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House starts marathon hearing on proposed P1.816-Trillion national budget

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The House of Representatives on Monday began its marathon hearing on the proposed P1.816 trillion national budget for 2012.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, at the hearing of the House committee on appropriations, said the government will beef up collection of taxes on estate and professionals in efforts to enhance revenues instead of resorting to new taxes.

He said the Aquino government would tap potential revenues by broadening the base of taxpayers from among the professionals and self-employed, make up only less than 10 percent of individual income taxes.

Purisima noted the estate taxes collected in the past seven years amounted to about P1 billion only.

As part of the government's financing program, the Finance chief said the administration will continue to resort to Official Development Assistance (ODA) and pursue debt exchanges and debt swap.

For 2012, he said the government projects revenue collection to increase to 14.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

For his part, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor Amando Tetangco said inflation rate targets for 2012 is being kept between three percent and five percent.

He said the government will also use the average oil cost of US$ 90 per barrel to US$ 115 per barrel this year, and US$ 90 per barrel to US$ 110 per barrel for 2012 in its projections.

During the hearing, lawmakers grilled the economic team of President Benigno S. Aquino III over the unreleased portions of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly referred to as "pork barrel."

Davao del Sur Rep. Mark Douglas Cagas, a member of the minority bloc, complained on the delays in the release of the first tranche of his PDAF, despite submitting the requirements a year ago.

"This representation has suffered so much already because the PDAF has not been released, and yet we pay so much taxes compared to other provinces," he said.

Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad said there might have been issues with Cagas’ request for PDAF, since disbursements of funds follow a strict rule.

Cagas, however, said he only allotted his "pork" to projects that can be easily qualified, including assistance to hospitals, schools, and barangays.
"Gaano po ba kahirap i-qualify ‘yung assistance sa may sakit? ‘Yung pambigay sa Davao Medical Center? Sa mga ospital? Mahirap po ba iyon (How difficult is it to qualify health assistance for the poor? Funds intended for the Davao Medical center? Is this difficult to qualify)?", he asked.
Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco also questioned the DBM chief on the delay in the release oF the PDAF.

He also proposed that the 15-day period from the time the DBM receives the complete requirements for the release of the PDAF budget be imposed.

On the other hand, Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, chairman of the House ways and means committee, questioned the withholding of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local government units (LGUs).

"I want to find out from the President’s economic team what law they are invoking when they withheld the IRA of the LGUs in 2011 and 2012 budgets," he said.

Mandanas said the amount of IRA that has not been appropriated, much less released, by the national government up to now has already accumulated to approximately P500 billion.

In the proposed 2012 national budget alone, he said, some P60 billion from the IRA for the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays is withheld and appropriated instead for programs of the national government.

As provided by the Local Government Code, the IRA of LGUs is based on the National Internal Revenue Taxes (NIRT) collected by the national government. The just share of the LGUs is about 40 percent of NIRT, he added.

Meanwhile, Abad assured lawmakers that they will receive their PDAF, since the President promised the full release of the "pork barrel" without consideration of party loyalties as alleged by the minority bloc.

"I’d like to make this clear. The President said this during the campaign and he still maintains it -- No district will get zero from PDAF," he said.

Members of the House of Representatives are entitled to P70 million in PDAF annually to enable them to categorically name priority projects for government funding.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. earlier assured the lawmakers that their pork barrel allocations would be released soon so that the proposed national budget for next year would be passed on time. (Lilybeth G. Ison-PNA/PIA9-BST)




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