Saturday, 7 April 2007

RP gaining in competitiveness push

By EDU LOPEZ
Original Article at the Manila Bulletin

The drive to compete and win in the international trade olympics is taking roots in government.

This was the gist of the report made by Fernando Cala, Jr., executive director of the Export Development Council (EDC) to exporters last week.

Only in its third month of work, the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) has organized its different task groups in six major areas of work but most important achievement was the growing number of government offices that have started abolishing fees and reducing red tape in the processing of export papers.

Cala reported that as of last week, 15 different offices have scrapped the fees they have been charging from exporters that range from a few hundred pesos to a few thousand per permit or clearance. Most of the complying agencies were those attached to the agriculture and trade departments.

In addition to the processing of export papers, Cala reported that 379 out of 466 towns across the country have adopted a simplified system of processing business papers while 324 of them have set up one-stop processing centers.

The NCC point man pledged that closer coordination and work will be made to also get results in other areas of concern determined as critical during the October 2006 National Competitiveness Summit.

These include the development of competitive human resources that involve business enterprises, government training agencies and the academic community.

Cala also informed the group that international development agencies from the US, Canada, Germany and other developed nations have started lending support to the first organized competitiveness program in the Philippines.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

'Microfinance 2.0': New Tools, New Goals and New Ways to Lift People out of Poverty

Published: April 04, 2007
Full Article in Knowledge@Wharton

Some of the major misconceptions about microfinance -- small loans of under $100 that enable Third World residents to become entrepreneurs -- can be summed up by what happened roughly a decade ago, when the pioneering Grameen Bank decided to help female villagers in Bangladesh enter the mobile phone business.

Alex Counts -- CEO of the related Grameen Foundation and keynote speaker at the recent Wharton Social Impact Conference 2007 -- said the idea met with the same concerns that have dogged the steady growth of microfinance ever since the concept emerged in the 1970s. "I remember hearing that ... this was going to be a disaster," noted Counts, an associate of Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and co-winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Critics said that when poor rural women hear a voice on the phone for the first time, "they are going to think that there is a ghost in the phone, and they are going to throw it away." If the women managed to get past that hurdle, the critics said, they wouldn't be able to understand the technology that modern cell phones use.

Critics also predicted the women would never earn money quickly enough to repay a loan to purchase the cell phones, which cost between $200 and $300. But, according to Counts, when Yunus returned to the village a year later, the first woman he spoke to said it took her about 10 minutes to master the device. "She said, 'Dr. Yunus, to ask me that question, you must have a very complicated phone!'"

Another woman in the same village had already memorized the country code for every nation on the planet. The Grameen program has since launched 220,000 phone businesses in Bangladesh and is expanding to Rwanda, Uganda, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Peso breaks 48.00 ceiling, trades at 47.95

From Bloomberg World Currencies
CURRENCY: USD-PHP
VALUE: 47.9500
TIME (ET): 18:43

Meanwhile, XE.com reports it at 47.9375 as at 12:40 Hong Kong time.

Battle over Open Skies heats up

By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star 04/05/2007

The battle for "open skies" continues to heat up as petitioners and counter-petitioners besiege President Arroyo.

The Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), after publishing full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, urged the Civil Aviation Board (CAB) to defend the country’s patrimony and sovereignty by resisting pressure from foreign airlines.

On the other hand, Clark Investors and Locators Association (CILA) president Frankie Villanueva squeezed through birthday well-wishers at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) to hand the President a petition for her to repeal Executive Order 500-A.

The President was at the Clark Freeport yesterday to activate the $9.3 million state-of-the-art radar system at the DMIA.

CILA and other petitioners have urged the repeal of EO 500-A and crafted EO 500-B which they want Mrs. Arroyo to adopt in its place.

"One of the centerpiece reforms of this (Arroyo) administration that is highly acclaimed by development experts throughout the world is the liberalization of the Philippine aviation sector," the petition said, noting that "the full utilization of the country’s extensive network of airports… is a vital element for the country’s economic development and the fulfillment of the vision to make the Philippines a transport and logistics hub for the Asia-Pacific region."

The draft EO 500-B is proposing that open skies be declared in Clark and Subic.

The FTA, in opposing EO 500-B, said it supports CAB’s strong position of carefully studying and weighing applications for increased air access to the Philippines.

"Since the country’s skies are part of our sovereign territory and national patrimony, flight entitlements by foreign carriers must be evaluated on the basis of reciprocity, the welfare of the local aviation industry and national interest," the group said in a statement.

They stressed that they are not anti-trade liberalization per se but are for calibrated protection and calibrated liberalization.

"There must be agreements of reciprocity and the domestic aviation industry must benefit from any possible opening up of Philippine skies," they added.

CILA’s petition countered that such reform "is being opposed by special interest groups that favor an environment of protectionism." It also belied the claim that the reform is a threat to national interest, saying rather that it is a threat to "vested interest."

They noted that "reciprocity since the ’90s has been defined in a broader sense to mean the exchange of rights, freedoms, and opportunities of equal or equivalent value."

"The entry of low cost carriers (LCCs) at the DMIA has led to enormous opportunities and economic value to Central Luzon," the petition said.

Economist baffled by Central Bank grip on key rates

By Rommer M. Balaba
Reporter
Original article at the Business Mirror

THE government on Wednesday reported the tamest rise in March consumer prices in 20 years, coming after a long series of low inflation rates, yet an economist is baffled why monetary authorities remain keen on keeping key policy interest rates unchanged.

“They [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] should not be overly cautious and let interest rates fall . . . that would foster greater output and benefit those in the lending sector,” Victor A. Abola of the University of Asia and the Pacific said in a telephone interview.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo L. Neri, in a memorandum to President Arroyo, said a slowdown in the annual price changes of all the major commodity groups except for clothing last month contributed to a 2.2- percent headline inflation.

Core inflation rate also eased to 2.6 percent from 3.0 percent the previous month.

“An ample supply of major food items such as meat, fish, and fruits and vegetables contributed to the inflation downtrend,” Neri, who is also director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, said in an agency release.

“I am a bit surprised since BSP, which is supposedly doing inflation targeting, remains cautious even despite inflation rates way below their policy rates,” Abola meanwhile commented.

The Monetary Board in its previous meeting kept policy interest rates steady, at 7.5 percent for the overnight borrowing or reverse repurchase rate and 9.75 percent for the overnight lending or repurchase rate. It also maintained the tiering scheme on bank placements with the BSP.

These rates keep banks from channeling their funds to otherwise more productive economic activities such as the housing sector, Abola claimed.

Other economists have described as a case of nervousness the BSP’s reservations that excess liquidity, which comes with lower rates, may threaten its 4 percent to 5 percent inflation target this year.

At best inflation would be felt in financial asset prices but not the consumer price index, they added.

“I think the BSP should review its tiering system and lower policy rates… which must be considered more for the short term [period] rather than the long term,” Abola said.

CIAC signs pact with Chinese group for DMIA feasibility study

CONSORTIUM TO DEVELOP PLANS FOR WORLD-CLASS INT’L PASSENGER HUB

By Jacob M. Cunanan
Correspondent
Original Report at the Business Mirror

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE—Plans to develop the legacy terminal of the sprawling Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here are underway with the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) and a Chinese consortium.

CIAC president and chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano said the consortium is composed of Beijing Urban Construction International Co. Ltd. of China, Cheong Construction Pte. Ltd. of Singapore, Synergy International Resources Group Co. Ltd., Liberty Builders and Development Corp. and the Philippine Regional Investment Development Corp., all based in the Philippines.

Luciano said the consortium will prepare the feasibility study for the development of DMIA Phase 1 expected to service legacy airlines and elevate the status of the airport into a world-class international passenger hub.

“The feasibility study will be prepared by the consortium at no cost to the Philippine government,” Luciano said.

The DMIA Phase I development will be donated to CIAC “which shall have the right to use all or any part of the said feasibility study in its own autonomous plans and operations.”

Luciano and CIAC chairman Nestor Mangio signed the MOA with consortium representatives Yuan Jing Xue and Edwin Ching in the presence of President Arroyo on Wednesday.

Projects under the Phase I Development Plan of the DMIA include the construction of Terminal 2 (T-2), an Airport Plaza, a Gateway Terminal, parallel and connecting taxiways, a runway extension, freight terminals, logistics area, an apron, a control tower, a fire station, and the Lufthansa Technik Phils. area.

At the same time, the President also witnessed the contract signing with Maiscor-Gate Gourmet for in-flight catering services for airlines operating at the Clark airport.

Luciano said Miascor-Gate Gourmet will invest an initial $1 million to provide in-flight catering for several airlines operating at the DMIA.

He said the in-flight catering pact will guarantee 4,000 meals a day and is expected to attract long-haul airlines.

The catering contract was signed between Luciano and Miascor-Gate Gourmet chairman Jovino Lorenzo Jr.

President Arroyo was at the Clark airport Wednesday to activate the $9.3-million modern terminal radar system that will make it a globally competitive, safe and reliable airport not only in the Philippines but throughout the Asian region.

Luciano said the Terminal Radar Approach Control (Tracon) at the DMIA is the “most modern in the country” and makes the Clark airport at par with that of other neighboring airports in Asia. The all-weather radar system can detect incoming and outgoing aircraft within a radius of 60 to 220 nautical miles round-the-clock.

He said the radar system ensures the safety of passenger aircraft and would speed up landing, departure, and air traffic at the DMIA, addresses the need of airliners calling for the installation of necessary facilities for navigational purposes.

“The radar is our response to the clamor of cargo and budget airlines such as United Parcel Service (UPS) and Tiger Airways of Singapore, Air Asia of Malaysia, Asiana of South Korea and Hong Kong Airlines of China,” Luciano said.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

VP de Castro awards land to 2,000 Laguna families

Original Article at Positive News Media

MANILA, Mar. 3 (PNA) - Vice President and concurrent Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Noli De Castro awarded idle properties of the Philippine National Railway (PNR) to homeless families of Alaminos, Nagcarlan and Los Banos.

“This is a fulfillment of the government’s promise to provide shelters for the homeless in Laguna,” De Castro said.

In Nagcarlan, around 1,200 families received their certificates of lot award. The awarding was a continuation of last December’s implementation of the asset reform program in Alaminos when De Castro awarded lots to 550 homeless families.

“With this awarding, you will now have shelter security after long period of residing here without security,” De Castro said.

Poor families in Nagcarlan rejoiced as they welcomed the Vice President who distributed some 800 certificates of lot award to beneficiaries.

De Castro said more families in the town shall be provided with their own house and lots pending the utilization of more non-core properties of PNR in the area for social housing.

He pointed out that these lot distributions are made possible through President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s asset reform program.

Recipients of land titles in Los Banos, on the other hand, roared as they received the ultimate proof of land ownership from De Castro.

Around 3.363 families are expected to benefit from the implementation of Presidential Proclamation No. 550 but only families were initially granted their titles covering a parcel of Camp El Ridge Military Reservation Area.

De Castro said aside from the non-core PNR properties, the government is also tapping idle military properties to meet the housing requirements of the homeless. (PNA)

Clark freeport as CL business hub soon - CDC

Original Article at Positive News Media

CLARK FREEPORT, April 5 (PNA) -- Electronics and semi-conductor producers are seriously considering to relocate into this freeport due to the unparalleled advantages that they expect to reap from the deal.

With the perspective of developing in this freeport zone, a new business hub comparable, if not better than what they now have in Makati, the producers of hi-tech components and gadgets have began thinking that a new announcement made by the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) favors them much.

Earlier, the CDC disclosed a plan to transform about 300 hectares of its prime real estate into a central business district similar to Makati.

CDC Vice President Ernesto Gorospe of the Business Development Group (BDG) said the members of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI) are interested in relocating here because of Clark's potential of becoming "the Makati of Central Luzon." SEIPI is the leading and largest organization of foreign and Filipino semiconductor and electronics companies in the country.

Gorospe said Clark has all the ingredients of becoming another central business district such as infrastructures, tax incentives and workforce availability.

He also said the area's flat terrain would be an advantage because this will be cost-effective in estate development, which is seen to complement highly accessible worksites.

Besides, he added, the area's topography is seen to facilitate immediate and future infrastructure developments with direct access to all modes of transportation.

Gorospe said the semi-conductor firms also see the advantage of Clark Freeport's direct access to air cargo facilities, which include the United Parcel Services, the world’s largest air cargo firm; and its accessibility to seaports in Manila and Subic Bay Freeport Economic Zone.

Gorospe added that Clark’s competitive power and utility rates; tariffs; and duty free incentives is an advantage to entrepreneurs, who are in competition in the global market.

Likewise, the availability of well-trained, highly skilled labor force that are fluent in the English language is also an advantage for Clark.

During the recent CDC's presentation before the SEIPI members headed by its president Arthur Tan, CDC also offers the highest possible return on real estate.

SEIPI learned that Clark is more than just a tourist destination. In fact, airport operations occupy more areas inside the freeport. The area is also being expanded for more industrial operations, especially for prospective locators who are into semi-conductor industries.

SEIPI accounts for two-thirds or about $ 27 billion of the total Philippine exports. The sector also directly employs 376,000 engineers, technicians and operators. It also enables the transfer of technology to Filipino workers, especially those dealing with the best practices in the manufacturing sector.

Gorospe said there are about 36 semicon and electronic firms in Clark with more than P5.07 billion committed investments for the next five years. the semi-conductor firms are expected to employ more than 11,714 in the next five years or so.

In 2006, the CDC’s Enterprise Operations and Monitoring Department reported that Clark has recorded $ 1.16 billion total value of exports of which some $ 790 million or 68 percent of the exports value came from IT-firms.

Among the leading export-oriented electronic firms in Clark are Nanox, Phils., which account to more than P62 million export value monthly; SMK, Phils., which has more than $ 2 million export a month; LNK with $ 1.5 million; Amertron with $ .159 million and Poongsan with $ .156 million exports. (PNA)

Peso ends at fresh 6-yr high; 48.05 per dollar

Original Article at ABS-CBN News

The peso on Wednesday closed at its highest level in in over six years, buoyed by news of record forex reserves at the end of March and strong foreign buying of Philippine stocks.

The peso closed at 48.05 per dollar, the strongest level since March 8, 2001 when it ended at 47.91.

In the session, the peso traded between a high of 48.05 and low of 48.165. Total volume reached $420.26 million.

"Strong flows to the stock market pushed the peso stronger for the third straight week. We may break the 48-level next week," said Banco de Oro market strategist Jonathan Ravelas.

The Philippines' gross international reserves hit a fresh record high of $24.7 billion at the end of March from $24.5 billion a month earlier, the central bank said on Wednesday. The reserves were equivalent to about 4.6 months worth of imports of goods and payments of services, the central bank said.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Lenten Message

Heroes' Hall, Malacanang, April 2-7, 2007
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4, 2007 | RELIGION

Wala nang mas hihigit pa kaysa pag-aalay ng Panginoon ng Kanyang sariling buhay matubos lamang tayo sa kasalanan.

Tayo man ay dapat ding maghandog ng sarili nating sakripisyo para sa kabutihan ng ating sambayanan at bansa, at laging magsikap na maging mapagbigay sa paglilingkod sa mga mamamayan.

Tulad ni Kristo, dapat nating pasanin ang ating krus upang mailigtas and ating bayan mula sa kahirapan at alitan.

Alisin natin ang galit sa ating mga puso upang wakasan na ang hindi pagkakasundo at hidwaan; maliwanagan ang isipan upang matanto ang katotohanan mula sa mga bulaang pangako.

Gamitin natin ang ating pananalig upang palakasin ang ating pagkakaisa at pagmamahal sa kapwa.

Idalangin natin ang kagalingan ng lahat ng Pilipino, purihin ang kadakilaan ng Kanyang pagpapakasakit at humingi ng kapatawaran mula sa ating mga kahinaan at kasalanan.

Ang pagkamatay ni Hesus ay nagbadya ng isang bagong buhay sa sanlibutan. Sundan natin ang Kanyang mga bakas upang makita ang sinag ng isang magandang bukas sa isang bansa na tigib ng sampalataya, pagkakaisa at tibay ng loob.

P25 billion from PLDT sale could be used for hunger program

This is a proposal of Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri. Read more at http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view_article.php?article_id=58748

Philippines March CPI up 2.2% on year

Original Article at ABS-CBN News

Philippine consumer prices in March climbed 2.2 percent from a year earlier, in line with the central bank's estimate and the slowest increase in nearly 20 years, the statistics office said on Wednesday.

The central bank had forecast an annual inflation rate in March of 2.0 percent to 2.6 percent.

The March inflation rate was the weakest increase since April 1987. Month-on-month headline inflation dropped 0.1 percent, in-line with February's fall.

The inflation rate in February was 2.6 percent, the lowest since December 2002. The annual inflation rate has fallen every month since March 2006 helped by lower energy costs and the peso, which has risen 6 percent in that period.

March core consumer prices, which strip out volatile prices of some food and energy items, rose 2.6 percent from a year earlier, braking from a rise of 3.0 percent in February's data, the statistics office said.

The base year for the data is 2000.

CEB to launch $ 13-M flight simulator

Original Article at Manila Bulletin

Cebu Pacific (CEB), the Philippines’ leading domestic airline, inaugurates its $ 13-million Airbus A320 aircraft full flight simulator today at Clark Aviation, Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga. This is the first and only flight simulator for Airbus aircraft in the Philippines.

After CEB’s recent partnership with Clark Aviation, providing financial assistance to suitable candidates for the pilot training program, CEB has taken delivery of its CAE A320 aircraft simulator last February 2007 from Seattle, USA for the said training program. CEB’s cadet pilot training program is geared towards supporting CEB’s rapidly increasing fleet of Airbus jet aircraft.

CEB President and CEO Lance Gokongwei said, "As CEB recently completed its re-fleeting program and announced the expansion of its fleet with 20 additional aircraft, we are very happy that we are now providing more Filipinos the chance to pursue a commercial pilot career. Those who undergo this training program will have access to the CAE full flight simulator."

The full flight simulator replicates in every aspect the cockpit of the A320 aircraft. It also reproduces the visual atmosphere that the aircraft appears to be flying in, including thunderstorms, clouds, and the landing approaches of airports around the world.

Liberal ‘open skies’ move defended

By David Cagahastian
Full Article at Manila Bulletin

Malacañang defended yesterday the proposed amendments to Executive Order No. 500-A which are expected to liberalize the airline industry and attract more tourists to the Philippines.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Romulo Neri said the proposed amendments to EO No. 500-A – which would reportedly open up the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) and the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) for the full access of foreign airliners – are expected to attract more tourists into the country and generate more tourism-related jobs, especially in Clark and Subic.

The proposal is being opposed by local airliners which fear stiff competition from foreign airlines when the amendments are signed and put into effect.

"It’s in their enlightened self-interest," Neri said of the proposed amendments to EO No. 500-A which local airliners fear could spur stiff competition in the airline industry if implemented. "They should be broadminded. In the end, if we liberalized our airline policy and more tourists come in, mas lalakas pa ‘yung negotiating stand nila."

Local airliners led by Philippine Airlines, Inc. and Cebu Pacific Air, expressed opposition to proposed amendments to EO No. 500-A which would reportedly be contained in a new Executive Order No. 500-B.

The local airline executives said in a position paper that EO No. 500-B is tantamount to a "unilateral grant of aviation privileges to foreign air carriers."

They added that the draft EO "would have serious adverse impact on other routes operated by Philippine air carriers, directly putting more than PHP150 billion in aviation investments and 15,000 jobs at risk."

But Neri explained that the proposed amendments would spur growth in the tourism industry in the Philippines, and, consequently, would generate thousands of tourism-related jobs to eventually eradicate unemployment and underemployment in the country.

Neri said local airliners opposing the amendments stand to gain more business not only in their domestic flight operations, but also for their other businesses, if the amendments are put into effect.

"Kung mas maraming turistang darating to a more liberalized airline environment, darami ang turista, darami ang pupunta sa malls nila. And the beauty of this also is that ‘yung local flights natin dadami ang demand," Neri said.

"I mean if we hit Thailand’s 13 million tourists annually, or Malaysia’s 16 million tourists, could you imagine all those people going to our malls, all the flights that have to be served to Boracay, to Davao, to Cebu," he said.

====
By Paolo Romero
Full Article at The Philippine Star 04/04/2007

Neri, however, said the President is fully aware of the concerns of the local carriers but even the provinces near the two airports, such as Pampanga and Zambales are already enjoying the economic benefits of an increase in tourist arrival.

The Philippines, Neri said, is attracting only about three million tourists annually. "If the country could match the tourist arrivals of Thailand and Malaysia of 13 million and 16 million, respectively, the country’s unemployment and underemployment would be virtually wiped out," he said.

"The beauty of that (influx of tourists) it reaches out to the rural areas that is why even rural folks will benefit because many of our tourism spots are in the far-flung areas," he said.

"Local airlines should be more broadminded. In the end if we liberalized our airline policy and more tourists come in, their negotiating stand will be stronger," he added.

Neri expressed surprise that Lance Gokongwei, president and chief executive officer, of Cebu Pacific also signed the petition when the influx of tourists would benefit his family’s retail and mall business.

He said more tourists also mean greater demand for local flights.

"Could you imagine all those people going to our malls, all the flights that have to be served to Boracay, to Davao, to Cebu?" Neri said. "They want reciprocity but their ability to negotiate better reciprocity will be more powerful if more tourist come in."

Neri said PAL would also benefit from the EO since the local carrier is also engaged in airline catering and has a joint venture with German airline Lufthansa on airline maintenance.

He added that Mrs. Arroyo believes that reciprocity does not mean "airline-to airline reciprocity." "Lets say you want reciprocity with Japan, the reciprocity there could be Japan gives us more aid, more ODA that’s reciprocity enough."

"In the case of Singapore, you’ll open up certain lines of their product to more Filipino products. That’s reciprocity enough," he said. – with AFP

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Residents affected by rail linkage project assured of amenities in relocation areas

TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2007 | PROGRAMS/PROJECTS
Original Article at Gov.Ph News

Relocation areas for families affected by the North and South Rail Linkage Project are adequately-equipped to provide basic amenities such as water, electricity, malls, schools and job opportunities.

Vice President and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Chairman Noli de Castro gave this assurance to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today when the latter visited Barangay 630, Zone 63, District 6 in Manila to check on the status of relocation procedures for 1,632 informal settler families (ISF) affected by the project.

The North and South Rail Linkage Project hopes to connect the northern and southern railways into a seamless and modern system envisioned by the President as a national railway system under an integrated Philippine National Rail Authority (PNRA).

Some 50 residents representing 1,500 households came out and met the President who motored from Malacañang.

Joining the President and De Castro were Barangay Chairman Doroteo Mabanan and several members of the Sannguniang Barangay.

During the interaction, the residents aired their concern over the availability of potable water, schools and sources of livelihood and jobs at the relocation areas.

The affected residents have a choice of either relocating to: Cabuyao, Laguna; Trece Martires City in Cavite; Bocaue, Bulacan or to be brought back to their respective provinces under the Balik-Probinsiya program of the government.

De Castro said the affected residents had nothing to be worried about as the relocation centers are not like the relocation areas of two decades ago that were characterized by tall cogon grass and really isolated from the rest of Metro Manila.

An additional 544 informal settler families (ISFs) are scheduled for relocation between April 2 and April 25, 2007 as follows: 52 – Trece Martires City; 39 – Cabuyao, Laguna; and 453 – Bocaue, Bulacan.

Teresa Abong, one of the residents affected by the railway project expressed relief upon being informed of the amenities available to them.

"Salamat at kahit papaano, magkakaroon kami ng kabuhayan doon," she said.

The President also allayed the fears of residents who would remain at the unaffected portion of the barangay, assuring them of the availability of basic foodstuffs through a Barangay Food Terminal (BFT) which would be set up in their area.

The BFT is similar to a Tindahan Natin convenience store, another government project which provides affordable basic commodities to the people on a larger scale.

The BFT will sell food staples such as fruits, vegetables, meat products, aside from the basic rice, noodles and coffee, at lower than store prices.

During the event, the President also turned over to Mabanan 120 Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) scholarship vouchers which qualified residents could avail of.

The vouchers consist of 50 for welding technology, 50 for call center agents training and 20 for butchering.

GMA’s chance at greatness

By Tony Lopez
Original Article at The Manila Times

On April 4 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo turns 60. Outside of Ferdinand Marcos, who served as president for 20 years, 14 of them under strongman rule, no other president will serve longer than GMA by June 30, 2010.

Mrs. Arroyo was installed by People Power 2 in January 2001 to begin a controversial presidency that will last for a total of nine years, four months and 42 days.

She is not the first woman president. The first and also the first beneficiary of civilian-military popular uprising was the average housewife and haciendera Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. Cory tried to undo the misgovernance of the Marcos years. Her inexperience surfaced and the military staged no less than seven coup attempts. Two of them, in 1987 and 1989, made her a lame­duck, crippled her presidency and ensured negative growth for the economy.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, is of a different mould. She knows what to do. She is an economist by training, experience and political bent. And the economy is the country’s biggest problem—how to make it competitive in a globalizing world, make wealth more equitable, and poverty less pervasive.

When she became president, she had lodged a decade and a half of public service—first at the Department of Trade and Industry, then at the Senate, where she steered major economic reform measures, including the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and then as vice-president in which capacity she adopted a modus vivendi as member of President Joseph Estrada’s Cabinet.

Despite a reputation for being a difficult boss, she knew how to spot, tap and inspire talent. “I have the right staff,” she says, in response to observations she has the right stuff. “I have a great, great economic team,” she enthuses.

The second president to be reelected (after Marcos), Arroyo did something no president before her had done—cobble 24 quarters of consecutive growth or six years, the longest economic expansion in the last half-century. The gross domestic product—the local output of goods and services—expanded by an average of 4.7 percent per year, higher than the population growth rate of 2.2 percent and enough to spike per-capita income from $1,000 in 2000, just before she began her presidency, to around $1,500 today.

Arroyo also did something no other president in recent memory has done without finagling with state finances—balance the budget. To bridge the budget deficit, she implemented higher taxes at a time of lower popularity ratings. Having fixed government finances, she got the grudging admiration and respect of creditors and investors.

The creditors improved the country’s credit rating and credit terms. Investors are coming—in great numbers. Suddenly, the Philippines is the best bargain in the Orient.

Nurturing a robust economy enabled Arroyo to climb back from the nadir of unpopularity. These days, there are as many Filipinos who like her, as many who don’t, a remarkable display of either simple indifference or nascent popular acceptance of her presidency.

President Arroyo promises to make the Philippines a First-World country by 2020—an ambitious goal, no doubt, but one that puts the country on the path to prosperity.

She is laying the foundation by focusing on two things—massive infrastructure spending and improving the quality of human capital through education, health and social welfare.

For infrastructure, she has allotted P1 trillion over the next three years—the largest spending spree ever to put up or beef up the country’s inventory of roads, highways, bridges, railways, ports, airports and the essential farm-to-market roads.

At the same time, power would be made cheaper, more reliable and readily available.

On the education front, Arroyo has ordered the return of English as a medium of instruction and the renewed focus on science and math.

Watch out for Gloria Arroyo.

NAIA 3 engineering flaws

Rey E. Requejo
Original Article at the Manila Standard Today

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal-3 may further delay its opening after engineering consultants hired by the government to assess the facility’s condition, found serious defects that will expose it to great risks, including possible collapse, a lawyer said.

Jose Bernas, one of the initiators of the anti-dummy law charges against officials of Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. and its foreign partner Fraport AG Frankfurt Airport Worldwide, said the findings of Ove Arup and Partners —an independent professional engineering consultant—were submitted to the government last week.

He said the firm found out that the facility’s “seismic provisions are either inadequate or missing, exposing earthquake risk, and the strength of concrete is below standard.”

Citing portion of the report, copy of which [was] obtained by Standard Today, Bernas said “70 cored concrete specimens yielded compressive strength lower than specified design. Of these, 43 and 23 yielded values lower than 85 and 75 percent, respectively. Twelve of the cored samples yielded concrete strength below 25 mpa (mega pascals). The specified strength is 40 mpa.”

About 30 percent of post-tensioned flat panels were found to have design deficiencies. The combined areas of these deficiency floor panel represent about 15 percent of the total floor area of the terminal, he added.

“If an earthquake strikes, the lives of estimated 10,000 passengers who are at the terminal during the operation, will be at high risk. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

The report cited non-structural walls, which showed cracks and no drawing details that may collapse in earthquake [sic].

Architectural defects, including the omission of [a] tunnel that would hamper the transit of passengers to domestic routes interconnecting the facility to terminals 1 and 2, were also noted.

“Unaided walking distances that do not meet bid documents exceed maximum length. More moving escalators [are] needed to meet standards,” the document stressed.

The retail and concession areas also exceeded bid requirement[s] but “poor mix,” particularly where 87 percent of F and B at fourth level; about 41 percent of the concessionaires located beyond security area that may not pass the International and Federal Aviation standards, Bernas said. [sic]

Apart from these structural defects, the engineering firm also found the toilets of the terminal to be undersized that may not be able to accommodate the 1 person per sqm during peak hours.

The baggage handling specified in the bid is 8,000 bags per hour, but actual computation showed that the facility can only handle 3,500 to 4,000 bags per hour.

According to Bernas, given the serious defects, the government should cancel the expropriation proceedings plan to take over the operation of the facility and have other parties come in to correct the defects for the safety of the passengers.

Carriers protest plan to open up to international airlines

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 10:48am (Mla time) 04/03/2007
Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Carriers on Tuesday protested plans by the government to grant foreign airlines full access to two international airports.

Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Air Philippines, Asian Spirit and Pacific East Asia Cargo Airlines called an executive order, yet to be signed by President Gloria Arroyo, a "threat to the national interest."

A full page advertisement in all major daily newspapers said this would give foreign airlines "full access" to two international airports just north of the capital, a privilege they claimed no other country would grant Philippine carriers.

The order also permits foreign airlines to pick up passengers at the two airports for onward flights to third country destinations.

This would allow foreign carriers to "operate their own network of international flights from bases in Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at the former US military base at Clark, north of Manila, and the Subic Bay International Airport, making them equivalent to Philippine air carriers in all but name.

"By bestowing a favored competitive position on foreign airlines, the (order) would have a serious adverse impact on other routes operated by Philippine carriers," the airlines said.

They charged that the change would put some P150 billion ($3.12 billion) in investment and 15,000 jobs at risk and also imperil the long-term growth of the tourism sector.

"The envisioned unilateral grants force the nation to give up valuable bargaining chips and put the government in a weak negotiating position" in any aviation talks with other nations, they warned.

The carriers called on President Arroyo to "refrain" from passing the executive order and proposed a dialogue with her to thrash out the issue.

Government set to approve commercial production of 7 high-yield rice lines

By Jennifer Ng
Reporter
Original Article at the Business Mirror


THE National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) is set to approve seven high-yielding rice lines for commercial production in line with the government’s thrust of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2010.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap, who is chairman of NSIC, said the seven high-yielding rice lines were developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The seven high-yielding lines are known by their coded names— IR71137, PR30138, PR31561, C6824, IR77186, PR30536 and PR27843.

Yap said that except for IR71131, which is recommended only for transplanted conditions, the other six lines have been found to produce good yields both in transplanted and direct wet-seeded conditions.

All seven lines, he said, are early maturing and are highly resistant to various rice fungi and pests.

Under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Rice Program, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is seeking to raise palay production to 16.23 million metric tons (MMT) this year from 15.33 MMT last year through the use of hybrid and certified seeds as well as increased spending on rural infrastructure and seed technology.

Frisco Malabanan, director of the GMA Rice Program, said the government is also looking at slashing production costs incurred by farmers by reducing postharvest losses by 1 percentage point per year and increase yields by 20 percent from 2006 to 2010.

The DA has allocated P400 million this year for its hybrid-rice program, which will continue for another three years, as the government targets to achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2010.

Malabanan said the use of hybrid seeds will ensure that the agriculture sector would be able to sustain rice production at an average of 3.34 percent per year.

Last year, 225,371 hectares were planted to hybrid rice during the dry season and over 93,000 hectares during the wet season.

This year, Malabanan said the DA is targeting to plant hybrid rice seeds to 400,000 hectares. By 2010, the DA expects total rice area planted to hybrids to increase to 600,000 hectares.

The DA said farmlands using hybrid seeds have posted a yield-average of 6.2 MT per hectare, while areas using certified seeds produce just about 4.5 MT per hectare.

Yap said he is also planning to build or repair irrigation facilities nationwide servicing 523,000 hectares. The DA is also eyeing the construction of 30,000 kilometers of farm-to-market roads along with other postharvest facilities over the next three years.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Big carriers buck SEAir’s fleeting plan

Darwin G. Amojelar
Original Article at The Manila Times

THE fleeting program of Southeast Asian Airlines (SEAIR) hit a snag after bigger rivals in the domestic market opposed the newbie’s tie-up with Tiger Airways.

Avelino Zapanta, SEAIR president and chief executive, said the delivery of two Airbus A320s has been delayed for two months because of the opposition filed by airline carriers before the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).

Last September SEAIR signed a lease agreement with Tiger Airways for the two brand-new 180-seater Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline will employ an additional 100 Filipino technical professionals, including pilots and cabin crew, to run its expanded operation.

The carrier was already in the process of recruiting 18 additional pilots and 32 flight attendants before the expansion plan was put off.

“Their ground of opposition is the speculation that SEAIR is being used by Tiger Airways to access domestic operations, which is completely false,” Zapanta told reporters.

He said Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Asian Spirit and Air Philippines have filed separate oppositions before the CAB.

“Their fertile imagination is being given credence by the CAB,” he added.

Zapanta explained that the tie up with Tiger Airways is only a business relationship, whereby SEAIR will lease two aircrafts from the Singapore-based low cost carrier.

In addition, he said, SEAIR will use Tiger Airways’ distributing system products.

“[The expansion will be delayed] until such time that the [leased agreement] is approved, we definitely can’t begin. But somehow this will be resolved. The elections fever is seemingly overshadow[ing] everything,” he added.

The new aircraft will be used to fly to Singapore and Macau from Clark, and double passenger traffic from 225,000 at present.

Zapanta also said that SEAIR plans to fly to Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

The airline will acquire four aircraft to retire its smaller planes.

“We are thinking to acquire four higher density aircrafts to replace our LET 410, a 19-seater plane,” he said.

“It’s under evaluation right now, but it will be this year,” he added.

Currently, SEAIR has a total of 11 aircraft, of which, four are Dornier 328 and seven, Let 410 UVP-E. It flies to 18 domestic routes including Caticlan (Boracay) and Cebu in Visayas; Clark in Northern Luzon; Busuanga, Cuyo, El Nido, Puerto Princesa and Rodriguez in Palawan; and Camiguin, Cotobato, Zamboanga, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao

The company posted a net income of P29 million last year from P17 million in 2005.

“We’re doing alright, that is why we are expanding. [T]he last two years have been profitable,” Zapanta said.

Feeding program to get add’l P4 B

By Paolo Romero
Original Article at The Philippine Star 04/02/2007

President Arroyo yesterday called on all sectors to help with the government’s emergency hunger mitigation program even as officials announced that Malacañang will release another P4 billion for the program.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who also heads Malacañang’s anti-hunger task force, said the P1 billion earlier released was not enough for the massive feeding program for poor families through the distribution of rice to schoolchildren.

"The additional P4 billion would be enough for at least 280 more days of our programs or almost a year."

Under the food-for-school program, a kilo of rice and other foodstuffs are given to school children daily as incentives for attending school.

Duque said that, unlike the school-feeding program, the scheme would feed the student and his or her family as well.

With the onset of summer vacation, Duque said, the program will be done with the help of local churches, religious organizations and other religious groups.

One of the schemes include having school children accompanied by a family member go to parish churches once a week to receive five kilos of rice.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is calling on all concerned citizens and non-government organizations to join hands with the government in declaring war against hunger through the food-for-school and food-for-work programs, where the poor and unemployed are hired by government for community service work and street cleaning operations.

"Fighting hunger is everybody’s business and we urge non-government organizations and concerned citizens to volunteer to help in this great endeavor. Let the fight against hunger be a vehicle for national unity and a platform of good citizenship for all Filipinos, here and abroad," Bunye said.

He said Duque was also tasked to reach out to various non-government organizations that are into social outreach activities and may have developed their own initiatives to help fight hunger.

Duque, he said, was given strict instructions by Mrs. Arroyo to ensure a strict accounting and complete transparency in the use of the P1-billion war fund against hunger. "Not a single peso out of the P1-B anti-hunger fund will be spent on the elections or to prop up any candidate’s image." – Paolo Romero

AFP urges public support on troops deployment in Metro

Sunday, April 01 2007 @ 01:33 PM BST
Original Article at News.Balita.Ph

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday said the public should support the military deployment in the urban poor communities in Metro Manila in view of the killing of one of its men in Tondo, Manila last Saturday.

"This incident is a clear manifestation that violence persist and lawless elements prowl certain areas in Metro Manila," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, referring to the killing of S/Sgt. Rowell Papa-an.

Papa-an is detained with the military Civil Military Operations Battalion and is one of the nine Army soldiers deployed in Parola, Tondo for the military's Community Organizing and Development training.

At least 260 soldiers are presently deployed all over Metro Manila as part of the training, which also calls on the soldiers to be involved in "limited engineering works" and conduct of dental and medical missions.

Top military officials also said the deployment is part of an effort to prevent plans by the communist New People's Army (NPA) to infiltrate the urban poor barangays and subsequently recruit potential fighters.

The deployment is being opposed by a number of leftist organizations, including Gabriela which has filed electioneering charges against the military for allegedly harassing its members and supporters in the barangays.

Military officials said Papa-an accosted a suspect who reportedly robbed Rodolfo Sevilla, a truck driver, around 4 p.m. Saturday at the vicinity of Road 10 in Parola, Tondo.

While accosting the suspect to the barangay hall, a motorcycle-riding accomplice of the suspect opened fire at the soldier using a cal. 45 pistol, hitting him at the back.

"Although wounded, he (Papa-an) still managed to run and tried to get into their barracks before he totally lost consciousness and fell into the pavement," said AFP public information office chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro.

Bacarro said Papa-an's companions rushed the soldier to the Gat Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Delpan, Tondo where he was pronounced dead on arrival by the attending physician, Dr. Jonh Cruz.

The arrested suspect fled aboard the motorcycle. They met an accident along Road 10 but were still able to flee. The motorcycle, which appeared to be commandeered, was later claimed by Axel delos Santos, 28 of Parola compound, Binondo.

Torres said Papaan, who left behind a 36-year old wife and five kids aged between 1 to 10, was in general office attire and unarmed when "he was killed while performing his sworn duty to protect the people."

"Hence, we are calling upon residents of the barangays where we are presently deployed to further strengthen their resolve to continue cooperating with us, and other security forces so that we can effectively put an end to the occurrence of such criminal activities," he said. (PNA)

44 Ilocos towns, cities ink peace covenant

Sunday, April 01 2007 @ 01:37 PM BST
Full Article at News.Balita.Ph

Forty four towns and cities candidates in the Ilocos region attended Palm Sunday mass afterwhich they signed a peace covenant initiated by the Police Regional l Office aimed at ensuring honest, orderly and peaceful May 14 elections.

Police Regional Director Chief Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil thanked all the bishops for their support in these endeavor held in 29 towns and one city of Ilocos Sur, two cites and five towns in Pangasinan, and eight towns in La Union.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

WB urges RP to focus more on tax collection

04/01/2007 | 06:51 PM
Full Article at GMANews.TV

The World Bank has cautioned the Philippines against relying heavily on non-tax revenues from the sale of big-ticket government assets to put its fiscal house in order.

Joachim von Amsberg, WB Philippine country director, said in an interview with reporters over the weekend that the government should put more emphasis on improving tax collections rather than relying on the proceeds from the privatization of government assets.

“The privatization revenues are one time revenues, they are not sustainable. They are positive reflection of privatization program that is on going but they are not substitute for the tax effort because they are just one-time sale of government assets," he warned.

Surge in foreign investments must be matched with increase in domestic investments -- Bunye

SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2007 | ECONOMY
Full Article at Gov.Ph News

The surge in foreign investments being pledged or already in place must be matched with an increase in domestic investments so as to propel the country into First World status at the soonest time possible, according to Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio R. Bunye.

In his column "The View From the Palace" which comes out tomorrow (Monday), Bunye said Filipino enterprise at all levels must take the lead in nation building by committing to meet foreign investors’ favorable outlook on the country’s economy.

"The expected surge in foreign direct investments (FDIs) is certainly good news for the people expecting more well-paying jobs, but we must continue to strive to match this with a stronger trend of domestic investments," Bunye said.

"Filipino enterprise at all levels must lead the trend for a nation we are building with our own hands and our own vision," he added.

"The stronger we can combine domestic and foreign resources to grow the economy, the faster our pace in joining the ranks of the First World by the next generation," Bunye said.

The Philippines’s identity as one of the top investment venues was buoyed further recently when Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) ranked the country eighth among 32 countries with the highest proportion of booming businesses in the world.

OFW, hot money inflows fuel surge in liquidity

By Des Ferriols
Original Article at The Philippine Star 04/01/2007

Domestic liquidity, a broad measure of money supply and deposit levels in banks, continued to surge in February, fueled by the steady inflow of remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and foreign portfolio investments.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that domestic liquidity, also known as M3, grew 22.4 percent in February, only marginally slower than the 22.8 percent growth rate recorded in January.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said the growth in February reflected the steady rise in net foreign assets despite the slight slowdown in the expansion of net domestic assets.

"Overseas Filipino workers’ remittances, export earnings as well as foreign direct and portfolio investments continued to drive the sustained growth in foreign assets," Tetangco said.

The surge in foreign exchange inflows — which ultimately translates into more pesos circulating in the local financial system — means that the total amount of money in the system is on a sustained expansion track.

According to the BSP, the growth in credit to both the public and private sectors also contributed to the expansion of domestic liquidity since banks were releasing more funds into the system to their borrowers who, in turn, would spend them.

Tetangco noted that there was a slight slowdown in credit to the public sector from 20.3 percent to 13 percent as well as the private sector whose borrowing slowed down to 4.1 percent from 6.2 percent.

Nevertheless, Tetangco said the BSP was closely monitoring the growth in domestic liquidity which has since become one of the main concerns of monetary authorities despite the apparent resilience of the country’s inflation rate.

Even at this level of expansion, however, Tetangco said the BSP did not consider the domestic money supply as "excessive".

Tetangco has already brushed aside speculations that the BSP was gearing up to undertake non-policy related "tools" to mop up liquidity including the possibility of issuing its own bonds.

"Under our charter, we are allowed to do that under extraordinary circumstances," he said.

According to Tetangco, however, he does not consider the current money supply as excessive or the current conditions "extraordinary".

He said the central bank is already making sure it has ample room for any policy response that would be needed should money supply start affecting its inflation target.

"We want to make sure that the benign inflation environment is maintained over the policy horizon," he said.

Tetangco maintained that the economy has the capacity to absorb the dramatic increase in the demand for money without creating inflation pressures.

Tetangco downplayed the surge, saying that even at this rate, the domestic economy still has the capacity to absorb the liquidity without necessarily triggering a corresponding increase in inflation rate.

"That’s still absorbable," Tetangco said. "There is brisk activity in housing development and real estate in general as well as agriculture," he added.

The BSP has projected the demand for money to grow by an average rate of 14 percent for 2005 and 2006 but Tetangco said the dynamics of the country’s domestic economy is changing faster than expected.

"The sectors that use up liquidity are now bigger than before so they have a bigger absorptive capacity," Tetangco said. "Even at this level, we see no threat to our inflation target but that doesn’t mean we are not watching it. We are always watching it."

A better way to fight

By Lt. Juan A. B. Soler
Original Article at The Manila Times

A good doctor does not just wait for his patient to get sick while looking on to his patient suffering from the symptoms brought about by his illness. What a good doctor does is tell his patient what to do and not to do so he won’t get sick. By doing this, the doctor does what he is supposed to do even without actually treating a disease, which is his primary duty. A good soldier therefore does not wait for an NPA rebel to be born and eventually shoot him. What a good soldier does is he goes anywhere and everywhere where he thinks he could prevent the conception of an NPA rebel, be it at rural or urban areas.

Communist insurgents are indeed creeping in our cities, and an armed presence of the New Peoples’ Army is not our sole criterion for justifying the presence of soldiers. One must understand that the seeds of an insurgency are sown with the exploitation of legitimate issues and grievances in order to recruit more members and expand their sphere of influence. The military has a clear proof of activities in urban slum areas by the communist insurgents who are not armed, but pose a very serious threat to unwitting victims. The youth most especially, are easily swayed by insurgent’s propaganda. The recruitment effort is replicated in urban centers nationwide, in places where legitimate issues can be used to agitate the discontented. This, among others, convinced us of the need to be in some areas of the metropolis to deter the spread of insurgent influence.

The presence of soldiers in the metropolis is not “militarization” as the militants would like the public to believe. Military personnel have not usurped the authority of local officials to govern in their respective communities, nor has the military dictated upon the people how they should conduct the affairs in their barangays. In fact, the communities welcome the presence of our soldiers and we have received more requests from civilians for troop deployments in their barangays.

The presence of the military in urban areas is a manifestation of the social role of the soldier. He is employed as a social force which contributes to the preservation of public order and security within the framework of civil law and in coordination with the local authorities. Soldiers also perform civic roles through their involvement and participation in community development and in relief and rehabilitation activities.

On the alleged partisanship and electioneering; while it is true that soldiers should be “apolitical,” the fight against the communist insurgency has a very strong political component. On some instances, soldiers perform nonmilitary roles when they are employed as agents to bridge the gap between the government and the people through civic action, engineering works and public information to expose the communists’ deception.

It is part of the mandate of the AFP to make our people aware of the threat posed by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) because it is a political organization which employs both an armed struggle and an electoral/legal struggle to violently overthrow the government. This is against the law and a clear threat to national security.

It is important for Filipinos to understand how the CPP makes use of legal organizations who take advantage of democratic freedoms to advance the armed revolution. The AFP is nonpartisan. It welcomes and encourages the entry of groups into the political mainstream, especially those from the Left, for as long as they unequivocally renounce the armed struggle and the New People’s Army.

An ounce of prevention is far better than a pound of cure. If the root causes of insurgency is social injustice and poverty, is it wrong for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to exert all its efforts and available resources to counter these causes and in the process save the lives of its soldiers and would-be NPA rebels? Is it too much for the Filipino people to see men and women in military uniform prowling the streets of the metropolis conducting civic actions to prevent future armed conflicts?

There is an alternative in fighting this insurgency that had been long waging in our country and taken so many lives, is it too much for the AFP to use that alternative?

Where are the AFP troops posted? What are they doing?

By Rene Q. Bas
Full Article at The Manila Times

The AFP’s deployment of troops in some communities in Metro Manila—or in the military’s own vocabulary the NCRCOM (the National Capital Region Command)—is being assailed from all sides.

The attacks focus on the alleged constitutional transgressions committed by some soldiers on the citizens, especially those who are “militants.”

The presence of these soldiers has created “garrison Metro Manila” as in the Japanese Occupation during World War II, some have claimed, including this paper.

A informal survey made by this writer has yielded, however, this fact: very few Metro Manilans, whether the car-borne or the jeepney and bus commuting members of the population, have gone through an AFP checkpoint to make them feel they have been garrisoned. Those who angrily volunteer their experience of going through a checkpoint were invariably wrong: they went through a PNP checkpoint or a special SWAT team because there was some trouble in the area.

The unceasing media stories about AFP checkpoints and harassment of citizens apparently happen only in a few places. Most Manila Times readers would not be able to point them out on a map.

Meanwhile, from the AFP, I have found out a lot of hard facts about the deployment of the troops.

Where are they? How many are they?

They are in only 26 different places, which include three places in the case of the Santa Mesa district of Manila, three places in Tondo (including the place President Arroyo visited yesterday (Saturday March 31), and two places in Payatas, QC, both of them within Barangay Lupang Pangako.

In terms of barangays where AFP troops are deployed there are actually only 19 of them, out of maybe two thousands in Metro Manila.

All the 19 barangay chairmen in these places have asked for their retention and appealed to the Commission on Human Rights to help them keep the soldiers in.

The map shows where they are.

There are 177 enlisted men led by 59 officers involved in civic-action work and all these 19 barangays.

What are they doing there? According to the AFP’s critics, they are harassing citizens, forcing them to go against the leftists party-list organization they belong to, and are electioneering. (Some left-of-center party-list members have actually brought a case against the AFP about its troops electioneering activities in Metro Manila.)

Unfortunately, not ever mentioned—except as an aside—is the civic-action work these troops do.

In the accompanying article “The AFP Chief’s report to President Arroyo” these good works are detailed. I was given this copy of the report because I insisted to the AFP that if they wanted their side to be heard properly, they would have to be more “holistic” in explaining what the troop deployments are really about.

(For full report on AFP activities: http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/apr/01/yehey/top_stories/20070401top3.html)