, October 21, 2005
(STAR) President Arroyo appealed to the public yesterday to make sacrifices when the expanded value-added tax (EVAT) goes into effect in November, saying the difficult times will be temporary compared to the long-term benefits of new revenues for the government.

She said the EVAT’s lasting rewards would come in the form of more jobs and livelihood opportunities, better social services, more infrastructure, less debt and more and better financing for rural programs.

Malacañang, through Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, also said the EVAT must be spared from partisan politics and allowed to be implemented fully.

Mrs. Arroyo said that revenues could reach up to P120 billion per year and could help the government achieve a balanced budget, and reduce the country’s debts rather than pass them on to future generations.

"That’s an unprecedented interest in a generation’s time," she said.

Bunye said the government would do its best to provide safety nets to cushion the impact of the EVAT on the poor such as the removal of the excise tax on oil and energy, fuel discounts for public utility jeepneys, close monitoring of the prices of commodities and strict implementation of fare discounts for students and senior citizens.

"The government is also going after tax cheats, smugglers and other economic saboteurs as reflected in dramatic increases in our revenue collections," Bunye said.

Bunye also assured the public that the government would be fully transparent in the use of public funds.

"Highest budgetary priority will be given to education, microfinancing, housing, land reform, public health and other poverty alleviation measures," he said.

After the four-month temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court was lifted, the EVAT will be implemented starting Nov. 1 for all sectors, including oil and power, despite rising prices of crude oil in the world market.

The new taxes come at a time when the President is facing a lingering political crisis despite the dismissal of an impeachment case against her in the House of Representatives last September.

Opposition congressmen have filed a bill seeking to repeal the EVAT law.

Following such moves, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo appealed to lawmakers in a recent Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting in Malacañang to give EVAT a chance.

"The executive branch would follow whatever law our lawmakers would come up with but as for now, let’s implement it (the EVAT) first so that we can raise funds for our projects," he said.

Meanwhile, Washington lauded the SC’s decision to lift the freeze order on EVAT, saying this will help the economy move towards sound fiscal reform.

US Embassy Chargé d’ Affaires Paul Jones said the Philippine economy remains resilient with the peso and stock market holding relatively steady through the recent political turbulence. The gross domestic product (GDP) growth, he said, also remains moderate.

Jones, in a speech before the induction rites of new members of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (Amcham), told American businessmen in the country that the US firmly believes the Philippines holds enormous business opportunities despite the challenges.

The Philippines has recently qualified for funding through the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and Jones said the next step is for the government to draft a more elaborate proposal of how it will boost revenue collection and intensify anti-corruption efforts.

Despite the acceptance of the Philippines’ project proposal, Manila’s anti-corruption programs and good governance are being closely scrutinized. The government is, however, optimistic that the Bush administration’s $20-million special funding for the country’s anti-corruption proposal will be granted. — Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

GMA off to KL for funeral of Badawi’s wife The Philippine Star 10/21/2005

President Arroyo flew to Kuala Lumpur yesterday to attend the funeral of Endon Mahmood, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s wife who succumbed to breast cancer earlier yesterday.

The President canceled her scheduled trip to Leyte for the 58th anniversary celebration of Ormoc City in order to go to the funeral.

Mrs. Arroyo left around noontime and was expected to return last night. She was accompanied by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and Malacañang protocol chief Linglingay Lacanlale.

Mrs. Arroyo joined other heads of states and governments who went to Malaysia to condole with the family of Badawi.

Reports said Mahmood passed away at the family’s official residence. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, shortly after her twin sister received the same diagnosis.

Badawi’s wife recently underwent weeks of treatment in the United States and was actively involved in breast cancer education and awareness events in Malaysia.

Malacañang said the President would have to rush to Kuala Lumpur since the remains of Mahmood, under the Muslim tradition, will be interred within 24 hours after death. — Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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