MANILA, FEBRUARY 14, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang gave its assurance yesterday that the soon-to-be enacted P1.126-trillion national budget will boost investments and create jobs through massive infrastructure and social spending.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye issued the statement after President Arroyo told reporters Monday that she will veto some insertions in the budget once it reaches her desk for signature.

Mrs. Arroyo "wants a lean and mean budget focused on modernizing the economy, providing the infrastructure to boost investments and jobs, and bringing reliable basic services to every household," he said.

Bunye added that, "a tighter 2007 budget would target clear priorities, enforce discipline in spending, and increase confidence in the Philippines. This is a people’s budget that will be spent on the people’s needs and nothing else."

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said Monday he is still reviewing the special insertions made by Congress in hammering out the money measure to see whether they would affect the government’s spending program.

The Palace also vowed to steadily reduce the country’s debt after finance officials said Monday that the national government’s debt is expected to rise slightly to P3.923 trillion this year from about P3.914 trillion at end-2006.

Bunye noted that the country’s debt was mostly inherited "but we are denting it through hefty prepayments."

"With our highly lauded fiscal reforms in place and the improvements in the economy, we should be able to accelerate debt payments, strengthen our position and carry in more investments and jobs," he said.

Bunye also said the government’s revenue collection continues to be on target and officials expect "a sustained windfall backed by good governance and anti-corruption measures."

RP near bottom in economic risk The Philippine Star 02/14/2007

SINGAPORE – The Philippines ranked near bottom in a survey that rates Asian countries in terms of economic risk, lower than Thailand which is undergoing transition after the ouster of its prime minister in a coup.

The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) said in its latest survey of expatriate business executives that the Philippines ranked third from last, ahead of India and Indonesia where investments were most at risk.

The survey measured risks relating to domestic politics, social instability, institutions, human resources, physical factors and external developments to get an average overall ranking.

Risks are rising sharply in Thailand, says the PERC survey which rates Singapore as Asia’s least risky economy.

"Risks are rising sharply in Thailand as a result of the continuing domestic political problems and the possibility of social unrest," PERC said, adding that "conditions could deteriorate in 2007."

Thailand’s military ousted the elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last September. The junta has promised to hold elections and a return to democracy by the end of this year.

Of the 14 societies surveyed by PERC, "Thailand is the one that foreign investors should perhaps monitor most closely in the months ahead for changes that could affect business risks," it said.

Thailand’s recent moves to impose currency controls and limit foreign stakes in Thai companies have shocked foreign traders and business people.

In a best-to-worst ranking from zero to 10, Singapore got an overall score of 2.74, beating Japan which was in second place with a grade of 3.13, PERC said in the survey obtained by AFP.

Singapore’s score was slightly lower than Australia’s 2.69 but better than that of the United States at 3.15. Australia and the United States were included in the Asian survey as a basis for comparison, PERC said.

Excluding those two nations, Hong Kong came in third after Japan with a score of 3.33, followed by Malaysia at 4.66, Taiwan at 4.76, South Korea at 4.78 and Vietnam at 5.36.

China was in eighth place with a grade of 5.44, followed by Thailand at 5.49, the Philippines at 5.74, India at 6.24 and Indonesia at 6.79.

While Singapore retained the overall lead, perceptions of the domestic political situation "worsened slightly" from five years ago and threats from external risks saw a "big" rise, PERC said.

The increasing vulnerability to external developments is a result of more Singapore companies expanding overseas where risks are much higher and beyond the control of the government to manage, PERC said.

"As can be seen in the case of Temasek’s investment in Shin Corp. in Thailand, these investments potentially expose Singapore to new economic and diplomatic problems," the Hong Kong-based consultancy said.

State-linked investment firm Temasek Holdings last year bought Thai telecom giant Shin Corp. from the family of then prime minister Thaksin. The tax-free deal sparked massive rallies against Thaksin that culminated in his ouster.

Singapore was in fourth place behind Japan, Australia and Hong Kong in the variable measuring social instability risks and was in 10th place when measured against external political risks.

PERC said that while Indonesia received the worst score overall, "perceptions have improved considerably over the past five years" due to improvements in domestic political and social disorder risks.

It said the main problem in Indonesia is that "its key institutions are weak, while its physical and human infrastructure is poor."

Among Asia’s developed countries, the risks are highest in South Korea largely due to problems related to the Stalinist North, PERC said.

For China, Vietnam and India, some of the biggest risks are pollution and infrastructure deficiencies, it said.

"The more that sustainability issues are ignored or misjudged, the bigger the danger that bottlenecks will develop that seriously interfere with the economy and possibly disrupt social and political conditions as well," it warned.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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