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Philippines at the Cusp of Credit Downgrade Due to Military Pension Woes, Warns Finance Secretary

In the bustling heart of Manila, a pressing concern emerges: the Philippines stands at the precipice of losing its cherished investment-grade rating. Why? The nation’s current military and uniformed personnel (MUP) pension framework remains untenable. This could curtail the nation’s endeavors to pare down debt and reduce its deficit, opines Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

The new torchbearer of the nation, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, places reform of this service personnel retirement setup at the top of his list. His vision? To bolster national finances and channel essential resources into much-needed infrastructure projects.

Here’s the gravity of the situation: if the Philippines sidesteps the call to recalibrate the MUP pension architecture, a possible downgrade from its investment-grade status looms. A status it has proudly held for a solid decade. This sentiment echoed loudly during a recent budget discourse where Diokno addressed senators.

An eagle-eye view of ratings reveals: Fitch Ratings marks Philippine sovereign bonds at BBB, coupled with a tranquil outlook. Concurrently, Moody’s Investors Services and S&P Global Ratings are at Baa2 and BBB+, each radiating a calm forecast.

Interestingly, the present-day structure mandates zero contributions from troops and other uniformed staff, which encapsulates the police and prison workforce. The government’s coffers singlehandedly fuel this system.

Being a visionary, Diokno champions pivotal alterations, like introducing obligatory contributions. His ultimate ambition? To expedite fiscal amalgamation, envisioning a government deficit trimmed to 3.0% of the GDP and debt whittled down to 51.1% of GDP by the 2028 horizon. For perspective, the current figures stand at 6.1% and 61%, respectively.

However, let’s not forget: revamping the MUP pension blueprint necessitates legislative action.

Let’s crunch some numbers. The present-day fiscal commitment to MUP pensions is a staggering 214 billion pesos ($3.8 billion), roughly translating to 0.9% of GDP. Forecasts paint a graver picture, projecting an escalation to 537 billion pesos come 2030 and a mind-boggling 1.5 trillion pesos by 2040.

In a candid exposition, Diokno elucidates that the current structure doesn’t qualify as a genuine pension system. True pension systems entail both beneficiary and government contributions. The looming predicament? Should the status quo persist, it’s destined to balloon into a mammoth chunk of the national budget.

[Exchange Rate: $1 approximates 56.8000 Philippine pesos].

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