Philippines: Selected Issues

This Selected Issues paper highlights the Philippine growth performance led by the services sector. Average GDP growth is higher in the post-Asian crisis period in the Philippines, while the majority of the Philippines’s regional peers have experienced substantially lower growth in the post-Asian crisis period compared with the pre-crisis period. Trade and transport, storage, and communications services have been growth drivers while private and financial services have started to add new momentum. Various transfer programs are identified that would be much better targeted than across-the-board energy tax cuts.


This Selected Issues paper highlights the Philippine growth performance led by the services sector. Average GDP growth is higher in the post-Asian crisis period in the Philippines, while the majority of the Philippines’s regional peers have experienced substantially lower growth in the post-Asian crisis period compared with the pre-crisis period. Trade and transport, storage, and communications services have been growth drivers while private and financial services have started to add new momentum. Various transfer programs are identified that would be much better targeted than across-the-board energy tax cuts.

I. Distributional Implications of the VAT Reform and Possible Mitigaing Measures 1

A. Introduction

1. The Philippines recently carried out a reform of the value added tax (VAT) which has increased gross revenue substantially. The VAT reforms were introduced as part of a package of fiscal measures that aimed to put the public sector deficit and debt on a sustainable path. In November 2005 the VAT base was extended to energy products and selected professional services, and in February 2006, the VAT rate was increased from 10 to 12 percent. As a result, revenue collection (net of mitigating tax measures) is estimated to have increased by about 1.3 percentage points of GDP in 2006.

2. While the VAT reform is expected to deliver important macroeconomic benefits over the medium term, there is concern about the possible adverse effect on poor households. The reform resulted in higher prices for goods and services including petroleum products and electricity that were previously exempted from the VAT. To reduce the adverse impact of the reform on poor households, the government introduced a package of mitigating tax measures that included a reduction in selected petroleum excises. In addition to these measures, the authorities announced plans to spend 30 percent of the incremental revenue receipts from the VAT reform on infrastructure and social services, which will further ameliorate any adverse distributional effects.

3. This chapter shows that the VAT reform had a moderate adverse effect on poor households, and was progressive in its overall distributional impact. Households in the bottom per capita consumption quintile incurred a smaller proportional reduction in real consumption as a result of the reform than households in the top quintile. The progressive nature of the reform is consistent with the consumption patterns of poor households, who disproportionately rely on unprocessed agricultural products that are exempt from the VAT. In addition, extending the VAT base to petroleum products is also progressive, because, with the exception of kerosene, petroleum products are largely consumed by wealthier households.

4. The package of mitigating measures adopted delivers substantial benefits to all households, although large benefits also accrue to wealthier households. As mitigating measures the authorities reduced tax rates on various products, and set aside a portion of the additional VAT revenues for social spending. This chapter finds that these measures, if implemented effectively, would reduce the income loss from the reform by about 25 percent, and as a share of income, the benefit would be higher for poor households. However, in peso terms, wealthier households receive a large amount of the benefits of the overall mitigating package.

5. The mitigating measures increasing social spending are shown to be substantially better targeted to poor households than those that reduced energy taxes. Increases in education and health spending are relatively well targeted because elementary and secondary students attending government schools, as well as public health center users, are more highly concentrated in poor households. By contrast, reducing fuel taxes largely benefits wealthier households, who account for the bulk of consumption of fuel products.

6. A comparison of various options for the social spending component of the mitigating package highlights a trade off between covering large numbers of households and effectively targeting the poor. Expanding health insurance, widening access to health facilities, and improving education and health facilities all deliver roughly one third of the benefits to the poorest quintile. Expanding access to elementary and junior high schools is even better targeted, with almost 58 percent of the benefit going to the bottom quintile. However, since school attendance is nearly universal in the Philippines, building new schools would benefit far fewer poor households than improving the quality of existing facilities.

7. Replacing the existing social spending measures with targeted transfers has the potential to effectively compensate the poorest households at considerably lower cost. The potential savings, however, may be reduced to the extent that implementation is flawed and administrative costs exceed the minimum required amount. Still, the capacity to identify poor municipalities—one form of targeting that is considered—exists and has been successfully applied in the Philippines.

B. Methodology

8. The chapter uses the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) to establish whether the mitigating package was effective in targeting the poor. To evaluate the distributional impact of the VAT reform, households are separated into income groups, using income per capita from the 2003 FIES as the measure of household welfare and real income.2

9. The analysis is limited to the aspects of the VAT reform that are most relevant to the poor. The focus of the analysis is on the following features of the VAT reform that are likely to have had most impact on low income households: (i) the increase in the VAT rate from 10 to 12 percent; (ii) the broadening of the VAT base to petroleum products, electricity, and professional services; (iii) the reduction in fuel excises; (iv) the removal of the franchise taxes;3 (v) the reduction in the oil tariff from 5 to 3 percent; and (vi) devoting a portion of the additional VAT revenue to increased education and health spending. The first two measures comprise the VAT reform without mitigation, the next three measures comprise the mitigating tax measures,4 and the final measure comprises the mitigating spending measure. The analysis simulates the effect of all six measures, designed to represent the full effect of the reform.

10. The methodology examines the first-order effect of higher prices on household real income, which likely overstates the burden of the reform. The reduction in household real income is compared across income groups, assuming that household and firm demand is fixed. The estimates ignore any consumption adjustments by households, as well as input adjustments by firms, and therefore should be interpreted as upper bounds on the magnitude of income effects. In addition, for simplicity, firms are assumed to pass on all increases in their costs to their customers in the form of higher output prices.

11. Additional assumptions are required to simulate the effect of extra social spending. The authorities announced that at least 30 percent of the additional revenue proceeds will be set aside for infrastructure and social spending. Based on the current composition of spending, it is assumed that 60 percent of the additional revenue will be devoted to social spending, and 40 percent to infrastructure. Because it is difficult to identify the distributional impact of infrastructure spending, the analysis focuses only on the social spending component, which is assumed to be divided equally between education and health spending. This additional spending is modeled as transfers to existing users of education and health facilities. This methodology likely overstates the benefit of additional spending, due to inefficiencies in spending procedures, and the assumption that users value the spending at cost. On the other hand, the methodology may underestimate the effect of additional spending by ignoring the benefits to households of the additional infrastructure spending.

12. The analysis estimates both the direct and indirect impact of price changes resulting from the reform. The direct impact results from changes in the tax rate on goods and services that are final products. For example, a 2 percentage point increase in the VAT rate (from 10 to 12 percent) would result in a 2 percent direct increase in the final prices of goods and services subject to the VAT, while the removal of fuel exemptions would result in a 12 percent increase in the fuel prices. The indirect impact results from changes in the after-tax price of intermediate goods, which in some cases are passed on to the price of final goods. For example, lower prices of petroleum product inputs following the reduction of excise taxes on fuels would decrease the costs of production (e.g. in transportation), which may be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices of final goods (e.g. bus tickets). Based on the 2000 input-output table for the Philippines, a simple input-output model is used to estimate how changes in excise taxes are passed on to the prices for other goods and services.

13. The total price changes are then applied to the household consumption data in the 2003 FIES to estimate the incidence of the VAT reform. Data on household consumption are used to calculate the budget shares of various goods and services purchased by consumers, defined as household expenditure on a given item divided by total household expenditure. These shares are multiplied by the corresponding price increases and then summed across consumption items to estimate the percentage decline in the household real income due to the VAT reform. Finally, the total real income effect is averaged for each income group to obtain the total income effect for each income quintile.

14. The distributional impact of the reform can be evaluated across two dimensions:

  • Targeting performance. The targeting performance depends on each income group’s share of the absolute burden or the benefit resulting from a tax reform. For example, a tax increase is well targeted if lower income households bear a disproportionately small share of the total burden, e.g. the bottom quintile bears less than 20 percent of the tax burden. For tax cuts and transfer programs, a well targeted package will result in lower income households enjoying a disproportionately higher share of the total income gain from the package.

  • Average effect. The average effect is approximately equal to the average percentage welfare loss experienced by an income group. The reform is deemed progressive (regressive) if the percentage decrease in household consumption as a result of the reform is smaller (larger) for lower income groups.

15. The targeting performance and average effect are related, but measure different concepts. Targeting performance is used to assess the extent to which the additional revenue raised by the reform is drawn from poor households, in absolute income terms (in pesos). The average effect, however, is an approximate measure of the welfare loss experienced by poorer or richer households as a result of the reform, which is measured relative to household income. Therefore, a reform can be regressive, in the sense that the percentage reduction in real income is greater for the poor, but well targeted. This is because a relatively high percentage decline in poor household income may represent a relatively small amount of money in absolute terms, especially in a country with high inequality like the Philippines.

C. Distributional Impact of the Vat Reform

16. The VAT reform reduced poor households’ income by a moderate amount and was progressive. The average gross reduction in household consumption was estimated at 2½ percent (Figure 1).5 Households in the bottom quintile incurred a 2.4 percent reduction in real consumption, while households in the top quintile lost 2.7 percent. This finding is consistent with the consumption patterns of poor households, who tend to rely on unprocessed agricultural products that are exempt from the VAT. In addition, with the exception of kerosene, petroleum products are disproportionately consumed by wealthier households. The finding is also broadly consistent with a study of household consumption patterns using earlier data (Fletcher, 2003).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

The Philippines: Income Effect and Targeting of the VAT Reform and Mitigating Measure

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 131; 10.5089/9781451831405.002.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates based on the 2000 input-output tables and the 2003 FIES.

17. The mitigating package is found to partially alleviate the impact of the VAT reform on consumers and is progressive. The mitigating package of tax measures and increases in social spending reduces the average income loss from the reform across all households by about 25 percent (from 2.5 to 1.9 percent of income). Moreover, the mitigating package itself is quite progressive, due to the social spending measures. The mitigating measures are calculated to give back 1.2 percent of consumption to the bottom decile, but only 0.4 percent to the top quintile.

18. Nonetheless, in line with their much higher consumption shares, a sizeable portion of the benefit from the mitigating package accrues to high-income households. Households in the bottom quintile enjoy only about 15 percent of the benefit from the package of tax cuts and spending increases, while households in the top quintile enjoy about 30 percent of the benefit (compared to their 50 percent share of income). The reductions in energy and franchise taxes, which account for over 40 percent of the total mitigating package, are particularly poorly targeted, with the bottom quintile receiving only 7 percent the total benefit and the top quintile receiving 43 percent. Social spending measures, on the other hand, are relatively well targeted with almost 28 percent of the benefit accruing to the bottom quintile (Table 2).

19. Consistent with past research on fuel subsidies, there are substantial leakages associated with the fuel tax cuts.6 The most important component of the tax mitigating package was the reduction in the excises on petroleum products, particularly diesel. Price reductions in diesel and gasoline primarily benefit wealthier households, who consume the majority of these products directly. While reducing diesel and gas prices also lowers the price of other goods and services, wealthier consumers disproportionately benefit from lower prices throughout the economy as well. The measure that was best targeted to poor households is the reduction in the price of kerosene. However, because kerosene consumption is relatively small, the revenue given back through the kerosene price reduction was a negligible portion of the total mitigating package.

20. Ultimately, the performance of the social spending component of the mitigating package depends on its composition. The above analysis makes the simplifying assumption that additional social spending benefits existing users of health and education in proportion to usage. Alternatively, social spending increases could be used to expand access to health and education facilities. A comparison of the targeting and coverage of various forms of social spending could therefore be useful in guiding the choice of programs that should benefit from the additional spending.

D. Social Spending Options

21. Five alternative forms of social spending are evaluated, to investigate whether altering the composition of social spending could improve targeting and coverage (Table 1). The first three programs are health related: improving existing public health facilities, expanding access to health facilities, and uniformly expanding access to health insurance. In addition, two education programs are considered: improving existing educational facilities and expanding access. A program’s coverage is the proportion of households that benefit, while targeting is determined by the percentage of benefits accruing to each income group.

Table 1.

The Philippines: Coverage and Targeting of Health and Education Spending

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Source: Fund staff estimates based on the 2002 Annual Poverty Indicator Survery

Defined as the number of benefiting individuals divided by the total population in income group, in percent.

Defined as the number of benefiting individuals divided by the total number of beneficiaries, in percent.

Includes those that used non-public health facilities.

22. Determining which households in the survey would benefit from the simulated programs requires several simplifying assumptions. In this case, persons are assumed to benefit from improving public heath facilities if they reported, within the last month, experiencing illness or injury and visiting a public hospital, rural health unit, or barangay health station. By contrast, a person benefits from expanded access to health facilities if they were ill or injured, but did not visit any health facility in the last month. For health insurance, the assumption made is that all persons living in households with no insurance benefit from an expansion. Finally, for education, improving education facilities is assumed to benefit all children age 6 to 15 that were attending elementary or junior high school, while expanding access to education was assumed to benefit children of those ages currently not attending school.

23. Simulation results highlight the trade off between coverage and targeting. While expanding access to education appears to be the best targeted program, with almost 60 percent of the benefit accruing to the bottom quintile, relatively few households benefit. The low coverage of this program is explained by high student participation rates in the Philippines—only 5.4 percent of the children in the bottom decile and 3.4 percent of the second decile do not attend school. The other four programs are targeted about equally well, while offering better coverage than education expansion.

24. While all forms of social spending considered in this analysis appear to be better targeted than fuel tax cuts, none deliver an especially high percentage of benefits to the poor. Of these, improving existing school facilities offers the most appealing combination of coverage and targeting, because poor households tend to have more children in school. However, with the exception of expanding access to education, which suffers from low coverage, the five social spending programs considered in this section provide only marginally bigger benefit to the poor than uniform untargeted transfers. It may therefore be useful to investigate alternative ways of compensating poor households, including direct targeted transfers.

E. Targeted Transfer Schemes

25. An alternative approach to mitigation involves uniform cash transfers to households with certain characteristics. Four transfer schemes are evaluated, based on their coverage, progressivity, and targeting performance. To ensure a fair comparison, each is designed to cost as much as the existing mitigating measures. Therefore, to the extent that coverage varies, the amount of the transfer for participating households will also differ by program.

26. The four transfer schemes are constructed as follows:

  • The first scheme targets the poorest municipalities, as determined by the NSCB’s poverty map, such that 30 percent of all households are covered.7 In this hypothetical program, each participating household received P 2,300 per month.

  • The second transfer scheme targets households living in the municipalities currently benefiting from the KALAHI program.8 The KALAHI program operates in 177 municipalities from the poorest 42 provinces. Municipalities were selected if they were in the poorest quartile of each province, as determined by a poverty map based on human capital, housing, and access to services. The 177 municipalities were matched to the household survey. Six percent of households lived in KALAHI municipalities, and the simulated scheme granted each residing household a P 11,700 per month transfer.

  • The third scheme targets poor households based on a proxy means test. The proxy means test identifies key socio-economic characteristics that are strongly correlated with economic status of a household, attaches a numerical weight to each characteristic, and assigns a score to each household by summing the weights for each characteristic that pertains to the household. All households with a score below a threshold are eligible for the program. This simulated program used a threshold at the 30th percentile of the distribution of scores, and the resulting transfers to household with scores below the threshold amounted to P 2,300 per month. A similar program was successfully implemented in Indonesia in 2005 (see Box).

  • Finally, the fourth transfer scheme targets households living in poor barangays. The barangays are ranked based on the average proxy means score of resident households. The available budget is then distributed to the barangays with the lowest score, such that 30 percent of households are covered, with a monthly transfer per household of P 2,300.

27. All four alternative transfer schemes are more progressive and better target the poor than the existing mitigating measures. Table 2 presents the incidence of the alternative compensation schemes. The KALAHI and the proxy means schemes are slightly better targeted than uniform transfers to households living in poor municipalities or barangays. However, the KALAHI program only covers 6 percent of all households, compared to about 30 percent of households covered by the other three schemes.

Table 2.

The Philippines: Benefit Incidence and Coverage for Alternative Compension Schemes

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Source: Fund staff estimates based on the 2000 input-output tables and 2003 FIES.

Income gain as a percentage of total household consumption.

Benefit per household in pesos.

Percent of participating households.

Percent of the benefit accruing to households.

Indonesia: Social Safety Net to Mitigate the Impact of Fuel Price Increase*

To mitigate the impact on the poor following the domestic fuel price increase in October 2005, the government launched a cash transfer program for 16 million low-income families. The program became effective in the fourth quarter of 2005 and ended in November 2006. With over 60 million people covered, this cash transfer program was possibly the largest such program in the world. The cash transfer was intended to compensate these households for the income losses due to the direct and indirect impacts of price increases in fuel and other commodities. Each beneficiary family received Rp. 300,000 (about US$30) every three months. The full cost of the program is estimated at nearly 0.7 percent of GDP.

Targeting. Indonesia’s Central Statistics Bureau has developed a database of low-income households. The development of the database was carried out in four stages. First, village leaders were interviewed to identify low-income families. The results of these interviews were crosschecked with other sources (e.g. a previous poverty census) to develop a roster of potential poor and near poor households. Second, a survey was undertaken of these households to ascertain key economic and social characteristics. Third, poverty rankings were determined using a proxy means test that correlates observable household characteristics with household income. Fourth, the budgetary allocation for the cash transfer for each region was determined from previous household survey data, with household eligibility set by the household’s score on the proxy means test.

Delivery mechanism. Beneficiary cards and receipt coupons were printed and delivered by the Post Office. Eligible households with access to a post office collected their cash quarterly on designated days. Those in remote areas without such access received cash in their village.

* Source: World Bank.

28. The proxy means transfer program offers the most favorable combination of targeting performance and coverage. It covers over 88.5 percent of households in the lowest decile but only 0.6 percent of households in the top quintile, with total coverage of 30 percent by design. The targeting under this program is also better than the targeting under the other transfer schemes. Under the proxy means program, households in the first two deciles receive over half of the benefits, compared to about 47 percent under the KALAHI program, less than 43 percent under the poor municipality and barangay schemes, and only 15.1 percent under the current compensation program.

29. This analysis also suggests that replacing the existing measures with targeted transfers has the potential to effectively compensate the poorest households at a fraction of a cost (Figure 2). For example, fully compensating the bottom decile for the adverse effects of the VAT reform using transfers to poor municipalities rather than the existing mitigating package requires 85 percent fewer pesos. However, this finding should be interpreted with caution. First, since transfers programs are not perfectly targeted, not all households in the bottom decile would receive compensation. Rather, households would be compensated on average, with total compensation fully offsetting the total tax burden of the VAT reform for the bottom decile. Second, our analysis does not account for the administrative costs associated with putting new transfer schemes in place, nor possible inefficiencies and leakages in implementing transfer programs, which would reduce the attractiveness of targeted transfer programs relative to tax cuts.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Cost of Fully Compensating Bottom Decile

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 131; 10.5089/9781451831405.002.A001

F. Conclusion

30. Concerns about negative distributional effects from the VAT reform do not appear well-founded. The VAT reform itself is found to be generally progressive and well targeted. The tax mitigating measures were successful at alleviating the effect of the reform on households in general, but a large amount of the benefits accrued to high income groups. The planned social spending increases are likely to be more successful in reaching the poor.

31. Various transfer programs are identified that would be much better targeted than across-the-board energy tax cuts. In addition to the existing KALAHI program, the analysis in this chapter has identified three other targeted transfer programs that would be much better targeted than across-the-board energy tax cuts: targeting municipalities based on their predicted poverty level; targeting barangays based the assets and demographic characteristics of their households, and targeting poor households directly. Household level targeting suffers from the least benefit leakage to wealthier households, although the advantage becomes less important as coverage increases.

32. A well-designed social safety net can significantly enhance the conduct and the flexibility of fiscal policy and improve the reform outcomes for the poor. A well designed social safety net generally targets the poor more effectively than untargeted social spending, and much more effectively than tax reductions. Moreover, the institutional capacity developed to implement targeted transfers can be used to mitigate the adverse effects of economic shocks and any new reforms. This reduces the need to resort to ad hoc mitigating measures, including temporary changes in domestic taxes and import duties that can undermine government revenues, introduce inefficient relative price distortions, and weaken the business environment by destabilizing the tax system.


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Prepared by David Newhouse and Daria Zakharova.


In the Philippines, income per capita rather than consumption per capita is the standard welfare measure. The terms welfare and income are used interchangeably in the remainder of this chapter.


A franchise tax is a percentage tax levied on gross receipts of a business.


While the reduction in the excise taxes on diesel, kerosene, and fuel oil was intended as a purely mitigating measure, other “mitigating” measures were primarily intended to improve the structure of the tax system. In particular, the franchise tax was repealed to remove a potential problem of double taxation when VAT was extended to electricity, and the gasoline excise tax was reduced to equalize the tax treatment of regular and unleaded premium gasoline; while the earlier increase in the oil tariff rate to 5 percent had not been considered by the authorities to be a permanent feature of the tax system. Nonetheless, the analysis here treats all tax reducing measures as part of the package of mitigating tax measures.


The model overestimates the income loss from the reform by about 30 percent, compared to the estimated revenue gain. The discrepancy can likely be explained by imperfect tax administration. The model assumes that tax compliance is universal, which also implies that the reform may overestimate total household income loss. However, in so far as the proportion of expenditure inappropriately withheld from the VAT is the same for each income group, the distributional implications will be unaffected.


Coady et al. (2006) find that fuel subsidies are not well targeted to the poor in five countries where studies have been carried out.


The “30 percent” was an arbitrary cut off to represent households below the poverty line. However, since transfer schemes are not perfectly targeted, the 30 percent would necessarily include some well-off households.


Initiated in 2003, the KALAHI-CIDSS is a development project that aims to empower communities through their enhanced participation in projects that reduce poverty. Community grants are used to support the building of low-cost, productive infrastructure, such as roads, water systems, clinics, and schools. The project is implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) with financial and technical support provided by the World Bank.

Philippines: Selected Issues
Author: International Monetary Fund
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    The Philippines: Income Effect and Targeting of the VAT Reform and Mitigating Measure

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    Cost of Fully Compensating Bottom Decile