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President Aquino signs poverty-fighting budget

MANILA, December 27, 2010 (AFP) – Philippine President Benigno Aquino signed into law on Monday a massive 1.645 trillion-peso (37.3 billion-dollar) budget for 2011 which he said was designed to fight poverty and spur development.

The 2011 budget, which is 6.8 percent higher than last year, focuses on social programs and includes a controversial provision for 21 billion pesos in cash handouts to selected poor families, officials said.

“This budget demonstrates our commitment to solving the problems of our people at the soonest time. This alleviates the burdens especially of the most disadvantaged,” said Aquino at the signing ceremony.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said that 34.1 percent of the budget – the single largest allocation – would go to social services, showing the importance Aquino gives to helping the disadvantaged in this largely-impoverished country.

“The reform budget of 2011 puts our poor countrymen first. This budget puts into pesos the Aquino government’s unabashed bias for the poor,” he told reporters.

Abad also stressed that the budget contained special provisions to ensure it would be highly transparent, in line with Aquino’s promise to fight corruption at all levels.

“These general and special provisions require us to disclose key information on budgetary appropriations and releases using new information technology,” he said.

However Abad did not say how large the programmed deficit would be under this budget.

It is the first budget to be signed by Aquino after he won elections by a a landslide in May, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.

He has repeatedly attacked the image of graft that saddled his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo and vowed not to follow her example.

The budget was passed by Congress almost unchanged from Aquino’s original proposal and came in ahead of schedule in a sign of the increased cooperation between the new president and the legislature.

Aquino thanked the legislators for approving his policy of “conditional cash transfers,” where money is given to certain poor families.

Critics have said the policy is wasteful and will only foster dependency in a country where 33 percent of the 94-million population live in poverty.

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