Manila, July 17, 2003 By Des Ferriols (Star) After settling the claims of human rights groups against the Marcos estate, Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho said the Arroyo administration could use the unfrozen Marcos millions to reduce the governmentís debts either this year or next year.

The overjoyed finance chief said yesterday that the Supreme Court decision was "divine intervention", considering the governmentís fiscal problems that would relegate future administrations to at least seven more years of deficit spending.

The SC decision awarded $650 million in Swiss bank deposits belonging to the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to the National Government. Up until yesterday, the funds had been held in escrow by the Philippine National Bank.

The Swiss bank deposits are equivalent to roughly P34 billion, or about 16.8 percent of the P202-billion projected budget deficit for this year.

"Itís nothing short of divine intervention," said Camacho. "Two days ago, if I said that our deficit situation could be resolved by the Marcos funds, youíd say Iím on drugs. But the miraculous has happened!"

According to Camacho, the Department of Finance (DOF) has yet to make calculations on exactly how much of the $650 million would be left to the national coffers, but he said the SC decision could not have come at a better time.

The funds now deposited in the PNB, were the only ones ever discovered from the huge fortune allegedly looted by Marcos during his 20-year administration, which ended when he was ousted in 1986.

"We can use it to pare down our debts either this year or next year," Camacho said.

Camacho said the NG debt was now equivalent to 60 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The ratio of the public sector debt, which includes the borrowing of government owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, was even higher.

The other option, according to Camacho, was to use the funds to finance some of the governmentís unprogrammed expenditures also this year or next year. "Since this money is unprogrammed revenue, we can also use it for our unprogrammed expenses," he said.

Such "unprogrammed expenses" include unpaid commitments that the government had promised to settle "whenever funds become available outside of the regular budget."

However, Camacho said the Arroyo administration was taking into consideration the claims of human rights groups against the Marcos estate.

He said the government would wait for the outcome of the pending bill in Congress that would address these claims against the $650-million fund.

"We donít know how much, but I am certain that these claims would reduce the net amount that would be available to us," Camacho said. "Either way, this is unexpected revenues that would give us flexibility in our fiscal programming."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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