MANILA, FEBRUARY 13, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo declared yesterday that she will veto some items in the P1.126-trillion 2007 national budget once it is submitted to Malacañang for her signature.

Mrs. Arroyo could not yet identify the individual items she would veto. Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. is still finalizing the list of appropriations to be deleted.

"Frequently, the President does line vetoes," she said.

Andaya earlier said the Palace would review special insertions made by Congress in the approved budget, adding that the review is only routine.

He said the budget department would check the insertions that could affect Mrs. Arroyo’s tight spending program. Andaya meanwhile said the Office of the Ombudsman’s 2007 budget will increase by P299 million compared to last year, to enable the anti-graft agency to hire 721 new "graftbusters."

He said the signing of the national budget for 2007 would allow the constitutionally-created public watchdog to operate on a P974-million budget, an increase of 31 percent from last year’s P675 million.

About P200 million of the additional allocation would be used to fund the salaries of the 721 new employees, Andaya said.

Of the new recruits, 200 would be assigned at "field investigation offices," according to a document submitted by the Ombudsman to the Department of Budget and Management.

Some 54 lawyers will be hired to augment the undermanned prosecution branch of the Ombudsman which has a backlog of some 1,985 cases pending at the Sandiganbayan.

The Ombudsman will also hire 150 personnel for three new regional offices that will be created next year, one each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

In addition, 15 graft investigators, 60 graft prevention control officers, 36 preliminary investigation and adjudication officers, will be hired by the Ombudsman before the end of the year.

The 2007 budget also includes funds for the salaries of 25 employees of the soon to be created Ombudsman Academy or an anti-graft training school for its personnel.

Andaya said the Ombudsman’s budget this year is more than double compared to its budget when President Arroyo assumed office in 2001.

Andaya said Mrs. Arroyo has always been supportive of the Ombudsman’s request for more manpower.

"Our standing instruction is to ensure that the Ombudsman be among the first recipients of the tax dividends."

"As more taxes are collected, the administration believes that a beefed-up Ombudsman would deter waste of public funds and promote transparency in both revenue and expenditure side of public finance," Andaya said.

He said the hiring should have taken place last year but was scuttled after Congress failed to pass the 2006 budget, prompting the government to operate on the budget of the previous year, as required by the Constitution.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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