Manila, April 23, 2003 -- Not a single centavo has been appropriated in this year's P804-billion national budget for a Philippine government humanitarian mission to Iraq, Sen. Ralph Recto said today.

In a statement sent to media, Recto said Malacanang will be violating the constitutional provision that "no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law " if it siphons off money from other agencies to fund the country's "friendly expedition to Iraq.'

"Without that funding authority from Congress, the mission to Iraq will remain a mission impossible," he said.

Initial estimates put the price tag of a 500-man, six-month RP mission to Iraq at P600 million

The only way the government can avoid legal entanglements should it fund a mission to the war -torn country is to tap the P800 million "contingent fund" in the budget law signed by President Arroyo today, Recto said.

"But that amount is the safety net for unforeseen expenses. The government might not be able to respond to future emergencies if it taps this money this early, "Recto said.

As to the chances of a supplemental budget for the mission being passed by Congress, Recto replied : "Zero."

"It has the same chance as Saddam successfully fighting his way to his old palace. Besides, with the government unable to meet its quarterly deficit target, there is no money for a Philippine excursion to Iraq," Recto said.

But if the Palace would insist on dispatching a team to Iraq, the size and nature of such as mission should be calibrated at a level that would not attract animosity here and in Iraq, he said

He said it would be "superfluous" to send many doctors to Iraq when "there is only one government doctor for every 27,000 Filipinos, one government dentist for every 41,000 Filipinos, and when there is only one government hospital bed for every 2,000 Filipinos."

There are only 2,943 government doctors, 1,943 government dentists and 4,724 government nurses, Recto said.

If the mission to Iraq is going to be very big, it might trigger envy from many barrios in our country which haven't seen a government doctor for a long time, he said.

But if a mission to Iraq will indeed be dispatched, Recto proposed that it be an Arabic-speaking all-Muslim team to hurdle language barriers, increase safety margins, and to raise the possibility that it can later be subsidized by Arab countries.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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