Saturday, 20 October 2007

Businessmen urged to keep investments in RP

Full report at the ABS-CBN News
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=96478

The Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce on Saturday urged traders to keep their investments in the Philippines despite the latest bloody attack in the country's business capital that killed nine people and wounded over 100.

"We call on the business community in the Philippines and the US to continue to invest in the country and provide jobs. Whoever is responsible for the bombing, we cannot allow these terrorists to defeat us," chamber president Butch Meily said in a statement.

Meily added: ""We believe in the Philippines and its future, we believe in the strength of its economy and, most of all, we believe in the capability, fortitude and goodness of the Filipino people."

President Arroyo visits bomb blast victims in hospital


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PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT ON MAKATI BLAST

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2007 | PUBLIC SAFETY
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19098

My Dear Countrymen,

At around 1:30 this afternoon the Makati area was rocked by a powerful explosion which so far resulted in 8 killed and at least 70 persons wounded. Initial investigations indicate that the explosion could not have been caused by a LPG accident as earlier reported. Circumstances indicate it is highly probable that it was caused by an explosive device.

We assure everyone that a full blown investigation is now underway. The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are on highest alert and are fielding an additional 2000 personnel to secure our public places and to prevent a possible similar occurrence.

I warn those who seek to exploit this incident to destabilize our government for their selfish political motives.

Meanwhile, we urge all sectors to remain vigilant as the government steps up security measures to protect our people.

I am deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident and I extend my sincerest sympathies to the families of those were killed and wounded. The Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Disaster and Coordinating Council are in close touch with the victims in order to provide them the necessary assistance.

During these trying times we call on the people to pray for peace and unity.

On transferring gateway from NAIA to DMIA right away

By Solblanc
http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?p=15979194#post15979194

I know that the DMIA is the future and all, but the NAIA isn't as decrepit as that guy says. 747s have been using the NAIA every single day for decades, and we don't really hear that many complaints. Terminal 3 may be a temporary solution, but I think it's temporary in the 10-year sense and not the 2-yearomgdisasteriscoming sense. The single runway issue isn't really an issue. Hong Kong Kai Tak had over 30 million passengers yearly flying to their scary runway with few incidents. For a more current airport, London Gatwick handles much more traffic than the NAIA on its single runway.

The NAIA's location right smack in the middle of Metro Manila and next to Makati will always make it an attractive port of entry. The DMIA is simply too far at the moment. The day that the DMIA becomes the premier gateway to Manila is the day that the government invests millions of pesos in a huge terminal with a high-speed rail connection to the metro. That can only be financially feasible when passenger numbers reach the 30 million per year mark. So far, we're only at twenty-something at the NAIA and around 500,000 at DMIA.

Relocating completely to the DMIA within the next five years would not only be ridiculously expensive, but also detrimental to the NAIA's catchment area. The NAIA serves the Calabarzon well, but an airport in Pampanga would be a nightmare for the area without the proper supporting infrastructure. Immediate relocation to the DMIA requires huge investments in infrastructure, and at the moment, we don't have the passenger numbers to make it worth it just yet.

I still say that the DMIA should grow organically as an airport on its own, as the NAIA will always be an attractive place to fly to. Perhaps in 30 years, the NAIA would be more valuable as a place to expand the Makati/Fort Bonifacio CBD area, but until then, the NAIA serves its purpose as the premier international gateway to the Philippines.

=====

We think this commentary makes a lot of sense.

The power of gossip: JPEPA, ZTE, GSIS

COUNTERPOINT
Alvin Capino
Manila Times
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=alvinCapino_oct19_2007

“Gossip is more powerful than truth.” This is the gist of the Reuters article, forwarded by our friend Dan Mariano of Manila Times, about a study which showed that that “people believe what they hear through the grapevine even if they have evidence to the contrary.”

One can easily believe that gossip is more powerful than truth especially if you live in the Philippines where rumors reign supreme.

There are so many examples we can cite. One that readily comes to mind is the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. It would seem that the propaganda of anti-JPEPA leftist groups is being accepted by people, even if it is far from the truth.

Those opposing the treaty are saying it will make the Philippines the dumpsite for toxic waste from Japan. Philippine Ambassador to Japan Domingo Siazon has said that this claim is totally false since the treaty, which the Japanese parliament had already ratified, explicitly says that the laws of both signatory-nations will be strictly enforced. Since Philippine laws prohibit shipment of toxic waste to the country, Siazon insists that this is also not allowed by JPEPA.

Then there is the gossip spread by no less than some officials of the Philippine Nursing Association who were able to convince some nursing students to join them in a protest rally. The rumors say that Filipino nurses and caregivers will be treated and exploited as “trainees” when they go to Japan. The rumor says JPEPA is onerous because Filipino nurses and caregivers will be required to learn Nihongo.

The truth is that indeed Filipino nurses who qualify for employment in Japan will receive a stipend of $400 during the time they are learning Nihongo. During that time they will also enjoy free board and lodging. Then, when they have mastered Nihongo, they will receive full wages and benefits competitive to what Japanese nurses are getting.

Of course nurses and caregivers who will work in Japan need to learn Nihongo. They will be working with Nihongo-speaking doctors and head nurses and they will not be able to function if they do not know the language.

Then there is the rumor that farmers and fishermen will be disadvantaged by the treaty. We interviewed Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap about this the other day in our radio show “Karambola sa dwIZ” and he said he found such talks ridiculous. He said Philippine agriculture produce like bananas and pineapples are market leaders in Japan and the market can only grow some more for Philippine agriculture products under JPEPA. He said the treaty was favorable for Philippine agricultural exports and what he was afraid of was the negative impact to our trade in agricultural products, which is presently overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, if JPEPA is not ratified by the Senate.

There is a mistaken notion by some that the treaty can be renegotiated before it is ratified. The truth is our Senate can only ratify the treaty or reject it. The Japanese Diet had already ratified JPEPA; if our Senate rejects it, there would be inevitable negative consequences. Is the country ready to pay the cost?

***

Another recent victim of gossip is the ZTE Corp. of China which, if you believe the things said about it as a result of the claims made by Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, is a company with questionable qualifications.

Because of the undeserved notoriety of ZTE, thanks to JDV III, many people are surprised to learn that ZTE has won the InfoVision Award given by the International Engineering Consortium at the just-concluded World Broadband Forum.

ZTE, China’s only publicly listed telecommunications supplier, was cited for its pioneering work in Internet protocol television and high-definition video-on-demand.

Telecommunications techies will tell you that the InfoVision Award won by ZTE is the equivalent of the Oscars for Hollywood. It is awarded by ICE, the organization which sets the telecom industry standards.

Specifically, ZTE topped the Access Network Technologies and Service category with its GPON system that combines voice, date, and video technologies in one relatively affordable package.

This recent award to ZTE, along with its existing multi-million dollar contracts in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia, serves to underscore its status as one of the world’s leading providers of telecom supplies, equipment and network solutions.

The ICE recognition of ZTE in a way serves to highlight the absurdity of the claims of the young De Venecia, who could not accept losing the Philippine government’s national broadband network project. ZTE is obviously qualified to be awarded the broadband project by the Chinese government in the exercise of its privilege as the provider of the soft-loan funding for the project.

De Venecia has said so many things about the ZTE project that perhaps it’s about time he explained the proposal of his Amsterdam Holdings Inc. He should explain, for example, what would have happened had his company obtained the monopoly of the government’s broadband business for 25 years.

Is it true that he would use this monopoly to undercut the private companies providing broadband services to the private sector? His cost of money is nowhere near the concessionary loan to be provided by the China Eximbank, so De Venecia would have to piggyback Amsterdam Holdings’ private sector broadband business on the telecommunications infrastructure built primarily for government use. His company would be able to sell broadband capacity to the private sector at a loss until such time when he has driven his competitors to ground. Was that the plan, Mr. De Venecia?

***

What is not gossip is the talk going around that a very influential politician is asking for the head of Government Service Insurance System president and general manager Winston Garcia as part of his long list of demands given to President Arroyo.

The President, however, is not likely to give in to this ultra traditional politician’s demands especially in the case of Garcia because of the continued extraordinary performance of GSIS under his leadership.

According to a report by the Commission on Audit, GSIS had continued to top all government-owned-and -controlled corporations in terms of net income. In 2006, GSIS posted a net income of P40.9 billion which is 7.6 percent higher than the net income of P38 billion the previous year.

The performance of GSIS under Garcia has been consistent. When he took over GSIS in 2001 the actuarial life of the government pension system was only about 24 years. It has now nearly doubled and stands at about 46 years.

The gains for GSIS did not come easy. It came only after Garcia, the board of trustees and the GSIS management boldly undertook much-needed reforms including the purge of the GSIS rosters of fake members and pensioners which cut down the roster of beneficiaries to 1.3 million.

The Garcia team also eliminated the flourishing racket of fake loans, unpaid amortization and non-remittances of premium by institutions.

It would have been easier for the President to give in to the demand of this influential politician to remove Garcia if he is a non-performer. With his excellent record, how can the President justify his removal?

Under JPEPA, no export of hazardous wastes to Philippines

By Solita Collas-Monsod
Inquirer
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view_article.php?article_id=95602

MANILA, Philippines -- Will signing the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) give Japan carte blanche to export its toxic and other hazardous wastes to the Philippines? No. The fact that with JPEPA the Philippines imposes zero tariffs on wastes from Japan (and vice versa) is immaterial, because Philippine laws and regulations -- in particular Republic Act 6969 (“An Act to Control Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes, Providing Penalties for Violations thereof…” -- prohibits such importation, and so does the Basel Convention, or the Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

But to dispel any lingering doubts, there was an Exchange of Notes between Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo and Japan Foreign Minister Taro Aso that said precisely that. Last May 22, Romulo sent Aso a note to confirm the understanding that “Japan would not be exporting toxic wastes to the Philippines, as defined under the laws of the Philippines and Japan, in accordance with the Basel Convention … and that provisions related to this topic in the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement do not prevent the adoption or enforcement of such measures under existing and future national laws, rules and regulations of the Philippines and Japan. It would be opportune receiving confirmation from your side to put to rest the concerns raised on this subject in the JPEPA….”

To which Aso replied (on May 27): “I am pleased to confirm the statement and commitment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Japan would not be exporting toxic wastes to the Philippines, as defined and prohibited under the laws of the Philippines and Japan, in accordance with the Basel Convention, and the understanding that provisions related to this topic in the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement do not prevent the adoption or enforcement of such measures under existing and future national laws, rules and regulations of the Philippines and Japan.”

How much clearer can one get?

And apparently, such an Exchange of Notes, as quoted in part above, constitutes “agreement” under international law -- it is deemed to be a supplemental agreement between the parties regarding their interpretation of the JPEPA and the application of its provisions vis-à-vis the Basel Convention and present and future environmental laws and regulations. Which can be taken to mean, one supposes, that there is no impediment to having other supplemental agreements regarding interpretations of other JPEPA provisions.

It is to be hoped that the foregoing will stop once and for all the use of an environmental threat to derail the JPEPA, or at least reassure those who have succumbed to the scare tactics.

But there are always going to be the hard-core doubting Thomases. In their case, maybe a concrete example -- recounted by our Ambassador to Japan Dominador “Jun” Siazon Jr. -- of how Japan takes its obligations in this regard seriously may do the trick, although, as they say, no one is more difficult to awaken than the person who is not really sleeping. Why Ambassador Siazon? Because the incident about to be narrated happened during his watch as secretary of foreign affairs (under Joseph Estrada).

The reader may recall that sometime in August 1999, 92 40-footer container vans arrived at the Manila Container Port aboard MV Ming Champion. The contents of the vans, weighing over 2,000 tons, were shipped by Nisso Corp. (based in Tochigi, Japan) and consigned to Shinsei Enterprises, Intramuros, Manila, with Macondray Carrier as cargo agent. Their contents were declared as waste papers and plastics for recycling.

But upon examination by the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the vans were found to contain instead substantial amounts of discarded intravenous syringes (used in blood-letting and dextrose), used adult diapers, sanitary napkins, hospital apparatus, garments, bandages, electronic equipment and PVC plastics. This is in contravention of both the Basel Convention and RA 6969.

Whereupon we threw the book at Japan, figuratively speaking, albeit after a four-month delay. Siazon, as foreign secretary, sent a formal notification to the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines, requesting Japan to take the necessary steps to ensure that the waste materials be taken back to Japan, also as specified by the Basel Convention. And Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Antonio Cerilles also wrote the secretariat of the Basel Convention in Geneva and the Japanese government, requesting remedial action from them.

The long and short of it is that Japan had the container vans and their waste contents shipped back to Japan. But that is not the end of it. After investigation by police from the Prefectures of Nagano and Tochigi, criminal charges were brought against Nisso Corp., its chair (Katsuhiro Mizuguchi) and president (Hiromi Itoh) for violation of Japan’s (emphasis mine) waste processing and cleaning law, foreign exchange and foreign trade law, and customs law.

Apparently Mizuguchi fled Japan, but was extradited from Cambodia, and arrested upon his arrival in Tokyo in September 2000. He was sentenced to four years in jail, as was Itoh, who also had to pay a 5-million yen fine. In addition, Nisso Corp. was fined 15 million yen.

Does that sound like Japan is taking us lightly? But, alas, I haven’t a clue as to what happened to the local importer and the cargo agent.

US firms remain upbeat

By Elaine Ruzul S. Ramos
Original report at The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business1_oct20_2007

Big American companies remain committed to invest in the Philippines for the long haul despite political controversies hounding the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“There are many reasons you make investment decisions but for mature companies, the short-term political issues do not rank high in that list,” Liam Benham, vice president of Ford Asia-Pacific and Africa, said yesterday.

The Ford Group has chosen the Philippines as its production hub of vehicles for domestic sales and export to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and engines for export to Asean and South Africa. Investments in Ford’s Sta. Rosa plant have reached $270 million to date.

“We don’t look into the political picture that much. We are an international company with operations in Valenzuela and Columbia. Politics is not an issue for us,” said Benham.

He said Ford’s relationship with the Philippine government had been among the best in the region.

“I sense an optimism about the economy in the Philippines. Some very serious, deeply rooted initiatives are under way to improve the country’s competitiveness. The Philippines is heading in the right direction insofar as foreign investors are concerned,” added Benham.

The Coca Cola Co. echoed Benham’s sentiments. It invested $670 million this year for the acquisition and expansion of the Coca Cola business in the country.

“The Coca Cola Co. made a significant investment of $600 million. Clearly, it’s an expression of confidence not just for Coca Cola but other companies in the US as well. There is a good degree of optimism of what US businesses can do in this country,” said Kandy Anand, president of The Coca Cola Co.-Philippines business unit and chairman of the US-Philippines Business Committee.

He said politics would be a concern if it would lead to so much chaos and hamper economic growth and government’s economic agenda from moving forward.

The two executives were members of the US-Asean Business Council, which concluded the three-day annual business mission in the Philippines. The US business delegation included senior representatives from AES, Chevron, Monsanto Co., Oracle Corp., Time Warner Inc., Tyco Fire and Security, Unisys Philippines and UPS.

Anand said while US investors were confident about the country’s viability as an investment site, challenges and issues remained.

“It is not without challenges and issues. What is important is government’s ability to meet those challenges and being able to move fast so the Philippines won’t be left behind,” Anand said, citing competition from the likes of India and China.

Friday, 19 October 2007

More CCTV cameras to be installed


For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

U.S. Executives: Philippines Offers Good Business Opportunities

By Cris Larano, Dow Jones Newswires
Original report at CNN
http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/djf500/200710190733DOWJONESDJONLINE000468_FORTUNE5.htm

MANILA -(Dow Jones)- U.S. businessmen said Friday the Philippines continues to offer growth opportunities to businesses but the government needs to quickly address challenges to attract more foreign direct investment.

"We are here because the Philippines is an important market for U.S. companies, and we continue to see tremendous growth opportunities for our businesses as the state of the economy improves," said Kandy Anand, president of the Coca-Cola Co.-Philippine Business Unit, and chairman of the U.S.-Philippines Business Committee.

Matthew Daley, president of the U.S.-Asean Business Council Inc., whose members has met with several government officials, said that while the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has succeeded in boosting economic growth, it still needs to address certain issues.

"We explored with the government and legislative leaders further steps in the areas of IPR (intellectual property rights) protection, infrastructure development, rule of law and transparency that will make the Philippines more competitive and more prosperous," Daley said.

Liam Benham, vice president for governmental affairs at Ford Asia-Pacific and Africa and a member of the U.S.-Asean Business Council, said other issues that the government must address include rampant smuggling and the high cost of electricity that increases the cost of doing business.

The U.S. remains the Philippines largest trading partner, with two-way trade amounting to $17.3 billion in 2006. U.S. companies are also among the largest investors, with direct investments of more than $6.5 billion.

Foreign execs want DMIA as main airport

By Rainier Allan Ronda
Full article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20071018285

Foreign business groups urged the government to utilize the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga as the main gateway to the country.

The groups, organized under the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC), cited the need for the government to use a better airport facility in view of the deteriorating runway conditions and terminal limitations of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Foreign businessmen aired their concern over the poor infrastructure of the NAIA terminals and the roads around the airport, which they said was turning off foreign tourists and investors.

In a presentation of their statement on tourism and the major airports in Central Luzon, the JFC expressed the belief that the NAIA complex is falling short as the country’s doorstep to foreign tourists.

Brian Lane, chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (AmCham), said the bleak runway and terminal conditions at the NAIA Terminals I and II and the controversy surrounding the opening of NAIA Terminal III raised the need to push ahead with efforts to develop the DMIA.

“The terminals obviously are antiquated and inadequate. They say that first impressions count. I believe in that. And the first impression when you arrive in the Manila airport and work your way through ... leaves a lot to be desired,” Lane said.

Lane stressed the JFC’s position that the bleak situation at the NAIA highlights the importance of DMIA.

“We are suggesting, urging very strongly, that after serious thought, we feel Clark is the future for Philippine aviation as an international gateway,” Lane said.

Lane made the appeal during a presentation of the JFC statement in a briefing [by?] the federation of foreign business chambers organized by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Lane spoke in behalf of the foreign business chambers making up the JFC.

He stressed the need for the government to utilize DMIA as the country’s primary gateway.

“With the terminal and runway congestion at NAIA, CLark needs to be developed and developed now,” Lane said.

“Failure to do that will impose constraints on the airlines and quite honestly, we lose the business that we could have had to Thailand, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to the tourist competitors,” Lane said.

He warned poor facilities in the country would turn off investors complaining about the inadequate connection to Manila.

“And these are small things, but if you are a CEO of a major international investor and you can fly wherever you want... if the first impression you get of a country you are looking at or considering is a difficult airport with all kinds of old-fashioned constraints, your attitude to that country starts on a very negative basis,” he said.

A JFC study said the two intersecting runways at the NAIA were old and not designed for the needs of modern aviation.

“The runway’s design is well below standards for new generation aircraft, raising serious safety concerns,” Lane said in quoting the JFC study.

“Distances between the centerline of runways and centerlines of taxiways do not meet the new International Civil Aviation Organization standards for new generation aircraft such as A380s,” the study further pointed out.

Aside from runway safety brought on by the vintage design of the NAIA runway, the JFC also raised the limitations brought on by effectively having one runway at the NAIA because of the intersecting runways.

It noted that the runway congestion at NAIA is causing arriving international flights to wait on a “holding pattern” for as long as 30 minutes, incurring additional costs and delays on airline firms.

According to Lane, the JFC is not pinning its hopes on opening the controversial NAIA Terminal III.

With the opening of the NAIA III, Lane noted one runway leading to the domestic terminal will have to be closed and become a taxiway as indicated in the JFC study.

Lane pointed out that in comparison, the DMIA offered two runways with international standards.

But at its current state, the DMIA has yet to be fully developed, he said.

“Like any airport, it has constraints. It has, like Manila, inadequate domestic and international terminals,” Lane said.

Lane said they were closely monitoring the development of DMIA.

In view of this, Lane said the government should decide strongly on developing DMIA to replace the NAIA as the country’s main gateway.

“The political decision must be made to transition from Manila to Clark,” Lane said.

He also pointed out the effort of making DMIA the country’s gateway would entail establishing a road and rail line that would connect the airport to Metro Manila.

“It’s not a unique problem to the Philippines. Every major city who’s built a new airport outside its city like Hong Kong, like KL (Kuala Lumpur), like Tokyo, like Paris, has to address the connection, the ground transportation. And most of them has gone or are going for high speed rail,” Lane said.

Aside from developing the airport in Clark, Lane said the JFC is interested in what government is doing to develop the Mactan-Cebu International Airport; the Kalibo airport in Aklan; the Puerto Princesa International Airport in Palawan and the Laoag International Airport in Ilocos Norte.

DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, for his part, said the government has already made the policy to develop the DMIA.

He pointed out the development of the airport was already being pursued by the Clark International Airport Corporation.

Responding to the need for a connection from DMIA to Manila, Mendoza said that the North Luzon Railway Corporation (Northrail) is one of the big-ticket transportation infrastructure projects being pursued by the DOTC.

Semiconductor exports double to $20.5B y/y, investments at $1B

By Lawrence Casiraya
INQUIRER.net
http://technology.inquirer.net/infotech/infotech/view_article.php?article_id=95511

MANILA, Philippines -- The country's electronics exports reached more than $20 billion from January to August, almost a two-fold increase from the same period last year.

According to latest data from the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries Inc. ( SEIPI), total exports for the first eight months of the year registered a total value of $20.5 billion, compared $10.6 billion from the same period last year.

This is consistent with SEIPI's projections made at the start of the year, according to SEIPI president Ernie Santiago. Total electronics export data represents 62.5 percent of the country's $32.8 billlion total exports from January to August this year, SEIPI said.

Santiago is optimistic that the positive trend will continue up to the last quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, investments in the electronics industry have reached their highest levels in years, according to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

During the same period, PEZA reported it has approved a total of $1 billion additional investments for the electronics industry in its industrial zones. Among notable investments cited were those made by Texas Instruments and Japanese firms Fujitsu, Hitachi, Terumo, Fuji Electric and Panasonic.

“We hope the business environment will continue to be positive for us to be able to attract more investments in the country,” Santiago said. “Electronics business will continue to grow in Asia, thus our country needs to improve its competitiveness against other countries in the region to attract more investments.”

In able to do this, Santiago said, SEIPI is working closely with its partners in the government to lower power cost, enhance the technical and engineering competencies of the workforce and improve the external image of the country.

SEIPI is largest organization of foreign and local semiconductor and electronics companies in the country.

RP risks isolation if Japan trade deal rejected -- expert

Agence France-Presse
Original report at ABS-CBN News and The Inquirer
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=96398
http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/news/view_article.php?article_id=95508

MANILA, Philippines -- As Asian economic integration gathers pace, the Philippines risks isolation and millions of dollars of potential investment if the Senate rejects a free-trade deal with Japan, an expert warned Friday.

"In terms of trade we'll be at a competitive disadvantage with our neighbors who are negotiating or implementing economic partnership agreements with Japan," said Ceferino Rodolfo, of the University of Asia and the Pacific.

The Senate, Manila's treaty-ratifying body, has dragged its feet on the deal with Tokyo, the country's number-two trading partner. Senate public hearings on the treaty resume on November 8.

The treaty was signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last year, but senators say they are not convinced it will be good for the country.

Rodolfo, head of the management school at the Manila-based university, said in negotiating the deal, Arroyo sought to draw Japanese multinationals into setting up production bases here instead of other Southeast Asian neighbors.

Vietnam, South Korea, and India among others are all negotiating bilateral free-trade deals with Tokyo.

Japan's free-trade deals with Singapore and Malaysia are now in effect while it is set to put into effect trade deals with Thailand and Brunei this year.

"As an investment site the Philippines will not be attractive to Japanese companies because we will be left out of the global production networks," Rodolfo said.

As a result, Manila could miss out on some P35 billion (about 793 million dollars) in Japanese investment over the next 10 years, he added.

The Japanese deal removes all tariffs on 7,476 products worth about 7.24 billion dollars annually that account for 80.6 percent of the value of all Filipino exports to Japan -- mostly agricultural products.

It would also usher in phased tariff reduction within 3-15 years of items that account for a further 16.5 percent of Filipino exports to Tokyo by value.

Some 66 percent of Philippine imports from Japan would immediately face zero tariff duties, but Rodolfo said of these, only 1.2 percent constitute "possible immediate risk to local producers" since most are used as inputs for Philippine exports such as electronics.

The Philippines also has a free trade agreement with its fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian nations, but Rodolfo said politics had gotten in the way of Manila forging such agreements on a bilateral basis with its most ideal complementary trade partners including the US.

A final push for MRT-7

TO THE POINT
By Emil Jurado
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=emilJurado_oct19_2007

In the wake of all the political noise on bribery—in the national broadband network deal, in the push for a “sham” impeachment complaint against the President, and now the bills in paper bags allegedly distributed to members of Congress and local executives—there’s one giant infrastructure program, the MRT-7, crying out for immediate approval. This project will be a good legacy for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to leave when she steps down in 2010.

The $3.1-billion build-operate-transfer project aims to connect Tala, Bulacan to Quezon City, all the way to the MRT-2 along Edsa. This will certainly be a boon to commuters from the North. It has been in the works for the past seven and a half years, passing through every conceivable wringer of government bureaucracy.

What makes the project unique and definitely advantageous to government is its multi-billion real estate component.

The Universal LRT Corp. Ltd. led by managing director and chief executive Eli Levin, the same businessman who conceptualized the Edsa MRT-3, had written Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza that the project had complied with all the requirements, including the “Swiss Challenge,” which enabled other bidders to offer better terms. Nobody did. The deadline expires on Oct. 24 for the DoTC to take it up with the cabinet-level National Economic Development Authority board headed by the President.

Levin stated in his Oct. 15 letter to the DoTC: “We have addressed over the years all the requirements of the government agencies thru due process in an innovative manner to overcome numerous legal and financial issues raised. We strongly believe that the project is badly needed and can withstand any criticism and enjoy strong public support and cooperation.”

I have been pushing this MRT-7 project for good reason. I believe in its feasibility and the need for cheap and easy commuter access from the North to link up with Edsa, and more importantly, to meet the growing demand for public transport in Metro Manila.

The bottom line is that public transport can only be possible, as anywhere else in the world, with government assistance.

***

But there’s one sticky element that’s delaying the final approval of the MRT-7. The Neda Investment Coordination Committee has required the project proponents that amortization payment covered by the performance undertaking of the Department of Finance would not be paid if there was a shortfall in implementing the real estate development program.

In a letter to the President, the project proponents articulated their belief that this condition will unduly curtail, if not jeopardize, the project’s ability to raise the necessary loans and equity investments from international financial and institutional investors for the rail project.

One thing that Malacañang, the DoTC and Neda should not forget is that the MRT-7 project will address the pressing need for a public transport system in the area, one that is cheap and accessible.

In fact, this project is long overdue.

***

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is reportedly not impressed by the order of President Arroyo for the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission to investigate the reported cash dole-out to some members of Congress and local executives in Malacañang last week.

Just where the money came from, and what it is for, is anybody’s guess. For one, it would be illegal for Malacañang to be the source in the wake of the barangay election ban.

Besides, if the source were government, the disbursement would be covered by a receipt. Its purpose would be known.

It would not be a bribe, either, since the cash was doled out for no reason or condition in spite of many claims from opposition politicians and anti-GMA members of media. All these people who are ready to jump on GMA at the drop of a hat.

But since nobody is owning up to it, there’s need to investigate. Now, if the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is not impressed by the Palace investigation, that’s the problem of the bishops. Then it would seem they have already made up their minds, at the onset, that there was bribery involved.

Like what I said, President Arroyo could not have allowed it since it was ill-timed and more importantly, Malacañang would not be that stupid to do it knowing full well that some people would make a media opportunity of it.

And it did, with the kind of media we have.

***

There they go again, demanding the resignation of President Arroyo to solve the problems of the country. Like an old coin, it keeps coming back.

Thus, it’s well that GMA ignores this stupidity. The people are sick and tired of the antics of the opposition and political enemies of the President.

The President’s focus on the economy, disregarding all the political noises against her and administration, has clearly brought results with the economy rebounding.

While the President’s focus on economic and fiscal reforms has cost her satisfaction ratings, the bottom line is that with the economic development, the people will, in the long run, realize that the reforms had to be done. No pain, no gain, as they say.

After all, leadership is not a popularity contest, much less a contest for “pogi points.”

The show must end

AMBIENT VOICES
By Ma. Isabel Ongpin
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/19/yehey/opinion/20071019opi5.html

News, or rather threats, that another Senate investigation will be called, this time to get the grisly details of the Malacañang big money bags distribution a few days ago are enough to dismay a public that has reached zero tolerance for Senate investigations, also seen as shenanigans.

So far, on the record of previous recent investigations, for all their sound and fury complete with inane repetitive questions, uncivil behavior, grandstanding antics, bullying, personal and unacceptable abuse of witnesses, there is no new information added to what the media have already brought forth.

The investigation regarding the surreptitious recordings made of Comelec personnel and the executive has not moved into the realm of unalloyed truth but into ever-varying tales that lead nowhere. We have a welter of prevaricating witnesses, clueless authorities and signs of money for testimony that have produced a convoluted tale and many theories. These can best be put to rest by calling in professionals outside Senate investigations to conduct a less high profile, more focused examination that will bring out enough facts, evidence or truth to culminate in a judicial process. It will not happen in the Senate.

As for the national broad­band network investigation, I think it is time to close the showing of that bad comedy of senators losing their cool, scratching each others’ eyes out, and bullying witnesses, a display of power madness and absence of reason that are scary behavioral patterns for the public, particularly for the young who can be mis­edu­cated. There has been enough information disseminated on this issue and already a number of cases filed in various judicial venues that are more promising of results than further senatorial melodrama and ham acting.

We have reached the point of diminishing returns on Senate investigations. The legislation is in place—wiretapping is illegal, bribery and overpricing in government contracts is against the law. What further need of an investigation, in aid of legislation, which is the excuse for them? File the cases and be done with the television farce.

We need legislation to improve standards of living for all—affordable medicines, better and more expanded social services, including family planning, raising educational opportunities and standards, amending dysfunctional aspects of the local government code, the electoral law, the Constitution, to get along with modern realities. This is where the hard work lies in public hearings and committee work where members must be present and doing their legislative tasks which should not be shirked.

Senate investigations should be few and far between. We have a free press, we have a militant public sector among our citizenry, we have the makings of an independent judiciary, vocal business and nongovernmental organizations are in place, the religious sector weighs in on issues that concern all. Public opinion has shown its effects on telling off government.

Some of us are quick to deny that we have these means to go beyond investigations and enhance our democracy. We do, and some of us are exercising them successfully. The new budget passed by the House had inputs from civil society, committee hearings on various legislative initiatives are ongoing in both houses of Congress, local governments are listening to their constituents.

With all these routes, let us give the Senate investigation ploy a rest. It never was a sublime process in these parts. And at this point is purely ridiculous.

Inquisitorial folly

BIG DEAL
By Dan Mariano
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/19/yehey/opinion/20071019opi2.html

A TV talk show recently asked viewers to rate the performance of the Senate via text message. The interactive query coincided with the chamber’s 91st anniversary.

The prevailing view reflected in the SMS replies was, at best, ominous. The Senate tends to immerse itself in investigations that in the end produce no results, many viewers said. Waste of taxpayers’ money, they added.

The Senate and its leadership should heed this feedback. The sentiment is obviously an offshoot of the flurry of inquiries that began with the resurfacing of Vidal Doble and highlighted by the sally of the de Venecias into the NBN fray.

The sentiment is apparently based on unfulfilled expectations.

Since the Senate has projected itself as an inquisitorial council, the public is now clamoring for concrete results from its inquiries. What inquisition does not climax with a burning at the stake?

The letdown is magnified by the participation of professionally trained investigators in the Senate panels, notably Sen. Panfilo Lacson, once the country’s top cop.

In the wake of the investigations, the public wants the Senate to establish culpability, to tag the guilty. People want the Senate to issue findings on whether or not incidents related to the slew of fiascos it chose to delve into really took place.

To a certain extent, this sentiment benefits lawmakers who ride on popular interest in the controversies. Media coverage of the Senate investigations offers exposure that would cost millions if done by professional admen or press agents.

The sentiment, however, also presents major threats to the Senate’s prestige in the long term. The danger is that mounting public frustration arising from inconclusive inquiries could seriously erode the chamber’s credibility. Recent surveys, to be sure, do not indicate this yet.

Still, the Senate might end up being dismissed as just a showcase for political novelty acts—or, at best, a distraction in the absence of anything more exciting happening in the country.

Already, Doble has lost his media luster. All that the public recalls is that the ex-sergeant was able to build himself a big house in Taguig and that his romantic life is, well, colorful. For the most part, however, people have lost track of what Doble is supposed to be all about.

Meanwhile, as interest in the figure Joey de Venecia studiously cut for himself at the Senate hearings flags, hard questions are being raised that beg answers. For example, no satisfactory explanation has been given for the so-called comfort letter he received from his dad’s protégé, former NEDA chief Romulo Neri, regarding Joey’s interest in the NBN deal.

This time around the media are feasting on reports that bundles of money were distributed to congressmen and local officials who attended a recent Malacañang function. Expected­ly, some senators are hoping to further raise their political stock on this most recent controversy and have billed it as a Palace bribery attempt.

The problem is the issue promises to hit another dead end for several reasons. Here’s one. If, indeed, money was given, how could the cash be construed as a bribe when the recipients were not asked to do anything illegal?

Bribery means someone is paid off not to do his duty, or to perform his mandated task in a manner that contravenes ethics, morals or the law. The Senate investigators will have to prove that the money was given for an illicit purpose—and proving so will take some doing.

Note, however, that this fine point has been sidelined. The focus is on personalities. Once more the inquisitorial spotlight is on the senators’ latest whipping girl—Palace functionary Remedios Poblador—in a bid to portray her as a Madame X of sorts.

Get the point? The “mystery” angles make for a sensationalistic media feeding frenzy.

Or are we missing the point?

Perhaps Senate investigations are not supposed to lead to logical conclusions. After all, neither law enforcers nor prosecutors are conducting these inquiries. These probes are political exercises where logic plays little or no role.

Nevertheless, what freedom-loving Filipino would not wish the Senate all the best as it marks a milestone. Senate President Manuel Villar was correct when he lauded the body as “a bastion of independence” in his anniversary remarks.

Our prayer is that the Senate would be more than just independent. Would that it use its constitutional independence to also become a fortress of competence. Would that it spend its tax-paid man-hours to tackle solutions to real-life problems, such as the long dormant Land Administration Reform Act or the cheap medicine bill.

If the Senate does so, it might become a citadel of relevance, too.

25,000 co-ops earn P20 billion in 6 years as they uplift lives of 5.5M Filipinos

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2007 | LIVELIHOOD
Full report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19083

ALABEL, Sarangani—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the country’s 25,000 active cooperatives have uplifted the lives of 5.5 million Filipinos in the past six years with their transactions totaling P50 billion.

40 richest Filipinos’ net worth rises to $17 billion

Original article at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/1019&202007/headlines04.html

SINGAPORE—In a sign of a resurging Philippines, Andrew Tan, the son of a poor immigrant factory worker, has emerged as the nation’s first new billionaire in a decade, according to the Forbes Asia 2007 Philippines Rich List.

After restructuring his holding company Alliance Global, Tan’s net worth more than doubled from $480 million to $1.1 billion—a far cry from the days when he walked to his college campus because he could not afford the bus fare. His improved wealth propelled him to the fourth position on Forbes Asia’s latest ranking of the 40 richest in the Philippines.

Three other billionaires on the list occupy the top three spots. Jaime Zobel de Ayala and family jumped from third to first place, albeit with an unchanged net worth of $2 billion.

Henry Sy (net worth: $1.7 billion) and Lucio Tan ($1.6 billion), last year’s top two, saw lower net worths as Forbes Asia learned new information about their holding-company structures. Last year Sy was worth $4 billion and Tan worth $2.3 billion.

Commenting on this year’s list, Justin Doebele, project editor of Asia Rich Lists, said: “The Philippines is making a comeback. Second-quarter growth of 7.5 percent was the highest in two decades and unemployment was 8 percent, the lowest since 1997.

“After a slip on subprime financial worries in August, the stock market has made a full recovery and recently posted record highs. All of this boosted the wealth of many of its richest citizens who were also helped by the dollar’s weakness against the peso.”

The 40 richest in the Philippines are worth a combined total of $17 billion, $1 billion more than last year. Of these, there were 24 gainers, 14 whose net worth dropped, one unchanged and one new entry. The minimum net worth to make the list is $30 million, up $5 million from the previous year, but still $50 million less than any other country that Forbes Asia tracks.

The Ayala’s fortunes have been split from Iñigo and Mercedes Zobel, children of the late Enrique Zobel (de Ayala’s cousin), who are the only new entrants at No. 12 with $660 million.

Several Philippine tycoons took advantage of a two-week period in July, where three companies went public on the back of strong market conditions. Enrique Aboitiz, head of Aboitiz Power, raised $220 million with its public listing, and makes it to No. 16 on the list with $375 million.

Manuel Villar, the Philippine Senate president and fifth with $940 million, delisted C&P Homes while taking Vista Land & Lifescapes public. This maneuver made him the biggest gainer on the list. His net worth is now nearly nine times the $110 million he had last year.

The end of July also saw the debut of GMA Network, the nation’s second-largest media company. Gilberto Duavit Jr., the President, is No. 21 with $191 million, having overcome a late challenge by a daughter of former President Ferdinand Marcos to prevent the offering on the grounds that some of his GMA shares belonged to the Marcos family.

Also with large stakes in GMA, Menardo Jimenez and brother-in-law Felipe Gozon and their families are No. 22 and No. 23 with $190 million and $165 million, respectively.

The Philippines Rich List is featured in the October 29 issue of Forbes Asia which is available on newsstands this week.

To compile the list, Forbes Asia looked at shareholdings in public companies as well as private companies. Publicly-traded wealth was calculated using share prices and exchange rates from early October while values of privately-held companies are estimates based on comparisons to prevailing price-to-earnings and price-to-sales ratios of similar publicly traded companies.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

PGMA allocates P20 M for Camiguin's development

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2007 | TOURISM
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19067

MAMBAJAO, Camiguin—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced here today the allocation of P20 million for the cross-country road and market project development of this island province which, she said, should put one of the erstwhile poorest provinces in the Philippines in the radar map of tourists.

In a speech kicking off the 28th Lanzones Festival here this morning, the President said that the development of the province is foremost in the agenda of the national government as it forms a vital part of the Central Nautical Highway which would bring people from Bohol and Cebu and other parts of the country through Balbagon and Guinsiliban.

“For Camiguin,” she said, “these are the initial benefits of the development of the RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) port in Mambajao and the repair of the Guinsiliban-Mambajao road.”

"Gusto nato karon nga mangita ug investor sa RORO ferry boat kan kinsa makahatag ng Development Bank of the Philippines ug concessional loan (We would like to look for an investor for the RORO ferry boat who can get from the DBP a concessional loan),” she added in the vernacular.

The Chief Executive said she had instructed Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza to establish a pier or port in southern Cebu “so that the RORO ferry transport system will be realized and the route profitable."

She pointed out that almost every year since she became a President, she has always attended the Camiguin Lanzones Festival.

"Every time I visit here, I look at how you used the opportunities that were given to you to improve your life,” she said.

The President pointed out that Camiguin used to be among the 10 poorest provinces in the country but because of the hardwork of the Camiguignons and the vision of the former Governor now Congressman Pedro Romualdo, Camiguin is now out of the so-called Club 10.

She stressed that even if Camiguin is one of the smallest provinces, one can find here the sweetest lanzones in the country while the tourist spots “are not just wonderful, but also comparable to those we have seen in other parts of the country.”

"What you needed was the chance to be known to the whole world what you can offer and now you already have this chance. You also have your lanzones festival and fairs which bring tourists here,” she added,

The President said that Camiguin offers excellent opportunities in a range of sectors particularly various forms of tourism, including eco-tourism.

PGMA assures: No Pinoy to ever go hungry again

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2007 | HEALTH
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19072

ESPERANZA, Agusan del Sur - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assured here Wednesday that her administration will do everything to ensure that no Filipino will experience hunger again in the near future.

In an impromptu speech highlighting the observance of the National Week for Overcoming Extreme Poverty, the President said she wants this agricultural and aquacultural town of Agusan del Sur to be the model in the national government’s war against poverty.

“I decided to observe the National Week for Overcoming Extreme Poverty here because I want Agusan del Sur to be the national model in our war against poverty,” she said in the vernacular.

Coming from Camiguin province where she graced the 28th Lanzones Festival, the President flew here to personally turn over some important agricultural projects and health services facilities.

The Chief Executive led the inaugural rites and ribbon cutting of the P30 million newly-built Esperanza Medicare Community Hospital and officially turned over the supervision to Hospital Chief Eliza Gunay. Construction of the hospital was begun on Feb. 2, 2003 and completed only last October

The 78- bed hospital is one of the priority projects of then Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza.

Assisting the President in the ribbon-cutting were Agusan del Sur Gov. Maria Valentina Plaza, Lone District Rep. Rodrigo Plaza, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) vice president Edward Plaza, Esperanza Mayor Leonida Manpatilan, National Anti-Poverty Commission Assistant Secretary Maya Santos, and Barangay Poblacion Chairperson Flordeliza Calderon.

After the inaugural rites, the President turned over a P63-million check to Governor Plaza for the construction of farm-to-market roads and the rehabilitation and improvement of agricultural infrastructures.

She also turned over the hybrid seed corn, hybrid malunggay seedlings, rice and corn thresher, and hand tractor to the Mahagkot Farmers Association.

The President then awarded the certificate to operate Botika ng Bayan to Esperanza Mayor Manpatilan while the certificate to operate the Botika ng Barangay was given to Barangay Chairperson Calderon.

She also awarded 100 Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) scholarship vouchers, 10 units of sewing machines, 10 goats for the Act for Peace Program of the province to all rebel returnees, and 10 cows for the Baka Alang sa Kauswagan ng Agusan del Norte (BAKAS) program and hybrid seedlings of fruit bearing trees for the Program on Reform and Utilization of Trees in Agusan del Sur (PRUTAS).

The new Filipino passport

HERE I STAND
By Geronimo L. Sy
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/18/yehey/opinion/20071018opi3.html

At long last and after decades of planning, court actions and personnel issues, the country has its first-ever machine-readable passport (MRP). Before this, we were among the few countries left in the world which produced our travel documents manually. This was one cause why passports took more time than needed to be issued—the DFA staff had to beautifully write or script in your personal details. Check your passport. Our old passports were easier to tamper resulting in suspicions and detailed examinations when we travel abroad. Who hasn’t had the jitters each time we face an immigration counter in a foreign land and get barked at by the immigration officer even if our passports are valid and genuine and our trip regular and aboveboard?

The idea of the MRP is basically very simple. With the widespread use of ATM cards, credit cards and all other forms of smart cards, it was time to have a passport that harnessed technology for efficiency, convenience and security. There is a Department of Foreign Affairs facility right at the heart of the Philippine International Convention Center that produces passports that are globally acceptable and credible. Other countries were already threatening not to recognize our passports. Imagine the consequences for our hardworking OFWs and trotting matronas.

The man mainly responsible is Assistant Secretary Doy Lucena­rio, officially confirmed recently as an ambassador. He managed to win over doubters and packaged the whole passport system at virtually no cost to the government and the taxpayer. At P500 each, our passport is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, anywhere in the world. This will surely benefit millions of our countrymen. Doy had to secure a legal opinion from the Department of Justice, work with the central bank for the procurement of the security paper and face several suppliers competing for the project. It was his single-minded focus building on the efforts of his predecessors that finally made the project a reality.

Do we have to wait until expiry to renew and get the new passport? No, you can choose to renew earlier to take advantage of the enhanced features. In fact, we are encouraged to test our new passports and start feeling secure as Filipino travelers.

With the new passports security features, forgers and fakes will shift their focus more to the source documents that provide the data in the passport application. Already the National Statistics Office is undergoing its computerization campaign to vertically integrate its processes with the downstream offices and agencies. The birth certificate remains to be the key document in this regard, absent a national id system.

Regardless, we deserve this good news after a spate of scandals. Bad publicity always makes the headlines while the unsung tales of ordinary deeds and doing our jobs never see the light of day. We need to continue to dig up dedicated men and women in government to appreciate the magnitude and the difficulty of running the government. Pretty soon when we all get used to the ease and look of the new passport, we forget how we got to this point in the first place—the personal sacrifices made and the working hours endured. For too long we have not dared to venture to be bold and to undertake big things that will revolutionize how we operate our country and how we think as a people.

In the meantime, we have the confidence to protect the integrity of our travel document and regain the respectability of this document which represents the national dignity and image of the Philippines regardless of racial slurs and discrimination. Next stop—the e-passport. Watch for it.

ULC told to post $300-M second bond for MRT7

By Lenie Lectura
Original report at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/10182007/headlines08.html

THE Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) for railway transportation projects is requiring the Universal LRT Corp. (ULC), the proponent of the Metro Rail Transit project, known as MRT-7, to post another performance guarantee bond that could amount to $300 million.

The project, estimated to cost $1.23 billion, consists of a 23-kilometer rail transit system with 14 stations connected to the MRT-3 North Avenue station in Quezon City, stretching all the way to Commonwealth Avenue, Regalado Avenue, Quirino Avenue extension up to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan and a 22-km access road component.

The BAC chairman, Transportation Assistant Secretary Elmer Soneja, said in an interview on Wednesday, the project proponent failed to comply with some provisions of the terms of reference (TOR) for the project.

“We are requiring ULC to issue a performance guarantee bond. What they only posted last year was 10 percent of the $1.9-billion performance bond specified in the Neda committee resolution,” said Soneja.

ULC posted around $100 million in bid bond last year. ULC is a consortium comprising Alstom Transportation of France, described as the world’s second-largest transportation system provider; Alstom Signalling of the United States; Redfort Assets Ltd, representing SM Investment Corp. and PentaCapital Management Corp., the Merlin Pacific Capital Inc. group; Earth Tech, a unit of the Tyco International Group of the US; and Engineering Equipment Inc. of the Yuchengcos.

The group submitted an unsolicited proposal to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the MRT Line7 project under a build,-gradual transfer- operate-and-maintain scheme, a variant of the build-transfer-operate contractual arrangement.

MRT7 consultant Mario Marinda said the consortium could only afford to post a bond with an amount equivalent to 10 percent of the project cost estimated at $1.23 billion

The government then opened the project to other interested parties but none could match ULC’s proposal. “This meant that ours was the best offer. No one could post a $1.9-billion bond, not even us. So, we said we could only afford 10 percent of the project cost,” explained Miranda.

Now, government is asking the consortium to put up another bond as a way of ensuring the proponent will commit to making the project viable. Soneja would not say how much more it will require ULC to post.

But Miranda said the proponent was asked to post another bond amounting to $300 million.

“They wrote to us before asking us to revise our unsolicited proposal. They said they need the $1.9-billion performance bond. You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Our proposal was subject to a Swiss challenge. In fact, the TOR was based on our proposal. The TOR was prepared by the DOTC in collaboration with us and was approved by majority of the members of the interagency committee whose members include the Neda, Departments of Justice, of Finance, and of Transportation and Communications,” said Miranda.

ULC’s proposed project was up for a Swiss challenge under the BOT law but challengers Sumitomo Corp., World Chi Finance Group and Izumo Contractors failed to submit a better bid.

The result of the failed bid and the BAC’s recommendation were forwarded to Neda. Soneja said that given these, it is now up to the Cabinet-level Investment Coordination Committee whether to give ULC the contract or not.

In its proposal, ULC agreed to make the construction and operation “deficit-neutral.”

Miranda said this is meant to ensure that the government will not bear the risks that may be encountered in the construction of the project.

Under the proposed contract, the government will advance to ULC $130 million for 10 years from the start of the railway construction—$15 million for the 11th until the 15th year, and $10 million for the 16th up to the 18th year.

These advances will return to government coffers after MRT-7 begins operations.

Government revenue will come from development taxes on the railway’s 194-hectare real-estate component, lease of commercial spaces, and fare earnings.

As part of the deficit-neutral clause, ULC agreed to cut its internal rate of return to 11.9 percent from 16.9 percent. The reduced rate of return means ULC will bear the financial losses if passenger volume and consequently revenues drop.

ULC, as operator, will pay real estate taxes to the local government units in areas where the railway will run through.

ING poll: 56%of investors bullish

By Rory Visco
Original report at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/10182007/headlines07.html

A RECENT investment-management firm study revealed that investors remain positive about their outlook on the Philippine investment climate—as much as 56 percent of investors remain optimistic and they expect the economic situation to improve in the next three months.

The ING Investor Sentiment Tracking Study, a quarterly survey of ING Asia-Pacific, stated this result also mirrors the overall positive sentiment in Asia-Pacific, particularly in the two hottest economies in the region nowadays, China and India, with 70 percent of the respondents believing the economic situation in their country will also improve in the next three months.

Japanese respondents, on the other hand, are the least optimistic, where only 26 percent believe their economy will improve, probably because of political changes happening there.

“The survey findings suggest a possible correlation between investors’ level of sophistication and their confidence in the market. While investors in more mature economies like Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore are seen to be more conservative in their outlooks; those in India, China, Malaysia and the Philippines, on the contrary, are optimistic. In the Philippines, the optimism might also be attributed to positive macroeconomic developments and foreign direct investments,” said Cesar Zulueta, ING Investment Management Philippines managing director, in a statement.

The study also revealed that though most Asian investors see the investment climate in the mature markets would remain positive, they don’t expect return on investments to be as strong compared with the previous three months.

“Given the already good performance seen in the last three months, investors in more established markets don’t expect the same magnitude of increase in the near future. However, investors in thriving economies such as the Philippines still remain optimistic,” adds Zulueta.

On return on their investment, majority of Filipinos, or 69 percent, expect it to be just as strong in the next three months, again the third-most positive after China and India.

Other areas of interest in the study include favorite investment tools, where 48 percent of the Philippine respondents go for cash deposits, followed by property investment with 22 percent. However, investors in the Philippines registered the biggest interest in investing in the real-estate market, where 40 percent plan to invest more in property in the next three months.

Only 20 percent of Filipino investors plan to increase their investment in the local stock market, which runs counter to regional trends. In over half of the surveyed countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, China, Taiwan and Thailand, stocks remained the most preferred investment tool, followed by property, the last favored in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and India.

Philippine investors also showed confidence in the initial public offering (IPO) market, where 44 percent of the respondents said they will subscribe to firms going public in the next three months.

The IPO market in Hong Kong is healthiest, with 90 percent of surveyed investors saying they will apply for an IPO in the next three months. China is second at 66 percent while Singapore is third at 57 percent.

“The ING Investor Sentiment Study is the first study of its kind: not only does it regularly track investor sentiment in Asia, but it is also the most far-reaching one geographically as it surveys 13 markets in Asia, enabling comparison between countries that was previously not possible,” says Chris Ryan, regional chief executive officer for ING Investment Management Asia-Pacific.

Calaca winning bidder makes expansion offer

By MYRNA M. VELASCO
Original report at The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20071018106057.html

A proposed 600-megawatt expansion to double the existing capacity of the Calaca coal-fired power facility has been offered as additional sweetener to the winning bidder in the facility which fetched a purchase price of $ 786.527 million in a successful auction this week.

France-headquartered Suez-Tractebel which bagged the deal has been consistently joining the various power plant biddings undertaken by the government; and even set interest in the equity shares sale of US firm Mirant Corporation which exited the country last year.

"To all the bidders, we gave them the option of potentially expanding Calaca considering the potential market in the South," Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) vice president Froilan A. Tampinco said.

If the expansion plan will push through, he noted that Calaca’s aggregate capacity will go up to 1,200 megawatts.

"It will be for another 600 megawatts," Tampinco said, adding that the proposed uprating of the transmission lines in the area will be able to accommodate the increased capacity of the plant.

"The site can handle it, but illegal settlers will have to be removed," he stressed.

Tampinco emphasized though that the winning bidder has the free will to either exercise the expansion option or not; depending on its assessment of market conditions in the domestic power industry.

"It’s up to them to decide whether they will undertake it and defining when they will expand. It will be their business decision," the PSALM official noted.

So far, Tampinco indicated that highest bidder Suez welcomed the idea, but plans are yet to be firmed up.

The existing Calaca units are almost the only coal-run facilities in the country that could utilize coal from Semirara.

If expansion will be pursued, it is not known if the new owners would take the same path of utilizing domestic coal. Essentially, this will depend on the technology that they will adopt for the facility.

Some 110,000 Korean students seen this year

Original report at The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN20071018106074.html

The Department of Tourism (DoT) expects some 110,000 students among the total target Korean arrivals of 650,000 this year, Tourism Attache Maricon Basco-Ebron of the DoT office in Seoul said at the sidelines of the recent Korea Student Fair 2007 — Fall, which was swamped by more than 30,000 students planning to study abroad.

"Of that number, around 8,000 students are estimated to have been booked by the 14 Philippine schools occupying 16 exhibit booths at the fair," Ebron said.

The event was the second student fair held this year. The first, which was held last April, had 586 exhibitors from 21 countries and 35,278 visitors from various parts of Korea.

The number of students among visiting Koreans is strategically important to the DoT since this sector makes up the bulk of long-staying Korean guests.

"These students also attract other Korean tourists, especially their parents and relatives, who spend their holidays in the Philippines while visiting them," Ebron added.

The DoT’s campaign in Korea is focused on four major market segments — students, holiday seekers, honeymooners, and special interest or incentive groups.

Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said these four market segments cover a large cross-section of Korea’s 48.8-million population, with 11.6 million outbound travelers spending some $ 13.7 billion overseas in 2006.

Overtaking the United States and Japan, the Koreans accounted for the biggest group — 572,133 — out of the Philippines’ total foreign arrivals of 2.84 million last year.

Cebu Pacific gets clearance to fly to Macau from Clark international airport

BY MARIAN GRACE S. RAMOS
Full report at The BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW101807/content.php?id=043

GOKONGWEI-OWNED Cebu Air, Inc., the operator of budget carrier Cebu Pacific, said it secured a conditional approval to fly to Macau from the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA).

The company, however, will not start flights to Macau until it gets approval to fly to other destinations.

"We received a conditional approval from [the] Macau [government] but no approvals to operate from Clark to Hong Kong and Bangkok," Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and product said.

Ms. Iyog said clearance from the other governments would be dependent on the result of the air talks that have yet to be scheduled.

She also said in an earlier telephone interview that Cebu Pacific "can’t fly from Clark if the clearances from all five governments are not secured."

Besides Macau, Hong Kong and Bangkok, Cebu Pacific also wants to get clearance to fly to Singapore and Taiwan from Clark.

A Cebu Pacific official said the airline would not fly to any of the destinations until it gets clearance to fly to the other places since it "wants to maximize its presence" in Clark.

JFC urges govt to look into airports’ old facilities and runways’ capacity, safety

By Lenie Lectura
Original report at The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/10182007/economy03.html


THE Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) terminals today suffered from two very serious constraints and the government should act on the concerns raised by the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) now because the condition of the facilities there is becoming a turn-off for visitors arriving in Manila.

The JFC, through the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), on Wednesday aired several concerns about the inefficiencies of several major airports in the country.

Brian Lane, AmCham transportation and infrastructure committee chair, said the Philippine government should give its outmost importance to the capacity and safety of the runways and the terminals’ antiquated facilities.

He said the runways’ design is now well below standards for new-generation aircraft, creating serious potential safety concerns.

He cited the distances between the centerline of runways and centerlines of taxiways which do not meet the new International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) criteria, the UN body that supervises international aviation regulation and standards.

The Naias international runway can accommodate only 15 flights per hour. Very soon, or as early as 2010, the Naia will probably not be able to take additional flights.

“With the current annual growth in total passenger throughout above 10 percent, the runway capacity will reach its limits about the same time that all Naia terminals, including Naia 3, reach their combined full capacity,” Lane.

While general manager Alfonso Cusi of the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) said that the Naia has little room for expansion to build, the Naia still manages to comply with the Icao standards.

“The Miaa has been finding out ways to achieve better utilization of facilities to help air-traffic congestion. Relevant to this, the Miaa is now in the process of implementing the time-slotting program, which will maximize the use of the Naia’s runway system and will address the problem on congestion, especially during peak hours, by balancing the flight schedules and giving passengers more options,” said Cusi.

The Miaa also took exception to the JFC’s observation that the runway is not suited for modern aircraft. Cusi said the Airbus 380, one of the world’s biggest aircraft, recently landed at the Naia Terminal 1, disproving speculations that the government cannot handle such modernity in the aviation sector.

Cusi also said that the Miaa has received proposals from two airlines to undertake an upgrade of Terminal 1 and eventually develop it into a general-aviation terminal.

“We are working on a feasibility study with the private sector in creating a regional city terminal using Terminal 1 and an adjacent area to develop it into a commercial complex,” he said.

According to the JFC, Naia handled nearly 10 million international passengers in 2006 and 2.8 million in the first quarter of 2007, a 12-percent increase over the same period last year. Terminals 1 and 2 can only handle 6 million passengers.

All three of NAIA’s operating terminals today are utilized beyond original design capacity.

The old domestic terminal handled 3 million passengers in 2006, above the design capacity of 2.5 million passengers.

The JFC noted that the domestic terminal is totally out of date, with only one passenger entrance, two security machines and no air bridges. There are often long lines of departing and arriving passengers outside the terminal, while passengers bump into each other and their baggage in security, check-in and terminal-fee lines inside. This terminal should have been closed when Terminal 2 opened, it added.

All other domestic and international carriers have continued to operate from outdated, unsafe and increasingly overcrowded facilities, while a waiting the opening of the ill-fated Terminal 3, which the current administration expropriated in 2005 over alleged corruption in the terminal’s contracting and construction.

When the airport’s runway capacity is met in three years, it will be important that an alternative airport to Naia is available for air travelers in Central Luzon.

LRTA gets 8 bids for P6.3-B loop project

By Rainier Allan Ronda
Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Metro&p=49&type=2&sec=26&aid=20071017141

The Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) said eight groups have submitted their letters of intent (LOIs) to participate in the bidding for the P6.3-billion Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-Light Rail Transit (LRT) interconnection project.

LRTA administrator Melquiades Robles identified the eight groups as Leighton Contractors, Inc. (Philippines)-A.M. Oreta & Co. joint venture consortium; Marubeni Corp.; Asset Builders Corp.; D. M. Consunji Inc.; Sumitomo Corp.; Romago, Inc.; R-II Builders, Inc.; and Siemens.

It was learned that the eight groups expressed interest in undertaking one, two or all three of the project’s three packages. Robles said that the bidding process was going smoothly.

“We are making sure that the bidding process is all fair and transparent,” he said.

Robles said there is also a plan to invite members of the civil society such as 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 in earnest after it secured the National Economic and Development Authority board’s approval of the project, which involves linking the MRT North Avenue-EDSA end station with the LRT Line 1’s Monumento, Caloocan end station.

The 5.4-kilometer loop will have three new stations – in Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Avenue.

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

The 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.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Diaz pushes DMIA as RP’s premier int’l gateway

ONE MORE TIME
By Marianne V. Go
Original article at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=2007101658

The visit last week of the super jumbo Airbus A380 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport highlighted anew the need to fasttrack the designation and preparation of the DMIA as the country’s premier international gateway, Rep. Renato V. Diaz who is a former Presidential Assistant for Central Luzon said yesterday.

In a letter dated Oct. 15 to President Arroyo, Diaz stressed the need to advance to 2010 the designation and preparation of the DMIA as a premier gateway. Diaz said the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) “should prepare a Pert-CPM (project efficiency research technique-critical path method) to show all the elements that must be made ready to meet this target. The construction of an international passenger terminal is a critical component. If needed a modular design should be used to expedite construction.”

Diaz proposed that “the target for DMIA to have more scheduled flights than NAIA be advanced to 2010.”

According to Diaz, “the designated date must be set to allow the other affected parties such as the airlines, service contractors, travel industry, forwarders, brokers, and foreign groups to consider DMIA in their programs and budgets.”

“Most of these groups plan three to five years ahead,” Diaz said adding that, “if we don’t serve notice now, then we will not be on their radar screen and they will not be able to adjust their plans.”

Diaz argued that “the NAIA with a single usable runway which is very short does not make the Philippines a desirable hub compared to our Asian neighbors.”

He warned the President that “if we don’t designate DMIA as our bet to compete with other air hubs, then the Philippines will be the loser.”

Diaz stressed that “this is a critical period because the deployment of long range aircraft such as the Airbus A380 will determine which air hub will attract more airlines. If we are not ready during this period, then we will lose this opportunity.”

Diaz suggested that “to facilitate this transfer, all airlines that want to fly into DMIA at Clark should be allowed irrespective of existing air rights from now till 2010. This will also expand available flights needed by the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), tourists, traders and balikbayans. The Civil Aeronautics Board should be given the proper guidance on this.”

Belgian power firm wins bid for Calaca

By Donnabelle L. Gatdula
Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27

Calaca Holdco Inc. (CHI), led by Belgian power utility firm Suez-Tractebel S.A., has won the bidding for the 600-megawatt (MW) Calaca coal-fired thermal power plant with a $786.53-million offer.

The sale of the Batangas-based Calaca plant brings the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.’s privatization target to 38 percent. PSALM expects to sell at least 50 percent of the generating assets of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) in Luzon and Visayas this year.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said that with the sale of Calaca, the government is optimistic of achieving the 100-percent full privatization target for the assets of Napocor by end-2009 or even earlier.

“It’s a positive development. This will make us move towards achieving our target of privatizing the generating assets of Napocor in Luzon and Visayas by 50 percent by this year and achieve 70 percent by end-2008. We hope we could achieve the 100 percent privatization level by end-2009 or even earlier,” he said.

Reyes likewise lauded PSALM for a successful and transparent bidding.

For his part, PSALM vice president for asset management and electricity trading Froilan Tampinco said the Calaca sale marks another milestone for the asset management firm.

“We are happy with the succesful bidding. This is another boost to government’s privatization efforts,” Tampinco said.

Of the 31 Napocor plants identified for privatization, PSALM has now successfully bid out 10 plants. This translates to 1,680.5 megawatts (MW) in operating capacity, or 38.76 percent of the 4,335.70-mw aggregate capacity of all generating plants in Luzon and the Visayas

CHI was established as special purpose company last June through which Suez-Tractebel S.A. would bid for and hold the Calaca power plant.

CHI is wholly-owned by Suez-Tractebel through its 100-percent owned subsidiary Belgelectric Finance B.V. Suez-Tractebel, on the other hand, is Belgium’s top utility holding company and one of the world’s top independent power producers, with operations in more than 100 countries on five continents.

CHI will be declared the winning bidder as soon as PSALM had verified the accuracy, authenticity and completeness of all the bid documents that the consortium had submitted.

PSALM will then issue the notice of award to CHI, formally signifying that the consortium is the winning bidder for the Calaca plant.

The Calaca facility has been allocated a substantial 287-mw power supply contract, or about 48 percent of the plant’s rated capacity.

This will provide the new owner a ready market for the electricity that the power plant will generate. The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) will assume the biggest portion of the contracted energy which is equivalent to 169 mw.

Aside from Suez-Tractebel, three other bidders showed up during the auction: AES Corp., First Gen and International Power Plc.

Calaca is one of the most valuable assets of Napocor and it could also run on local coal, some of which are sourced from the Semirara coal mine of DMCI in Antique.

The Calaca facility, which consists of two 300-mw generating units, is primarily designed to run as a base-load plant and can operate as a network-frequency regulating plant at a minimum stable load of 150 mw per unit.

PSALM is set to dispose two more generation assets this year. It is scheduled to dispose the manila thermal power plant and Ambuklao-Binga hydropower plant in the last quarter of 2007.

GMA sets aside $120M of China loan for big-ticket projects

By Paolo Romero
Original report at The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20071016190

President Arroyo has set aside $120 million out of China’s $1.8-billion loan assistance to finance anti-poverty projects and programs drawn up by local government units (LGUs).

China extended a $1.8-billion loan facility earlier this year to finance the roll out of big-ticket projects in the country, including rail projects and the Cyber Education Project.

Mrs. Arroyo also highlighted the connection between poverty, terrorism, human rights and peace in her speech at the regional workshop on the Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia at the Traders Hotel in Pasay City on Monday.

“To prioritize the provision of jobs, livelihood and basic services to eradicate extreme poverty, I hereby order the China Projects Oversight Panel to earmark an initial $120 million for programs and projects to be drawn up by local government units (LGUs) and agencies to uplift areas and communities suffering extreme poverty as identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo was referring to the panel she formed last month to review projects funded by official development assistance (ODA) from China owing to the controversy over the government broadband deal.

The $120 million will be sourced from the Chinese ODA, said Secretary Cerge Remonde, Presidential Management Staff chief, who is also a member of the panel.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila, who heads the panel and is “minister-in-charge” for China, said the ODA was one of the outcomes of the economic cooperation pact earlier signed between the two countries.

He said the terms were very “concessional.”

Mrs. Arroyo said top priorities are LGUs with high incidence of severe and/or high unemployment. She said the move would be in consultation with bishops and non-government organizations.

The projects, she said, should be proposed by the end of the year for launching in 2008.

To expedite the implementation of projects, she also directed the Cabinet to begin preparatory work on programs and projects identified in the proposed P1.227-trillion national budget as approved by the House of Representatives.

Highlights of the National Economic and Development Authority -- Cabinet Group Meeting

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2007 | GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT
Original report at Gov.Ph News
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=19062

Malacanang’s Aguinaldo State Dining Room

Measures to reduce elementary & high school drop-out rate (Department of Education Undersecretary Vilma Labrador)

• Top cause of drop-out: children without good pre-school experience are prone to drop out within Grades 1-3.
• President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called on DepEd to concentrate on early childhood investment particularly Grades 4 to 6 students.
• About 4 million of these children are on the streets and are working.
• PGMA also called for focusing on the 10 poorest provinces.
• DepEd to continue to integrate day care & pre-school.
• PGMA called for expansion of universal coverage of 5-year-old kids to be put either in day care or pre-school.

Economic impact of weak exports, oil process and remittances. Acting NEDA Director-General

• Decelerating merchandize exports growth
- Electronic products dominate exports production
- For exports, the impact, as simulated using the 2000 input-output model represents a 3 percentage points (ppts) reduction in exports from 11 percent to 8 percent in 2007.
• Oil prices escalated to 70 percent in July 2007
- percentage point impact on inflation of every 1 percent increase in the following: sugar (0.017576), flour (0.004952) and retail fuel (0.0658)
• Declining OFW deployment/remittances
- strong peso
• LBP (Land Bank of the Philippines) has a branch in Panorama City and two weeks from now the branch in San Francisco will be opened to service almost half of OFWs in the US. A partner branch that allows remittances is also present in Saudi Arabia which hosts around 1.02 million OFWs.

Summary assessment

• Overall, the declining exports will have a significant impact on GDP growth
• The impact of increasing food and fuel prices remains benign given increases are within expectations, thus expected inflation remains unchanged

• The impact of inflation will most likely be felt in 2008
• Remittances remain on-tract despite recent slowdown and is expected to pick up in the 4th quarter
• Continue to encourage placement of OFWs to high-end skills job.

Proposed Action Programs

• Possibility of reducing cost remittances. DBP (Development Bank of the Philippines) and LBP shall explore the possibility of having partnership with Smart and Globe, and pawnshops to reduce cost of remittances.
• DOF (Department of Finance) shall look into the possibility of issuing bonds, the proceeds of which are to be lent out to exporters.
• DOF to study the proposed discounted taxes.
• Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will be invited to the Cabinet Meeting next week to report on possible assistance to reduce cost of financial transactions. (validate)
• DOF to look into the issuance of peso-denominated bonds for infrastructure.

On Flour

• DOF to touch base with Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines if it is possible for them to open a Letter of Credit to a flour supplier to increase his share in the market from 8 percent to 12 percent. If, for any reason, the supplier is not qualified to open an LC, the PITC (Philippine International Trading Corp.) shall be asked to provide the necessary intervention or financing.
• DOF to study the revenue-neutral tariff reduction on flour.

On Sugar

• Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Chairman (Romulo) Neri to discuss how the farmers and LGUs can plant sorghum, taking into consideration the 2 million hectares upland distribution and development for agri-business as well as the necessary financing for qualified beneficiaries under this program.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

What happens if the Senate junks JPEPA?

MEN & EVENTS
By Alito L. Malinao
Original article at The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/oct/16/yehey/opinion/20071016opi6.html

I have attended the five public hearings on the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) conducted jointly by the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and on Trade and Commerce, chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Sen. Mar Roxas, respectively.

In every hearing, militant groups never failed to stage a rally at the premises of the Senate building. I salute the organizers of these rallies for passionately arguing that the treaty would make Japan a neo-colonizer, getting what it failed to get during the Second World War, such as exploiting our natural resources and our workers.

Inside the hearing room, leaders of the anti-JPEPA groups also eloquently and forcefully put forward their arguments.

This could be the reason some of the senators have played to the gallery and have practically poured gasoline to the embers of the junk-JPEPA battle cry.

For example, Senator Roxas has wrongly taken the line of the anti-JPEPA Philippine Nurses’ Association that Filipino nurses hired in Japan would be given only on-the-job-training status. He allowed himself to be interviewed mouthing exactly the canard spread by the PNA.

The truth is that when hired, the Filipino nurses will get the same salaries and benefits granted to Japanese doing the same kind of work. The Filipino nurse would be working under the supervision of a Japanese licensed nurse but definitely not as a nursing aide or trainee.

Of course, the Filipino nurses would have to learn Nihongo because how could he attend to a Japanese patient or get instructions from a Japanese doctor if he does not know the language?

In another hearing, Sen. Jamby Madrigal berated government lawyers, calling them criminals. She was peeved when the government lawyers were seen talking while an anti-JPEPA lawyer was speaking.

These are just examples of how the anti-JPEPA propaganda is succeeding which, incidentally, is being aided by the mainstream media that have a romantic notion of projecting only the negative and never the positive or even a balanced view of the issues.

But let us examine the treaty dispassionately, devoid of rhetoric and semantics.

This boils down to one question: Is the treaty beneficial to the Filipinos? If it is not, then let’s reject it. But if it is, then let’s give it a chance.

At the core of the treaty is liberalized trade in goods and services. The effect of liberalized trade on employment is obvious. As tariffs on our agricultural and manufactured exports are eliminated or lowered, our farms and factories will expand, creating more jobs and ensuring less poverty in our country.

Negative effects

What will happen if the Senate junks the JPEPA?

First, Japan would obviously prefer exports from countries which it has bilateral economic accord such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to the exclusion of those coming from the Philippines.

Second, opportunities for health workers in Japan will be opened to the citizens of the four countries but not of the Philippines. This means that our nurses and caregivers would not be able to take advantage of the competitive salaries offered in Japan to these workers. At present, the average salary of a nurse in Japan is US$3,121, comparable to the prevailing salary in the United States.

Third, more Japanese direct foreign investments will go to the four countries with less to the Philippines. Under the JPEPA, the Board of Investments has projected Japanese FDIs to increase to P222.5 billion from 2007-2010. This would result in additional 350,000 new jobs.

The country will also forgo an expected increase in total tax revenues amounting P7.7 billion as a result of increased economic activities and the surge of exports to Japan with the implementation of the treaty.

Without the JPEPA, the average growth of Philippine exports to Japan would only be about 10 percent whereas with the JPEPA, it would be from 15 percent to 20 percent.

The trend is toward the integration of the economies of East Asia-Asean, China, Japan and South Korea.

JPEPA, therefore, is a very important treaty that the Philippines Senate must ratify as it is an important component of our desire to have a common market that will rival the European Union. And once ratified, the treaty will be a powerful stimulus for growth.

Will the Senate let this rare opportunity pass?