HOUSE STARTS DEBATES ON 2004 BUDGET MEASURE

MANILA, November 19, 2003  (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The House of Representatives began marathon budget deliberations yesterday for the immediate passage of the proposed P864.8-billion budget for 2004.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said Congress will work overtime to approve on third and final reading the proposed 2004 General Appropriations Act and the supplemental budget.

The P5.525-billion supplemental budget will cover salary adjustments of military personnel and the 2004 national and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections.

Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Maranon, head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) contingent in the House, gave assurances that his colleagues in the party will support the immediate approval of the budget so there will be no need for a supplemental budget.

"I would not oppose a supplemental budget, but we have to try to have the budget passed this week so the Senate will still have at least four weeks to pass the same," Maranon said.

De Venecia earlier vowed to mobilize wide-ranging support for the budget as an overwhelming majority of the parties in the 226-member House favor its fast approval.

He said the administration coalition in the House, composed of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, the NPC, the Liberal Party, the Nacionalista Party, PDP-Laban, Aksyon Demokratiko, Reporma and majority of the party lists, including Akbayan, will now focus on battling poverty and terrorism in the coming weeks.

Andaya said crafting a budget out of insufficient resources at hand is as difficult as resolving the Davide impeachment crisis.

While the 2004 budget is pegged at P864.8 billion, the government, at best, can only raise P671.2 billion next year, forcing it to borrow at least P1 billion a day next year to bridge the deficit and pay part of its P3.2 trillion debt.

Andaya, however, said more punishing than the P271 billion earmarked for debt service next year is the rapidly growing population, which grows at 2.3 percent annually.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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