MANILA, DECEMBER 18, 2011 (TRIBUNE) By Angie M. Rosales - Malacañang allegedly deceived lawmakers in using as a basis a lower rate debt cap provision during the budget deliberations, only for President Aquino to veto it when he formally signed into law the P1.8-trillion 2012 General Appropriations Act (GAA), an opposition senator yesterday revealed.

The conditional veto was very long, more than the message of the approval so that is what I would like to inform you because nobody wants to comment on this. Everybody is scared of the President.

We were misled, we were told that it is 50.2 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) during the plenary hearings. Now it turns out that it is according to the President, 73 percent. Its in the transcript if they want (proof), we can bare the transcript of the hearings. Nobody was listening at the time but there it is, Sen. Joker Arroyo told a press conference.

He said they introduced a special provision in the then proposed 2012 national budget saying in effect that if the government would want to borrow more than 60 percent of GDP, they must get the approval of Congress.

The proposal was 55 percent of GDP. If you breach that you have to get the approval of Congress, Arroyo stressed.

We have not reached that 55 percent, according to the Secretary of Finance (Cesar Purisima) but they said they are not comfortable

with 55 percent. So I said make it 60 percent. So what is the difference between 55 and 60 percent? Believe me, that is half a trillion peso. So in other words, what the Executive wanted was that they be given an elbow room to be able to borrow half a trillion pesos so that is what we place the budget - 60 percent of GDP. The moment we are approaching that, the government must ask permission of Congress, he explained.

In his veto message to Congress, the President said, While I recognize the Congress noble intent behind the imposition of this rule I firmly believe that the GAA is not the proper vehicle to amend the presidential decree, now thats 1961 thats a Marcos decree.

Now, but heres the more important one: last but not least is the significant reduction of our consolidated public sector debt from 88.7 percent of GDP in 2005 to 73 percent by the end of 2010, Aquino said.

Arroyo, however, noted that the Presidents statement reveals the real picture of the countrys borrowing situation.

In other words, what the President is saying is that our borrowings is 73 percent of 2010, the senator stressed.

So I ask the question: why is it Mr. Secretary of Finance, and the chairman of the committee of finance of the Senate, said that our borrowings is only 50.2 % of GDP? Call it 50 percent. Fifty percent and 70 percent is a lot of money. Why were we misled? he asked.

Arroyo pointed out that no less than Aquinos own allies in the upper chamber, Senators Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto who are chairmen respectively of the finance and ways and means committees endorsed the debt cap due to the falling financial standing of some European countries.

As such, Congress leaders adopted the debt cap provision to spare the Philippines from the predicament of some European governments on the brink of bankruptcy because they overborrowed.

It was Drilon who suggested the cap at 60 percent of GDP, from his original proposal of 55 percent of GDP debt ceiling, Arroyo revealed.

During our deliberations, we were told by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Budget Secretary (Florencio) Butch Abad that the national debt stood at 50 percent of GDP. But it turned out in the Palace veto message that it is now 73 percent of GDP, he lamented.

When we deliberated, they all agreed on the debt cap, now the President vetoes it. They (Palace officials) just want to keep borrowing, but who will pay for that? Arroyo asked.

This is what is the very disturbing thing the tendency of the Executive that they dont want at all to be in anyway controlled even in the budget, he noted.

Aquino signed into law the P1.8-trillion budget in ceremonies held yesterday in Malacaang as the Budget department vowed that the administration will go full blast in jumpstarting the economy by way of frontloading projects that are due for implementation next year, in order for the economy to grow even further.

In the presence of legislators from both Houses led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte by his side and government officials, employees and media, the President signed what he calls the Results-Focused Budget of 2012 that aims to allow his administration to fulfill its Social Contract with the Filipino people.

To achieve this, the President said the social services sector, will receive 31.3 percent or P568.6 billion of the total budget.

He added the education sector would receive the largest appropriation of P238.8 billion to allow the agency to hire 13,000 teachers and build some 43,000 more classrooms; while the health sector would receive P44.4 billion to fund the health insurance subsidy for 5.2 million beneficiaries and hire 13,000 more medical personnel.

The infrastructure and agricultural sector, the President said, would each be allocated P255.2 billion and P53.3 billion, respectively, for the construction of roads, bridges, airports, ports and irrigation systems; and to ensure the countrys goal to be rice-sufficient by 2013.

The President assured the Filipino people that every peso of the national budget spent would be used wisely. Virgilio J. Bugaoisan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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