PHL lining up US support for climate, health, digitalization

PHILSTAR FILE PHOTO

THE Philippines discussed potential support from the US for its climate finance, health, and tax system digitalization efforts, the Department of Finance (DoF) said.

In a tweet following the Aug. 1 meeting, Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said he heard expressions of willingness from the US, represented by Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay L. Carlson, to increase its support in those areas.

“As of December 2021, the US was the Philippines’ largest source of grants reaching $628.20 million. The amount accounts for 33.23% of total grant assistance received by the country from all its bilateral and multilateral development partners,” the DoF said in a statement on Monday.

The US is the Philippines’ seventh-largest provider of official development assistance (ODA).

On climate change, Ms. Carlson said that the US is willing to increase climate financing support to the Philippines.

The Philippine position on climate change is that the industrialized countries must do their share in funding mitigation efforts. The Philippines accounts for only 0.3% of global emissions but is being counted on to reduce its emissions from dirty sources of energy that have been crucial in other countries’ industrial transitions.

“Though we are a minor contributor to climate change globally, we have the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change,” President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25.

“The use of renewable energy is at the top of our climate agenda. We will increase our use of renewable energy sources such as hydropower, geothermal power, solar, and wind,” he added.

Mr. Diokno told finance ministers and central bank governors at a Group of 20 (G20) event last month that climate financing will be sourced from bond issues, new taxes, and aid from the international community.

“We are supporting the passage of a bill that will either regulate or tax the use of single-use plastics to cut pollution and adopt more sustainable practices. We are also considering the imposition of a carbon tax,” he told the G20.

The mobilization of climate finance will be directed by the so-called Green Force, an interagency body led by the DoF along with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

In April, the government committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030 when then-President Rodrigo R. Duterte approved the Philippines’ first Nationally Determined Contribution.

On health security, both sides discussed efforts to increase coronavirus vaccination rates, as well as “the need for awareness of a possible next pandemic or any global issue that could affect economic and human development.”

On Sunday, the Department of Health reported 4,621 additional coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, bringing total active cases to 37,805.

“Nariyan pa rin ang banta ng COVID-19, lalo’t may mga nadidiskubreng bagong variants ng coronavirus. Pero hindi na natin kakayanin ang isa pang lockdown. Wala na tayong gagawing lockdown (The threat of COVID-19 is still with us, with new variants emerging. But we cannot afford another lockdown. We will no longer resort to lockdowns)” Mr. Marcos said during the SONA.

Mr. Diokno brought up previous US assistance in reforming the Philippine tax system.

“The USAID (US Agency for International Development) previously supported the DoF in crafting the comprehensive tax reform program through technical assistance, while the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) provided a grant worth $809,450 for the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) Information Communication Technology Modernization Strategy and Data Center,” the DoF said.

The grant, which helped finance the BIR’s full automation by 2030, was signed last year by then-Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and by the US Embassy in Manila on behalf of the USTDA.

“The long lines during the tax payment period (are) gone. I think almost 99% paid electronically. That’s good,” Mr. Diokno said.

Ms. Carlson also said that the US government is “very reassured” by the appointment of Mr. Diokno and the other members of the economic team.

The composition of the economic team sends a positive signal to US companies who want stability, predictability, and transparency, she added. — Diego Gabriel C. Robles