Saturday, 22 December 2007

40T trees to be planted at Subic-Tarlac expressway

Original report at the Sun.Star Pampanga

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- About 40,000 trees will be planted along the Package 2 stretch of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) said.

Trifonio Salazar, SCTEx program manager for administrative support, said the planting of the trees will be jointly conducted by the state-owned firm and the environmental group Clean and Green Foundation Inc.

Salazar said the trees will include indigenous and endemic trees which are naturally and locally grown.

SCTEx Package 2 is from Clark to Tarlac.

"A cluster of 1,000 trees will be planted on every five kilometers on both sides of the four-lane highway. This will make the toll road a more scenic infrastructure for motorists and the traveling public," Salazar said.

About 21 varieties of local trees, like narra, molave and mahogany, will be planted along the roadway that connects the three economic zones in Central Luzon -- the Subic Freeport in Zambales, Clark Freeport in Pampanga, and the Central Techno Park in Tarlac.

Clean and Green Foundation Inc. is led by former First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos. Last September 11, the group visited BCDA to express interest in planting trees along the 93.77-kilometer expressway, Salazar said.

The project is part of the so-called "Trees for Life," program of the foundation calling for both private and government corporations to help in greening the country.

Under the project agreement, Clean and Green Foundation will nurture the trees for two years and then turn them over to BCDA.

Salazar disclosed that the greening of the SCTEx will eventually make it a tree museum showcasing local trees, with billboards containing pieces of information about a certain tree species posted along the highway.

He said the tree planting project conforms to the engineering design of the highway and the safety standards of the Toll Regulatory Board, which makes sure that the trees do not pose danger to motorists and will not adversely affect the power transmission lines of the National Transmission Corporation (Transco). (ABL)

Philippines See Foreign Investment Jumping 100% Next Year

Benjie Telleron -
Original article at All Headline News

Manila, Philippines (AHN) - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philipines central bank, on Thursday announced that it sees foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment would expand by 100 percent next year and reach $6.9 billion from this year's $3.1 billion resulting from positive outlook into the Philippine economy.

Diwa Guinigundo, BSP deputy governor said that according to projections made by the country's finance managers, they forecast net foreign direct investment to total $3.6 billion in 2008 and net foreign portfolio investments at $3.3 billion.

Net FDI for 2007 is seen to reach $1.2 billion until the end of the year because of significant offshore investments by a number of companies.

Earlier, the National Economic Development Authority said the country's gross domestic product or GDP, is expected to expand by at least 7.0 percent this year, beating a government target of 6.1 - 6.7 percent growth.

The better-than-expected performance was the result of the rise in government spending and personal consumption as more Filipinos working abroad also increased the amount of their remittances.

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Psalm declares Aboitiz Power-led consortium new owner of Ambuklao-Binga

By Euan Paulo C. Añonuevo
Original report at The Manila Times

STATE-RUN Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm) has declared the consortium led by Aboitiz Power Corp. as the winning bidder for the Ambuklao-Binga Hydroelectric Power Plant Complex.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Aboitiz Power said Psalm issued to SNAP Hydro, a joint venture with SN Power AS of Norway, the Notice of Award for the facilities, which consist of the 75 megawatt Ambuklao and 100 megawatt Binga plants located in Benguet.

The facilities were bid out as a package. SNAP Hydro tendered the highest offer price of $325 million for the complex.

SNAP Hydro also bagged the 360 megawatt Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant, the country’s largest facility of its kind, in December last year.

Psalm’s announcement clears the way for the consortium’s completion of its financing program for the complex, which SNAP Hydro plans to bankroll through a 70:30 mix in favor of equity as against debt.

The Asset Purchase Agreement for the complex requires SNAP Hydro to deliver at least 40 percent of the purchase price of $325 million as upfront payment payable on or before the closing date. The balance of 60 percent may be paid in 14 equal semiannual payments with an interest of 12 percent per annum compounded semiannually.

The War of the Polls (II): Star disputes Inquirer’s allegations

By Rommel C. Lontayao
Original report at The Manila Times

First it was ABS-CBN versus rival network, GMA 7. Now it’s The Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer that are arguing.

The Star said on Friday that it stands by its claim that more advertisers are reaching consumers through the paper than any other major daily, reacting to a front-page story in the Inquirer alleging that it was making false claims.

It has stopped the publication of an advertisement making claims on its advertising reach after it became the subject of a complaint by the Inquirer. But the Star said it will continue to print similar advertisements, with the visuals presented differently.

Lucien Dy Tioco, the Star’s vice-president for advertising, said they have proof to support their claim made in the ad, which came out November 29 and carried the headline “More advertisers are reaching consumers through The Philippine Star than any other major daily.”

Dy Tioco added that the claim was supported by data from the Nielsen Media Research and was already presented to the Adboard.

The Adboard has issued a cease-and-desist order on December 6, stopping the publication of the Star’s ad for allegedly making “unsubstantiated” claims on its advertising reach and for containing images allegedly “disparaging” to its competitors.

The order was issued in response to a complaint filed by the Inquirer, one of the two other papers depicted in the disputed ad.

The advertisement features a top-view image of three people sharing a small roundtable and each reading a different newspaper. The papers were arranged in a way that they divide the table into three parts, resembling a pie graph.

The Star took up a larger part of the table area than the other papers, implying that it takes the larger portion in the pie graph.

The text at the lower-fold of the ad read, “The Nielsen Media Research Print Advertising Information Service shows that when it comes to advertising, we have a bigger slice of the pie than the other major newspapers.”

The advertising agency McCann Erickson disputed that claim, saying “the data presented does not indicate ‘more advertisers’ are reaching consumers through the Star, only that more ad space is purchased.

The Inquirer also complained that the inclusion of their paper and Manila Bulletin in the “misleading” ad had “cast doubts” on their performance despite both of them having a higher readership than the Star.

According to an article published Friday by the Inquirer, the ad’s visualization of the other major daily newspapers violates Section 2.1, Article 4 of the Adboard Code of Ethics, which says “no ad may disparage a direct competitor [same product] or indirect competitor [direct substitute] to make the competitor look unfavorable.”

Dy Tioco said the cease-and-desist order stopping the publication of the advertisement was issued because of the way the ad was presented, not because of the content or the idea of the ad.

“The problem is on the presentation of the ad, not on the advertising reach claim. We will continue to publish the other version of the ad,” he added.

Meanwhile, Inquirer Publisher Isagani Yambot said they still have to read the explanation given by the Star to the Adboard before making a reaction.

The Star-Inquirer dispute over the true figures on the papers’ advertising reach is not the only recent case of media organizations arguing on who performs better in terms of reaching the public.

Last week, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. filed a civil case against AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines for the latter’s gathering and releasing of allegedly erroneous ratings data.

ABS-CBN also linked rival television network GMA 7 to the alleged tampering of TV ratings meters in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, as allegedly claimed by an official of AGB Nielsen Media Research Philippines.

GMA 7, meanwhile, denied the allegations.

Energy dept. taps SGV, University of Asia and the Pacific

By Paul A. Isla
Original report at The Business Mirror

IN a bid to determine whether price adjustments made by oil companies are reasonable, the Department of Energy (DOE), accounting firm Sycip, Gorres, Velayo and Co. (SGV), and the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the auditing of oil companies financial records.

Under the MOU, the three parties agreed to cooperate in reviewing the reports that will be requested from or submitted by the oil companies; to prepare a fuel-price reasonableness report; review and validate the amounts and computations on the fuel-price reasonableness report; issue an academic expert study and analysis on the reasonableness of the prices effected by the players; and have an enhanced downstream oil database in the DOE through improved data profiling.

As agreed, the DOE shall provide SGV and UA&P the needed information and data that are not privileged and confidential for the analysis of the fuel price reasonableness report.

UA&P, for its part, will determine the information needed to do an academic expert study and analysis of the movements of fuel prices, and shall provide both DOE and SGV such study and analysis of price movements.

SGV, on the other hand, will vet the fuel price-related quantitative information by performing certain agreed-upon procedures, which may include tracing the amounts used in the draft academic expert opinion or analysis to verifiable and/or general public information; and verifying the clerical accuracy of the computations used in the draft expert opinion or analysis.

SGV shall furnish DOE and UA&P a copy of the agreed procedure report.

DOE, using the results of work performed by SGV and UA&P, shall initiate improvements on its data profiling process.

David L. Balangue, SGV and Co. chairman and managing partner, said they (DOE, SGV and UA&P) have yet to agree on the period of cooperation.

They are supposed to meet January 15 to finalize the process, timeframe, periods and requirements from each party. Balangue said they will provide their service free of charge.

“We will just check the veracity. When they submit information/figures, we want to make sure what they submit is correct. And the way to do that is by looking at the underlying documents, reports and other sources –compilation of price and volume of importation,” said Balangue.

He said they will not simply rely on the submissions of the oil companies, but will rely more on third-party information from Singapore (Mean of Platts Singapore).

Balangue expressed the hope that the initiative will be institutionalized. “This is going to be a continuing concern of the transport and public sector. I, as an individual, am also concerned as to the reasonableness of oil and LPG prices.”

He suggested that they look at the years or period where there were several fluctuations of oil and LPG prices and relate this to the pricing that they’ve done.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes earlier said the DOE has sought the help of the SGV and UA&P to collect data on the financial operations of the oil companies in order to enable government to adopt a realistic program to ease the impact locally of the rising global prices of crude oil, particularly on the industrial and transportation sectors.

Reyes said this step was taken following a conference among representatives of the DOE, Department of Trade and Industry and the various transportation sectors, including transportation operators and drivers’ associations.

Also present was Raul Concepcion, chairman of the Consumer and Oil Price Watch, which is keeping a close watch on the trend of oil prices in the world and local markets.

“The data to be collected would enable the government to realistically assess the impact of the price of oil on the economy. He said the effect of the high prices of oil on industry was estimated at only three to five percent, while the transportation sector claimed to experience an effect of from 25 to 30 percent on their gross income,” said Reyes.

Friday, 21 December 2007

RP cyclists are Tour of Thailand overall champs

Original report at GMANews.TV

The Philippine national road team bagged the overall team championship of the Tour of Thailand that ended Friday in the mountain resort city of Chiang Mai, the Philippine Cycling Federation (PhilCycling) said in a statement.

What the Filipino cyclists failed to accomplish in the recent 24th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Nakhon Ratchasima they pulled off with flourish in the race that covered a total distance of 999 kilometers in northern Thailand as they led the general team classification from Day One of the six-stage competition.

The nationals would also bring home a second trophy from the Tour, because as overall champions they automatically topped the ASEAN division of the competition.

The well-travelled team from Japan could only finish second to the
Filipinos, who were led by the promising Irish Valenzuela.

The 20-year-old Valenzuela, second in the first stage, was the
best-placed Filipino at fifth.

Rounding out the top 10 in the general team classification of the Category 2.2 race sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale were Thailand in third, Iran in fourth, followed by Malaysia, the mixed team Giant Asia, Merida Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Vietnam.

A total of 17 teams started in the race but four backed out, including the Thailand B squad which ran out of riders because of injury or exhaustion.

Ahad Kazemi of Iran was the overall individual champion. Indonesia's Tonton Susanto who raced for the Dannish team was second, followed by Hosein Jahanbanian also of Iran in third and SEA Games ITT gold medalist Mahawong Prajak of Thailand in fourth.

Lloyd Reynante landed at ninth place and Victor Espiritu, winner of the SEA Games gold medal in men's point race of track, was 16th. Ronald Gorantes placed 37th.

"The riders were at their peak," head coach Jomel Lorenzo said. "The program for 2007 was to have the riders reach their peak in the SEA Games and it was timely that the Tour of Thailand came just two days after the Games ended."

The nationals stayed behind in Nakhon Ratchasima after the Philippine delegation left Thailand Sunday (December 16).

"It is indeed an amazing year for cycling and we would want to take advantage of this morale-boosting and inspiring performance of our cyclists," PhilCycyling president Bert Lina said.

With four gold medals, cycling emerged as the second best performing sport in the SEA Games, next to swimming with eight.
Those four medals were from Espiritu and Baby Marites Bitbit in women's massed start of road, Alfie Catalan in the men's individual pursuit, and Joey Barna in the men's downhill mountain bike.

In each of the nine days of cycling competitions of the SEA Games, cycling contibuted a medal or two that also resulted to the silver medal of Eusebio Quiñones in mountain bike's men's cross country and the bronze medals of Nino Surban (cross country), Bitbit (women's cross country and individual time trial), Jan Paul Morales (track's 1-kilometer), and Catalan, Paterno Curtan Jr., Ronald Gorantes and Arnold Marcelo (men's team pursuit).

The statement also said that in Lorenzo's initial report to Lina on Friday, he said that a Filipino-Dutch raced for the Merida Netherlands.

Malaya Van Palpalatoc Ruitenbeek, who topped the fifth stage Thursday, has a Filipina mother who hails from Cagayan Valley. He speaks Ilocano and Tagalog and occasionally chatted with the RP nationals.

The Tour of Thailand is only the second international exposure for the national road team after the Asian Cycling Championships in September which was also staged in Thailand.

The other disciplines also had just one foreign exposure – mountain bike in the Asian Championships in China and track at the Track Asia Cup again in Thailand.

Neda board defers final decision on $1.235B MRT-7

By Cai U. Ordinario
Original report at The Business Mirror

THE National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) board has deferred making its final decision on the fate of the Metro Rail Transit-7 (MRT-7) project to next year.

Neda acting director general Augusto Santos said the board, chaired by President Arroyo, opted to evaluate further the counterproposal made by the project’s proponent, a consortium led by Universal LRT Corp.

“Government needs to study further the counterproposal of the proponent. If the government finds the counterproposal acceptable, the project will be submitted to the Neda board for final approval, probably in January,” Santos said in an interview.

Santos said some details of the counterproposal has been changed, particularly on the real-estate development aspect of the project.

The Neda official said that the new counterproposal states that if the proponent is unable to develop the area in San Jose del Monte at the planned site for the final passenger station of MRT 7, the land will be “confiscated” by the government.

Santos said this will give the government the right to bid out the project of developing the land into a mixed-use development complete with a residential area and a commercial area with a mall.

Earlier, the government asked that the counterproposal of the consortium include step-in rights that would allow the government to develop the land.

The project costs $1.235 billion and will be placed under a 25-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme while the real-estate component is worth $2.5 billion. The real-estate project will be located in a 200-hectare area in barangay Tungkong Mangga.

As a BOT project, the MRT-7 project will not involve any form of guarantee from the government.

The Universal LRT Corp. will build the MRT-7, a 22-kilometer mostly elevated rail track from North Ave. in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, including a 22-kilometer six-lane access road from San Jose del Monte to the North Expressway Tollgate in Bocaue, Bulacan.

The consortium includes Siemens AG of Germany; Alstom Corp. of France; China National Technical Import and Export Corp.; EL International Holdings of Hong Kong; Earth Tech of Tyco International USA; Premier Gold of Japan; Redford Assets Ltd. of the SM Group; EEI Corp. of the Yuchengco Group; Penta Capital Management Corp., Merlin Pacific Capital Inc., TCGI Engineers and private investors such as George Go and former finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo.

Korean agency to prepare master plan for DMIA Phase I

By Jacob Cunanan
Original report at The Business Mirror

CLARK FREE PORT—The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) will prepare the master plan for the wholistic development of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) under a $2-million technical grant.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, representing President Arroyo, witnessed the signing of the Records of Discussions between Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) president and chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano and Kim In, resident representative of KOICA, in Malacañang Monday.

Under the agreement, KOICA will provide a technical grant aid equivalent to $2 million which will be used for feasibility studies on Phase I of the DMIA master plan; logistics facilities; runway extension; ground transport center; and the international gateway terminal.

The project aims to contribute to the development of the DMIA and improve airport-related technology in the Philippines through technology transfer of Korea’s airport development expertise.

At the same time, this will strengthen the relationship and cooperation between the two countries through the successful implementation of the project.

Luciano said the project could not have come at a better time as the Philippines will be a signatory to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus Three “Single Skies” policy next year that would open a potential market of at least 500 million passengers annually.

“This project, along with the expansion of the DMIA passenger terminal to increase its capacity to 10 million annually, is in preparation for the full liberalization of air travel in the region by December 2008,” Luciano said.

Transport officials of the 10 Asean countries have already finalized their plan for the implementation of a road map that will allow regional airlines to operate unlimited services on routes between major cities in 2008.

President Arroyo had envisioned DMIA to be the country’s premier international gateway and a globally competitive megalogistics and services hub in the Asia-Pacific.

PSE firms' profit jumps 24% to P204 bln

Original report at ABS-CBN News

Local firms listed at the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) posted an aggregate profit of P203.58 billion for the first nine months, up 24.4 percent from P163.61 billion a year ago.

A study conducted by the bourse likewise indicated that the combined gross revenues of the listed firms rose 12.4 percent to P1.75 trillion during the same period this year from P1.56 trillion a year ago.

This was based on the unaudited financial statements of 231 listed companies, including those of the SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) board, that were submitted to the PSE as of December 14.

"The results of our latest study once again provide us with clear proof that our stock market stands on solid ground," said president and chief executive Francis Lim. "It is also a clear indication that improvements in our macro-economic fundamentals are benefiting the listed companies."

During the first three quarters of the year, the PSE index (PSEi), which is the stock market's main barometer of stock price movements, jumped 19.8 percent from its level at the end of 2006.

"If we can keep in place these strong macro-economic fundamentals, like our low interest and inflation rates, then there is no doubt in my mind that we can sustain our market's advance," he said.

Except for the services sector, all industry groups in the main board and those in the SME board enjoyed double-digit increases in their net profits from January to September this year, according to the PSE study.

In the main board, the holding firms sector recorded the highest growth at 54 percent to a combined net earnings of P53.68 billion in nine-month period from P34.85 billion in the same period last year. Firms in this sector also accounted for the biggest slice of the net earnings pie.

The combined net income of companies in the property sector rose 50.9 percent while those in the mining and oil sector climbed 43.7 percent. The financial sector advanced 18.8 percent and the industrial sector, 18.5 percent.

On a year-on-year basis, the net profits of firms in the SME board went up 20.5 percent to P8.81 billion from P7.31 billion in the previous year.

Companies in the services sector, which accounted for the second-biggest share of total earnings, posted a 2.7 percent increase in combined earnings for the first three quarters to P49.77 billion. Next were sectors industrial (P42.32 billion), financial (P34.22 billion), property (P18.67 billion) and mining and oil (P4.93 billion).

The combined earnings of companies that make up the 30-company PSEi went up 16.7 percent to P140.62 billion compared to P120.51 billion last year.

Senate rushes four more bills before holidays

By Aurea Calica
Original report at The Philippine Star

The Senate passed on third and final reading four more priority bills on Wednesday before it adjourned for the holidays.

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. said the approval of the bills brought to 18 the total number of measures approved since the opening of the 14th Congress.

“This substantiates the commitment and will of the Senate to bring about reforms in our system and to uplift the lives of our people through timely and meaningful legislation,” Villar declared.

Among the newly approved measures are the new charter of the University of the Philippines (UP), the Credit Information System Act, Civil Aviation Authority and World Health Day.

Villar said the Senate made “a record-setting accomplishment” with the approval of the vital measures.

The Senate is normally unable to pass measures during the First Regular Session but “this time, we have already approved 18 bills,” Villar said.

The UP Charter Act will be the new statute to govern the entire UP system. Passed in time for the UP centennial in February 2008, it envisions a national university catering to the brightest and most talented Filipino students through expanded scholarships, research and development, and modern education.

The Credit Information System Act, on the other hand, promotes sound banking practice through the institutionalization of credit worthiness among individuals and corporate account holders.

The Civil Aviation Authority Act is geared towards the modernization of air transportation services, promoting the security and protection of air passengers.

The World Health Day bill provides for the celebration of World Health Day on May 7 of every year.

The passage of the measures also brings to eight the total number of bills passed by the Senate out of the nine priority legislation identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

These consist of the 2008 General Appropriations Act, Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises, Cheaper Medicine Bill, Personal Equity and Retirement Account Act, Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund extension, the Civil Aviation Authority, the UP Charter and the Credit Information System Act.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said the new UP Charter would help stop the exodus of highly-skilled professors to private schools.

The UP Charter also allows the state university to generate income from its idle lands, increase the salaries of its teaching and non-teaching staff and redesign its current curricula, among others.

Pangilinan noted the problems of UP are borne out of a budget too small to reform and improve many of its services.

With the approval of the new UP charter act, the state university will finally be able to generate income through the use of its resources and assets, Pangilinan said.

The measure also institutes provisions on tax incentives on donations to the university as a means to raise more resources from the private sector.

“The recurrent problem of tuition hike, which has hounded the state university for so long, will likewise be abetted as UP will be self-sustaining and the burden will not be cast solely on the students,” Pangilinan said.

He said the present condition of UP “epitomizes the current financial limitations of the university system” in the country.

Voting 15-0, the Senate also passed the bill creating a credit information system (CIS) in the country.

Calling it a tool for financial development, Sen. Edgardo Angara said the CIS would make credit more available to small borrowers who have good track record in paying their obligations.

Angara, as author of the CIS bill, explained the system will gather consumer credit information from financial institutions such as banks, credit card companies and government lending institutions.

Salient amendments to the CIS bill include the requirement for approval for a congressional oversight committee a draft information sheet that it would use to obtain information from borrowers and that this information should be objective and factual.

The CIS is expected to lower the cost of financing because it will reduce the cost of gathering credit information. The amount to be passed on to borrowers will also be reduced. This will likewise lessen the risk of lending money and decrease interest rates on loans.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

ABS-CBN vs GMA: how dependable are opinion polls?

The ongoing spat between ABS-CBN and GMA News shows how even the biggest media organisations in the Philippines doubt the reliability of survey results. Both stations are claiming lack of objectivity in AGB Nielsen's survey outcomes.

It is amusing to note that the two stations who consider polls by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations to be irrefutable dogmas are now at each other's throats for alleged bias or manipulation. If survey results can be influenced, why give them so much credence? Why give them space in the front page?

The country stands to benefit from the tiff between the two stations. The legal tussle will expose the anomalies in these ratings. Yes, fight on, GMA and ABS-CBN! Make it as entertaining and exciting as one of Pacman's bouts. You are doing the nation a great service. Thanks to the two of you, the truth about opinion polls will finally come to light.

Gov't confident RP economy to finish 2007 on strong note

Original report at Gov.Ph News

San Fernando City, La Union -- The government expects the economy to finish 2007 on strong note as it posted a record monthly surplus of P54.1 billion in November, an increase in exports and a robust consumer spending in the last quarter of the year.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC), an interagency body that sets the government's economic targets and policies, projected the economy to grow between 6-9 and 7.3 percent in the last quarter of 2007, putting the Philippines on track for seven percent full-year growth, the fastest in 30 years.

Earlier, President Arroyo has lauded the 10.5 percent increase in merchandize exports for October 2007 after posting single-digit growth rates since February this year.

After suffering two consecutive months of negative growth rates, exports of electronics products led by semi-conductors have also rebounded with a remarkable 111.6 percent growth particularly in consumer electronics.

Other products also posted sturdy growth for the month such as office equipment (35.2 %), control and instrumentation (78.5%) and automotive electronics (65.3%), according to the National Statistics Office.

Based on NEDA report, shipments of total agro-based products increased by 51 percent due to strong coconut products (105.3%) which continue to benefit from improved prices of coconut oil in the world market. Other agri-products such as abaca fibers (48.8%), tobacco (42.9%) also contributed to the strong export growth.

The peso, the best performer among the Asian currencies has gained more than 18 percent so far this year and looks set to surge further over Christmas as millions of overseas – based Filipinos send more money for the holidays to their families in the Philippines.

The posted budget surplus has tremendously reduced the deficit and gives government better chance to end up the year with a balanced budget. (PIA La Union)

Philippines Cuts Key Rate to Sustain Economic Growth (Update 1)

By Francisco Alcuaz Jr.

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippine central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for a fourth time this year to sustain the economy's fastest expansion in at least three decades and as inflation holds below target.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reduced its overnight borrowing rate by a quarter point to 5.25 percent, Governor Amando Tetangco told reporters in Manila today. The move was predicted by 10 of 12 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Two expected the rate to be kept unchanged.

``With inflation low and the peso strong, you can maintain growth by cutting rates,'' said Luz Lorenzo, an economist at ATR KimEng Securities Inc. in Manila, before today's report. The rising peso ``makes it hard for exporters.''

Lower interest rates may damp gains by the peso, easing pressure on exports, which comprise about two-fifths of the economy. The peso has risen more than 17 percent against the dollar this year, buoyed by remittances from the one in 10 Filipinos who live and work abroad.

Philippine government bonds today rose on speculation the central bank will cut its benchmark rate. The peso was unchanged against the dollar. The decision was announced after financial markets closed.

New Rules

To restrain gains in the peso, the central bank will waive approvals for foreign exchange transactions of $30,000 or less and overseas investments of $30 million and below. The limits were previously $10,000 and $12 million respectively.

Among other revisions, Bangko Sentral said it will allow banks to trade foreign-currency swaps with tenors of less than 30 days. The bank didn't say when the measures will take effect.

Inflation averaged 2.7 percent in the first 11 months, below the central bank's 4 percent to 5 percent target, as the peso's strength lowered the cost of imports, including oil.

Tetangco said Dec. 12 the bank has more ``elbow room'' to cut borrowing costs after the U.S. Federal Reserve reduced its key rate, particularly as the inflation outlook is ``benign.'' Bangko Sentral has cut the key rate in its last two monetary policy meetings to the lowest level since 1992.

Economic growth may slow to 6.3 percent next year from as much as 7.3 percent this year in part because ``the strong peso is affecting exports,'' Economic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said Dec. 14.

Philippine growth is being driven by money sent home by Filipinos working abroad, lower borrowing costs and state spending on infrastructure. As export growth slows, the government is seeking to create jobs locally to reduce reliance on maids, nurses and engineers leaving to work overseas.

Merchandise exports fell 7.5 percent in pesos in the third quarter after growing 5.9 percent in the previous three months, the statistics office said last month. Growth in shipments this year may be slower than the 12 percent pace in 2007.

To contact the reporter for this story: Francisco Alcuaz Jr. in Manila at

Palace may call special session if . . .

By Mia M. Gonzalez
Original report at The Business Mirror

PRESIDENT Arroyo gave lawmakers a sort of incentive to fast-track all nine administration priority bills to complete legislative work on them by dangling the possibility she may call a special session during the Christmas break if the bills are snagged in Congress.

One of the urgent bills is the 2008 national budget. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said, “If they don’t want their Christmas break to be disrupted, they might as well finish their work because if the President feels like calling for a special session, there may be one from December 26 to 28.”

He said, however, that she would not do this unilaterally but will consult with leaders of both houses of Congress. Ermita is confident Congress would be able to pass at least five priority measures before it goes on recess.

The bills that Ermita thinks could be passed this year besides the national budget are the cheaper medicines bill, amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, the amnesty bill and amendments to the University of the Philippines Charter.

The other priority measures are the Civil Aviation Authority bill, the Personal Equity and Retirement Account bill, agricultural competitiveness enhancement fund, Credit Information System Act, and the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises.

Only one out of 10 priority bills approved

Full report at BusinessWorld Online

CONGRESS HAS RATIFIED just one out of 10 priority bills targeted for complete legislative action before both chambers go on approximately a month-long Christmas break.

The House of Representatives adjourned late yesterday afternoon, while the Senate was still in session as of press time. Both chambers are scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 28.

Gov’t personnel, families thank GMA for cash gift

By ET Suarez
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

The Confederation of Government Employees Organizations, Inc. (COGEO) conveyed to President Arroyo yesterday the sincerest and heartfelt gratitude of 1.4 million civil service employees and members of their families for granting P10,000 cash gift to every government employee.

In a resolution approved by COGEO’s entire board led by its president Floriño O. Ibañez and Jesus I. Santos, chairman of COGEO’s Council of Elders, the confederation said the R10,000 cash gift will greatly help the 1.4 million workers and their families to appropriately celebrate the Christmas season.

"We will never forget, Madam President, your wholehearted concern to help us meet our needs during the Christmas season," COGEO said in a resolution addressed to Mrs. Arroyo.

The P10,000 cash gift or performance bonus to each of the 1.4 million government employees was provided under Administrative Order No. 213 signed by the President last Dec. 12.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said the funds for the performance bonuses, amounting to P7 billion to P10 billion, were released last Saturday, Dec. 15, and last Monday, Dec. 17.

The performance bonuses were granted to all government personnel who have not received any additional year-end benefit in fiscal year 2007, over and above the benefit authorized under Republic Act 6686 as amended by R.A. 8441.

Andaya said the government was prepared to release up to P10 billion if almost everyone of the close to one million national government employees receives the full P10,000 performance bonus.

For constitutional offices like the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Commission on Audit (CoA), and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) that enjoy fiscal autonomy, Andaya said the bonuses would be sourced from their corporate bonuses.

He said for governmentowned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, the performance bonuses would come from their respective corporate budgets.

"Government corporations that do not have sufficient savings may grant just a part of the performance bonuses as long as each employee would receive the same percentage of what he or she is entitled to receive," Andaya said.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Kuwait set to sign $10B deal with RP

KUWAIT, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Kuwaiti companies including Agility are poised to clinch a $10 billion contract to build an airport and other infrastructure in the Philippines, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas reported on Sunday.

Agility, a logistics company that supplies U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Abraj Holding were among the firms that would sign a contract within two days, Qabas said, citing a "well informed source".

Abraj and Agility said they had yet to agree a deal and gave no details.

"No memorandum of understanding has been reached yet," Abraj said in a statement on the bourse Web site. It said it was speaking for Agility as well.

The contract involves building an airport, a power station and a railway line and other infrastructure at a location about 20 km (12 miles) from the capital Manila, Qabas said.

Qabas has in the past broken stories on Agility's contracts. It reported on Aug. 13 that the Kuwaiti company was bidding for a stake in state-owned Telekom Kenya. Agility won the bid last month. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Gov't workers receive promised P10,000 bonus

Original report at GMANews.TV

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

Auction’s result: a P12.6-B surplus

By Jun Vallecera
Original report at The Business Mirror

For the first time since the Ramos presidency in the 1990s, the national government reported an 11-month surplus totaling P12.6 billion.

The surplus boosted the likelihood the national coffers will end this year on a balance at the very least or even post a surplus not seen since then- President Ramos reported to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that his government rounded 1997 with a P1-billion surplus.

Debt-laden Manila at that time was seeking the release of an IMF loan tranche that was tied to how well the government was handling the finances of the entire public sector.

The 11-month surplus represented a turnaround from the year-ago deficit of P58.3 billion.

“NG posted a surplus in November amounting to P54.1 billion compared to the deficit of P5.8 billion for the same period last year,” Finance Secretary Margarito Teves told reporters.

He attributed the excess to the sale of the energy-development outfit of the Philippine National Oil Co., or the PNOC-EDC, whose privatization generated a one-off sum of P47 billion.

The PNOC-EDC sale generated the single-biggest item remitted to the Treasury of the total P90.6-billion gross proceeds reported thus far, Privatization Management Office chief Crisanta Legaspi said.

Unlike the IMF, which frowns upon asset-sale proceeds to buttress revenue numbers, Teves said the privatization program has proven a huge success.

A legal issue also arising from the sale of PNOC-EDC was thrown aside, with Finance Undersecretary Jeremias Paul arguing the continued backing of the national government on the loans of the now-privatized energy company should never be a problem.

“This is a continuance of an NG guarantee or an act of honor, not a new contractual obligation,” Paul explained.

Besides, he quickly added, the government has raised to 2 percent a year the guarantee fee the private owners must pay the state, from only 1 percent originally, on top of a rider that raises the fee in increments of 25 basis points.

Eleven-month revenues grew 18 percent year-on-year to P1.044 trillion, faster than expenditures that grew just under 10 percent to P1.031 trillion, according to Teves.

The surplus of P54.1 billion in November alone reflected revenues totaling P148.3 billion versus expenses of only P94.2 billion, he said.

Aside from asset sale proceeds, the low interest rate regime allowed the government to generate interest savings reaching P33.2 billion from year to date, of which P1.5 billion were realized in November alone, according to Teves.

Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran said the Bureau of Internal Revenue and its 11-month collection of P647.7 billion was “inching closer to its target collection efficiency ratio” but outperformed by the Bureau of Customs which has already breached its target efficiency number for the year.

The BOC under Napoleon Morales collected P192.1 billion in 11 months versus mandate of only P181 billion.

CIAC employee returns P410,000 to Korean investor

By Ding Cervantes
Original report at The Philippine Star

CLARK FREEPORT, Pam­panga – He could have opted for Christmas noche buena that’s P410,000 more sumptuous.

But even at age 36, it never occured to Ronald Alfonso, an employee of the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) here, that plentiful Christmas could be had at the expense of his rather instinctive honesty.

Alfonso, whose official position is “land side officer I” at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) run by the CIAC here, could have kept $10,000 cash he found on the road outside the airport terminal at about 12:20 a.m. on Dec. 9. But he did not. At the rate of P41 to the dollar, his find amounted to about P410,000.

The bundled cash, whose paper band indicated the amount $10,000, was not contained in an envelop or bag and was just lying on the side of the road where a car had fetched the last passenger to leave the terminal from an Asiana flight from South Korea.

“I was on duty at the section outside the terminal building for welcomers. I just saw the cash in a bundle just lying there,” Alfonso recalled.

“Ay, ang daming pera,” was the first thought that came upon Alfonso on seeing the cash which he immediately picked up.

Alfonso told The Star, however, that he never thought for a moment to pocket the money. “Madami nga, hindi naman sa akin. (It’s a lot of cash, but it isn’t mine),” he also thought upon picking up the cash. He did not hesitate to immediately approach his immediate superior Allan Gil Nicdao and informed him of the details of his discovery.

“He told me to hold on to the cash and wait for any claimant,” he said. After 10 minutes, a Korean named Mun Byuong Chul of the Philexcel Industrial Park here, arrived with two other companions and reported having lost $10,000 cash.

Alfonso and other security personnel interviewed the claimant to make sure he owned the cash, even as Alfonso testified that the car used by the Korean was the last vehicle he saw leaving the welcomers area last.

The grateful Korean rewarded Alfonso $400 which he accepted only upon the insistence of the foreigner. “I really didn’t expect anything in return. The reward was really unnecessary,” Alfonsos said.

CIAC executive vice president Alexander Cauguiran said Alfonso will receive today a “surprise” from the CIAC management for his honesty. “Of course, there will be a certificate of recognition, but there’s another surprise to be announced during our Christmas party,” he said.

CIAC vice president for finance Romeo Dyoco said that for his deed, Alfonso is expected to get a promotion. The cash he found is the biggest so far in the history of the airport here, Dyoco said.

Alfonso has been an employee at the airport for 11 years now and gets a salary of P19,700 monthly. He has two other siblings who already have their own families. – With Ric Sapnu

BSP expects FDIs to surge in ’08

By Des Ferriols
Original report at The Philippine Star

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) expects foreign direct investments to surge in 2008, led by inflows into the mining and manufacturing sectors.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said yesterday that foreign direct investments would increase “significantly” although he said the actual numbers were still being worked out.

“We expect a significant increase in the level of foreign direct investments in 2008 compared to this year,” Tetangco said. “We expect that this increase will come primarily from the mining and manufacturing sectors, especially eletronics.”

Despite the gloomy outlook on the global economy in 2008, Tetangco said investments in the leading sectors like mining and electronics would continue to increase especially since the country’s macroeconomic prospects are improving.

This year, net foreign direct investments are projected to exceed $2 billion despite significant slowdowns recorded in the first eight months, surpassing the original projection of $1.1 billion for the whole year.

At the end of the first eight months, net foreign direct investments have reached $1.7 billion, indicating that the end-year total would be significantly higher than originally expected.

Tetangco said the BSP is looking at projects in the pipeline to determine the actual numbers for 2008 but even with uncertainties clouding investment prospects, he said indicators remain positive.

According to Tetangco earlier, there would be no slowdown in net FDI because there would be other sources of demand that would pick up the slack in US demand as its economy slows down.

“Asian markets are particularly strong and we believe Asian economies such as China and India are going to be able to pick up the slack,” Tetangco said.

“Besides, the US economy is not contracting, it’s still going to grow, it will just slow down,” he added.

Tetangco expressed optimism that if investors would have to pick between two countries to put in their direct investments, the Philippines would be an easy pick because of its improving macro-economics as well as its labor force.

“On the whole we are not expecting FDI to slow down and the net inflow would still be better than our original projection,” he said.

The other side of the Sumilao controversy

Concern aired over ‘twisting of facts’ in Sumilao controversy
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Former Vice Gov. Antonio Medina and the lawyers of the company that sold the land in Bukidnon to a big local conglomerate have expressed grave concern over the way the facts of the case are being twisted by "some unknown hands.’’

"It’s about time that people should know the real truth about this case. Twisting of facts and the entry of unaccountable personalities who hide behind the cloak of those alleged farmers must end once and for all so the investment climate will clear up and be favorable to all companies that have real concern to the uplift of our people and our country,’’ said Medina, spokesman of the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management Development Corp. (NQSRMDC).

"Our leaders are men and women who believe in the rule of law and not of the mob. They should not simply succumb to those alleged farmers who wanted to twist the arms of the government for their selfish agenda," Medina said.

Atty. Alex Carandang of Carandang Sallan & Jocson Law Offices, lawyer of NQSRMDC, said the alleged farmers who represented themselves as tillers of the 144 hectares of land their company had formerly owned in Barangay San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, "have no legal personality in the first place’’ and should not be entertained since there is already a final Supreme Court decision on the matter.

Carandang also said that "the present issues raised by them before the DAR and the Office of the President were already passed upon by the Supreme Court in a decision dated April 24, 1998, affirming an earlier Office of the President approval on the conversion of the proto agro-industrial use.’’

The motions for reconsideration filed later on were "denied with finality’’ by the High Court on Aug. 25, 1999.

"We are bothered by the way the Supreme Court was criticized as having been allegedly influenced in their decision on the matter. That’s unfair and contemptible attack on the integrity of the Supreme Court and it should not be countenanced as the High Court still stood as the last bastion of democracy in this country,’’ Medina said.

He said the Quisumbings have already lost big tracts of land to the land reform program of the government without being paid what is due them yet – more than 1,000 hectares of pasture and more than 400 hectares of cogonal land, also in Bukidnon, while the matriarch, Lourdes Buencamino, lost her inherited lands in Nueva Ecija.

The alleged farmers were not tenants of NQSRMDC even before it was sold to San Miguel Foods, Inc. in 2002, three years after the Supreme Court decision became final and executory, Carandang said.

"In fact, it was clearly stated in the High Court decision that these farmers are merely recommendee farmer beneficiaries, that their interest over the land in question is a mere expectancy, and therefore, they are not real parties in interest.’’

"When the NQSRMDC sold the 144 hectares of land in Sumilao to San Miguel Foods, Inc., not a single soul was even tilling the land or even lived there and the contract of Del Monte had already expired,’’ he said.

"It is also proven that those leading these alleged farmers are not landless as they present themselves to be. They had already been given a total of 65.473 hectares of land of the former Salvador P. Carlos Estate which is adjacent to the Quisumbing property. So, they are not landless as they claim to be.’’

The sale of the 144- hectare property to SMFI was above board and done in good faith and the NQSRMDC knew that San Miguel is in much better position to develop the land and bring progress to the province of Bukidnon through its proposed multi-billion projects, according to Carandang.

He added that SMFI did not veer away from the original plan of the NQSRMDC to make the land an agro-industrial and institutional area.

"The development of the property into a commercial and modern hog farm is consistent with such use since the High Court and even the Department of Agriculture had ruled that commercial swine-raising is an agro-industrial use,’’ he said.

"We have reports that SMFI had already poured more than a billion pesos in the development of the area, whose estimated project cost is R2.4 billion. This only goes to show that their contention that the five-year deadline on the issuance of the conversion authority had already lapsed is wrong.

"The certificate of zoning compliance (which is the equivalent development permit being issued by the local government) was issued only last Oct. 26, 2004, leaving the SMFI lots of leeway to fully develop the property for agroindustrial use up to Oct. 26, 2009,’’ Carandang said.

Medina decried the Sumilao march as nothing but a propaganda play to drumbeat CARP’s extension beyond 2008. "The farmers of Sumilao are but pawns and small players in a bigger drama desperately pushed for CARP extension and to destabilize and finally bring down the Arroyo government,’’ he said.

Medina urged the government to be firm and vigilant and not to be taken hostage by the Sumilao activists and their handlers in achieving ends that are outside the country’s agrarian reform policy and against the rule of law and order.

"A just and equitable agrarian reform can be achieved through due process, rule of law, and respect for decisions of institutions like the Supreme Court. The Sumilao way is counter-productive to the attainment of real agrarian reform,’’ Medina said.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's top legal adviser on Tuesday assured that San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) will be compensated when the government enf

Full and original report at GMANews.TV

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's top legal adviser on Tuesday assured that San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) will be compensated when the government enforces the newly signed order placing the contested 144-hectare property in Sumilao in Bukidnon for distribution to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol on Tuesday assured that SMFI, owner of the contested Sumilao Estate, will be paid through computations under Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).

"Yes, definitely, oo ... Hindi naman libre ito e (yes ... This things isn't free)," Apostol told dzBB radio when asked if the SMC will be paid the value of the land.

He added that, "Since the land has been reverted back to agricultural classification, it can be placed under CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program), if it is under CARP then the land can be distributed to tenant-beneficiaries."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, after consulting with the President, signed the order revoking the conversion of the Sumilao property at 12:10 p.m. Tuesday.

"Based on the President's consultation with the farmers, religious and also based on the investigation of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the recommendation of the DAR states that there was a violation of the conditions of the conversion order. That was the basis for the order," Bunye said.

He said the Quisumbing family, the first owner who filed for conversion, initially announced that it will turn the area into an agro-industrial estate, with the Development Academy of Mindanao covering 24 hectares; the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park consisting of 67 hectares; forest development estimates to cover 33 hectares; and support facilities covering 20 hectares.

"Instead of the projects, they implemented a hog farm in the area which, according to the DAR, is a violation because it changes or it amends the conversion order," Bunye said.

San Miguel Foods, which purchased the land from the Quisumbings, wants to turn the area into a hog farm.

Bunye said he personally relayed the news to the Sumilao farmers at the nearby College of Holy Spirit. The farmers had "mixed feelings" about the President's decision, Bunye said.

Asked if Mrs Arroyo already spoke with San Miguel about her decision, Bunye said that, "I'm not privy to the discussions but on my own personal knowledge, I know that as of this morning, Secretary Ermita was contacting the head of San Miguel."

In a phone interview with GMANews.TV, Apostol said that, "The compensation that will be received by San Miguel will be based on 'CARL formula.'"

However, the landowner San Miguel "will be given 15 more days to contest the decision of the president through a motion for reconsideration filed at the Office of the Executive Secretary."

He said the Higaonon farmers who sought ownership of the estate will become CARP "beneficiaries."

Arroyo takes steps to ease OFWs' money woes

Original article at GMANews.TV

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave a number of instructions to members of her Cabinet meant to carry out measures envisioned to help overseas Filipino workers and their families cope with the steadily rising value of the peso against the US dollar.

First, she asked the Department of Finance to take a serious look at the possibility of halting or reducing foreign borrowings to temper the strength of the peso against the dollar.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet security cluster meeting in Malacanang, the President also asked banks to reduce remittance costs.

Then, she turned to the Department of Labor and Employment for the adoption of stricter rules against abusive recruiters and employers to protect the incomes of OFWs.

She tasked Labor Secretary Arturo Brion to set up a telephone hotline where OFWs can air complaints through calls or SMS (short messaging system).

Gamitin natin ang galing ng Pinoy sa call center na tulungan ang mga bagong bayani natin," she said.

Arroyo asked other government agencies to help the public cope with the rising prices of basic commodities by fast-tracking the distribution of affordable rice, setting up of Tindahan Natin kiosks and Botika ng Batangay outlets, as well as barangay food terminals, electrification of areas without power and the provision of safe water.

Turning to the Department of Trade, Arroyo directed Secretary Peter Favila to coordinate with local officials in monitoring of the prices of basic consumer goods in the market to make sure sellers are not unduly taking advantage of the situation by unreasonably jacking up their prices at the expense of poor Filipino families.

The President lauded the Department of Energy for working with the audit firm Sycip, Gorres and Velayo in looking at the earnings of oil companies to ensure they are not raising their prices beyond the reasonable level.

Last week, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said his department is accelerating the payment of foreign loans, borrowing less in dollars, creating attractive investment opportunities and reducing remittance costs to soften the impact of a strong peso on overseas Filipino workers and exporters.

“Responding to the concerns of the overseas Filipinos and exporters is a priority of the administration," Teves assured.

In line with this objective, Teves said the finance department, in cooperation with government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, has been taking concrete steps to help protect these key contributors to economic growth from the peso’s rapid appreciation against the US dollar.

The peso has steadily been gaining against the US dollar in the last two years, from P52 to P56 level at the start of 2006 to the P41 level this month.

OFWs have been complaining that part of their earnings sent to their families in the Philippines have practically been reduced by 20 to 25 percent as a consequence of the appreciation of the peso against the US currency.

In view of mounting clamor for government intervention in the foreign exchange rate, Teves said one of the measures considered is for the GFIs to reduce remittance fees. For one, he said, Land Bank of the Philippines has already reduced in November its remittance charges in its San Francisco, California branch by as much as $4, thus bringing the dollar-to-peso remittances to a range of $6 to $9 from $7 to $13.

Teves, also chairman of Landbank, said the possibility of adopting the same scheme in all LBP branches may be considered.

“We are encouraging other banks engaged in the remittance business to also reduce their charges to help our overseas Filipinos," he said.

The DoF is also reducing its dollar borrowings from 36 percent to only 30 percent and increasing the peso share from 64 percent to 70 percent by issuing more peso-denominated government securities in the domestic market by roughly P20 billion.

Teves said the DoF will seek approval from the inter-agency Development Budget Coordinating Council on the proposed borrowing mix.

Discussions are continuing with foreign creditors on advance payment of loans in dollars that carry high interest rates. This way, the government would generate savings because it would need fewer pesos to buy dollars and pay off debts. The government would also save on interest payments.

Teves said another measure considered is the issuance of bonds in early 2008 that will provide overseas Filipinos with higher interest income compared to what they may be earning in regular deposit accounts.

“These measures can directly assist in slowing down the peso’s appreciation against the US dollar or provide overseas Filipinos with opportunities to increase interest income or reduce remittance costs," Teves explained.

Housing loan rates to dip further due to strong economy - VP

By Amita Legaspi
Original article at GMANews.TV

Housing loan rates in the Philippines will likely go down in the near future as the economy improves, Vice President Noli de Castro, who is also the country's housing czar, said Tuesday.

In a statement, de Castro said no less than President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo expressed intention to lower the loan interest rates so that more Filipinos can afford to buy their own house and lots. De Castro sits as board chairman of the Home Mutual Development Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund.

The lower rates, de Castro said, will be caused by the country's surging economy.

"If that happens, housing loan interest rates are expected to go down as well as far as Pag-IBIG is concerned," he said.

He added: "I hope that our soldiers and other workers from the government take this opportunity."

In November of 2006, Pag-IBIG lowered its rates to to 6 percent for housing loans amounting to P300,000 from the earlier 12 percent to 13 percent rate.

"You cannot find such an interest rate in the country today. It’s only Pag-IBIG which is capable of offering that," de Castro said.


Press Release
National Statistics Office
Full report here:

The employment rate in October 2007 was registered at 93.7 percent, higher than last year's rate of 92.7 percent.

Across regions, employment rate was highest in Cagayan Valley (97.7%). Other regions with relatively high employment rate were: Zamboanga Peninsula (97.1%), Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (97.0%), Cordillera Administrative Region (96.9%), Eastern Visayas (96.8%) and MIMAROPA (96.3%). The National Capital Region (NCR) had the lowest at 89.4 percent.

There were 35.9 million persons in the labor force in October 2007 out of the estimated 56.9 million population 15 years old and over. This translates to a labor force participation rate of 63.2 percent, lower than last year's figure of 64.0 percent.

Of the estimated 35.9 million persons in the labor force, 93.7 percent or nine out of ten persons were employed. Almost half or 48.8 percent were in the services sector, almost the same percentage was recorded in October 2006 at 48.6 percent. More than one third (36.1%) were in the agriculture sector and the rest (15.1%) in the industry sector.

The laborers and unskilled workers constituted the largest occupation group with 32.0 percent of the total employed population. Farmers, forestry workers and fishermen registered the next largest group of workers, comprising 18.7 percent of the total employed persons.

Employed persons fall into any of these three categories: wage and salary workers, own account workers and unpaid family workers. Wage and salary workers are those who work for private establishments, government or government corporations and those who work with pay in own-family operated farm or business. More than half (51.1%) of the total employed persons in October 2007 were wage and salary workers mostly working for private establishments (37.7%). Those working for the government or government corporations accounted for 7.8 percent. More than one-third of the total employed population in October 2007 were own-account workers accounting for 36.5 percent of the total employed with self-employed workers registering the larger share at 32.3 percent.

Employed persons are classified as either full-time workers or part-time workers. Full-time workers are those who work for 40 hours or more while part-time workers, less than 40 hours. In October 2007, six out of ten employed persons were full-time workers, most of them working for 40 to 48 hours (41.9% of total employed) while part-time workers comprised 35.1 percent of the total employed.

Employed persons who want or desire additional hours of work are considered underemployed. The number of underemployed persons in October 2007 was estimated at 6.1 million, placing the underemployment rate at 18.1 percent, lower than last year's estimate of 20.4 percent. More than half (58.5%) of the underemployed were reported as visibly underemployed, or had been working for less than 40 hours a week. About 40.1 percent were underemployed working full-time. Underemployed persons working in the agriculture sector accounted for 48.6 percent of the total underemployed in October 2007. Those in the services sector accounted for 37.0 percent, while those in the industry sector, 14.4 percent.

The unemployment rate of 6.3 percent in October 2007 was lower than last year's estimate of 7.3 percent. Among the regions, only the National Capital Region (NCR) recorded a double-digit unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, which is also the highest among the regions.

The proportion of males to total unemployed (63.5%) in October 2007 is greater than that of females (36.5%). Unemployed persons who had attained high school level comprised 46.2 percent of the total unemployed, of which 33.2 percent were graduates. About 39.5 percent of the total unemployed had reached college level, and 13.7 percent attained elementary level.


2008 threats: Fiscal stress, weak export demand, inflation

By Cai U. Ordinario
Original article at The Business Mirror

DESPITE the upward revision of government economic targets, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) acknowledged there are still several challenges that may seriously threaten growth, particularly for 2008.

On Friday, the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) had raised the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) target for 2008 to 7 percent from 6.3 percent.

In a year-end briefing, Neda Acting Director General Augusto Santos said these challenges are the need to improve competitiveness, maintaining the country’s fiscal health to achieve a balanced budget, the weak external demand for exports due to the slowdown in the United States economy and the cooling of the Japanese economy, and the spike in inflation due to high oil prices.

Santos said raising competitiveness is imperative for the Philippines in the view of the robust growth of countries in the Asia-Pacific region that poses increased difficulties to the country’s export industry.

He said that for 2008, the government projects export growth to decline to 8 percent due to the slowdown and possible recession in the US next year and the slow growth of the Japanese economy.

The US and Japan are the two largest export markets of the Philippines. The National Statistics Office (NSO) recently reported that exports to the US accounted for 17.7 percent of total exports in October while exports to Japan accounted for 14 percent. Santos said the government projects Dubai crude to be within the $80-to-$90-per-barrel range in 2008 while the peso would average P42 to P45 per dollar.

To further help exporters, Santos intends to propose that the government for the meantime decline all ODA loan offers that are in funds, but accept those that will be in kind such as machinery or equipment for projects.

Santos said that once dollar-denominated ODA loans enter the country as cash, such allows the peso to further appreciate. The appreciation of the peso is one of the biggest problems of exporters and even overseas Filipino workers who have so far experienced a 17-percent decline in their earnings.

“The government’s infrastructure projects will not be affected. [This proposal] will not have a negative impact on projects,” he said.

He added that apart from ODA loans, structural loans should also be declined by the government. Structural loans also come in the form of dollars in exchange for certain reforms such as liberalizing rules.

In the past, when the government did not have dollars to finance oil imports, it accepted dollars from multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation in exchange for reforms in the government system.

“We don’t need additional dollars. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has told us that there are about $32 billion somewhere in the system and we can use that for government projects. This means that if you need dollars, you can easily get it [from] local banks,” Santos explained.

Growth factors for 2008 are expected by the government to be expansions in the agriculture, fishery and forestry sector, higher growth in the industry sector, and the continued stellar performance of the services sector fueled by increased infrastructure development, increased technology and extension services, more post-harvest facilities, accessibility of rural credit and use of high-yielding variety seeds.

Director Shiela Encabo of the Neda Agriculture Staff said the Department of Agriculture projects a 5-percent growth rate in 2008 and also 5 percent this year if no more typhoons hit the country by yearend, adding a major typhoon may reduce growth for the whole year to 4.8 percent to 4.9 percent.

Higher outputs from industry are expected mostly in nonmetallic mineral production, basic metal industries, metal and metal industry, semiconductors, and machinery and transport equipment.

On the expenditure side, Santos said growth will still be driven by private consumption supported by OFW remittance inflows as well as capital formation buoyed by construction and durable equipment expenditures and infrastructure investments.

Boxing: Pacman disappointed by ‘walkout’

Original report at The Manila Bulletin

A FEW days before members of the Philippine boxing team to the 24th Southeast Asian Games left for Thailand, they had VIP visitors at their training headquarters at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.

Boxing star Manny Pacquiao and godfather Manny V. Pangilinan took time off from their hectic schedules last Dec. 1 and spent 45 minutes at the ABAP telling the fighters to go all-out regardless of the odds.

While Pangilinan’s statements were generic, Pacquiao’s were not.

Pacquiao had specifically told the fighters to fight to the end, and the world’s most exciting puncher was disappointed when told about the walkout that took place during the gold medal bouts in the SEAG late last week.

"Not good," said Pacquiao. "I was sad when news broke out that the fighters staged a walkout."

"If you remember it right, I went to see the Filipino fighters at the ABAP Gym before they went to Thailand to provide moral support and I recalled saying to them that they should not worry about their foes as long as they gave out their best," said Pacquiao.

Still, Pacquiao could not point an accusing finger on his fellow boxers.

"I cannot blame them for what they did. I know that there is a reason even if the boxers really wanted to fight. They were asked by high-ranking officials and they just followed orders because the officials believed they were not being treated fairly," Pacquiao said.

Pacquiao said "there are many ways to avoid being cheated."

"To those who said that our boxers were being cheated, perhaps it is time for the coaches to think of ways on how we can beat them because it is not right for us to just stage a walkout if we feel we are not being treated well," said Pacquiao, who even went to the extent of setting his upcoming rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez as an example.

"Take my case. I fought with Marquez and knocked him down thrice but the fight was declared a draw. This time, I will do everything to make sure this fight will not end up like it did the first time."

Monday, 17 December 2007

PGMA meets with Sumilao farmers in Malacañang

Original report at Gov.Ph News

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo met in Malacanang this afternoon with representatives of the Higaonon farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon.

Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio R. Bunye said the meeting that began at 2 p.m. and lasted for an hour gave hope to the Sumilao farmers that their problem would finally be resolved.

“The attendees left with the feeling that a solution to the 10-year-old problem is in sight,” Bunye said.

During the meeting, the farmers personally handed to the President a letter from Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Bunye said.

He added that during the “heart-to-heart meeting, the farmers expressed their hopes and aspirations which Bukidnon Gov. Jose Ma. Zubiri endorsed.”

The representatives of the farmers included Napoleon Merida Jr., chairman of the San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA); Samuel and Elgene Merida, Linda Ligmon, Garry Galarrita, Elgene Merida, and Hilda San-ahan.

They were accompanied by Bishops Broderick Fabillo and Francisco Claver, Fr. Danny Huang and Fr. Anton Pascual of Caritas Manila, their lawyers Marion Manuel and Arlene Bag-ao, and a non-government organization worker Jane Capacio.

San-ahan tightly embraced the President when the Chief Executive walked toward the six farmer representatives to personally greet them a Merry Christmas.

The farmers earlier heard mass at the San Beda Church, where they were joined unexpectedly by Bunye, Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, and Presidential Management Staff Director-General Cerge Remonde.

They were invited to lunch at the Palace before the meeting with the President.

Fifty-six Sumilao farmers marched for almost two months and some 1,700 kilometers from Bukidnon to Metro Manila to dramatize their demand to be reinstated as owners of a property previously awarded them under the agrarian reform program.

However, the San Miguel Foods Inc. purchased the property five years ago and the Supreme Court had ruled that the said property is not covered by land reform.

San Miguel Foods Inc., a business conglomerate of San Miguel Corporation, is now developing the property into an agro-industrial estate complete with a modern feed mill complex, poultry, piggery, and a waste treatment and reforestation program.

1-M gov’t workers receive today bonus of P7,000 to P10,000

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

More than one million government workers, including those in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and other constitutional offices, will receive today P7,000 to P10,000 performance bonus each pursuant to Administrative Order No. 213 signed by President Arroyo last Dec. 12.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya announced last Wednesday that the funds for the bonuses, amounting to P7 billion to P10 billion, would be released as early as last Saturday, Dec. 15, and not later than today, Dec. 17.

AO 213 provides that the performance bonuses would be granted "to all government personnel who have not received any additional year-end benefit in fiscal year 2007, over and above the benefit authorized under Republic Act 6686 as amended by RA 8441."

Andaya assured that the national government has enough savings to cover the minimum P7 billion budget for the performance bonuses.

He further assured that the government is prepared to release up to P10 billion if almost everyone of the close to one million national government employees receives the full P10,000 performance bonus.

For those working in offices that enjoy fiscal autonomy like the Comelec, the Civil Service Commission, and the Commission on Audit, Andaya said the bonuses would be sourced from their offices’ available savings, Andaya said.

He said for government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, the performance bonuses would come from their respective corporate budgets.

"Government corporations that do not have sufficient savings may grant just a part of the performance bonuses as long as each employee would receive the same percentage of what they are entitled to receive," Andaya said.

In issuing AO 213, President Arroyo said "a robust economy and efficiency in government operations generated savings which makes the granting of performance bonuses possible.’’

This year’s performance bonus is on top of the 13th month pay and anniversary bonuses that government offices like the Comelec give to their employees.

Northrail construction now ‘on track’

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

The North Luzon railway, currently under construction from Metro Manila to Northern Luzon, is essential and necessary to the economic progress and prosperity of the Philippines, said Arsenio M. Bartolome III, President and Chief Executive of North Luzon Railways Corporation (Northrail).

In a speech to the Rotary Club of Manila, Bartolome disclosed that the construction of the railway started last month and is now "on track."

He appealed to the public to support the project as it would benefit millions of Filipinos, including commuters, farmers, traders, workers and students, who would profit from the cheap and fast mass transportation system.

Bartolome explained that once Northrail becomes operational, it would accomplish four objectives: 1) it would provide fast, cheap and reliable mass transport services for passengers and goods from Metro Manila to Northern Luzon; 2) it would enhance and accelerate the development and growth of Central and Northern Luzon; 3), it would decongest motorized traffic in Metro Manila; and 4), it would provide linkages to the MRT and LRT light rail systems.

Bartolome added that the construction of the railway would also afford employment to hundreds of Filipinos, and benefit thousands of farmers by providing them with cheap access to markets.

Bartolome said that the Northrail was conceptualized in 1994 during the term of President Fidel Ramos. But it was only during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when the project was firmed up with the signing of an executive agreement with the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Under the agreement, the PROC shall design, supply and construct Phase 1 of the Northrail project. PROC designated China National Machinery and Equipment Corp (CNMEG) to handle the design, supply and construction of the project while the Export Import Bank of China takes care of its financing. Contracts and loan agreements have been finalized and signed and the construction has begun last month.

The project is divided into four phases — Phase 1 from Caloocan to Clark Field, Pampanga; Phase 2 from Clark Field to Subic Bay; phase 3 from Caloocan to Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, and Phase 4 from Clark Field, Pampanga to San Fernando, La Union.

According to Bartolome, Northrail will utilize the existing right of way of the Philippine National Railway (PNR) from Caloocan all the way to San Fernando, La Union. This right of way of PNR had been abandoned for more than 30 years.

Bartolome commended the National Housing Authority under the leadership of Vice President Noli de Castro for effectively and efficiently clearing all the informal settlers on the PNR right of way from Caloocan to Malolos, paving the way for the start of the construction. He described the two phases of the construction as follows:

Phase 1 is subdivided into two sections, namely, section 1 from Caloocan to Malolos, and section 2 from Malolos to Clark Field, Pampanga. The project cost for Section 1 is $ 421 million while Section 2 would cost $ 586 million.

The track length from Caloocan to Malolos is 32.5 kilometers with six stations located in Caloocan, Valenzuela, Marilao, Bocaue, Guiginto, Malolos. Travelling time will be cut to 30 minutes. It will be used by 19 diesel multiple units which are upgradeable to electric multiple units. Some 125,000 are expected to use the trains for the first months. Expected completion is the first semester or 2010.

Section 2 from Malolos to Clark Field Pampanga, will cover a distance is 51.5 kilometers with six stations located Malolos, Calumpit, Apalit, San Fernando, Angeles City and Clark Field. Travelling time is 30 minutes and number of trains is 23 Expected completion is 2011.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

2007 SEA Games

Medal Tally from GMANews.TV
Congratulations to the Philippine medalists of the 2007 Southeast Asian Games!

Cheers especially to the Philippine Swimming Team and to the Most Valuable Player of the Games Miguel Molina!

As the tally board shows, the Philippines has the second-highest number of medals. More generous funding will make sure that it gets the second-highest or the highest number of gold medals in future games.

The Inquirer commented that "the athletes didn’t get the same attention from the government, unlike the last time when the First Gentleman Foundation of Jose Miguel Arroyo, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband, raised about P160 million just for the training and international stints of the SEAG bets.

"This time, the PSC pursued the SEAG campaign on a P100-million budget."

The Philippine Star also reported that "Thailand offered 200,000 baht ($5,000) for every gold and every member of the team that wins the gold. Indonesia offers $20,000 for every gold and a house and lot for every three golds.

"The Philippines offers P100,000 for every gold and President Arroyo had announced a bonus on top of the mandated incentive for every gold-silver-bronze medal won.

"Vietnam had fewer incentives and had little training abroad because of budget constraints. But athletes from this former communist country have a strong sense of discipline which carried them through the tough competitions, unruffled by bad officiating, homecourt advantage and incentives other athletes kept yapping about."

Philippines: Peso Strengthens Due To Strong Economy

By Mike Cohen
Original report at Pacific News Center

1:45 p.m. Manila, Philippines - The Philippine economy, considered as one of the top performers in Asia, is expected to grow by more than seven percent this year, based on projections made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A combination of increased remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), increased investment inflows and a strong outsourcing sector will continue to pump more US dollars into an economy that is now regarded as one of Southeast Asia's brightest spots for 2007.

The strong economy has held the peso steady at P41 against the US dollar. Analysts, however, predicted a further strengthening of the local currency and it may test the P37.50 range in the coming months.

Foreign exchange rate could even reach P36.50 in the informal sector or money changers in streets considering the massive inflows for the holiday season and the renewed interest in Philippine outsourcing.

An Asian Development Bank (ADB) study noted that the Philippine peso is now considered Asia's top performing currency. Overall, the peso gained nearly 20 percent this year.

The exchange rate has hit a seven-and-a-half year high of P41.10 during trading last Thursday while informal sector rates are closing in on the P40 pesos to the dollar level.

The peso appreciated on the back of OFW remittances which reached $1.7 billion in October and inflows from the outsourcing and the growing "home-shoring" market. Global hedge funds and bond issues by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP or Central Bank of the Philippines) were also cited as factors behind the strengthening of the peso.
Subscriptions to the BSP's dollar-dominated bond issues hit new record level in November.

Investors across the globe are seeking stability and gain versus the US dollar. The greenback has weakened largely because of the US subprime mortgage market issues and the Federal government's action on interest rates.

The continuous weakening of the greenback was also due to recession fears in the US economy. Analysts said the decision of the US government to cut lending rates may weaken the dollar further as lower interest rates would drive international investors to high yields and assets in Asia.

The weakening of the dollar, the Philippine Department of Finance (DoF) said, is prompting OFWs to peg their salaries in the stronger Euro or the British pound.

"Our workers are money smart so they are looking away from the greenback. Many are also pegging their contracts for next year in the Euro and the UK pound and away from the US dollar," Finance Secretary Margarito Teves told a Cabinet meeting. This, Teves, said has resulted in an increase in non-dollar dominated contracts.

Frederic Neumann, an analyst from the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC), said the BSP would likely cut its overnight borrowing rate by another 25 basis points next week and in early 2008.

"The Philippines is on a roll. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose over seven percent in the first three quarters of the year, with more of the same to come," said Neumann in an HSBC briefing to investors.

"The peso, has been among the best performers in Asia this year, rising by over 16 percent against the US dollar in 2007," he said.

Neumann noted that growth in the last year has been fueled by strong inflows and investments in the country's outsourcing business and call center sector. For decades, the country's economy has been supported largely by OFW remittances.

The growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector has fueled a consumption and building frenzy which may be difficult to sustain. Better fiscal management which resulted in lower fiscal deficit has lent stability to Philippine economy.

Next year, analysts said more OFWs may enter into Euro-based and UK pound-based contracts which will bring stability to their earnings. This is expected to stabilize dollar demand and prop up foreign exchange rate to between P38.50 and P40 against the US in the next six months. - Pacific News Center International

Philippine Swimmers

200 Individual Medley. World Championship, Melbourne, 2007


50M Freestyle. 15th Asian Games, Doha, 2006

50M Freestyle, 24th SEA Games, Thailand, 2007

More about Daniel from Channel News Asia.

Interview after their wins in the 2007 SEA Games

50M Freestyle. 15th Asian Games, Doha, 2006

(As of 11 December 2007:

The Filipino swimming team got the 29th gold medal for the Philippines in the men's 4x100-meter medley relay on Tuesday.

The swimming team that bagged the gold – the country's first in that event at the SEA Games – is composed of James Walsh, Miguel Molina, Ryan Arabejo, and Daniel Oakley, all of them gold medalists in their individual events.

Earlier in the day, Walsh got the 28th gold medal for the Philippines in the men's 200-meter butterfly.