Saturday, 22 September 2007

ZTE pushes for continuation of Senate inquiry; looks forward to SC decision

By Ronnel Domingo
Full report at the Inquirer
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view_article.php?article_id=90075

MANILA, Philippines--The fate of the $329-million deal for ZTE Corp. to build a National Broadband Network now must be taken up in the Supreme Court following a government announcement indefinitely suspending the contract, according to a company official.

"We all need to bring everything to the Supreme Court and whatever else would happen next must be done by following the legal process," said Howard Xue, global marketing director and chief information technology consultant of Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Corp. (ZTE Corp.)

The Court had issued an order temporarily restraining the project pending the resolution of the two cases filed against it.

In a phone interview shortly after Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila made the announcement, Xue said ZTE has not received a formal notice of the suspension.

"I only learned about this from a news website and the news report has very little detail," he said. "We still need to confirm this before we can make any official statement."

Further, Xue said the company was awaiting the continuation of the Senate hearings because "one hearing is not enough."

He was referring to the scheduled hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, where senators are expected to delve deeper into alleged bribery or the offering of commissions to Philippine government officials that led to ZTE's winning the contract.

...

Asked what ZTE would do if hearings did not push through due to the suspension of the contract, Xue said the firm regarded the continuation of the investigation to be important.

"[A continuation] would allow the Senate to consider more information that it was not able to peruse because of the lack of time during the first hearing," Xue said.

During a hastily organized media conference held at the lobby of the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel on Saturday, Favila said one of the reasons President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo decided to suspend the project was that Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro Mendoza proposed such a move.

Favila said the Chinese government was already aware of the move to suspend the ZTE contract since he had been doing some "back-channeling" for some time.

China supportive of decision on broadband suspension

Original reports at ABS-CBN News and GMANews.TV
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=93519
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61600/Suspension-of-2-projects-with-China-embarrassing---DOJ-chief

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said on Saturday that the controversial national broadband network (NBN) project which has been suspended is deemed strategically important by China in its bilateral relations with the Philippines.

"The Chinese government has given this project a high priority consideration which was manifested no less by the premier of China during his visit - Premier Wen Jiabao. This has been deemed strategically important in our bilateral relations with China," Favila said.

The suspended $329 million NBN project which aims to build a nationwide hi-tech telecommunications backbone that will link the telephone, cellular, and Internet services of all government offices was awarded by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to ZTE Corp., a China state-owned firm which is also listed in the Shenzhen stock exchange.

"This has been viewed by China since day one that this is strategically important to our bilateral relations" added Favila.

In a hastily called press conference in Shangri La Hotel in Makati City Favila announced the decision of President Arroyo to suspend the NBN project.

"I would just like to share with you that the much talked about and much maligned broadband project upon instructions of the president has been suspended," announced Favila together with acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera.

Favila also explained to reporters the process that resulted in the suspension of the project. He said the project was suspended when the Chinese government acceded to a request from the Philippine government.

"Late last night I received information from Beijing, from the authorities, that in the light of their continuing support and leadership of President Arroyo they would like to continue to help us out and they have been very understanding and supportive and they had agreed to our call for a suspension of this project," said Favila.

====

Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told GMANews.TV on Saturday that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's move to suspend two multi-million dollar projects with the Chinese government appeared as a political decision that must be handled with "utmost care and sensitivity" to avoid repercussions on the relationship between the Philippines and China.

She said that the two projects with China were both "aboveboard," based on the legal review of the "processes that were undertaken," for the transactions. She said this only goes to show that the basis of Mrs Arroyo's decision to suspend the projects was not anchored on any legal problem.

Devanadera was referring to the $329.48-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project with Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp and the Department of Education's $460-million Cyber Education project, which was still on the drawing board but will be funded through a loan from the Chinese government.

...

Devanadera said she was saddened by President Arroyo's decision because there was nothing wrong about the projects. She said she was also saddened by the country's loss of economic opportunity offered by China.

"Nalulungkot ako. Sumusuporta sila. Gustong gustong i-open ang coffers for us...Medyo embarrassing. Tingnan mo nangyayari, siguro ito ang gusto nating mangyari sa sarili natin" (I'm saddened by the suspension of the projects. The Chinese government is supporting the Philippines. They open their coffers for us. What happened was a bit embarrassing. Look what's happening to us, perhaps this is what we really what to happen to us)," she said.

She said diplomatic talks between the Philippines and China are definitely being made now. "But as to how, when and what, I can't tell."

Asked what would be the impact of Mrs Arroyo's decision on the Philippines relationship with China, Devanadera said: "If the President won't be able to come up with a Solomonic decision, I think this would be very embarrassing for our nation."

...

"On instructions of the President, Secretary Peter Favila conveyed to his counterpart the government's desire to suspend the implementation of the broadband deal," said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, in a statement posted on the Palace Web site.

"Minister Bo Xilai said his government understands and respects the decision of President Arroyo and will continue to support her and her programs, " Bunye added.

DOTC chief: I advised prexy to nix ZTE deal over destab plot

Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61586/DOTC-chief-I-advised-prexy-to-nix-ZTE-deal-over-destab-plot

Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza was the one who advised President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to suspend the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) project that was bagged by China's Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE), Corp. for $329.48 million last April, GMA news's Flash Report said on Saturday.

The report quoted Mendoza as saying that his advice to Mrs Arroyo was made in deference to the Supreme Court's order against the deal. Last September 11, the high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the implementation of the project.

Also, Mendoza reportedly said that he gave the advice to the President because the ZTE deal was being used for destabilization plots against the Arroyo administration.

The report also quoted Mendoza as saying that he and other Palace officials would still attend the inquiry on the NBN project if the Senate would order them to do so.

In a four-page resolution, the high bench ruled that, "Acting on the instant petition, without giving due course to the petition, to issue a TRO, effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court."

It also prevented "respondents and any of and all persons acting on their behalf from 'pursuing, entering into indebtedness, disbursing funds and implementing the ZTE-DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) broadband deal and project.'"

Magistrates sided with the TRO request of Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico asking to declare the ZTE contract as "unconstitutional."

This request was consolidated with the petition lodged by rival firm Amsterdam Holdings Inc, co-owned by Jose "Joey" de Venecia III. Joey is the son of House Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr.

The high bench did not act on Suplico's plea to set oral arguments.

It also granted the request of ZTE lawyers for 20 more days or until September 28 to comment on Suplico's petition. ZTE tapped the services of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law Offices for its legal concerns in the Philippines.

Govt suspends NBN deal; JDV elated

Reports from ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/topofthehour.aspx?StoryId=93503
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=93504

President Arroyo on Saturday ordered the suspension of the $329-million national broadband network deal between the Philippine government and China's ZTE Corp.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said Mrs. Arroyo personally gave him instructions to suspend the contract. "I think this is the best thing to do now. Those are her instructions," he said in a DZMM interview.

The announcement came four days after Senate initiated an inquiry on alleged irregularities in the NBN deal.

JDV thanks GMA, praises Chinese


Speaker Jose de Venecia praised Saturday President Arroyo's decision to suspend the $329-million national broadband network contract between the Philippine government and China's ZTE Corp.

"I am very happy because I have always wanted the contract to be suspended and reviewed," he told radio DZMM after Malacañang's announcement.

De Venecia thanked Mrs. Arroyo for considering proposals to review the deal offered by ZTE Corp. He also praised Chinese officials for "considering" the need to review the contract amid allegations that is overpriced.

He said the government should consider building the network through the build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme at no cost to government or to taxpayers.

"Dapat walang gastos ang gobyerno. Walang risk ang Philippine government. (The government shouldn't spend. There should be no risk to the government). No sovereign risk - that is what my son Joey proposed," he added, referring to businessman Jose "Joey" de Venecia III's proposal for the NBN project.

GMA acts to squelch talks of De Venecia’s unseating

Full report at The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news2_sept22_2007

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has moved to avert calls from administration allies in the House to unseat Speaker Jose de Venecia as she urged members of her political party, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, to avoid knee-jerk reactions over the controversial broadband deal.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said De Venecia and Mrs. Arroyo spoke privately for about 30 minutes at the Palace Wednesday night during a meeting of about 120 administration congressmen reportedly set up by the President’s son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

“What they basically discussed was to calm down the congressmen. The reason why they met was to show everybody that there is no bad blood between them, to calm people down, and to assure [them] that things are not taken personally,” Puno said at the Palace.

Filipino tech bloggers frustrated with NBN Senate investigation

By Erwin Oliva
Full report at the INQUIRER.net
http://technology.inquirer.net/infotech/infotech/view_article.php?article_id=89921

MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino tech blogger Abe Olandres wanted to jump out of his seat and explain to Senators the technical aspects of the controversial national broadband network (NBN) project, as he watched the live broadcast of Thursday's senate hearing.

"[I've] been watching the live broadcast of the Senate hearing over the National Broadband Network Project for the last 7 hours and I must say that despite the politics behind the issue, I was more frustrated with the Senators asking repetitive questions and making non-sense tech-related conclusions (that goes to Manuel "Mar" Roxas and Richard "Dick" Gordon)," Olandres wrote in a recent entry.

Olandres was among the local bloggers who are weighing the issues surrounding the NBN project.

Olandres who is also known as "Yuga," did not mince words, as he openly expressed his frustration.

"It's just frustrating to realize that such a technological leap forward is marred with corruption and politics. I was jumping on my seat itching to explain to our dear senators the difference between WiMAX, 3G, CDMA2000 and satellite technologies or why the last mile is the most problematic and costly even to the existing private telcos. But, such is life in this country," he wrote.

Filipino activist and techie Anthony Ian Cruz also shared Olandres’ sentiments.

"I think Yugatech is justified in bewailing the ignorance of our lawmakers on the project. I agree with him that we need a broadband network. It is really important and countries such as Singapore plan to have one soon. Australia, according to one study, obtained immense benefits from their own broadband network," he wrote in his blog.

DTI secretary agrees to public scrutiny of NBN proposals

Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61565/DTI-secretary-agrees-to-public-scrutiny-of-NBN-proposals

Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila is amenable to the suggestion of having the offers of the three proponents of the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) project undergo public scrutiny.

In an interview with Vice President Noli de Castro's program on radio dzMM on Saturday, Favila said he was open to suggestions to have the proposals of China's Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp., US's Arescom Inc and Jose "Joey" de Venecia III's Amstersdam Holdings, Inc (AHI) evaluated by a third party to determine which among the proposals is best for the NBN project.

"Papayag po kami d'yan ("We concur with that"), said Favila when asked by De Castro if he would agree to have the proposals scrutinized by the public through a third party evaluation.

But Favila said the proposals that would undergo evaluation should be the original proposals that were submitted to the government. "Kung ano ang sinubmit nila, 'yon ang pagbabatayan ng scrutiny. (Whatever they had submitted will be the basis for the scrutiny.)"

Nonetheless, Favila reiterated his position that of the three firms, ZTE still offered the best proposal. He said Arescom and AHI's proposals could also be considered overpriced because of the limited coverage of Internet service they offered to the government.

He said that while Arescom offered the lowest project cost of $135 million, the proposal would only cover offices under the Department of Interior and Local Government. Meanwhile, AHI, which offered $242 million, would only cover Internet connection for government offices that are within the first, second and third class municipalities.

But under ZTE, which bagged the project for $329.48 million, Favila said Internet connection of government offices would be nationwide, which would include fourth to sixth class municipalities where the poorest of the poor barangays (villages) are located.

"Kaya 'yung overpricing depende sa coverage (Overpricing depends on the coverage). The ZTE project was studied by a technical working group...Parang pakong meron ding presyo. Nagtanong ng competitive prices within industries, (it's just like nails, you ask around for prices within industries)" said Favila. - GMANews.TV

‘Hot money’ inflows prevail once more

By M. E. I. Calderon
Original article at BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW092207/content.php?id=003

Net portfolio investment flows, or so-called "hot money," have swung back into positive territory for the first time in four weeks in the week ending September 7, suggesting a revival in risk appetite towards Philippine stocks and equities.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed portfolio investments posting a net inflow of $67.6 million in the Sept. 3-7 period, bringing the cumulative net inflow for the January to first week of September period to $3.4 billion.

In August, more investments exited the country than those that came in, with "hot money" posting a negative flow of $246.4 million — the first time in one and a half years — following vicious sell-offs of Asian stocks and bonds triggered by troubles in the US subprime mortgage market.

The latest weekly net portfolio flows data was nearly twice stronger than the $37 million registered a year ago.

On a gross basis, portfolio investments recorded by the central bank during the period totaled $238.11 million, a 79% increase from last year’s $133 million.

Outflows or capital repatriations, meanwhile, amounted to $170.48 million, up by 37% from $124.41 million a year ago.

Cram sessions in Senate to rush 14 bills in next 15 working days

FINALLY, AFTER WASTING PRECIOUS TIME IN CONSPIRACY DEBATES [--Ed.]
Full report at BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW092207/content.php?id=002

Senate President Manuel Villar said in a statement yesterday that the Senate targets to pass at least 14 measures before its first adjournment for the first regular session of the 14th Congress this Oct.13.

Congress resumes session on November 5, the first Monday after the All Saints Day holiday.

"We are giving priority to 14 bills in the remaining three weeks before adjournment," the statement quoted Mr. Villar, president of the Nacionalista Party, as saying in a radio interview.

The Senate is giving priority to seven social justice measures, namely:

  • the Cheaper Medicines Act
  • the expansion of agricultural assistance to farmers and scholarships to their children under the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund bill
  • the Veterans bill
  • the human rights indemnity for prisoners
  • the new University of the Philippines Charter
  • strengthening the judiciary by giving additional retirement benefits to judges and justices, and the
  • amendment to the Child Pornography Law.

Also in the priority list of the Senate are:

  • the bill fixing the term of the Armed Forces chief of staff to three years
  • the proposed Tourism Act
  • the Anti-cellfone theft bill
  • creation of the Commission on Missing Persons;
  • as well as three economic bills, particularly:
  1. the proposed Credit Information Bureau Act
  2. the proposed Personal Equity Retirement Act, and
  3. the amendment to the Small and Medium Enterprises Law.
Mr. Villar said floor debates start next week.

"By Monday, the Senate shall be at the height of its legislative duties, particularly sponsorships and legislative debates on priority measures, and the adoption of committee reports," he said in the statement.

"We may have marathon sessions from Monday to Wednesday, and conduct our investigations on Thursdays and Fridays, including parallel hearings on the 2008 national budget which have been going on at full pelt," he added.

"Normally, the Senate, during the first regular session, is unable to pass bills," he recalled. "But this time, we expect to pass measures in the list of our priority."

("Marathon sessions". These could have been avoided if the Senate were more focused on real governance issues. We hope that there will be more selflessness, a greater desire to serve, less clowning around, on the part of the lawmakers of the land. It is not surprising that the number of newspaper articles on tangible achievements of the legislators are a drop in the bucket, compared to the articles on accusations and counter-accusations. --Ed.)

Jollibee acquires another China restaurant chain for $50M

By Zinnia B. Dela Peña
Full report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27

Fastfood giant Jollibee Foods Corp. has acquired the Chinese restaurant chain Hongzhuangyuan for $50.5 million.

The acquisition is part of Jollibee’s strategy of building its business abroad and expanding its presence in China.

Hongzhuangyuan has 26 company-owned stores all located in Beijing and seven franchised stores in other cites in China, which are projected to register $24 million in sales this year.

Jollibee said the acquisition will be paid in cash in three tranches over a period of 12 months from the time of completion of the acquisition. Funding will come from internally-generated cash.

JFC chairman and chief executive officer Tony Tan Caktiong said the planned acquisition is in line with the Jollibee Group’s strategy to continue building its businesses abroad and expanding its presence in China.

“We are encouraged by our continued progress in foreign businesses including Yonghe King in China. Hongzhuangyuan will be a strong addition to our presence in China in terms of market segment and geographical coverage,” Tan said.

He explained “the brand has a unique concept consisting of serving a variety of local Chinese food centered around congee. The product offerings at their price points provide superior value, thus attracting a high number of customers at different parts of the day. We believe that this restaurant chain has the potential for broad acceptance across China.”

JFC chief finance officer Ysmael Baysa said the purchase price is based on a multiple of earnings that is comparable with Jollibee’s previous acquisitions.

Baysa said Hongzhuangyuan is quite profitable and has no debt.

By the time the acquisition has been completed, the total number of Hongzhuangyuan stores would have grown from the existing 33 to 38.

Baysa said the acquisition which is subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions, may take several months to complete as per agreement with the sellers who are entrepreneurs who built the business.

He also disclosed that the financial and tax due diligence was performed by Price Waterhouse Coopers while the legal due diligence was conducted by Jun He Law Firm, both reputable international firms with significant practices in Beijing.

Jollibee continues to explore other acquisition opportunities around Asia even as its local business remains strong.

“Our market research data indicate that our brands have sustained or even improved their market shares.

The Jollibee Group will continue to strengthen and defend the leadership positions of its brands in the Philippines, which remains without doubt our most important market,” Tan said.

Jollibee has been buying new businesses and shares in existing business ventures, having acquired Yonghe King, Red Ribbon Bakeshop in the Philippines and the United States and the remaining 50 percent of Delifrance’s franchise in the Philippines over the past four years.

Jollibee operates the largest food service network in the Philippines. As of end-June this year, it had a total of 1,559 stores worldwide, 1,385 of which are located in the Philippines and 174 abroad (102 Yonghe King in China, 12 Jollibee in the US, 19 Red Riboon in the US, 12 Chowking in the US, seven Chowking in Dubai, five Chowking in Indonesia, 16 Jollibee in other countrties and 1 CST in China.

Convert ZTE deal to BOT project: JDV urges GMA

Full article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20070921168

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said yesterday he had tried to persuade President Arroyo to scrap the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) contract with ZTE Corp. of China or undertake the project through a build-operate-transfer scheme.

De Venecia said he made the suggestion over the phone “four or five days ago” or before the start of the Senate hearing on the controversial broadband deal.

He recalled advising Mrs. Arroyo that “converting NBN into a BOT project would put an end to all this controversy.” The President, he said, promised to relay his suggestion to Trade Secretary Peter Favila.

(JDV makes sense. If only newspapers would not twist statements and facts. --Ed.)

Friday, 21 September 2007

21 September 2007

Today is the 35th anniversary of Proclamation 1081, signed by then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos on 21 September 1972, declaring Martial Law in the Philippines. We pray that it may never happen again.

NBN: Inside story on Cabinet deliberations

Exclusive full story at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61443/Cabinet-split-on-cost-benefits-of-NBN-overlap-with-CyberEd

Among the big issues about the NBN deal that split the Arroyo Cabinet, then Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri pointed out:

• The terms of China’s loan for the project “are actually almost commercial."
• “A basic overlap" between the NBN and the Cyber Education Project funded by another China government loan that cost “around P4 billion to P5 billion."
• “The definition, quantification and computation of the project benefits."

In addition, the Cabinet officials at the March 26 meeting questioned:

• “The rationale of government venturing into the project despite private sector provision of similar services."
• The NBN’s “advantages over CEP."
• “Whether the Chinese are capable of providing 4G technology given that China is still in the process of developing its 3G technology."

These policy differences were spelled out in minutes of the joint meeting of NEDA Investment Coordinating Committee, Technical Board and Cabinet Committee held at the Department of Finance office in the Bangko Sentral compound in Manila.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves presided over the meeting attended by six Cabinet secretaries, four undersecretaries, a BSP director, and 33 other executive officials and staff personnel.

Curiously, just a week earlier on March 19, 2007, the minutes cited that the CEP or Cyber Education Project had just been approved by the NEDA ICC.

“The main objective of the CEP is to accelerate the provision of equitable access to quality education through the use of Information and Communication Technology, which will involve the use of satellite-based interactive facilities intended for real-time broadcasting of instructions/lectures," the minutes stated.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, in earlier reports, affirmed that CEP will cost the government P26.48 billion, of which 86 per cent or P22.77 billion from a separate loan from China.

Lapus said the CEP loan agreement [was signed by?] Secretary Favila for DepEd and Dr. Kang Ke Jung of Tsinghua Tongfang Nuctech Co. in Boao, China, on April 21, 2007 – the same date of signing reflected in the “provisional agreement" on the NBN deal with ZTE Corporation.

The minutes of the March 26 meeting of the NEDA ICC, Cabinet Committee and Technical Board showed that the preferences of the government of China prevailed in the discussions on the NBN, despite concerns by some Philippine officials about its economic viability.

For instance, the minutes stated: “Assuming the NBN project will only cover the above allocated 4,282 schools (per CEP proposal), the project will no longer be economically viable, with a computed economic NPV (net present value) of negative P1,581.45 million and EIRR of 13.01%."

It continued: “However, there was an earlier indication from the Chinese government that it will not fund the components of the NBN project which cater to e-education component." This preference of the Chinese government prompted local officials to shift the NBN’s focus on barangays as beneficiaries.

“In this regard," the minutes stated, “instead of catering to schools, the NBN may provide coverage to barangay offices."

Thus, “with the assumption of barangay coverage for NBN project of 23,549 barangays (about 56 percent of 41,982 total barangays and 2,000 NGA (national government agency) offices, the economic NPV of the project is computed at PhP652.13 and an EIRR of 15.8%."

It must be noted that in a separate “Project Evaluation Report" that NEDA produced on March 29, 2007, the NEDA judged the NBN as “economically viable" in light of “adjustments and assumptions."

Yet the only adjustment made, it seemed, was the increase in the number of national government agencies to be covered, from 2,000 to 2,295 listed in the March 29 report.

The cost of overlap between the NBN and CEP was also a major point raised by Neri. But this results mainly from the terms of the separate loans from China for the two projects – that the Chinese government made known in communication from its embassy in Manila.

In the March 26 meeting minutes, Neri was said to have noted that “the Chinese Government’s position that the NBN and the Cyber Education projects be treated separately."

“He (Neri) added that while the Chinese Embassy, in a letter, expressed readiness to show flexibility should DepEd and DOTC reach an agreement, Secretary Lapus has already indicated his preference that the CEP network be dedicated to education. Secretary Mendoza, he shared, has also expressed readiness to remove the schools as part of the NBN project design."

The minutes continued: “Secretary Neri noted the basic overlap seems to be in the antenna. The CEP antenna, he added, would be basically satellite-based, and with limited Internet capability."

But “the ZTE antenna, on the other hand, will have multiple applications and in fact, maybe (sic) used to complement the CEP antenna once the schools require full internet access."

The cost on the government of this overlap is huge – it amounts to about one-third of the entire NBN project cost. “The cost of this overlap," Neri said in the minutes, “is around PhP4 billion to PhP5 billion."

As of March 26, 2007, or three weeks before the "provisional contract" with ZTE was signed, the ICC-Cabinet Committee and Technical Board of NEDA had serious doubts about the "economic viability" of the project. Too, they wanted to be further assured that it would be good for the government to have its own backbone, rather than use private sector services.

The minutes prodded the DOTC "to refine the NBN proposal" to shore up its "economic viability" values. In particular, the minutes recommended that DOTC do the following:

* "Alternatively develop its application to the 23,549 barangays, instead of focusing on schoolbuildings, thus refining DOTC's estimated economic benefits of the NBN project. This is expected to improve the economic viability of the project (estimated at least with a NPV of PhP0.7billion, EIRR of 15.8%."
* "Pursue concessionality of the proposed Chinese financing at least to that provided for DepEd's Cyber Education Project;" and
* "In relation to the available broadband services from the private sector, establish clearly the public sector savings of having such a govenrment backbone by not using private sector providers, as well as indicate cost-recovery measures, where applicable."

20 more infrastructure projects identified

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
Original report at The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business4_sept20_2007

The Luzon Urban Beltway, one of the five super regions created by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has identified 20 more infrastructure projects that will be implemented in Luzon until 2010.

Edgardo Pamintuan, chairman of the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council and the Luzon Urban Beltway, said this brought to 44 the number of infrastructure projects that the LUB would implement in Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and the provinces of Mindoro and Marinduque.

These projects were among those mentioned by President Arroyo in her State-of-the-Nation Address in July.

“All in all, there are 44 projects now under LUB. We have 14 roads and bridges, 8 railways, 5 seaports and RoRo [roll-on roll-off] ports, 4 power and electrification projects, 3 water projects, 2 airports, 2 hospitals, 1 irrigation project, 1 flood control project, and 1 housing project,” Pamintuan said.

He said they include six major road projects: Metro Manila Skyway Stage 2 (Bicutan-Alabang, Muntinlupa), North Luzon East Expressway (Bulacan, NCR and Nueva Ecija), North Luzon Expressway Phase 2 (C-5 to McArthur Highway), South Luzon Expressway Extension (Alabang-Calamba), Tarlac-La Union Toll Expressway Phase 1 (Tarlac-La Union), and Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan Road (Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora).

Four rail projects have also been identified, namely Light Rail Transit Line-1-Ninoy Aquino International Airport Connector (Baclaran LRT1-NAIA), LRT Line-2 Phase-2 (Santolan LRT-2-Masinag, Antipolo), Mainline South Railway Project Phase 1A (Laguna, Quezon), and Metro Rail Transit-3 capacity expansion (Edsa).

The additional projects also include two port projects—Batangas Port in Batangas and Port of Real in Quezon.

Several water, irrigation and energy projects will be implemented, including the Laiban Dam project in Rizal province, Barangay Electrification Program, National Electrification Administration Subsidy Program for electric cooperatives on rural electrification, Bataan liquefied natural gas terminal, Bataan-Manila pipeline project, Biñan-Sucat 239 KV Transmission Line Project, Small Irrigation Project, and Kamanava Flood Control Project (Kalookan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzula).

Other projects were the Women’s Medical Center and upgrading of the National Kidney Transplant Institute and other government hospitals, and low-cost housing program for resettled families.

“The projects that are to be implemented or being implemented nationwide will be supervised by the LUB together with other super regions concerned that have territorial jurisdiction over them,” Pamintuan said.

“The LUB is tasked to orchestrate and fast-track the delivery of these projects at a very least cost to the government and in full transparency,” he said. “This means synergizing all the elements necessary and getting together all the players and stakeholders to be, if necessary, single-minded in the agreed overall goal of achieving more developments.”

Q2 07 BOP Reverses to Surplus From Year-Ago Deficit, Bringing First Semester 07 BOP Surplus to US$3.2 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Release
See full report at http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1655
09.20.2007

The balance of payments (BOP) in the second quarter of the year reversed to a surplus of US$1.8 billion from a deficit of US$81 million a year ago, spurred by the continued strength in the current account and the rebound in the capital and financial account. On a cumulative basis, the BOP position for the first half of the year yielded a US$3.2 billion surplus, considerably higher by 56.8 percent compared to the US$2.0 billion posted during the same period a year ago.

The developments in the external payments position brought the BSP’s gross international reserves (GIR) to US$26.4 billion as of end-June 2007. This was higher by 14.9 percent compared to the end-December 2006 GIR level of US$23.0 billion. At this level, the GIR cushion was equivalent to 4.8 months’ worth of imports of goods and payment of services and income. In terms of short-term debt coverage, the reserve level was 5.2 times the amount of the country’s short-term external liabilities based on original maturity and 2.8 times based on residual maturity.

Bank Lending to Productive Sectors of the Economy Higher in July

Bangko Sentral
Media Release
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1654
09.17.2007

Outstanding loans of commercial banks, thrift banks and rural banks (net of reverse repurchase or RRP placements) expanded by 6.9 percent year-on-year in July compared to the 4.7 percent growth posted in the previous month. This was a substantial improvement from the 0.5 percent expansion registered in the same month a year ago.

Gross of banks’ RRP placements with the BSP, bank lending grew by 3.4 percent year-on-year in July from 4.9 percent in June, as banks shifted their placements with the BSP from RRPs to SDAs. This was lower than the 5.6 percent growth in the same month last year. On a month-on-month basis, seasonally adjusted lending also slowed down to 0.2 percent from the 1.0 percent expansion registered a month ago.

Lending to all sectors of the economy registered expansions, except in the mining, manufacturing and utilities sectors which registered declines. In the case of the latter two, however, their declines were less than those recorded in the previous month. The transportation, storage and communications and construction sectors led the expansion at 11.0 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. While the financial institutions, real estate and business services (FIREBS) sector grew only by 4.6 percent during the period, net of RRP placements it posted the highest growth at 21.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the slower growth observed in most of the sectors may be attributed partly to the fact that companies are increasingly sourcing their funding requirements from outside the banking system, as preliminary data indicate that corporate borrowings from non-bank sources continued to grow during the first eight months of 2007.

Bank lending is a key driver of domestic liquidity and at the same time a major indicator of economic activity. The BSP will continue to closely watch developments in bank lending, with a view to ensuring stable prices while providing for the liquidity needs of the economy.

Documents relating to NBN deal

Click on this link to the Inquirer (http://inquirer.net/specialreports/nbndeal/documents/documents.php)

Sick man rebounding

TO THE POINT
By Emil Jurado
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=emilJurado_sept19_2007

The Philippine economic turnaround is for real.

The article traces the country’s economic growth and cites the hurdles for the President to overcome, among others, crony capitalism, graft and corruption, too much partisan politics, and many seemingly unsolvable economical problems.

The essence of The Wall Street Journal story is that GMA managed to have an economic turnaround for the country despite these hurdles, and was brave enough to make unpopular decisions for the general good.

This is welcome in our politically polluted environment: The controversial national broadband network deal, the never-ending teleserye that is “Hello, Garci,” the upcoming education department’s CyberEd project and many other alleged scandals that senators eyeing the presidency in 2010 would love to resurrect and investigate “in aid of their political agenda.”

While President Arroyo, an economist, should get all the credit, I’d also like to mention here her economic managers, headed by Finance Secretary Gary Teves. Teves’ team, which includes Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, Bangko Sentral Gov. Amando Tetangco, National Economic and Development Authority Director General Romulo Neri (who has since moved to be chairman of the Commission on Higher Education but was replaced by officer-in-charge Augusto Santos) and Budget Secretary Rolly Andaya.

***

The political opposition and all the other critics of the President may pooh-pooh all the good news that the country is now getting, like the Asian Development Bank adjusting upwards its economic forecast for the country, as well as credit rating agencies upgrading the status of the Philippines. It’s a fact that there’s an economic turnaround. Only the blind will not see. Or, worse, those with eyes but refuse to admit and see.

All these good developments in the economy may not as yet be felt by the poor, but soon enough it will. After all, the Great Wall of China and the pyramids of Egypt were not built overnight. The fact is that the poor will always be with us—just as there is poverty even in the United States and Japan, with its many soup kitchens and the tents in front of the Imperial Palace, all in the midst of plenty.

It is for this reason that GMA’s successor must continue with the fiscal and economic reforms she has started. Only this way can the country continue moving forward.

Full-page advertisements in national broadsheets yesterday about the good news, with the tagline “Asenso ng Bayan, Asenso ng Bawat Isa, Magtulungan Tayo (progress of the nation, progress of every one, let’s help each other),” hits the mark.

It’s time for all of us, whether we are for or against Malacañang, to get our acts together to move this country forward.

***

Years ago, helplessness and hopelessness pervaded the country. With the economic turnaround as seen through the eyes of foreigners and investors, these sentiments have also been changing.

Still, there are continuing attempts of partisan politicians to downgrade all these economic gains of the country.

I can point to only one presidential hopeful with the credentials to continue GMA’s fiscal and economic policies. But opposition or not, the next president owes it to the people to move the country forward.

President Arroyo was right after all in concentrating with the economy, unmindful of the destructive culture of politics. Whatever is said about our President, I maintain that she’s not only lucky. She enjoys the guidance of Divine Providence.

A dinner with President Arroyo

VIRTUAL REALITY
By Tony Lopez
Full article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/sept/21/yehey/opinion/20070921opi5.html

The officers and governors of the Manila Overseas Press Club had a thoroughly enjoyable night with President Gloria Arroyo Tuesday (September 18). The MOPC contingent was led by myself as BizNewsAsia publisher and chairman of Asia’s oldest press club and the Philippines’ most prestigious press club, Philippine Star’s Babe Romualdez as president, and Manila Standard Today’s Emil Jurado as vice-president.

With the President was the affable and dapper Press Secretary Toting Bunye, the former Ayala exec who became mayor of Muntinlupa and converted it into a bustling city and alternative business center. He has been GMA’s longest-serving press secretary and the longest serving, postmar­tial law.

The five-course dinner was preceded by cocktails with red and white wine and nuts. The President walked into the Palace Music Room looking radiant and ebullient in blue dress and with very little jewelry, except for a diamond brooch and a blue leather-strapped watch which showed two time zones. She had a long day having come from Zamboanga.

The President said she missed Max Soliven. “The defender of the faith,” I remarked. “No, Max was very objective,” she clarified. Someone mentioned Diosdado Macapagal, GMA’s father. I informed GMA “he was the first Philippine president I ever met, in Malacañang, during a Boys and Girls Week event. He had warmth and simplicity but with an aura of power.” He didn’t have GMA’s short fuse, a trait our gracious hostess denied having during the 90-minute dinner.

I was the last journalist who interviewed President Dadong with then Senator Gloria Arroyo serving as interpreter in 1995 at their modest Forbes Park bungalow with a sprawling garden. Dadong talked about his legacy and gave me his book, A Stone for the Edifice, which President Arroyo uses occasionally as her governance bible. Known as the poor boy from Lubao and “The Incorruptible,” Dadong was a bar topnotcher and had a doctorate in both civil law and economics. After the interview, his wife, Eva Macaraeg Macapagal, invited me as “special guest” to dinner at their Forbes Park home. I thought I was the only guest. It turned out to be a victory party for Senator Arroyo’s reelection victory. The main course was chicken.

After that, Dadong fell ill and died in 1997, at the age of 86. “He was no longer lucid,” GMA recalled to us of her father’s final days. I remember Dadong as the president who abolished land tenancy and imposed the first genuine land reform. Rejecting a White House invitation for a state visit, Macapagal changed Independence Day from July 4 to June 12, declared Sabah belonged to the Philippines, and presided over an economy that was the No. 1 in Asia, outside Japan, from 1962 to 1965.

As GMA ushered us into the adjoining formal dining room, she again gave me credit for pointing out for her 2006 State of the Nation address, that the economy has had its strongest and longest expansion “in the last quarter century.” “The last quarter century” would be her favorite expression in succeeding speeches. Of late, the phrase has been replaced by “the best in a generation,” which is 30 years.

The economy was the main topic with the President during the rather sumptuous (by GMA’s Spartan standards, anyway) of seared fish fillet and pasta, capped with luscious chocolate cake and brewed coffee. She was agog about the Wall Street Journal’s gung-ho page one article by James Hookway, a frequent Manila visitor. WSJ reported September 13 “the perpetual sick man of Asia is making an unexpected recovery,” quotes Adrian Mowat, a stock strategist, saying, “the Philippines could be the next India in terms of its ability to surprise” and gives credit to President Arroyo. “The next India”—the President relished it. I reminded her India is not exactly a good metaphor because as a ratio of the population or percentage-wise, the Philippines has a greater middle class.

“The stock market has soared over the past two years, although it has faltered recently. Foreign investors are coming back, attracted by the Philippines’ young population—the average age of its 89 million people is 22—and the widespread use of English, a legacy of its past as an American colony. The call-center business is thriving, some of it poached from India,” Hookway asserted. “Two years ago, with thousands of street pro­testors threatening to oust her and the country drifting toward a financial crisis, she pushed a higher sales tax through Congress and signed it into law over the objections of her advisers. The move raised the tax to 12 percent from 10 percent and expanded it to a range of new products and services, including gasoline.”

I am glad the foreign press is finally getting the drift which my BizNewsAsia weekly magazine had been pointing out, before anybody was looking—the Philippine economy was growing at its best “in the last quarter century” and will be, as Goldman Sachs predicts, become one of the 15 richest countries on earth in 50 years.

President Arroyo was all vivacity and verve during the dinner, oblivious of any problem or negative concern. Her secret? “I hear Mass every day, do aerobics three times a week, and have seven hours of sleep every night.” “Do you ever have a problem?” I asked her. She just smiled.

Six Customs officials face graft

FIGHT AGAINST GRAFT CONTINUES
By Judy T. Gulane
Original report at The BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW092107/content.php?id=071

SIX CUSTOMS PERSONNEL face criminal and administrative sanctions for allegedly undervaluing and illegally releasing 14 luxury cars out of the Subic free port area.

The cases against the six were the latest filed under the Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) program of the Finance department, which seeks to weed out corrupt officials and employees from government revenue agencies.

Charged by RIPS officers before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday were Josephine S. Dullas, Bureau of Customs-Subic certificate of payment unit acting chief; examiners Orlando R. Ronquillo, Rustico M. Mallari and Enrico C. Cruz; and appraisers Ebrahim M. Pangkatan and Rodolfo C. Casis.

The six, said RIPS officers, had helped undervalue 14 luxury cars imported by Subic locator Hidemitsu Trading Corp. and their illegal release from the free port area into Philippine Customs territory.

Hidemitsu had imported the luxury cars to the country through Subic, but since its board chairman and authorized representative Alfonso Dominguez had complained to Customs Commissioner Napoleon L. Morales in February, they were smuggled out of their holding area in Subic by Korean nationals and their Filipino partners.

Mr. Morales ordered the Task Force Anti-Smuggling-Special Operations Group to look for the cars in vehicle showrooms in Metro Manila.

Five of the vehicles — two BMWs, an Audi, a Nissan Armada and a Corvette convertible — were found in Auto Trend Center in Timog Ave., Quezon City on March 2.

Nine, consisting of BMWs, Audis, Escalades, Acuras and Infinitys, were recovered from Viper Auto Trading and a private residence in Angeles City on March 7. The 14 cars, seized by Customs-Subic, are now kept in a warehouse.

RIPS officers said Customs examiners Messrs. Ronquillo, Mallari and Cruz treated the brand new vehicles as used and second-hand. Customs appraisers Messrs. Pangkatan and Casis thereafter computed the duties and taxes based on the classification.

An Audi 8L, for instance, was valued at $2,100 when its actual value was $72,090. Duties and taxes paid amounted to only P185,917.

Ms. Dullas then signed the certificates of payment "knowing fully well that the correct amount of duties and taxes... has not been paid in full," RIPS officers said.

"Consequently, [the] vehicles illegally entered the Philippine Customs territory, and worse, were even registered by the Land Transportation Office on the basis of [the] sham and bogus certificates of payment," they added.

Total duties and taxes paid on the cars reached only P2.56 million, a small fraction of what should have been the correct amount, they pointed out.

Romeo Tomas, Jr., RIPS executive officer, said 40 cases have been filed under RIPs since the program started in December 2003.

The cases involved 58 officers and employees of the Internal Revenue and Customs bureaus. Eight have been dismissed from service, while eight others have been suspended by the Ombudsman. RIPS enjoys funding from the US government through the Millennium Challenge Account-Philippine Threshold program.

Neda Board okays P24B in projects

By Cai Ordinario
Full report at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/0921&222007/headlines02.html

THE National Economic and Development Board, chaired by the President and composed of Cabinet officials with the National Economic and Development Authority
(Neda) director general as vice chairman, recently approved P23.88 billion in social-development, infrastructure, governance, and industry and services projects.

The total is broken down into P5.29 billion for social- development projects, P6.32 billion for infrastructure projects, P11.59 billion for governance projects and P675 million for industry and services projects.

The Mindanao Economic and Development Council (MEDCo)-proposed Mindanao Peace and Development (MPAD) project was given P11.59 billion. The MEDCo project, an assistance agreement with the United States, aims to develop what is needed to expand economic opportunities in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

The funds come as a Washington grant. Subsequent increments will be made subject to United States Assistance for International Development (USAID) fund availability. Activities for this project will be implemented from October this year to September 2012.

Another project approved was the Canadian-supported P675-million Sectoral Enhancement for Enterprise Development (SEED) directed at increasing competitiveness of key small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through the improvement of SME capacity to mobilize resources, expand market access, increase employment, strengthen government and private-sector partnerships, capacity to improve the policy environment for SME development, and improve the capacity of organizations to deliver business-support services.

The Canadian Executing Agency will work with partner-agencies and other groups in the implementation of the SEED project. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will provide key advisory services for the implementation of the project as cochairman of the Project Steering Committee.

Other government agencies participating are the Department of Agriculture, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Tourism.

The Canadian International Development Agency Private Sector Development Program will provide the grant for the project. The DTI will provide the local counterpart in the form of personnel. The project will be implemented from 2008 to 2012.

In social development, the P640-million Health Sector Reform Project will involve a €10-million KfW loan as an additional financing support for the health-sector-reform initiatives being carried out by the Department of Health.

In addition, the Neda board also approved the P4.65-billion Health Care Investment Facility project to help modernize hospital and health-care facilities, health-care business solutions, and health-care protection such as supporting investments in HMOs or the investment requirements of health outsourcing firms “as an antipoverty strategy and contribute to the country’s Millennium Development Goals.”

There will also be additional fund replenishment for the KfW-assisted Local Government Unit Investment Programme (LIP) worth P306.08 million.

The LIP aims to finance investment programs of the LGUs subprojects eligible for financing, such as local roads and bridges, ports, sanitation, drainage and flood control, water supply, telecommunication and information technology, public markets and other income-generating public facilities and other modes to be agreed among LIP, KfW and LGUs.

Among other projects approved are the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway project that will link the Clark Special Economic Zone; the Subic Bay Freeport Zone; the Luisita Park in Tarlac; and the Bataan Technology Park in the hope of creating the backbone of a new economic growth corridor.

The Neda Board also approved the additional funding requirement for the Laguindingan Airport Development Project worth P2.47 billion. The original cost of the project was P5.39 billion.

Also approved was the additional funding requirement for the Laguindingan Airport Development Project worth P2.47 billion.

Another was the P5.98-billion LRT Line 1 North Extension Project that will close the MRT-LRT loop by extending Line 1, which ends in Monumento station, to the North Avenue Station of MRT 3. It is proposed by the Light Rail Transit Authority.

Mendoza clears FG, Abalos

Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20070920191
By Aurea Calica
Friday, September 21, 2007

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, testifying yesterday at the Senate, cleared First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos of lobbying for the Chinese firm ZTE Corp. to bag the $330-million national broadband network (NBN) contract.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, on the other hand, said he met with Abalos and Mendoza in Hong Kong about the broadband deal last year. Teves did not give further details to the Senate. He reiterated that Abalos and Mendoza talked to him about the Chinese loan for the NBN at Wack Wack Golf & Country Club last year.

Mendoza and other officials involved in the NBN project defended the contract before the Senate and virtually cleared Abalos of allegations that he brokered the deal to earn huge kickbacks.

Mendoza also claimed that Mr. Arroyo, who allegedly helped Abalos with the deal, did not know businessman Jose de Venecia III, son of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and a majority stockholder of Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), one of the losing contenders for the multimillion-dollar broadband project.

Mendoza instead turned the tables on the young De Venecia and his father, Speaker De Venecia, who allegedly asked the transportation secretary to consider the proposal of AHI to undertake the broadband project despite the firm’s lack of capital, technical capability and telecommunications franchise.

The secretary also denied arranging a reconciliatory meeting between Abalos and the young De Venecia at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City, where Mr. Arroyo allegedly pointed a finger at De Venecia and told him to “back off” from the deal.

Mendoza, however, admitted that Mr. Arroyo and the young De Venecia met one time in a chance encounter at Wack Wack, but he cannot recall the exact date and who else were with them because there were too many people in the area. He often went to Wack Wack, being the president of the National Golf Association of the Philippines.

“There was this chance encounter between Mr. Joey de Venecia and the First Gentleman in my presence in Wack Wack. Mr. Joey de Venecia approached me and was selling the idea (of AHI). The First Gentleman arrived in the process. I think they talked. But the first question of the First Gentleman to me was, who is he?” Mendoza added.

“He does not seem to know Mr. Joey de Venecia and (the First Gentleman) asked me, what is he doing here? (I told the First Gentleman) he is one of the proponents of the DOTC’s (Department of Transportation and Communications) broadband project. Why is he doing that? It is illegal. He is the son of the Speaker, that’s irregular,” Mendoza said, quoting Mr. Arroyo.

Mendoza said Arroyo left and that it was out of character for the “mild-mannered and soft spoken” First Gentleman to bully De Venecia and tell him to back off.

Mendoza also disputed the claims of the young De Venecia that he sought a meeting with the Speaker regarding his son’s candidacy in Batangas.

“I did not go there voluntarily. I was invited by the Speaker. After the introduction of Mr. Joey de Venecia (III) to me by the father, the Speaker, specifically on the matter of the NBN contract, he (Jose III) went to my office several times and then I actually endorsed him to our technical working group. He went to the technical working group several times also and on several occasions while I was doing my social and official obligations... I used to find him hanging around in the area,” Mendoza said.

He denied telling the young De Venecia that the AHI proposal was a big problem for Abalos.

Mendoza said it was the Speaker who invited him for breakfast in his residence to introduce his son Jose III to him.

“It’s actually a practice of some politicians to make some recommendations on some projects. The accommodation is just maybe to talk to their proponents,” Mendoza said.

Asked if there were officials who followed up the NBN project, Mendoza said it was only the Speaker with regard to AHI.

Mendoza said the Speaker told him the AHI proposal was good for the country.

In his opening statement at the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, Mendoza said: “We (Cabinet) can no longer bear to keep our silence and we believe it is now or never that we present our side, not only before this august body but before the Filipino people.

“International perception may view the present unfounded accusations and allegations in a very negative light and discourage foreign investors in participating in contracts in the Philippines that despite good and noble intentions will be attacked and placed under the relentless microscope of media to serve the selfish ends of devious groups and personalities,” Mendoza said.

All the President’s men

The Senate hearing was also attended by virtually all the President’s men, as Cabinet members arrived in full force at the Senate to give moral support to Mendoza and Trade Secretary Peter Favila who were invited by the senators to explain the NBN deal.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol led the members of the Cabinet who sat at the gallery listening to the proceedings.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said he and other Cabinet officials who were not invited as resource persons in the hearing but attended the proceedings anyway were there to give moral support to Mendoza.

“It is not that he cannot defend the contract, he is more barako (macho) than all of us. We are here for moral support,” Andaya said.

Also seated at the gallery were Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, and other Malacañang officials.

The presence of Cabinet members also prompted Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. to rush to the plenary to attend the hearing.

Villar made a statement in the middle of the hearing that the Senate recognizes the presence of Cabinet members because it eases the tension between the Palace and the Senate.

Sen. Joker Arroyo said the Senate was poised to bring the dispute between the Senate and the Palace over the failure of executive officials to attend legislative hearings to the Supreme Court anew, but the Cabinet men’s presence defused the tension, preventing what could have been a constitutional crisis between the two branches of government.

“This relieves us of all the problem, this relieves the tension. We were discussing to file a case on the part of the Senate, we really don’t want any case,” Arroyo said.

Senators, however, were disappointed that Secretary Romulo Neri, former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and now head of the Commission on Higher Education, was not present in yesterday’s proceedings due to intestinal flu.

The Cabinet officials were seated at the gallery, side by side with members of civil society associated with the political opposition, including ex-Batangas vice governor Ricky Recto who lost in a congressional district in Batangas to Mark Leandro Mendoza, son of the DOTC secretary, in the last elections.

The presence of the Cabinet officials created a stir at the start of the hearing when Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. motioned that all of the Cabinet officials present be placed under oath, which was initially not objected to on the floor.

Pimentel made the motion shortly after Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano announced that only Mendoza and Favila were the resource persons for the hearing.

“While you are here, we are thinking out of expediency that this committee should be ready to exercise jurisdiction over your person. That’s the main point here. If we want we can call you already today to testify and that’s why (you are) being placed under oath in anticipation of that event,” Pimentel said.

It is part of the rules that all resource persons are placed under oath.

“The congressional investigation, as what I only know, unless we are called, we cannot be sworn. When we are called as witnesses, then we can be sworn. As of today, we have not been called by the committee. We are only bystanders,” Apostol explained.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile argued that although they have plenary powers to conduct investigations in aid of legislation or as consequence of oversight, “I think it’s a mandate of our Constitution that we respect the rights of our proceedings.”

Enrile said he tends to agree with Apostol. “That bystanders or people who come here to hear us, who were not expecting to be called, are given enough time to prepare instead of being taken by surprise. It’s an ambush.”

The tension was doused when Cayetano ruled that apart from the resource persons, the other cabinet officials who will be requested to testify will be the only ones to be sworn.

Cayetano cited an agreement in an all senators’ caucus to extend the executive department all courtesies by issuing invitations first, including to the First Gentleman. However, Cayetano informed the Cabinet officials that they will soon be invited if they have something to do with the NBN controversy.

Meanwhile, Secretary Mendoza warned Congress of the risk of alienating foreign investors and governments from entering into bilateral trade relations with the Philippines with the current controversy over the NBN project.

Mendoza said that his main goal was to “remove the brooding dark cloud” over the government-to-government undertaking between the Philippines and China.

He lamented that the attacks against the NBN project may turn foreign investors from participating in future Philippine projects out of fear of being unduly attacked in media by devious groups and personalities. – With Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda

SM Prime offers to fund station of LRT North

Original report at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/sept/20/yehey/business/20070920bus6.html
By Darwin G. Amojelar Reporter

SY family-owned SM Prime Holdings Inc. has offered to finance the construction of an additional station worth hundred millions of pesos for the Light Rail Transit Line 1 North Extension project, an official of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) told The Manila Times.

In a telephone interview, Federico J. Canar, LRTA project manager, said SM offered to fund the additional station to be built at an estimated cost of P100 million between the proposed Roosevelt and North Avenue stations adjacent to its property.

“The work on this additional station would be totally independent of our construction work. LRTA and Shoe Mart are going to enter into a MOA [memorandum of agreement] for this additional construction work,” Canar said.

The LRTA and the consultant of the project, Metrolink JV, had met with the owners of Shoe Mart Department Stores last month.

Estimated to cost around P5.98 billion, the project involves the construction, including the detailed design of a 5.71-kilometer elevated line from Monumento station of LRT Line 1 to North Avenue of Metro Rail Transit 3, two new intermediate stations (Balin-tawak and Roosevelt) and a terminal station (Line 1, North Avenue station).

The Balintawak station will provide modal interchange with bus and jeepney services entering Metro Manila from north via the North Luzon Expressway.

Of the total P5.98 billion, civil and architectural works amounted to P3.3 billion; electromechanical works, P1.9 billion; consultancy services, P317.4 million; and contingency, P318 million.

Canar said the LRTA may tap the proceeds of the National Development Co. (NDC) bond issuance to finance a mass rail system or subsidize the agency’s budget for the product.

The project will begin construction in 2008, with target completion in April 2010. Once running, the LRT North extension is expected to serve about 800,000 to 1 million passengers

1.6 billion dollars expansion project for Clark airport

By Fred Roxas
Countryside Pulse
Original report at the Sun.Star Pampanga
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/pam/2007/09/21/oped/fred.roxas.countryside.pulse.html

THE proposed US$1.6-billion expansion of the 300-hectare area close to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) will soon be undertaken under President Arroyo's vision to convert the Clark Freeport into a Mega Logistics and Services Hub in Asia.

This was bared recently by chairman Nestor Mangio and president/CEO Victor Jose I. Luciano of Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC). They confirmed that a Chinese consortium has started a US$2-million feasibility study which it offered to be conducted for free to CIAC.

According to Mangio, the expansion project includes the conversion of the 300-hectare area near DMIA house cargo, warehouses, buildings and as a logistic center for the airport complex.

Mangio said the approved 2005 Master Plan for the development of DMIA is now being studied by the Chinese Consortium Synergy to update the plan and tailor it to their proposal based in the vision of the President.

"But most likely, it's using the same master plan, layout, especially for the terminal I and II, the taxiways well as those runways," Mangio said. The proposed expansion project will also include the construction of roads to the airport.

Mangio said the Chinese consortium will submit a proposal at the end of this month, which includes the Budget Fare Terminal I and Terminal ll which would be expanded so as to accommodate at least two million passengers and another expansion at the other side will increase it to five million passengers annually.

He said the existing terminal cannot accommodate the influx of passengers being transported by the low cost air carriers using DMIA.

"So this will serve as the Interim Legacy Carrier Terminal which would be used by the long-haul flights," he said.

"But after that we will do the main terminal, which will be the Premier Gateway, that proposal will come at the end of September," he added.

Mangio said the Premier Gateway will subsequently accommodate about 10 million passengers yearly, adding that the Chinese consortium will fund the project at no cost to the government.

"The Synergy offered to fund the project with no cost, no loan, no guarantee and equity," Mangio said.

He said cost of the project could reach to US$1.6 billion for the main gateway and the other terminal expansion which costs about P2 billion. This main gateway terminal expansion is now going on, Luciano said.

Earlier, President Arroyo ordered CIAC authorities to draft an executive order for the full development and expansion of the Clark airport.

The US$9-million radar system has been installed at the DMIA complex, according to Luciano. The Clark airport used to depend on the radar system of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

With the installation of necessary airport facilities at DMIA, Asiana Airlines will soon conduct daily international flights from three times weekly. Philippine Airlines, likewise will soon establish regular international flights at the Clark airport following the establishment here of the Gate Gourmet In-flight Catering Services costing P1 billion.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Philippine peso hits 6-week high vs dollar despite political worry

Full report at Forbes.com
http://www.forbes.com/markets/feeds/afx/2007/09/20/afx4138155.html

MANILA (Thomson Financial) - The Philippine peso rallied to a six-week high against the US dollar Thursday, buoyed by the country's improving fundamentals.

The peso closed at 45.33 to the dollar, its best level for the day. The currency closed at 45.57 on Wednesday.

'The peso's strength can be attributed to the solid surpluses posted in the balance of payments (BOP) and budget balances for August,' said a note from DBS Bank.

'Sentiment remains constructive for Asian currencies, as the key gauges of risk aversion continue to improve post-FOMC,' it said.

Filipina waitress in Singapore returns bag with P500K

By Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61346/Pinay-waitress-in-Singapore-returns-bag-with-P500K

When Filipino waitress Marites Galam found a worn out handbag on the toilet roll dispenser of a shopping mall in Singapore, she was not once tempted to keep the $16,600 (P500,000) inside it.

Instead, the mother of three from Nueva Vizcaya turned over the bag and its valuable contents to her general manager at the Imperial Herbal restaurant inside the VivoCity shopping complex.

“I'm a mother myself and I thought that since there was so much money, its owner probably needed it for something important," Marites was quoted in Singapore's The New Paper report on Thursday.

And indeed her instinct was right. The handbag she found belonged to an Indonesian housewife who flew to Singapore with her husband’s three-year savings for the ear surgery of their 23-year-old son, Michael, to keep him from becoming totally deaf.

“The money came from my husband's savings. He took three years to save that amount from his furniture business. I was so worried that it was gone just like that," said Lanny Sasmita, who profusely thanked Marites for returning her bag.

She lost, and found the bag, on Saturday evening. She went back to the mall the next day to thank Marites for returning it.

“We were touched by Ms Galam's honest actions as we thought anyone would be tempted by so much money," Lanny added. She said her husband retired recently because of ill health.

“I believe a person will be blessed if he/she does good. Besides, I'd have a bad conscience if I took the money," Marites said.

Marites also worked as a waitress in the Philippines but came to Singapore to earn more for her children.

The amount in the bag would have been enough to send her three children to school and provide enough for their daily needs. Her husband, who is also in Singapore, is in between jobs.

Good deeds reap great rewards

Wang Jinhui, Marites’s boss, honored her as the company’s employee of the month. He also graciously gave her a $200 cash bonus in hopes that “her actions will be an example for other staff."

Lanny also offered Marites a $200 reward to which Marites refused, according to The New Paper. She “only accepted reluctantly after Mrs Sasmita cried and begged her to take the money."

Marites earns a decent $1,800 a month, a far cry from the $16,600 she found inside Lanny’s bag. She could have also pocketed the money for herself; after all, she has young mouths to feed back in the Philippines. But not once did her values flinch.

“As long as my children have three meals a day, I'm happy," she said.

Lanny was frantic that the bag she left at the third floor of the mall would be forever gone.

“Michael had been in pain from his ear infection and I worried that he couldn't have the surgery without the money," said Lanny. “Three years ago, doctors told us that he needed surgery. Otherwise, he could become deaf," she explained.

She also could not think of an explanation to her husband on how she lost the money.

Apparently, Lanny unknowingly left the bag in the washroom at the third floor after hearing the announcements that the mall was about to close. She only found out that the bag was missing while waiting for a taxi cab outside the mall with her son and another relative at around 10 pm.

Fearing for the worst, Lanny went back to the VivoCity security staff and reported that she lost a gold colored handbag that contained several $1,000 bills.

To her relief, her bag was returned to her with the money still intact. It turned out that Imperial Herbal restaurant's manager handed over the bag to the mall security after Marites gave it to him.

For now, everything seems to be going better for both Marites and Lanny.

The New Paper reported that Michael had undergone a successful surgery at the Singapore General Hospital on Monday and the family will return to Jakarta after two weeks.

The Philippine embassy in Singapore, after learning of Marites's good deed from the news accounts, contacted Marites and honored her on Wednesday.

"The embassy contacted me (Wednesday), asking me to pose for a photo with the ambassador. He said I am a good example for foreign workers from the Philippines and wanted to spread the news to the Philippine media," Marites said.

DOTC: ZTE provides best package

Full report at ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=93259

The Department of Transportation and Communications on Thursday maintained that the national broadband network (NBN) contract was awarded to China’s ZTE Corp. because it “offered the best package in both the facility and cost” amid accusations that the deal is overpriced.

In a Powerpoint presentation, DOTC Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso III also stressed that the contract went through the procedures as required by law.

Formoso said for $329 million, ZTE will build a nationwide system that can serve the national and local governments down to sixth-class municipalities, government-owned and -controlled corporations and e-centers.

With regard to the proposal of US-based Arescom, Formoso said the American company has to spend $1 billion to provide the same coverage and service while Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI) needs $562 million, the DOTC official added.

“ZTE's package would be fully funded by China's Export-Import Bank at three percent interest, payable [in] 20 years with no payments in the first five years. Arescom and AHI have no firm financing commitments and if they do it at commercial terms of upwards of six percent with no grace period, the cost would be far higher than ZTE's,” Formoso said.

He also vouched for ZTE's capability, noting that it has already established a “global name in building integrated telecoms systems” while Arescom and AHI “have no track record in such undertakings.”

Aside from Formoso, DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves attended the second hearing.

Other Cabinet officials who were not invited also showed up in the hearing to give “moral support” to the department chiefs who faced the panel.

PGMA: We are charting a new economic course

CITES NEW INVESTMENTS IN IT SECTOR, BPOs, ELECTRONICS
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=18864
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2007 | ECONOMY

Cebu, Philippines -- "We are charting a new economic course," says President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her speech during the Electronics Strategic Forum for the Philippines held in Manila recently.

The President said that the Philippines is the best value for investment in Asia as it has broken the back of fiscal responsibility with its improved revenue and investment policies.

She noted how strategic the electronics industry is to the economy as it accounts for two thirds of the country's exports and employs about half a million people, directly and or indirectly in well-paying jobs.

"Nothing beats the IT sector, call centers, BPO and electronics in creating millions of jobs in the country," the President said.

The Philippines indeed has become an increasingly competitive location for manufacturing, services and high-skilled jobs along with the booming call center business. Three global suppliers in the country -Fujitsu, Toshiba and Hitachi produce and supply 50% of the world's requirements for 2.5" hard disk drives and 10% of the 3.5" HDD.

Texas Instruments (TI) on the other hand manufactures 100% of the Nokia digital processors and 80% of Siemens' and Ericsson's and it is expanding its factory in Baguio and it has started to construct a new $1Billion facility at the Clark Freeport Zone, the President added.

Aside from TI, President Arroyo reported that a number of international companies have recently invested heavily in our country in electronics and other industries. "Electronics investments for the first 8 months of 2007 posted more than a hundred percent growth compared to the same period last year, from $360M last year to $763M this year," she said.

According to the President other industries are expanding their operations in the country; Korea's Hanjin has built a billion-dollar ship in Subic and is already looking for a site where it can make its expansion.

Last year, Marubeni and Tokyo Electric Power purchased power plants in the country for some $3.5B and announced another $350M to expand its facilities in Pagbilao.

The American power company AES recently won the bid for the Calaca Power Plant at $930M and are poised for another billion-dollar expansion in that plant.

"These, aside from electronics investments, are validation that our strategy is working. We also hope to increase the industry's exports earnings through wireless applications such as mobile phones, MP3s and ipods, personal computers and consumer electronics such as plasma TV, not just the assembly but also the design," Mrs. Arroyo added.

The President is writing a new chapter in RP economic history through the use of tight fiscal controls complemented by targeted investments in people and infrastructure.

Because revenue is now on track and the country's deficit is down the President said that for the first time in decades, "less of our revenue is being used to service debt and more towards investments in our country's infrastructure and social services including health care and education." (PIA-Cebu/MBCN)

Network of digital infra to link entire country by 2010 -- PGMA

Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=18871
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2007 | TELECOMMUNICATIONS


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that by the end of her presidency in 2010, the network of digital infrastructure on which her government embarked in the last six years shall have linked the entire country…”

Thus committed President Arroyo this morning when she addressed the opening of the two-day Asia Policy Forum on ICT Integration Into Education at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Ortigas Center in Pasig City.

The President reiterated part of the vision in her 2004 presidential address after reading the latest issue of a magazine, BizNews Asia, where TJ Javier of Microsoft was quoted as saying, thus:

“The digital divide persists between and within countries, including the Philippines. Most areas of the country still lack basic access to technology and training. Nowhere is the ICT gap more evident than in education. Students in the Philippines often lack access to computers and software, and educators are not always trained in how technology can aid learning.”

“And I think that is why we’re all here today. And that’s also why during my presidential address… I described that part of my vision… (that) everyone of school age shall be in school, in an uncrowded classroom, in surroundings conducive to learning, including internet access in every public high school,” the President said.

President Arroyo further quoted Microsoft’s Javier, thus: “For the Philippines, creating an educated, technology-proficient workforce is perhaps the key driver of competitive success in the global knowledge economy. In order to participate in an increasingly flat world, we must address the skills and knowledge divide.”

To this, the President announced that “on the part of the government, we’re working hard to maintain the competitiveness of our workforce through investments in human capital. To start with: To prepare our youth to be the next generation of knowledge workers, we’re upgrading Math and Science teaching in basic education.”

“We will also continue to leverage our level of I.T. proficiency that currently includes over 75,000 licensed professionals, with technical expertise in software development and engineering design. We have to keep our edge by a huge, integrated quantum leap in value-laden ICT education…” the President continued.

President Arroyo reiterated her earlier announcement in the Electronics Strategic Forum at the Shangri-La Makati yesterday that her administration is “investing three billion pesos in science and engineering research and development technology, including scholarships for masters and doctoral degrees in engineering in seven universities…”

The President also announced the latest good news in the country’s economic front: “We’re pleased to report that the national government registered a budget surplus of P13.9 billion in August – a budget surplus of P13.9 billion amid strong revenues due to the improved performance of both the Bureau of Internal revenue and the Bureau of Customs.”

“The August surplus allowed the government to trip down its budget deficit to P25.5 billion – P25.5 billion in the first eight months from P39.4 billion in the first seven months. So it looks like we’re well within our budget deficit ceiling...”

The President congratulated the organizers of the forum which has some 300 guests and participants from 10 Asian countries.

The forum hopes to “discuss and find solutions to current challenges in ICT in education in the region.”

The said forum was also attended by the President’s daughter, Luli, who is the director of Strategic Development of FIT-ED (Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development Inc.), the forum’s Philippine organizing partner.

The forum was organized by World Links, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. It was funded by the World Bank-administered Japan Social Development Fund and by Intel Corporation, with FIT-ED as Philippine partner.

Philippine leader says bilateral trade agreements '2nd-best solution' next to WTO deal

The Associated Press
Original report at the International Herald Tribune
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/09/20/business/AS-FIN-Philippines-WTO.php

The Philippine president welcomed progress in global trade talks, but said Thursday developing countries cannot stand idle while a deal is being hammered out and will pursue bilateral and regional free trade agreements as a second-best solution.

"We remember that it was the developed nations who were the prime movers behind global trade — when it suited them," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told a Manila conference promoting trade among poorer nations. "Now, some countries are slowing things down."

But Arroyo said there was a ray of hope in the Pacific Rim leaders' summit in Sydney earlier this month, where several developed economies declared their willingness to cut domestic farm subsidies. In return, the rich countries want greater access to the developing world's markets, she said.

Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organization's director-general, told reporters in Manila on Wednesday that negotiations have reached the final lap and prospects of achieving a deal are much greater than they were six months ago.

In a move seen as breathing life into the struggling talks, the U.S. signaled Wednesday its willingness to limit trade-distorting farm subsidies to a level between US$13 billion and US$16.4 billion (€9.3 billion and €11.7 billion), the WTO's lead farm trade negotiator, Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, said in Geneva.

The so-called Doha round of trade talks aim to forge a global agreement that would slash trade barriers that supporters say would add billions of dollars (euros) to the world economy and lift millions of people out of poverty.

But the negotiations have repeatedly stalled since their inception in Qatar's capital in 2001, largely because of wrangling over how much to reduce rich nations' agricultural subsidies and developing nations' industrial tariffs.

Arroyo said a multilateral trade agreement remains the best option to address poverty and improve living standards around the world because of its agreed set of international trade rules.

"But let me be clear, even as we work tirelessly to move the talks forward, we cannot stand by and do nothing," she said. "For us, it's full speed ahead, preferably with Doha, but in the meantime full speed nevertheless."

Bilateral and regional trading blocs will result in a more complex set of trade rules, but are "a second-best solution" and are better than each one playing alone, she said.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Remittances July Update: $1.1B, total 8.1B

See table at http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/tables/2007_09/news-09142007a1.htm.

Remittances of overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks continued to remain above US$1 billion, reaching US$1.1 billion in July 2007, or a year-on-year growth of 4.6 percent. This brought the level of remittances through July 2007 to US$8.1 billion, 16 percent higher than the US$7.0 billion recorded during the same period last year. This growth level remained above the 10 percent expected rise in remittances for 2007.

ZTE speaks up

ZTE denies bribe, feels frustrated
By Lenie Lectura and Mia Gonzalez
Original report at the Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/09192007/headlines02.html

ZTE Corp., China’s biggest publicly listed telecommunications company, on Tuesday said it did not bribe or solicit services from anyone just so its multimillion dollar contract for the national broadband network (NBN) project would be accepted by the government.

Howard Xue, ZTE global marketing director and chief information technology consultant, said in an e-mail that he feels “frustrated” that even if he speaks up, the truth, he said, “still cannot reach the public.”

“We tried to let the public know the facts about NBN and ZTE. All our voices were covered by more eye-catching stories full of misleading information. The government, including the business groups, are misled on our project,” said Xue.

For one, Xue said the allegation about ZTE bribery to Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections and other government officials are not true.

“ZTE has completed numerous bigger projects around the world. We have proposed the best price, financing and technical proposal, and we are confident of beating all our competitors, so there is absolutely no need to bribe anybody to get the project,” he said.

Xue said he would like to discuss further about the malicious attacks against ZTE, including its supposed relation

LRT 1 extension costing P5.98B is a go--Neda board

By Jennifer A. Ng
Original report at the Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/09192007/economy04.html

THE extension of LRT Line 1 is now for implementation after the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Board has given its go-signal for it.

Neda officer in charge Augusto Santos said in an interview that the board—chaired by President Arroyo—has given its nod to the LRT Line 1 extension in a meeting Tuesday.

“We have already approved the extension of LRT Line 1 on Edsa, and the project will now be implemented,” said Santos.

The extension of the LRT Line 1 is in line with the plans of the government to purchase the contract for the MRT 3 from the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC).

Neda documents show that the P5.98-billion LRT Line 1 North Extension Project will close the MRT-LRT loop by extending Line 1, which ends in Monumento station, to the North Avenue station of MRT 3. The project was proposed by the Light Rail Transit Authority.

The project involves the construction and detailed design of a 5.71-km elevated line with two new intermediate stations, Roosevelt and Balintawak, and a terminal station, the LRT1 North Avenue station.

“The Balintawak station will provide modal interchange with bus and jeepney services entering Metro Manila from the north via the North Luzon Expressway,” the Neda document read.

The project will be implemented for a period of two years. Construction will begin in 2008 and will be completed by April 2010.

Foreigners say RP among top 20 best places to live – DOT

By Mayen Jaymalin
Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20070918190

While many Filipinos choose to leave the country and work abroad, more foreign nationals are thinking of staying in the Philippines, which they consider a great place to live.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) yesterday reported that Americans and other foreign travelers have actually listed Negros Oriental as among the top 20 best islands in the world to live.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said Negros Oriental joined the list of other exotic places such as the Grand Cayman, Gozo in Malta, Carriacou in Grenada and Vieques in Puerto Rico, which all offer a mix of indigenous culture, friendly neighbors, uncomplicated living and adventure attractions.

Islands magazine, one of the widest circulated and most trusted travel publications in the United States, selected Negros Oriental based on a survey conducted among Americans and expatriates who would like to relocate.

Durano said the deciding factors considered by the respondents included weather, languages spoken, ease of immigration and accessibility to hospitals.

“Negros Oriental earned three out of five rating from the magazine,” Durano said, noting that respondents specifically cited Dumaguete City’s academic centers, Rizal Boulevard and the seaside promenade lined with cafes and art galleries.

Located in Central Visayas, Negros Oriental offers divers colorful and teeming marine life around Apo Island, which is home of the Negros Oriental Marine Conservation Park. Tourists can also chance upon playful dolphins and pygmy sperm whales in Tañon Strait at Bais Bay.

But more than the attractions, Durano said the people play a big role in giving a warm welcome and creating a positive impression among travelers.

“Negros Oriental being recognized as one of the best islands to live speaks of an exceptionally hospitable experience that makes people want to stay for the long haul,” Durano pointed out.

The secretary then called on local government units to continue with their efforts to build up the tourism potentials of their jurisdictions and create a community mindset that is tourist-friendly.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Miriam smells controversy in ZTE exposé

Full report at ABS-CBNNews
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=92995

Administration Sen. Miriam Santiago on Tuesday fired the first salvo in what appears to be moves to discredit whistleblower Jose "Joey" de Venecia III on the controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and ZTE Corp., ABS-CBN News reported.

"He lost the bid, but he is not even trying for a rebidding. Instead, he is spraying automatic gunfire on the First Gentleman, Atty. Jose Miguel Arroyo, COMELEC (Commission on Elections) Chair Benjamin Abalos and DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communicatiosn) Secretary Leandro Mendoza. This is exceedingly strange," Santiago said.

...

Santiago said that de Venecia has to explain what group he is representing as she voiced her suspicion that the whistleblower was being funded by some forces out to oust President Arroyo before her term ends on 2010.

...

Santiago said that the political noise that de Venecia has created cannot come out of nowhere.

"The political noise has reached a very high decibel level. Producing that kind of noise is very expensive. So where is the money coming from?" she said.

After Erap: Pending graft cases

From the Inquirer Opinion page
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view_article.php?article_id=89143

(1) The $2-million extortion charge against former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez filed by former Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez in 2001. Estrada had said then that Jimenez gave Perez $2 million to approve the $470-million contract to rehabilitate a power plant in Laguna won by the Argentine firm Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (Impsa). Graft prosecutors said there was sufficient evidence to establish that Perez and company had committed “illegal acts.”

(2) The P1.3-billion election computerization deal. The Supreme Court on Jan. 13, 2004 voided MegaPacific’s contract to supply the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with 1,991 automated counting machines because the deal was tainted “with graft and legal infirmities.” Strangely, however, the Ombudsman on Oct. 2, 2006 absolved of any wrongdoing Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos and other officials involved in the deal.

(3) The alleged P532.9-million overpricing of the P1.1-billion 5.1-kilometer President Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in the Manila Bay reclamation area. The Ombudsman has upheld the allegation of whistle-blower Sulficio Tagud Jr., a former director of the Public Estates Authority (PEA), that the road was overpriced by 250 percent and the bridge by 67 percent. The Ombudsman has approved the filing of graft charges against 20 PEA officials, six auditors of the Commission on Audit and Jesusito Legaspi, owner of JD Legaspi Construction firm that constructed the road, described by Tagud as “the most expensive asphalt road in the country.”

(4) The P200-million Jose Pidal case. In 2003 Sen. Panfilo Lacson accused Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Arroyo, of amassing more than P200 million from campaign contributions to Ms Arroyo and putting the money in secret bank accounts, including that of “Jose Pidal.” Last June, Lacson criticized Sen. Joker Arroyo, former chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, for sitting on the Jose Pidal case.

(5) The $503-million Northrail project. Former Senate President Franklin Drilon said the project was one of the “colossal corrupt deals” of the Arroyo administration. In August 2005 the University of the Philippines Law Center said the contract between Northrail and the China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. Group was illegal because of “questionable terms” and should be annulled. It also urged the filing of criminal, civil and administrative charges against some public officials and private individuals.

(6) The P728-million fertilizer fund scam. Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante was accused of distributing P728 million in fertilizer funds to local leaders to ensure Ms Arroyo’s election victory in 2004. Bolante fled to the United States, was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport. He has chosen to be detained in the US rather than be deported to Manila.

(7) The $329-million National Broadband Network.

If the President is sincere in going after grafters in the government, she should order all the government agencies concerned, including the two offices she recently created, to go hammer and tongs after all the individuals and offices involved in these seven high-profile cases. The Estrada plunder case has shown that “big fish” can be caught, prosecuted, sentenced and put behind bars. From now on, there should be no pussyfooting and foot-dragging on graft and corruption.