Saturday, 26 May 2007

Arroyo urged to sign EO allowing full ‘open skies’ at Clark airport

By Reynaldo G. Navales
Original report at Sun.Star Pampanga
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/pam/2007/05/26/news/arroyo.told.to.sign.eo.500b.html

CLARK FREEPORT -- Cabinet Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan is urging Malacañang to approve the proposed Executive Order (EO) 500B so as not to delay the development of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA).

In his letter dated May 9, 2007, Pamintuan asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to "approve, sign and issue the proposed EO 500B, which is necessary to the development of DMIA as a premier international gateway."

Pamintuan cited Cambodia, which declared a unilateral open skies policy in 1999 effectively increasing the number of tourist arrivals from 24,000 in the same year to 1.5 million in 2006.

A total of 170 intra-Asian flights now serve the otherwise listless Siem Reap International Airport.

Pamintuan disclosed that the equally war-ravaged Vietnam is now attracting 3.5 million visitors per year while both Thailand and Singapore are attracting 10 million visitors per year.

DMIA posted 7,880 passengers only in 2003 and the number increased in 2004 to 49,500 passenger after the entry of Asiana Airlines of South Korea, which provided flights between Incheon, SK and Clark.

In 2005, DMIA posted 225,000 passengers and in 2006 the number rose to 471,000 international passengers. In 2006, DMIA was averaging 39,000 passengers per month but for the current year, the Macapagal airport was already posting 45,000 passengers per month.

It is expected that over half a million international passengers will pass through DMIA in 2007.

Other countries that have declared unilateral open skies policies include Bahrain, Chile, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Japan, which has a strict air policy, will also undertake the most radical liberalization of its highly regulated skies with Asian Gateway Plan. Local carriers of these mentioned countries prospered after undertaking air liberalization.

"May I now urge the President to decisively and positively act on the matter," said Pamintuan.

"My position is emboldened by the fact that one of our country's top economic experts and industry leaders -- Mr. Washington Sycip -- told me during the recent National Infrastructure Forum that he personally conveyed to Mr. Lucio Tan and Mr. John Gokongwei the futility of stopping the full development of DMIA, considering the problems at our current gateway at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia)," said Pamintuan.

"The issue of reciprocity has already been defined by your administration as one that is, in essence, beyond the mere interests of the carriers, but to cover national interest," he added.

"The benefits of a liberalized and competitive regime have already been proven in many industrial and economic sectors. Our local airline industry is an example. It thrived when it opened up to competition," said Pamintuan.

Pamintuan further said the "issue of security and safety, as propounded by the Department of Transportations and Communications (DOTC) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), is totally unrelated to the liberalization of the air traffic and entry of more players."

Clark International Airport Corporation (Ciac) executive vice president Alexander Cauguiran supported the views of Pamintuan.

In a letter to Deputy Executive Secretary Manuel Gaite, Cauguiran emphasized that "the Chicago Convention of 1944, which established the regulatory framework for international civil aviation, recognizes only five Freedoms of the Air. Non-cabotage traffic rights mentioned in EO 500B should make reference only to the Freedoms of the Air recognized by the said convention."

Foreign carriers are also obliged to secure a Foreign Air Carrier Permit (FACP) from the CAB under the provisions of EO 500B, regardless of whether said foreign carrier is designated under an Air Service Agreement or not, noted Cauguiran.

Supporters of a liberalized air policy called on the issuance of EO 500B to allow sustainability and entry of more budget airlines operating at DMIA and to increase visitor arrivals.

Pamintuan is supported by the Clark Investors and Locators Association, Makati Business Club, American Chamber of Commerce, Bulacan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Bataan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Angeles Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Philippine Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., Metro Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., San Fernando Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Advocay for the Development of Central Luzon (ADCL), North Luzon Chambers, Chamber of Real Estate and Builder's Association, Task Force on Transport and Logistics Export Development Council, Philippine Travel Agencies Association, Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement (PGKM) and local officials of Pampanga led by Mabalacat Mayor Marino Morales and Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin.

Airport row keeps opening uncertain

Original report at the Manila Standard Today
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=police4_may26_2007

No definite opening is in sight even as Fraport AG, a partner of Philippine International Air Terminals Co., has sued one of its investors over his exposé on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal-3.

George Wengert, a shareholder, said officials of the German firm led by its chief executive Wilhelm Bender filed harassment cases to keep him from commenting on Fraport’s venture in the Philippines.

Wengert said the company was seeking Euro100,000 in damages from him and each of his family members, who were named as respondents in suits following his exposé.

Wengert met with the local press before returning to Germany after a short vacation, saying he conducted personal investigations and attended stockholders’ meetings to unravel the Naia-3 controversy.

He said he received volumes of documents from Fraport insiders, disclosing that officials including Bender, knew that their operation ran counter to Philippine laws on ownership of foreign corporation, anti-dummy, build-operate-transfer and anti-graft and corrupt practices.

Wengert said he used the documents as evidence in the suits he filed against Fraport officers and as basis for his exposé.

The company retaliated by filing 20 counter suits but he said only two were pending as the rest had been dismissed.

Earlier, a panel composed of retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, the solicitor general and Carolynn Lamm of White & Case LPP presented the statement of fraud examiner Howard Silverstone indicating the Naia-3 project was attended by massive anomalies.

TGCI Engineers Inc. and Ove Arup & Partners HK Ltd., confirmed observations of construction and aviation expert Richard Klenk that the terminal posed life-safety risks especially in case of a major earthquake.

The two consulting firms commissioned by the Manila International Airport Authority said Naia-3 was structurally defective and recommended the indefinite postponement of the terminal’s operation until renovation and repairs have been completed.

Takenaka, the Japanese contractor which built the facility has refused to do the repairs, contesting instead the findings of the engineering firms and observations of other experts including that of Klenk.

Q1 total trade $24.123B

Full report at National Statistics Office
http://www.census.gov.ph/data/pressrelease/2007/tr0703tx.html

Total external trade in goods for January to March 2007 reached $24.123 billion, representing a 9.6 percent increment from $22.019 billion during the same 3-month period in 2006. Similarly, total imports grew by 7.1 percent to $11.971 billion from $11.172 billion. Exports, on the other hand, registered an increase of 12.0 percent to aggregate dollar revenue of $12.152 billion from $10.847 billion during the same 3-month period in 2006. Interestingly, balance of trade in goods (BOT-G) for the Philippines registered a surplus of $181.00 million during the same 3-month period in 2007.

BPO sector generates over $2B

By Des Ferriols
Full report at the Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=4431

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry generated over $2 billion in revenues and created over 138,000 new jobs, growing nearly 50 percent over a two-year period.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has finally concluded the baseline survey of BPO companies in the country and based on preliminary results, officials said the industry is understated in the national accounts.

BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said the survey covered the 2004 and 2005 period, establishing the baseline information on the BPO industry in an effort to determine exactly how these operations affect the country’s balance of payments (BOP).

According to Guinigundo, the bulk of revenues generated by BPOs do not pass through the banking system in any form that could be reported to the BSP.

“The only way really is to go door-to-door and ask them individually,” Guinigundo said. “This is what we have done, just so we know where we are.”

The BSP said it surveyed 317 BPO companies and the response rate was around 63 percent, covering various BPO activities from call centers, animation, software development and transcription to other related outsourced activities.

According to Guinigundo, however, the results of the survey did not include responses from several big-ticket BPO companies, indicating that the initial results are still significantly understated.

“Right now it appears that the total revenues generated by the BPO industry were close to the estimates of the industry association,” he said. “At this level, it doesn’t look like there will be a need to revise the national income accounts.”

Guinigundo said that based on the baseline survey, the gross value added to the economy was estimated at 62.93 percent. This means that for every peso invested in BPOs, about 63 centavos is added to the economy as a whole.

Imports surge 10.4% to $4.57B in March

Full report at the Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=4428

The country’s imports rose 10.4 percent to $4.57 billion in March from a year earlier on the back of brisk electronics shipments, the National Statistics Office (NSO) reported yesterday.

The latest import growth figure was the fastest pace in four months, following a 9.9-percent gain in February.

Payments for electronic products, which accounted for 50.2 percent of total imports in March, grew 22 percent to $2.29 billion, the NSO said.

“Except for consumer electronics and telecommunication, all major groups of electronic products recorded increases ranging from a low of 18.6 percent to a high of 159 percent from their year ago level,” the NSO said.

Business Sentiment Continues to be Bullish in the Second Quarter of 2007

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
Media Releases
05.25.2007
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1576
Full report in pdf form: http://www.bsp.gov.ph/downloads/Publications/2007/BES_2qtr2007.pdf

Business sentiment optimistic

The confidence index (CI) for the second quarter remained strong at 46.4 percent, higher relative to comparable levels year-on-year (by 14.8 points) and quarter-on-quarter (by 1.5 points).

Business executives also remained confident about the next quarter as the index (at 44.7 percent) rose by almost 12.0 points year-on-year. Quarter-on-quarter, however, the index fell by 4.7 points.

Both respondents from the NCR (National Capital Region) and AONCR (Areas Outside the NCR) were upbeat in their current and next quarter outlook.

Positive outlook in the second quarter is sector-wide

Respondents in all sectors expected the economy in the second quarter to be better compared to the year ago as shown by uptrend in their indices. The industry sector peaked to an all-time high of 45.7 percent, which was due in large part to greater production operations of firms to meet election- and school opening-related demand in the second quarter.

The services sector index, the highest at 61.6 percent, was up year-on-year but down quarter-on-quarter. The index for the renting and business activities sub-sector, which was abnormally high in the first quarter on the back of surge in election-related projects, was lower quarter-on-quarter as these projects were expected to culminate after the election. On the other hand, the CI of the hotels and restaurants sub-sector exhibited a downtrend in the second quarter in tandem with the slowdown in tourism-related activities following the end of the school break and onset of the rainy season in June.

The business outlook of the wholesale and retail trade sector as well as the construction sector at 36.5 percent and 35.9 percent, respectively, were higher than their comparable levels last year but lower quarter-on-quarter.

Business expectations in the third quarter tracked those in the second quarter. That is, all sectoral indices, except for construction, were on the uptrend year-on-year but lower quarter-on-quarter. Executives in the construction sector expected that the economy would be even stronger in the third quarter with the index at 59.0 percent climbing year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter, as developers take advantage of the heightened demand in the property market.

Reasons for the rise in optimism

Respondents attributed their expectation of a better economic outlook to the following factors: 1) a generally stable macroeconomic environment (as reflected in the strengthening peso, low inflation and stable interest rate, improved investment conditions); 2) economic expansion in Asian economies; 3) greater business opportunities during the election period; 4) brisker business during the dry/summer season; 5) increased consumer spending due to the opening of classes in June; and 6) new and enhanced business strategies.

Businesses have a favorable view regarding their own operations

The services sector has been the most optimistic, with its index at 43.8 percent, rising consistently since the fourth quarter of 2005. Similarly, construction sector continued to be upbeat as its index (at 34.3 percent) was up by 2.6 points year-on-year and rising by almost threefold quarter-on-quarter.

Factors lifting the business outlook included expected higher volume of business activity (at 35.7 percent), total order book (at 27.7 percent), and an increase in the average capacity utilization (at 83.4 percent).

Access to credit remains favorable; employment and expansion plan indexes rise

For the fourth consecutive quarter in a row, access to credit index continued to be positive at 9.0 percent. The employment outlook index for the next quarter also increased at 17.3 percent. The employment outlook index was particularly strong for the construction sector and real estate sub-sector. Meanwhile, 31.1 percent of respondent industry firms indicated plans to expand operations in the next quarter.

Business constraints

Competition, particularly emanating from local firms, and insufficient demand leading to low volume of sales, were the most commonly identified as the major constraints to stronger business activity.

Expectations on selected economic indicators

Views on selected economic indicators were also positive. Majority of the respondents anticipated that the peso would remain strong and that interest rates would continue to decelerate in the current quarter and the next quarter. However, inflation while trending down in the current quarter was expected to move up in the third quarter, consistent with the BSP’s forecast that inflation has already bottomed out.

Response rate

The second quarter 2007 BES was conducted from 10 April to 8 May 2007. A total of 1,076 firms nationwide were surveyed based on the Securities and Exchange Commission 2005 Top 5,000 Corporations as follows: 477 companies are located in NCR and 599 firms in areas outside NCR. Starting the fourth quarter of 2006, the BES covers all 17 regions nationwide. The combined survey response rate for this quarter is 71.0 percent (similar to that of last quarter). For NCR, the response rate was 78.4 percent (72.5 percent last quarter); and for AONCR, the response rate was 65.0 percent (from 69.7 percent).

Friday, 25 May 2007

Statement of Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye (Facts and Figures Tokyo Trip)

FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2007 | FOREIGN RELATIONS
Original article at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17755

During our trip, we negotiated/secured the following:

JICA:

New country assistance program for the next 5 years in 3 priority development areas: 1) sustained economic growth aimed at the creation of employment opportunities, 2) poverty reduction 3) assistance for peace and stability in Mindanao: Malmar Irrigation Project State II, Kaebulnan Irrigation Project Maganoy Dam Phase, Awang-Upi-Lebak-Kalamansig Road

Just a few months ago, we were proud to announce that Marubeni and Tokyo Electric made a $3.5 billion investment in the Philippines and would add another $500 million. Their investment in the Philippines is no mistake: Japan is sitting up and taking notice that the Philippines is back and open for business. Our economy and gains against poverty are proof the plan is working.

So, too, on this trip to Japan we met with business and financial leaders from Japan to again tell the Philippine story and encourage them that the Philippine turnaround is here to stay, that our politics have stabilized, and that we are the best value in Asia.

Nomura Holdings:

Expressed interest in the privatization of government shares in San Miguel, Meralco, PNOC-EDC.

Marubeni:

Aside from $4 billion in power already committed (to be funded by JBIC), Marubeni is looking at other power projects.

Aizawa Securities (No. 15 stockbroker in Japan):

Launched $100 million Philippine Fund to raise investment for RP

Sumitomo:

Aside from $300 million mining expansion in Palawan, a new $1 billion mining in Surigao del Norte is undergoing feasibility study (to be funded by JBIC).

Yazaki Corp:

Expansion of existing investments. Yazaki supplies 30 % of wiring harness in the world.

Terumo Corp:

Pharmaceuticals. On an expansion mode, expected to create thousands of additional jobs.

JBIC:

Power sector development program ($300 million) for NPC

Pasig-Marikina River Channel Improvement for flood control ($70 million)

Agno River Irrigation Project (P4 billion)

Toyota:

Chose RP over Malaysia in ongoing $100 million transmission plant; $3 million in reforestation in Cagayan; P1 billion localization plant

(resolved issues on militant labor and 2nd hand car imports)

RP reports $181M trade surplus for Q1

05/25/2007 | 11:06 AM
Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/43796/RP-reports-181M-trade-surplus-for-Q1

The Philippines reported a trade surplus of $181 million in the first quarter of the year, as export shipments outpaced the country’s import bill for the period, the National Statistics Office said.

For the first quarter of 2007, exports rose 12.0 percent to $12.152 billion as imports grew only 7.1 percent to $11.971 billion.

In March, imports expanded 10.4 percent to $4.567 billion, bringing that month’s balance of trade to a deficit of $119 million.

For the month, imports of electronic products dominated, accounting for 50.2 percent or $2.291 billion of the bill.

Cebu Pacific to spend $270M for new planes, sets IPO this year

By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes
Friday, May 25, 2007
Original report at the Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=4237

Gokongwei-owned Cebu Pacific (CEB) is spending around $270 million to further expand its fleet, acquiring up to 14 turboprop aircraft that will service routes that cannot accommodate larger planes.

CEB president Lance Gokongwei said the new acquisitions will be financed, among others, by export credit agency financing, even as he revealed plans to undertake an initial public offering (IPO) before the end of this year to partly finance the new investments.

Gokongwei, however, said no details are yet available as to the planned IPO.

But he said he expects a double-digit growth in the company’s bottom line in 18 months’ time.

Reliable sources revealed that compared to a net income of P134 million for the whole of last year, in the first quarter of 2007 alone, CEB already made around P560 million. Second quarter earnings are expected to be higher that the first quarter as the April to June period is traditionally the peak season for air travel.

The new aircraft will be supplied by French regional aircraft manufacturer Avions de Transport Regional (ATR), the world leader in the 50 to 74-seat turboprop market.

After CEB completed its $670-million refleeting program last March, it announced it would purchase up to 20 Airbus A320 aircraft worth $1.3 billion to serve the growing market demand for low fares in the country and in Asia.

The Airbus acquisition is made up of 10 firm orders, with five options and an additional five options if the first five options are taken. “We expect the firm orders to be delivered from 2010 to 2012 and the options from 2011 to 2013. Two of the orders are to replace leases that expire in 2010. This will allow us to grow our fleet from 14 Airbus aircraft to 32 by 2013,” Gokongwei said.

He said the move to further expand with the ATR fleet is a continued manifestation of CEB’s commitment to bring air travel closer to more Filipinos and to bring them to new destinations which CEB cannot operate at the moment due to runway length and strength limitations.

“We are buying up to 14 brand new ATR 72-500 aircraft for our continued expansion. The order is made up of six firm orders, with an additional eight options. The first two are expected to arrive in early 2008 and the complete delivery is expected by 2013,” he added.

Assuming all options are taken, he said CEB will have a fleet of 46 aircraft by 2013, of which 32 will be Airbus and 14 ATR72s.

Gokongwei explained that the decision to field ATR72s was made because of the nearly 70 airports in the Philippines, only about 25 are Airbus — capable.

“This aircraft will also allow us to bring low fares to the number one tourist destination in the country — Boracay via the Caticlan airport. We believe that the tourist market to Boracay can be seriously stimulated by the entry of CEB and our year-round low fares,” he added. CEB currently flies to Boracay via Kalibo three times daily with an Airbus.

Boracay is currently the leading tourist destination in the country with more than 556,000 visitors in 2006.

ATR CEO Filippo Bagnato, for his part, said that this is the first time that ATRs will enter the Philippine market. At present, there are 136 ATR aircraft operated by 30 airlines across the Asia-Pacific region.

Gokongwei also noted that with the ATR fleet, CEB will now be able to fly into more airports in the country and, more importantly, the company will be able to bring its trademark low fares to more Filipinos. “We are looking forward to operating to more destinations and connecting more islands because we know that this is good not only for tourism but for our economy as a whole. It’s time we brought our trademark low fares to every Juan,” he added.

Now on its 12th year, CEB operates the most number of domestic destinations, flights, and routes and has the youngest fleet in the Philippines at just one year. CEB operates 14 brand new Airbus aircraft and soon to be eight regional destinations with the addition of Taipei beginning June 13 this year.

For the 12 months ending April 2007, CEB’s chief executive revealed that their traffic was up 83 percent. During the first quarter of the year, CEB carried the most number of passengers in domestic routes, overtaking rival Philippine Airlines (PAL). Out of the 1.25 million seats made available by CEB in the January-March 2007 period, 1.01 million was sold. PAL, on the other hand, sold 938,960 seats.

Gokongwei earlier pointed out that there is still a huge demand for air travel in the Philippines, with traffic expected to grow by over 50 percent. “If the economy grows six percent, the airline industry will grow twice the GDP growth which will be about 14 to 15 percent. This means we have to add two to three planes each year just to service the growth,” he said.

International traffic industry-wide, meanwhile, grew almost double last year and is expected to experience the same growth levels this year especially with more low-cost offerings all over Asia, he added.

But in order to bridge the gap from now until the first delivery in 2010, CEB will be taking short to medium-term leases on Airbus A320 aircrafts. Two of these leased planes have already been delivered early this year and an additional one or two will be delivered later in 2007. In 2008 and 2009, three to four A320s will be added to CEB’s fleet each year. Majority of these short to medium-term lease requirements have already been finalized.

“As a consequence of these orders, we expect to increase our guest numbers from five million passengers this year to 10 million in 2013,” he pointed out.

Last year, CEB carried around 3.5 million passengers, a 57 percent growth from the previous year’s 2.2 million, which was largely attributed to the arrival of the planes under the refleeting program. Of the 3.5 million, three million were on domestic flights and the rest from regional flights. The regional business doubled its number of passengers.

Gokongwei also noted that in a little more than six months, CEB has added Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta to its route network as well as expanding its service to Hong Kong and Korea. Several new international destinations in the coming weeks will be announced with service starting in just a few months’ time, he said.

He stressed that because the planes are new, they are more fuel-efficient and more efficient operationally, allowing for maximum aircraft utilization which contributes to CEB’s ability to offer low fares.

He explained that fuel accounts for the single largest cost at 40 percent. “Last year, it was difficult because fuel cost was three times more than it was three years ago and most of the increase in fuel price hit us during the last quarter. Now it has gone down a little bit, by around 10 percent, but still high. We are fortunate that our planes are now fuel efficient,” he said.

Despite its low fare strategy, Gokongwei pointed out that CEB remains profitable. “We were profitable last year and we will be more profitable this year,” he said.

Sumitomo earmarks $1B for expansion of RP operations

By Paolo Romero
Full report at the Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=4241

TOKYO (via PLDT) – Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Japan’s second-largest copper smelter and biggest nickel producer, is expanding its operations in the Philippines by more than $1 billion, officials said yesterday.

Sumitomo president Koichi Fukushima relayed his company’s plan to President Arroyo during their meeting yesterday at the Imperial Hotel where the presidential delegation is billeted.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

GMA okays P2-trillion investment priority plan

Full report at the Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=politics2_may23_2007

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the National Economic and Development Authority yesterday approved the Investment Priorities Plan listing business areas to be given state incentives, and the revised list of priority infrastructure projects under the Medium Term Public Investment Plan.

Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said the priority projects amounting to P2.01 trillion have been budgeted in the revised investment plan.

Presiding over a meeting of the Neda board, the President expressed confidence that the projects listed in the plan will be funded by the government in partnership with the private sector.

She also re-affirmed the government’s goal of achieving a balanced budget by next year despite doubts expressed by some international credit rating agencies. She has ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to implement this year the Lateral Attrition Law which provides for a system of rewards and punishment for tax officials who will meet or fall short of collection targets.

“The major legacies of our administration shall be a balanced budget and infrastructure,” the President told the Neda board. “In this way, we shall set the nation on course to achieve first-world status by 2020.”

Philippines in $1.3 billion biofuels deal

http://investing.reuters.co.uk/news/articleinvesting.aspx?type=mergersNews&storyID=2007-05-23T061357Z_01_MAN221781_RTRIDST_0_PHILIPPINES-PNOC-BIOFUELS-UPDATE-1.XML

MANILA, May 23 (Reuters) - The Philippines signed a $1.3 billion deal with UK-based NRG Chemical Engineering on Wednesday to build biofuel refineries and plantations, in one of the biggest foreign investments into the Southeast Asian country.

State-owned Philippine National Oil Co. said its biofuels unit would form a joint venture with NRG, whose billion dollar investment, spread over five years, is a big boost for Manila's ambitions to become a major source of alternative fuels.

"NRG has been looking for a possible partner in the region," Peter Abaya, president of PNOC-Alternative Fuels (PNOC-AFC), told reporters, adding that he had been in negotiations with the company, which also has offices in Singapore, for 9 months.

The two groups plan to build a 3.5 million metric tonne biorefinery, at a cost of around $450 million, within three years. Abaya did not give an exact location for the refinery.

They also plan to create a 1-million-hectares-plus plantation for jatropha, an indigenous plant used for biofuels.

Around $200 million would be spent on a 300,000 metric tonne bioethanol plant.

The joint venture would be 70 percent owned by NRG.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is determined to reduce the Philippines' dependence on imported crude oil in favour of alternative fuels produced from locally grown crops, such as sugar cane, coconut and jatropha.

A new law requiring a mandatory 1 percent coconut blend in diesel was introduced earlier this month and by 2009 gasoline will contain a 5 percent mix of ethanol to reduce the Philippines $6 billion plus oil import bill.

The government has courted foreign investment to boost biofuel local production and earlier this year signed agreements for five possible ethanol projects with China.

But NRG's investment is the biggest yet into the biofuels sector and a boost for the country's low levels of foreign direct investment, which have failed to match buoyant portfolio inflows from overseas amid high power costs and concerns over corruption.

But earlier this month, Texas Instruments (TXN.N: Quote, Profile , Research) said it would build a $1 billion chip plant in the north of the country and Manila is hoping its English-speaking workforce and abundant natural resources will attract more FDI.

Philippines offers medical schooling to Indian students

Gujarat Global News Network, Ahmedabad
http://www.gujaratglobal.com/nextSub.php?id=2877&cattype=NEWS
See also
http://www.gujaratglobal.com/nextSub.php?id=2872&catype=Education
http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=237588

Government of Philippines has launched a special campaign for its medical colleges to rope in students from India. The campaign which talks about similar tropical diseases pattern between the countries, same Asian culture, English language and easily available Indian food emphasizes on certain other points.

First of all anyone with 50 percent marks in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English is eligible for the admission. The Philippines government recognized institutions with this basic criterion of the Medical Council of India do not have any other test criteria. Consequently, anyone with these qualifying marks and ability to pay around Rs 20 lakh in five years can get admission into the courses which are recognized even in the advanced countries like the US.

With Indian students in focus, as many as seven colleges of Philippines have started MBBS courses from this year. There are 30 institutions in Philippines that offer DM equivalent to MD of India with basic qualification of B Sc. This has opened floodgates for Indian students who are not able to get admission in Medical colleges in India. Even the management quota in India is much more costly than Philippines degree in Rs 20 lakh with boarding-lodging and a tag of foreign education with global recognition.

This entire project medical education is so high on the agenda of the Philippines government that Chairman of its commission on Higher Education Dr. Carlito S Puno was here in Ahmedabad today on a two day visit of India. The fact that he selected Ahmedabad as his first destination and his team campaigning here for last four five days show where does Gujarat stand in Philippines priority list.

The logic of selection of Gujarat as a pilot project is very simple. But Philippines should be given credit for hitting the right strategy. Every year hundreds of students from Gujarat go to South India for medical education at a much higher price. It is this ready market that Philippines is aiming to tap. In the final year these students are offered full fledged training for clearing part three of the License examination for medical practice in the US.

What more is needed. The gateway of medical education the official slogan of Philippines is basically gateway for entry into the US with a much more dignified status- a professional, a doctor. It is a known fact that many Gujarati students go to Australia, New Zealand and Canada to ultimately go to dream destination of the US.

Dr. Puno announced at a seminar of prospective students that parents of students studying in Philippines will get Visa for five years so that they have no problem in visiting their wards. He has also promised to initiate move for direct flight to Manila from Ahmedabad.

Only yesterday, Ahmedabad had another agency, a Pune based educational institution who offered admissions to DM courses to students. He, however, did not talk about the MBBS courses. Today, the Philippine officer with Cabinet Minister status introduced HCMI as an official agency for admissions to medical colleges. Mainly, for the seven medical colleges offering undergraduate MBBS course. Unlike India , Philippines has no restriction on number of seats in a college and so a college can accommodate large number of students provided they have 50 per cent marks and Rs 20 lakh to be paid in installments. And they know that Gujarat has plenty of them.

Philippines Allocates $1.03 Billion For Low-Cost Housing

May 23, 2007 9:38 a.m. EST
Komfie Manalo - AHN Correspondent
Original report at All Headline News
http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7007428613

Manila, Philippines (AHN) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday ordered the release of another $1.03 billion to build some 270,000 low-cost houses.

Arroyo ordered the release of the fresh fund after meeting with National Economic Development Authority before leaving for Tokyo, Japan on a four-day visit.

Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said the money would be sourced from government financial institutions.

One building of low-cost house amounts to $3,500, according to Vice President and secretary for housing and urban development Noli de Castro.

The government targets to build at least 100,000 low-cost houses a year.

Macapagal airport expansion to start next month

By Reynaldo G. Navales
Original report at Sun.Star Pampanga
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/pam/2007/05/23/news/macapagal.airport.expansion.to.start.soon.html

CLARK ECOZONE -- Officials of the Clark International Airport Corp. (Ciac) said the expansion of the passenger terminal of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) would commence soon.

The Ciac board on May 15 approved the P55.9 million winning bid of AP Canlas Construction Corp. for the project's civil works.

Ciac president Victor Jose Luciano said the Ciac board will ratify and formally award the bid to the construction firm in its board meeting next month.

According to Luciano, AP Canlas submitted the lowest bid of P55.9 million among the five bidders.

At present, the terminal can only accommodate 500 passengers at a given time. Once expanded, it could accommodate more than 1,000 passengers.

Luciano identified the four other bidders as Lucky Star Construction, RD Policarpio and Co., JD Legaspi Construction and Prismodial Construction. JD Legaspi was eventually disqualified.

Tokwing, supposedly the sixth construction firm, initially expressed interest in the project but eventually withdrew its bid, the official added.

The winning bidder, AP Canlas, was also the contractor of two projects of the University of Philippines (UP).

The expansion and modernization of the DMIA terminal is expected to start next month and is scheduled to be completed by December of this year until January next year.

The average number of passengers using DMIA has increased to 45,062 a month in the first four months of this year, compared to an average of 39,239 passengers per month recorded last year.

The modernization of the airport terminal was due to the increasing number of flights from the commercial and budget airlines operating at Clark.

Airlines operating here are Tiger Airways which flies daily to Singapore, Macau and Bangkok; Asiana Airlines which flies daily to Incheon, South Korea; Air Asia flies daily to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu; Hong Kong Airways flies daily to the former Crown Colony [sic], among others.

Redefining "reciprocity"

Philexport News and Features/Sunnex
Full report at Sun.Star Manila
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/man/2007/05/23/feat/can.a.truly.open.sky.policy.be.made.to.work.in.clark.and.subic..html

ECONOMIC Planning Secretary Romulo Neri has castigated the managers of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) and the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) for delaying the "open sky" policy the President has ordered for the two airports.

He told representatives of the two airports not to make their own interpretation of the word "reciprocity" in questioning whether foreign airlines that offer to ferry passengers and cargo in and out of the two special economic zones are qualified.

"Reciprocity", he said, "does not mean that if a Korean Airline has regular trips between Seoul and Clark, it does not follow that the Philippine Airlines will also be allowed to fly the same route," he told the airport managers.

"Reciprocity" comes in the form of bigger tourism traffic and more investors going to Central Luzon that will boost tourism and investments in the area.

The action team had notified the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) that misinterpretation by airport officials of the presidential order to develop Clark as the new logistics hub in Asia has delayed the increase of "no-frills" budget airlines into starting regular international flights to and from Clark.

The NCC explained that "reciprocity" would come in the impact of the "open sky" policy in the two airports on users and businesses and the employment and income opportunities by the bigger air traffic in Central Luzon.

Neri told airport officials that a boom in tourism and more frequent trips of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) using the two airports as a result of the "open sky" policy, will be more than enough to constitute reciprocity.

BOI-PEZA Jan to April investments up 194%

05/23/2007 | 04:30 PM
Original article at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/43552/BOI-PEZA-Jan-to-April-investments-up-194

Combined fresh investments approved by the Board of Investments (BOI) and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) grew by 194 percent to P73.33 billion in the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2006.

The number of projects registered with the BOI and PEZA also increased year-to-date to 234 from 220, with the projected employment to be generated also rising to 42,742 from 40,528.

The manufacturing sector attracted the most investments for the period with P39.04 billion (from P11.52 billion same period last year), followed by mass housing, P12.65 billion (from P6.34 billion); power generation, P10.85 billion (no power projects registered last year), and IT services, P6.06 billion (P3.11 billion).

The mining sector posted P1.55 billion in fresh investments, mainly from the P1.22-billion nickel project of Berong Nickel Corporation in Palawan.

Foreign investors accounted for 58 percent of total investments or P42.45 billion, with Filipino firms committing the remaining P30.88 billion.

The top three foreign investors are the Americans with P24.04 billion, followed by the Japanese with P8.98 billion and Dutch with P3.67 billion.

Trade Undersecretary and BOI managing head Elmer C. Hernandez said the high growth rates in the manufacturing and IT services sectors are indications that the country remains competitive in these areas.

“What made it more significant is the fact that these sectors are the main employment and export generators," he said.

Also, Hernandez said the mass housing investments will put a dent in the backlog of 1.4 million units as determined by HUDCC.

Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila, who is also the BOI chairman, said that the remarkable investment performance is a clear indication that the Philippines is still one of the best investment destination in Asia. “This is also a strong manifestation that investment confidence remains strong due to the positive reforms the government has undertaken, notwithstanding the May midterm election," Favila said.

For April 2007 alone, P32.69 billion worth of investments were approved involving 57 projects as against P4.80 billion and 50 projects in the same month last year, or an increase of 581 percent.

Govt to fast track takeover of MRT-3 operator

05/22/2007 | 05:10 PM
Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/43419/Govt-to-fast-track-takeover-of-MRT-3-operator

The Department of Finance wants to fast track its proposed take over of Metro Rail Transit Corp. to take advantage of lower interest rates and lessen pressure on the national coffers.

The Metro Rail Transit Corp. is the operator of the MRT-3, which runs along Edsa from Taft Avenue in Pasay to North Avenue in Quezon City.

In light of this, the Finance department has forwarded to the Development Budget Coordination Committee a buy out proposal that would cost the government as much as $720 million for the firm.

A source from the finance department said the buy out would help the government save on fare subsidies and interest payments to MRTC. The government, the source said, shells out at least P6.8 billion every year as subsidy for MRT-3 operations.

He also said the proposal would be subject to the conduct of due diligence on the valuation of MRT assets and the crafting of a negotiation strategy.

Instead of each passenger paying P60 for the entire stretch, the government subsidizes the P45 of the total fare as each passenger only pays P15. MRT-3 serves between 420,000 passengers to 430,000 passengers a day.

The Department of Transportation and Communications said the government likewise spends another P250 million in maintenance fees per month.

The source pointed out that the Finance department is looking into the possibility of a government-owned and controlled corporation issuing bonds to raise funds for the proposed take over.

Draft open skies EO to allow foreign carriers into Subic, Clark

05/22/2007 | 04:07 PM
Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/43403/Draft-open-skies-EO-to-allow-foreign-carriers-into-Subic-Clark

Despite opposition from local airlines, the draft order for the government's open skies policy will be allowing the entry of non-designated carriers into the Clark and Subic freeport zones.

Philippine Travel Agencies Association president Jose Clemente III told reporters on Tuesday that their group has agreed "in principle" to the proposal, which will be included in the draft amendments of EO 500-B.

"In principle we agreed to open sky [policy] in Clark and Subic," Clemente III told reporters during the 3rd PTAA meeting in Tagaytay.

According to Clemente the issue on reciprocity being raised by airline firms, in particular flag carrier Philippine Airlines, is a non- issue since their concerns are not valid.

"Reciprocity is [just] a side issue. Why are we going to push through [with reciprocity] if we don't have the equipment," Clemente said.

He said the reciprocity issue should be raised only in consideration of high traffic routes since this would generate more revenues for both the airline companies, the tourism and travel industry, and the government.

"Reciprocity should be for the routes that we know that are high traffic like US, Autralia, Canada... but if you don't have the equipment why mount reciprocity?"

For this year, the PTAA is targeting about 3.5 million tourist or about $4.2 billion income.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Officials pop champagne as stocks soar to highest ever in its 80-year history

Full report at ABS-CBN
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=78006

Philippine stocks rose on Tuesday to a third consecutive record as top power distributor Meralco and property developer Megaworld Corp. set new all-time high amid positive sentiments on the economy, dealers said.

Bourse officials popped champagne on the trading floor and President Arroyo led traders in cheering the market's bull run.

The Philippine Stock Exchange composite index (PSEi) jumped 38.69 points, or 1.12 percent, to close at 3,505.01.

Arroyo said the local bourse's bull run was the fruit of fiscal and economic reforms that Filipinos have had to sacrifice for, particularly via higher taxes.

Given bullish sentiments, Arroyo said she expected more companies to list on the exchange.

PGMA: 2 Japanese companies investing $4B

PGMA's departure statement (On her visit to Japan, May 22-25, 2007)
TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2007 | COMMENTARY
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17729

Philippine democracy has been renewed after a vigorous by-election. Now it is time to come together to forge a common path forward together among all parties and all political leaders here at home. Even as the national election is still being canvassed, the outcome of the local elections strengthens our nation's collective resolve to create a modern, booming society through pro-growth, pro-poor, and pro-modernization policies.

Our foreign relations play a vital role in a strong Philippines. An essential component of a modern vision for the Philippines is our continued open engagement with the region and the world. We need to be competitive at home. We need to compete for investments abroad if we are to succeed.

Our trip to Japan is another step in our quest to further cement our ties and bring more investments, economic growth and peace and stability to our nation.

Just a few weeks ago, we announced that after a lot of hard work on the part of our government, Texas Instruments will make a billion-dollar investment in the Philippines. Tokyo Electric and Marubeni are also making a four-billion dollar investment, the largest Japanese investment in Philippine history. Their investment in the Philippines is no mistake: the world is sitting up and taking notice that the Philippines is back and open for business. Our economy and gains against poverty are proof the plan is working.

On this trip to Japan, we will be meeting with business and financial leaders from around the region to again tell the Philippine story and encourage them that the Philippine turnaround is here to stay, that our politics has stabilities and that we are the best value in Asia.

Japan plays a pivotal role in bringing peace, stability and economic opportunity to the conflict in Mindanao. Prime Minister Abe is playing an instrumental role in nurturing the peace process. One aim of my trip is to advance peace in Mindanao by engaging with our regional partners in the peace process.

No trip abroad to meet with foreign leaders is complete without continuing vigilance in the pursuit of regional security, stability and peace. The ongoing concerns about North Korea's nuclear capability and the existing danger of global terrorism remain front and center. Plans for improved coordination and cooperation will be discussed along with our shared economic agenda.

Finally, we want to send a clear message to our Japanese friends and hosts that relations between the Philippines and Japan have never been stronger. We hope we make advances on closer economic ties and continue to build on the warm ties that bind our relations with Japan, not just in the Philippines but in the ASEAN region and the world.

RP, Vietnam favorite investment sites in Asia -- Nikkei Weekly

TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2007 | BUSINESS
Full report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17731

TOKYO, Japan – The Philippines, along with Vietnam, is a new favorite investment site in Asia, according to the prestigious Nikkei Weekly, the flagship publication of Nikkei Inc. and the primary source of business information for top executives and decision-makers here.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Domingo Siazon Jr. revealed this in a press briefing Tuesday morning, just hours before the arrival here of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has been invited as guest of honor for this year’s 13th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia.

The President, according to Siazon, was invited for her effective leadership and policy that put the Philippine economy back on its feet.

In its May 21, 2007 special issue, Nikkei Weekly cited the Philippines and Vietnam as the new investment sites favored by both local and foreign investors.

NEDA Board approves priority investment sectors and infrastructure projects

Statement of Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo
TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2007 | GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17732

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board have approved the Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) listing business areas to be given incentives, and the revised list of priority infrastructure projects under the Medium Term Public Investment Plan (MTPIP).

"The major legacies of our administration shall be a balanced budget and infrastructure," the President told the NEDA Board. "In this way we shall set the nation on course to achieve First-World status by 2020."

Drafted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in consultation with concerned agencies and the general public, the IPP includes the following priority investment areas:

* Agribusiness
* Information and Communications Technology
* Electronics
* Motor Vehicle Products
* Energy
* Infrastructure
* Tourism
* Shipbuilding/Shipping
* Iron and Steel
* Research and Development/Training Institutions
* Machinery and Equipment

Also to enjoy incentives under the plan are export industries and their key suppliers, as well as sectors promoted under certain laws, including tree plantations, mining, quarrying and minerals processing, oil refining, storage and distribution, and industries involved in proper solid waste management, air quality, and assistance to disabled persons.

Priority projects budgeted at P2,016.8 billion are in the revised MTPIP, including: transport projects valued at P952 billion (47.2% of total); power generation and transmission, P456 billion (22.6%); water resources, P347 billion (17.2%); social infrastructure, P177.8 billion (8.8%); and telecommunications and digital infrastructure, P66 billion (3.3%).

PGMA: It's time political parties, leaders come together for country's sake

TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2007 | ECONOMY
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17728

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that after the "vigorous elections" a week ago, it’s time that all political parties and leaders come together in a common pursuit of the people’s welfare and national well-being.

In a brief statement after she rang the bell to signal the start of the day’s trading at the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) in Makati City this morning, the President said: "Philippine democracy has been renewed after a vigorous elections. Even as the results of the national elections have yet to be canvassed, the outcome of the local elections pushes our collective resolve to push forward a modern, booming society through pro-growth, pro-poor and pro-modern policies."

"Now it’s time to come together to pursue a common path forward among all political parties and leaders," the President added, as she noted the easing of the election fever.

She pointed out that the collective resolve of her administration to achieve a First World status in the next two decades through pro-growth, pro-poor and pro-modern policies could propel further the impressive advances achieved by the Philippine stock market in recent months.

With the impressive performance of the stock market in the run-up to and after the May 14 elections, the PSE can expect "more run of the bulls to more unheard, new highs," the President said.

She said that she visited the PSE "not to launch any IPO (initial public offering)" but to "congratulate the PSE for the all-time high index."

The Chief Executive also paid tribute to the Filipino people for their "sacrifices in reducing the budget deficit" and thereby setting the stage for a conducive and attractive stock market.

"Mga kababayan, ipagdiwang natin ang pag-akyat ng stock market (My countrymen, let us celebrate the bullish stock market)," she said.

The President also thanked the investment community "for acknowledging the nation’s hard-won advances in fiscal consolidation, economic growth and political stability."

The business sentiment has been uniformly bullish as the economy continues to reach new peaks and the peso continues to strengthen against the US dollar.

The market hit all-time highs in recent sessions. On Monday, the 30-company composite index closed 17.16 points or 0.5 percent, closing higher at 3466.34, topping Friday’s all-time closing high of 3,449.18.

The key index has gained 3.7 percent in the past six sessions and market analysts are optimistic that it will reach new highs in the coming weeks given the bullish outlook of the economy.

In welcoming the President, PSE chairman retired Justice Jose Vitug credited her programs to narrow the budget deficit and lower interest rates for fueling the surge in the stock exchange.

Peso at 45.835 as Arroyo Says Gain Curbs Inflation

By Yumi Teso and Jake Lee
Full report at Bloomberg
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20602097&sid=a1o52beu8r24&refer=world_currencies

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippine peso appreciated the most since March 2003 after President Gloria Arroyo said the currency's strength is helping keep inflation low.

The peso gained beyond 46 to the dollar for the first time since September 2000 as the benchmark stock index climbed to a record. Central bank Governor Amando Tetangco said yesterday that a strong peso helps achieve price stability.

``The president's comments today are boosting sentiment, attracting investors into Philippine markets,'' said Ramon Lim, head of treasury at Philippine National Bank in Manila.

The currency climbed as much as 1 percent to 45.835 against the dollar and traded at 45.87 at the 4 p.m. close of onshore trading, according to Tullett Prebon Plc, the world's second- largest inter-dealer broker.

``We look forward to many more unheard of highs'' for financial markets, Arroyo said at the stock exchange in Makati, Manila. ``The peso's rise caps price increases,'' Arroyo said.

Inflation of 2.3 percent in April was near a seven-year low, easing concern that the central bank will raise interest rates and encouraging investors to buy the nation's equities. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index reached a record for a third day.

The central bank will let ``market forces'' determine the peso's movement, Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo told reporters today in Manila.

Admin’s 5-point program to raise farm productivity

By Jennifer Ng
Reporter
Full report at the Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/05222007/economy03.html

THE Arroyo administration is embarking on a five-point program anchored on rural infrastructure buildup to ensure that the farm sector would sustain its growth momentum and ensure food security in the country, said Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap.

In a forum Friday night sponsored by the Manila Overseas Press Club in Makati City, Yap said the government aims to increase annual farm growth by 5 percent to 6 percent in the next decade from its current average of 3 percent to 4 percent.

Yap said the five-point program calls for higher spending on farm infrastructure, provision of more technology and extension services, spending on postharvest and storage facilities, expanding access to rural credit and opening up new markets here and abroad.

Cabinet team warming up to open skies

By Jun Vallecera
Reporter
Full report at the Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/05222007/headlines05.html

THE Cabinet economic cluster has determined the path to sustainable growth over the medium horizon will best be served by more liberal rather than restrictive air travel policies, the Department of Finance said on Monday.

It is one area that will be extensively reviewed and overhauled this year to ensure attainment of the target 6.2- percent growth in 2008.

Official sources said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri has calendared open skies at the next Development and Budget Coordination Committee meeting and that an initial “agreement in principle” has been gathered already.

Neri and other members of the interagency committee were flabbergasted by the results of the most recent growth simulations for 2008 showing maximum potential of only 5.8 percent.

Sources said Finance Secretary Margarito Teves supports a policy change in the local air transport business, in contrast to the main players which are for a restrictive implementation.

“The economic managers favor opening up the domestic air travel business to foreign competitors to drive down cost and inject more vibrancy into the economy,” said the sources.

Chinese businessmen vow to press ahead with pro-poor social projects

MONDAY, MAY 21, 2007 | PROGRAMS/PROJECTS
Full report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=17722

The Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), the country's biggest organization of businessmen of Chinese heritage, vowed today to pursue its multi-faceted pro-poor social welfare projects in support of government programs.

John Tan, newly-elected FFCCCII president, said that in the "next two years, we will continue with our social welfare projects, including our scholarship programs, medical missions and disaster relief operations."

Tan, who succeeds Francis Chua as FFCCCII head, affirmed his organization's commitment during the oath-taking ceremony of the group's new national officers - all 143 of them - before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this morning in Malacañang.

The new officers were elected during the federation's 26th biennial convention held in Manila last March 30.

Tan told the President that FFCCCII would "give our continued support to you and your vision for the Philippines, the vision for a modern country founded on social justice and enjoying economic prosperity."

...

In his speech, Tan thanked the President for her graciousness in allowing members of the business organization to take their oath "at the very seat of government."

During the occasion, Tan turned over to the President a check worth P1.25-million for the purchase and construction of an additional 50 Tindahan Natin convenience stores to be set up in various parts of the country.

The new donation to the Tindahan program brings to 175 the number of stores donated by the organization to the Arroyo administration since last year at a total cost of P3.125 million.

Monday, 21 May 2007

AFP eyes redeployment for civic projects in slum areas

By Arlie Calalo
Original report at the Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=politics1_may21_2007

THE military is considering deploying a fresh batch of 250 troops in slum areas in Metro Manila as part of its civil-military operations, which had been disrupted by opposition from militant groups.

Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the soldiers would focus on the depressed areas of Quezon, Caloocan, Manila and Taguig.

These are the areas whose residents and leaders have been requesting the deployment of soldiers for civic projects, Esperon said.

He said the favorable response to the presence of Armed Forces personnel in slum communities in Metro Manila became more evident after eight suspected terrorists surrendered last May 1 to the soldiers who were conducting CMOs in the area.

The “gunless approach” the military has been carrying out in the metropolis has apparently convinced this particular group to return to the fold of the law, according to Esperon. He said about 30 other suspected rebels, who remain in hiding in Metro Manila’s slum areas, were expected to follow suit. Negotiations for their surrender are ongoing, he said.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, National Capital Region Command chief, said there was a need for the troops to be redeployed in the metropolis.

There were community development projects that the troops have left unfinished after they pulled out a day before the May 14 polls. Apart from medical and dental missions, the troops were building minor infrastructure projects including day-care centers and public toilets.

Besides, Dolorfino said, allegations that the troops’ presence was only meant for political activities in favor of administration candidates would be justified unless they are ordered to return back to the depressed communities where they were assigned to carry out their missions.

Several leaders of depressed communities in the metropolis said in separate resolutions of support that snatching and robbery have been drastically reduced since the soldiers were deployed in their villages.

Coin toss breaks Philippines electoral tie

Original report in CNN
http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/05/20/philippine.elections.ap/

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Two candidates broke a rare tie in last week's Philippine local elections by tossing a coin, officials said Sunday.

After a count of last Monday's ballots, local elections officials discovered that Bryan Byrd Bellang and Benjamin Ngeteg had tied for the final of eight seats on the council in Bontoc town in Mountain province, elections supervisor Mary Umaming said.

"I asked them if they wanted to break the tie by tossing a coin or drawing lots, and somebody in the crowd wondered if I was cracking a joke," Umaming told The Associated Press by telephone.

"I said those options were in the rules, and they agreed to flip a coin," she said.

Bellang, who chose heads, won the toss, which was held Tuesday in the local town hall.

The candidates then sealed the agreement with a handshake, and the crowd erupted with applause, Umaming said.

Provincial elections supervisor Dennis Dimalnat hailed the peaceful resolution of the tie in Bontoc as a refreshing example.

"I hope others would see the beauty of this kind of peaceful resolution," he told the AP.

The congressional and local elections last Monday were marred by widespread violence. Police initially reported that more than 130 people had been killed since January in election-related violence, but later lowered that toll to 41, saying they were investigating whether the other deaths were linked to the polls.

Bontoc, a resort town known for its mountainside rice terraces, is about 175 miles north of Manila.

‘Open skies to raise profitability of local airlines’

By Roderick T. de la Cruz
Full report at the Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business5_may21_2007

Opening up the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport to foreign carriers will improve the profitability of local carriers, according to the advocates of open skies policy in Subic and Clark.

In a recent meeting with Pampanga-based businessmen, Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council chairman Edgardo Pamintuan said open skies would bring about competition, efficiency and profitability in the air transport sector.

Pamintuan, who once served as mayor of Angeles City, which has jurisdiction over Clark where the airport is located, said some government officials were trying to protect the interest of the local carriers, who fear competition.

“We need to convince, most particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications, that opening up the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport will not at all affect the business and profitability of the likes of Mr. Lucio Tan and Mr. John Gokongwei,” he said.

Pamintuan, who also heads the Luzon Urban Beltway super region, said the entry of foreign budget carriers in Clark had helped many Filipino workers overseas bound for Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.

“I need not mention about the boom in business and job opportunities here in Angeles City and nearby areas that the increased arrival of tourists has brought about,” he said.

Pamintuan and Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri earlier criticized the Civil Aeronautics Board, an agency under the transportation department, for opposing proposed Executive Order No. 500-B, which seeks to allow foreign carriers to set up at Clark. Pamintuan said the order would be issued soon.

Executives seek Manila reforms

By Roel Landingin in Manila
Published: May 20 2007 18:04 | Last updated: May 20 2007 18:04
Full report at the Financial Times
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ddbaf21e-06e5-11dc-93e1-000b5df10621.html

Philippine business leaders are rallying cross-aisle support for reforms they hope may be enacted by the incoming Congress within a hundred days of its convening in late July.

Samie Lim, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said action to forge a consensus among opposition and pro-government lawmakers about important bills intends to prove the country can overcome political differences and unite to shore up the economy: “We have to send a signal that we are serious in attracting foreign investments and moving our economy forward.”

Peso hits new six-year high despite S&P decision

Original report at ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=77885

The peso hit 46.39 to the US dollar early Monday, its strongest level since early 2001 on the back of strong foreign fund buying, firm local stocks, remittance flows and general Asian gain.

As of 10:18 a.m., the dollar was being traded between 46.57 and 46.41 on $344.35 million worth of trades.

A trader in Manila said he suspected central bank intervention but noted that dollar buying not aggressive.

Markets shrug off Friday's S&P decision to affirm the country's rating and maintain stable outlook despite talk in recent weeks of an upgrade to ratings outlook.

We were expecting a peso correction (down) after the S&P news, but that hasn't materialized," a trader said.

RP stocks set new record high led by Meralco

By Judith Balea
Full report at ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=77894

Philippine share prices closed at a new record high Monday, led by power distributor Meralco and top lender Metrobank, given rosy economic prospects, analyst said.

They said investors also took more agressive positions following a generally peaceful mid-term elections and favorable corporate first-quarter earnings results.

The Philippine Stock Exchange composite index rose 17.16 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,466.34, after reaching a record intraday high of 3,480.70.

Market breadth was positive with gainers beating losers, 71 to 33. Ther were 55 stocks unchanged.

The lesson is need for electoral reforms

View from the Palace
Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye
(For the week ending May 20, 2007)
Original article at Gov.Ph News
http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/palace_bunye.htm

The latest issue of ‘The Economist’ describes our voting system as "daft" which puts the people through an "absurd ordeal." While the article only describes the difficulty of having to fill up a ballot with 20 plus names, and therefore giving an advantage to wellknown names, our voting system has a host of other antiquated features that need to go.

Election Day has brought with it the usual problems: difficulty in finding one’s precinct (my wife had to struggle looking for her’s), overstressed teachers, reports about electoral fraud, and a predictable aftermath of a slow count. The mid-term elections were not without tragic incidents as underscored by the insidious torching of a public elementary school in Taysan, Batangas that led to the untimely deaths of teacher Nellie Banaag and poll watcher Leticia Ramos.

From the time that the congressional session starts until the next national elections, we must remember the sum of all our experiences in the 2007 elections. Much can be solved by automation, but for this to happen all elements – from legislation to budgetary support and a trouble-free, fully transparent and acceptable bidding process – must be in place. No less than the President, in her Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (or its more concise version that bears the acronym, BEAT THE ODDs), has pointed out that electoral reforms, particularly automated elections, are essential to political stability.

Congress did pass a law on automated elections early this year but the Commission on Elections averred that it came too late in the day to implement. In 2004, the Comelec purchased equipment to modernize elections but the Supreme Court stopped the entire process, citing flaws in the way the bidding procedure was carried out. Today, we continue to rely on the same antiquated system of voting, canvassing, and tabulation that our forbears used several decades ago. If we were to exercise political will, three years for electoral reforms do provide sufficient time. Yet, for this miracle of modernization to take place, we need to act as one nation committed to elevating its electoral system to a state-of-the art democratic exercise.

Short of full automation, we can immediately implement steps which are relatively easier to undertake. The voters’ revalidation some years back has enabled the Comelec to include the voters’ photo in the voters’ list. This should have been an added security feature. I did not notice that when I went to the precinct last week.

Dead people’s names are still not efficiently purged. Thought should be given to linking the Comelec’s database to the NSO’s to track the names of the deaceased for whom death certificates have been issued. It should be a matter of routine for the Comelec to delist these deceased persons from the voters’ list.

The administration is certainly up to the challenge of electoral reforms. Let us hope that such reforms will form part of a nation-building agenda that all sectors and political parties can support, as a vehicle towards constructive political engagement and increased people’s participation in national governance.

No new taxes

Officials react to Standard & Poor’s call
Full report at BusinessWorld
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW052107/content.php?id=001

Officials yesterday backed tweaks to existing laws and a focus on improving tax collections as Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (S&P) on Friday warned that "new revenue measures" would be needed for a better Philippine outlook.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo L. Neri ruled out new tax measures in the quest for an improved credit score, which would lower the country’s borrowing costs, and legislators indicated they would only back efforts to widen the revenue base and promote collection efficiency.

S&P on Friday said it was maintaining its "BB-/B" foreign currency and "BB+/B" local currency ratings on the Philippines, with a stable outlook.

...

Sought for comment, Mr. Neri said "We admit that there is really a problem on tax collection. To address this, what we need to do is collect what we need to collect."

"New tax measures are impossible because we just raised taxes last year when we expanded the VAT [value-added tax]," he said in a phone interview.

...

Senate Majority Leader Francis N. Pangilinan, meanwhile, said he would oppose new taxes as revenue agencies need to improve collections.

"The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs should meet their revenue targets," Mr. Pangilinan said.

House of Representatives economic affairs committee chairman and Antique Rep. Exequiel B. Javier said there is a need to update the existing "sin" tax law to current inflation levels. He also said he would support efforts to refile a bill rationalizing fiscal incentives.

Mr. Javier also called for strict implementation of the Attrition Law, which rewards revenue officials who meet collection targets and punishes those who fail.

House oversight committee chairman and Quezon Rep. Danilo E. Suarez, for his part, said he would push for a bill that would give the BIR the exclusive authority to handle, investigate and prosecute civil and criminal actions in tax cases. The Department of Justice currently handles tax cases.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

DBCC: Flat budget to free up P470B

Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/43208/DBCC-Flat-budget-to-free-up-P470B
05/20/2007 | 07:32 PM

The decision of the inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) to keep a balanced budget between 2008 and 2010 would free up over P470 billion for much needed infrastructure and basic social services.

The Cabinet-level DBCC met last Friday and approved the new fiscal tack that would create a “fiscal headroom" over the next three years to bankroll capital outlays for infrastructure projects as well as services particularly health and education.

The inter-agency body’s decision to keep a flat budget from 2008 to 2010 would help spur economic activities through increased investments in infrastructure projects as well as social services.

Under the original plan, the Philippines hopes to achieve a balanced budget by the end of 2008 and post a P12 billion surplus in 2009 and P17 billion surplus in 2010.

DBCC documents showed that the move to keep a balanced budget over the next three years would free up P57.7 billion next year, P143.9 billion in 2009, and P269.3 billion in 2010.

Of the total fiscal headroom in the next three years, about P162.7 billion or 35 percent has been allocated for priority infrastructure projects and social services. Bulk of the amount or P106.9 billion would fund infrastructure projects, about P46.3 billion would go to education, and P9.4 billion would go to education.

On the other hand, about P308.2 billion or 65 percent of the total free funds would be allocated for emerging priority projects that would be identified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

However, the funds for emerging priority projects would have to cover the reimbursement of National Power Corp. (Napocor) advances for Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm) as well as debt payment of National Food Authority (NFA) and requirements for MRT-3.

The administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has implemented a fiscal consolidation program aimed at putting an end to a decade of budget deficits through higher revenue collections.

The program was anchored on fiscal measures such as Republic Act 9334 or the indexation of excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products as well as RA 9337 or the Expanded Value Added Tax Act of 2005 that raised the sales tax to 12 percent and lifted the exemption of several sectors led by power and oil.

The program was adopted to balance the budget by the end of 2008 or two years ahead of the original 2010 schedule under the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP).

However, multilateral lending agencies led by the World Bank (WB) earlier said that the Philippines should stick to its commitment of balancing the budget by next year and achieving surpluses in 2009 and 2010.

Agencies led by Standard & Poors, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Services are closely watching developments in the fiscal front after upgrading the country’s credit rating outlook to stable from negative last year with the full implementation of the new VAT law.

However, these agencies continued to rate the country’s sovereign bonds below investment grade. Moody’s currently rates Philippine debt at four notches below investment grade, S&P at three below, and Fitch Ratings at two below.

Filipino World View

By Roberto R. Romulo
Friday, May 18, 2007
Philippine Star

As a Filipino, I have always been proud of our country and our people. Our struggle for independence, our toughness through countless calamities, our wonderful artistry and talent, our regard for family and home, our innate optimism, our homegrown heroes like Lea Salonga, Manny Pacquiao, Mikaela Fudolig and Efren 'Bata' Reyes — they all renew in me this sense of pride in our country.

At the same time, however, I find our national shortcomings difficult to comprehend. After more than three decades in the private and public sectors — working at home and abroad — it is frustrating to see our country still hobbled by the same old conundrums and headaches. Last Monday, for example, the first democracy in Asia voted under another shower of mayhem and surrealism, still refusing to automate the
process.

As a business friend quipped the other day: "We can't stand too much good news. We needed these elections to bring us back to earth."

This is not to say that the recent electoral exercise is a downer. When the smoke clears in this mid-term balloting, we will find it more stabilizing than we thought, and more affirmative than we hoped.

It's the same way with the economy and the country. While we may not be doing as well as administration propagandists would have us believe, we surely are not doing as badly as the trumpets of the opposition are blaring. One of the most striking things in the recent election campaign was the way many strenuously tried to debunk the current economic rebound of the country. I saw countless ads, commercials, columns, articles and text messages urging us to dismiss the news that our economic health is better. I heard a parade of talking heads decry the recent record of economic growth for failing to trickle down. I saw an ad criticizing the rising strength of the peso as nothing because the Thais have a stronger baht. And, yes, I heard attacks against call centers and BPO firms as just signs of the evils of globalization.

Modern psychology says that someone is in a "state of denial" when he or she cannot acknowledge painful realities, thoughts and feelings. Here we are seeing a reverse state of denial — refusing to acknowledge pleasant realities, improving numbers, the country performing better.

I happen to believe this economic turnaround is for real, the best we have had in a generation. And it can be sustained if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot and instead persist in the work that still needs to be done — the completion of the architecture of reform and the rigorous implementation of policy.

We must focus on the many opportunities today for our country to do better, the benefits that come from greater engagement in the world, and the advantages we possess by reason of our size, our position, our human resources, and our skills, including our English proficiency.

When I last looked at my almanac, we were the 12th largest country in the world with 88.4 million people. The only countries above us were the giants and the powers, i.e., China, India, the United States, Brazil and so on.

Some people might see this as a burden. I see it as a measure of national importance and potential. Believe it or not, we count for something in world affairs today because of our geography and our numbers. It is no accident that China and India are leading the way in the march of the Third World to the sunlight of development. While First World countries are troubled by their aging populations, the populous countries — at least those that are getting their policies right — are reaping what economists call "the demographic dividend." And we Filipinos are part of this tide of change.

East Asia, our home region, is the most dynamic in the world today. It has lifted more people out of poverty in a shorter period of time than any other region in the world. And it has done so largely because East Asian nations opened their economies to foreign trade, investment, technology, capital and ideas in order to strengthen both their domestic development and their international competitiveness.

We have embarked on the same road like our neighbors, but it remains a struggle to get all the right policies in place. Old notions of populism and protectionism remain strong despite being discredited as bankrupt. As a result, our level of investments is still low. We cannot mobilize the resources to upgrade infrastructure, expand businesses and create jobs. We strain to break into the six-percent growth level.

It is ironic that the Philippines — with 10 percent of its people living and working overseas — is still held back by an insular mind-set. In sector after sector — in tourism, trade, mining, and so on — we could forge ahead if only there were greater openness and more investment.

This is really a matter of national choice. We either get more engaged in the world, or we retreat behind our territorial waters. We either operate according to global standards, or we just stare at our navels.

And yet, in a sense, our people have already chosen, even if our leaders are slow to catch up. Our compatriots who are internationally acclaimed artists and designers, who are working overseas, who are studying or teaching abroad, or who are working with leading foreign companies here at home, have identified themselves with the new world economy. They are the leading edge of Filipino participation in the world community. And that, as we know, has already paid huge dividends for the nation.

Winds of change

EDITORIAL
The Philippine Star
Sunday, May 20, 2007
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?p=49&type=2&sec=25

Despite the usual violence, the slow count, vote-buying and accusations of vote manipulation, there are some refreshing developments in the midterm elections. The most notable is that the Filipino voter no longer looks blinded by popularity. In some areas, even money politics no longer seems to work.

The clearest indication of change is the resounding defeat of boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. Coming on the heels of his win over Mexico's Jorge Solis and the usual hero's welcome upon his return to the Philippines, Pacquiao's loss to a young, petite member of the Antonino clan in General Santos was all the more surprising for his camp. A battery of lawyers may yet challenge the election results, but Pacquiao should know when to show sportsmanship and concede. Filipinos love him — as a boxer, not a lawmaker.

Except for Vilma Santos, who has had several years to prove her mettle as a public administrator before seeking the governor's post in Batangas, other celebrity candidates have been trounced or appear headed for defeat. Some have openly sighed that they are suffering from the disappointing performance of other celebrities who have won public office.

As Santos has shown, not all celebrities perform badly in government. But the drubbing suffered by her celebrity colleagues is a welcome development for those who feared that popularity would always be the decisive factor in Philippine elections.

Even party machinery and large war chests are no guarantee of victory, as the defeat of Lilia Pineda at the hands of a priest who ran as an independent candidate in Pam-panga has shown. Father Ed Panlilio will have to quit the priesthood if the Catholic Church is serious about obeying Canon Law. And if the Church does not want to run out of priests, it will have to discourage the direct participation of its clergy in politics, which violates the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state. Still, the defeat of the influential Pinedas to a priest is a clear sign that voters want drastic change in Pampanga.

Across the country voters have managed to get their message across for change. This is evident in the emerging results of the race for 12 slots in the Senate, where voters have also shown that celebrity is no longer enough. Politicians ignore that message at their own peril.