MANILA, MARCH 11, 2008
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will sign today the P1.227-trillion national budget even as officials pointed to Congress as the cause of the delay in the enactment of this year’s General Appropriations Act (GAA).

In her speech at the 4th Mindanao Cooperative Summit in Cagayan de Oro City, Mrs. Arroyo said the national expenditure program was boosted by increased revenues brought about by “tough and unpopular decisions” to impose taxes.

“It is a budget that reflects the will of the government to work together with Congress to invest in the people and keep the economy on a strong, stable path,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“We have made tough and unpopular decisions to raise revenues and we in the executive (will) crack down on tax cheats so that we could invest in our physical infrastructure and in our people,” she said.

She said investing in infrastructure, health and education creates more jobs.

“And with more investments come more tax revenues that can be invested in schools, roads and bridges as well as healthcare, education and the environment. Over time, everyone will benefit,” the President said.

Opposition Sen. Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel earlier questioned the apparent delay in the signing of the GAA that was approved by Congress last Jan. 28, saying this might be a cover for excess spending by Mrs. Arroyo.

A statement from the Department of Budget and Management however clarified that while the budget was ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives on Jan. 28, it was officially transmitted and received by the DBM on Feb. 28.

The DBM said the measure was signed by Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. on Feb. 26.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said “Congress is in the best position to explain the time lag.”

“But based on our experience dealing with them, the delay was due perhaps to the reconciliation and consolidation of the House and Senate versions, the printing of the 1,197-page document which must be tediously proofread, as one errant comma on a figure, for example, can spell the difference if what was appropriated for a project was in the millions or billions of pesos,” Andaya said.

“We do not however begrudge Congress for their own timetable of submission as we are fully appreciative of the hard labor they have put into the bill,” he said.

He said the “constitutional clock of the budget being signed by the President a month after its approval actually starts to tick the day it is transmitted by Congress to the executive branch.”

Article V Section 27 of the Constitution states in part: “The President shall communicate his veto (of) any bill to the House where it originated within 30 days after the date of receipt thereof; otherwise it shall become a law as if he had signed it.”

Without that formal referral, the executive cannot fully appreciate the impact and the import of the amendments Congress has made. Even an advance copy, unofficial as it is, cannot be used as a source document for executive scrutiny, he said.

“For the record, the returned bill contains more than a hundred line-item amendments and 98 changes to provisions of fund use,” Andaya said.

Although the President is given 30 days to decide whether to veto or affirm each of these, he said she will not fully exhaust the period granted her under the Constitution.

“We take exception to the accusations that the deliberate delay in the signing of the 2008 budget was triggered by partisan political interests. To set the record straight, the timetable for the approval has not in any way been upset,” he said.

A Palace official said in the history of the country’s budgeting process since 1986, out of 20 GAAs, only five were enacted before the end of the fiscal year. Ideally, the national expenditure program is approved by December so it could be implemented by January.

The official said the delay in the submission to the executive branch was likely caused by the political troubles in the House, particularly the ouster of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. as speaker.

“The budget was one of the casualties of the oust-De Venecia move,” the official said.

Under the 2008 budget, the focus is on priority sectors like infrastructure facilities, education, health, science and technology, including housing and salary adjustments for state workers, a previous Palace statement said.

The top gainers in terms of budgetary allocations this year are the Departments of Education, P3.320 billion; Science and Technology, P1.876 billion; Health, P2.715 billion; Transportation and Communications, P2.594 billion; Social Welfare and Development, P776 million; Public Works and Highways, P13.830 billion; National Housing Authority, P4.43 billion; salary adjustments, an additional P30 billion which will be fully implemented next year, and P11 billion for the implementation of the Salary Standardization Law, the statement said.

The allocation for the Commission on Elections was pegged at P2.63 billion for the full poll automation in time for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao polls and the 2010 national and local elections.

The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) remains the same under the proposed 2008 budget, while the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) was increased by 14 percent from 2007’s P183.9 billion to P210.3 billion. – With Edith Regalado

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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