MANILA, March 10, 2004
(STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo - Presidential contender Raul Roco vowed yesterday to "bring balance" into the country’s budget by 2007 if he wins in the May 10 elections.

In a forum with business leaders, Roco said he could achieve the goal by improving tax collection and minimizing corruption.

"We will do this by increasing the tax efforts ratio by at least one percentage point every year or P51 billion to reach 16 percent by 2007," he said.

Roco had committed to increase the tax collection ratio, now pegged at 12 percent. He claimed that during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos the ratio was 17 percent. "If we are 12 now and we try to go back to 17, which is a reasonable ambition, one percentage point is a P50-billion increase. That more than covers your deficit," he later told reporters.

The forum, "Presidential Candidates Series ‘04," was organized by the Makati Business Club (MBC), American Chamber of Commerce, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference, Chinese-Filipino Business Club, European Chamber of Commerce and Management Association of the Philippines.

Roco, standard-bearer of the Alyansa ng Pag-asa, was the first to meet the business groups. Other candidates slated to appear before the forum are evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva and President Arroyo.

According to MBC executive director Guillermo Luz, candidates Sen. Panfilo Lacson and actor Fernando Poe Jr. have sent them "regret letters," citing lack of time.

Luz added that it would be up to Lacson and Poe to set a date for themselves but the organizers would have to check if they could still get bookings in hotels for the forum.

In his speech, Roco said that as president he would seek to have the tax rates of beer, cigarettes and liquor indexed relative to inflation.

"The rates were increased by 12 percent in 2000. Since then, prices have increased by 23 percent. Government has not benefited from the increase in revenues. This measure will bring in P14 billion annually," he said.

Roco also vowed to improve income tax collection by 25 percent a year, bringing P57 billion in additional revenues. Roco said that if he becomes president he will improve the collection of the value added tax (VAT) by 25 percent to generate P43 billion more for the country’s coffers.

Corruption, Roco said, is another big hindrance to the country’s economic recovery efforts.

He plans to adopt a high-tech approach in the fight against corruption. "We will institute transparency in government operations, making use of the Internet to make information available to the public," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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