Saturday, 13 October 2007

GMA includes local execs in special body to screen China-funded projects

By PAOLO ROMERO
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=95687

Stressing transparency in government projects, President Arroyo has ordered the inclusion of local government units in a special panel to screen and review all projects funded by the Chinese government.

Mrs. Arroyo announced her move to include a representative from the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) during her meeting with the group in Malacañang.

"We are including ULAP in the China Projects Oversight Panel (CPOP) so that local governments will have a voice in crafting projects that are financed by concessional funding from China," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President created the special panel following the controversy generated by the $329-million government broadband project with China’s ZTE Corp. on allegations of overpricing and bribery by top government officials.

The controversy over the deal forced Benjamin Abalos to resign as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Mrs. Arroyo was later forced to cancel the deal and repeatedly expressed her disappointment that an important project has been thrown out because of "political noise." She, however, has asked local telecommunications firms to study ways to fill the gap created by the cancellation of the project.

The special panel is headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, with Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. and Presidential Management Staff head Secretary Cerge Remonde as members.

Mrs. Arroyo said ULAP will be represented in the Government Pro-Performance System, headed by Remonde, that will monitor the implementation of government projects.

Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone welcomed Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to include them in screening major government projects.

He noted the NBN and the Cyber-Education Project (CEP) of the Department of Education (DepEd) are meant to connect all government offices, and implement distance learning in far-flung areas, respectively.

"The inclusion of ULAP will make sure that such projects are finished on time, address the needs of the people and are transparent," Evardone said.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Arroyo defended the CEP, stressing the need to improve the quality of education in the country.

Mrs. Arroyo said she already ordered the special panel "to make sure that there will be no barriers to the very important CEP for the education of millions of school children."

"Because we want that there will be no more dropouts among the youth, especially in far-flung areas," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said school children must have good schools and quality education and there must be "good course content."

"Parents must be convinced that what they will learn in school can be used when they graduate and that is the importance of distance learning and cyber education," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed education support is the key in reducing poverty in the country through investments in better school buildings, new textbooks, teaching materials as well as training programs for teachers and school administrators.

The President reiterated infrastructure projects and investments "should not stop because of criticisms."

The same thing

Former education secretary Florencio Abad claimed DepEd has not been transparent in its P26.48-billion Cyber Ed project.

Abad told a press briefing that despite pronouncements by DepEd that the CEP is different from the NBN project, there were indications that both had a lot of things in common.

Like the NBN project, the awarding of the P26.48-billion CEP to Tsinghua Tongfang Nuctech skirted provisions of Republic Act 8182, or the Official Development Assistance (ODA) Law which lays down the process in identifying government projects to be funded by foreign governments.

Abad said the CEP was obviously already awarded to Tsinghua Tongfang Nuctech by virtue of it being the designated contractor by the People’s Republic of China.

"They (DepEd) say that unlike the NBN deal, there has been no supplier’s contract signed. But why has the Nuctech been already identified as the supplier of the project," Abad said.

He said the government should better spend the funds to expand their Food for Schools program, where school children are fed in public schools instead of embarking on an ambitious technological project.

"What benefit can you get from Internet connectivity and satellite TV education in public schools if school children could not even concentrate in their classrooms because they are hungry," Abad pointed out.

In the same forum, Peter Perfecto, of the Philippine Business for Education (PBED), said DepEd’s insistence on pursuing the CEP could result in the withdrawal of support by business groups and the private sector.

Perfecto pointed out business groups have donated millions to the public education system in the form of school buildings, textbooks and sponsorship of teacher training programs. With Rainier Allan Ronda

Airline pushes 'open skies' sans Manila

Original report at the Inquirer
http://business.inquirer.net/money/breakingnews/view_article.php?article_id=94119

CLARK ZONE--Southeast Asian Airlines (SEAIR) is pushing for a variant of the open skies policy that will include all Philippine gateways except Manila and does away with airline designation.

CEO and president Avelino L. Zapanta told reporters on the sidelines of the Airbus A380's test flight here that a partial open skies policy would fast-track negotiations on air services agreements.

"We can just declare our skies as open except in Manila since it is already saturated. Interested airlines may be allowed in whether designated or not, provided their government will promise to allow our airlines into their country," Zapanta said.

"If our airlines are not ready to serve their country yet, at least the local carriers can reserve the right to fly there in the future," Zapanta said.

Zapanta also called on the government to abolish airline designation.
"Airline designation restricts smaller players. Airline designation is the greatest collusion being done by big airlines and government to control air traffic rights," he added.

He noted that the Philippines could draw more than three million tourists a year if smaller players were freely allowed to serve more routes alongside the designated or "flag" carriers.

"PAL for example was resisting the increase of seats to Korea because they don't have that much demand there. But what if other players can serve that route?" he said. "I'm not saying this because we are a small player."

He admitted, though, that SEAIR has not been able to register triple or quadruple growth "as it should" because it was not a designated airline.

Cebu-made Norwegian vessel to hire an all-Pinoy crew

By Luis Gorgonio
Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/64248/Cebu-made-Norwegian-vessel-to-hire-an-all-Pinoy-crew

The third of the four bulk carriers built in a Cebu shipyard owned by a Norwegian shipbuilding company will hire an all-Filipino crew for the ship's maiden voyage in November.

In a launching ceremony, President Gloria Arroyo herself named the carrier “MV Hoegh Manila" to reflect the close ties between the Norwegian company Hoegh Autoliners and Manila, Balitang Bisdak, GMA Network's partner in Cebu, reported on Friday.

A bulk carrier transports cars and trucks to various destinations in the world.

Because the ship was built by Cebuanos, including the project engineer, Hoegh Autoliners will hire Filipinos only to man the ship, the report said.

The twin ships of Hoegh Manila, which will soon come out from the shipyard, will be named Hoegh Oslo to emphasize the friendship between Norway and the Philippines.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Statement of Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo: The government will address NBN issues while respecting confidentiality

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2007 | COMMENTARY
Original article at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19030

It is a double standard that certain senators apply when they demand of the Cabinet a breach of confidentiality that the Senate itself disallows for its own executive sessions.

Executive privilege in the Cabinet, Congress and the Supreme Court is provided by law to allow free, frank and full discussion of policies, undertakings, legislation and rulings of national importance.

The same secrecy cloaks media sources, who would not speak freely if their identities and off-the-record remarks would be made public.

Being closed-door Cabinet discussions, meetings of the National Economic and Development Authority Investment Coordinating Committee are covered by executive privilege. So are materials on projects still being finalized. These are provided in past Supreme Court rulings which have the force of law.

No crime is being concealed when the President, the Senate or the Supreme Court invokes executive privilege. The Cabinet has addressed policy and governance issues raised by the Senate in long hearings, and we are willing to further clarify matters without violating confidentiality.

With regard to possible violations of law which may have been alleged in Cabinet discussions, those with any information are advised to cooperate with duly constituted investigative bodies.

The Cabinet fully supports transparency and dialogue on policy and governance matters, even as we abide by laws that provide for executive privilege in top-level proceedings of the three branches of government. These deliberations, like the identities of unnamed media sources, must remain confidential.

House okays P1.2-T budget on 2nd reading after Palace meet

Original report at GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/64152/House-okays-P12-T-budget-on-2nd-reading-after-Palace-meet

Amid the "noise" caused by the impeachment bid against President Arroyo, Congress passed on second reading after midnight Thursday the P1.227-trillion national budget for 2008.

Radio dzBB reported that 200 members of the Lower House passed the budget on second reading at 1:48 a.m., before they went on a month-long congressional break.

They expect to pass by third reading House Bill 2454 before the second week of November, after which they will pass it to the Senate.

Under HB 2454, the Department of Education (DepEd) will get the highest allocation with P145 billion, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with P94.461 billion.

The Department of National Defense (DND) will get P56.53 billion; the Department of Agriculture (DA) P23.756 billion; Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) P22.339 billion;

Department of Health (DOH) P16 billion; Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) P13 billion; and the Department of Justice (DOJ) P10.184 billion.

On Thursday morning, majority bloc members met with President Arroyo in Malacañang where they discussed the passage of the budget bill, among others.

House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. admitted they also discussed the impeachment bid against Arroyo, filed by lawyer Roberto Rafael Pulido. De Venecia inhibited himself from the proceedings.

Pineapple, banana growers to benefit from JPEPA signing

By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio
Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=2007101151

Other varieties of bananas from the Philippines, such as seniorita, latundan and lakatan, will now be more accessible to Japanese consumers once the controversial Japanese-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) is ratified.

Trade Senior Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino said that with the approval of the JPEPA, other varieties of fresh bananas such as seniorita, latundan and lakatan will now find their way onto the tables of Japanese consumers.

In 2006, Japan was the Philippines’ top export destination for fresh Cavendish bananas, amounting to $168.87 million and accounting for 42 percent share.

Aquino said that small farmers will greatly benefit with the opening of the Japanese market since 80 percent to 90 percent of the land areas planted to seniorita, lakatan, latundan and bungulan bananas are cultivated by small farmers.

Seniorita, latundan and lakatan are basically sold in the domestic market.

The bulk of banana plantations can be found in some parts of Luzon and in Mindanao, such as Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Mindoro Oriental and Quezon.

According to the Department of Agriculture (DA), the total production of bananas in the Philippines in 2006 was 6.79 million metric tons.

The country is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of bananas, accounting for a six percent share of the world market.

This could accommodate the expansion necessary for the export of seniorita, latundan and lakatan to the Japanese market.

With the implementation of JPEPA, Japan will provide better market access for Philippine products in terms of increased tariff rate quotas (TRQs) and zero tariff rates.

Aquino explained that increased tariff rate quotas will be achieved for agricultural products such as pineapples and bananas.

However, significant export promotion groundwork should be done so that the Philippines could maximize benefits from JPEPA, specifically for agricultural products.

The Department of Trade and Industry will support the implementation of JPEPA with intensification of trade and investment promotions.

For bananas, these export promotion activities include participation in the FOODEX in Tokyo, Japan; collaboration with Japanese retailers to conduct instore promotions to promote and create awareness for seniorita and lakatan bananas; promotiion of compliance among producers on the significance of the Japanese sanitary and phyto sanitary (SPS) requirements and conduct information drive to educate banana farmers/producers on the opportunities.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Jan-Sep net inflow over US$3.4B

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1669

September 2007 Flows

After posting a monthly net outflow of US$246.4 million in August due to investor concerns related to the US subprime mortgage crisis, Bangko Sentral-registered foreign portfolio investments recorded a net inflow of US$38.2 million in September. Factors which significantly influenced this development were the easing of inflation to 2.4 percent in August (from 2.6 percent in July), the cut in the US federal funds rate by a
larger-than-expected 50 basis points, and the PhP13.9 billion government budget surplus in August (the third monthly surplus in a row). Investors also reacted positively to ADB’s upgrading of its growth forecast for the country.

On a gross basis, registered foreign portfolio investments1 in September aggregated US$930.0 million, 81 percent of which were in shares listed in the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). The balance went to placements in peso-denominated government securities, primarily Fixed Rate Treasury Notes or FXTNs. Altogether, the inflows exceeded capital repatriations of US$891.8 million, which were traced to the following: a) divestments from PSE-listed shares (48 percent); b) divestments from government securities (16 percent); and c) withdrawals of money market placements and peso deposits2 (combined 36 percent share).

January-September 2007 Flows

For the first nine months of the year, newly-registered foreign portfolio investments and capital repatriations/outflows totaled US$12.2 billion and US$8.8 billion, respectively, for a net inflow of over US$3.4 billion. This net inflow was 2.4 times the US$1.4 billion net inflow for the comparable period in 2006. Despite setbacks caused by the US subprime mortgage crisis and some concerns on the political front, strong macroeconomic fundamentals and generally solid corporate performance have sustained positive foreign investor sentiment in the Philippines during the period.

Gross investment inflows of US$12.2 billion were 142 percent more than the total for the comparable period in 2006. Investments in PSE-listed shares of US$10.1 billion comprised 83 percent of total and represented almost thrice the comparable amount in 2006. Over 74 percent of investments in said shares were distributed among property, telecommunication, utility and holding firms. Peso-denominated government securities, primarily FXTNs, absorbed US$1.9 billion (16 percent) of the total investment inflows while money market instruments and peso bank deposits had a combined share of just over 1 percent. The United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore were the top investor countries during the period.

Meanwhile, gross capital outflows of US$8.8 billion for the period were likewise 142 higher than last year’s figure. The outflows arose from divestments from listed shares (46 percent of total), government securities (21 percent) and withdrawals of money market placements/peso deposits (33 percent). Foreign investors realized substantial gains on their investments, partly because of the appreciation of the peso.

--------------------------------------

1 These statistics, which pertain to newly registered investments, are different from foreign portfolio investments in the balance of payments which represent actual flows during the period under review.

2 Generally represent temporary placements of sales proceeds from divestments from listed shares and government securities.

Jan-July agri exports up 9%

By Judith Balea
Original report at ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=95493

Agricultural exports grew 9.02 percent to $1.66 billion in the first seven months of the year due to increased shipments of coconut as well as fruit and fishery products, the Department of Agriculture said Thursday.

This increase did not include the sale of agricultural machineries like reapers, processing machines and machine parts overseas.

"Our agricultural exports, which amounted to $1.53 billion in the first seven months of 2006, increased by almost $138 million to reach $1.66 billion in the same period this year," said Agriculture Undersecretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

In a report, Puyat said the United States remained the top agricultural export destination, accounting for 24.54 percent or $409.30 of the total bill from January to July.

Japan came second with a 14.74-percent share of the export pie, amounting to $248.79 million.

Other top export markets were The Netherlands ($131.47 million or 7.88%), Korea ($108.34 million or 6.49%) and Thailand ($71.37 million or 4.28%).

Among coconut products, exports of dessicated coconuts rose by 15.25 percent in the January-July period while that of coco coir grew by 19.88 percent.

"Aside from this positive trend, the commodity (coconut) gained new markets such as Swaziland, Pakistan, Malta, Egypt, El Salvador and Bulgaria," Puyat said.

Exports of fruit products like dried pinapple and mangoes surged 388.44 percent and 99.07 percent, respectively.

For the fishery sector's part, Carageenan sales grew 33.33 percent or $8.98 million, while tuna exports increased 102.52 percent or $26.22 million.

The agriculture department said its aggressive efforts to strengthen existing export markets and tap new ones for agricultural products is in line with its five-point program to sustain and accelerate farm growth and raise rural incomes for its small stakeholders.

This include higher public spending on infrastructure, technology and extension services; construction of post-harvest and storage facilities; more access to rural credit; and opening new markets here and abroad for Philippine agro-fishery products. -

ANALYSIS- BSP loss seen curbing FX intervention

Reuters
Original report at ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=95479

The Philippine central bank has run up its biggest loss in more than a decade trying to temper the peso's rapid rise and the deficit is likely to limit its ability to tighten the lid on the currency, economists said.

The peso, up more than 11 percent so far this year against the dollar and the second-best performing Asian currency after the Indian rupee, shows no sign of halting its ascent as dollars flow in from yield-seeking investors and ahead of the Christmas shopping season from Filipinos working overseas.

The central bank has haemorrhaged 31.5 billion pesos ($713 million) in the first half of this year, the biggest loss since the current monetary authority was founded in 1993, data from the Department of Finance shows.

Economists say losses were built up as the central bank bought dollars flooding into the country and used swaps to try to soak up some of the pesos the intervention generated.

Many Asian central banks try to keep their currency's relatively stable to protect export earnings and to avoid a rush of capital into the country that could rush back out at a later date.

The central bank has also spent large sums trying to curb red-hot liquidity growth, which partly resulted from the pesos it released on intervention, by widening the availability of its high-yielding deposit accounts.

Deposits in the high-yielding accounts have increased eightfold since May.

The accounts pay out as much as 6.25 percent annual interest, while the central bank earns much less on the dollars held in its reserves based on the U.S. Federal Reserve policy rate of 4.75 percent.

The central bank's foreign reserves have risen to a record of almost $31 billion as a result of the intervention, but analysts say the cost of keeping the peso in check is now too expensive.

"That is the reason why you saw the peso appreciate," said Frederic Neumann, economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. "They have let it go past 47, 46, 45 pesos because they could not buy as many dollars as they wanted because it is too costly for them."

Currency traders said the central bank intervened on Monday to cap the peso's rise but it still gained over 1 percent that day.

At 44.18 pesos to a dollar on Thursday, the currency has already strengthened beyond 45.5 pesos, a level analysts in a Reuters poll last month had expected the currency to reach by the end of the year.

STRONG CAPITAL BASE

The central bank's losses, a far cry from its goal of generating a 1 billion peso annual surplus, are likely to deepen in the second half as the impact of the central bank's high-yielding accounts filter through, debt traders said.

The last time the central bank had an annual deficit was 2001, when it registered a loss of 45 million pesos.

Like South Korea, where lawmakers can probe losses incurred from central bank intervention, the Philippine Congress may also ask the central bank to explain its financial standing if the losses persist. But there has been no move to do so.

Instead, the central bank has asked the government to pay the remaining 40 billion pesos of its mandated 50 billion peso capitalisation.

Some analysts have speculated last week's 25-basis point cut in overnight policy rates, the second reduction this year, was partly aimed at improving the central bank's bottomline.

But the central bank has denied the suggestion.

"The primary mandate of the central bank is to maintain price stability," Governor Amando Tetangco told Reuters.

"The central bank has a comfortable capital base, built over the years through accumulated earnings," he said. The latest available figures show the central bank's capital base was 248 billion pesos at the end of 2005.

The monetary authority expects average inflation this year to fall below the government's target of 4-5 percent partly due to the strong peso. Consumer prices in September rose 2.7 percent from a year ago.

Victor Abola, economics professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Manila, said such a benign inflation outlook meant the central bank could lower rates and improve its finances.

"What is really hurting them is the interest payments," Abola said, referring to the high-yielding accounts. "Why keep the rates at such a high level?"

"They should start unwinding this because it is causing them unnecessary deficits."

LRT North Extension project bidded out at P6.3B

Original article at News.Balita.Ph
http://news.balita.ph/html/article.php/20071010144549219

The Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) has open the bidding for the construction of LRT North Extension project valued at P6.3 billion.

"With the way things are going right now, we are optimistic that construction of the project can finally start by May 2008 so that by May 2010, revenue operations can already be commenced," LRTA administrator Melquiades Robles said in a statement.

Robels said funding for the extension project will come from the sale of state-owned National Development Co. (NDC) amounting to P4.6 billion while the remaining P1.67 billion will be sourced through the General Appropriations Act enacted by Congress.

The extension project will include the construction of three new stations --Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Stations-- which will be equipped with escalators and elevators.

LRTA's Baclaran-Monumento Line to MRT's North Avenue-Pasay Line to close the loop of the Metro Manila Urban Railway System through an entirely elevated 5.4-kilometer viaduct is right on track to meet the agreed completion date of April 2010, he added.

Once the project is completed, Robles said, the average daily ridership is set to increase by 66.16 percent or a total of 535,558 passengers from the current average of 322,309 passengers.

The project is expected to be completed in two years, with construction to begin in 2008 and be completed in April 2010.

In November 28, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza and LRTA Administrator Robles to proceed with the construction of the "LRT-MRT Loop" after thorough evaluation of several construction options.

Meantime, Robles said the bidding process, particularly the opening of bids, may be monitored by the public online through the LRTA website.

The LRTA is also planning to invite members of the civil society like representatives from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Philippine Contractors Association and Transparency International to observe the process.

Last month, the NEDA Board approved the Techno-Feasibility Study commissioned by the LRTA.

Filipino scientists eye more milk production through cloned buffaloes

Original article at News.Balita
http://news.balita.ph/html/article.php/20071010170422342

After its success in cloning the first water buffalo in southeast Asia, Filipino scientists are trying to improve the genetic make up of this animal and even seeing it as an alternative to increase the supply of milk to eventually decrease or eliminate the country's dependency on dairy imports.

The country is not producing enough milk supply despite the big number of population of buffaloes in the country, Edwin Atabay, supervising science research specialist at the Philippine Carabao Center in Munoz, Nueva Ecija said.

We are spending around US$ 475 million or P26.1 billion in importing milk and dairy products, when we have a population of 3 million carabaos here, he said.

The joint project of the CC and the Philippine Council on Agriculture and Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) called "cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer as a tool for genetic improvement in water buffaloes" was born to develop a cloning system that uses somatic cell nuclear transfer technology in water buffalo to produce "super buffalo calves"

Atabay said that the process starts with selection of a buffalo, from a superior breed that came from India, that has the most desirable physical attribute, and the capacity to produce 15 to 18 liters of milk.

The PCCARD said that somatic cell nuclear transfer is a technique that involves the production of mature cells in vitro (i.e., in the laboratory).

These cells will be enucleated (i.e., the nucleus will be removed) to become recipient cytoplasts.

In turn, the cell recipient will receive nuclear materials derived from somatic cells, such as from the ear skin of the super buffalo, and will be cultured for 6-7 days in vitro. The resulting embryos will be transferred to surrogate dams to produce clones of the super buffalo.

Animal cloning has been successfully done in many parts of the world. Dolly the sheep, from Scotland, is the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell.

In 1998, eight calves from somatic cells of a single adult was succesfully clones in Japan.

Atabay said that the Philippines is in equal footing with countries such as India and Thailand, which have been doing cloning activities for a long time.

Atabay said that the PCC and PCARRD programs aim to produce 1,500 buffalo embryos towards the end of the project.

Water buffaloes are an important animal resource primarily used as draft, and secondary as source of meat and milk.

"Water buffaloes are an indispensable component in small livestock production in the local agriculture. Buffalo has to be improved not only as source of draft but more importantly of milk and meat," he said.

Gov't positioned to meet its MDG commitments -- PGMA

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2007 | GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19013

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that halfway through the government’s commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Philippine economy has attained a new state of stability and maturity with some of the strongest macroeconomic fundamentals in 20 years.

The “ratio of Filipinos living in extreme poverty has been drastically cut from 20.4 percent in 1990 to 10.2 percent in 2006,” she said at the launching of the 2007 MDG Report and the Philippines Midterm Progress Report at the Fiesta Pavilion of the Manila Hotel this morning.

The government started its commitments to the MDG in 2000 which ends in 2015.

While expressing elation that poverty in the country is down, the President admitted, however, that “we have a long way to go. But only through a strong economy can we improve the plight of the poor, our education and our health.”

She said that poverty reduction is her overarching goal and that she intends to focus on attaining it during the remaining three years of her term.

The Chief Executive said she was heartened that of the 15 indicators, the Philippines is doing well in 10 because it’s one of the few countries where the MDGs are “really internalized in the economic reforms reflected in our Medium-Term Development Plan.”

She pointed out that her immediate goal is to reduce the incidence of poverty by half and meet all the country’s MDG commitments by 2015.

“The short answer to continue with economic growth and meeting all the Millennium Development Goals is not just the 10 out of the 15 is summed up in three words: Invest, invest, invest,” the President said.

“The imperative now is to sustain growth by making long overdue investments in education, healthcare and training and attract more investments by fast tracking billions in new bridges, roads and ports,” she added.

The President said that as shown by the country’s MDG report, the Philippines has made considerable progress, particularly in poverty reduction, nutrition, reducing child mortality, combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases, access to safe drinking water and sanitary toilet facility.

The progress report stated that the Philippines needs to work harder on targets concerning universal access to education, maternal mortality and access to reproductive health services.

“We are putting more money in the areas suggested by the MDG report,” she said.

First, the government would increase investment in infrastructure to attract more investments that would translate to more jobs.

Second, directly improve social services such as health insurance subsidies for indigent patients and the inclusion of child birth in health insurance so as to meet the MDG’s goal of lowering maternal mortality.

More money would also be spent on upgrading local government hospitals from primary to secondary as secondary hospitals have childbirth and caesarian facilities.

The government would also spend more on the food-for-school program so as to entice parents to send their children to school and increase the country’s early education survival rate.

Third, as part of its poverty reduction program, the government would boost educational support by investing in better schoolbuildings, new textbooks and teaching materials and training programs for mentors.

Fourth, cutting red tape and continuing to eliminate corruption from the system.

The President stressed that the flow of investments and implementation of vital infrastructure projects must not be derailed by any political noise.

“We hear and heed the advice to strengthen our efforts in five areas of education and health to make sure our MDG targets are met,” she said.

“Our vision is a Philippines on the verge of First World status in 20 years when we will have dramatically reduced poverty, created a robust middle class and have all the hallmarks of a modern society in strong and stable institution. In strengthening our institution, political noise will not distract us from our tasks,” the President added.

The MDGs are based on the United Nations Millennium Declaration endorsed by all 192 UN member-states in 2000.

The eight goals are halving the incidence of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability, and, developing a global partnership for development by 2015.

Bidding starts for P6-B LRT-MRT loop project

By Rainier Allan Ronda
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Metro&p=49&type=2&sec=26&aid=20071010187

The Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) has started the bidding process to get a contractor to undertake the Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-Light Rail Transit (LRT) interconnection project worth P6.3 billion.

LRTA administrator Melquiades “Mel” Robles said their bids and awards committee has started issuing eligibility documents to interested contractors willing to bid for the project last Monday.

As of yesterday, Robles said three groups have signified their interest in the project by buying eligibility documents: Leighton Contractors, Inc. (Philippines)-A.M. Oreta & Co. joint venture consortium; Marubeni Corporation; and Asset Builders Corp.

Robles said the LRTA was taking measures to ensure a fair and transparent bidding, such as opening it to the public by posting bids online through their website.

He said there is also a plan to invite representatives from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Philippine Contractors Association and Transparency International to observe the process.

The LRTA started the bidding process after getting the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Board’s approval for the project, which involves creating a loop between the MRT rail line at its North Avenue-EDSA end station in Quezon City and the Monumento, Caloocan station of LRT Line 1. The loop will have three stations along EDSA.

Robles expressed confidence that the project can be finished by the target completion on April 2010.

“With the way things are going right now, we are optimistic that construction of the project can finally start by May 2008 so that by May 2010, revenue operations can already be commenced,” he said.

On Nov. 28, 2006, President Arroyo directed Transportation and Communicaitons Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Robles to proceed with the construction of the LRT-MRT loop after thorough evaluation of several construction options.

Last month, the NEDA board approved the feasibility study commissioned by the LRTA, which stated that the extension project will include the construction of three new stations equipped with escalators and elevators.

The LRTA said that with the project, the average daily ridership is set to increase by 66.16 percent or a total of 535,558 passengers from the current average of 322,309 passengers.

Funding for the project will be taken from the debt-paper sale of state-owned National Development Co., amounting to P4.6 billion. The remaining P1.67 billion will be obtained through a General Appropriations Act enacted by Congress.

Competitive

FIRST PERSON
By Alex Magno
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Opinion&p=49&type=2&sec=25&aid=20071010153

The optimistic forecast, at the start of this year, was for the exchange rate to hold at P46:$1. That was subsequently revised to P45:$1.

This week, a number of investment houses have readjusted their projections. Some of them are looking at an exchange rate of P40:$1 by the end of this year.

If that happens, the peso will likely be the best performing currency in the whole world.

Last Monday, the Philippine Stock Exchange charged ahead to a new record high. The bullishness was attributed to positive jobs growth data in the US, indicating that major consumer economy was not about to slide into recession in the foreseeable future.

The Monday surge was powered by a bit of unwarranted exuberance. By Tuesday, investors began taking profits, leading to a significant correction. All that does, according to some analysts, is to set firmer ground for another rally as soon as third quarter earnings figures are published.

The more optimistic analysts are now saying the Phisix could breach 4,000 before the year ends. Should that happen, the Philippine Stock Exchange could become the best performing stock exchange in the whole world.

What we are seeing is a double-barreled surge: in the currency’s exchange rate and in the value of our stocks. That underscores the gathering strength of the Philippine economy.

That gathering strength, in turn, should be attributed to two major factors working simultaneously: the tremendous work put in by our government in improving the macroeconomic fundamentals and the excellent work put in by a number of our corporate leaders.

The effort to improve our macroeconomic fundamentals consists of maintaining exemplary fiscal discipline, keeping down inflation and interest rates, sustaining revenues and expanding public investments in infrastructures. All these would have been for naught if our corporations were lousily run. No one would invest in the stocks of our companies.

Fortunately, our corporations have modernized the quality of their management quite dramatically. On most measures, private corporations have advanced their governance far more quickly than government, which continues to labor under constant political chaos and antiquated notions of what leaders should be doing.

More than a score of our largest corporations can justly be described as globally competitive. They sent the benchmarks for all the others and show the way to how the public sector could possibly be run.

The icon of excellence in corporate management will have to be the new PLDT under the chairmanship of Manny Pangilinan.

Last Monday, PLDT shares at the New York Stock Exchange rose dramatically to $70.42. Dramatically, because only six years ago, the same shares were being traded at $5.

PLDT’s market capitalization, given the surge in the price of its stocks, now stands at $13.3 billion or about P600 billion. To better imagine the size of that, think of a corporation with a market capitalization that is exactly half of the entire government’s proposed budget for next year.

PLDT, we all know, has not always been the exemplar of quality management, innovation and profitability it is now. Before First Pacific came in as a major investor in the company, this corporation wallowed in a sea of debt, inflated costs, tight cash flows and low credit ratings. It was, in a word, a sick company.

With First Pacific’s investment in PLDT came a new management team and a new corporate culture. Manny Pangilinan was, in 1998, the highest paid Filipino executive abroad and certainly one of the highest paid (of all nationalities) in Hong Kong.

When he repatriated to run PLDT and oversee First Pacific’s other investments in the country, Pangilinan brought with him a new corporate leadership ethic that was uncommon in our business environment from the long period of being largely controlled by family-owned and ‑operated enterprises.

By 2005, Pangilinan had made his mark. That year, he was awarded the prestigious “Management Man of the Year” which is handed out by the Management Association of the Philippines to individuals who have distinguished themselves as managers and, by doing so, contributed to the country’s progress.

Telephony has been a dying business over the last decade. Under Pangilinan’s leadership, PLDT successfully anticipated the technology curve, transforming almost effortlessly into a multimedia company that continuously upgrades its services, regularly offering new products as the technology turns as quickly as it does and positioning for the cutting edge in the industry. It is significant to mention that apart from chairing the corporation, he also chairs the company’s technology strategy committee.

Our economy can move forward faster if it runs on two legs: competitive enterprises and competent government. One can only go so far without the other.

With our enterprises evolving their corporate cultures as quickly as they must depend on lower credit ratings, consumer trust and shareholder confidence, the gap in quality between the private and public sectors will soon be astonishing. Government is one large corporate entity that is not as easy to reform as private enterprises.

It might be easy to improve the way our government runs by importing professional managers from the private sectors. But low government pay and the trauma of Senate hearings dissuade managers from putting their careers in peril by serving in the public sector.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Spending power of RP diaspora bulks up middle class

Agence France Presse
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/topofthehour.aspx?StoryId=95342

Robust dollar inflows from millions of Filipinos working abroad are altering the Philippine economy as their relatives join the ranks of the middle class, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The international market research group The Nielsen Co estimated 800,000 households in the Philippines spent most of the $12.7 billion in annual remittances last year.

Much of it was spent on homes, cars, appliances, telephones and high-tech gadgetry like mobile phones, digital cameras and home video players, the survey said.

"It has actually increased the level of the middle class," said Jay Bautista, country director of Nielsen media research which polled 300 overseas workers families in urban areas around the country.

Some 23 percent of families who have relatives working abroad now belong to the middle class, he told a news conference.

By comparison just 11 percent of the Philippine population without relatives working abroad are considered middle class and 84 percent poor.

The survey showed that more than 91 percent of the families of overseas workers receive around P30,000 ($677) a month or less.

Of that amount 32.9 percent goes to savings and investments, 8.8 percent to pay off debts and 58.3 percent used for consumption.

Bautista said the study found that family members tended to drop out of jobs and rely on remittances to sustain the family.

Most did not possess skills to invest the cash into productive activity.

"They have this impression that the stream of dollars coming in has no end so they'd rather be staying at home and waiting for the remittances," he said.

Some 36.1 percent of respondents had their head of family working abroad, while 28.5 percent had a daughter overseas and 17.8 percent had a son working in a foreign land.

Bautista said despite the fact Philippine businesses spent P5.13 billion ($115.8 million) in advertising last year to cash in on this money train, there remained huge market opportunities for this sector.

Though top real estate firms such as Ayala Corp say 39 percent of their sales are now accounted for by overseas workers, the survey found just 11 percent of these families had credit cards and 39.5 percent called their relatives abroad less than once a week.

The Senate should ratify JPEPA

MEN & EVENTS
By Alito L. Malinao
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/10/yehey/opinion/20071010opi3.html

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations winded up last October 8 its public hearings on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the committee, however, has announced that another hearing would be held, to be presided by Sen. Edgardo Angara, to give both sides—government and anti-JPEPA—one last chance to air their views.

But Santiago has said that the deadline that she set for the submission of the memorandums from both sides, which was October 23, would stay. We have it on good sources that Sen. Santiago would report to the plenary in the middle of November its final recommendation on the JPEPA.

During the five previous hearings, the government side was on the defensive. The anti-JPEPA groups that have banded together under the umbrella Magkaisa Junk JPEPA Coalition gave the government a difficult time convincing the senators on the need to ratify the treaty.

The treaty is not a cure-all for the ills that have hounded our country for a number of years. It is not the ultimate solution to all our problems as some economists have said. It will not wipe out poverty overnight. Nor will it bring instant prosperity to everybody.

But the JPEPA, to our mind, is a good start. It will open several windows of opportunities for our people to grow and, in the long run, to prosper. For example, because of the removal of tariffs, Filipino farmers and fisherfolk can now export more of their produce, like shrimps and prawns, tunas, pineapples and bananas, to Japan.

The more substantial impact, although this could not be immediately felt, would be the increase in direct foreign investments and official development assistance from Japan once the treaty is in force. These are the real engines for our sustainable growth and continued stability.

We can also send our nurses and other health workers to Japan because for the first time under the JPEPA, Japan will now open its restrictive labor market to Filipinos. And as Philippine Ambassador to Japan Domingo Siazon is concerned since the door is now ajar, soon it would swing wide open to allow more Filipino professionals, especially those in computer and related technology, to work in Japan.

Siazon, however, has admitted that this is not easy since the Filipino nurses would have to first learn Nihongo before they can practice their profession in Japan. But while on language training, the nurses would get $400 monthly allowance with free board and lodging. No other country in the world offers this come-on.

Misinformation

During the Senate hearings, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) peddled the canard that Filipino nurses or caregivers will be exploited when they are in Japan and that Japan does not welcome foreign nurses.

The fact is that the Japanese government officially acknowledges that there exists a shortage of nurses in their country and is feverishly taking measures to handle its rapidly graying population. And the only recourse open for them is to hire Filipino nurses who are known throughout the world as competent and compassionate workers.

Filipino nurses working in Japan will get the same salaries and protection, as well as the same benefits enjoyed by Japanese nurses and other health workers.

As of May this year, nurses in Japan get an average monthly salary of roughly around US$3,121. This is comparable to the starting salary of a Filipino nurse in the US after passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOFEL) and the Commission on Gra­duates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) examination. This salary is US$300 more than the starting salary in the United Kingdom and is definitely more than those offered in Middle Eastern countries.

We graduate from 90,000 to 100,000 new nurses a year. Not all of them can go to the US where the benefits (including the issuance of immigrant visas to them and their relatives) are understandably far better. But the JPEPA is opening the door for them to try their luck in Japan.

The Senate now has the choice: reject the JPEPA which is what the militant groups want them to do and perpetuate the boom and bust cycle of our economy or ratify it and ensure that the economic gains that we have earned in the past few months are sustained and prosperity for all is assured.

A pleasant surprise

EDITORIAL
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/10/yehey/opinion/20071010opi1.html

TALK is rife in the corridors of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas that its recent overnight rate cut could push economic expansion above the official target in the near term. This is reassuring since it means inflation isn’t going to rear its ugly head and upset the country’s growth story.

Such is not the case for the Philippines’ neighbors, a growing number of which are concerned about the rising inflation that has accompanied their economic expansion. Central banks in Malaysia, Indonesia and China are poised to raise their interest rates anew to rein in runaway prices.

In contrast, the central bank, as we said earlier in this space, would do the country a favor if it reduced its policy rates a second time this year—which it did last week—in line with its American counterpart’s easing of the Federal funds rate.

Coming on the heels of the Fed action, the central bank’s move sent the message that on top of a benign inflation outlook, monetary authorities are confident of the country’s dollar reserves, which recently hit a fresh record again, exceeding the full-year goal.

The comfortable reserves position gives the government room to further trim its foreign debt. This along with fiscal prudence and asset sales may yet allow the government to reverse its budget deficit and post its first surplus next year.

The improving fiscal picture, along with the domestic economy’s surprising upturn, may encourage credit rating firms to lift us from below-investment grade status, in turn bringing down our foreign borrowing costs.

Lower credit costs both here and abroad will provide more financing options not only for government, but also for businesses. With cheaper borrowing, firms can pursue their expansion plans to meet the remittance-fueled growth of the domestic economy, and the hoped-for resilience of demand for Philippine goods by its biggest export market, the US, especially after the Fed’s timely rate-cutting rescue.

So long as interest rates sustain their downtrend, allowing businesses to tap spare capacity, if not expand in response to robust demand, we need not worry about growth fueling higher inflation in the short run. Last Monday, the bellwether Treasury bill rates dipped further, setting the stage for similar corrections in banks’ lending rates.

The lone possible source of an economic upset—a legislative inquiry into a Chinese-funded national broadband contract—has lost much of its steam, especially after the alleged broker of the deal stepped down from his post, averting what could have been another constitutional crisis.

We also have the President to thank, for canceling the project altogether, and not to forget the chairman of the Senate blue-ribbon committee whose suspension of the probe unwittingly took the wind out of the sails of a potentially divisive issue.

This early, pundits are already discounting another cut in the central bank’s overnight rate, which is likely to happen if the Fed again reduces its funds rate come the end of this month. With three months left, the Philippine economy may again deliver a pleasant surprise and chalk up another year of respectable growth.

A passage to India

THE Philippines’ trade offensive in India should be welcome news in so far as a broadening of our economic relations with other countries opens more options for sourcing our raw material and capital equipment requirements. If there is one important factor responsible for bringing to heel the country’s double-digit inflation, that would be the government’s successful push in the late eighties to the early nineties toward freer trade in tangible goods.

This is how we view the current administration’s recent initiatives on the external trade front. Opening a passage to India is good portfolio management, as what fund managers are wont to say. This has become necessary in light of growing concern over the quality and integrity of dirt-cheap China-made products. Foreign trade after all should be a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

WHAT MAKES FILIPINOS HAPPY?

by Dr. Romulo A. Virola
Secretary General
National Statistical Coordination Board
http://www.nscb.gov.ph/headlines/StatsSpeak/2007/100807_rav_happiness2.asp

Two months ago, Statistically Speaking wrote about measuring progress of societies. As promised in that article, last Tuesday, we presented during the 10th National Convention on Statistics a paper entitled: “Measuring Progress of Philippine Society: Gross National Product or Gross National Happiness?” The paper was written jointly with Jessamyn O. Encarnacion.

The National Convention on Statistics (NCS) is a triennial forum for exchanging ideas and experiences in statistics and for discussing recent statistical developments and prevailing issues and problems of the Philippine Statistical System (PSS). It seeks to elicit the cooperation and support of statisticians and professionals in related fields from the government, academe and private sector towards a more responsive PSS.

This year, the NCS was held simultaneously with the opening ceremonies of the annual celebration of the National Statistics Month, now on its eighteenth year, together with the conduct of the Student-Faculty Conference, the International Conference on the Millennium Development Goals Statistics (ICMDGS) and the Statistical Information Management Exhibition (SIMEX). The theme of the multi-event celebration is “Statistics and Action: A Road to a Better Life Through the MDGs”.

The Student Faculty Conference was organized by the UP Los Banos Institute of Statistics and the UP Diliman School of Statistics. Close to 200 students and faculty members from the two schools were joined by their colleagues from La Salle and the Central Luzon State University.

The ICMDGS was attended by close to 90 local and foreign delegates from 28 countries from the Asia Pacific, Africa, North America, South America and Europe.

The opening was graced by Dr. Paul Cheung, Director of the United Nations Statistics Division and Acting Secretary of Socio-Economic Planning Augusto B. Santos. The joint opening ceremonies was followed immediately by a plenary session where two papers were presented: “MDG Statistics and Global Monitoring” by Francesca Perucci of the UN Statistics Division and “The Philippines’ MDGs: Where are we now?” by Erlinda Capones of the NEDA.

A total of 120 invited and contributed papers were presented in the 10th NCS, while the Student-Faculty Conference drew in 43 papers. The final session of the NCS was held in plenary chaired by Atty. Purificacion Valera-Quisumbing, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights. Two papers were presented: “Removing the Cloak of Invisibility, Integrating Unpaid Household Services in the Nation’s Economic Accounts” by Prof. Solita C. “Mareng Winnie” Monsod and “Governance Statistics: Did Performance Matter in the 2007 Elections?”, written jointly by this writer, Severa B. De Costo, Noel S. Nepomuceno, Kristine Faith S. Agtarap, Ma. Ivy T. Querubin and Mai Lin C. Villaruel. Mayor Ma. Lourdes C. Fernando of Marikina City was discussant of the session.

The Hon. Undersecretary Mariano S. Salazar of the DOE delivered a message during the closing ceremonies, and gave awards to the winners of the 17th NSM Best Activity by Category and Best Region, assisted by Dir. Benjamin D. Turiano of NEDA who was Chair of the Awards Committee. The DOE won the awards for the best activity while Region I won as Best Region.

It was during the Invited Paper Session on Measuring Economic Progress, that I presented the subject of this article. Since the topic dwelt on progress of societies, I started by asking the following questions, Why do we work?, Would we rather be rich or would we rather be happy?, What do we really want in life?, How do we measure progress? Should measures of national progress capture our own personal progress?

As mentioned in the Statistically Speaking article, the Istanbul Declaration that was issued during the 2nd OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy, encouraged us to consider for ourselves what progress meant in the 21st century. In line with this, we have conceptualized the Philippine Happiness Index which we propose to link with a Philippine Economic Index to come up with the Philippine Gross National Happiness Index.

In the formulation of the Philippine Happiness Index (PHI), we were guided by the following premises: economic progress and happiness are not synonymous, Philippine progress should capture the happiness of the (individual) Filipinos, the PHI should not be normative and the PHI should recognize individual differences in terms of the sources or domains of happiness and the importance attached to each domain.

Based on the above, we conducted two pilots of the questionnaires we designed for the purpose. In the first pilot, the nonrandom samples came from a government agency and a private office. We had a list of 15 possible sources of happiness, the last of which was “Others”. The first pilot revealed that we might have missed important dimensions of happiness because the happiness of the respondents under “Others” was the third highest. Based on suggestions made by the respondents, we therefore added three dimensions: friends, love life and sex life in the questionnaire for the second pilot which was conducted on a nonrandom sample during the NCS. In fact, friends and love life turned out to be important sources of happiness.

So what do the “nonrandom” respondents tell us? (Table 1)

1. On sources of happiness

1.1. The most important sources of happiness are family, health and religion, in that order. Other important sources of happiness include friends, financial security, education, work and love life. No surprises there! Noteworthy is the fact that family is clearly the number one source, with a score of 9.45 out of 10 and health the 2nd most important source, with a score of 8.95.

1.2. Politics is the least important, scoring only 5.84. I wonder if our congressmen and senators realize this. Other unimportant domains of happiness are cultural activities, community and volunteer work and government. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency and related agencies obviously need to do something if they want our countrymen to appreciate what they are supposed to promote.

1.3. Quite surprising is that sex is not an important source of happiness! In fact, it is among the five least important! Could it be that the respondents were just too shy to reveal their true feelings about sex? Or time to shift stories away from the birds and the bees?

1.4. Also, leisure and sports surprisingly, is the 6th least important domain. I thought we loved Manny Paquiao! But then, his loss in the 2007 elections probably bolsters this finding. Does this mean too that, in so far as elections are concerned, actors and sports heroes are passé, but priests are in?

2. On the level of happiness

2.1. Respondents have happy family life with a score of 88.5%; they spend happy times with friends at 83.6%, they happily practise their religion with 79.8% and enjoy their love life but only at 79.4%, a low rating I would say! Aren’t you guys forgetting to make love?

2.2. Health, which is supposed to be the second most important source of happiness, unfortunately gets only 78.0%, meaning that people are not getting any healthier or that we worry too much about our health.

2.3. Respondents derive very little happiness (or maybe much unhappiness?) from politics at 25.5% and government at 35.5%. Makes one wonder, why do politicians seem to enjoy their position? Politicians may be amusing but they apparently do not make people happy. And if politics contributes the least to Gross National Happiness, isn’t it time we abolished many elected positions in government? Question is, how?

2.4. Sex life is not considered important, but, boy, 72.6% enjoyment of sex is not bad, if work could only give 71%, leisure and sports, 70.0%, financial security, 68.8% and cultural activities, 66.6%! And yes, climate change could be an inconvenient truth, but the respondents will take sex anytime over the environment! Seriously, the DENR should take this very seriously.

Other findings (from a nonrandom sample):


  1. Asking one question on happiness produces an index 10% higher than when happiness is dissected into its various domains, and questions are asked for each domain.
  2. People are happier with domains that are within their control, than those not within their control like politics.
  3. Six out of 10 respondents think that progress is synonymous with happiness.
  4. Women are happier than men!
  5. Happiness rises with income! Should we then go back to GDP/GNP?

And what might be the main message of these statistics? First is that priority should be given to the formulation of programs and building of facilities that allow people to spend quality time with their families. Second, the Church will continue to have a strong influence on our lives!


Happy Statistics Month!


===


Dr Romulo A Virola is the Secretary General of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) and Chairman of the Statistical Research and Training Center (SRTC). He holds a Ph. D. in Statistics from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, U.S.A. and has taught mathematics and statistics at the University of the Philippines. He is also a past president of the Philippine Statistical Association. The author thanks Jessamyn O. Encarnacion, Fe Vida N. Dy-Liacco, Glenda P. Recto, Jayne A. Monteza, Joseph M. Addawe, Noel S. Nepomuceno and Candido J. Astrologo for the assistance in the preparation of the article.

PGMA underscores need for Senate approval of agreement with Japan

Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19008
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2007 | GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT

“We need JPEPA to create more jobs and further improve the economy,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today in another strong pitch for Senate approval of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.

JPEPA, the government’s housing projects, and the P1.227 trillion proposed national budget for 2008 topped the agenda of this morning’s National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Cabinet meeting in Malacañang.

In her opening statement, the President stressed the need for the Philippines to forge trade agreements, such as the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), with other countries.

“It is also important for business, jobs (generation) for the country’s widening and deepening trade and economic relations with other countries,” the President said, citing her successful trips last week to China and India which fetched $2 billion in investments for the Philippines.

“The NEDA Cabinet Group will tackle today the all-important JPEPA that stands to improve business, investments and generate more jobs from Japan,” she said.

Billed as the most important bilateral economic agreement between the Philippines and Japan in the last 50 years, JPEPA was signed by the President and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006, on the sidelines of the 6th Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

The free-trade accord opens the door for various trade and investment opportunities for the Philippines, and the formal entry of Filipino nurses and caregivers into Japan.

With the ratification of the JPEPA, close to 95 percent of Philippine exports will enter Japan duty-free and have an immediate positive impact on Filipino farmers, fishermen and food processors.

The agreement also establishes a formal arrangement for Japan’s acceptance of Filipino nurses and caregivers as Japan, with its ageing population, is expected to need about 7.5 million health professionals by 2010.

A study conducted by the Universal Access to Competitiveness and Trade, a non-profit think-tank, said the JPEPA would generate for the Philippines some $1.5 billion in added exports and up to 150,000 new jobs, with the electronics, automotive, garments and furniture industries as the main beneficiaries.

The Senate has yet to ratify the agreement.

On housing, the President said the government, specifically the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), would map out plans to encourage local government units (LGUs), church and the civil society to actively participate in government housing projects in a move to widen the coverage of housing projects.

The President also noted that former President Fidel V. Ramos had urged her to focus on the economy, “rightfully her priority.”

Congressional approval of several priority bills, among them the 2008 budget, amendment to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), and the Cheaper Medicines Bill, is expected to further accelerate the growth of the economy and uplift the lives of the people.

The President also instructed Cabinet members who attend budget hearings in Congress to “inform the media, legislators and the people what the government has done and is doing for the good of the nation.”

PGMA to press ahead with efforts to attract investors, cyberEd project despite criticisms

Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19007
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2007 | PROGRAMS/PROJECTS

Undeterred by the unrelenting campaign of administration critics to derail the government’s flagship projects, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed today to press ahead with her efforts to attract more investments into the country and implement vital infrastructure projects, including the Cyber Education Project.

At the same time, the President directed the China Projects Oversight Panel headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila to coordinate closely with the Procurement Transparency Group, the Civil Society Organization for Procurement Reforms to ensure that all aspects of the Cyber Education Project of the Department of Education (DepEd) are “open and transparent.”

She said the Favila panel must insulate the project from unnecessary controversies and avoid needless delays in its implementation.

The President made the statement before she convened the separate meetings of the National Security Council (NSC)-Cabinet Group and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Malacañang this morning.

“We should not stop investments and infrastructure projects all because of criticisms,” the President said in the dialect.
“I have instructed the China Projects Oversight Panel under Secretary Favila to make sure that there would be no obstructions in the implementation of the Cyber Education (Project) that stands to benefit millions of students all over the country,” the President said.

She directed the Favila panel to make proper consultations with the Education Task Force headed by Fr. Ben Nebres of Ateneo to “ensure that the said project is necessary in the improvement of the quality of education (of Filipinos).”

The CyberEd Project is a world-class information communications technology (ICT) program designed to make the country’s educational system globally competitive and the Filipino students at par with those of the rest of the world.

It is designed to reach the 4th to 6th class municipalities and the least endowed schools in the entire country.

The CyberEd Project uses satellite technology to provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to deliver educational services to public elementary and secondary schools throughout the country.

It will link these schools to a nationwide network that provides 12 video channels, wireless wide area networking, local area networking and wireless Internet connectivity.

Net Foreign Direct Investment Inflows in July 2007 Reach US$419 million; January – July 2007 Level at US$1.6 Billion

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1668
10.10.2007

Net foreign direct investments (FDI) posted a substantial net inflow of US$419 million in July 2007, a reversal of the net outflow of US$79 million in July 2006. This brought the net FDI inflows for the first seven months of the year to US$1.6 billion, higher by almost 70 percent when compared to the level recorded in the same period a year ago.

The substantial improvement in net FDI flows in July was due mainly to the almost fourfold increase in the net inflow in the Other Capital Account to US$345 million. These transactions pertain largely to intercompany lending between foreign direct investors and their subsidiaries/affiliates in the Philippines. Foreign equity capital investments also reversed to a net inflow of US$80 million in July from a net outflow of US$192 million a year ago.

Year-to-date, the strong FDI performance was traced to the marked improvement in net foreign equity capital inflows to US$1.7 billion from only US$589 million in the comparable period last year. In particular, gross equity capital placements summed up to US$1.8 billion, with these inflows channeled mostly to the manufacturing (electronics, health and chemical products, garments, food, automotive sensors, decorative crafts), services (international courier, information technology development, multimedia service provider), construction, mining, real estate, financial intermediation, and agricultural industries. Major investors came from the U.S., Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The reinvested earnings account was also in surplus at US$14 million during the January - July period. Meanwhile, the Other Capital Account shifted to a net outflow of US$27 million for the first seven months of 2007 from a surplus of US$236 million a year ago, following settlement by local subsidiaries of their loans to their mother companies.

It is expected that the continued solid performance of the economy and the improvement in underlying economic policies will encourage more foreign direct investments in the medium term.

View Table

Senate unable to achieve bill approval target

TIME SPENT IN "OTHER BUSINESS" (SUCH AS INVESTIGATING SCANDALS)
By RJMD
Original report at The Business World Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW101007/content.php?id=003

THE SENATE HAS FAILED to meet a self-imposed target of approving 14 bills before going on a break, having passed only nine bills on second reading of which just five were on a priority list drawn up by Senate President Manuel B. Villar, Jr.

The five priority bills involve measures allowing added parallel drug imports to bring down medicine prices, an extension of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund providing loans to farmers, additional benefits for members of the judiciary, the Anti-Cellphone Theft Bill, and amendments to the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises.

The others call for the creation of the Office of Environmental Education, promotion of breastfeeding, rules on the presentation of crime suspects before media and the public, and fixed compensation for domestic helpers.

Senators failed to approve two major economic bills: the establishment of a centralized credit information bureau and the Personal Equity Retirement Act, which will allow individuals to set up a retirement fund with tax benefits.

Other priority bills involving compensation for World War II veterans, indemnity for human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship, amendments to the University of the Philippines (UP) charter and the child pornography law, a fixed three-year term for the Armed Forces chief, tax benefits for the tourism sector, and a proposed committee on missing persons also failed to make it before the break which started this week.

Renan Dalisay, chief of staff of Senate Majority Leader Francis N. Pangilinan, said the nine bills approved on second reading can still be considered a big accomplishment.

He admitted, however, that the target was not met as senators were busy with other official business aside from the regular afternoon sessions.

"Senators were busy with budget hearings, as well as Senate investigations," Mr. Dalisay said.

The Senate has held multiple hearings on the controversial National Broadband Network deal and the alleged wiretapping activities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s Intelligence Service.

Mr. Pangilinan was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. Mr. Villar, meanwhile, is in Geneva for the International Parliamentary Union conference.

The Senate President’s chief of staff, Angelo Buenviaje, said the first two weeks upon the resumption of sessions in November would be dedicated to bills that had been left behind.

The amendments to the UP charter, child pornography bill, the proposed commission on missing persons, and the human rights bill still have no committee reports.

The bill setting a three-year term for the Armed Forces chief and the veterans’ compensation bill are just awaiting sponsorship on the Senate floor.

Others such as the tourism act have yet to undergo public hearings, while the bill regulating billboards still has no committee report despite strong statements by lawmakers following accidents involving billboards attached to poorly built structures.

For his part, Senator Edgardo J. Angara said he intends to defend the Credit Information Bureau Act and Personal Equity Retirement Act at the resumption of session on November 5.

The two measures were delayed because committee reports have yet to be produced. Some position papers were not submitted on time, said Mr. Angara, who heads the Senate committee on banks and financial institutions.

"It was delayed, but these two measures have already been discussed in the past Congress and I expect that there will not be much discussion on this," Mr. Angara said in a telephone interview.

Senator Miriam-Defensor Santiago said the Senate will just have to pick up the slack once session resumes, but did not state anything specific on what actions lawmakers intend to take.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jose P. Ejercito-Estrada said the Senate has not lost track of its commitment to passing as many bills as possible.

Businessmen want role in scrutiny of big government projects

By Max V. de Leon
Original report at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/10102007/economy01.html

FILIPINO businessmen demanded that they be allowed to participate in identifying and scrutinizing government projects with costs P100 million and above, including those falling under the government-to-government category, to make sure that the a similar mess as the botched national broadband network deal with Chinese firm Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment Co. Ltd. (ZTE) will not be repeated.

Ambassador Donald Dee, chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said his group will start reviewing some 30 projects listed under the administration’s Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan.

Dee said the chamber has informed President Arroyo of this, and she has given her approval.

He said the PCCI wants to be included in the monitoring in every step of the way, from the prebidding and implementation of the projects.

“This is to make sure that these projects are properly handled,” Dee said.

The problem with the ZTE contract, he said, is that it just suddenly popped out and before they could ask that it be made public, all the controversies involving different personalities started to surface.

Because of this, Dee said discussions whether the project is really important for the development of the country or not have been buried.

Now, Dee said even government-to-government contracts should be reviewed by the private sector to make everything transparent and avoid a similar problem.

Also, Dee said the private sector wants to have a role in identifying the projects that should be prioritized by the government for implementation.

After lining up the priority projects, Dee said the PCCI will also conduct the studies needed to determine the costs and viability before they are bid out.

“Once we see the projects we really need, we will be able to concentrate on them. Through this also, we will have a more transparent process,” Dee said.

He noted there are several projects that are currently proceeding without hitches simply because they were not hidden from the consciousness of the public like the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

AUGUST 2007 MERCHANDISE EXPORTS DOWN BY 4.8 PERCENT

Full report at National Statistics Office
http://www.census.gov.ph/data/pressrelease/2007/ex0708tx.html

Export earnings in August 2007 went down by 4.8 percent to $4.071 billion from $4.274 billion in August 2006. This resulted to a minimal increase of 4.8 percent in the merchandise exports during January to August to $32.796 billion from $31.303 billion during the same eight-month period in 2006.

Family income increases 22.7% over three years

2006 FAMILY INCOME AND EXPENDITURE SURVEY
(Preliminary Results)
Media Release
National Statistics Office
http://www.census.gov.ph/data/pressrelease/2007/ie06tx.html

The total annual family income in 2006 was estimated at P 2.99 trillion indicating an increase of 22.7 percent over the 2003 estimate of P2.44 trillion. The total family expenditure was approximately P2.56 trillion, an increase of 25.7 percent over the 2003 estimate of P2.04 trillion (Table 1).

In 2006, the average annual income of Filipino families was estimated at P172 thousand. Across income deciles, this average ranged from P32 thousand for the first income decile (or lowest income group) to P617 thousand for the tenth income decile (highest income group)(Table 2b). Income decile is the distribution of families into ten groups in terms of annual family income. The first decile has the lowest income and tenth decile has the highest income.

The 2006 average annual income (P172 thousand) is 16.2 percent higher than the 2003 estimated average of P148 thousand. Meanwhile, the average annual expenditure of families increased from P124 thousand in 2003 to P147 thousand in 2006, or by 18.5 percent over the three-year period. These numbers translate into average savings in 2006 of some P25 thousand per family; the 2003 estimate was P24 thousand per family. These savings came mainly from the tenth income decile with P156 thousand per family on the average in 2006 (Table 2a).

From 2003 to 2006, annual income in all deciles increased. The average annual income of the bottom 30 percent of families (or the lowest three income deciles combined) increased by around P8 thousand; that of the upper 70 percent of families, by some P31 thousand. For all families, the increase was P24 thousand (Table 2a).

Adjusting for the inflation between 2003 and 2006, total family income in 2006 (P2.99 trillion) would be valued at P2.50 trillion at 2003 prices. Likewise, the total family expenditure in 2006 (P2.56 trillion) would be valued at P2.14 trillion at 2003 prices. In real terms, the total income of families increased slightly by 2.6 percent while the total expenditure increased by 5.1 percent between 2003 and 2006. Also, the average family income decreased by 2.8 percent while average family expenditure decreased by 0.4 percent. Thus, the 2006 real average savings by families is equivalent to P21 thousand at 2003 prices, which is lower than the 2003 average savings of P24 thousand per family (Table 1).

The income distribution changed slightly from 2003 to 2006. The share to the total income of families belonging to the tenth decile exhibited a slight decrease, from 36.3 percent in 2003 to 35.9 percent in 2006. The gap in family income between the families belonging to the tenth decile and those in the first decile had narrowed slightly. In 2006, the total family income of the tenth decile was about 19 times that of the first decile, while it was 20 times that of the first decile in 2003 (Table 2a). The Gini coefficient was estimated at 0.4564 in 2006, slightly lower than the 2003 ratio of 0.4605 (Table 1). The Gini coefficient provides a measure of income inequality within a population. A Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating perfect income equality among families, and 1 indicating absolute income inequality.

The spending pattern of Filipino families particularly among those in the bottom 30 percent income group has changed in 2006. The bottom 30 percent of the families exhibited a change towards greater spending on food. In 2006, 59 percent of all expenditures by this group was on food, while it was 48 percent in 2003. This means that for every P100 spent by this group in 2006, P59 went to food, compared to only P48 in 2003. Consequently, there was a decrease in the shares of other expenditure items like house rent/rental value (12.7% to 9.0%), transportation and communication (6.1% to 3.8%) and education (2.9% to 1.3%) (Table 3). xxx


(Sgd.) CARMELITA N. ERICTA
Administrator

TECHNICAL NOTES:

  • The 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) is a nationwide survey of households undertaken every three years by the National Statistics Office (NSO). It is the main source of data on family income and expenditure, which include among others, levels of consumption by item of expenditure as well as sources of income in cash and in kind. The results of FIES provide information on the levels of living and disparities in income of Filipino families, as well as their spending patterns.

  • The sampling design of the 2006 FIES uses the 2003 master sample for household surveys. In this design, the country's 17 administrative regions were defined based on Executive Orders 36 and 131.

  • The 2006 FIES enumeration was conducted twice - the first visit was done in July 2006 with the first semester January to June as the reference period; the second visit was made in January 2007 with the second semester of 2006, that is, July to December 2006 as reference period. The same set of questions is asked for both visits.

  • The number of households/families for the 2006 FIES was estimated using the 2000 Census of Population and Housing (CPH)-based population projections and information from the 2000 CPH on the average household size by province.

  • The estimates from the 2006 FIES include results of the first FIES visit for the NCR based on questionnaires recovered from fire. The fire that hit the NCR's Statistics Office on October 3, 2006 damaged 58 percent of the total questionnaires for the FIES first visit. Questionnaires that were encoded and processed cover around 42 percent of these questionnaires. For the burned questionnaires, values were imputed using the ratio of the second visit value to the first visit value.


Source: 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (Preliminary Results)
Income and Employment Statistics Division
National Statistics Office
Republic of the Philippines

Page Last Updated: October 9, 2007

Gordon questions Senate ‘family tour’

By Aurea Calica
Original article at The Philippine Star
Accessed at http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=95264

Sen. Richard Gordon Tuesday questioned the participation of three Cayetanos in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, which started Monday and ends Wednesday.

Senators Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano and his wife Laarni, who is Taguig representative, are part of the Philippine delegation to the IPU, Gordon said.

"It’s a family tour," he noted.

The other members of the delegation, Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., also went with their respective spouses but this was the practice at the IPU, according to reports. Gordon, meanwhile, could not say who went with Senators Jamby Madrigal and Loren Legarda.

Gordon said he was in Geneva for a convention of the International Red Cross last week but chose not to stay for the IPU because it was not significant. He said he had attended the event once before and nothing much was achieved.

Gordon was particularly peeved at the inaction of the Senate on his proposal to postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections set for Oct. 29. He said he could not understand why the session was cut short for the IPU.

He said he decided to go home and catch the session even if he knew nothing more would happen to his proposal.

"We have to have session and we cancelled the session yesterday (Monday). Where are they this time? Should we just go along with them? Just let them be? We just keep quiet?" Gordon lamented.

Gordon also took a swipe at Villar for his supposed lack of leadership.

"You should not be following the other senators. You should lead and say these are our priorities. There seems to be no priority and nothing is moving," Gordon said.

Gordon said he could not understand why the senators refused to debate on his proposal to postpone the simultaneous elections when it was for the sake of automated polls.

"The Senate is where you have 24 men who will debate the great issues of the day. You don’t block the debate by technicalities. You make decisions. What decisions are we making here in the Senate? Is IPU more important than automation of elections?" Gordon asked.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, who attended Tuesday’s session, said he saw nothing wrong with his colleagues’ participation in the IPU because all other nations would be represented. But he said he had not attended a single IPU conference.

Spare JPEPA from politics

COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Opinion&p=49&type=2&sec=25&aid=20071009153

No matter how I try to look at the arguments forwarded by opposing Senate views regarding the ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), especially on the provision on the deploymen of Filipino nurses and caregivers to Japan, their hard line views were apparently based on outright fallacies.

Some groups identified with the Philippine Nurses Association have gone to the extent of peddling obvious lies to nursing students, whom they have bussed to the Senate to provide warm bodies for the anti-JPEPA rallies during the ongoing Senate committee hearings on this bilateral pact. The nursing students were perhaps even coerced to attend the anti-JPEPA rallies at the Senate or else they get failing grades. This group has also raised the bogey that Japan does not need the services of Filipino nurses. This could be the position of the Japan Nurses Association but certainly not of the Japanese government.

The Japanese government officially acknowledges an acute shortage of nurses in their country and is feverishly taking up measures to handle its rapidly graying population. And the only recourse open for them is to hire Filipino nurses who are known throughout the world as competent and compassionate workers. No less than the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) director of research, Hiroshi Yoneyama admitted this dire need for nurses and caregivers that could otherwise come from a fellow Asian country like the Philippines.

Citing the latest figures from their Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Yonehama says Japan requires an additional 400,000 to 600,000 caregivers by the year 2014 — a scant seven years hence. “Moreover, the steady growth trend of the Japanese economy entails the increase of job offers from industrial sectors. Therefore, most care facilities for the aged are facing the difficulty of hiring new employees,” says Yoneyama. The JETRO official revealed the Japanese government is planning to raise the salary of caregivers to reduce the high turnover ratio in those facilities.

However, he pointed out, “even if the working conditions will be improved, there might still be a shortage of caregivers to meet such a huge demand” in Japan. This alone, he stressed, “will serve as an opportunity for Filipino nurses and caregivers to be tapped in the Japanese market of its aging population.” Yoneyama highlighted the fact that JPEPA is the first bilateral economic partnership agreement that includes a provision of opening its labor market to foreign nurses and caregivers. “This is a symbolic and historic event between the two countries,” he says. So, I can’t see how the nascent treaty’s provision on nurses and caregivers can be any clearer than that.

The PNA officials claimed the JPEPA will degrade Filipino nurses and caregivers and treat them as “commodities.” Duh? Could the PNA’s president, Dr. Leah Paquiz, run that for me one more time? The JPEPA is opening the door for Filipino nurses to work in Japan. They are being offered the same salaries and protection, as well as the same benefits enjoyed by Japanese nurses and other health workers.

As of May this year professional health workers, including nurses, get an average monthly salary of ¥306,700 or roughly $3,121. This is comparable to the starting salary of a Filipino nurse hired in the US after passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOFEL) and the National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX) in the United States. This salary is $300 more than the starting salary in the United Kingdom and is definitely more than those offered in Middle Eastern countries.

I gathered there is no other country in the world except Japan that gives $400 allowance with free board and lodging to Filipino nurses. This will be given to them even if they are not actually doing nursing work yet but as full-time students in Nihongo, a requirement under the JPEPA before they can practice their profession in Japan. This means that while learning Nihongo for six months (which can be extended for another six months), our nurses can already send their allowance to their relatives in the Philippines. And once they start working, they will get the salary as stipulated in their contracts.

“Why should our nurses be required to learn Nihongo?” the anti-JPEPA groups ask. Commonsense dictates that foreign nurses like Filipinos will be working with Japanese doctors and surgeons, who will of course talk with them in their Japanese tongue and this would certainly be crucial in life-and-death situations at the hospital.

If these nurses who refuse to go through with this requirement, then by all means don’t. Nobody’s forcing them the way they are being coerced to demonstrate against JPEPA on pain of failing grades. They can always try their luck elsewhere. But this does not give the PNA the high moral grounds when they are in fact misleading the students with these falsehoods on JPEPA just to push their own agenda. Leave the politics to our politicians! We have an overload of that already!

Big business groups in the Philippines signed yesterday a joint manifesto urging the Senate to ratify the JPEPA. Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and Philippine Exporters Confederation, said the manifesto shows that JPEPA enjoys their support as the real players in the Philippine economy.

The business groups submitted their signed resolution to Senator Miriam Santiago, head of the Senate foreign relations committee that has been conducting the public hearings on the proposed JPEPA ratification. Through the joint manifesto, the groups cited they have weighed the pros and cons of the agreement with Japan, and are convinced that its ratification is in the best interest of the country.

“Clearly, the gains that the Philippines stands to get from the economic partnership far outweigh feared losses foisted by its critics,” the manifesto read. These industries alone, they estimated, can get additional investment of up to $444 million and generate some 150,000 new jobs for Filipinos. I don’t know where these figures come from but our Senators need to consider facts, not lies, to guide them whether or not to ratify JPEPA.

JPEPA to generate $419M worth of agri exports – Yap

By Marianne V. Go
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=2007100954

The Philippines will be able to ensure the entry of $419 million worth of agriculture and fishery exports to Japan through tariff eliminations and other improved market-access concessions under the proposed Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

Appearing at a Senate hearing the other day, Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said that under the JPEPA, duty-free tariffs of major farm and fishery exports to Japan amounting to $353 million would immediately be “locked in” once the agreement takes effect.

Philippine exports to Japan, which are currently listed in Japan’s General System of Preferences (GSP), include shrimps and prawns; lobster; fresh and chilled asparagus and okra; fresh guavas, mangoes, and papayas; coconut products like coconut oil, desiccated coconut, fresh young coconuts; and mixtures of fruit and vegetable juices.

The JPEPA, which was signed by President Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 9, 2006, is a bilateral agreement that requires the concurrence of the Senate.

The Senate foreign relations committee chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is conducting hearings on the JPEPA.

Under the proposed RP-Japan agreement, tariffs of major exports ranging from five percent to 20 percent, would be eliminated immediately or within three to 10 years upon effectivity of the agreement.

Commodities covered by the agreement include octopus; mango (uncooked/cooked by steaming, frozen); tuna (whole/in pieces/not minced); small bananas (fresh); papayas (dried); and coco vinegar.

Yap said the Philippines would also be able to secure Japan as a lucrative export market for $66 million worth of farm exports as a result of tariff elimination under the JPEPA.

Philippine products that would enjoy the tariff removal include live rabbits, ornamental fish, milkfish, mushroom spawn, eucheuma and carageenan, and glycerol, Yap said.

Other potential export products where Japan has offered market-access improvements include live eels and carp, beans, ginger, and processed meats like sausages, and prepared/preserved pork.

Yap said the import value of Japanese imports for such products in 2005 reached $763 million.

“Realizing just a five-percent share of this market can help increase the value of Philippine agricultural and fishery exports by almost 10 percent,” Yap testified.

As for Japan ’s benefits under the JPEPA, Yap said that “except for the five tariff lines of rice which were excluded from any tariff reduction commitments, the Philippines agreed to eliminate tariffs on all other agriculture and fishery tariff lines immediately for those non-sensitive products currently levied low duties.”

These include six tariff lines for immediate tariff elimination which Japan specifically requested.

These are meat of turkey, meat of ducks, fresh grapes, apples, pears and quinces.

“Considering that Japan is not known to be a competitive exporter of agricultural products, we do not expect the influx of cheap competing Japanese agricultural imports as a result of JPEPA,” Yap assured.