MANILA,  September 3, 2004
President Arroyo warned yesterday there would be "no sacred cows" in her new austerity program, with deeper spending cuts and higher taxes needed to head off a looming fiscal crisis.

In a statement, Mrs. Arroyo said stronger measures to raise revenues and reduce expenditures were being prepared — new tax reform bills filed in Congress and a new drive against corruption and tax evasion.

"Our cost-cutting and austerity measures have already started and there will be no sacred cows," she said.

After imposing the cost-cutting measures, Mrs. Arroyo took her extended family, including nursemaids, on a three-day state visit to China. Joining Mrs. Arroyo on the trip to Beijing were her two granddaughters, Gloria Mikaela and Eva Victoria, and their mothers, Angela and Victoria, along with their nannies.

Mrs. Arroyo flew to Beijing Wednesday as her office issued an executive order banning foreign trips for government officials.

However, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo’s extended family paid their own way. "They are using personal funds," he said over radio station dzRH. "Only the members of the official delegation were paid for by the government."

Lawmakers also said the trip to China was made at no government expense.

Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Surigao del Norte Robert Ace Barbers said it would be unfair to begrudge members of the First Family the trip that would anyway promote the interest of the nation and the people and without cost to the government.

"Their trip was made in acceptance of an invitation from the Chinese government. They have given the country honor by complimenting such invitation with their presence there," Cuenco said.

Barbers, for his part, said it was unfair to make the accusations against Mrs. Arroyo.

"The China trip reinforced this fact as the President managed to have concluded five bilateral agreements with the Chinese government," Barbers said.

Pursuant to the government’s austerity program, Barbers said Mrs. Arroyo had to cut down her entourage and no government funds were used for members of her family who accompanied her in the trip.

"Whether the Chinese government shouldered the trip, or they spent their personal funds for the trip, rest assured that no government funds were spent for the Beijing trip of members of the First Family," Barbers said.

Meanwhile, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran has described as "pathetic" the efforts of Mrs. Arroyo and her officials to try to solve the looming fiscal crisis.

"Eating out of plastic containers, giving up catered gourmet food, and driving one less luxury car are pathetic and fake austerity measures, and they are nothing compared to the austerity measures the Filipino poor and working people have been forced to adopt for the longest time," he said.

"The economic crisis should be faced squarely with the main objective of lifting the majority of the Filipino people chest-deep in poverty, not meeting some artificial deadline set by foreign multilateral finance agencies.

"The austerity measures the government is proposing are pathetic and laughable," he said. — With AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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