JANUARY 4, 2007 (STAR) By Jose Katigbak STAR Washington Bureau - Ambassador to the United States Willy Gaa has conveyed his condolences on behalf of President Arroyo and the Filipino people to Mrs. Betty Ford and her four children during a meeting requested by Mrs. Ford.

The embassy in Washington said Gaa met last Monday at the Blair House with the wife of former US president Gerald Ford, who died last Dec. 26 at the age of 93.

Mrs. Ford has fond memories of the Philippines. In December 1975, she accompanied her husband during his state visit to Manila.

Gaa joined Vice President Noli de Castro — Mrs. Arroyo’s representative — at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday for the state funeral service for President Ford.

Ford passed away at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.

In a statement, the embassy said that during their meeting Gaa told Mrs. Ford that "our nation is in deep mourning because your husband is loved by the Filipinos."

He recalled that in 1943, as a young Navy man aboard USS Monterey, Ford participated in carrier strikes in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and was among those who supported the landings of US troops in Leyte and in Mindoro.

The statement said Mrs. Ford and her four children, who were also in the meeting, were profuse in expressing their thanks to Gaa.

Jack Ford, one of her children, remembered that at official functions, his much-decorated father proudly wore his medals, which included the Philippine Liberation medal with two bronze stars for Leyte and Mindoro.

Arroyo urged to release funds for May polls By Jess Diaz The Philippine Star 01/04/2007

President Arroyo was urged yesterday to release the necessary funds to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to enable the poll body to prepare for the May combined congressional-local elections.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero made the appeal in reaction to the warning of Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos that the failure of Congress to approve the 2007 budget could result in the postponement or scrapping of the coming balloting.

Escudero said the President has the authority to make funds available to the Comelec for the purpose of the May polls even without a Congress-approved budget.

"She is duty-bound to release money because the coming elections are mandated by the Constitution, which she has sworn to obey and enforce," he said.

He said all Abalos has to do is make a request and Mrs. Arroyo should release the funds the Comelec needs.

The opposition leader pointed out that the President in fact has enough leeway under the re-enacted 2005 budget to look for money for the poll body, "if she wants the May elections to push through."

He stressed that if Mrs. Arroyo could ignore the courts and order the transfer of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, she has no justification to refuse to make money available to the Comelec.

"She cannot point to the failure of Congress to approve the 2007 budget because there are enough funds in the re-enacted budget that she can give the Comelec. The President and Chairman Abalos cannot blame Congress because the budget re-enactment process allows Mrs. Arroyo to make funds available to the poll body," Escudero said.— With Paolo Romero

Pass budget bill, GMA appeals to Congress By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 01/04/2007

President Arroyo appealed anew to Congress to pass the 2007 budget, saying the people need the measure that would help boost the government’s programs for social services and rehabilitation of provinces destroyed by the spate of typhoons late last year.

The President also defended the government’s feeding program for elementary school students as part of addressing the country’s hunger problems.

"If Congress will pass the budget, this will contribute a lot to the programs for livelihood, education, health, housing and nutrition, including the provision of one kilo of rice for families experiencing hunger," Mrs. Arroyo said at the start of a televised roundtable discussion on poverty alleviation.

"Aside from these, we will be able to expedite and expand the rehabilitation of those devastated by typhoons, flooding, volcanic eruptions and other calamities during the past year," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo made the appeal anew to lawmakers after failing to approve the 2007 national budget due to a disagreement over the P4.5-billion allotment for the feeding program of the Department of Education (DepEd).

The Senate had realigned about P4.5 billion of the P4.7-billion elementary school feeding fund under the DepEd to the construction of new school buildings and hiring of additional teachers to ease the classroom and teacher shortage.

Senators also cut P1.5 billion from a P1.7-billion appropriation for a similar program in pre-schools and allotted it for school building construction and teacher recruitment.

Senators feared the elementary school and pre-school feeding funds, amounting to more than P6 billion, could be used or could be skimmed for election purposes next year.

Since Jan. 1, the government has been operating on the 2005 re-enacted budget of P907.56 billion, the same allocation for 2006 since Congress also failed to pass a new budget law last year.

Mrs. Arroyo said the most important thing to do this year is to make the people feel the social payback from the difficult fiscal reforms adopted by the government.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said there are ongoing efforts to convince Congress to pass the budget this month.

"There are back-channel talks and we are hopeful that the 2007 budget will still be enacted. We are not saying this is over," he said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had said the bulk of the proposed P1.126 trillion budget for 2007 is for social services while P10 billion is set aside to finance the rehabilitation of calamity-stricken areas in the country.

In a related development, DBM Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. assured funding for the May elections, allaying fears made by Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos that the polls might not push through because of the failure of Congress to approve the 2007 budget.

"There can be other ways of funding the elections but none however is more superior than passing a brand-new national budget," Andaya said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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