MANILA,  August
7, 2004 (STAR) Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. is set to announce a seven-point program to "create new wealth" for the country.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR for STARWeek magazine, De Venecia said "the existing incumbent wealth is not enough to sustain 84 million Filipinos."

Many of these programs, especially those involving oil and gas, mining and reclamation issues, need action by the Supreme Court, he said.

"We are thus appealing to the wise men of the Supreme Court to consider these motions for reconsideration ... to help turn around the economy and contribute to create the beginnings of a tiger economy," the Speaker added.

"There have been many populist and popular proposals, but these donít really have the potential to create a tiger economy," he said.

"We are not just trying to appease the people (with these proposals). The figures cited may sound incredible, but they are really justifiable targets, and we can achieve them provided we all work together. These (programs) can actually turn the economy around and propel it north, so we can really move up."

De Venecia reiterated governmentís pledge to raise P80 billion in new revenues and savings of P20 billion to raise about P100 billion to half the budget deficit of about P195 billion.

"First, we need to launch a major program to revive and reiginite mining because our mineral wealth is $800 billion, but our debt is only $50 billion, but to do that we have to amend the Constitution and thatís two to three years away.

"So we are appealing to the SC justices to reconsider their decision so that mining can move forward, and employ hundreds and thousands of people and create income, and take out from the bowels of the earth a trillion dollars worth of metals."

Second in the Speakerís list is the gold mining exploration at Mt. Diwalwal in Davao. "God knows whether there are billions of dollars worth of reserves there. So what we like to propose is for the government to network with international investors... develop that area, employ the ten- to 20-thousand miners there plus give them profit-sharing arrangements."

Third, he said, is the Malampaya oil and gas program. The Speaker said he was one of the pioneers in "opening up the sea" for the Palawan offshore exploration, where the natural gas reserves were discovered by Occidental Petroleum with a foreign partner.

"The investment of Shell is $4 billion to $5 billion, producing gas to their pipeline in Batangas. Now the Philippine government share is $10 billion over 20 years, so that translates to about $500 million a year. But Shell will have full recovery by next year, so the Philippine share will go up because Shellís cost recovery will have been completed," he said.

"Thatís like recovering the Marcos wealth at $600 million every year," he added, noting the need for a business-friendly SC decision on hydrocarbon exploration, not just mining.

Fourth is a major reclamation program which he said suffered a setback because of the allegedly tainted Public Estates Authority-Amari scam along Roxas Boulevard.

"But this (reclamation) should continue in Cebu, Mindanao, in Northern Luzon... The principal stimulus in the Singapore and Hong Kong economic miracle was the reclamation. They also had a budgetary deficit, but all you have to do is auction land... all their major industrial and housing projects were a product of reclamation."

The Speaker said the national government can probably raise hundreds of billions if not trillions of pesos through the auction of reclaimed lands, "aside from the fact that the availability of new land will give us space for seaports, railways, housing and industrial" sites.

Fifth is the reforestation of our mountains. "If you invest a hundred million dollars to reforest our bald mountains in Visayan Mindanao, Cagayan Valley, and central and northern Luzon, you will be able to sell about more than $4 billion of tingguian wood in 10 years, aside from solving your irrigation and flood control problems, ecological balance problem, and you start subsidizing our tree farmers. and if you intercrop fruit producing trees, thatís another major source of income."

Sixth is a massive program of tourism. "So that we can be like Thailand or Malaysia with 8,9, 10 million tourists a year. We can open our gates to the Chinese in the north, maybe, I donít know. If they come to the Philippines like they come to Thailand, one tourist can perhaps create one job"

But he said we have to build up our tourist infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, airports, seaports.

At present, he sadly noted that we are stuck at two million touristsó 1.8 million or 1.9 million, but we can have a turnaround as early next year through a "massive, determined, conscious, creative program to reinvigorate the tourism industry."

Integral to this, he said, is the finalizing of peace agreements with the communist guerrillas and the Muslim secessionists in four to six months.

Seventh, the Speaker admitted, is not his idea but Trade Secretary Cesar Purisimaís. This calls for the creation of a national infrastructure corporation to create seaports, airports, railways, dams, irrigation, with the seed money coming from government and the balance through a revitalized Build-Operate-Transfer law.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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