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PNoy eyes FM decree

For expanded power over Malampaya fund President Benigno Aquino III has ordered his allies in Congress to expand his powers to disburse Malampaya funds by amending the presidential decree that limits their use to energy-related projects, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. revealed Thursday evening. “The President wanted to tap the Malampaya funds also for job creation and poverty alleviation projects, [and] not just purely energy-related projects. I am very much in favor of that and the House will come up with a specific amendment to Presidential Decree 910,” Belmonte told House reporters during his birthday dinner at a Quezon City restaurant. Belmonte also said Mr. Aquino wanted Congress to retain the provision in the decree that gives the President sole discretion to disburse and allocate the funds, which come from royalties paid to the state by the Malampaya natural gas project. The Malampaya fund, Belmonte said, would also remain an “off-budget item” that would allow the President to disburse the funds without having the allocations pass congressional scrutiny. He said the President made known his wishes last month at a meeting in the Palace. “It was not actually a marching order but he only told us his wish to amend the Marcos edict following controversies surrounding the Malampaya fund. He is all for amendment and I support him on that,” Belmonte said. Belmonte said the specific amendment to PD 910 would delete the provision that limits the fund’s use to energy-related projects. “The President wanted this provision deleted and make specific provisions that would define how much would go to energy-related projects and how much would go to job creation and poverty alleviation projects,” Belmonte said. Mr. Aquino did not say what the breakdown should be. “We haven’t discussed how much percentage each of the items would get but I would prefer that the bulk of the funds would go still to energy-related projects. We will convene an all-majority caucus to discuss the specifics,” Belmonte said. Asked why the President wanted to broaden the use of the Malampaya fund when regions such as Mindanao are in the grip of an energy crisis, Belmonte said: “Job creation and poverty alleviation are equally big problems that also need to be remedied.” Belmonte also fended off criticism that the Malampaya fund was not being used to create renewable energy projects while the state encouraged private companies to put up dirty coal-fired plants. “We are No. 1 in the world insofar as having geothermal, hydrothermal, wind and solar plants,” Belmonte said. He said the President saw the need to amend the PD 910 after he saw that the “vague and generalized provision” on the fund’s use was open to “flawed interpretations” and misuse. “We have to understand that when PD 910 was declared by (the late strongman Ferdinand) Marcos, this was enacted when Marcos had both executive and lawmaking powers,” Belmonte said. “President Aquino no longer had that lawmaking power and so he needs Congress to do the amendment and that’s the first thing we have to do upon the resumption of the session, to plug the loophole that makes the money exit and to prevent the misuse of funds,” Belmonte said. Belmonte said the House would come up with a consensus or a unified stand on the issue. He added that there would be no change in the royalty structure of the Malampaya project. “There was no discussion as to the royalties because I believe the contracts were explicit in the number of years that foreign firms could operate in gas exploration and extraction. I think the contract says 25 years and renewable for another 25 years. I am not sure. We cannot just amend the contracts. The President’s wish only focused on the controversial provision,” Belmonte said.
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