Philippine leader signs $49 bn anti-poverty budget

MANILA, Dec 19, 2012 (AFP) -Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday signed into law a 2.005 trillion-peso ($49 billion) budget for 2013, vowing to use higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol to boost programmes to reduce poverty.
Education, health, agriculture and a cash-transfer scheme for the poor are the key priorities of the appropriations, which are 10.5 percent higher than the 2012 national budget, he said during the signing ceremony.
"We designed this budget as an instrument to give the common man the power to control and improve his life," Aquino said.
He thanked parliament for passing earlier this month a controversial rise in "sin taxes" on tobacco and alcohol products, which is expected to bring in over $800 million in extra revenues next year.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the budget law includes 44.2 billion pesos for "conditional cash-transfer", up 12 percent from this year.
The three-year-old scheme gives up to $34 a month to the poorest families who meet certain criteria, like keeping their children in school and getting them as well as pregnant family members regularly to visit government health clinics.
Government officials say this gives their children a better opportunity to climb out of destitution.
More than 26 percent of the Philippines' population of about 100 million are deemed by the government to be living in poverty.

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