Sunday, 30 December 2007

An Englishman's Faith in the Filipino People

By Antonio Palma

MANILA, Dec. 25 (PNA) - These days, it's so fashionable to give in to the belief that this country is hopeless, that it's catch as catch can and the devil take the hindmost.

But every once in a while, a story comes along that stands out because it highlights the best in every Filipino — the traits that we sometimes forget we have and that others have to see in us before we even remember that they exist.

Then, you realize that we're only hopeless if we think we are. And that we can actually do something to improve the lives of the people around us if we set our minds to it.

Many people have heard of the story of Dylan Wilks, the rich young Englishman who started a life of improving the plight of poor, homeless Filipinos by selling his BMW to build cheap houses for 80 families. But few people really know what led Wilks to do what he did two years ago.

Now Wilks has settled in Manila, where he has become one of the most prominent endorsers of everything good in the Pinoy. He was interviewed recently by Bo Sanchez for Kerygma magazine, the alternative Christian glossy, which is published by Shepherd's Voice.

Nowadays, when every politician seems to be talking about how to save the poor and the country without really doing anything, it's nice to here from someone who has actually dedicated his life to doing just that — one household at a time.

Dylan Wilks was born to a poor family. But at the young age of 20, he started a computer games company that made him a millionaire. Soon, Dylan operated in nine countries and ran his own TV channel. Then at the age of 25, Dylan sold his company for multi-million British pounds. He became the ninth richest person in the Great Britain under the age of 30.

But one night, while lying in bed, he was distressed by a nagging question that wouldn't let him sleep. "God, why am I rich?"

He asked if there was a reason for his immense wealth. Ironically, he also felt terribly empty inside. This, despite his ability to have any kind of pleasure he wanted. He had just bought himself a brand-new Ferrari and took one holiday after another. But he was discovering that pleasure was like fire... it constantly needed more fuel to keep it going. And he realized he would never be happy in the path he was taking.

One day, a Filipina friend visited him. She said she felt guilty going there because her plane fare could have built two homes for the poor. That made Dylan pause. How can you build two houses for that measly amount? He decided to investigate.

In January 2003, he visited the Philippines. And for three hours, Gawad Kalinga (GK) Director Tony Meloto brought Dylan to different GK villages for the poor. With his own eyes, he saw something that would change his life forever...

Bo: What did you see on that day?

Dylan: I saw hope. More than newly built houses, I saw transformed lives. We were entering rather dangerous slums, breeding ground for thieves and kidnappers.. . yet in the middle of that was an oasis... the Gawad Kalinga village. I saw people smiling, men working, children laughing... I've seen many other projects in South East Asia and across the world. And I've never seen anything like GK. This was different. This really worked!

Bo: So what did you do after your trip?

Dylan: I went back to England. I saw my BMW parked in the garage and realized I could build 80 homes with it... and affect the lives of 600 people. I saw the faces of the children I could help. I called up Tony Meloto and told him I was thinking of donating US$ 100,000 to Gawad Kalinga and asked him if that was okay...

Bo: What did Tony say?

Dylan: He said, "No, I don't want your money."

Bo: Only Tony can say something like that. (Laughs.)

Dylan: He said if I was really serious in working for the poor, I should go back to the Philippines. So two months later, I sold my BMW and flew back to Manila. And in June of that year, I made a decision to stay in the Philippines and work for GK for seven more years.

Bo: Wow.

Dylan: I've decided to invest in the poor of the Philippines. Not in stocks or bonds. If I can help in uplifting the poor of this country, I can say that I spent my life well.

Bo: I presume your family wasn't too crazy about that decision.

Dylan: No! They thought I was brainwashed by a religious cult! (Laughs.) So my mother came and spied on me. But she was soon convinced of the beautiful work we were doing and went back home and told my sister about it. And my sister said, "Oh no, they brainwashed you too!" (Laughs.) But today, all of them support what I do.

Bo: You've made a decision to give up your wealth for the Filipino poor.

Dylan: I don't see it as a sacrifice. When you give charity out of pity, you feel pain parting with your money. But when you give charity because you love, you don't feel that pain. You only feel the joy of giving to someone you love. That's what I feel.

Bo: I hear you built an entire village for GK in Bulacan.

Dylan: I don't see it as my village. I just provided the materials. Architects, engineers, volunteers gave their labor. Together, we built 63 houses for the poor.

Bo: Amazing. What else do you do?

Dylan: I go around the world telling everyone that Filipinos are heroic. Because I work with them every day... the volunteers of GK.

Bo: What do you see in the Filipino that we take for granted?

Dylan : You're hardworking. You're always laughing, always eating, always singing. Even in your problems. You're loyal. And honest. Sure, there are exceptions, but generally, that's been my experience. And you have the bayanihan spirit. The pyramids of Egypt are beautiful but they were built by slavery. GK villages are more beautiful because they're made through the bayanihan spirit of the Filipino. It's especially this bayanihan and love of family and community that makes the Filipino more valuable than gold. If you take a golden nugget and kick it on the floor for 400 years, afterwards you won't be able to see much gold, just mud. This was what happened to the Filipino... for 400 years you were slaves and then you suffered under dictatorship and corruption. This is where the crab mentality came from; I don't think it's a natural Filipino quality because every day I see the gold under the surface of ordinary Filipinos. If we wipe away the mud by bringing hope and being brothers to one another in bayanihan, the gold will shine through and the world will see it.

Bo: Let me get personal here. I hear that you don't only love the Filipinos, but you've fallen for a particular Filipina.

Dylan: (Smiles.) Two months ago, I married Anna Meloto, the eldest daughter of Tony Meloto. She grew up with the GK work, so we're totally one in our mission. And yes, I'll be having Filipino children. The best way I can secure a future for my kids is to continue to help raise this country from poverty. Instead of building high walls in an exclusive subdivision to protect us from thieves and kidnappers, I will go to the breeding ground of thieves and kidnappers and help transform their lives.

Bo: Thank you for this interview. You don't know how much you inspired me.

Dylan: Thank you for being our partner in GK. I read Kerygma every month and I'm happy to see GK stories in every issue.

Bo: It's our immense privilege to tell the world about it and ask others to join the miracle.

Dylan: To me, GK isn't just Gawad Kalinga. It is a part of "God's Kingdom" in this world. Thank you. (PNA)

Saturday, 29 December 2007

A salute to Pinoy entrepreneurs (I)

By Nelly Favis-Villafuerte
Original article at The Manila Bulletin

This column started more than eighteen (18) years ago. Through all these years I have written many true stories about our entrepreneurs – how they started; the problems that our entrepreneurs usually encounter; and how the entrepreneurs managed to survive. Highlighting the fighting spirit of Filipino entrepreneurs.

Starting with this article, I am writing an 8-part series about Pinoy entrepreneurs. I have earlier written these articles more than four (4) years ago. The message conveyed in these true stories are timeless and still very relevant. I hope that these true stories about our entrepreneurs will someday be discussed in classrooms. There are many colleges and universities now that have opened up subjects on entrepreneurship. These stories can be taken up to supplement books by foreign authors on entrepreneurial development. Many times the policies and theories mentioned in books on entrepreneurship by foreign authors are not wholly relevant in our own business setting. Simply because our culture plays a major influence. Simply because the situation in our country is far different from those in other countries.

Even before I joined the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as an Undersecretary, I have been involved in livelihood, exports, and entrepreneurship. I have been all over the country preaching the gospel of exports and entrepreneurship. I have talked with hundreds of entrepreneurs. I have seen their products. I have heard the entrepreneurs talk about their lack of collaterals to support their financing applications with banks. I have seen small businesses collapsed because of lack of financing. But I have also seen exporters who pushed through their export business despite losses brought about by the non-acceptance/rejection by some foreign buyers of goods shipped from the Philippines.

The Filipino entrepreneur is a unique creature. Especially those based in the provinces. I am referring to their strong sense of commitment and dedication to employ more people within their respective communities. I am referring to their strong faith in an Almighty God. I am referring to their sense of humor even in the midst of crisis. And their fighting spirit. Probably because we Filipinos have been used to many problems. For example, we have been used to having so many typhoons, floods and other calamities. We have been used to have our streets flooded when typhoons hit us. Flooded streets are part of our lives. This is not how other nationalities react.

Many years ago, when I was in Iowa, USA, there was an overflow of water in the streets (about one and one half inch deep). This alarmed the people. People were talking about it and precautions were being broadcasted in the radios and televisions. Understandably, because this situation seldom happens in their place. Unlike here in our country, where floods come regularly during rainy season. What I am trying to say is that our stress level as Filipinos vis-à-vis other nationalities is high. We have been used to having many crises, problems and setbacks in our lives.

Filipino entrepreneurs are a blessing to our country. Without them, what will happen to our economy? Especially those entrepreneurs that are classified as micro small and medium enterprises.

Have a joyful day!

NLEX Phase 2 set; NHA relocating 30 Valenzuela families

Original report at The Manila Bulletin

MARILAO, Bulacan -- The National Housing Authority (NHA) has started the relocation of informal settlers in two barangays in Valenzuela City to Barangay Lambakin, Marilao, this province.

The relocation is being done to give way to the construction of Segment 8.1 of Phase 2 of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) from Mindanao Ave. to NLEX in Valenzuela City.

Some 30 settlers at Sitio Kaingin, Barangay General T. de Leon and Sitio Kabatuhan in Barangay Ugong, both in Valenzuela City, have voluntarily agreed to be relocated in Barangay Lambakin, Marilao.

Phase 2 of NLEX is part of President Arroyo’s Luzon Urban Beltway Program which is intended to decongest Metro Manila.

In the relocation of the families, the NHA is being assisted by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Valenzuela City government.

The relocation involves about 3,340 families, 770 of whom will be relocated to Lambakin, Marilao.

The 2,570 other families are will be relocated at site being developed by NHA in Barangays Bignay and Punturin in Valenzuela City.

The NHAsaid it is making sure that the informal settlers are relocated to sites with decent housing and facilities, and are near to their places of work.

The relocation process is expected to be completed in March next year.

Phase 2 of the project connects Manila to the 84-kilometer NLEX via Mindanao Ave. in Quezon City. (VR)

Filipinos optimistic about 2008

Latest surveys confirm high hopes despite problems
Optimism on the new year felt nationwide
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Despite the problems and difficulties of the nation in 2007, majority of Filipinos are still looking forward to 2008 with optimism, results of independent surveys yesterday revealed.

Based on separate surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, 91 percent and 84 percent, respectively, of Filipinos are hopeful about 2008.

The SWS survey was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 among 1,200 respondents, while the Pulse Asia survey was conducted last Oct. 20 to 31 also among 1,200 respondents nationwide.

Based on the SWS survey, optimism for the new year exists in all areas in the country.

High hopes among Filipinos are highest in Metro Manila with 95 percent, followed by those in the Visayas (94 percent), the rest of Luzon (91 percent), and Mindanao (87 percent).

Optimism was likewise shared among socio-economic classes with the highest percentage among the middle to upper classes ABC (98 percent), followed by the "masa" or class D (92 percent), and the very poor class E (91 percent).


Filipinos’ optimism is shared across all geographic areas, which is highest in Luzon with 89 percent, followed by the Visayas (85 percent), Metro Manila (78 percent), and Mindanao (77 percent).

Likewise, the sentiment is shared by all socio-economic classes with 87 percent among classes ABC, 84 percent in class D, and 81 percent in class E.

Meanwhile, nine percent of the Filipinos expressed apprehension in facing the coming year while seven percent will face it without hope and without apprehension or neutral on the issue.

Apprehension is highest in Metro Manila with 14 percent, followed by Mindanao (13 percent), Visayas (nine percent), and Luzon (five percent).

Regarding socio-economic classes, apprehension is more pronounced among the poorest class E (11 percent) than class D with (nine percent), and classes ABC (seven percent).

Friday, 28 December 2007

The Philippines: the region's biggest turnaround story

Best Stocks for 2008: Philippines Long Distance Telecom (PHI)
Original report at BloggingStocks

(For 25 years, Steven Halpern, editor of, has surveyed the leading financial newsletter advisors asking for their favorite stocks for the coming year. This article is one of 100+ ideas in the Best Stocks for 2008 report.)

"If China is Asia's ultimate growth story, the Philippines qualifies as the region's biggest turnaround story," says John Christy, editor of The Forbes International Investment Report.

"Long plagued by political instability and disastrous economic policies, the Philippines is finally getting its act together under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Economists expect GDP growth of nearly 7% this year and foreign investment capital is pouring into the country.

"My favorite stock for 2008 is Philippines Long Distance Telecom (NYSE: PHI), which is an easy way for US investors to get a piece of the action. It is the leading provider of wireless telecom services in the Philippines, with nearly a 60% market share.

"But wireless penetration rates in the Philippines are among the lowest in Asia, suggesting considerable room for future growth before the market becomes saturated. And broadband services in the Philippines are still in their infancy.

"PHI is currently trading at 13 times estimated 2008 earnings and roughly 7 times earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). That makes PHI one of the cheapest names in the emerging markets telecom universe. Investors in PHI also enjoy a dividend yield of more than 5% as an added bonus."


NEDA Press Release

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board recently approved PhP28.5 billion worth of agriculture and infrastructure projects with official development assistance (ODA). Approved were the Agrarian Reform Communities Project II (ARCP II), Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP II), Participatory Irrigation Development Project and the Greater Maritime Access (GMA) Ports Project.

ARCP II of the Department of Agrarian Reform costing some PhP8.65 billion hopes that farmers accessing productivity-enhancing interventions engage in agribusiness and sustainable livelihoods. Funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the project aims to increase the income of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and improve the quality of life in the ARC in a sustainable manner. The project will mobilize the community to independently generate resources and tap services of the local structures in the area and assist farmers and enterprises to be more productive and viable. It is proposed to be implemented for a period of 6 years, starting 2008. ARCP II also aims to stabilize land tenure, increase access to rural finance, and improve access to social and agricultural support infrastructures.

The PhP3.06 billion CHARMP II will be implemented over a seven-year period (2008-2014) by the Department of Agriculture with funding assistance from ADB. The project aims to increase farm income through sustainable farming and agricultural enterprises and to protect and conserve natural resources in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). CHARMP II is also expected to improve land tenure security in the CAR by formulating the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Protection Plans, registration/issuance of ancestral land titles and ancestral domain titles. The project covers 37 upland municipalities in the region’s six provinces, namely, Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and the Mountain Province.

The Participatory Irrigation Development Project costing some PhP5.11 billion will be implemented from 2007 to 2011 by the National Irrigation Administration. The project involves the major rehabilitation of 14 national irrigation systems and minor rehabilitation of 44 national irrigation systems. Project activities include facility upgrading/rehabilitation, drainage improvement, construction/rehabilitation of flood protection dikes, construction/rehabilitation of on-farm facilities, and rehabilitation of road systems and office facilities.

The PhP11.78 billion GMA Ports Project of the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Philippine Ports Authority involves the nationwide installation, establishment and development of 70 Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) ports for mobility enhancement, remote island development, and social reform support. About 87.71 percent of the total project cost or PhP10.33 will be funded by ODA from Spain while the remaining 12.29 percent or PhP1.45 billion will be Philippine government’s counterpart. The project will be implemented over a four-year period, starting 2008.

NEDA approves $3.3-B MRT-7 project --biggest ever project of Arroyo administration

The Inquirer reported Friday that the National Economic Development Authority has approved the MRT-7 build-operate-transfer project. The project cost involves $1.3B for a 20-km rail and road and $2B for property.

Universal LRT Corp., SM Group of Companies, Megawold Corp. and Israeli businessman Eli Levin are behind the project. The consortium will still have to sign a BOT contract with the government before the project can kick off.

For more details, see

Businessmen's wishlist for 2008

Excerpts of report from BusinessWorld Online

CONCRETE GAINS in terms of the fight versus corruption and smuggling, attracting investments, and the passage of crucial legislation top the list of things the business sector wishes the state to achieve next year.

These concerns, executives polled by BusinessWorld said, would make the country more attractive and boost economic development.


For Federation of Philippine Industries President Jesus L. Arranza, the hope is that government officials serve as role models.

"I pray all officials of the government would live exemplary lives so their constituents can follow their example. As for the constituents, they should not ask too much from the leaders or they might resort to stealing just to please them," he said.

On a more mundane concern, Mr. Arranza said he wants the Customs bureau to intensify its drive against smuggling and to be more transparent in assessing duties.

"All values must be published not only on their website but also in the papers ... this would avoid large discrepancies," he said.

"The value of imported products or raw materials should be furnished to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) for crosschecking," he said.

Peter L. Wallace of the Wallace Business Forum, meanwhile, hopes the government prosecutes tax evaders and makes sure that taxes are being collected.

"It’s time to get things done. There’s too much talk, too much scandals, too much distractions, but not enough work has been done."

Investment problem

The government, he added, should also admit a problem exists in terms of attracting foreign investments, noting that the country is lagging behind its neighbors.

Data from the United Nations on Conference on Trade and Development showed foreign direct investment inflows at $2.3 billion last year. While an improvement from the $1.85 billion in 2005, it was still low compared to neighbors like Singapore ($24.2 billion), Thailand ($9.7 billion) Malaysia ($6 billion), and Indonesia ($5.5 billion).

"There’s nothing wrong in admitting that something is wrong. Admitting it shows a sense of urgency on the need to do something about it," Mr. Wallace said.

"There is a need for consistency of policies, not unexpected changes. You cannot attract investors when policies depend on personalities," he added.

Henry Schumacher, executive vice-president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said he wants better infrastructure projects.

The Supreme Court, he said, could establish special courts for investment cases of national impact. He also wants speedier rulings and a change in arbitration rules to make it easier for awards to be implemented.

Congress, meanwhile, could provide competitive incentives packages, including income tax holidays, for select industries and exporters.

Also on his wish list are competitive power rates and adequate power supply, and he also urged the government to privatize its generation assets and independent power producers’ contracts without delay.

The Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 requires the privatization of 70% of the total capacity of National Power Corp. plants and IPP contracts before open access — which will allow consumers to choose their electricity supplier — is declared.

So far the government has sold a little under half its generating assets but has yet to begin the privatization of IPP contracts. Officials have said open access could be in place sometime next year.

Makati Business Club Executive Director Alberto A. Lim, meanwhile, is hoping that Congress will be more diligent in passing priority measures like the Personal Equity Retirement Account, cheaper medicines, and the fiscal incentives rationalization bills.

He also wants the government to drop the $450 million cyber-education project — which is hounded by controversy — and instead focus on buying textbooks and training teachers.


Thursday, 27 December 2007

PGMA outlines goals of her administration in 2008

Original report at Gov.Ph News

An upbeat President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unveiled today a mini-agenda of the key programs and targets of her administration in 2008 topped by the economy, rural development, education, the environment and the national budget.

Exulting over the peaceful celebration of Christmas, the President said “we are filled with optimism and hope as 2007 comes to an end and a new year begins.”

In her opening statement at the yearend meeting of the National Economic and Development Authority-Cabinet Group (NEDA-CG), the President said:

“This Christmas demonstrated the stability and strength of the Philippines and the peace it enjoys. We have a vibrant economy, the stock market is up and investments are pouring in. We are pushing ahead with our infrastructure programs for the betterment and progress of our people.”

She added that it is important that the benefits of the country’s improving economy and fiscal position seep down to the people nationwide especially the poor.

Kaya naman sa huling pulong ng Gabinete sa taong ito, ibig natin balangkasin at palakasin ang mga programa para sa kaunlaran at pamumuhunan sa lalawigan, at para sa education sa magandang kabuhayan at kinabukasan ng mamamayan,” the President pointed out.

This is the first time in years that the First Family spent Christmas in Metro Manila. In previous years, the President spent the Christmas and New Year holidays in Baguio City.

In her statement, the President said: “Paaabutin natin sa nayon ang capital, kaalaman, imprastraktura at teknolohiya na mabilis magpasagana sa lungsod. At pag-iibayuhin natin ang pagtuturo ng wikang Ingles at mga kasanayan sa mga trabahong agad makukuha ng may sapat na kaalaman.

Another key program of the government, she said, is to balance the national budget next year, two years ahead of the original 2010 goal.

To attain this objective, the President said “we shall redouble revenue efforts that we balance the budget next year while accelerating our infrastructure projects. These include the transfer or attrition of poor-performing Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Customs personnel, and more intensive anti-smuggling operations.”

She said the protection of the environment will not be sacrificed for the sake of development, and “we shall also survey the condition of water, land and air in and around Laguna de Bay.”

It was imperative, the President pointed out, that “(we) build our environment as a reflection of our commitment to our quality of life. People need to breath clean air and swim in clean water while we also build manufacturing and bridges to span our waters.”

She declared that what her administration will do, the priority programs it will undertake and its goals are clearly defined.

Maliwanag ang ating mga gagawin sa taong darating. Magdiwang tayo sa gumagandang hinaharap ng bayan, at ating balikating sama-sama ang kaunlaran ng bawat mamamayan, sa lungsod man o bukid, sa bisa ng dunong, imprastraktura at puhunan sa taong bayan,” she said.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Making do with the old

Improved airport services
By By Michael Punongbayan
Original article at The Philippine Star

Though the NAIA has been operating for years using rather old terminals and runways, the MIAA did its best to still improve airport services this year by focusing on services and people.

Knowing that the country’s premiere air hub cannot boast much about its allegedly aging facility, they decided to invest on improving Terminals 1 and 2 and uplifting service quality standards to best serve the public.

MIAA general manager Alfonso Cusi said passenger volume increased by 20 percent this year without any major problems on overcrowding.

From 17.5 million, he said the Ninoy Aquino International Airport serviced some 20 million passengers in 2007 because of better management and better personnel.

Just this month, the MIAA launched a service branding campaign which now tags the NAIA as a smiling airport using the theme “We Go The Extra Smile.”

Cusi and MIAA assistant general manger for airport development and corporate affairs said they were able to achieve a lot in 2007 by focusing on what they have instead of complaining about what they don’t.

“We were able to service the public with greater efficiency through people and system enhancement. Kaya makikita ninyo ngayon, walang pila,” Cusi told The Star.

He also took note of MIAA’s free shuttle service which now transports passengers from Terminal 1, Terminal 2, and the Manila Domestic Airport (MIA) for free.

“Safer, more convenient, at no cost to them and no threat of being victimized by lawless elements. That is again an achievement,” Cusi said.

“NAIA with the same facilities was able to handle bigger volume of passengers because of the system, the people, and how we did it,” he added.

Cusi explained that in so far as NAIA-3 is concerned, the facility, in the first place, is “not a creation of this administration”

He admitted that the MIAA encountered a web of legal and technical problems which has stopped them from opening the terminal for five years now.

Ang reason naman na hindi natin mabuksan ito is because of safety. We cannot compromise the public’s safety,” he said assuring that they are in a continuous dialogue with Takenaka.

According to him, the Japanese firm has submitted a retrofitting proposal but the same was deemed unacceptable because MIAA wants repairs to be absolute.

“With or without Terminal 3, we will show that we can operate with higher efficiency. We will have to contend with an old facility but an old facility does not mean it is not good,” Cusi said.

Light rail southern line works begin ’08, onstream by 2010

By Marian Grace S. Ramos
Original article at The BusinessWorld Online

THE LIGHT RAIL Transit Line-1 (LRT Line-1) South Extension project will begin early next year, a Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) official said.

The LRTA is projecting to operate phase 1 from Baclaran to Dr. Santos Ave., Parañaque City in April 2010, while phase 2 from Dr. Santos to Niyog, Bacoor, Cavite will be operational by July 2011.

In an interview last week, LRTA Deputy Administrator Cesar B. Chavez said they are only waiting for the $68-million right-of-way (ROW) acquisition budget before proceeding with the project.

"We got the NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] and Cabinet approval already. We’re just waiting for the ROW funding," Mr. Chavez told BusinessWorld.

The ROW fund, which is part of the $260 million to be provided by the government, will finance land acquisition and the relocation of informal settlers within the perimeter of the 11.7-kilometer project.

Last June, a memorandum of agreement was signed between the LRTA and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the ROW acquisition.

The LRTA expects to receive the ROW funding early January; it was supposed to be given earlier this month but the fund release was overtaken by the holiday break.

The Department of Budget and Management could not be reached for comment on the fund release.

Mr. Chavez said road clearing and squatter relocation will follow immediately after the fund is released.

Meanwhile, the competitive tender or bidding will be launched in February.

"Potential bidders would undergo the usual pre-qualification bidding," Mr. Chavez said, adding that in this stage, eligibilities of potential bidders are checked before they can join the actual financial and technical bidding processes for the $683-million project.

Awarding, construction

If the bidding goes as scheduled, Mr. Chavez said the contract will be awarded in April and the construction will begin in July.

Of the project amount, $260 million will come from the government, $30 million from the LRTA, and $393 million from the private sector.

In a related development, Mr. Chavez said the World Bank has renewed its interest in financing a portion of the government share as some representatives from the group were present in the bidding of the LRT North Extension.

"We’re not in the liberty to discuss it right now," said a bank’s representative, who declined to be identified.

Mr. Chavez said: "They’re observing how the bidding is being conducted, hopefully we can convince them [to grant the loan]."

According to the project’s implementation schedule, the LRTA is targeting to seal the World Bank loan approval in May 2008.

Previously, the International Finance Corp. (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector investment arm, expressed interest in funding the project soon as the government replaces the terminated SNC-Lavalin International, Inc. (SLII).

An IFC study noted that the South Extension project as proposed by the French-Canadian engineering and construction firm was initially overpriced at $823 million.

The South Extension project will be implemented through the contract-add-operate scheme under the Build-Operate-Transfer Law.

A 40-year concession agreement will be signed between the LRTA and the winning bidder, wherein the integrated system would be operated and maintained by the private sector.

Miguel Molina: Imported talent can raise swimming standards

Original report at The Manila Standard

MIGUEL Molina, the country’s top athlete in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games, has a simple formula for success: one race at a time and keep on swimming until one stops improving.

Sheer simplicity underscores the hard work and grit Molina showed in winning three individual golds, to go with the 400-meter individual medley relay.

Before the SEA Games in Korat, Molina was not sure of victory, especially since times have been dropping since 2001—when he first participated.

“I wasn’t swimming especially fast, and I wasn’t practicing as much as I have been in the past. I think you can tell by some of my times. They weren’t as fast as I expected to be, but fortunately, they were enough to beat my competition, except in the 200 freestyle,” said Molina in response to e-mailed questions from Standard Today.

“As far as targets, I just tried to focus on each race one at a time and do the best I could do in each one. In swimming, I think that’s all you can ask for. You can only control what happens between your two lanes,” he added.

The realistic attitude and humility set him apart from the stars of the last SEA Games, where he was named as the top athlete of the tournament.

Molina won the 200 breaststroke, considered as his best event, and the 200 and 400 individual medleys. He was a member of the winning 400-m medley relay squad and placed third in the 200 free.

Mark Joseph, president of the Philippine Amateur Swimming Association, said Molina “is distinguished by an understated drive for excellence. He plans long. He doesn’t waste time or goof off in training.”

He has been the vanguard of a new group of Filipino swimmers, who either have American or foreign blood, or who have gone to the United States for training.

In Molina’s case, he was born in Quezon City 23 years ago to Tomas Molina and Mitos Sacro, a former University of the Philippines track athlete. In 1987, his parents moved to Tokyo, where they work. He has a Philippine passport but has Japanese residency.

The new group of foreign swimmers was the high point in a poor Philippine SEA Games campaign, where they won eight gold medals.

It has opened up a quiet debate about how far can a national sports association tap foreign-based athletes, but Molina doesn’t shirk from this issue.

“I believe that instead of finding an easy way of getting results, there needs to be a grassroots program. In swimming, it is true that the great home grown talent have left, like Marichi Gandionco and Ryan Arabejo for greener pastures in the US, where the training is the best,” said Molina.

Molina explains that “it’s quite hard to train at a high level here in Manila because of the time it takes just traveling.”

“The traffic is terrible and swimmers need to wake up sometimes before 5 a.m. to get to work out for an hour or two before school at 7 or 8. Then after school, it’s another hour or so of travel just to get to work out then back home. Elementary to high school kids are spending almost 12 hours out of the house and almost as much time is spent in a car as is spent in the water. Not to mention the gap between the levels of high school swimming and college,” he said.

“I see this in terms of the globalizing world. It is similar to outsourcing jobs. However, one difference is that swimming is a sport. The essence of sports is to promote competition, so those home grown, though it may be tough with the circumstances, need to use this ‘outsourcing’ of imported talent as a challenge to help them improve in swimming,” he explained.

A graduate in international relations from University of California-Berkeley, Molina has been based in Los Angeles, where plans to return after holidays to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

With the super-strong opposition, there is a faint hope for a medal from the six Philippine tankers, who have qualified for Beijing. But Molina is level-headed enough to set a reasonable goal.

“It would be great if I could reach the semifinals [in Beijing], but I need to focus on just dropping time first,” said Molina.

In 2009, Molina would be 25, and would he still have the magic to turn in another fabulous feat?

“Two years is a long time from now, but hopefully I can keep swimming until I stop improving,” he said.

Filipinos will gladly wait that long for this sports hero, who wants to return after his retirement to help local talents.

President meets stakeholders in education for the 4th time

Original report at Gov.Ph News

Stressing that “knowledge is the greatest creator of wealth,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo met today for the fourth time the stakeholders in the education sector to set up the mechanisms needed to further improve the country’s educational system.

Today’s meeting was the fourth of a series of meetings with the education sector this month. The first and third meetings were held also in Manila while the second meeting was in Cebu City last Dec. 13.

“We are holding a series of meetings to feel how the stakeholders in the education sector are thinking in improving our education system,” the President said as she was greeted by members of the Coordinating Council of Private Education Associations (COCOPEA), Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri and Education Secretary Jesli Lapus.

Neri said the President has time and again stressed the importance of quality education in uplifting the lives of the poor and in improving the economy and that she wanted to leave a legacy of better education to the younger generation.

Thus, Lapus said there is a proposal that the government’s pre-school program must include children enrolled in Day Care centers.

“We have to start them young,” he said.

He said the program targets to cover 1.8 million private and public school pupils nationwide, including the 28,000 pupils in public schools without pre-school.

Another issue to be discussed during the meeting, Lapus said, is the retraining of teachers, specifically in English, in a move to further improve the English proficiency of students.

Lapus said a lot has yet to be done in the retraining of teachers and one solution he would suggest is rigid college curriculum and training to spare government from spending a large sum in retraining of teachers.

He cited that about 52 percent of teachers in Mathematics and Science need retraining.

The President has listed education as one of her top priorities at the start of her fresh six-year term.

“Our administration has spent more on human capital formation than any other administration in the past,” the President has said, adding that “Education is the foundation of economic prosperity and individual liberty, justice and self-worth.”

Philippine Peso Heads for Biggest Gain in 13 Years; Bonds Rise

By Karl Lester M. Yap
Full report at Bloomberg

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippine peso rose, heading for its biggest annual gain since at least 1994, on speculation Filipinos working abroad will keep sending more money back home. Government bonds gained.

The local currency has advanced more than 18 percent against the dollar this year, the best performer in Asia, as remittances climbed to a record. The amount of funds sent home increased 15.2 percent to a record in the first 10 months of the year. They account for about a 10th of the $117 billion economy.

BSP moves to channel OFW remittances to investments

By Jun Vallecera
Original report at The Business Mirror

IN addition to the need to vent out more foreign exchange than was possible before, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas wanted to encourage greater investment activities when the second round of forex liberalization measures was adopted.

Deputy BSP Governor Nestor Espenilla emphasized this point in a recent interview seeking to explain the meaning of additional measures that came with the upsizing of dollar purchases without need of documentation.

Measures as the lifting of prior BSP registration for nonloan-related guarantees issued by privately funded or government-owned banks or financial institutions in favor of nonresidents were really meant to heighten investments.

“These were measures adopted not so much because they help us manage better the financial system but because they encourage greater investment activities,” Espenilla said.

Manila’s poor investment-to-output ratio of more or less 30 percent is a matter of record and one of the lowest in the region.

It is a key determinant to whether or not growth in excess of 7 percent in the first nine months becomes sustainable going forward.

Espenilla said one way to ensure sustainability of growth was to ensure the regulatory environment lends to it.

“In addition to the need to manage domestic liquidity effectively would be to ensure that the foreign inflows translate to investments rather than just consumption,” he said.

Government data show consumption as one of the main drivers that pushed the gross domestic product higher the past three quarters, one that was fed by the remittances of the estimated 8 million overseas Filipinos sending home close to $12 billion as of end-October.

Espenilla said managing the liquidity in the system should not be a problem as long as they do not slosh around with nothing better to do than push prices ever higher.

Such a problem should not happen if the liquidity was put to good use via new investments, for example, he added.

The resident representative in Manila, Reza Baqir, said his bosses in Washington has noted the relative lack of investment activities given the kind of output the economy achieved from remittances and from foreign savings.

“Growth has accelerated even with the relative lack of investments. So with more of it, there should be a top-up,” he said.

He meant for growth to achieve phenomenal rates should the remittance-driven GDP number be boosted by investments.

No more NAIA-3 timetable

By Rainier Allan Ronda
Original article at The Philippine Star
21 December 2007

The opening of the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal III remains uncertain, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza said yesterday.

Mendoza admitted the opening of NAIA III cannot be definite since they have no target date due to safety concerns over its structural integrity.

“Actually, it’s not really a matter of targets anymore. What is important is to make it very, very safe,” Mendoza said.

At present, the mothballed airport terminal has yet to undergo remedial works to ensure its structural integrity.

Mendoza said they have terminated Takenaka Corp., the company sub-contracted by the Philippine International Air Terminals, Co. (PIATCO) to build the terminal, due to its refusal to undertake the necessary repairs on NAIA III, which foreign experts found had serious structural defects.

Mendoza said Takenaka still has to complete an unfinished two percent of the airport construction project.

Mendoza said they are now looking for other contractors to undertake the retrofit and finish the airport construction.

It was learned that even the repair of the portion of the ceiling in the main terminal building that collapsed in April 2006 remained unfulfilled.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) ordered a structural check of the NAIA III structures after a portion of its ceiling collapsed last year.

Foreign experts Ove Arup and TCGI subsequently recommended the postponement of plans to open NAIA III after it found serious structural defects that made the facility unsafe.

According to Mendoza, Takenaka had disagreed with the findings of Ove Arup and TCGI about the structural defects in NAIA III.

MIAA general manager Alfonso Cusi, on the other hand, said the repair of the collapsed ceiling was not made pending the inspection made by a team commissioned by the Singapore-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The ICC is hearing the arbitration case filed by PIATCO against the government’s takeover of the terminal.

Cusi said that the inspection team from Singapore conducted their inspection late last month.

The government took over the terminal in December 2005 after the Supreme Court declared the PIATCO build-operate-transfer contract to build the terminal null and void and disadvantageous to the government due to onerous amendments made to the original contract.

As a result of the takeover and subsequent expropriation proceedings initiated by the government, PIATCO and its German partner Fraport AG filed separate compensation and arbitration cases before the ICC and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank in Washington D.C.


On the 25th of December, the Inquirer reported that "the termination may not be permanent as DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza said Takenaka is asking for another chance.

"They submitted a letter of reconsideration," he told reporters. "MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority) is studying it."

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A Blessed Christmas and Wishes for a Year full of Blessings

And he went down with them
and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature,
and in favor with God and man.

(Lk 2:51-52)

(Painting at the Church of St Joseph, Seville, Spain
by Aristides Artal)

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Message of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

I am optimistic and hopeful as the year ends and a New Year begins. This Christmas holiday season finds the Philippines stable, strong and peaceful. Our economy is strong, the stock market booming and investments pouring in.

And when so many people all over the world are coming together with family, I want to recognize the 8 million Filipinos who work abroad, many of whom cannot make it home for the holiday. I wish to tell them how much they are missed by their friends and family here at home. And I also want to thank the many host countries for taking care of our hardworking and dedicated Philippine workers.

And finally, I call on every nation to join hands around the world and pray for peace and help the poor. There is no greater calling than to live in peace and free from fear of hunger and want.

Happy Holidays to one and all and as we say in the Philippines, Mabuhay!

Single body proposed to replace ATO, CAB

By Claudeth E. Mocon
Original report at The Business Mirror

A BILL proposing to abolish the Air Transportation Office (ATO) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and to crease a single, autonomous body got the support of local travel and tour operators.

As proposed, the new body would exercise jurisdiction over civil aviation, including supervision, control and regulation on matters relating to safety and security of aircraft, airport facilities and installations in the country.

In a statement, the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (Naitas) said the bill, authored by Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella, underscores the urgency of initiating regulatory and institutional changes in civil aviation, which it said, “would heighten the development of the tourism and travel industry.”

Earlier, Sen. Francis Pangilinan had filed a similar measure seeking to create an agency called the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that would absorb the functions of ATO and CAB.

The House version has been passed on third reading. “Tourism and civil aviation go together,” said Naitas chairman Robert Lim Joseph, adding that the latter is also service-oriented and, like the tourism sector, it is also a catalyst for economic growth.

CAA’s functions include exercising jurisdiction over the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport and Subic Bay International Airport.

The bill had been certified urgent by President Arroyo due to the plan of the US Federal Aviation Administration to downgrade the status of the Philippine airports to Category 2 by November 2007.

“In a sense, the measure [House Bill 3156] would help further liberalize bilateral service agreements, provided it is fair, equitable and not lopsided,” the group said, which also established Save Our Skies.

“We should identify and measure the benefits from expanding trade and tourism that could accrue from bilateral pacts.”

The head of CAB, which is under the Department of Transportation and Communications, is one of the members of the Philippine negotiating panel on air agreements.

Joseph recalled that it was during the Marcos regime when the government downgraded the then Civil Aviation Authority and divided it into the Civil Aeronautics Board, Bureau of Air Transport (BAT) and Manila International Airport Authority.

BAT was turned into the Air Transport Office (ATO), downgrading its capabilities and resources, according to Capt. Amado Soliman, chairman of the Air Safety Foundation of the Philippines .

For several years, the foundation, Save Our Skies and Naitas have been persuading policy makers to bring it back to CAA like in other countries.

“Now we see the light and we are thankful that even the opposition is supporting and rallying behind the priority bill,” Soliman said.

Korea to fund study on new Clark airport terminal

By Ding Cervantes
Original report at The Philippine Star

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga – The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KICA) has granted the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) a $2-million grant for a two-month feasibility study on a world-class passenger terminal at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here.

CIAC president Jose Victor Luciano told The STAR that he is recommending an airport terminal similar to that at Hong Kong’s modern Chek Lap Kok international airport which he described as “passenger-friendly.”

Luciano said Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza has doused plans to construct a mere “budget terminal” at the DMIA in favor of a full-fledged, world-class one.

The present terminal, built by the Americans before they left this former US military base in 1991, can accommodate only one million passengers per year.

He said $800,000 of the $2-million grant will be used to upgrade the facilities of the DMIA, which processed over 200,000 international and domestic passengers this year.

Asiana Airlines, Air Asia, Tiger Airways, Shanghai Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines have regular flights at the DMIA.

KICA is still deciding which of Daewoo Engineering or KOTI, both renowned Korean aviation firms, would conduct the feasibility study, Luciano said.

Once the feasibility study is finished, the government would seek funding for the new passenger terminal.

“Next year, we will sign a single skies policy with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus Korea, China and Japan and we expect this to add another 500 million passengers annually in the region,” Luciano said.

He said the single skies policy refers to flights between capitals of the signatory countries.

He said the DMIA is expected to benefit from such a policy amid plans of Middle Eastern airlines to also fly regularly to the DMIA and offer overseas Filipino workers from Central and Northern Luzon an alternative.

Luciano said this is one of the reasons why the CIAC wants to build a bigger and modern passenger terminal at the DMIA to be able to accommodate at least 10 million passengers per year in the next five years.

“The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is too congested,” he said.

He said the new terminal would occupy about five hectares near the existing terminal.

Luciano earlier said Japanese planners drafted a blueprint for a modern terminal at the DMIA, but it was found to be impractical.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

How DOTC is pushing the Philippines to the 4th World

Fish market at DOTC--paging the Ombudsman's office...
By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Would there be no Christmas gift coming from Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza for the millions of daily commuters using EDSA’s MRT Line?

More than a month ago, this column called attention to the looming disappointment on the part of EDSA commuters in the wake of talks that Mendoza is not about to support President Arroyo’s bid for a major infrastructure legacy along the country’s busiest thoroughfare.

It will be recalled that Finance Secretary Gary Teves had announced earlier that the government intends to refinance some P1.3 billion in obligations from the consortium that built the EDSA MRT line 3. The announcement generated enthusiasm and hope among EDSA commuters.

This was because the refinancing scheme is expected to generate some $485 million in savings which we all hope could be used fund the improvement of the current service, buy more trains and connect EDSA MRT with the oldest LRT line running along Rizal Avenue.

The refinancing scheme would have been a testament to the soundness of the economic fundamentals of the country. We are sure the President mulled the refinancing in the wake of the unprecedented strength of the peso.

The government has been prepaying several dollar-denominated obligations due to the display of peso power. It was hoped that the EDSA MRT obligation would benefit from the positive economic climate.

Is this hope about to be dashed?

Again, we reiterate our hope that the talks that Mendoza is not keen on the refinancing scheme would prove inaccurate. To dash the hope for a better EDSA MRT would definitely sour up the Christmas mood for millions who traverse this thoroughfare.

And if the good Secretary’s advisers are not keen on pleasing the commuter sector, they might at least consider the financial benefits that the refinancing plan could give the Arroyo administration.

But not acting on the opportunities is not merely to lose the benefits. It will also mean incurring costs that are burdensome to us all. It is public knowledge that delay in the consummation of the refinancing of the project translates into $5 million in unnecessary monthly interest payments. That is charged to our account as the Filipino people.

The delay or the junking of the refinancing plan could also result in the forfeiture of the opportunities created by the strong peso and the weak dollar. The government can now borrow the pesos to pay off with less local currency the $865 million of reduced dollar obligations at three percent per annum. Compare that to the 16 to 17 percent per annum at which we are currently paying off the full obligation – in precious US dollars.

If the dollar regains its strength or if the peso falters – which are not remote possibilities – then the country forfeits the opportunity for cheap funds. We take all the blow for this.

Then, there is the specter of costly and protracted litigations that could ensue in the wake of reports that the government is already in default as far as its payment obligations to the private consortium are concerned. Given the track record of the country in lawsuits involving private parties, the Philippines could end up losing not just the opportunity for lower-cost refinancing, but also its good credit standing.

We will all be big losers if the government gets locked up in a possible lawsuit arising from payment defaults.

But the biggest loser here will be the President herself. With the possible demise of the refinancing plan, she could lose this one single opportunity to do something good and right for her country. She risks disappointing the millions of EDSA commuters big time. There is already much expectation that the improvement and extension will come soon.

In fact, the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) has been announcing that it is bidding out the EDSA MRT extension project. That would only aggravate the public disappointment. The government knows that even if a winning bidder is declared, no extension project could be done. The EDSA MRT consortium still owns the rights to that extension.

Just recently, the LRTA again announced that two new groups have joined the pre-qualification for the MRT-LRT loop project. News items like this merely compound the looming disappointment.

Unless the refinancing plan is completed, nobody can legally undertake the project.

Can the public still hope for a Christmas gift from Mendoza?

It is the Christmas season. During this time of the year, hope is strongest. As strong perhaps as the dashing Philippine peso.

And we hope this strength is not put to waste by killing the plan for a better EDSA MRT.

A year of amazing economic victories

By Arnold S. Tenorio, Business Editor
Original article at The Manila Times

2007 will likely be remembered as the year when the Philippine economy turned in its biggest surprise in more than two decades. In the first nine months, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by a faster-than-expected 7.1 percent.

This expansion reduced the number of jobless Filipinos as well as those holding jobs but looking for additional sources of income. In October, the jobless rate slipped to 6.3 percent from 7.3 percent in the same month last year, while the underemployment rate slid to 18.1 percent from 20.4 percent over the same period.

With consumer spending traditionally strong in the Christmas season, the Philippines is likely to experience at least the same level of economic activity in the fourth quarter. According to two Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) surveys, business sentiment in the current quarter remains positive, with enterprises anticipating the holiday spending spree to lift revenues, notwithstanding a less bullish consumer.

The National Statistics Coordination Board said fourth-quarter growth may come in strong, citing its leading economic indicator, which registered its fastest ascent since the third quarter of 2002. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimates full-year growth to range from 6.9 to 7.3 percent.

Multilateral lending institutions agree, raising their forecasts for the first time in years (see table). In a recent report, the World Bank cited the country’s expansion as the fastest among middle-income peers.

In the past, similar growth spurts were cut short by serious balance of payment (BOP) deficits, as the economy’s rising import requirements and payments for foreign debt eroded the country’s dollar reserves, generated largely through government borrowings and meager receipts from the export of cash crops and minerals, the prices of which suffered from extreme volatility. This coupled with fiscal deficits characteristic of developing countries that try to lift their economies through massive debt-financed public infrastructure spending.

GNP outpaces GDP

Those days of scarce foreign reserves and huge public debts however are receding. While Philippine export performance still depends on electronics—comprising at least 60 percent of total goods shipped abroad—a huge diaspora of skilled Filipinos led to record remittances to families and loved ones back home, helping the country build up its dollar cache. This is why the growth in the country’s gross national product, which is a broader measure of economic performance since it includes Filipinos’ income from abroad, has outpaced GDP.

Consequently, the country’s BOP, which combines external trade and net financial transactions, has been in surplus for 34 months already. The country’s dollar reserves are at a record $32.7 billion at end-November.

The government has trimmed its debt to about 60 percent of GDP while the public sector reverted to a surplus, its first since the Asian financial crisis struck. It is also reducing its funding shortfall aided by new tax laws and declining interest payments, partly due to the remittance-led appreciation of the peso.

In the first 11 months of the year, the government turned in a revenue surplus of P12.6 billion, putting it on track to balancing its budget ahead of next year. Wiping out the fiscal deficit would mean the government would have more funds to prime the economy.

Largely a consumer story

The Philippines’ recent growth episode has been largely a consumer story. In the first nine months, personal consumption expenditure (PCE) grew 5.8 percent and accounted for 70 percent of GDP. This spending has been fueled by the world’s fourth largest transfer of funds by overseas workers, after China, Mexico and India.

Considered a fickle source of growth, PCE in the Philippines however has been sustained by the continued rise of OFW remittances, which last year grew 19.4 percent to a record $12.76 billion. In the first 10 months this year, remittances have risen by 15.2 percent to $11.9 billion, already surpassing the full-year growth forecast the BSP set.

Government consumption is contributing as well to economic expansion as tax laws passed in recent years gave it more money to spend. In the first three quarters, state spending grew 10.3 percent, sustaining a recovery from the slump seen after the Asian crisis when revenues fell alongside economic output.

Nowhere has state spending been more robust than in the area of infrastructure outlays. This caused overall investment spending to recover to pre-Asian crisis levels, with fixed capital formation up 7.1 percent in the first nine months of the year.

Private construction complemented public spending, largely due to the sunrise business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, whose phenomenal growth is taking up office floor space faster than construction could cope. Also contributing to expansion is the home-building frenzy among property firms to cater to cash-rich OFW families.

Business expansion also has fueled the purchase of durable equipment, which turned the corner this year after dwelling in negative territory. Foreign direct investments, which are the kind that creates jobs, have returned to pre-Asian crisis levels, rising 22.3 percent in the first nine months.

Anxieties over US slowdown

Despite fears of a slowdown in the country’s biggest market, the United States, exports still managed to grow albeit below the government goal, with the latest data showing an up tick of 2.4 percent, way below last year’s 14.1 percent and an already revised target of eight percent for this year from 11 percent earlier. A rapidly appreciating peso had reduced export earnings.

In recent years, the Philippines has benefited from the decoupling trend, wherein Asian economies survive a downturn in the US due to brisk intra-regional trade. Trade with the world’s fastest growing economy, China, for example, has risen by nearly 30 percent, as the mainland is now the Philippines’ fourth-biggest market next to Japan.

The slowdown in exports is mirrored in the weak performance of manufacturing, which inched up by just 3.6 percent in the first three quarters, slowing from 4.5 percent the previous year. Even though manufacturing comprised the bulk of industry, this sector still managed to grow by 6.8 percent.

Leading this growth is mining and quarrying, which ended its contraction to surge by 24.2 percent so far this year. The huge interest in mining has awakened many listed companies from decades-long slumber.

The positive outlook for this subsector can be seen from the multitude of foreign tie-ups and supply deals struck left and right, as companies try to fill the huge appetite for minerals by developing countries like China. Recently, NiHAO Mineral Resources International Inc. signed a long-term contract with a unit of the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton.

Another subsector witnessing robust growth is construction due to the phenomenal rise of the BPO industry and the recovery in public spending on infrastructure. Growth for the subsector so far has averaged 19.3 percent. Consultancy firm Colliers International sees office space supply barely catching up with demand. This explains the year-to-date 26-percent rise in premium grade rentals so far this year.

Services half of GDP

Even as industry turned in decent growth, the Philippine story remains pretty much about services, which accounted for at nearly half of GDP and expanded by 8.2 percent.

The trade subsector, comprising 15 percent of GDP, led growth, a reflection of the largely consumer-driven economy. This can be gleaned from the rise of more malls, with industry leader SM putting up additional shopping centers in areas outside Metro Manila. With retail revenues of P65.2 billion, the group accounted for nearly 40 percent of the subsector’s total income.

Transportation, communication and storage proved resilient, as telecom companies posted double-digit growth, defying forecasts of a slowdown premised on the local cell-phone market’s supposed saturation. In a survey, AC Nielsen said that 45 percent of Filipinos polled including OFW beneficiaries would buy a new phone in the coming months.

But the telecom industry’s growth was also due to the strength of its nonvoice business, as industry leader PLDT said half of its revenues were due to this segment of its operations. It sees this business, which caters to the growing number of BPOs and call centers, exceeding its revenue contribution by more than half in the coming years.

Given the bullish outlook for this segment, telcos are expanding their capacity in broadband and similar technologies. Again, PLDT has invested in a multinational effort to build another international backbone in anticipation of this growth.

Finance expansion fastest

Not to be left behind is the finance subsector, which posted the fastest expansion among services at 11.5 percent, as banks brought down their bad loan ratios to pre-crisis levels even as their capital buildup allowed them to generate more revenues form more and better quality assets. Bank lending has picked up to its quickest at 7.1 percent, thanks largely to record low interest rates.

Indeed, three successive cuts by the BSP in its overnight rates saw market rates dip to record lows. This was partly due to the government’s improving finances, as a narrowing fiscal deficit allowed it to reduce its borrowings. It plans to reduce its funding gap to P63 billion this year, which is likely after a successful sales binge of key assets, including crown jewels in the energy sector.

Also responsible for the low rates is a benign inflation environment, as price increases slowed to record lows, partly owing to more robust external trade, as cheap imports brought about by a strong peso and healthy dollar reserves tempered domestic inflation.

The benign inflation outlook has led banks, such as industry leaders Metrobank and BPI to offer low interest rates for long-term loans, such as for housing, to match the cheap funding they raised to build up their capital.

Modest agriculture growth

The exception this year however has been the agriculture sector, as growth suffered from a prolonged dry spell. Comprising a fifth of the economy, this sector’s expansion was kept at 4.7 percent in the first three quarters, with officials pessimistic about meeting full-year targets.

In any event, observers have conceded the country’s respectable growth this year. Moving forward, lingering financial market turmoil caused by the US sub prime mortgage crisis as well as near record oil prices may however dampen economic expansion.

According to the Asian Development Bank, growth will remain intact but would slow down a bit next year due to the impact of these external factors. The country’s economic managers raised their forecast GDP growth next year, but kept it below this year’s emerging figure.

2008: Pump priming needed

The BSP said businessmen it polled still were optimistic that this year’s economic performance would spill over to 2008. In the first quarter alone, respondents plan to expand capacity and hire more workers.

Given the expected slowdown of exports and domestic consumption, state-led pump priming would be key to propping up the economy next year. In light of the government’s reliance on asset sales for its capital spending this year, addressing its perennial tax collection shortfall would be crucial in 2008.

What the Philippines should do about sports

Posted by Rick Olivares

1) Replace all our sports leaders from all agencies. Every last one of them. It’s time for a blood transfusion. The longer these people become entrenched in the sport, it becomes their personal fiefdom. Get younger people to run things with a mandate for real change in three or four years with the barometer being the immediate SEA Games and other competitions. Their tenure will be scrutinized by a review panel based on merit and output. Not the number of allies they have in the regional associations.

2) Get major corporations to sponsor certain teams or sports (with certain checks and balances). Give them tax cuts in return. After all, those taxes are not spent wisely anyway and end up in some jackass’ pockets. No politicos please. They use the sport for photo ops when they know nothing anyway. After all they should concentrate or implementing laws and effecting positive change, not going to Las Vegas when our boxers have a fight. Use Trillanes’ pork barrel to sponsor these teams. He doesn’t need it anyway.

3) Rather than send some of our athletes for training abroad for a few weeks (believe me it helps but when they get back here, our facilities are so bad, the routine light miles away that they lapse back into old habits), bring over foreign coaches/consultants say – a Brazilian for football, a Chinese national for gymnastics or swimming, and the Japanese for baseball. And get others who are true world champions of their sports. They will immediately be able to identify what’s wrong with our technique and what needs to be done. And their recommendations should be given immediate support (of course with proper review). Look our local coaches had their chances too right? If we can send our nurses, doctors, and engineers abroad to steal their jobs they can do the same too. Screw those rights about pure Filipinos in these professions. We ask for independence from the United States but everyone scampers to get a visa and a green card if possible.

4) Get that homegrown program in place (tap the schools as centers of excellence) and limit the inclusion of the Fil-foreigners in our competitions. If they show up only for the games then how do we know about their readiness and if they truly play for flag and country? If they are serious about that then they should stay here and train with everyone else.

5) If our best athletes do not compete in the games (I know our billiards players save themselves for the pro competitions where there is serious money to be made), do not invite them at all for national team duty. Not even a one-time experience.

6) The only professional league we have is basketball. Time to have one in football and volleyball folks. If it becomes a reality then you will see the young train hard to become the best they can be because they have something they can graduate to after their education.

7) Oh, yes. An education. We should look after them because once their past their prime, what’s next? Another poor and impoverished athlete living in squalor bitter against the world.

8) Get a national sports center somewheres. All the offices will be located there so any information can be accessed immediately. Time for those old arenas like the Rizal Memorial Coliseum to be demolished with new and modern structures put in place. It’s a landmark, you old timers say? Look if they can take away the Christmas palabas at the old COD in Cubao and do away with the Fiesta Carnival then anything is possible.

9) And lastly, get better television coverage for the international sports events. Enough of the crappy NBN-4. And no channel 2. The last thing we need is showbiz in sports with Dyan Castillejo telling us what this athlete had for breakfast. Please.

Guess what? I still do care.

More OFWs opting to stay in the country

By Pia Lee Brago
Original article at The Philippine Star

More overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are opting to stay in the country to start their own business or seek employment instead of going abroad again, according to Commission on Filipino Overseas chairman Dante Ang.

Ang explained that the increasing number of OFWs who want to stay in the country presents a new trend of reverse migration in the Philippines.

He said returning Filipinos either want to raise their families, put up their own business, practice their profession or retire here.

According to Ang, Filipino students, businessmen, permanent residents and foreign citizens were returning to the Philippines because “they see a new Philippines full of promise and potential.”

“The stories are anecdotal, the statistics are now well organized and case histories are impressionistic but one gets a sense of a reverse migration, a new longing for home, a new sense of belonging, a new beginning, not for greener pastures elsewhere but for new opportunities and challenges in the home country,” Ang said.

Most returning OFWs come home especially during the holiday season to check on their investments, the progress of the construction of their houses, look at possible business opportunities they can start and the progress of their children in school.

He noted that the Overseas Employment Program has grown to 8.2 million Filipino overseas by the end of 2006.

Out of the 8.2 million, about 3.8 million are documented Filipinos, 3.5 million are permanent residents/immigrants, while 875,000 are undocumented.

He said OFWs have remitted an average $10 billion annually in the last seven years, which have contributed to the country’s dollar reserves, helping the government address its economic problems.

Ambitious Olympics quest in motion

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

THE PHILIPPINES’ ambitious Olympic quest was put in motion yesterday with the designation of Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella as chief of mission to the 2008 Beijing Games starting in August.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose "Peping" Cojuangco Jr. named Puentevella, also the POC’s first vice-president to, to lead the way in close coordination with POC secretary-general Steve Hontiveros and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William Ramirez.

"We are going to work together so we can realize our dream," Puentevella said. "President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is giving her full support and she will be directly involved in the fund-raising. She wants the gold medal in Beijing."

"This will be the most serious (Olympic) pursuit and once we go there, we will be ready," Puentevella added.

So far, nine Filipinos have secured berths to the Beijing Games and these athletes are from swimming, taekwondo, boxing and archery.

The number is expected to swell as there are countless Olympic qualifying events on tap in 2008.

By January, the PSC and POC will dispatch athletes to China for extensive training as part of the bid to end the medal drought. The last time the Philippines captured a medal was in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when boxer Onyok Velasco settled for the silver.

Before that, boxers Leopoldo Serantes and Roel Velasco took bronzes in 1988 (Seoul) and in 1992 (Barcelona). Another silver was produced in 1964 in Tokyo when feather Anthony Villanueva was robbed of the gold against Russian Stanislav Stepashkin.

GMA hands SEAG medalists cash rewards

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

US-BASED swimmer Miguel Molina, the 24th Southeast Asian Games best performer, led the long list of national athletes who were given cash rewards by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday at Malacañang.

Molina, obviously the star of the affair, also received checks for his silver and bronze medals as other medalists of the SEAG got theirs from no less than the Chief Executive.

The four gold medals the 23-year-old Molina won in Thailand hiked his total number golds won to nine after taking two in Vietnam and three in Manila in 2005.

Checks amounting to P10.3 million were distributed to the athletes in time for the holidays as Pagcor worked double time the other night to ensure its release to athletes.

Under RA 9064, a gold medal won in the SEAG is worth P100,000, while a silver is pegged at P50,000 and P10,000 for bronze.

The Philippines landed at sixth place with 41 gold, 91 silver and 96 bronze medals but emerged second overall in the number of medals next to host and titleholder Thailand.

The President even spent some quality time with athletes and officials after the awarding and urged them to go for gold when Beijing hosts the Olympics next year.

The affair at Heroes’ Hall was arranged by Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella, a major ally of the President.

"The President came back for us after spending the night in Pampanga and that only shows her concern for the athletes," said Puentevella, who was joined by high-ranking officials from the Philippine Sports Commission, led by chairman William Ranirez and Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr.

Also present were PSC commissioners Bong De Luna and Ritchie Garcia and newly-appointed commissioner Eric Loretizo, POC secretary general Steve Hontiveros and influential NSA heads such as wushu’s Julian Camacho and triathlon’s Tom Carrasco.

"We are looking forward to Beijing and we want everything to be in place by the first quarter of 2008," said Ramirez, whose agency is funding the training and exposure of those bound for Beijing.

Angel's Kitchen
Greenhills, Manila



Saturday, 22 December 2007

40T trees to be planted at Subic-Tarlac expressway

Original report at the Sun.Star Pampanga

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- About 40,000 trees will be planted along the Package 2 stretch of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) said.

Trifonio Salazar, SCTEx program manager for administrative support, said the planting of the trees will be jointly conducted by the state-owned firm and the environmental group Clean and Green Foundation Inc.

Salazar said the trees will include indigenous and endemic trees which are naturally and locally grown.

SCTEx Package 2 is from Clark to Tarlac.

"A cluster of 1,000 trees will be planted on every five kilometers on both sides of the four-lane highway. This will make the toll road a more scenic infrastructure for motorists and the traveling public," Salazar said.

About 21 varieties of local trees, like narra, molave and mahogany, will be planted along the roadway that connects the three economic zones in Central Luzon -- the Subic Freeport in Zambales, Clark Freeport in Pampanga, and the Central Techno Park in Tarlac.

Clean and Green Foundation Inc. is led by former First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos. Last September 11, the group visited BCDA to express interest in planting trees along the 93.77-kilometer expressway, Salazar said.

The project is part of the so-called "Trees for Life," program of the foundation calling for both private and government corporations to help in greening the country.

Under the project agreement, Clean and Green Foundation will nurture the trees for two years and then turn them over to BCDA.

Salazar disclosed that the greening of the SCTEx will eventually make it a tree museum showcasing local trees, with billboards containing pieces of information about a certain tree species posted along the highway.

He said the tree planting project conforms to the engineering design of the highway and the safety standards of the Toll Regulatory Board, which makes sure that the trees do not pose danger to motorists and will not adversely affect the power transmission lines of the National Transmission Corporation (Transco). (ABL)

Philippines See Foreign Investment Jumping 100% Next Year

Benjie Telleron -
Original article at All Headline News

Manila, Philippines (AHN) - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philipines central bank, on Thursday announced that it sees foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment would expand by 100 percent next year and reach $6.9 billion from this year's $3.1 billion resulting from positive outlook into the Philippine economy.

Diwa Guinigundo, BSP deputy governor said that according to projections made by the country's finance managers, they forecast net foreign direct investment to total $3.6 billion in 2008 and net foreign portfolio investments at $3.3 billion.

Net FDI for 2007 is seen to reach $1.2 billion until the end of the year because of significant offshore investments by a number of companies.

Earlier, the National Economic Development Authority said the country's gross domestic product or GDP, is expected to expand by at least 7.0 percent this year, beating a government target of 6.1 - 6.7 percent growth.

The better-than-expected performance was the result of the rise in government spending and personal consumption as more Filipinos working abroad also increased the amount of their remittances.

What Manila, Cebu and Davao need: Bus Rapid Transit


The Brazilian and Australian experience

The Dutch Experience: Eindhoven's Phileas

Psalm declares Aboitiz Power-led consortium new owner of Ambuklao-Binga

By Euan Paulo C. Añonuevo
Original report at The Manila Times

STATE-RUN Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm) has declared the consortium led by Aboitiz Power Corp. as the winning bidder for the Ambuklao-Binga Hydroelectric Power Plant Complex.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Aboitiz Power said Psalm issued to SNAP Hydro, a joint venture with SN Power AS of Norway, the Notice of Award for the facilities, which consist of the 75 megawatt Ambuklao and 100 megawatt Binga plants located in Benguet.

The facilities were bid out as a package. SNAP Hydro tendered the highest offer price of $325 million for the complex.

SNAP Hydro also bagged the 360 megawatt Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant, the country’s largest facility of its kind, in December last year.

Psalm’s announcement clears the way for the consortium’s completion of its financing program for the complex, which SNAP Hydro plans to bankroll through a 70:30 mix in favor of equity as against debt.

The Asset Purchase Agreement for the complex requires SNAP Hydro to deliver at least 40 percent of the purchase price of $325 million as upfront payment payable on or before the closing date. The balance of 60 percent may be paid in 14 equal semiannual payments with an interest of 12 percent per annum compounded semiannually.

The War of the Polls (II): Star disputes Inquirer’s allegations

By Rommel C. Lontayao
Original report at The Manila Times

First it was ABS-CBN versus rival network, GMA 7. Now it’s The Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer that are arguing.

The Star said on Friday that it stands by its claim that more advertisers are reaching consumers through the paper than any other major daily, reacting to a front-page story in the Inquirer alleging that it was making false claims.

It has stopped the publication of an advertisement making claims on its advertising reach after it became the subject of a complaint by the Inquirer. But the Star said it will continue to print similar advertisements, with the visuals presented differently.

Lucien Dy Tioco, the Star’s vice-president for advertising, said they have proof to support their claim made in the ad, which came out November 29 and carried the headline “More advertisers are reaching consumers through The Philippine Star than any other major daily.”

Dy Tioco added that the claim was supported by data from the Nielsen Media Research and was already presented to the Adboard.

The Adboard has issued a cease-and-desist order on December 6, stopping the publication of the Star’s ad for allegedly making “unsubstantiated” claims on its advertising reach and for containing images allegedly “disparaging” to its competitors.

The order was issued in response to a complaint filed by the Inquirer, one of the two other papers depicted in the disputed ad.

The advertisement features a top-view image of three people sharing a small roundtable and each reading a different newspaper. The papers were arranged in a way that they divide the table into three parts, resembling a pie graph.

The Star took up a larger part of the table area than the other papers, implying that it takes the larger portion in the pie graph.

The text at the lower-fold of the ad read, “The Nielsen Media Research Print Advertising Information Service shows that when it comes to advertising, we have a bigger slice of the pie than the other major newspapers.”

The advertising agency McCann Erickson disputed that claim, saying “the data presented does not indicate ‘more advertisers’ are reaching consumers through the Star, only that more ad space is purchased.

The Inquirer also complained that the inclusion of their paper and Manila Bulletin in the “misleading” ad had “cast doubts” on their performance despite both of them having a higher readership than the Star.

According to an article published Friday by the Inquirer, the ad’s visualization of the other major daily newspapers violates Section 2.1, Article 4 of the Adboard Code of Ethics, which says “no ad may disparage a direct competitor [same product] or indirect competitor [direct substitute] to make the competitor look unfavorable.”

Dy Tioco said the cease-and-desist order stopping the publication of the advertisement was issued because of the way the ad was presented, not because of the content or the idea of the ad.

“The problem is on the presentation of the ad, not on the advertising reach claim. We will continue to publish the other version of the ad,” he added.

Meanwhile, Inquirer Publisher Isagani Yambot said they still have to read the explanation given by the Star to the Adboard before making a reaction.

The Star-Inquirer dispute over the true figures on the papers’ advertising reach is not the only recent case of media organizations arguing on who performs better in terms of reaching the public.

Last week, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. filed a civil case against AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines for the latter’s gathering and releasing of allegedly erroneous ratings data.

ABS-CBN also linked rival television network GMA 7 to the alleged tampering of TV ratings meters in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, as allegedly claimed by an official of AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines.

GMA 7, meanwhile, denied the allegations.

Energy dept. taps SGV, University of Asia and the Pacific

By Paul A. Isla
Original report at The Business Mirror

IN a bid to determine whether price adjustments made by oil companies are reasonable, the Department of Energy (DOE), accounting firm Sycip, Gorres, Velayo and Co. (SGV), and the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the auditing of oil companies financial records.

Under the MOU, the three parties agreed to cooperate in reviewing the reports that will be requested from or submitted by the oil companies; to prepare a fuel-price reasonableness report; review and validate the amounts and computations on the fuel-price reasonableness report; issue an academic expert study and analysis on the reasonableness of the prices effected by the players; and have an enhanced downstream oil database in the DOE through improved data profiling.

As agreed, the DOE shall provide SGV and UA&P the needed information and data that are not privileged and confidential for the analysis of the fuel price reasonableness report.

UA&P, for its part, will determine the information needed to do an academic expert study and analysis of the movements of fuel prices, and shall provide both DOE and SGV such study and analysis of price movements.

SGV, on the other hand, will vet the fuel price-related quantitative information by performing certain agreed-upon procedures, which may include tracing the amounts used in the draft academic expert opinion or analysis to verifiable and/or general public information; and verifying the clerical accuracy of the computations used in the draft expert opinion or analysis.

SGV shall furnish DOE and UA&P a copy of the agreed procedure report.

DOE, using the results of work performed by SGV and UA&P, shall initiate improvements on its data profiling process.

David L. Balangue, SGV and Co. chairman and managing partner, said they (DOE, SGV and UA&P) have yet to agree on the period of cooperation.

They are supposed to meet January 15 to finalize the process, timeframe, periods and requirements from each party. Balangue said they will provide their service free of charge.

“We will just check the veracity. When they submit information/figures, we want to make sure what they submit is correct. And the way to do that is by looking at the underlying documents, reports and other sources –compilation of price and volume of importation,” said Balangue.

He said they will not simply rely on the submissions of the oil companies, but will rely more on third-party information from Singapore (Mean of Platts Singapore).

Balangue expressed the hope that the initiative will be institutionalized. “This is going to be a continuing concern of the transport and public sector. I, as an individual, am also concerned as to the reasonableness of oil and LPG prices.”

He suggested that they look at the years or period where there were several fluctuations of oil and LPG prices and relate this to the pricing that they’ve done.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes earlier said the DOE has sought the help of the SGV and UA&P to collect data on the financial operations of the oil companies in order to enable government to adopt a realistic program to ease the impact locally of the rising global prices of crude oil, particularly on the industrial and transportation sectors.

Reyes said this step was taken following a conference among representatives of the DOE, Department of Trade and Industry and the various transportation sectors, including transportation operators and drivers’ associations.

Also present was Raul Concepcion, chairman of the Consumer and Oil Price Watch, which is keeping a close watch on the trend of oil prices in the world and local markets.

“The data to be collected would enable the government to realistically assess the impact of the price of oil on the economy. He said the effect of the high prices of oil on industry was estimated at only three to five percent, while the transportation sector claimed to experience an effect of from 25 to 30 percent on their gross income,” said Reyes.