MANILA, DECEMBER 20, 2007 (STAR) Congress adjourned last night for the Christmas holidays without passing next year’s proposed P1.227-trillion national budget. The session resumes on Jan. 21.

This means the P1.137-trillion outlay for this year will be deemed re-enacted on Jan. 1, according to House Deputy Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. said yesterday the lawmakers lacked time to resolve all the differences between the versions of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“If ever, a re-enacted budget will only be until January because for sure we will already approve it during the opening of session,” he said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said President Arroyo might call a special session to push for the passage of the budget.

“There is no impossibility that the President could call for a special session, depending on the evaluation of the President,” he said.

Ermita said Malacañang also wanted Congress to pass the Cheaper Medicine Bill, the amendment to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act and the concurrence to the presidential amnesty proclamation for communist rebels.

“So if they don’t want their Christmas vacation to be disrupted then they should finish it (the priority bills),” he said.

Villar said he would agree to a special session for Congress to pass the 2008 proposed national budget before yearend.

However, the budget’s enactment would not be delayed even without a special session, he added.

Gonzales said he sees no disruption in government operations since Malacañang will use the reenacted 2007 budget as legal basis for releasing funds, especially for the salaries of the more than one million civil servants.

“Anyway, releases at the start of the year are mainly for salaries,” he said.

The bicameral conference committee failed to reconcile the Senate’s and the House’s divergent versions of the national budget and adjourned indefinitely after meeting for only a few minutes.

Gonzales said the Senate reversed what the House, which has primacy over appropriations bills, did with the proposed national budget submitted by Mrs. Arroyo to Congress.

“We approved the budget with more than P30 billion in realignments, including more than P16 billion taken away from debt service and added to funds for social services,” he said.

Gonzales said the senators returned most of the realignments and kept Mrs. Arroyo’s proposal almost intact.

“This will be the most contentious issue in the bicameral conference,” he said.

The Senate’s version reduced funds for the Department of Health by P4.3 billion.

The House had increased the DOH outlay by more than P10 billion, including P2 billion in family planning and birth control funds.

The Senate also reduced by nearly P2 billion the education budget, which congressmen increased by more than P4 billion.

House passes JDV’s trees bill

The House passed on third and final reading Tuesday night the One Billion Trees bill authored by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

“The House responded to the Bali Summit on time,” De Venecia declared after 204 lawmakers approved in plenary session the “Billion Trees Act of 2007.”

In a statement, De Venecia said: “We are now on record as the first Congress or Parliament in the world to respond decisively to the urgent appeal of the Bali Summit for the global planting of trees.”

De Venecia said a new Bali protocol to battle worsening climate change should “incorporate a massive global reforestation program to fight the environmentally lethal carbon dioxide emissions.”

“Among other vital benefits to life, we should plant trees to minimize soil erosion, flash floods, silting of rivers and dams, drought and other negative consequences through rehabilitation of degraded watershed areas,” he said.

De Venecia said the bill seeks to open opportunities for the participation of all sectors of society like the upland, lowland and coastal families, communities and organizations.

“Aside from the national and local government units, we should also involve NGOs, schools, colleges and universities, private landowners and juridical persons, and indigenous peoples in the national reforestation program of denuded forest lands, idle alienable and disposable land, private lands and other public lands,” he said.

As proposed, the government would adopt various approaches to community-based forest management in consideration of differences in the socio-cultural, environmental and geophysical nature of the country’s forest lands.

The Bali Summit paved the way for the evolution of a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol to sustain, strengthen and synchronize global efforts by some 190 countries in the urgent war against climate change.

The billion trees program aims, among others, to generate adequate supply of forest and agricultural products in the future and generate millions of employment opportunities and provide additional income to countryside and rural communities. — Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica, Marvin Sy, Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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