MANILA, May 20, 2005
 (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - The government posted a budget surplus of P3.3 billion in April, the first time in four years that it managed to come up with a monthly surplus, the Department of Finance (DOF) reported yesterday.

This brought the total budget deficit in the first four months of the year to P60.1 billion, about P4.5 billion below the deficit posted in the same period last year.

"With the April results, we are confident that we will be able to sustain this high level of performance for the rest of the year," Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima said yesterday.

The government has targeted a budget deficit of P98.5 billion for the first six months of 2005 and P177 billion- P180 billion for the whole year after a deficit of P187 billion in 2004.

Purisima said the surplus was achieved mainly on the back of the strong collection efforts of its agencies such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) which posted a record collection of P62.9 billion, an 18.7- percent increase from last year’s collection of P53.017 billion.

BIR Commissioner Guillermo Parayno said last month being the tax filing month, is considered the highest monthly collection in the agency’s history. This was achieved after the agency initiated a high profile campaign against tax cheats that saw equally high-profile business and entertainment personalities being charged for tax evasion before the Department of Justice(DOJ) and the Court of Tax Appeals.

The government’s revenues were also bolstered by the improved collection of the graft-ridden Bureau of Customs (BOC) which raised its collection last month by 17.5 percent to P12.428 billion from P10.576 billion during the same period last year.

The Bureau of Treasury slightly increased its revenues by 0.44 percent to P4.742 billion from P4.721 billion to bring total revenues for April to P82.784 billion, a 9.14 percent increase from P75.853 billion in April 2004.

The downside is that other offices’ revenues plunged 64.4 percent to P2.679 billion from P7.539 billion.

From January to April this year, total revenues grew 11.8 percent to P255.423 billion from P228.463 billion.

Boosting its fiscal position is government’s lower expenditures for April. The total disbursements reached P79.5 billion or 5.1 percent lower than last year’s level of P83.677 billion for April.

Purisima attributed the decline to the settlement of Land Bank of the Philippines’ (Landbank) advancement for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), lower spending for maintenance and capital expenditures due to lower payment for previous year’s arrearages.

Treasury Director Omar Cruz added that the decline in government expenditure was also due to declines in government subsidies, and lower interest payments especially after the assumption of the National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) debts.

Purisima said the government will pursue its programs for tax compliance to ensure its coffers are boosted.

By Monday next week, the BOC will be launching its RATS program or "Run After the Smugglers," that will go after notorious smugglers illegally transporting imported goods to the country and depriving the government of badly-needed revenues from the collection of duties and fees from imported products.

Parayno noted that there is still a lot of room for the BIR to chase tax evaders. He noted that out of the registered 700,000 tax filers that claimed to be self-employed, the total collection just reached P12 billion.

"We are hoping to increase this to a level of at least P70 billion," he added.

Moreover, the BIR will look into companies covered by the increase in so-called "sin taxes" on alcohol and tobacco.

Purisima urged the public to cooperate with the BIR, BOC and other government tax collection agencies. He said that a sustained campaign to improve tax collection will boost government’s efforts to achieve a fiscal balance for a shorter period.

"We are doing everything to improve revenue measures and hit a lower deficit this year," said Purisima.

Finance Officials have expressed confidence the deficit for 2005 will be lower than the ceiling thanks to new revenue measures and sharp cuts in spending that were implemented this year.

The country is Asia’s most active issuer of sovereign debt next to Japan and as a result is plagued with a budget deficit that has been ballooning in the last 15 years.

The Arroyo administration is hoping to wipe out its budget deficit by 2008. –with a report from AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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