(STAR) By Jess Diaz - A much lower P918-billion national budget for 2005 was re-enacted yesterday after Congress failed to pass the trillion-peso 2007 General Appropriations Bill.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, House appropriations committee chairman, said he hoped the legislature would pass the proposed P1.126-trillion national budget for this year when it resumes session later this month.

It is important that a new and higher spending program be approved since it would allocate bigger amounts for infrastructure and social services, he added.

Salceda was joined by local officials belonging to the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) in urging Congress to approve this year’s budget.

In a statement, Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone said his province and other local governments are one of the casualties of the inaction of lawmakers.

"LGUs stand to lose about P18 billion in internal revenue allotment funds with the use of the reenacted budget," he said.

"The failure of the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass such a crucial piece of legislation as the annual budget at the onset of 2007 will all the more convince the public that the chronic gridlocks between these two chambers are here to stay with us unless constitutional reforms are put in place at the soonest to replace our conflict-prone bicameral presidential system with a unicameral one."

Evardone said under this year’s proposed P1.126-trillion outlay, local governments would receive a total of P188 billion in IRA allotments.

"Hence, we are appealing to our legislators to pass the 2007 budget in the weeks ahead as a belated Christmas gift to the Filipino people who are to bear the brunt of the lower IRA share of LGUs in the form of cutbacks in funding for basic services like education, health care and infrastructure," he said.

Without the 2007 spending program, local governmentss have to make do with P166 billion — or a deficit of P18 billion, he added.

Evardone said the passage of the national budget has become urgent because the May national and local elections are fast approaching.

"Even if Congress gets to pass the budget sooner than later, there may actually be no time for LGUs to implement projects before the infrastructure ban takes effect 45 days prior to the elections," he said.

Evardone said Congress should passing the stalled 2007 national plan so as not to undercut the delivery of essential services, especially in the countryside where cash-starved local governments are already hard put in providing vital services as basic education and primary health care.

"We are appealing to our legislators to pass the 2007 GAA in the weeks ahead as a belated Christmas gift to the Filipino people, who are to bear the brunt of the lower IRA share of LGUs in the form of supposedly unwarranted cutbacks in funding for basic services like basic education, primary health care and infrastructure," he said.

Two weeks ago, before Congress went on a three-week Christmas recess, the Senate-House conference committee on the 2007 budget had agreed on the final shape of the measure and was ready to endorse it for approval by the two chambers.

But President Arroyo intervened and rejected the committee’s decision to realign billions in so-called school feeding funds appropriated for the Department of Education and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

That brought the bicameral conference to a stalemate, resulting in the failure of the Senate and the House to approve the appropriations bill for 2007.

Under the school feeding program, an indigent pupil in public elementary schools and in daycare centers would be given a kilo of rice every day if he or she attends school to keep them from dropping out.

He or she gets to bring home a kilo of rice.

Fearing that the program or its funds could be used for election purposes in May, senators realigned the funds to the construction of school buildings and the hiring of additional teachers.

The House panel in the conference committee agreed to the realignment.

Senators also were worried that the procurement of billions worth of rice under the program would be tainted with corruption.

There were reports that traders were offering huge commissions to corner the rice procurement.

Last year, Congress also failed to approve the national budget because Mrs. Arroyo insisted that it be kept intact.

The Senate had wanted to cut it by P60 billion.

Lawmakers had to give the President P46 billion in additional funds to augment the 2005 budget that was used last year. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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