MANILA, JANUARY 9, 2010 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - A former member of President Arroyo’s Cabinet urged her yesterday not to use up the entire P1.541-trillion national budget with her “panic-spending” during the election campaign.

In an email to reporters, former economic planning secretary Ralph Recto said Mrs. Arroyo should leave at least half of the huge budget to her successor.

“The government should impose a glass ceiling when it comes to expenditures. If it only has half of the year, then it should stay on half of the budget,” Recto said.

“It should give budget room to the next administration,” he said.

“It should see to it that the first sentence of the first State of the Nation Address of the next president will not read like this: ‘My countrymen, the treasury is empty,’” he said.

He said the Arroyo administration should not be “in a panic-spending mode in its last days in office.”

He said the President should not listen to her allies who want hundreds of billions in infrastructure and pork barrel funds “frontloaded” or advanced before the public works ban takes effect at the start of the election campaign.

Recto is running for senator under the Liberal Party, whose standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is leading his opponents in presidential surveys by a wide margin.

Recto said although he does not see a spike in government spending in the first few months of this year because of the public works ban, the people should watch out for “clever ways of going around the prohibition.”

“For example, they can frontload infrastructure spending before the public works ban kicks in. Another way is to label projects as critically needed, when what they intend to achieve is boost the candidacy of their sponsor,” he said.

He urged the Commission on Elections to spell out clearly what is covered by the election-related public works ban.

Administration allies have loaded the 2010 budget with hundreds of billions in what Rep. Edno Joson of Nueva Ecija describes as “campaign funds.”

The Senate-House conference committee that drafted the final version of the budget had cut debt payment funds by P65 billion and diverted the huge reduction to the congressional pork barrel.

Senate finance committee chairman Edgardo Angara and his House counterpart Quirino Rep. Junie Cua jointly headed the conference panel.

Before finalizing the budget three weeks ago, Angara and Cua urged Mrs. Arroyo to frontload or advance the release of infrastructure and pork barrel funds before the start of the public works ban.

UNO insists GMA played favorites

The United Opposition said there’s no denying President Arroyo played favorites when she released P459 million in 2009 to her home district in Pampanga.

“The facts speak for themselves, while other local districts in the country wait in vain for funds for projects that can help in their development efforts, here are a few favored ones who were showered with public funds simply because they enjoy close ties with the incumbent,” UNO campaign manager Ernesto Maceda said.

Maceda also said all those who cornered a lion’s share in fund releases were either relatives or close allies of the President.

He said more than P3 billion was released to Arroyo’s son Dato of the first district of Camarines Sur; over P1 billion each to Arroyo’s brother-in-law Iggy Arroyo of the fifth district of Negros Occidental and favorite traveling companion Martin Romualdez of the first district of Leyte, while billions have likewise been released to Chavit Singson and his son for Ilocos Sur.

“When ranged against the amounts released to more than 200 districts which got no more than P70 million each for the year, and none at all if the representative there is allied with the opposition, then one can rightly say that Mrs. Arroyo’s districts and those of her kin and friends are definitely favored above everyone else,” Maceda said.

While there was nothing illegal about Mrs. Arroyo’s “favoritism,” Maceda said using public funds solely for political leverage was nevertheless reprehensible.

“Favoring certain districts with huge releases takes money away from more urgent projects in others,” Maceda said.

Maceda said the P3 billion released to Dato Arroyo’s district in Camarines Sur and the P5 billion to Pampanga’s second district, could have been put to better use, like completing the Parañaque spillway, identified by authorities as a crucial component of Metro Manila’s flood control program. – With Jose Rodel Clapano

'No need to build monument for GMA' By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated January 09, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - There is no need to build monuments for President Arroyo when she steps down as her various infrastructure projects all over the country are enough to remind the people of her accomplishments, Malacañang said yesterday in its continuing public relations offensive to highlight the outgoing administration’s legacy.

“Long after she is gone, President Arroyo will still be remembered, and all because of the infrastructure projects she has left behind,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

Mrs. Arroyo has drawn flak for allegedly favoring her congressional district in Pampanga with over P450 million in projects apparently to help her win a seat in the House of Representatives in the coming election.

“I suppose, however, that this administration will be defined more for its ambitious infrastructure building program, undertaken to spur and sustain economic growth,” Remonde said.

He cited the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London erected by Sir Christopher Wren.

Inside the cathedral there is an inscription that reads “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

“In this manner, anybody who travels the length and breadth of this beautiful archipelago long after our President will have served her full term, will see the unmistakable imprint of her presidency. All he or she has to do is look around,” Remonde said.

He also said Mrs. Arroyo has cracked the whip on government agencies to make sure their projects are finished before she steps down on June 30.

He lamented what he said was the lack of appreciation for Mrs. Arroyo’s achievements.

“Now, did President Arroyo get the thanks she so richly deserves? Not on your life,” Remonde said in a statement. “I bring up the point, to illustrate how this administration must endure unfair criticism at every turn.”

He said the country enjoyed 36 consecutive quarters of economic growth despite various global challenges. The business process outsourcing industry also grew dramatically during her term, he said.

Meanwhile, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza said Mrs. Arroyo’s having spent close to P500 million for her home district could not be considered favoritism because his own district was able to obtain P820 million in infrastructure projects in 2009.

“Clearly, in fairness to President Arroyo, it all depends on the needs of the district. Like us, Samar needs the infrastructure projects because we are underdeveloped,” Daza told The STAR in an interview.

“What matters to the Arroyo administration is the immediate completion of these projects to bring development to the areas and the people and contribute to the overall progress of our nation,” Rep. Danilo Suarez, chairman of the House committee on oversight, said.

For his part, Rep. Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin, chairman of the House committee on good government, said the latest tirade against the President was another publicity stunt to attract voters. –With Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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