Friday, December 21, 2007

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez -

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is prepared to veto the 2008 budget if the House of Representatives insists on taking P17 billion from automatically appropriated debt servicing funds and diverting this to various projects, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said Thursday.

At the same time, Andaya denied claims by some senators about the supposed P30-billion presidential pork barrel, saying it does not exist.

What the president has been allotted is an P800-million contingency fund, a standby fund for emergency expenditures that is subject to audit, Andaya said.

Andaya said allowing the House insertion would incur "legal problems and fiscal risks because you don’t have the cash to pay for the P17 billion. Where will you get the money for this?"

He did not say where the P17 billion is supposed to go to, only that it was intended for various projects.

"Malacañang has nothing to do with this," he said, adding that he has already communicated the Palace’s request to take out the insertion to the respective finance committee heads of the House and the Senate.

But if Congress insists on the insertion, he said Arroyo might be forced to veto the budget.

"This early, we are giving the signal already about what action [Malacañang] might take if they insist,” Andaya warned the two chambers, which are meeting to reconcile their respective versions of the budget.

Because of the automatic appropriation of funds for such items as debt servicing, the Internal Revenue Allotment of local governments, and life insurance premiums, Andaya said what Malacañang is actually asking for is only about P770 billion of the proposed P1.277-trillion 2008 budget.

Andaya said the government will have to operate on a reenacted budget, at least for the first quarter of 2008, after Congress failed to pass the budget before going on Christmas break Wednesday.

But he said Arroyo wants a new budget to fund key projects and increase appropriation for social services.

He also said that, contrary to the claims of some senators, the administration has increased funding for health, by P5 billion, and education, by P17.8 billion.

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