MANILA, OCTOBER 23, 2003  (STAR) The Philippines is to pledge $1 million (roughly P55 million) for the reconstruction of war-torn Iraq at a donors’ meeting in Spain this week, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

A pledge though is different from actually showing the money. Skeptics are wondering where the cash-strapped government will source the funds.

The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad relayed Manila’s pledge to the US-supervised provisional authority in Iraq as early as last month, the sources said.

It is not clear where the government, which is saddled with a huge budget deficit, will get the money, the sources said, adding that Manila may tap the private sector to help raise the funds.

The US, Spain, European Union and other countries and institutions are to hold a two-day conference in Madrid from today to help Baghdad recover following the ousting of strongman Saddam Hussein by American-led forces.

The Philippine delegation to the meeting is to be headed by Roberto Romulo, a senior adviser to President Arroyo, and other foreign affairs officials, including undersecretary for international and economic relations Delia Albert.

The delegation will explore how the private sector here "can best contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq," the sources said.

The conference, set for Oct. 23-24, will be attended by 140 delegates from the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Iraqi Governing Council, Iraqi interim ministers, advisers and the private sector.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US Treasury Secretary John Snow are expected to speak before the conference, which will be hosted by the Spanish government.

According to the sources, the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad gave its commitment to provide rehabilitation aid to Iraq before the CPA.

The US, Japan and Britain have already pledged to provide financial aid for Iraq and the donor conference is expected to draw concrete pledges from the strong opponents of the US-led assault on Iraq such as Germany and France.

In order to provide a clearer picture of where the donor contributions will go, the UN and the World Bank have come up with a Joint Iraq Needs Assessment report which defines the needs per sector.

Among those cited by the report that need urgent support are water, sanitation, health, education and employment.

Mrs. Arroyo is a staunch supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq and her government has already dispatched a 96-member humanitarian team to assist rehabilitation efforts there.

The Armed Forces contributed 55 personnel to this contingent, with the rest coming from the national police and the Department of Health.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said 178 more troops and humanitarian aid workers will be following the initial group to Baghdad soon. – AFP, Marvin Sy

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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