Philippine Senate approves $2.28 billion reconstruction budget

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 26, 2013 7:55 AM
Philippine Senate approves $2.28 billion reconstruction budget

MANILA. (Reuters) - The Philippine Congress set up a reconstruction fund of 100 billion pesos ($2.28 billion) on Tuesday after approving next year's 2.2 trillion peso national budget, 13 percent higher than this year's figure.

Wide areas in the central Philippines were devastated by typhoon Haiyan, the world's biggest ever storm to make landfall, that struck on November 8, killing more than 5,200 people and displacing millions.

The U.N. humanitarian office has been raising $348 million to sustain emergency relief and plan long-term reconstruction of island and coastal communities.

"The cataclysmic force that hit our country requires a serious response to influence significant rehabilitation and reconstruction of the communities battered by catastrophes," Francis Escudero, head of the Senate finance panel, told reporters after the budget was approved.

"We need to infuse a major financial foundation to recoup and retain the physical, economic and social viability of these communities."

Escudero said congressional approval gave the government more flexibility to respond to future natural disasters as well as rebuild communities destroyed by the typhoon and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on central Bohol island in October.

The government allocated 7.5 billion pesos in calamity funds for this year. The Senate raised the fund to 20 billion pesos for next year and added another 80 billion pesos in a standby facility to address reconstruction needs.

Earlier, the lower house approved a similar measure. The national expenditure law is expected be signed into law by the president next month.

Escudero said Congress was also rushing to draft a 14.6 billion pesos supplementary budget for this year, allowing the government to sustain relief operations.

The U.N. and other international aid agencies are helping the government draw up a long-term reconstruction plan, including the building of typhoon-resistant schools and homes.

An initial plan will be presented at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. A national disaster agency official said it would take two to five years to complete the rehabilitation of typhoon-affected communities. ($1 = 43.8650 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Ron Popeski)