MANILA,  February 3, 2004 (STAR) (AFP) - Higher revenues enabled the Philippines to keep its 2003 national budget deficit within target for the first time in five years, the finance department said Tuesday, with the full-year figure at 199.9 billion pesos (3.57 billion US dollars).

The deficit came 2.1 billion pesos below the full-year ceiling of 202 billion pesos, a finance department statement said.

Improved revenues led to fiscal discipline, with the main tax collection agencies exceeding their targets for the first time since 1997, it added.

The Philippines suffered a sovereign credit rating downgrade last month due to what analysts warn was a looming debt crisis, as well as uncertainty in the succession to President Gloria Arroyo, who trails movie star Fernando Poe in voter preferences ahead of the May elections.

"In outperforming our fiscal target in 2003, we have shown that we can deliver results by focusing on fiscal discipline and pursuing good governance measures," Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong said.

"In 2004, we will remain focused on meeting our fiscal program, if not improve on it, as we find the need to achieve fiscal consolidation in the medium term," she added.

The target deficit ceiling this year is 197.8 billion pesos. The Philippines hopes to have a balanced budget by 2009.

The government borrowed 286.8 billion pesos last year, easing off in December "after successful funding activities that saw significant pre-funding of next years budget before the year ended," the statement said.

The December fiscal deficit was at 27.7 billion pesos, well ahead of the 12.3 billion-peso ceiling as the government took advantage of the strong revenue flows, it said.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue collected 425.4 billion pesos in 2003, 7.8 percent above 2002 and slightly above the target of 424 billion pesos.

The Bureau of Customs raised its full-year collections by 10.2 percent to 106.1 billion pesos, six percent ahead of target.

Government spending grew by 6.2 percent to 826.5 billion pesos, 5.1 percent over the program ceiling of 786.1 billion pesos.

Malacañang reassures public on Monday's stock market drop 02/03 12:00:05 PM

The Palace Tuesday brushed off fears of the reported "dumping" of Philippine stocks by foreign investors due to political uncertainty, the index biggest single-day drop in more than two years.

Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye aired this reassurance, saying that the stock market "fluctuates from day to day."

Bunye also pointed out that what is important is the long-term outlook of the investors.

"There are two classes of investors: those who stay for long and those who look for short-term gains. The latter move in and out quickly. They are those who participate in the stock market. But, the long-term investors come and stay," he added in the vernacular.

Bunye issued this declaration after share prices slumped to their biggest single-day fall in more than two years last Monday with the main index closing 4.06 percent or 61.25 points lower at 1,447.05, led by a selldown in blue chip stocks.

This was the market’s weakest finish since December 30, the last trading day of 2003, when it closed at 1,442.37.

Decliners led advancers, 51 to 8, with 26 stocks unchanged. Turnover also fell to 817.55 million pesos from Friday’s 872.45 million pesos.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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