Saturday, 6 October 2007

Poverty alleviation tops PGMA's main goals in the next 3 years

Original report at Gov.Ph News

NEW DELHI, India (via PLDT) - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said here Friday that with the Philippines now on the path to permanent economic growth and stability, poverty alleviation would be her administration’s primary goal during the next three years ending in 2010.

The President disclosed this during her informal interaction yesterday afternoon at the Oberoi Hotel in this Indian capital with members of the Philippine media delegation covering her Oct. 2-6 visits to China and India.

She said increased government earnings or revenues either through raising the effective collection of taxes or sale of government assets is necessary component of poverty alleviation.

With the raised revenues, she said the next important thing to do in the next three years is to invest more in human resources and physical infrastructures to create jobs and upgrade the country’s competitiveness.

She said social services, like making cheap medicines available, improved healthcare and anti-hunger campaign, which are already being addressed by her administration, are also important components of the poverty reduction program of her administration.

The President also cited the importance of the government’s food-for-schools and the classroom provision programs in the overall agenda to increase access to education, especially by the poor, as education is one of the most important weapons in the fight against poverty.

"Now, we are down to 45 students to one classroom at two shifts, with better textbooks and teacher training in bilingual instruction,” she said.

Another main concern of poverty alleviation, she said, is to cut down on red tape and eradication of corruption in government projects so that both the big and small businessmen could create wealth and jobs with least expenses.

"I make difficult decisions but I made permanent changes in the economy, I dwelt on infrastructure, I brought down the rate of poverty in the past," she said.

She said she would not mind if her successor in the presidency at the expiration of her term in June 2010 would not give credit to her for all the good things she has done to move the Philippines on a path to permanent economic growth.

"Credit is not part of the formula. So let him take the credit," she said.

PGMA Econ Adviser suggests tapping local talent for NBN

Full report at The Manila Bulletin

President Arroyo should look into her administration’s backyard before hiring a foreign company to implement the National Broadband Network (NBN) project, according to her economic adviser and Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

A few days after the cancellation of the broadband contract with China’s ZTE Corporation, Salceda urged the President to tap the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DoST-ASTI) to link all government agencies in a single broadband system.

Salceda, former congressman of Albay, agreed with the continuation of the government’s broadband project but this time using Filipino expertise following the bribery scandal surrounding the botched ZTE deal.

In a news conference in the Palace, Salceda said Filipino professionals have the competency on information technology to undertake the broadband project apparently with less cost and controversy.

He pointed out that the DoST could expand its existing Philippine Research, Education, and Government Information Network (PREGINET) to include all government offices.

Additional report from The Inquirer
By Michael Lim Ubac


Gov. Joey Salceda of Albay province, a former chief of staff of the President, said the Senate should ensure satisfactory closure when it wraps up its NBN-ZTE inquiry or the government will have a hard time pursuing future “big-ticket” projects.

Salceda, who continues to advise President Arroyo on economic matters, said closure would be “good for the country.”

“I think if there is a single biggest casualty in this entire controversy, [it is] the ability of the national government to pursue and implement aggressively big-ticket projects,” Salceda told reporters in Malacañang.

“That is why it is far better for the Senate to have some form of closure, or conclusion. If you leave that hanging, every single big-ticket account will be under suspicion,” he said, adding: “The only way to clear the cloud of suspicion is to [issue] a final report, a closure.”

IT literacy

Asked whether the President should pursue the NBN project, Salceda said it would be best for the country to “pursue efforts toward improving IT [information technology] literacy in government.”

He said he had read about Preginet, a project managed by the Department of Science and Technology, and thought that the government could pursue this project.

“If the President asks me, it’s Preginet,” he said.

Growth driven

Salceda also said that had it not been for the NBN-ZTE controversy, the Philippines would easily achieve its target 8-percent growth in 2008.

He was referring to Plan 789 -- a new strategy to achieve a three-year surge in gross domestic product (GDP) -- which the Arroyo administration adopted early this year.

The plan calls for higher Philippine GDP: 7 percent in 2007, 8 percent in 2008, and 9 percent in 2009.

“I think the economy has enough traction to really do more than 7 percent this year, and without this controversy, 8 percent would have been easy in 2008,” he said.

Salceda said the growth driver for the country this year was an aggressive infrastructure program through the President’s “super regions” program.

“The central idea behind 789 is an aggressive public infrastructure program, and in this case this controversy hurts,” he said.
With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Juliet Labog-Javellana in Manila

Palace provides P3 M for 100 Gawad Kalinga houses in Bohol

By Paolo Romero
Original report at The Philippine Star

President Arroyo has provided P3 million to fund the construction of housing units in Bohol under the auspices of Gawad Kalinga (GK) and the provincial government.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Secretary Cerge Remonde last week turned over to Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado a P1.5-million check, the first tranche of Mrs. Arroyo’s P3-million financial assistance for the construction of 100 GK housing units in Ubay and Calape towns.

He said government housing is an important part in pump-priming the economy, which has multiplier effects on the country’s vital sectors as it helps boost jobs and investments in the countryside.

He said the Arroyo administration will continue to provide funding assistance to provincial and local governments and its private sector development partners “in building decent shelter for poor families and creating model communities nationwide.”

“With the support of President Arroyo, Bohol will continue to reap the benefits from major developments projects such as roads and bridges, irrigation facilities, and ports, covering a full range of services, including housing, infrastructure, health and education, peace and security and community development,” Remonde said in a statement.

The funding was sourced from the President’s Social Fund.

Each housing unit is allotted 20 square meters in lots donated by private individuals to the Bohol provincial government.

Remonde said the housing project forms part of Mrs. Arroyo’s program to provide housing to poor families as well as her 10-point agenda to decongest Metro Manila by developing government centers in the provinces.

“The national government, through the PMS, and the local government units, along with non-government organizations and development partners like GK, are working together in building a country with peaceful, progressive and developed communities,” he said.

Last February, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. announced that some P125 million have been set aside for the Department of Social Welfare and Development to implement joint projects with GK.

Prof. Magno: Econ 101

Original article at The Philippine Star

The Bangko Sentral cut its overnight rates by 25 basis points to 5.75% this week. Its lending rates were also cut to 7.75%.

From all indications, the BSP will cut rates some more before the year closes. There is clearly enough room for more rate cuts as the inflation rate so far this year continues to be remarkably below the 4% to 5% target level.

The interest rate cut will help slow the appreciation of the peso, especially since the US Fed cut its own policy rates a month ago. In the face of the US Fed’s rate cut, liquidity was restored to the American financial market. This helped to quickly relieve the uncertainties associated with the crisis in the US subprime mortgage market.

In response to the US rate cut, the dollar fell substantially against all the other major currencies. The BSP rate cut, however, did not undermine the strength of the peso — although it slows its rise.

The Fed’s rate cut was immediately felt in the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow rose to a new historical high during the past few days of trading. This reflects the flow of liquidity to the stock market.

By contrast, the Philippine Stock Exchange remained nearly constant the day after the BSP cut rates. This was because, during the preceding days, our stock exchange enjoyed a major bull run. The rate cut appears to have been intentionally timed to coincide with the technical correction that was due by the last trading day this week.

Eventually, however, the expectation is that Philippine stocks will continue to rise, reflecting the growth potential of the economy.

The lower cost of money implied by the BSP rate cut will help fuel the domestic economy’s expansion. In the first half of this year, the domestic economy grew by 7.3% — way beyond target. The rate cuts will help us maintain that momentum by encouraging more investments through lower financing costs.

The cut in interest rates helps keep the differential between dollar and peso interest rates minimal. That is beneficial because it helps discourage speculative money relying on “carry trades”, such as borrowing in the low interest dollar market and purchasing peso treasury notes that bear a significantly higher rate.

Speculative money does not help our real economy. It merely allows the large hedge funds to make vast sums of money by lending at higher rates to our national treasury. Ordinary Filipinos will be paying for those higher interest rates both in terms of taxes diverted to debt service as well as more expensive (and therefore more scarce) public services.

If we had not fixed our fiscal situation trough tough measures and managed our inflation rate through adept monetary management, it would not have been possible for us to lower interest rates. The prevailing interest rate regime in an economy could not possibly be lower than the prevailing inflation rate. If it were, our financial instruments will be sold down and liquidity in our market would dry up.

In such a situation, there will be a disincentive to savings because deposits lose real value relative to the rate of inflation the longer these are kept. If there are no savings, there will be no money available for investments. With less investments, the economy will grow slowly, trapping millions in unemployment and poverty.

Fortunately, we now find ourselves in a virtuous — rather than a vicious — cycle, as we were in the past before the present administration decided to accept the political costs of fiscal discipline.

In this virtuous cycle, government is able to hold down deficits by improving revenue generation and resisting the temptation to indulge in unwise spending, even if that might buy political popularity. By narrowing the deficits, we reduce the propensity to borrow and improve our ability to repay outstanding debts. That improves our credit ratings and allows us to seek cheaper financing.

Benefited by this, the peso becomes more stable, if not stronger. A stable peso improves investor confidence in our economy. It encourages direct, as against speculative, investments as foreign companies gain confidence in converting hard currencies into pesos with little danger of losing value by way of drastic deterioration in the exchange rate of the local currency.

If there is any speculation at all, it is on the peso’s upside: people who convert into pesos in the expectation that the region’s best performing currency will continue to gain value against other monies. It is that sort of speculative money-making that the BSP precisely discourages by cutting policy rates.

Lower, and predictable, interest rates in turn benefit the larger public. Notice the boom in the housing industry and the forest of high-rises being built across the city. That boom is possible because a long horizon of low interest rates encourage developers to invest in long-maturing projects and offer consumers mortgage plans on fixed interest rates.

In a low-inflation, low-interest rate regime, we are now able to sort out the problems that bedeviled our economic growth. We have prepaid some of our outstanding debt; refinanced others. With the massive housing boom in progress, we are able to meet our historical housing shortage as well as fire up a section of our economy with the highest multiplier effect on economic expansion. With a better fiscal picture, government is not able to make public investments that should perceptibly close our once yawing infrastructure gap — in turn setting the stage for sustained economic expansion.

This is a good time for our economy and our people. Credit should be given where it is due: to a political leadership willing to take a longer view on our economic prospects and dare unpopularity for doing the right things.

Those who marched against the reforms that now underpin our economic boom, such as the expanded VAT, should now regret they pandered to the most myopic, most politically opportunistic impulses.

VP de Castro delivers RP statement at United Nations

Original report at The Manila Bulletin

UNITED NATIONS, New York City — Vice President Noli de Castro called on the international community to institutionalize interfaith initiatives through policy and implementing mechanisms and to uphold freedom of religion and the right to worship.

De Castro delivered Thursday the Philippine government’s Statement on Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation, which marks the opening of the two-day High Level Dialogue for Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace at the UN Headquarters.

‘The concept of interreligious and intercultural dialogue is not new to the Philippines… our country had its share of problems related to diverse ethnic and religious minority populations. Thus, the highest law of our land, the Philippine Constitution, mandates the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of religious minorities and indigenous peoples," De Castro said.

To further strengthen partnerships between governments, the UN and civil society for greater interfaith cooperation, De Castro said there was a need to implement policies to promote interfaith initiatives, citing as an example the establishment of the Philippine National Committee on Interfaith which strengthens national interfaith programs.

At the same time, De Castro called for the adoption of a common plan of action and to declare an International Year of Dialogue among Religious Cultures and policies and programs that promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

He also encouraged states to establish Interfaith Centers in schools of higher learning where students can know more about peoples of other faiths and cultures.

De Castro explained that such policies are already institutionalized in the Philippines. He cited the 2004-2010 Medium Term Philippine Development Plan, which puts a premium to interfaith dialogue, education and advocacy as effective tools for the conduct of healing and reconciliation programs in conflict-affected communities; the Philippine Plan of Action on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation (2006-2010), which promotes interfaith dialogue especially along the areas of education and training, media advocacy, peace process, human rights promotion, and women empowerment; and the National Committee on Interfaith Cooperation which is tasked to implement the government’s interfaith policy.

He added that the Philippines has the needed social development policies that provide a conducive environment for a vibrant culture of peaceful interfaith communities.

These policies, De Castro explained, make it possible for various civil society groups to participate in the development efforts at the national, local and community levels.

In the international arena, De Castro said the Philippine government has been engaged in interfaith dialogues, having hosted the Cebu Dialogue on Regional Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity which affirmed the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in promoting regional peace and security.

The Philippines also co- sponsored the 3rd Asia- Pacific Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Waitangi, New Zealand where over 150 participants from 15 countries, and the 3rd Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue Conference where 160 participants from 43 European and Asian countries vowed to deepen both government and civil society participation in the promotion of interfaith dialogue .

Friday, 5 October 2007

Clark airport modernization ahead of schedule — Pamintuan

Original report at The BusinessWorld Online

The P68-million modernization of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) inside the Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga is now in an advanced stage and could be finished earlier than scheduled.

In a statement, Secretary Edgardo D. Pamintuan said the civil works accomplishment for the passenger terminal expansion is 4% in advance as early as last month.

The Clark Development Corp. (CDC)-funded project started in July and is scheduled to be finished by January 2008. Mr. Pamintuan said the project is 17% complete.

Included in the modernization are the renovation of the existing terminal building, terminal expansion, site development, and procurement of additional terminal equipment to cater to the increasing airline and passenger traffic.

Officials of the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) and Luzon Urban Beltway (LUB) could not be reached as of press time to comment on the extent of the terminal expansion and equipment being purchased under the modernization project.

In the statement, CIAC President Victor I. Luciano said the modernization project will allow the airport to increase its passenger capacity to two million from one million passengers annually.

"The modernization of DMIA is part of the grand plan to transform Clark and Subic and their corridors into a logistics hub. So far, we have a very impressive pace of activities and if this trend will continue, then we will be able to finish this before the target date," said Mr. Pamintuan.

The terminal expansion project is one of the 44 infrastructure projects being fast-tracked by the LUB, a super-region composed of most of Central Luzon, National Capital Region, Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon, and the provinces of Mindoro and Marinduque. — MGSR

Global Steel to set up $1.6 bn plant in Philippines

Original report at The Economic Times

NEW DELHI: Pramod Mittal-promoted Global Steel Holdings (GSH) will set up an integrated steel project in Philippines at a cost of $1.6 billion (Rs 6,400 crore), the country's President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Friday.

Addressing captains of Indian industry here Arroyo said the plant would come up in Southern Philippines. "GSH will join our billion dollars club," she added.

Sources said top GSH officials met Arroyo in Mumbai yesterday and expressed their resolve to set up an integrated steel plant in that country where it already owns a rolling mill.

Palace econ adviser: Peso to hit P25:$1 in 5 years

Original report at GMANews.TV

Albay Gov. and presidential adviser on economic affairs Jose Salceda on Friday predicted that the peso will surge to P25 against the US dollar within five years as inflows from overseas Filipinos continue to pour into the country.

The peso was at the P26 to a dollar level shortly before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, after which it fell to as low as P56.45 against the greenback. On Friday, the local currency closed at P44.750 against the US dollar.

“There is no way that OFW remittances will go down… After five years, the peso will go back to P25. That is very clear," Salceda said in a press conference in Malacañang.

Salceda said the demand for Filipino labor overseas would increase to the point that hiring companies would scramble to pay skilled workers, instead of workers paying placement fees, as is the case today.

He said his forecast is based on the impact of the "law of demographics."

Salceda said the economies of Russia and Europe are shrinking because of the negative birth rate, with China soon to follow suit because of its one-child policy. He said Japan has crashed already.

This means these large economies would have to source their labor elsewhere, namely the Philippines.

Salceda said exporters should learn how to cope with a strengthening peso and be competitive on their own instead of asking the government for incentives all the time.

“They’ve been pampered. They need to adjust… You cannot rely on currency as a source of competitiveness," he said. - GMANews.TV

End-September GIR Nears the US$31 Billion Mark

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
Media Release

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) rose further to US$30.7 billion as of end-September 2007, surpassing the year-end target by US$0.7 billion. This level is also 0.7 percent higher than the end-August 2007 level of US$30.5 billion due mainly to the Bangko Sentral’s (BSP) foreign exchange (FX) transactions following continued strong FX inflows, as well as receipt of income from its investments abroad. These inflows were partly offset, however, by debt service payments on maturing obligations of the National Government.

Noli urges Pinoys in US: Invest, aid poor, visit RP

Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Vice President Noli de Castro is urging Filipinos in New York to invest in the Philippines, citing statistics that point to sustained economic growth.

At the same time, De Castro made a pitch for Philippine tourism. He asked them to visit the Philippines and see for themselves "how far we have developed, and what more can be done."

Speaking at a gathering of the Filipino community in New York during an official visit to the United States, De Castro said the Philippines posted economic growth in the second quarter of this year that exceeded forecasts by both the government and the private sector.

He added that major infrastructure programs lined up for the next three years, as well as improvements in the delivery of basic services to the people, make the Philippines a viable investment choice.

"Those of you who have the funds, or have control over funds, may wish to consider placing your money in our country," De Castro said.

The Vice President also called on Filipinos to make small contributions to help the homeless back home. He mentioned in particular those who were relocated because of the North and Southrail projects of the government.

De Castro is also chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) which counts housing agencies under its supervision.

"Malaki pa ang incremental requirements, especially in the areas of community upgrading and capacity building, at malaki ang maitutulong ng iba’t ibang sector, tulad ng mga samahan ng mga Pilipino dito sa New York upang matulungan ang mga kababayan nating nagsisimulang magbagong buhay. (The incremental requirements are big, especially in community- upgrading and capacity- building, and it can be a big help to various sectors, like the Filipino organizations here in New York, so that our countrymen can help one another to begin a new life)," De Castro said.

September inflation rate at 2.7%

Press Release
National Statistics Office

Year-on-year headline inflation rate in the Philippines picked up to 2.7 percent in September from 2.4 percent in August brought about by higher annual price increments of food, beverages and tobacco (FBT) index and in services items. Inflation a year ago was 5.7 percent.

  • Inflation rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) went up to 2.8 percent in September from 2.6 percent in August due to the acceleration in the inflation rates of FBT and services.
  • Inflation rate in Areas Outside the National Capital Region (AONCR) increased to 2.5 percent in September from 2.2 percent in August as the annual inflation rates of FBT and services moved upward.

Excluding selected food and energy items, national core inflation further slowed down to 2.7 percent in September from 2.9 percent in August.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Arroyo bats for more trade, investments with India

Associated Press
Original report at GMANews.TV

MUMBAI, India - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Thursday invited Indian pharmaceutical companies to set up manufacturing units in her country to provide medicines to the poor at affordable prices.

Her three-day visit to India was aimed at increasing economic cooperation and trade and investment ties, President Arroyo told top business leaders in Mumbai, India's financial capital.

''I encourage your pharmaceutical companies to set up production facilities in the Philippines. This will help you keep the Philippines market and use it as a base to export to northeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand,'' she said.

Mrs Arroyo said her government also planned to encourage import of medicines from India to help reduce the prices of medicines by half.

Indian company Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and Macro Pharmaceuticals of the Philippines signed an agreement Thursday for marketing specialized Indian medicines for kidney transplant and dialysis.

A trade agreement also was signed by Manila-based information and technology company IPVG Corp. and India's Credence Analytics.

President Arroyo said she hoped India's fast-paced economic growth would translate into more investment in the Asian region. India's rapid economic growth has been averaging nearly 9 percent annually over the last couple of years.

She will leave for the Indian capital on Friday for talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The two countries will sign an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Commission on bilateral cooperation and a joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism, said a statement by India's External Affairs Ministry.

India's exports to the Philippines in 2005-2006 totaled US$490 million (€345.19 million) and imports from the Philippines were US$255 million (€179.64 million).

Indian software companies such as Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. have entered joint ventures in information technology services in the telecommunication and banking sectors in the Philippines over the past two years.

India's Aditya Birla group was the first to set up textile plants in the Philippines in 1975.

Arroyo will return home on Saturday, according to the Indian External Affairs Ministry. - AP

BSP cuts overnight policy rates by 25 bps

Full article at ABS-CBN News

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) on Thursday cut its overnight interest rates by 25 basis points after a policy meeting, due to tame increases in consumer prices.

The BSP slashed its overnight borrowing rate to 5.75 percent and its lending rate to 7.75 percent.

"The Monetary Board considered the benign inflation outlook. Inflation is likely to fall well below the 4-5 percent target range in 2007," said BSP governor Amando Tetangco in a statement.

The government will release tomorrow the inflation data for September.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Senate's undone homework

The economy, according to Congress
The Manila Times

FILIPINOS can heave a collective sigh of relief now that the Senate inquiry into the ZTE broadband contract has lost steam after the alleged broker of the transaction has resigned. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman’s decision to step down four months ahead of his retirement spares the country from another costly political distraction.

Given the tone of the inquiry into the ZTE deal, the investigation is turning into another venue to divide public opinion and derail economic growth along with it.

While we recognize the Senate’s prerogative to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation, the current probe has also become a venue for irresponsible grandstanding, with reckless claims made serving only to devalue political discourse in this country. As the record shows, partisan inquiries hardly result in meaningful legislation.

The Comelec chairman’s decision to take the matter to court brings the truth-seeking process to the proper venue. The sooner the legislature wraps up its inquiry, the earlier lawmakers can buckle down to the more urgent work of passing key reform measures.

At this point, the Fourteenth Congress has [a] lot on its plate, what with many priority measures left undone during the previous session.

We have a bill creating a centralized credit bureau, which regulators say, would prevent the ongoing United States subprime mortgage mess from happening in the Philippines. To recall, the US housing sector problems triggered a global credit crunch, roiling financial markets and pushing the world’s biggest economy closer to recession.

Contraction in the US, which is the Philippines’ largest export market, would in turn crimp our economic expansion.

Another pressing piece of legislation is the proposed Preneed Code to resuscitate what had been the only successful model of that industry in the world. Before the collapse of industry giants College Assurance Plans and Pacific Plans, preneed held up as the average family’s fighting chance to provide a better future for its children.

Of course, the 2008 spending bill is perhaps the most important piece of economic legislation in the legislative pipeline. The passage of next year’s General Appropriations Act is crucial as all eyes are on the Philippines’ ability to deliver on its promise to balance its budget.

It’s make or break for the country next year, as government hopes to emerge from its worst fiscal crisis. Balancing the budget would merit the much-coveted credit ratings upgrade and lift the burden of expensive borrowing costs.

Fiscal recovery in turn would allow for greater government spending, thus boosting the chances of sustaining the country’s newfound economic momentum. A new era of affluence awaits us if only the legislature could set its priorities straight.

With the economy on the right growth path, corruption in public contracts such as that which allegedly accompanied the ZTE deal would be minimized. For faster growth redounds to a bigger economy, which in turn means there’s more legitimate wealth for everybody—government, businesses and households alike.

Redeeming the Senate

By Efren L. Danao
The working Senate
Full article at The Manila Times

When Sen. Loren Legarda went to Eastern Samar last Friday, she was swamped with complaints that the Senate was devoting most of its time to investigating alleged anomalies in government. Loren defended the Senate, saying that the spadework being done by the Senate for the enactment of priority bills had not been given prominence by the media. I agree with her.

As of this writing, the Senate standing committees have already approved five reports for plenary debates—and this was accomplished barely a month after the organization of the committees. Committee Report No. 1 on the expanded retirement benefits for the judiciary was approved on second reading on September 24, the first measure to pass by the Senate in the Fourteenth Congress.

The second committee report urges the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and Local Governments and all law-enforcement agents to formulate rules and regulations on the presentation of suspects in press conferences. The first and second reports were made by the justice committee headed by Sen. Chiz Escudero.

Committee Report No. 3 amends the Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). It extends by 10 years the mandatory allocation of credit resources to MSMEs. The measure is a consolidation of bills filed by Sen. Mar Roxas, Senate President Manuel Villar, Sen. Bong Revilla, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Senator Loren. Loren, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, started sponsoring the committee report last Monday.

Committee Report No. 4, also accomplished by the justice committee, provides good conduct time allowance to convicts and detainees. Committee Report No. 5, done by the agriculture committee headed by Sen. Edgardo Angara, extends the utilization time of the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) to December 2015. The use of ACEF, a safety net for agriculture in the wake of the free trade regime, is supposed to end in December 2007. Report No. 5 consolidates bills filed separately by Sen. Dick Gordon, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, Villar and Angara.

Angara a real workhorse

Speaking of Senator Angara, I admire him for being a true workhorse. He is the only senator who has not been seen in the Senate inquiry on the “Hello, Garci” and the national broad­band controversies, all because he is neck-deep in silent committee work. Politicians love to be in the glare of media and Angara might not be an exception but certainly, he would give priority to fleshing out priority bills even if these would not be fully reported by media hankering for sensational news.

The workload of Angara on October 2 indicated his dedication to his legislative duties. At 8 a.m., as chairman of finance subcommittee C, he heard the proposed 2008 budget of state universities and colleges. At 10 a.m., as chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies, he conducted public hearings on five priority bills. These are Senate Bill No. 62 seeking to establish a credit information system, SB 63 seeking to provide the regulatory framework for real estate investment trusts, and SBs 70, 1194 and 1545 seeking to establish the Personal Equity and Retirement Account.

As if the pace of work was not enough, Angara returned at 1 p.m. as subcommittee C chairman to hear the proposed 2008 budget of the National Power Corp. Of course, in the afternoon, he attended the session.

With reliable workhorses like Angara and, of course, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, and the enthusiasm and dedication of neophyte Sen. Chiz Escudero, Senate President Manuel Villar could still accomplish his goal of having 26 priority bills approved before the Christmas break even if the Senate would continue investigating the Garci and the NBN controversies.

Incidentally, the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms headed by Sen. Dick Gordon heard last Friday the House-approved bill resetting the October 29 barangay elections to 2009. The public hearing was just to give due course to a bill passed by the House even if it has no chance of getting the Senate nod. An all-senators’ caucus had already rejected the postponement of the barangay elections.

New RP well to raise monthly production from 17,000 to 500,000 barrels

Galoc well to flow oil next March
Original article at the Manila Bulletin

The country’s first new oil well in 15 years is expected to start production in March, 2008, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said yesterday.

The oil well, located in the Galoc Field off the western island of Palawan, will increase the country’s monthly oil production from about 17,000 barrels to about 500,000 barrels, Reyes said.

Singapore-based Galoc Production Company (GPC) which farmed into Service Contract 14C in northwest Palawan will cough up $ 86.4 million investment for exploration activities in the oil and gas block which is seen to yield up to 10 million barrels of oil.

Of the programmed investment amount, $ 65 million or about 77-percent will be shelled out by GPC and the rest by other equity holders in the acreage, which include Alcorn Gold Resources, Forum Energy, Nido Petroleum, Oriental Petroleum, PetroEnergy Resources, and Philodrill.

According to GPC country manager Kay Palma, the first oil production will likely happen in March 2008.

Energy Secretary Angelo T. Reyes said the Galoc oil field is expected to shore up the country’s indigenous oil production by roughly 17,000 barrels to 500,000 barrels on a monthly basis.

This oil and gas prospect, according to the DoE chief, contributes to the success rate in developing the country’s oil resources which is aggressively being pushed by the government.

The Galoc oil field, which was discovered in 1981, first produced oil in the 80’s but it never reached commercial development because of the sudden drop in global oil prices then.

"Skyrocketing oil prices and new oil development technologies have made the current efforts economically viable," the company said.

It was noted that two deviated horizontal wells in 290 meters of water will be initially drilled by GPC to penetrate 16,000 meters of the oil-bearing sandstone reservoir two kilometers beneath.

Production will be done through a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) facility and the field will be tested during the first six months.

This will enable a thorough assessment and optimization of the subsequent commercial production.

"The Galoc field development and the rapid progress is a testament to the progressive and cooperative nature of our Philippine partners, both public and private. We look forward to achieving oil production in the first quarter of 2008, GPC chief operating officer Jeff Davison said.

GMA scraps ZTE deal

By Marvin Sy
Original report at The Philippine Star

SHANGHAI (via PLDT) – President Arroyo personally conveyed to Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday her decision to scrap the national broadband network (NBN) contract with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. during a brief meeting between the two world leaders here.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye told reporters that it was Mrs. Arroyo who initiated discussions on the NBN issue during their 30-minute bilateral discussion at the Xi Jiao Guesthouse in Shanghai.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries over Mrs. Arroyo’s attendance at the Shanghai Special Olympics, Bunye said the President started relaying the Philippines’ recognition of China as an important partner.

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated to Hu the Philippines’ commitment to the one-China policy, which China considers as an important issue.

Bunye said that this was “very much appreciated by President Hu.”

In effect, the much talked-about cancellation of the ZTE scandal did little to hurt the relationship between the two countries.

“The President described our relationship as one that is characterized by respect, consultation and mutual benefit,” Bunye quoted the President as saying just before she raised the NBN issue with President Hu.

“At this point the President explained the difficult decision not to continue with the NBN contract,” Bunye said.

According to Bunye, Mrs. Arroyo “counted on the good relations between our two countries for understanding.”

“The President has always expressed the belief that the more bridges we cross the better for the country and for our people. And this is one of the bridges that the President is now crossing,” Bunye said.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Japan firm builds 10 ships to be manned by Filipinos

By Marie Neri
Full report at GMANews.TV

Japanese shipping company-K-Line Ship Management Co. Ltd.[Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha] plans to build 10 cargo ships to be manned by an all-Filipino officers and crew. The vessels are expected to be finished by 2010.

Shuichiro Maeda, K-Line president, said the company will recruit almost 7,000 Filipinos in the next four years, composed of 3, 330 officers and 3, 600 ratings or crew.

The firm, he said, is embarking on an expansion program that entails building 300 new ships starting next year until 2011. “This is part of the fleet expansion," he said.

K-Line operates 420 ships in various ports across the globe.

“We are now expanding and because of the expansion we will require 7,000 seafarers," said Satoru Kobushima, K-Line’s executive vice-president.

On the 10 ships with an all-Filipino officers and crew, Kobushima said his company prefers Filipinos because they have been working well with them in a long time and that having an all-Filipino crew on board a vessel is much easier to manage “because communications would not be a problem."

“We don’t want any other nationalities there. We want it to be purely Filipino officers and crews," he said.

K-Line is putting up a training school in the Philippines to upgrade the managerial skills of deck officers and crew.

The K-Line Maritime Academy-Philippines will be operational in February 2008 and is intended to train at least 10,000 seafarers a year.

More than 5.5 million Filipinos now use their cell phones as virtual wallets

By OLIVER TEVES – 1 day ago

SAN MIGUEL, Philippines (AP) — It's Thursday, so 18-year-old Dennis Tiangco is off to a bank to collect his weekly allowance, zapped by his mother — who's working in Hong Kong — to his electronic wallet: his cell phone.

Sauntering into a branch of GM Bank in the town of San Miguel, Tiangco fills out a form, sends a text message via his phone to a bank line dedicated to the service.

In a matter of seconds, the transaction is approved and the teller gives him $54, minus a 1 percent fee. He doesn't need a bank account to retrieve the money.

More than 5.5 million Filipinos now use their cell phones as virtual wallets, making the Philippines a leader among developing nations in providing financial transactions over mobile networks.

Mobile banking services, which are also catching on in Kenya and South Africa, enable people who don't have bank accounts to transfer money easily, quickly and safely. It's spreading in the developing world because mobile phones are much more common than bank accounts.

The system is particularly useful for the 8 million Filipinos — 10 percent of the country's citizens — who work overseas and send money home, like Dennis' mother, Anna Tiangco. Previously, she sent money via a bank wire transfer, which costs $2.50 and takes two days to clear. The cell phone method costs only 13 cents and is nearly instantaneous.

"The good thing here is, wherever my children are, they can text me and I can send money immediately," she said in a telephone interview.

Consumers also can store limited amounts of money on their cell phones to buy things at stores that participate in the network — although this practice isn't yet widespread in the Philippines.

Many more Filipinos use their phones to send airtime values called "loads" to prepaid subscribers. A parent, for example, can send a $1.20 load to replenish a child's cell phone, charged to the parent's account.

While Japanese and South Korean consumers have been using cell phones as virtual wallets for several years, those systems use a computer chip implanted in handset that allows people to buy things by waving the phone in front of a sensor. The Philippine system relies on simple text messages, which cost just 2 cents to send.

The 41 million cell phone users in the Philippines have embraced text messaging. The electronic connections have fostered a culture of quick greetings and forwarded jokes. Text messages also played a key role in mobilizing crowds that fueled the 2001 "people power" revolt that ousted President Joseph Estrada.

The Philippines' two biggest mobile service providers, Globe Telecom and Smart Communications, have harnessed this penchant for text messaging to enable consumers to enter the world of e-commerce.

Tapping into the cash flow from overseas Filipinos — who sent home $12.7 billion last year — Globe and Smart forged partnerships with foreign mobile providers and banks, as well as with local banks and merchants, to create a network that allows users to send and receive cash internationally.

When Anna Tiangco wants to send cash home, for example, she goes to a branch of her local provider, Hong Kong CSL Ltd., where a clerk credits her cell phone with the amount she has brought with her. She then transfers the money to family members via text messages — in essence instructing her providers to deduct money from her balance to the recipients she indicates.

If a cell phone loaded with cash values is lost or stolen, the money can't be tapped as long as the personal identification number isn't revealed. Control over the funds can be restored with a replacement SIM, or Subscriber Identity Module, card from either mobile provider.

The system was "built for remote payments and for the unbanked markets," said Rizza Maniego Eala, president of G-Xchange, Globe's subsidiary in charge of its G-Cash money transfer service.

Eala said her company's 500,000 G-Cash users transfer about $100 million monthly, but she declined to say how many transactions involve remittances from overseas.

Smart offers a slightly different money transfer system, used by about 5 million Filipinos, that links cash or a debit card to a cell phone.

Users load up their phones with money via text messages. The card — which costs $4 but does not require a bank account — can then be used to purchase goods in establishments that accept MasterCard, or to withdraw cash from an ATM machine.

Smart Communications spokesman Ramon Isberto said each time the recipient spends the money, the sender receives a transaction message. That allows the sender to see how the funds are used.

"The added value there now is that Filipinos overseas have greater control over their funds. Believe me, that is important to them," he said.

Smart and UAE's leading telecommunications operator, Etisalat, have agreed to provide money transfer service to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the Middle East. Smart also will soon launch a remittance system in Bahrain in partnership with MTC-Vodafone and Ahli United Bank there, and Banco de Oro in the Philippines, Isberto said.

"The bank products remain clearly bank products. We positioned ourselves as an enabler for banks and other financial institutions to provide products and services to their customers in ways they would otherwise not have been able to," he said.

Aside from transferring cash and making purchases, both Globe and Smart also allow their users to pay bills with their phones. Anna Tiangco said she pays her family's electric bills in San Miguel from Hong Kong via text messages, just like she sends money.

"Even if we are far apart, it's like we are still together," she said. "This is like my wallet now."

Statement of resignation of COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos

By COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr.

Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat. Salamat at dumalo kayo dito sa press conference na ipinatawag ko upang maipahayag sa ating kababayan ang kabuuan ng niluloob ko patungkol sa mga isyu at kontrobersiya na insinasangkot ang aking pagkatao at ngayong ay nakaka-apekto ng hindi lamang sa trabaho at katungkulan ko bilang Chairman ng COMELEC kundi pati na ang pribasiya, katahimikan at iba pang karapatan ng aking pamilya.

It has been almost a week since I appeared at the Senate committees investigating the NBN Project. I did so against the advice of my counsel and closest of friends, driven by what I expected would be the inherent fairness of a Senate inquiry and the statesmanship of our Senators.

I was sorely mistaken. I was not treated fairly. My declarations were limited to only those that my most interrogators wanted to hear.

In these few days of reflection and consultation I’ve had with my family and closest friends, I have come to the painful determination that the time has come to separate my person from the office I now occupy, and the institution I head.

I am resigning the Chairmanship of the COMELEC effective immediately.

Let not my detractors feast on this declaration. I am not admitting guilt for any wrongdoing. Neither am I giving up on my crusade to clear my name and reputation. I made this decision to spare the COMELEC from the vicious maliciously concocted attacks on my person. On the 29th of this month we will have another election. It is my intention that with my resignation today I shall have detached the COMELEC from the controversy in which my person is currently embroiled.

In this same way, my resignation should dispel the claims of my detractors that I am dangling so-called "political debts" dispensed when I was supposedly "king" during election period as a shield to fend off moves to oust me from office.

And finally, my resignation negates the accusation that this administration is out to protect me and my incumbency.

Forty years ago, I entered public service fired with the ideals of promoting the welfare or our people and placing public interest above mine at all times. It is for this very reason that I have resigned, subordinating my personal interest in completing the last few months of my term to the higher public interest of saving Congress from engaging in a complicated and long-drawn out impeachment process that would inevitably take its toll on the nation.

I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the government for the mentoring, the assistance and the comfort they have given me in my years in public service. Their thoughts and goodwill have become the founding elements of the wisdom that I bear as I return to private life.

I wish to thank likewise, my family, friends and most especially the people of Mandaluyong. I thank them for bearing with me, for the aid and comfort they have given me through all these years, particularly during these trying times.

I must repeat, however, that I have not given up the fight. Having rid myself of the impression of using my office for personal ends and the burden of keeping my office and the COMELEC away from the vicious attacks on my person, I am all the more determined to carry on my crusade to clear my name and reputation and exposing the lies and malicious claims thrown at me.

Sa aking pamamaalam sa serbisyo publiko ay naroon ang aking pananalig na anumang haba ng gabi ay mayroong bukang-liwayway. Sa patnubay at gabay ng ating Maykapal, malaki ang aking pananalig na tayo’y muling magkikita, taas-noo, sa bagong umaga.

As I bow out of public service, I find comfort in the thought that at the end of even the longest of nights, the dawn will break. With the grace of the Almighty, I am confident that I shall see you once again, head unbowed, at daybreak.

Maraming salamat po.

PSE turnover tops P1 trillion in just 9 months, 177% up y/y

Original report at the Manila Bulletin

The Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) marked a new milestone in performance when annual value turnover hit the P1-trillion mark after just three quarters this year.

PSE records showed that value turnover reached P1.01 trillion from January to September this year or 177 percent higher than the P363.7-billion level for the same period last year and 76 percent more than the P572.63-billion total for the entire 2006.

"We consider this a major milestone, because in the 80-year history of our stock market, annual turnover had never before breached the P1-trillion level," said PSE president Francis Ed. Lim.

He said the PSE achieved the feat with still a full quarter to go before the end of 2007—thus it is assured of re-writing the record books.

Annual value turnover reached P145.4 billion in 2003; jumped to P206.6 billion in 2004; and further surged to P383.52 billion in 2005.

Daily average turnover jumped to P5.41 billion from January to September this year or 178.4 percent more than the P1.94-billion level for the same nine-month period last year and 133.6 percent bigger than the P2.32 billion for the whole of 2006.

"The unprecedented surge in value turnover so far this year reflects the growing enthusiasm of investors, including foreign groups, to jump into our stock market," Lim said adding that "this is a clear vote of confidence in our market."

Based on PSE data, the industrial sector grabbed the biggest share of value turnover at P224.03 billion for the first nine months of the year.

The property sector came in second at P219.13 billion; services sector, P191.57 billion; holding firms sector, P160.34 billion; financial sector, P143.74 billion; and the mining and oil sector, P68.29 billion.

Firms in the SME (Small- and Medium-sized Enterprise ) Board accounted for P148.22 million of value turnover for the first nine months of the year.

Total market capitalization of all listed companies reached P8.24 trillion at the end of the first three quarters of the year or 14.8 percent higher than the P7.17-trillion mark at the end of 2006.

The market capitalization of listed domestic companies amounted to P4.25 billion or 26.7 percent more than the P3.35-billion mark at the end of 2006.

The PSEi, which is the main barometer of local stock price movements, closed at 3,572.9 points at the end of the first three quarters or 19.8 percent more than its 2,982.54-point closing level in 2006.

SEIPI, Philexport support JPEPA

Original report at the Manila Bulletin

Semiconductor and electronics manufacturers have expressed full support for the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

Semiconductors and Electronics Industries of the Philippines, Inc. president Ernesto Santiago said the JPEPA is a vehicle for growth and job creation in the thriving semi-conductor and electronics sector in the Philippines.

Santiago and Ambassador Dee, President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, met to map out how the business sector can help in the campaign for the ratification of the JPEPA.

SEIPI, a non-stock, non-profit organization has now more than 200 members from an initial of 13 companies when it was founded in 1984. Its main objective is to enhance the global competitiveness of the semi-conductor and electronics industry of the Philippines.

The Philippine Exporters Confederation (PHILEXPORT) has also expressed support for JPEPA, saying that the treaty would greatly benefit the country’s exporters, Japan being our second largest export market.

PHILEXPORT President Sergio Ortiz-Luis said that with the JPEPA, the Philippines can expect to get a bigger chunk of Japanese imports, particularly in agricultural products.

Among the ASEAN countries, the Philippines has the lowest volume of exports to Japan and have large potential for export expansion.

Statistics released by the Department of trade and Industry shows that in 2005, Indonesia accounted to 28.7 percent of total Japanese imports from ASEAN; Thailand accounted for 21.4 percent; Malaysia, 20.2 percent; and the Philippines, only 10.6 percent.

Ambassador Dee said that he will be discussing JPEPA in the area business conferences organized by PCCI that include the Visayas Area Business Conference in Bacolod City and the Mindanao Business Conference in general Santos City.

Other sectprs, such as those in furniture, textile and garments, and automotive, are expected to also throw their support to JPEPA.

China launches $ 200-B investment fund

A reason for PGMA's China visit
Original report at the Manila Bulletin

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government formally launched a company Saturday to invest US $ 200 billion (euro141 billion) from its vast foreign reserves, creating one of the world’s richest investment funds at a time of rising scrutiny of such state-run entities.

Financial analysts are watching to see where the new company invests and the impact on financial markets, especially demand for US Treasury securities, in which Beijing holds a big share of its reserves.

Beijing announced plans for the fund in March in hopes of earning higher returns on its US $ 1.3 trillion in foreign reserves, which are the world’s largest.

The China Investment Corp. will start out with US $ 200 billion in capital, the Xinhua News Agency said. Its chairman is Lou Jiwei, a deputy secretary-general of China’s Cabinet and a former finance minister, Xinhua said. The general manager is Gao Xiqing, vice chairman of the agency that manages China’s state pension and social welfare fund.

The fund is to operate independently and keep investment decisions separated from government policy, Xinhua said. The agency has yet to disclose its investment goals.

An official involved in creating the fund told The Associated Press in May it was likely to try to avoid causing political strains by buying minority stakes in companies abroad rather than pursuing outright takeovers.

Chinese companies have been uneasy about foreign acquisitions since an uproar in 2005 over state-owned oil company CNOOC Ltd.’s attempt to acquire US oil and gas producer Unocal Corp. CNOOC dropped its bid after American critics said it might endanger energy security.

Some officials and economists want the new fund to finance foreign expansion by Chinese companies or buy oil and other resources needed by the country’s booming economy.

The rapid growth of such sovereign wealth funds run by Asian and Middle Eastern governments has raised questions about their intentions and impact on financial markets.

The European Union might restrict investments by government funds unless they disclose more about what they invest in and why, the top EU economic official said this week.

"If they don’t agree to these criteria, we can find good reasons to react in some cases," EU Economy Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told London’s Financial Times in an interview.

China’s investments have drawn special attention because of the country’s large and growing economic and military might.

The new fund would dwarf foreign investment activity by Chinese companies, which spent US $ 21 billion (euro14.8 billion) abroad last year, according to the government.

On Friday, a group that includes China’s biggest maker of network equipment, Huawei Technologies Co., announced it would pay US $ 2.2 billion to buy US network gear supplier 3Com Corp. in a deal that could draw similar scrutiny. Huawei was founded by a former Chinese army officer and its early sales were to the military, but the company says most of its business now is with civilians.

Philippine Senate digs deeper grave for itself

Disappointing, Absurd and Futile (On the Senate hearing with Romulo Neri)
By Bong Austero
Excerpts from The Manila Standard

I think that the current Philippine Senate is simply incapable of being entrusted with information that has grave implications on the nation.

Last Wednesday’s hearing illustrated this fact clearly.

It was plainly obvious that that particular hearing did not have a clear purpose other than to fish out information. If Neri did squeal, I doubt if the Senate would have had a strategic action plan that would put Neri’s revelations to better use. I am sure that the senators would simply have taken turns trying to extract juicier, more lurid details, or correspondingly, attacking Neri’s credibility. It would have been a free-for-all melee. And after the bloodbath, Neri would have been left to fend for himself. This Senate has a sorry record both in terms of legislation and in their oversight function.

Let’s make a quick reality check: What has happened to all the other previous investigations of the Senate? Did anything come out of them? You know what the answers are. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.


We all know that a Senate hearing on any controversial issue in this country is potentially an explosive event of staggering proportions. Words fail to describe the spectacle. Some writers have described it as something akin to an orgy. Others have referred to it as a cross between a neighborhood brawl and an inquisition during the Middle Ages.

As a result, Senate hearings, such as the one last Wednesday, are riveting. They keep people glued to their television sets. People watch the whole proceedings with bated breath, eagerly anticipating the next tantrum, the next preposterous question, or the next shocking revelation. Senate hearings have become a sordid form of entertainment.

One wishes that given the inordinate media attention and the colossal amount of public money spent on these hearings, our senators would transform these events into lessons in civics. One wishes that these hearings were turned into a platform to educate people on the proper way to conduct a debate as a healthy form of discourse. One wishes that these hearings become truly productive and actually result in something more tangible other than inflating egos (the senators’) and assassinating reputations (usually the witnesses’ or those of the subjects of the investigation).

Unfortunately, the potential and opportunity are wasted because our senators have this proclivity to engage in a contest to determine who among them is the better bully. They turn these hearings into a pissing contest. They swagger around and pretend that they are prosecutors and high-profile lawyers cross-examining witnesses in a criminal trial.

Our senators don’t simply ask questions. They intimidate invited witnesses. They make insinuations. And when insinuations do not work, they make brazen accusations. They fish for information. They trundle out unverified text messages. They have no compunctions about mentioning names of private individuals. They make racist statements. They swagger around and make pompous statements that only complicate issues and draw in more people into the fray.

And when their energies are spent and their egos have already been fully inflated, they move on to the next investigation without even providing closure to the previous issue. The cycle goes on and on.

Last Wednesday’s Senate hearing was no exception. Boy oh boy, was that hearing a complete blast. Not even Neri’s disappointing testimony could diminish the impact of the event as the classic example of an expensive exercise in absurdity. My friends and I were in Cebu on that fateful Wednesday to attend the 44th Annual Conference of the People Management Association of the Philippines. Since the conference was scheduled to open at 3 p.m. yet, we decided to converge in one of the hotel rooms to watch the proceedings instead of joining a city tour.

As we watched the proceedings on television, we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or to do both at the same time. There really is no need to shift to a parliamentary form of government to make the Senate obsolete. Our senators are already doing an excellent job of killing the institution on their own.

RP economy seen growing more than 7 percent in 3rd quarter

Original report at The Philippine Star

MANILA (AP) - The Philippine economy likely expanded more than 7 percent in the third quarter on the back of brisk consumer demand, sustaining the growth trend of the previous quarters, a top economic official said Monday.

The economy grew at its fastest pace in nearly two decades in the second quarter, rising 7.5 percent from the same period last year and pushing first-half growth to 7.3 percent.

"We expect the first-half performance to be sustained in the third quarter. We expect pretty much the same number," said Acting Economic Planning Secretary August Santos.

He said given the trend and an expected recovery in the agriculture sector, the government may have to adjust its growth target of 6.1 percent to 6.7 percent for the whole year.

"The drivers will still be primarily private consumption," Santos said, citing strong remittances from Filipinos working abroad as well as revenue from business process outsourcing companies, a growing industry in the Philippines.

In 2006, the economy expanded 5.4 percent.

COMELEC Chairman Resigns

In wake of criticism, poll chief Abalos says, 'I am resigning'
The Philippine Star

Beleaguered Commission on Elections chief commissioner Benjamin Abalos, Sr. announced Monday in a press conference that he was resigning from his office.

Abalos said that despite legal advice given to him, he had attended the recent Senate hearing on the controversial National Broadband Network project and expected statemanship from the senators present.

"I was not treated fairly," Abalos said.

He added that because of this, he was separating his office from himself and announced his resignation immediately.

However, he said he was not admitting to any wrongdoing because of his resignation and added he was not giving up on his crusade on clearing his name.

He clarified that he would rather spare the Comelec the attacks on his person.

Thus, he said, his intention to resign was to detach the poll office from the controversy surrounding him.

He likewise dispelled claims by his detractors that his stay in office was in payment of the political debt by the current administration during the last election period.

This will prove wrong the accusation that the Arroyo administration is out to protect him and his incumbency, he declared.

Palace surprised by Abalos resignation

Palace officials including President Arroyo were surprised by the sudden resignation of Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. on Monday.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he personally informed the President of the news during the turnover ceremony at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame. Showing surprise, the President asked Puno "Anong oras nag-resign? (What time did he resign?)"

Puno meantime scoffed at allegations that Abalos had been chosen to be sacrificial lamb in an attempt to waylay investigations on who was really behind the controversial $329-million national broadband network deal between the government and China's ZTE Corp.

"These allegations are just in the minds of people who wish the administration ill and to those who want to bring down the government you can keep on going and try your best because I think you will not succeed," he told reporters.

Puno congratulated Abalos for showing delicadeza, saying that the elections chief resigned to protect the COMELEC's reputation.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Malacañang is backing Abalos's decision to clear his name. "We respect his decision and appreciate his desire to protect his family and the COMELEC from vicious politics. We wish him well as he carries on his fight to clear his name," he said in a text message.

Abalos Sr. resigned Monday amid allegations that he brokered the $329-million NBN deal in exchange for sexual and monetary favors.

Abalos announced his resignation after attending a special Mass in his home in Barangay Highway Hills in Mandaluyong City.

"I am resigning the Chairmanship of the COMELEC effective immediately," he said.

"Let not my detractors feast on this declaration. I am not admitting guilt for any wrongdoing. Neither am I giving up on my crusade to clear my name and reputation. I made this decision to spare the COMELEC from the vicious maliciously concocted attacks on my person," he added.

Resignation renders Congress impeachment proceedings moot

(The fight is not yet over. I will again continue my fight to clear my name)," said Abalos, who insisted that he is ready to face his detractors before any court.

He added that, "My resignation will negate the accusations that the administration is out to protect me and my incumbency."

"I am not admitting guilt on any wrongdoing," he said, reading from a prepared statement. He was flanked by his wife, son Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos and family members.

The development comes less than two hours after two congressmen in the House of Representatives signed an impeachment complaint against Abalos.

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said that with Abalos's resignation, the impeachment bid has become "moot."

For his part, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez on Monday said Abalos wanted to spare the commission from the toll of the impeachment process.

"He wants to separate himself from the office so the commission would not be affected. He knows it (impeachment) will take toll in the nation," Jimenez told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

He said Abalos told him about his decision to resign Sunday night.

Jimenez said Commissioner Resurreccion Borra, being the most senior member of Comelec, will take on Abalos' position.

"He (Borra) will not be an acting chairman, that's not allowed. He will be an OIC (officer in charge). The Commission will take orders from him," he said.

Jimenez is now in Mandaluyong where Abalos is holding a press conference.

In Malacañang, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Abalos was a victim of a "smear campaign" even as the former congratulated the elections official for making the decision to resign.

Puno said maybe Abalos sacrificed himself to ensure the orderly conduct of the barangay-sangguniang kabataan (village-youth council) elections on October 29.

Cory shows up in Mandaluyong to support Abalos

Former President Corazon Aquino on Monday afternoon showed up at the residence of Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos in Mandaluyong City to give support to the poll official who has decided to step down amid allegations that he brokered the $329.48 deal between the Philippine government and a Chinese telecoms firm for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project, in exchange for hefty commissions.

Aquino said she wanted to give support to Abalos, who helped her administration when its political stability was threatened by coup plotters.

"Alam ko pag ang isang tao ay nasa gitna ng mahirap na experience (ay) nangangailangan din ng support. At di ko naman makakalimutan, lalo na no'ng panahon ng coup attempt, unang-unang dumadating ay si Ben para tumulong (I know that a person who is in the midst of a difficult situation needs support. I will never forget the time during the coup attempts against my administration, Abalos was among the first to come and help me)", Aquino said in an interview with radio dzBB.

Aquino, however, did not respond when asked if she believes that Abalos is innocent of the charges hurled against him in connection to the alleged anomalous NBN transactions with Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp.

"The truth will just come out. What is important is I came here to support him," she said.

I have nothing more to say on broadband deal--Neri

Full report at the Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Senators who hope that Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri could provide the missing piece in the story that would “directly link” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) deal are in for a big disappointment.

Neri indicated on Sunday that he had nothing more to say to the Senate committees investigating the $329-million contract for the NBN project that was awarded to China’s ZTE Corp.

"The Senate grilled me for 12 hours. Did they miss on any significant question?’’ he said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of when asked if he had said everything he needed to say to the senators.

Neri was the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) when the NBN project was approved and the deal signed.

Neri noted that he had said all that he would have to say given the confidential nature of his conversations with the President about the NBN project.

He asked the senators to respect the principle of confidentiality.

The challenge to the Senate

The Manila Times

IS there any lawmaking going on in the Senate?

Taxpayers are asking the question because the Senate, to this day, has passed only one bill, months after Congress opened for business in July.

Honest taxpayers want to know how the senators are spending their money and what kind of work is being done. As far as we know, the main business of the Senate (and the House) is to enact laws of consequence, the most important being the national appropriations bill.

The Senate is also the chamber mandated by law to consider and act on international treaties, agreements and conventions. It should discharge that duty with more diligence.

As senior partner of the bicameral Commission of Appointments, the Senate is expected to play a more active and responsible role in confirming persons nominated by the President to the Cabinet and other offices.

It is expected to introduce and to debate more substantive and far-reaching proposals that do not share the parochial character of many bills passed in the House.

People also look up to the senators as exemplars of civility and manners, not two-bit politicians who grab at opportunities to publicize their curriculum vitae, accent, social pedigree or their skill in muckraking or intimacy with the medium of television.

Touted as the training ground for the presidency, the Senate has lost much of its prestige in the last decade or so because quality has suffered in its membership, work and contributions to the national life.

Senators are elected at large by the masses of the voters. Expectations of their work, character and potentials are much higher. They also get commensurate respect, praise and following when they perform at a higher standard.

There is a great challenge to the Senate under President Manny Villar, beginning with its tasks as described in the Constitution and continuing with the achievements of the great senators who (together with the outstanding congressmen) fully lived their part in a triumvirate government, provided check and balance and lent a counter­vailing force against the excesses of the Presidents of the Philippines.

No television existed—or TV was in its infancy—during those times but the nation was fully informed about the work of the Senate—the great debates, the thoroughness of the deliberations, the depth of public speeches or the importance of many of the privileged speeches.

If TV does not exist, many Filipinos ask, would the lawmakers be as diligent in attendance and in dominating the discussions? If we keep the TV camera out of the hearing room, would we have more thoughtful exchanges and less theatrics?

Shall we have fewer congressional investigations into executive misdoings? Would a hearing be shorter than the 13 hours the senators spent on the NBN contract? Pray, tell us: which of the past inquiries have produced a relevant law anyway or have caused the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice to go after the criminals identified in the hearings?

But to go back to our question.

President Villar, in a public statement, has assured Filipinos that the Senate has a legislative agenda and that it will pass its priorities in good time.

He promised passage of the Cheaper Medicine Bill, principally authored by Senators Mar Roxas and Pia Cayetano, before the Senate recess on October 13. The Senate will pass the important 2008 national budget before the year ends. About 14 national measures are racing through the Senate calendar as the broadband probe progresses, Senator Villar said.

So noted.

Travel group says $350M is lost to tight air policy

By Max V. de Leon
Original report at The Business Mirror

Davao City—The 500-member Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) criticized government for maintaining a restrictive air policy and continuously touting its “reciprocity” stance that is now costing the country about $350 million in annual tourism revenues due to insufficiency of plane seats.

The PTAA proposed that government exercise flexibility in its air talks with other countries by including some built-in trigger mechanisms in the bilateral agreements that would guide the automatic increase in seat allocations every time demand rises.

Jose C. Clemente III, PTAA president, told reporters during the group’s 5th General Membership Meeting at the Marco Polo Hotel here that it is wrong for government to demand reciprocity in its bilateral air deals with other countries simply because the local carriers do not have sufficient capacities to meet the requirements of reciprocal allocations.

“The policy now is too strict and restrictive. We shouldn’t just bump off those countries who want to fly to the Philippines, especially now that demand for the country is very high,” Clemente said.

The PTAA estimates about half a million tourists are being discouraged from booking trips to the Philippines because of the unavailability of plane seats.

“A tourist spends about $700 in the country so you can just compute the opportunity losses from the 500,000 tourists that we’re turning away each year,” Clemente said.

Clemente said the problem right now is when the Philippines sees the need for increased seats allocations from other countries, the government has to go back to the lengthy process of negotiating again for amendments in the bilateral agreements.

To avoid this, Clemente said there should be built-in trigger mechanisms in the bilaterals so that “we don’t have to go back to the negotiating table every time there is a need to increase the allocations.”

One trigger factor the PTAA is proposing, Clemente said, is the determination of the seasons where travel in and out of the country is at its peak.

He cited as examples the summer months, Japanese holidays and the Chinese New Year.

Clemente said the lack of flights availability is one of the complaints raised by Japanese tourists, to explain why their arrivals here have dipped.

Clemente lamented that a lot of people in the government still do not realize the importance of tourism to the country and are still focusing their sight mainly on attracting hard investments.

“We are always relegated to a second class industry. If they know really know what tourism is about and what it can bring to the country, they would not be looking the other way,” he said.


Additional report from The Manila Bulletin

"We are advocating for open skies for reasons we are acutely running out of airseats," Clemente stressed noting the strong need to address the demand for the Philippines from inbound tourists which have substantially increased in the past three years.

He blamed the lack of airseat capacity to the local carriers failure to add more planes to fly to destinations that could bring in more tourists.

For instance, he said, the country’s flagship carrier Philippine Airlines has long stopped flying to Europe, a major source of the country’s tourists. While other European airlines have taken up the slack, there still is not enough capacity to bring in the tourists. There is also the need to improve the number of airlines from the region like China and Malaysia.

In the US, PAL only flies to the West Coast. Japan, a major source of tourists, has also been pressing for new capacities. The same is true with the Middle East.

While the government is studying the proposed open skies policy, travel operators have urged government to implement an interim solution to address the lack of airseat capacity.

The PTAA has urged for a mechanism that would allow countries to fly to the Philippines without having to go through the process of the Civil Aeronautics Board, which calls for tedious bilateral negotiations as this requires the strict reciprocity policy, but during peak seasons only.

Clemente said in countries where the Philippines cannot mount flights because the local carriers have no planes to fly there, the local carriers of that country may be allowed to fly here.

To implement this, the PTAA has called for the implementation of a trigger mechanism where an airline can add new capacity without reciprocity requirement.

"The country’s liberalization policy is too strict and restricts carriers with capacity from actually coming in here. It is not responding quickly to the industry requirement as it should be," he added.

On the problem of tourist accommodation, Clemente said there is a need to put up more three to four star hotels not five star hotels.

"Tourists do not stay most of their time in the hotel and what they need is just clean room and bathrooms," he said. Last year, the country has generated 2.6 million tourists and targets 3 million this year.

Clemente lamented the government’s lack of understanding of the tourism industry’s contribution to the local economy as shown by the stalled passage of the Tourism Bill in Congress.

US prosecutors convinced Lacson used ‘Hello, Garci’ to destabilize gov’t

By Paolo Romero
Full report at The Philippine Star

The previous Senate investigations into the “Hello Garci” wiretap recordings scandal were utilized by disgruntled military officers and some political opposition leaders in their failed attempt to oust President Arroyo, documents submitted to the courts by US federal prosecutors in the Aquino-Aragoncillo espionage case showed.

The findings were contained in a 97-page “Memorandum of the United States in Support of its Position at Sentencing and its Motion for an Upward Departure” submitted by US Attorney Christopher Christie to the US District Court of New Jersey last April 16 in the prosecution of former Philippine police senior superintendent Michael Ray Aquino.

The document detailed the alleged conspiracy between opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Aquino and former federal intelligence analyst Filipino-American Leandro Aragoncillo from June to August of 2005, at the same time when the wiretapping controversy broke out.

Aquino was Lacson’s protégé when he was still chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Aquino was the “controller” of Aragoncillo in the US who supplied the valuable information.

Aquino later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison last July for unlawfully possessing and retaining documents and information relating to national defense that had been stolen by Aragoncillo.

The espionage case sparked a major political uproar because of allegations that the information supplied by Aquino and Aragoncillo were to be used by the opposition to topple Mrs. Arroyo.

Neri hits intrigues; Joker denies intervening

By Paolo Romero
Full report at the Philippine Star

Former socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri laments that a wedge is being driven between him and President Arroyo in the Senate investigation into the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project, according to a Malacañang official.

In a telephone interview, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said Neri, now Commission on Higher Education chairman, called him up yesterday to complain about news reports that he was about to implicate Mrs. Arroyo in the scandal during a closed-door hearing at the Senate last week.

“He (Neri) said there appears to be efforts to sow intrigue between him and the President,” Remonde said.

“He was very worried. So I told him to just hang on, ‘You’re doing good and we’re fully supporting you.’”

He had relayed Neri’s apprehensions to Mrs. Arroyo, who arrived late Saturday from a two-day visit to New York, Remonde said.

On the other hand, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. denied yesterday reports that he was at the Senate to watch over Neri’s testimony during the executive session.

“I was there from the beginning because I was asked to testify,” he said in a telephone interview.

Andaya said Neri also asked him to be his lawyer for the hearing since there was no one available at the time.

Senators required that Neri be accompanied by a lawyer during the executive session, he added.

Andaya said he “acceded to Neri’s request” in deference to a colleague who urgently needed one.

“So I became his accidental lawyer,” he said.

Andaya said he was bound by rules of the executive session, as well as his obligation to his client not to divulge what transpired in the closed-door hearing.

“I can only say that generally under that setting, no one can prevent a person on the dock from speaking out his mind,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joker Arroyo denied yesterday that he was instrumental in preventing Neri from telling the rest of his story about the NBN project at the closed door Senate hearing last week.

Speaking over radio station dzBB, Arroyo said he will confront his colleagues in the next hearing tomorrow (Tuesday) to answer allegations on what reportedly occurred during the executive session.

Hindi totoo ’yong report na ’yon.” he said. “(It is) completely false. Completely false, completely totally false. That is all I can say.”

Arroyo has called on the joint Senate panel led by Blue Ribbon committee chairman Alan Peter Cayetano to wrap up the investigation because the public hearings have used up 36 hours of the Senate’s time in the NBN deal alone.

“I will answer that in the next hearing of the ZTE (NBN deal) so that it will be in full view of everyone, in the presence of all senators,” he said.

Last Sunday, a newspaper (not The STAR) reported, quoting unnamed sources, that Neri was “on the verge” of telling the rest of his story on the supposed lobbying and bribery in the ZTE deal during the executive session last Sept. 26.

It was on the same day that Neri spilled the beans on Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos for allegedly offering him P200-million to get a go signal for the ZTE deal.

The allegation was denied by Abalos.

However, the article said Senator Arroyo intervened by making a motion to allow Neri to avail himself of the legal counsel of his choice before he makes his testimony.

It was at this point that Andaya went to the executive session with Neri.

Quoting sources, the article said Neri told a friend before Wednesday’s closed-door session that what he knew could “possibly” lead to the “downfall” of Mrs. Arroyo.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Towards a More Independent and Responsible Philippine Media

In the thick of inquiries and investigations, it is unfortunate that the media has, willy-nilly, let itself be manipulated by some people who are eyeing higher posts in the land. We hope that the media can reassert its independence and put its power to good use by actually giving airtime or space to these presidential or vice-presidential hopefuls.

Let the broadcast and print media put up a scoreboard where the actual and real time performance of each senator is monitored, including the time he or she spends on productive legislation on one hand, and on investigations on the other. It can include a record of his or her attendance in Senate sessions or in committee meetings. It can also reveal how the honorable Senator has apportioned the pork barrel fund "due" him or her.

This scoreboard will constitute a real public service, and will kill the notion that media is beholden to politicians and only serves as a forum for glorified gossip, though it will not kill the entertainment. It will be a win-win-win situation, for the deserving lawmakers, for the media, and for the 88 million Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad.

Will media take up the challenge?

CAB bewails Neri’s claim that it’s under ‘regulatory capture’

By Michael Punongbayan
Original report at The Philippine Star

The Civil Aeronautics Board of the Philippines (CAB) lashed out at former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Chairman Romulo Neri for accusing their office of being under “regulatory capture.”

CAB is asking Neri to explain his “irresponsible” pronouncements before the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee on the ZTE broadband deal investigation last Wednesday.

In a letter to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, CAB Deputy Executive Director and officer-in-charge Porvenir Porciuncula said Neri should name names.

“We deplore the statement… We vehemently and categorically deny his allegation of regulatory capture,” he said, noting that their office has just completed its International Organization Standards (ISO) certification last month to improve transparency and accountability in the agency.

“The statement of Secretary Neri is thus irresponsible and unfair to the men and women of CAB,” he added, daring the ranking government official to name names.

In an interview with The STAR, Porciuncula explained that accusing an office of being under regulatory capture connotes that its decisions are captured or influenced by business interests.

“Secretary Neri should reveal the names of the people involved if there is indeed regulatory capture. The CAB is a collegial and quasi-judicial body and its records and proceedings are open to the public,” he stressed.

“We and the public deserve to know who was captured and who captured whom and for what. Were those involved local or foreign stakeholders? And who is best to be captured by a business interest? The statement of Secretary Neri tends to point that regulatory capture may have occurred at a different level from the CAB rank and file,” he said.

“Secretary Neri must know something but he must be responsible enough to say it. The people involved – which only he has knowledge at this point – deserves no respect but, we hope he would respect the office by not giving simple and sweeping accusation as we have been working to institute all possible ways to improve public service at the CAB,” Porciuncula further stressed.

He emphasized that the CAB is one with Neri in advocating reforms, but to be true to any reform, “he must start by exposing the parties involved, however mighty or influential they may be.”

“Otherwise, it is just lip-service if those involved are not held accountable. As the good Senator Mar Roxas said, it is stunning for a high-ranking official to just be silent about it and just let things be,” he said, referring to how the cabinet secretary was allegedly offered a P200-million bribe to approve the ZTE Broadband Deal.

Porciuncula said the CAB is requesting that their letter be read in the next hearing of the Blue Ribbon Committee to set the record straight, adding that they are also ready to face Neri.

The CAB, an agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), is an office vested with the functions relating to the economic aspects of air transportation.

It exercises the power to regulate the economic aspect of air transportation, and the general supervision and regulation of, as well as jurisdiction and control over, air carriers, general sales agents, cargo sales agents, and air freight forwarders as well as their property, property rights, equipment, facilities and franchise.

As the Air Transportation Office (ATO) is to the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the CAB functions like the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).