House spends P3M for short visit of Bush

By Maricel V. Cruz, Reporter
 
The House of Representatives is pulling out all the stops to ensure that it is “presentable” for the visit of US President George W. Bush to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City.

On Tuesday Rep. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, chair of the Committee on Accounts, said that the House—which is taking cost-cutting measures to deal with the country’s ballooning budget deficit—has allocated between “P2 million and P3 million” to give a facelift to some of its facilities.

For starters, Barbers told The Times that the House spent between P20,000 and P30,000 for converting and reconstructing the coffee shop of the Batasan Complex into a holding area for Americans in charge of security arrangements for Bush’s visit in Congress, where he is expected to give a joint-session address.

Barbers said the huge amount had come from the House’s “savings” from January to June of this year, amounting to P5 million to P6 million.

Bush is expected to stay at the Batasan Complex less than an hour before helicoptering to his other commitments in Malacañang and in the US Embassy.

The huge amount was used for repainting, additional lighting, floorings and others.

Barbers said the budget should have come from the outlay of the House’s engineering department.  But since Congress allocated not even a single centavo for the outlay, expenses for Bush’s visit were taken from the savings.

The House has been carrying out a four-day workweek among other cost-saving measures to help prune the country’s worsening budget shortfalls.

Budgetary constraints, according to Barbers, are the reason why Congress decided not to allocate funding for this year’s additional outlays of all government agencies. Instead, these items were just incorporated under the “maintenance and other operating expenses” entry. 

Several congressmen frowned on the large spending for Bush’s less-than-an-hour stay at the House.

The minority leader, Carlos M. Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya, was surprised to find out that the House had allocated funds for the event, because the Accounts Committee usually says the House is facing budgetary constraints.

“It was really surprising to know that Congress has spent millions of pesos for the mere hourlong visit. Bakit bigla silang nagkaroon ng pera? [How did the money suddenly become available?]” Padilla asked.

Rep. Imee Marcos of Ilocos Norte, vice chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations, criticized the government for exaggerating attention on the event, to the extent of replacing the Batasan’s “own security men.”

“Why are we spending so much for the event when the government always complains about the ballooning budget deficit?” she asked.

Apolinario Lozada of Negros Occidental urged Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to tell the real score on the security system at the House to shed light on the reported plan of the US Secret Service to take over security at the Batasan compound.

Citing inside information, Lozada had revealed that the US authorities had asked the House officials to put more than 2,000 House employees on forced vacation beginning October 11 to give way to the event “for security reasons.”

“If the reports are true, then the American security personnel have become paranoid because they are assuming that all Filipinos are potential terrorists,” Lozada said.

01/10/2003

Bron : Manila Times Online

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