(STAR) By Edith Regalado - House Minority Leader Francis "Chiz" Escudero believes that transparency is the only safeguard that would ensure the passage in Congress of this year’s proposed national budget.

"That is the only way to avoid realignment and conversion of funds that could possibly be used in purposes other than what they have been originally intended," he said.

Escudero fears that funds allocated in the budget would be used for the campaign of pro-administration candidates in the May 14 elections.

"The administration should be very clear and be very transparent where exactly the P4.7-billion school feeding program budget would go and assure that it won’t be used in the election campaign," he said.

However, Escudero said there is still a chance that the P1.126-trillion budget for this year would be passed when Congress resumes session on Jan. 22.

"Give it six to nine session days from Jan. 22 to Feb. 10," he said. "It is still possible by that time that the bicameral committee could already act on the 2007 budget."

Escudero said the members of the opposition in the Senate and the House are among those who had pushed for the 2007 national budget to be passed.

"There are just certain questions and issues that need to be resolved pertaining to the allocation of the P4.7 billion funds for school feeding and rice subsidy programs," he said.

Even if the government operates again on a re-enacted budget, President Arroyo could make the necessary allocations should there be a need for certain expenditures, Escudero said.

Last week, Congress reached an impasse on the proposed P1.126- trillion 2007 budget, forcing the government to operate on a re-enacted 2005 budget.

The Senate and the House of Representatives disagreed on the proposed cuts in the government’s proposed P4.7-billion school feeding and rice subsidy programs included in the 2007 General Appropriations Bill.

Australian foreign minister to skip Asean summit By Pia Lee-Brago The Philippine Star 01/05/2007

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will not attend the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit set in Cebu on Jan. 10-15.

Diplomatic sources said yesterday Australia has informed the Philippines that Downer will visit the United States beginning next week and will not be able to take part in the ASEAN gathering.

"Australia has informed the Philippines that Foreign Minister Downer will not attend the ASEAN summit because of conflict of schedule," a source said.

"He has a previous engagement. He’ll be in the US during the ASEAN summit."

Sources said Australia had confirmed Downer’s attendance in the foreign ministers’ and leaders’ summit last month before it was postponed ostensibly because of a typhoon.

"But Minister Downer is not available on the new date for the summit since he’s scheduled to visit the US," another source said.

On the other hand, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have announced their attendance in the rescheduled ASEAN summit in Cebu.

However, Yudhoyono has yet to confirm if he will stay for the East Asia Summit.

"(Yudhoyono would) only attend the summit for two days because he has to concentrate on various problems in the country," Indonesian State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra told reporters in Jakarta yesterday.

"It is not confirmed yet whether he will attend the East Asia Summit."

Wen will attend next week’s summit and pay an official visit to the Philippines, China’s Foreign Ministry said in Beijing yesterday.

Wen will also attend a three-way leadership summit with Japan and South Korea, said ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

Diplomatic sources said the Philippines is awaiting formal notice from Japan if Foreign Minister Taro Aso will attend the ASEAN summit.

"The government has not been formally notified if Minister Aso will not attend," the source said. "We heard he might not be in Cebu to attend the ministerial meeting."

On the other hand, the National Organizing Committee of 12th ASEAN and 2nd East Asia summits in Cebu appealed to the media yesterday to be more responsible in reporting on security issues related to the international events.

Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur Victoriano Lecaros, ASEAN spokesman, said speculations on security and political situations could hurt the country internationally, especially at this time that it would be hosting leaders’ summits.

"Whether we care about it or not, the proliferation of (speculative) stories in our own media environment can and does condition the minds of those people who make decisions about travel advisories regarding the Philippines," he said.

"And such stories and advisories have a way of reinforcing each other beyond their original magnitude."

Earlier, Lecaros said media’s play up of stories on terror threats and political storms facing the administration because of Charter change was behind the postponement of the summits originally set on Dec. 10 to 14.

Meanwhile, Marciano Paynor, ASEAN-Philippines National Organizing Committee chairman, said everything was ready for the summit, including the Cebu International Convention Center.

The leaders would use the CICC for some activities, although most of their events would be at Shangri-La Mactan Island’s Resort and Spa, one of the country’s most exclusive resorts, he added.

Last Dec. 8, Paynor said the summit was postponed because of an approaching typhoon.

Senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the postponement of the 12th ASEAN Summit was solely decided by the Philippines without consulting the regional bloc’s members for a consensus.

Australia and Japan are among the six ASEAN dialogue partners that include China, South Korea, India and New Zealand.

The Philippines has assured all 10 ASEAN foreign ministers and those of its six dialogue partners who will be attending the Cebu summit on Jan. 10-15.

Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari said the Philippines had lost its credibility for postponing the summits and doubted the government’s stated reason of an impending typhoon.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo took the responsibility of recommending the postponement of the leaders’ summit but emphasized that he was not the one who gave the approval.

He recommended the postponement of the ASEAN Summit because of weather disturbance and not the political "storm" and travel advisories of at least six countries that warned of terrorist attack in Cebu, he added.

The postponement was decided when most of the delegates, senior officials and economic ministers were already in the country, and while the foreign ministers were starting to arrive.

Summit protest

Left-wing activists and government critics said yesterday they will organize protests denouncing President Arroyo’s policies at next week’s regional summit, testing tight security.

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing umbrella organization Bayan, said protests planned for the Jan. 10-15 ASEAN summit were not meant to embarrass the host government but draw the attention of visiting leaders to alleged human rights abuses and political killings in the Philippines.

"It is Arroyo’s government that makes our country look bad," he said.

"We don’t see any reason to crack down on rallies and prevent people from marching. That would expose the Philippines as an undemocratic country."

Activists said they are planning peaceful rallies, protests and conferences near the summit venues in the central city of Cebu.

The annual conference hosted by ASEAN was originally scheduled for Dec. 11-13 in Cebu, but the government, citing an approaching typhoon, abruptly rescheduled even as foreign ministers started to arrive.

The Philippines said all delegates have confirmed they will return to Cebu for summit meetings of the 10 ASEAN countries plus partners from Australia, China, Japan, India, South Korea and New Zealand.

Thousands of troops and police have been deployed to secure the venues from possible terror attacks and protests.

Rallies only will be allowed in a designated park, far from the ASEAN meetings, police said.

Reyes said hundreds of activists from Metro Manila will join colleagues in Cebu in protests that will highlight human rights violations, trade liberalization and its effect on poor countries, US military intervention and the war on terror.

They also plan to denounce the government for handing a US Marine convicted of raping a Filipino woman to the US Embassy – a move the administration said was necessary to maintain US-Philippine military cooperation.

International human rights groups, including London-based Amnesty International, have expressed concern over the rising number of political killings in the Philippines, where hundreds of left-wing activists have been killed in recent years with only a handful of cases being solved.


At Malacañang, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the administration was "unfazed" over the repeated travel warnings to the Philippines and guaranteed the safety of world leaders who will attend the 12th ASEAN and East Asian Summits in Cebu next week.

In separate interviews, Gonzales and Bunye said there are no "specific and credible terror threats" that would disrupt the summits to be attended by at least 15 heads of state.

Upon hearing media reports of new travel advisories, Gonzales sought clarification from the Australian, British, New Zealand and US embassies, which informed him that they have not issued any new travel alerts on the Philippines and those posted on their respective websites were issued last month.

"What they have right now are the old assessment but they are reassessing right now," Gonzales said.

"They in fact have not issued any new travel advisories. They are evaluating and we are waiting for it. We answered these (travel advisories) before and our answer, based on latest reports, is the same.

"There are no credible or specific threats. We have no solid information on any terror threats."

The basis of the previous travel advisories of the four governments may not be based on shared information, Gonzales said.

Bunye said authorities are prepared to deal with any contingency, although all indications point to a successful and safe hosting of the meeting of world leaders.

"This is how we deal with reported threats: They’re not swept under the rug," he said.

"They are of course dealt with by the proper authorities. We have the intelligence community. We also have the Philippine National Police who worked hand-in-hand with local government units.

"So these threats are looked into, but we believe that for this particular summit at least we can hold the events as scheduled." – With Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, AP, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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