(STAR) By Jess Diaz - The House of Representatives approved on second reading yesterday the P1.227-trillion national budget for next year, after a marathon session that lasted until 2 a.m. The session began at 10 a.m. Thursday.

“We will not have a reenacted budget in 2008. We kept our commitment to our people,” Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. told his colleagues shortly after the approval of the budget. He said the budget would sustain the “growth momentum towards full economic takeoff.”

Before adjourning for a three-week recess and upon motion of Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, the lawmakers affirmed their support for the leadership of De Venecia.

The controversy over the national broadband network project and the filing of a new impeachment case against President Arroyo left cracks in the administration coalition and threatened the leadership of De Venecia.

Malacañang said it was heartened by the swift passage of the budget measure.

“The enthusiasm of both Houses of Congress on the budget is heartening,” Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said in a telephone interview. “The political issues are not being mixed with the budget hearings,” he said.

“It would be hard if we start the new year without a new budget considering there are very significant capital outlays for roads, irrigation, and modernization projects,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno added.

“I don’t think there will be too many issues to be tackled by the bicameral conference committee, since many of their concerns have been resolved during the budget hearings,” Puno, who is also Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, appropriations committee chairman, said the spending level proposed by the President was kept but appropriations for health, education, agriculture, public safety and security to overseas Filipino workers and prisoners, and infrastructure were increased.

He said the increases were drawn from cuts in certain items in the budget and amounted to more than P30 billion.

“To slash the budget for reduction’s sake is to stunt growth and perpetuate poverty,” he said.

Of the more than P30-billion reduction, P17.8 billion came from debt payment funds.

Of the P17.8 billion, P6.8 billion represents projected savings from the continued appreciation of the peso, while P11 billion is for interest payments on loans “identified of tainted or wasteful pending their renegotiation and/or condonation.”

“Both the majority and the minority were imbued with patriotism, not patronage, when they collectively reduced debt service, military expenditures, undoable and slow moving projects, and excess and redundant allocations in order to create a pool of resources to fund developmental priorities,” Lagman said.

Aside from the debt service fund, the P1-billion Kalayaan Barangay program under the Department of National Defense was cut by half since there are infrastructure projects in other parts of the budget already earmarked for the 200 barangay communities in “conflict areas.”

The cuts included the P2.2-billion light rail transit south extension under the Department of Transportation and Communications, P5-billion worth of “slow moving” projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways, and budgetary support for the Home Guaranty Corp., National Home Mortgage Finance Corp. and National Housing Authority.

Lagman said these state corporations lack “absorptive capacity” meaning they are slow in implementing projects, and cannot use the entire allocation for them.

Lagman also accomplished a record by being the first appropriations committee chairman to advocate debt repudiation or condonation and the allocation of funds for population management.

He said it’s about time President Arroyo and lawmakers confront the population explosion problem.

Senate’s turn

The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to pass the budget measure in December.

“We expect to receive the budget as approved by the Lower House by the second week of November,” Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, finance committee chairman, said in a statement.

Enrile said a total allocation for pro-poor programs and projects under various government line agencies is 24 percent higher than last year’s.

“After scrutinizing the budget for 2008, we would like to highlight the merits of the priority programs of the government in the areas of health, science and technology, housing and salary adjustments for government personnel,” Enrile said.

Enrile said many senators who attended the budget hearings had expressed concern for the various major pro-poor programs. “They asked for specific details of the various pro-poor programs of the government for next year, including the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani, food for school and national health insurance programs as well as Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino, Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay, among others,” he said.

“The performance of government-owned and-controlled corporations was also another subject looked into. However, members of the finance committee decided that these issues should be taken up separately from the committee consideration of the 2008 appropriations in order to take a look at their performance,” Enrile said.

According to Enrile, only the proposed budgets for the Department of Budget and Management, National Economic and Development Authority, Office of the Press Secretary and the Office of the Vice President have not been examined.

Enrile said these would be scrutinized at the resumption of Senate sessions in November. –With Aurea Calica and Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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