(STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Speaker Jose de Venecia assured the people that about 30 percent of the country’s P1.227 trillion national budget for 2008 will be allocated for the development of Mindanao’s infrastructure, agrarian reform and natural resources.

In a statement, De Venecia said the lump sum provision for Mindanao in the 2008 General Appropriations Act will significantly increase to fund the building of projects and programs and trigger island-wide development.

“Mindanao is no longer the backdoor of the republic but the front door to the tiger economies of Southeast Asia,” De Venecia told Mindanao’s local officials who attended the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region 10 at the House of Representatives.

Prior to this, Mindanao only had a measly 10 percent share in the national budget.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, House appropriations committee chairman, said the allocation for Mindanao has increased considerably to prevent the south from being left behind in terms of development projects.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a member of the opposition bloc, estimated that this 30 percent increase would translate into some P180 billion to finance some of the region’s long-awaited projects and programs to fight poverty and hasten development.

The Speaker called on governors, congressmen and regional directors from Northern Mindanao who attended the meeting to start identifying the “30 to 50 major projects for the region and introduce specific projects under this provision.”

“The RDC discussed the Medium-Term Regional Development Plan of Northern Mindanao, including the major programs and projects it intends to push in the remaining years of the administration,” the office of the Speaker said in a statement.

De Venecia asked regional directors to prepare the necessary documents identifying these projects under public works, agriculture education, health, social welfare, environment, and others because “these projects should now go to Mindanao.”

The Speaker and Lagman were made “adopted sons” of Northern Mindanao in a resolution that acknowledged the major role of the two leaders in pushing for the economic development of the region and the entire island.

“The Speaker gave us a trailblazing vision for Mindanao and he has set the direction for economic development,” said Rodriguez.

Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo of Lanao del Norte said De Venecia is committed to the rapid development of Northern Mindanao.

Dimaporo and Rep. Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin said they will amend the resolution making De Venecia and Lagman adopted sons of Region 10 to make it Mindanao-wide since the Speaker’s vision covered not just Region 10 but the entire Mindanao region as well.

De Venecia thanked the Region 10 officials for the support and enthusiasm they have shown for his proposals that include the construction of a major railway line from Cagayan de Oro to Iligan City.

He told the region’s top officials that he has proposed the construction of Mindanao’s first major railway, which he hoped will further open access to Mindanao and its hinterland regions and bring development to millions of people.

“We’ve been risking criticism to work for the building of the railways. Now is the time to translate 100 years of rhetoric into a workable program of development,” the Speaker said, urging congressmen and governors to be involved in regional and local development.

Defensor joins Petron board By Jess Diaz Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In case the public is wondering whatever happened to Mike Defensor, the controversial former chief of staff of President Arroyo, he has quietly joined the board of directors of Petron Corp.

Sources told The STAR yesterday that Defensor must have been nominated to the Petron board by Malacañang since the government still owns 40 percent of the company, which is the biggest oil refiner in the country.

Saudi oil giant Aramco owns another 40 percent, while small investors own the remaining 20 percent.

Defensor has reportedly been frequenting Macau, though it was not clear what was his business in going there. Macau has replaced Las Vegas in Nevada as the world’s gambling capital.

Defensor, a former Quezon City congressman, was Mrs. Arroyo’s chief of staff before seeking a Senate seat in last May’s elections. He and eight other administration candidates lost to their opposition rivals.

He was also former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He joins former budget secretary Emilia Boncodin in the Petron board. Boncodin had revealed that he was invited to the board by Nicasio Alcantara, who heads the government’s team in Petron.

Alcantara, a close friend of Mrs. Arroyo, is company chairman. Chairmanship of Petron is reserved to a government representative, while the post of company president is given to an Aramco nominee.

Membership in the Petron board is a lucrative job.

Previously, Defensor was offered a board seat in sequestered United Coconut Planters Bank. He obviously preferred Petron.

Another defeated administration candidate, former senator Ralph Recto, has joined the board of Union Bank, which is controlled by the Aboitiz family.

Widely expected to be given a government post after the one-year ban on taking a state job expires in May next year is former Surigao del Sur congressman Prospero Pichay Jr.

There were reports that Pichay was interested in becoming either chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., a job now held by Ephraim Genuino, a close friend of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, or secretary of agriculture, a post held by Arthur Yap.

Only three administration candidates survived the opposition’s juggernaut in May: re-electionist Senators Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo, and former Bukidnon congressman Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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