MANILA, NOVEMBER 21, 2003  (STAR) By Perseus Echeminada - The House of Representatives approved yesterday a supplemental budget of P5.525 billion for next year’s elections and for the increase in the salaries of military personnel.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said the supplemental budget was approved after 12 hours of debate that ended before dawn yesterday.

The supplemental budget’s approval, he said, will ensure the holding of next year’s elections and the soldiers’ pay increase even if there is a delay in the approval of the P864-billion national budget for next year.

"Even as we face a delay in the enactment of the 2004 General Appropriations Act, the Comelec (Commission on Elections) preparations for the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) and national and local elections will not be in jeopardy," De Venecia said in a statement.

The supplemental budget measure provides P100 million to fund the implementation of the Absentee Voting Act of 2003, P2.2 billion for soldiers’ pay increase and P3.225 billion for the Comelec.

The Comelec appropriation consists of P3.026 billion for next year’s elections, P100 million for the overseas voting law and P98 million for the ARMM elections.

Aside from the supplemental budget, the House also ratified three bicameral conference committee reports, including the joint congressional resolution limiting election automation to specific areas in the May 10, 2004 polls.

The House also approved on third reading 15 other bills of national interest, including House Bill 6155, providing for a national homelots distribution program, and HB 5949 amending the Anti-Electricity Pilferage Act of 1994.

Eighteen bills of local application and six franchise measures were also approved on third reading, De Venecia added.

The Speaker said the supplemental budget was approved after an all-party caucus attended by Rep. Alfred Maranon of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Rep. Florencio Abad of the Liberal Party (LP), Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez of the Nacionalista Party (NP), party-list lawmakers and the opposition represented by Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo.

De Venecia said congressmen wanted to pass the 2004 budget law but there was not enough time.

"We are 80 percent finished with the proposed 2004 national outlay," De Venecia said, adding that congressmen decided to continue on Monday afternoon debates on the few remaining untouched departments, like the Department of Public Works and Highways.

In a related development, Kontra Pulitika Movement spokeswoman Jamby Abad Santos-Madrigal urged congressmen to speed up the approval of next year’s budget.

"Speaker De Venecia showed just how great a leader he can be during the impeachment impasse and I hope he will rise to the occasion once more to steer the House to the proper path of true representation for the people," Madrigal said.

Madrigal, former presidential assistant for children’s affairs, also asked congressmen to increase allocations for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Education (DepEd).

She said DepEd sorely needs the increase for additional classrooms to accommodate the growing number of public school students.

"Right now we have public schools in Metro Manila that have four shifts of classes so they could accommodate these children at a disheartening ratio of 80 to 90 students per classroom," she said.

"We need to do something about this now, not later. After all, these children will someday be the leaders of the country," she added.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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