measures. Most export taxes were eliminated; income taxes were simplified and made more progressive; the investment incentives system was revised; luxury taxes were imposed; and, beginning in 1988, a variety of sales taxes were replaced by a 10 percent value-added tax--the central feature of the administration's tax reform effort. Some administrative improvements also were made. The changes, however, did not effect an appreciable rise in the tax revenue as a proportion of GNP.

Problems with the Philippine tax system appear to have more to do with collections than with the rates. Estimates of individual income tax compliance in the late 1980s ranged between 13 and 27 percent. Assessments of the magnitude of tax evasion by corporate income tax payers in 1984 and 1985 varied from as low as P1.7 billion to as high as P13 billion. The latter figure was based on the fact that only 38 percent of registered firms in the country actually filed a tax return in 1985. Although collections in 1989 were P10.1 billion, a 70 percent increase over 1988, they remained P1.4 billion below expectations. Tax evasion was compounded by mismanagement and corruption. A 1987 government study determined that 25 percent of the national budget was lost to graft and corruption.

Low collection rates also reinforced the regressive structure of the tax system. The World Bank calculated that effective tax rates (taxes paid as a proportion of income) of low-income families were about 50 percent greater than those of high-income families in the mid-1980s. Middle-income families paid the largest percentage. This situation was caused in part by the government's heavy reliance on indirect taxes. Individual income taxes accounted for only 8.9 percent of tax collections in 1989, and corporate income taxes were only 18.5 percent. Taxes on goods and services and duties on international transactions made up 70 percent of tax revenue in 1989, about the same as in 1960.

The consolidated public sector deficit--the combined deficit of national government, local government, and public-sector enterprise budgets--which had been greatly reduced in the first two years of the Aquino administration, rose to 5.2 of GNP by the end of 1990. In June 1990, the government proposed a comprehensive new tax reform package in an attempt to control the public sector deficit. About that time, the IMF, World Bank, and Japanese government froze loan disbursements because the Philippines was not complying with targets in the standby agreement with the IMF. As a result of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf crisis, petroleum prices increased and the Oil Price Stabilization Fund put an additional strain on the budget. The sudden cessation of dollar remittances from contract workers in Kuwait and Iraq and increased interest rates on domestic debt of the government also contributed to the deficit.

Negotiations between the Aquino administration and Congress on the administration's tax proposals fell through in October 1990, with the two sides agreeing to focus on improved tax collections, faster privatization of government-owned and government-controlled corporations, and the imposition of a temporary import levy. A new standby agreement between the government and the IMF in early 1991 committed the government to raise taxes and energy prices. Although the provisions of the agreement were necessary in order to secure fresh loans, the action increased the administration's already fractious relations with Congress.

Data as of June 1991

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Philippines Table of Contents