MANILA, Philippines?President Benigno Aquino III, who used to have girlfriends who were reporters, makes a tempting offer to reporters: Come visit Malacañang for some cheese and pan de sal.
Mr. Aquino dropped by Tuesday night at the House of Representatives to celebrate the approval of the P1.645-trillion 2011 budget with reporters and later with lawmakers in their pre-holiday parties.
The President said he would likely be signing into law the general appropriations bill, which the Senate and the House ratified before adjourning this week, during the holidays.
?Yes, we will be signing the budget,? he told reporters in the middle of a Christmas party at the press center, a couple of hours after lawmakers ratified the bicameral committee report on the budget measure.
If he signs the measure before the end of the year, it will be the first time since the Estrada administration that the national budget is passed in the same year it was submitted.
?This is the first time that this will be signed on time in 11 years. This is a good start,? Mr. Aquino said, praising Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, chair of the accounts committee, for seeing it through.
No lavish celebration
In his first Christmas in Malacañang, there won?t be a holiday for the bachelor President.
He invited reporters to visit Malacañang during the holidays, but indicated they should not expect a lavish celebration.
?If you?re free on Dec. 24, 25 or 26, visit us although we?ll be working on those days. We have pan de sal and cheese,? he said, chuckling. He told reporters to look for Communications Assistant Secretary Rey Marfil.
After his remarks, he granted requests for photo-ops with reporters and TV crews and then proceeded to the lawmakers? party at the Batasang Pambansa complex?s South Wing in Quezon City.
Mr. Aquino developed ties with House reporters while he was still a Tarlac lawmaker for nine years, making it a point to attend reporters? gatherings.
He barely missed former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga representative, who was the first to show up at the reporters? party and stayed around for dinner before leaving.
Arroyo?s colleague in the minority bloc, Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, was unimpressed with the final outcome of the budget.
She questioned the bicameral committee?s decision to strike off a House-approved proposal that any savings from the P21-billion conditional cash transfers in 2011 go to education and health.
The Senate had objected to this because it would limit the President?s power to declare savings and realign these.
?Aren?t these an additional pork of the President?? Magsaysay said of the potential savings from the CCT that could be realigned by Mr. Aquino.
The President acknowledged that there had been some misses in his first five months in office.
?We still stumble every now and then, but rest assured, we?re getting better,? he said.