MANILA, December 2, 2004 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - After a 20-hour marathon session that started early Tuesday, the 236-member House of Representatives approved on second reading early yesterday morning the Palace-proposed P907.7-billion national budget for 2005.

"This is a reformist and spartan budget designed to help government manage and arrest the huge budget deficit while not sacrificing the delivery of basic services and making way for an economic turnaround," said Speaker Jose de Venecia

"This is what democracy is all about. This is what Congress is all about. This is where ideas and issues pass through the crucible debates tempered by public opinion before national policies are made," De Venecia said in a statement from Pakistan as he lauded House leaders who helped pass the budget.

Under the approved General Appropriations Act for 2005, congressmen would get the Malacañang-submitted P40-million pork barrel — P20 million for infrastructure projects and another P20 million for soft projects such as medicines and the like to be funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

This is P30 million short of their original P70 million allocation and congressmen vowed to push for its retention before the Palace slashed the amount by as much as 40 percent to a mere P40 million.

Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra said the fact that there have been no major amendments in the original Palace-proposed budget, his colleagues would logically want to keep their P70 million pork barrel and they will insist on this in the bicameral committee level.

"It is likely that the P30-million cut will be restored once the budget bill is taken up at the bicameral conference committee," he said, adding that there is a "strong clamor" from their constituents to keep their "pork" and that "they can’t turn their backs on them."

Some sources in the chamber, however, expressed disappointment over how De Venecia handled the sensitive pork barrel issue, noting that the Speaker "compromised" their pork by saying it would be P55 million, not P40 million.

"He did that at the expense of the congressmen, thinking that he would earn leadership points," an exasperated young lawmaker said, insisting that they will push for the retention of the original amount of P70 million.

Under the 2005 budget, which is only 5.3 percent higher than the 2004 outlay, the Department of Education stands to get P111 billion; Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), P49.5 billion; Department of National Defense, P46.2 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government, P43.9 billion; and the Department of Land Reform, P14.7 billion.

The Department of Budget and Management said the revenue projections in these government agencies were "conservative" and considered only the yields from existing tax measures.

"They are expected to reach P758.5 billion, an estimated 89.3 percent of which or P677.7 billion will come from taxes while the remaining P80.8 billion will be derived from non-tax sources such as fees and charges, income and foreign grants," said Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin.

Anticipated collections from the eight tax measures pushed by Malacañang, two of which have already been passed by Congress — the sin tax and lateral attrition bills — were not included in the approved budget, but will be the subject of a "supplemental budget" to be submitted for approval by Congress in due time.

The budget deficit, Boncodin added, will go down from 4.2 percent to 3.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year or P184.5 billion and "will be financed mainly through domestic borrowings."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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