Manila, July 23, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (Star) President Arroyo has ordered National Treasurer Eduardo Sergio Edeza to demand from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) the immediate transfer to state coffers of $658 million or about P38 billion in Marcos funds being kept in an escrow account.

Budget and Management Secretary Emilia Boncodin said yesterday Mrs. Arroyo issued the directive to Edeza during a meeting of the Development Budget Coordinating Council (DBCC) at Malacañang last Monday.

"The President ordered Edeza to issue a demand letter for the $658 million or so even if there is still the 15-day period within which the (Supreme Court) ruling would be appealed (by Marcos lawyers)," she said.

"We expect (the money) to be transferred to the National Treasury as soon as the 15-day period is over," he said. "And we expect that it would be transferred to the Bureau of Treasury this year. I don’t know when, but definitely this year."

Boncodin said P30 billion of the Marcos money would be earmarked for the government’s agrarian reform program and deposited in a special account.

At least P3.2 billion would go to the Land Bank of the Philippines to pay the arrears to landowners whose properties have been distributed to tenant farmers, she added.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan said he hopes the P30 billion would be released for use in agrarian reform projects by next month.

"By and large, the farmers are in favor to spread the benefits the Marcos loot will bring," he said. "But, of course, they really want results and want the benefits due them."

Pagdanganan said the Supreme Court decision forfeiting the Marcos funds in favor of the government would be become "final and executory" unless the Marcos family asks for a reconsideration by month’s end.

"Hopefully by August, the money can be released," he said. "The Marcoses have at least until July 30 as grace period to file a motion for reconsideration."

The Department of Agrarian Reform is set to buy and distribute about 3.1 million hectares of agricultural land to some 1.8 million landless farmers, he added. Oreta seeks P5-B for education

Meanwhile, Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta has filed a bill seeking to set aside P5 billion from the P38-billion Marcos funds to create an Emergency Education Development Fund (EEDF).

Oreta said the proposed EEDF would "partially erase" the chronic backlogs of classrooms, school desks and textbooks in public schools.

"The P5 billion would be enough to construct 5,714 new classrooms valued at P2 billion, erase the entire deficiency in textbooks worth P1.21 billion and eliminate half of the shortage in school desks at a cost of P1.79 billion," she said.

Oreta said Philippine education continues to lag behind those in other Southeast Asian countries which have devoted more resources to improve the quality of education.

"The recent awarding of $658 million or about P38 billion to the Philippine government by the Supreme Court may be able to partially fill the necessary requirements in our public educational system," she said.

The proposed EEDF must be used exclusively for the construction, rehabilitation or repair of school buildings and classrooms, and the purchase of textbooks and school desks, she added.

Secretary Michael Defensor, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, also wants a slice of the Marcos money to build mass housing for the urban poor.

"We all know that poverty is not a phenomenon that is confined to the countryside," he said. "One visible stamp of its presence in urban areas are the slums."

Defensor said the government should use part of the Marcos funds for urban-based poverty alleviation programs.

"Sixty-one percent of 82 million Filipinos now live in urban areas and about 15 percent of urban dwellers are considered poor," he said. – With reports from Pamela Samia, Mayen Jaymalin

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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