The President finally enacted the 2005 General Appropriations Act (GAA), now logged as Republic Act (RA) No. 9336, after two and a half months of delay where the national government was forced to "reenact" last years P864.8-billion national budget.
"This is the first time in the long tradition of budget legislation we have achieved partisan and interchamber unanimity in approving a budget faithful to the original proposal of the Executive," presidential legislative liaison officer Gabriel Claudio said.
He said the landmark approval of this years national budget without presidential veto will seal off the Arroyo administrations commitment to reform and development as contained in the Presidents much-acclaimed 10-point legacy agenda.
According to Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, the new national budget now puts teeth to Mrs. Arroyos 10-point agenda - job creation, balancing the budget by 2010, provision of water and electricity nationwide, and education for all, among others.
"This budget accord proves that we are all one and committed inputting our fiscal house in order. Given our nations situation, we really do need a fresh budget, not a reenacted one, to cope with the demands of the present time," he said.
In compliance with the congressional mandate that gives the biggest chunk of the national budget to education, she okayed the allotment of P122 billion for the Department of Education (DepEd) and its attached state universities and colleges all over the country.
Relampagos explained that the budget earmarked for education will mean providing for 10,000 additional teachers to reduce the shortage of teachers by 30 percent and building 7,500 classrooms in those areas experiencing acute classroom shortage.
About P153 million was earmarked for additional textbooks to keep up with the 1:1 book-to-student ratio per subject per grade/year level, while a total of P928.04 million was also set for scholarships to about 58,085 students in tertiary and vocation leves.
The DepEd is followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) which shares the second biggest allocations with P48.5 billion for this year, then by the Department of National Defense (DND), with P46.2 billion.
Also getting a bigger share in the newly-approved GAA for 2005 are the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), with P43.9 billion, and the Department of Land Reform, with P14.7 billion.
"We know now how we can source the implementation of the 10-point agenda the President has launched from Day 1 of her election, and we hope well be able to hasten the implementation of such projects," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier said.
The budget signing ceremony held at Rizal Hall, Malacañang Palace was witnessed by leaders and members of the Upper and Lower Chamber of Congress led by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia.
Also present were Senate and House appropriations committee chairmen Sen. Manuel Villar and Rolado Andaya, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Rep. Gerry Salapuddin, and Reps. Prospero Nograles and Raul del Mar.
No members of the Senate and House minority bloc were, however, present during the signing ceremony, despite earlier pronouncement by the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the most dominant opposition party today, to collaborate with the administration.
Relampagos, who is temporary at the helm of the budget department due to the indefinite sick leave of Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, also said that about P56.6 billion was likewise earmarked for infrastructure projects nationwide.
These infrastructure programs and projects include, among others, P29,4 billion for road and bridges, notably Ilocos-Cordillera Road, the Halsema Highway, the Davao-Agusan Road, and the Trans-Panau Highway, including the completion of ongoing circumferential roads.
No more reenacted budget Villar
Sen. Manny Villar, chairman of the committee on finance, yesterday said that "alls well that ends well" in so far as the 2005 national budget is concerned.
The budget was finally signed by President Arroyo in Malacañang yesterday morning, witnessed by Villar and other lawmakers.
"Finally, the country can stop operating on a reenacted budget and start using the newly approved and signed 2005 budget. Now that we have put the budget out of the way, we can buckle down to work on other important legislative measures that our country urgently needs to restore fiscal health," Villar said.
"The budget is very important. It is necessary for any country for its efficient operations. And it is the only piece of legislation that the Constitution mandates. It is our duty to pass a national budget. Failure to enact a new budget every year paints a bad image of the country to the international community," he added.
"We have done our part. The budget is signed by the President, sealed and delivered for implementation. We can now move forward with other legislative works and reforms that need to be done," he said.