MANILA, JUNE 25, 2006
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang clarified yesterday that it plans to set aside some P600 billion in the proposed 2007 budget for economic and social services to bring peace and progress to the countryside.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. made the statement to dispute opposition criticisms that the government’s anti-insurgency drive will all go to the military and the police.

President Arroyo has pledged to boost the Armed Forces’ budget by P1 billion to finally end the decades-long communist insurgency.

She demanded "dramatic results in two years" in the Bicol Region and Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, where the New People’s Army has a strong presence.

Andaya said the government’s program for durable peace to reign in troubled areas will rely heavily on the delivery of infrastructure and social services.

"Please don’t get the impression that this is an all-military affair. Our defense officials themselves have stressed time and again that they can’t do it alone. The approach will be comprehensive," Andaya said.

The proposed 2007 national budget, which the Department of Budget and Management is rushing so it can be submitted by President Arroyo in time for the resumption of Congress’ session next month, has a ceiling of P1.140 trillion, Andaya said.

Of this amount, about P330 billion has been earmarked for social services which include education, health and housing and P270 billion for economic services mostly agriculture, infrastructure, tourism and power projects.

Andaya said the P330 billion projected budget for social services is P40 billion higher than what will be spent this year, while the P270 billion proposed expenditure for economic services is P60 billion higher than this year’s level.

In the allocation of funds, Andaya said added weight will be given to depressed areas where poverty is worsened by peace and order concerns.

"Our instructions are to pinpoint areas where we can pour in schools, teachers, farm projects, and roads. The best way to hold an area and to make peace there permanent is for developmental projects to take root," he said.

"This is borne of the recognition that poverty fuels in part insurgency, but what is happening now is that insurgency is making poverty permanent because no investments are coming in to critical areas," Andaya said.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz stressed that while the extra military budget would be used to acquire extra military hardware from the United States, part of the campaign would involve civil-military operations such as building of roads, providing basic infrastructure such as drinking water, electricity, schools and medical clinics to areas already secured by the military.

"It must be demonstrated that there is a better alternative to fighting the government," he told a press briefing last week. "You can’t solve the insurgency through military means alone. It really needs total government approach. If your military is weak, then you won’t solve it."

Cruz said better economic growth figures in the Philippines would help because this would in turn attract foreign investment, create jobs and increase state revenues, allowing the government to spend more on social services.

He said some 68 percent of the military budget is devoted to internal security operations.

Cruz said Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri estimates that the Philippines growth rate would jump by two percentage points if the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA, were defeated.

The government has been fighting one of the world’s most tenacious Maoist insurgencies for the past 37 years.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved