, January 2, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  -  President Arroyo may call for the first meeting of the Legislative—Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) for 2005 as early as next week.

The meeting is expected to focus on the passage of this year’s national budget and seven tax bills pending in Congress.

Presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio told The STAR yesterday that the exact date of the meeting would depend on the outcome of the special session of Congress later this week.

"We’ll probably assess the results of the special session first, then determine how soon LEDAC should be called," he said. "It could very well be this month."

Last Wednesday, Mrs. Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 752 that called Congress to a special session from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7 to continue discussion on the tax bills, especially the "Lateral Attrition" bill.

In her proclamation, Mrs. Arroyo made special mention of the bill, which is intended to provide incentives for higher collections from revenue-generating agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

Congress is scheduled to begin its regular session on Jan. 10.

Claudio said Mrs. Arroyo would consult first with Senate president Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia on their availability for the LEDAC meeting.

Claudio said among the goals of the meeting would be to brief lawmakers about the "actions made by the Executive to match the efforts of Congress" to balance the budget and to decide "on a common strategy to fast track" the tax bills.

Congress has passed only one of eight tax bills certified as urgent by Malacañang.

Before it adjourned for the holidays, Congress was able to pass the so-called "sin tax" bill that increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

Signed into law by Mrs. Arroyo on Dec. 20, Republic Act 9334 is projected to generate P17 billion in additional revenue for the government.

While the proposed P907.6-billion General Apropriations Act (GAA) for 2005 isn’t in the agenda of the special session, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye told The STAR that Malacañang had reached an "informal" understanding with Congress on the "need to fund the 10-point pro-poor agenda of the President."

Bunye said Malacañang was confident the GAA would be passed before the end of the month.

"I think we can cope with a slightly delayed budget law," he said.

Claudio shared Bunye’s optimism that Malacañang and Congress will find "the right solutions to our fiscal disorders."

He noted with satisfaction the commitment made by both administration and opposition lawmakers to attend the special session to ensure that a quorum is reached.

"I believe Congress will join government in hitting the ground running in 2005," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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