Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ombudsman calls on the citizenry to join government campaign against corruption

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/dec16.htm#Ombudsman

PASIG CITY – Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has called on the citizenry to help the government in its drive against corruption, not only in government but also in Philippine society.

In her speech during the launching of the 1st National Summit on United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which was timed with the commemoration of the International Anti-corruption Day, Gutierrez said that “we (the government) are really committed to fighting corruption.”

“This is the day for all sectors of society to join hands in fighting corruption to save our people from the quagmire of poverty,” she added.

Gutierrez called on everyone to do his/her part in curbing corruption not only in public but in private life as well by providing the Office of the Ombudsman with documents and evidence to back up their criminal or administrative complaints against grafters.

“If affidavits are not available, the complainants may identify such documents so that we can subpoena them,” she said.

She added that in filing denunciations of corruption against government personnel, complainants may not identify themselves to avoid reprisal or harassment.

The Ombudsman also reported that her office is now making headway in the Bolante Case and that by January of 2009, investigators should have already completed their work on the Fertilizer Fund Case.

The summit is the government’s contribution to the United Nation’s (UN) global fight against corruption.

It aims to provide opportunities for the government sector and civil society to come together and adopt a national roadmap to eradicate corruption.

From the launching of the UNCAC up to March 2009, series of Focus Group Discussions (FGD’s) will be conducted by different groups from the government, private and the civil society sectors to formulate effective ways of combating corruption.

Results of which will be further subjected to scrutiny by working groups from the three (3) branches of government, civil society and the private sector for further consultation and validation before implementation.

Mister Donut eyes 100 more outlets, relies on pasalubong spirit

Don Gil K. Carreon
BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW121808/content.php?id=042

PASTRY CHAIN Mister Donut Philippines plans to open up to 100 outlets next year, confident that the slowing economy would not affect sales.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mister Donut Vice-President for Corporate Marketing Alden M. Castañeda said the Filipino practice of giving donuts as pasalubong or a small gift was unlikely to change.

"We will continue to grow next year, although there is an economic crisis. People will try to establish what is really important for them, and [we think we can capitalize on] Pinoys’ putting a high value to giving something," he said.

But he admitted that next year would be more challenging for the company.

In a separate interview, Krispy Kreme Philippines Managing Director Carlyn T. Salud said they were also optimistic, and that expansion plans were on track.

She declined to say how many stores Krispy Kreme will open next year, but said the company would probably proceed at the same pace as in the past two years, when it opened 10 outlets.

"We just have to be more accessible, keep our prices affordable and make sure that customers see the value of our products," she said. The donut chain, she added, was planning to hit new markets.

Rival Dunkin Donut could not be reached for comments.

Mr. Castañeda said franchisees would account for about four-fifths of the 100 stores that will be opened next year, which will give the company more than 1,300 outlets.

"The stores that will be opened are skewed more towards shops and kiosks instead of smaller outlets," he said, declining to provide specific figures.

People who want to open a Mister Donut store must pay P150,000 for the franchise. A franchisee will have to invest an additional P150,000 for a small kiosk and up to P800,000 more for a restaurant.

Mr. Castañeda said Mister Donut was seeking to increase sales and profits by double digits next year, but declined to provide figures.

He claimed the entry of new players in recent years had not affected Mister Donut since they cater to different customers.

"The overall effect is positive for the category because donuts are being noticed more than before, but in terms of sales volume we continue grow," he said. The company wants to diversify its menu further, with plans to add more rice and pasta products, he added.

The Ramcar Group of Companies owns the Mister Donut franchise. It is also the local operator of the KFC and Tokyo Tokyo fastfood chain aside from being a car battery manufacturer.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Philippine Consumer Confidence Improves in Q4 2008

Bangko Sentral
Media Release
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1959
12.11.2008

Nationwide consumer confidence improves

Consumer confidence improved quarter-on-quarter in Q4 2008 despite the ongoing global financial crisis partly due to the expected seasonal rise in consumer demand with the approach of the Yuletide holidays. The number of consumers who were optimistic about the general economic condition and their own financial situation increased, with the overall consumer confidence index (CI) in Q4 2008 at -40.3 percent. This index, while remaining negative, was higher by 12.5 index points relative to Q3 2008, although it was lower by 6.7 index points year-on-year.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. explained that consumer confidence was also buoyed up by the pullback in the prices of gasoline, fuel, and rice. Other reasons cited for the respondents’ optimism were the expected business upturn during the Christmas season, and employment opportunities available here and abroad. Meanwhile, other consumers cited lower income and the higher cost of basic commodities as major concerns that affected their sentiment.

There was also a broad improvement in the next quarter outlook as indicated in the increases in the three component indices at an average of -11.2 percent. Although the index remained negative, the number of optimists who believed that the general economic condition and their own financial conditions would be better in Q1 2009 increased. The next quarter index improved by 13.9 index points quarter-on-quarter but remained lower relative to Q4 2007 survey by 6.6 index points.

Respondents’ outlook was similar for the next 12 months, as the index improved to -10.7 percent, higher by 13.2 percent quarter-on-quarter but lower by 16.2 percent year-on-year.

Optimistic consumers from both NCR and AONCR increase in Q4 2008

The number of consumers with an optimistic outlook from both the National Capital Region (NCR) and Areas Outside NCR (AONCR) increased in Q4 2008. The CI for NCR at -32.8 percent was higher by 13.8 points quarter-on-quarter and 2.2 points year-on-year. Respondents from AONCR were less confident with CI at -41.5 percent. Nonetheless, this index was higher by 12.3 points quarter-on-quarter. However, relative to last year, the AONCR index was lower by 8.1 index points.

Expenditures for next 3 months to rise

Survey results indicated that more households nationwide expected that their average expenditures on basic goods and services would go up in Q1 2009 (CI at 44.9 percent). However, the number of those who said that their expenditures would rise was smaller relative to the previous quarter’s survey. The decline in the expenditures index by 12.0 index points quarter-on-quarter may be partly explained by the reduction in the prices of some basic goods and services particularly fuel, rice, and transportation.

Buying conditions improve in Q4 2008.

Fifteen percent of respondents indicated that buying conditions would be good in Q4 2008. This was higher compared to 11.4 percent a quarter-ago but lower than the year-ago level at 23.1 percent. Buying conditions for house and/or lot was highest at 22.0 percent, up by 5.1 percentage points from Q3 2008. Similarly, the proportion of respondents who considered the buying conditions for consumer durables and motor vehicles favorable in Q4 2008 increased to 14.0 percent (from 11.2 percent in Q3 2008) and 9.1 percent (from 6.1 percent in Q3 2008), respectively.

Among the reasons cited by respondents on the favorable buying conditions in Q4 2008 were: 1) affordability of consumer durables due to easy installment terms and appliance sales during the holiday season, 2) good investment options, and 3) availability of housing loans at competitive interest rates.

Buying intentions for the year ahead improve slightly

Despite a more confident outlook in Q4 2008, the proportion of respondents that indicated their intention to buy big-ticket items (consumer durables, motor vehicles, and house and lot) in the next 12 months remained relatively steady at a low 7.0 percent. About 10 in every 100 respondents indicated intention to buy consumer durables, 8 in every 100 indicated intention to buy house and lot, and 4 in every 100 indicated intention to buy motor vehicles in the next 12 months.

Selected Economic Indicators: Outlook for the next 12 months

Consumers anticipated that the peso would continue to depreciate against the US dollar, and unemployment and interest rates were expected to rise during the year ahead. Moreover, consumers expected that the prices of basic goods and services would go up in the next 12 months. However, all the indices declined quarter-on-quarter in Q4 2008 as the number of respondents that expected that these indicators would go up in the next 12 months declined.

Expenditures of Overseas Filipino Workers for Q4 2008

Most OFW households spent their remittances in Q4 2008 primarily on food and other household needs (95.8 percent of households who received OFW remittances), education (68.2 percent), medical expenses (57.6 percent), and debt payments (48.9 percent). The percentage of households that allotted portions of remittances to savings rose to 35.8 percent (from 30.4 percent in Q3 2008). Those that utilized remittances for investments declined to 4.7 percent in Q4 2008 (from 7.4 percent in Q3 2008), while those that utilized remittances for purchase/rental of house increased to 16.1 percent from 12.4 percent in Q3 2008. The utilization pattern of remittances was similar for both NCR and AONCR households.

About the survey

The Q4 2008 CES was conducted during the period 1-15 October 2008 with a total sample size of 5,448 households, of which 2,850 (52.3 percent) were from NCR and 2,598 (47.7 percent) from AONCR. The households interviewed were drawn from the National Statistics Office’s (NSO) Master Sample List of Households, which is considered a representative sample of households nationwide. The said master sample was generated using a stratified multi-stage probability sampling scheme. The nationwide total survey response rate for Q4 2008 was 96.6 percent (broadly similar to 96.3 percent in the last survey).

October OFW remittances second-highest on record

Reports from Reuters, GSDL
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW121608/content.php?id=001
VIEW TABLE (CENTRAL BANK)

GROWTH in remittances from Filipinos working abroad slowed to just 3.3% in October from a year earlier but the inflow, at $1.43 billion, was still the second-highest on record, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) yesterday said.

The annual rise was the lowest since June 2007 when inflows rose just 1%. In dollar terms though, the amount was the highest since a record $1.45 billion in June this year.

Total remittances for the January-October period hit $13.7 billion, 15.5% higher compared to the same period last year.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr., in a statement, said the data showed that overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances were supporting the economy.

"The steady inflow of remittances from overseas Filipinos, which has stayed above the $1-billion level for more than two years now, shows that remittances remain resilient and continue to be an underlying source of strength for the economy," he said.

He said sustained demand for highly skilled and better-paid Filipino professionals, coupled with OFWs’ wider access to expanded remittance services, continued to support strong inflows.

The number of Filipinos deployed abroad rose by 25.5% to 1.12 million during the 10-month period from 888,339 a year ago.

While the BSP recognized that there could be a slowdown in deployment as a result of the global downturn, it said this could be offset by job opportunities in other countries such as Canada, some states in the Middle East, and Australia, among others.

Economists have said job cuts were expected to hit some of the Filipinos overseas, particularly those in the IT and finance sectors, which would hit the remittance inflows that fuels a lot of domestic spending.

BSP documents show that remittances — equivalent to about a tenth of domestic output — sent through official channels are expected to rise about 6-10% next year, slowing from an expected increase of 10-11% this year.

The BSP has forecast 2008 remittances to hit some $16 billion, from $14.45 billion last year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

President Arroyo to bring home $1 billion in new investments after 3-day official visit to Qatar

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/today.htm#PGMA%20to%20bring

DOHA, Qatar (via PLDT) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo winds up today her three-day official visit here confident that the trip has generated for the Philippines US$1 billion in new investments, and raised to another level the friendly relations of the Philippines with Qatar, a leading destination of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

She leaves at noon (Monday, Dec. 15) on her return flight to the Philippines with a three-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi.

The President held various meetings with chief executive officers (CEOs) of several private companies employing Filipino workers as well as government officials, including executives of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) whom she asked to look into the prospect of doing business in the Philippines.

A state investment arm headquartered in this sprawling Middle East metropolis, the QIA serves as the spearhead of Qatar's investment expansion binge backed by the emirate's huge wealth from Qatar’s natural resources.

Awash with cash from its oil and natural gas exports, Qatar has launched a strong investment drive abroad while pursuing a massive construction program at home.

"As a world-class investor, the QIA adheres to the strictest financial and commercial disciplines. It has a strong track record of investing in different asset classes, including listed securities, property, alternative assets and private equity in all the major capital markets as well as the new emerging markets," says a backgrounder on the investment authority.

But the biggest investment draw for the Philippines from Qatar, thus far, is the tie-up between Qatar Telecom QSC (Qtel) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the Philippines' leading business conglomerate. The joint venture was formalized during the President's visit to Qatar.

Senior Qtel executives met with the President on Sunday (Dec. 14) to discuss potential areas of cooperation in Qtel's undertaking to extend access to broadband internet technology in the Philippines.

After the meeting, Qtel and SMC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the expansion and consolidation of the group's Southeast Asia operation. Ramon Ang, chief executive officer and president of San Miguel Corp., signed the MOU on behalf of his company, while Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Bin Saud Al-Thani, Qtel chairman, signed for Qtel.

Under the Qtel-SMC agreement, SMC will own 60 percent of the joint venture to Qtel's 40 percent. Qtel will put in an initial investment of US$150 million, but this will be raised to US$1 billion after one year.

After the formal signing of the accord, Qtel issued an upbeat statement view on its forthcoming Philippine operations, saying it sees a huge growth and expansion potential for the advanced telecommunications industry in the Philippines.

"We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet with President Macapagal-Arroyo. Qtel has looked to increase its profile within the Republic of the Philippines and the environment appears increasingly open to external investment and the provision of communication services," said Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Bin Saud Al-Thani, Qtel chairman.

He added: "We see huge opportunities for growth and partnership within the Philippines and this meeting provided an important opportunity for Qtel to communicate its ambitions and its obligations to the people" of the Philippines.

Qtel, which is operating in 16 countries including in Southeast Asia, is vying for a slot among the top 20 telecommunications companies in the world by 2020.

A telecommunications service provider, Qtel is licensed by Qatar's Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology to provide both fixed and mobile telecommunications services in the state of Qatar.

San Miguel, on the other hand, is the largest publicly listed food, beverage and packaging company in Southeast Asia with more than 15,000 employees in over 100 facilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Qtel's tie-up with San Miguel is the biggest investment thus far by a Qatari company in the Philippines or in a Philippine-based business conglomerate. Up until the Qtel-SMC deal, Qatari investments in the Philippines were concentrated on human services, notably in the manpower supply sector, or the recruitment of Filipino workers for the Middle East.

But the President's meeting with Qatar business executives brought to the fore the untapped markets in Qatar and other Gulf countries for such Philippine products as mango -- a favorite fruit here -- fresh as well as processed Filipino food.

Filipino workers get excellent grade in Qatar

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/dec14.htm#Filipino%20workers

DOHA, Qatar -- (via PLDT) -- Filipino workers here are getting excellent grades for reliability, skill, industry and professionalism.

The rave review of OFWs came from the chief executive officers (CEOs) and other top officials of 27 Qatar-based companies employing Filipinos during the "appreciation lunch" with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort on Saturday (Dec. 13), shortly upon her arrival here at noon yesterday.

The President is on a three-day official visit to this Middle East boom town to look into the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), enlist the support of Qatar's leadership in the Mindanao peace process, and discuss issues of mutual concern to the two countries.

Accompanying her are Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and a small group of members of the House of Representatives.

From the Qatar International Airport here, the President went straight to the Sheraton Doha Hotel for the meeting with the CEOs who represent a cross-section of the leading international business conglomerates operating in Qatar.

Among the leading companies represented in the luncheon meeting with the President were the US-based engineering giant Bechtel Corporation, Al Ahli Hospital, Sterling Group of Companies, Midmac Contracting, and Doha Resort and Convention Center.

Bechtel Doha Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Project Manager Laremy Estrada cited Filipino workers for their reliability, industry and overall skill.

He said Filipinos were highly trainable, efficient and trustworthy. He added that 65 percent of Bechtel’s workers in the construction of the new Doha International Airport are Filipinos.

Bechtel, a towering presence in the Middle East construction sector, won the contract for engineering, project and construction management of the US$2.5-billion new Doha International Airport.

When completed, the new air terminal can accommodate 24 million passengers and 750,000 metric tons of cargo annually.

Other executives of companies operating in Qatar echoed Estrada’s praises for Filipino workers in Qatar, with one CEO saying his company would be at a loss looking for workers as reliable, hardworking and skilled as his Filipino employees.

Estimates of the number of OFWs in Qatar vary from a low of 150,000 to a high of more than 200,000. Labor Secretary Marianito Roque’s own figure is 190,000.

President Arroyo thanked the company officials for hiring Filipino workers and protecting their rights and privileges under the International Labor Organization (ILO) mandate.

She said the Philippine government would act immediately on problems cited by the CEOs, including delays in the registration of labor recruitment permits and the need for stepped-up training for Filipinos seeking employment abroad.

The President pointed out that her administration has launched a P3-billion scholarship program to equip Filipinos with the needed expertise for frontline services not only abroad but also in the Philippines.

Qatar hiring 37,000 Filipinos in 2009

Written by Mia M. Gonzalez / Reporter
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3329:qatar-to-hire-37000-pinoys-in-2009&catid=23:topnews&Itemid=58

President Arroyo announced on Saturday night that Qatar is set to hire 37,000 more Filipino professionals and skilled workers in 2009, easing growing concern among overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East of possible retrenchment due to the global financial crisis.

The President, who made the announcement in her meeting with Qatar-based Filipinos at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort several hours after she arrived in the Middle East country for a three-day official visit, also said the government will continue to prepare for any eventuality despite such good news.

Mrs. Arroyo said 27 chief executives, representing Qatar’s biggest employers, informed her of the substantial number of job orders for Filipinos to work in Qatar when they met that same day.

“Employment [for Filipinos] continues despite the global crisis. Just a while ago, the employers told me—and Secretary [Marianito] Roque computed the numbers—that there are job orders on top of those already here today for 37,000 more workers here in Qatar,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo added that while other countries have been reducing their work force because of the worsening global financial situation, “Qatar continues to look for additional [workers]” on top of the 190,000 Filipino workers estimated to be employed there at present.

Malacañang said in a press statement that this year Qatar has hired 56,277, making it the fourth-biggest destination of Filipino workers in the world, and third in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mrs. Arroyo said Qatar employers, as well as others in the Middle East, have expressed their preference for Filipino workers because they are diligent, trustworthy, efficient, and skilled.

The executives, all belonging to companies employing Filipino workers, had an appreciation lunch with Mrs. Arroyo on Saturday.

The companies represented at the meeting included US-based engineering giant Bechtel Corp., which is constructing the $2.5 billion new Doha International Airport, Al Ahli Hospital, Sterling Group of Companies, Midmac Contracting, and Doha Resort and Convention Center.

A Palace press statement said Bechtel Doha CEO and project manager Laremy Estrada cited Filipino workers for their reliability, industry and overall skill.

“He said Filipinos were highly trainable, efficient and trustworthy. He added that 65 percent of Bechtel’s workers in the construction of the new Doha International Airport are Filipinos,” Malacanang said.

In her meeting with the Filipino community in Doha, Mrs. Arroyo gave her assurance that even with the assured employment of more Filipinos in Qatar next year, the government will continue to prepare for the possible displacement of Filipino workers in other countries.

“Be that as it may, it’s always good to be prepared. That’s why we have implemented a program that would help anyone who will be forced to go home,” she said.

She bared her P250-million Filipino Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund, which would help displaced workers start a small business, venture into a livelihood program or take courses to develop new skills.

“You can rest assured that the government will do all it can to protect the people against the scourge of the global crisis,” she said.

The President had earlier said that her Qatar trip is for job security, to seek Qatar’s help in the Mindanao peace process, and discuss issues of mutual concern to the two countries.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

SM Investments pursues entertainment complex

By Jenniffer B. Austria
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business4_dec13_2008

State-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has granted SM Investments Corp., the holding company of retail tycoon Henry Sy, a provisional license to develop an entertainment complex along Roxas Boulevard.

SM Investments Corp. said in a disclosure that it would pursue the transformation of the 60-hectare Mall of Asia Complex into a world-class business and entertainment hub through its subsidiary, SM Land Inc.

“The recent provisional license granted by Pagcor marks the start of the development of the entertainment hub which will be executed over the medium term,” said SM Investments.

SM Investments was one of the three companies pre-qualified by Pagcor to participate in the development of the Bagong Nayong Pilipino Manila Bay Tourism City project on the reclaimed area along Roxas Boulevard.

The two others were Travellers International Hotel Group, a joint venture between Alliance Global Group Inc. of business tycoon Andrew Tan and Star Cruises of Malaysia, and Aruze of Japan.

SM Investments said the development of the Mall of Asia Complex was in line with the group’s thrust into tourism development projects, like the Hamilo in Batangas and the chain of high-end and boutique hotels and convention centers throughout the country.

“We believe in the country’s strong potential in tourism. As such, SM will be at the forefront in providing much-needed infrastructure and facilities for more tourists to enjoy the country’s scenic destinations, while experiencing the warmth of Philippine hospitality,” said SM vice chairman Henry Sy, Jr. in a statement.

Friday, 12 December 2008

SM City North Edsa now Philippines’ biggest and world’s 3rd largest

BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW121208/content.php?id=044

The world’s third-biggest shopping mall will open in Quezon City this week, a vote of confidence on the country’s economic prospects amid a global slowdown, its owners said yesterday.

The launch on Friday of a 90,000-square meter annex will make the SM City North Edsa mall the third biggest in the world with a gross floor area of 425,000 square metres, SM Prime Holdings, Inc. said in a statement.

It will take away the distinction from SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, which used to be the country’s largest.

SM Prime, a holding firm of the country’s richest man Henry Sy, also owns the world’s fourth, seventh, and 11th biggest malls — SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall in Ortigas, Pasig and SM City Cebu.

SM Prime President Hans Sy said launching the project amid the worsening global downturn "speaks of how we view the longer-term prospects of the country."

Yesterday, the Asian Development Bank forecast said Philippine economic growth would slow to 4.5% this year and further down to 3.5% next year after growth of 7.2% in 2007.

Hundreds of Filipinos employed abroad, part of a huge number that remits the equivalent of 10% of the country’s gross domestic product to their families back home every year, have lost their jobs, the government said.

SM Prime said tenants have signed up for 70% of the leasable space in the six-storey extension to the mall. SM Prime recently opened two other malls, with a third also set to open on Friday. — AFP

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Another P3 a liter cut in gas prices looms

Alena Mae S. Flores with AFP
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news2_dec10_2008

SMALL oil distributors may trim gasoline prices by another P3 and diesel by another P1 a liter this month, and most likely this weekend, a company official said yesterday.

“Based on our computations, diesel could still go down by P1 per liter and gasoline by P3” as a result of the continuing fall in world oil prices, Flying V chairman Ramon Villavicencio said.

He made the statement even as the peso rose as high as 48.31 against the dollar before closing at 48.55 yesterday from 48.60 on Monday, buoyed by heavier remittances.

Villavicencio said Flying V could even make bigger cuts ahead of January if necessary.

“We can advance the reduction, similar to what we did in November, but that’s a dangerous move to make because consumers may expect another rollback again by Valentine’s,” he said.

The big distributors were mum about any cuts.

“We will react to the competition as and when it is required,” Pilipinas Shell country chairman Ed Chua said.

He said his company might suffer some losses this year from the cuts it had made at the pump, but they still expected to net P200 million.

That amount would exclude the P3 billion that the company made from the sale of its economic rights to the Shell trademark to Shell Brands International AG.

Chevron Philippines said it faced P1 billion in losses this year from pricier inventory sold at cheaper prices.

“Remember, we had some extraordinary loss during the first half,” country chairman Randy Johnson said.

Earlier, Petron Corp. announced it would lose up to P2 billion this year as a result of the wild swings in world oil prices.

Oil prices fell slightly in Asia on Tuesday, after earlier gains on hopes a US economic stimulus package and a bailout for the auto sector would nurse the world’s biggest energy consumer back to health, dealers said.

New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, fell four cents to $43.67 a barrel in afternoon trade. The contract closed on Monday $2.90 higher at $43.71.

Brent North Sea crude for January delivery dropped 20 cents to $43.22 after closing on Monday $3.68 dollars higher at $43.42 in London.

Both contracts were slightly higher in Asian morning trade.

Financial markets, including oil futures, soared after US President-elect Barack Obama promised at the weekend the biggest infrastructure investment in half a century, and Congress signaled a rescue of the Big Three US automakers.

Medical tourism is next, says Pangilinan

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business4_dec10_2008

Metro Pacific Investments Corp., a unit of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., is positioning its hospitals in the Philippines to be part of the medical tourism industry.

Manuel Pangilinan, chairman of the company which operates the Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Davao Doctors Hospital, said medical tourism was among the company was looking at.

Pangilinan said the refurbishment of the Makati Medical Center, once acknowledged as the best in the country, and its expected completion by the middle of 2010, could be a platform for the medical tourism business of Metro Pacific.

A veteran economist said medical tourism and retirement villages were among the sunrise industries that are expected to gradually expand annually, despite the global economic downturn.

“The foreign tourists to the Philippines, made up mostly of South Koreans, Japanese and other East Asian neighbors, may actually increase more rapidly since the economic slowdown in their own countries may motivate them to travel to closer and less closely destinations,” said University of Asia and the Pacific economist Bernardo Villegas.

Tourism Undersecretary for Sports and Wellness Cynthia Carrion said amid the global financial crisis, more people, who are under stress, were expected to avail of affordable medical services in countries such as the Philippines.

“Quality with good prices is the one that will attract a lot of people to our country,” said Carrion.

Govt targets modest 7% growth in 2009 fisheries production

Jennifer A. Ng / Reporter
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3106:govt-targets-modest-7-growth-in-2009-fisheries-production&catid=33:economy&Itemid=60

EVEN as the outlook for fisheries production is expected to be better next year, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is targeting a modest 7-percent growth in fisheries production in 2009.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), an attached agency of the DA, said it wants to be more conservative in its growth target for next year due to a number of factors, including the possible damages that may be caused by typhoons in major fish-producing areas.

“The outlook for next year is better, [but] we’d rather be conservative,” said BFAR director Malcolm Sarmiento Jr. in a phone interview.

In recent years, the BFAR has been setting a growth target of 10 percent for fisheries production. But efforts of the government to grow fish production were challenged by natural disasters such as typhoons.

In August Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said he is bullish about fish production in 2009 and has even targeted a growth rate of 10 percent to 5.7 million metric tons.

Typhoons Frank, Karen and Nina, however, made this target impossible to achieve, forcing the BFAR to downscale its growth projections to between 5 percent and 6 percent.

Typhoon Frank alone wreaked havoc in Western Visayas as total damage to the region’s farm sector exceeded P3 billion. The region’s fisheries sector sustained the biggest damage at P2.25 billion.

Earlier, Sarmiento disclosed that around 70 small- and medium-sized commercial fishing vessels were destroyed by Typhoon Frank and most of them came from Region VI (Western Visayas). One vessel, he said, costs anywhere from P5 million to P10 million.

The BFAR noted that for 2009, the fisheries subsector will be led by aquaculture, particularly vannamei-shrimp production, because of the huge demand for it.

Agribusiness is best bet

Written by Cai U. Ordinario / Reporter
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3107:govt-investments-in-agri-municipal-infra-long-overdue-says-villegas&catid=33:economy&Itemid=60

THE national government’s efforts to increase public investments in agriculture and municipal infrastructure, particularly next year, are long-overdue and should have been done by other leaders, according to the economic adviser of former President Fidel Ramos.

University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) senior economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas said that after the global economic tsunami, the biggest problem that the country will face is food and that the efforts of the government to upscale its investments in agriculture and infrastructure, particularly in the countryside, will be a good preparation for what is to come after the meltdown.

“In the medium and long run, the biggest opportunity for the Philippines will be in agribusiness, that’s why agriculture investments are needed at this time. The biggest need in the next few years will be food,” Villegas said during a press briefing at the UA&P in Pasig City.

Villegas, however, said like in the United States, where President-elect Barack Obama is also doing the same thing to provide more jobs for Americans, there is a need to make sure that these funds or increases in spending will be used solely for these projects.

He said if these funds will only go to the “pockets of politicians,” the goals that can be attained by increasing infrastructure spending will not be realized.

“These funds must be spent on productive assets so these will benefit the future. But if the money goes to politician’s pockets, there will no effect,” Villegas said.

The Arroyo administration is pushing to increase the country’s budget for 2009 by 15.4 percent to P1.415 trillion from P1.227 trillion. The sector with the biggest share in the proposed 2009 budget, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), is social services, which will amount to P433.99 billion, or 30.67 percent.

Other sectors, such as economic services, will receive P361.39 billion, or 25.54 percent, of the total; debt service worth P302.65 billion, or 21.39 percent; general public services, P239.59 billion, or 16.93 percent; defense, P65.22 billion, or 4.61 percent; and net lending, P12.16 billion, or 0.86 percent, of the total.

Meanwhile, Villegas said the country is already reaping the demographic blessing that the Philippines has received through an increase in its population. He said a group of economists from Goldman Sachs included the Philippines on the list of the “Next Eleven” or the emerging engines of global growth.

He pointed out that the list, which also includes Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam, has one common factor—-large populations. Villegas said high populations ensure that local and multinational firms have large markets and consumer demand in a country.

High consumer demand will fuel economic growth. This, Villegas said, will ensure that the Philippines, along with the most populous countries in the world, particularly in Asia, will be the ones to take over as the main growth drivers of the world.

In fact, Villegas said, China, which is now the fourth-largest economy in the world, will soon take the US’ place as the main driver of growth in the world. He said that in 20 years, China can become the biggest economy in the world.

Villegas also remained confident that chances of a great depression happening again as an effect of the crisis are far from happening. He said many governments are now aware of pump-priming activities which can help boost the economy, as well as the fact that many countries have “trillions” in reserves.

What should change, however, is the spending habit of Americans and the rest of the world. Villegas said that even in the Philippines, there is a need to re-introduce the value of saving and spending within your means.

Hanjin launches 3rd and 4th container ships in Subic

Henry Empeño
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3108:hanjin-launches-2-more-container-ships-in-subic&catid=33:economy&Itemid=60

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Five months after launching MV Argolikos, the first container ship to be built in the Philippines, Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co.-Philippines (HHIC-Phil.) scored another historic feat with the simultaneous launching of two more cargo vessels last week.

The company, which delivered its second container ship only on August 30, the CMA CGM Turquoise, said on Monday it has launched two more 4,300-TEU container vessels—the CMA CGM Opal and the CMA CGM Topaz.

The two ships were simultaneously launched from Hanjin’s dock yard No. 5 on Friday, HHIC-Phil. deputy managing director Pyeong Jong Yu said in a statement released late Monday.

Hanjin’s newest babies will both be delivered after the required sea trials to Dioryx Maritime Corp., a Greek shipping firm that has contracted out the first six deliveries to come out of the Subic shipyard.

Like the Turquoise, Opal and Topaz will both be chartered by Dioryx to CMA CGM, the biggest container transportation and shipping company in France. Both have the same specifications and a market price of $60 million, like their two predecessors.

Yu said the twin launching of Opal and Topaz “is the first [such] event not only for HHIC-Phil., but for the Philippine shipbuilding history.”

He said the 41,000-ton container vessels were built in just six-and-a-half months, with both keels laid out only on May 15.

He added that the fast pace of production did not compromise the required high quality of the vessels, as the firm utilized “up-to-date technology, state-of–the-art equipment, and weather-proof dock shelter that enabled production even during rainy season.”

“But our real secret in the successful completion of the ships is the ever-increasing number of skilled Filipino workers employed at our shipyard,” Yu also said, pointing out that the Hanjin facility now employs more than 15,000 workers.

He also said the hardworking employees of Hanjin, their systematic training at the firm’s Skills Development Center that is reputedly the largest in the world, and the actual work-training in the shipyard thereafter all contributed to the efficiency of the shipbuilding crew.

Yu also emphasized the huge capacity of Hanjin’s dry dock in Subic, where four vessels can be built at a time, resulted in faster production.

With this, Hanjin expects to launch more than 15 vessels next year, Yu said, describing enhanced production at the Subic shipyard as “revolutionary, not only for HHIC-Phil. but also for the Philippine industry.”

“Our company expects to achieve [this] goal as the workers will surely become better familiarized with shipbuilding work due to continuous training and enhanced work experience,” he added.

Hanjin, which started building its shipyard here in early 2006, has increased the tempo of its ship production after launching its first ship, the MV Argolikos, in July this year. Less than two months later, the CMA CGM Turquoise was also launched.

Hanjin’s Busan headquarters had announced in May last year that the company has signed for the Subic facility a $2.2-billion order for some of the biggest box ships and Capesize carriers ever to be built.

These include eight 12,800-TEU container carriers worth $1.27 billion for Germany’s NSC Schiffartsgeselhaft; 10 3,600-TEU carriers worth $690 million for France’s CMA CGM; and three 175,000-DWT (deadweight ton) capsize bulkers worth $240 million, with two going to India’s Adani Group and the other to Turkey’s Eregli firm.

At the launching of the Turquoise in August, Hanjin quality assurance director Yoonha Kim noted that Filipino shipyard workers had shown increased efficiency after completing hull construction and engine installation for the Turquoise within the standard Hanjin timetable of 13 months.

For the Argolikos, production took a total of 14 months, Kim said.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

NAIA 3 fully operational by mid-2009

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo
Excerpts from BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW120908/content.php?id=006

The MIAA’s Mr. Cusi said the airport would be fully operational by the middle of 2009.

Japan’s Takenaka, the main contractor of the terminal, has given its word to finish the remaining "2%" work to complete the NAIA-3 as well as "remediation" works aimed at correcting alleged defects.

"Majority of that 2% work involves systems. There are 20 plus or 27 systems that should be integrated and operated as one. We need to work fast because these systems may soon become obsolete," he said.

Asked if he considers the facility "world-class", the MIAA official said: "Once it’s completed, I assure you we will be running a world-class terminal."

Philippine Central Bank sets substantial falls in inflation

Reuters with a report from G. S. dela Peña
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW120908/content.php?id=002

THE BANGKO SENTRAL ng Pilipinas (BSP) will target sizeable falls in the inflation rate over the next two years, reflecting its confidence in controlling price pressures and reinforcing views of lower interest rates.

The central bank said it would aim to keep inflation at an average of 3.5-5.5% in 2010 compared with a 6-8% estimate next year and a 9-11% target for 2008.

"The inflation outlook has moderated with the decline in food and oil prices from peaks observed during the early part of the year," the central bank said in a statement.

"Demand-pull price pressures are also likely to ease following the expected moderation in domestic economic activity as a result of the global economic slowdown," it said.

Analysts said the central bank would be looking to spur growth as a severe global downturn crimps export demand and slow inflows of remittances from Filipinos.

Growth is expected to ease further in 2009 from a 4.1-4.8% expansion seen this year, according to analysts.

The BSP’s policymaking Monetary Board meets to set key rates for the last time this year on December 18, and some analysts expect it to announce cuts of as much as 50 basis points.

The central bank’s overnight borrowing rate is currently at 6% and the lending rate is at 8% after increases totalling 100 basis points from June to August. Inflation, which peaked at 12.5% in August, was cited as the reason.

"Given the lag in monetary policy and the forward looking inflation targets, central bank’s hands are free to explore the lows of the policy rate," said Vishnu Varathan, an economist with Forecast PTE, in Singapore.

"So going below 5% in the next six months cannot be ruled out given the escalation in risks to growth."

Simon Wong, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong, said he expected the overnight rate to be lowered to 5.5% this month and 5% in the first quarter next year.

Jose Mario Cuyegkeng, economist at the local unit of ING, said the direction of interest rates would depend largely on the political scenario given that 2010 is an election year.

"Pressures [for higher interest rates] are moderate coming from monetary side ... but interest rates will depend on political conditions at that time. That would be the crucial factor," Mr. Cuyegkeng said.

Growth, he added, will not depend much on lower interest rates but on how the government spends to pump prime the economy.

The BSP has held off cutting rates at its last two meetings, saying the Philippine economy remains resilient despite the global financial crisis that has pushed developed economies into recession.

It last cut rates in January.

Marcelo E. Ayes, senior vice-president at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., said the latest inflation target was consistent with expectations that economic conditions would be better in two years.

"There might be a recovery in the global economy by the middle of 2009, so prices and interest rates are likely to decline by 2010," he said in a telephone interview.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Fewer Pinoy families feel poor

Gov’t says anti-poverty programs working; SWS points to belt-tightening
BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW120808/content.php?id=001

FEWER FILIPINO FAMILIES regard themselves as "mahirap" or poor but their number still accounts for over half of all households nationwide, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

Self-rated poverty, according to the independent survey research institution’s third quarter study that was made exclusive to BusinessWorld, fell to 52% in September from 59% three months earlier. The latest result was said to be equivalent to some 9.4 million families, over a million less than June’s estimate of 10.6 million.

Gains were also noted in terms of being food-poor, with only 38% (equivalent to some 6.9 million families) considering themselves as such from 49% three months earlier (8.8 million estimated).

The government was quick to claim credit, saying its anti-poverty programs were working. The SWS, however, noted that the gains occurred in the context of belt-tightening by families.

The survey, which was conducted from September 24 to 27, involved face-to-face interviews of 1,500 household heads nationwide. They were asked to rate whether their families were poor, on the line, or not poor. A similar question was asked with regard to food poverty.

The error margins are �2.5% for national percentages; �6% for Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao; and �4% for the Balance of Luzon.

September’s self-rated poverty score of 52%, the SWS said, is just six points above the previous low of 46% in December 2007. The food-poverty score, meanwhile, is just four points above the all-time low of 34%, also recorded in December 2007.

Significant gains were noted in Mindanao, where self-rated poverty fell by 16 points to 52% and self-rated food poverty plunged 26 points to 31%.

Self-rated poverty scores improved nationwide: a seven-point improvement in the Visayas to 59%, three points to 48% in Metro Manila, and two points to 51% in the Balance of Luzon.

It was down eight points in rural areas to 56% and by six points in urban areas to 49%.

Similar progress was also noted in terms of self-rated food poverty, which was nine points down to 44% in the Visayas, six points to 38% in the Balance of Luzon, and three points in Metro Manila to 40%.

The SWS, however, pointed to continued belt-tightening by families, saying that the self-rated poverty threshold, or the monthly budget that poor families need so as not to consider themselves poor, "has been sluggish for several years despite considerable inflation".

In the September 2008 survey, the threshold for poor households in Metro Manila was only P10,000, even though it had hit as much as P15,000 previously. In Luzon this was P6,000, and P5,000 in both the Visayas and Mindanao, although peaks of P10,000 had previously been reached.

The median food-poverty thresholds, meanwhile, were P6,000 in Metro Manila, P4,000 in the Balance of Luzon, P3,250 in the Visayas, and P2,500 in Mindanao. All had been reached several years earlier.

As a measurement of belt-tightening, the SWS said the median poverty threshold in Metro Manila remained at P10,000 just like in 2000, even though the Consumer Price Index (CPI) had jumped by about 58%. The P10,000, it said, "is equivalent to only P6,341 in base year 2000 purchasing power, after deflation by the CPI."


"The deflated poverty threshold ... is a throwback to living standards of twenty years ago," the SWS added.

It said that in four surveys conducted in 2000, the base year of the CPI, the median SWS poverty threshold for Metro Manila was already P10,000 a month, equivalent to P15,770 based on the September 2008 cost of living, given a CPI of 157.7.

"The difference of P15,770 - P10,000 = P5,770 between the thresholds of 2000 and September 2008 measures the extent of belt-tightening that took place," the SWS said.

For food poverty, the SWS said the median threshold in Metro Manila was P6,000, equivalent to only P4,043 in base year 2000 purchasing power for food.

It noted that the median food poverty threshold in December 2000 for Metro Manila was P6,000, equivalent to P8,904 at the September 2008 cost of food given the latest CPI of 148.4 for food items.

"The difference of P8,904 - P6,000 = P2,904 between the food thresholds of 2000 and September 2008 is the extent of belt-tightening made by food-poor Metro Manila households," the SWS said.

The government, however, believes the latest survey proves its pro-poor programs are working.

"The President has ordered the disbursement of a lot of funds to the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and DepEd (Department of Education)," National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Domingo F. Panganiban said.

"These funds will be used to continue the Food for School Program and the Ahon Pinoy (Arise Filipino). These programs had a huge effect especially in the provinces," he said in a telephone interview.

"We will continue these as well as the other programs and we are continuously improving their implementation to ensure that we reach the poorest."

University of Asia and the Pacific economist Victor A. Abola said self-rated poverty could continue to decline due to lower consumer prices and continued dollar remittances by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"It (self-rated poverty) may still go down because of lower inflation and besides, our OFWs are still earning well due to the current foreign exchange rate," he said.

Mr. Abola called the self-rated poverty score of 52%, however, as still high.

"Basically, the problem is unemployment. The economy is not generating enough jobs," he said. — from a report by A. D. B. Romero

Full report available at www.sws.org.ph

Unilever to produce deodorants for exports

By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20081208142982.html

Unilever Philippines is expanding its export market for deodorants to 25 to 30 more countries next year with the full operation of its P1.2 billion manufacturing plant, which transforms the country as Unilever’s global production hub of deodorants.

Chito Macapagal, Unilever Philippines vice president for corporate development, said the completion of the plant will put the Philippines as a global supplier of deodorants in all formats.

Macapagal said the company currently exports deodorants to clients in 48 countries. Its market expansion program would bring its deodorants to 25 to 30 more countries worldwide.

"What we want is to expand more the reach of our deodorants with the completion of our plant next year," Macapagal said.

The market expansion may be fully attained within 18 month period.

At present, the main market for deodorants are Latin America, Europe, US, Southeast Asia.

Unilever Philippines has been regional source for deorodorant in roll- on format since 2001 supplying a total of 100 million roll-ons of Rexona, Axe and Dove to 13 countries from 2001 to 2007.

Roll-ons have been contributing a 19 percent year-on-year growth of Unilever’s deodorants category in Asia.

Unilever is also global sourcing unit for deodorant sticks since 2002, supplying 100 million units to 56 countries worldwide. Major customers include the US, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and China.

With its expanding market, the company decided to invest for the construction of Deos City in Manila. Construction started in January 2007 initially producing deodorants to 29 countries. It is a simplified and integrated supply chain.

The new deodorant plant will increase Unilever’s total capacity to 150 million units for sticks and 80 million units for roll-ons.

Unilever’s personal care products division accounts for about 65% of total revenues while the food category accounts for 35%.

Manny Pacquiao: world's best

Pacquiao crushes De la Hoya
GMA, other officials congratulate champion
By NICK GIONGCO
http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN20081208143036.html

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, United States — Manny Pacquiao, making his debut as a welterweight, ended Oscar de la Hoya’s golden career with an eighth-round stoppage Saturday, reinforcing his status as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

2-1 underdog before the fight, the smaller Filipino neutralized Hoya’s size and reach advantage with his quickness, winning nearly every round before De la Hoya indicated he had enough.

"Speed was the answer to this fight," said the 29-year-old Filipino who scored his biggest win of his sensational career. "I was able to defend his jab. I was connecting with everything while he was connecting with nothing."

De la Hoya, 35, stopped for only the second time in his career, was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure and did not attend the customary post-fight press conference.

His future remains uncertain, although the 10-time world champion said that while his heart is still there, his body is not.

"Manny Pacquiao is a great fighter and he fought a great fight," De la Hoya said, his left eye half-closed as a result of the beating he received from the relentless Pacquiao. "He was the better man tonight and he deserves all he has accomplished in his career."

Pacquiao jumped two weight classes to face De la Hoya, but lost none of the lightning-quick movements and hand speed that he is noted for.

After the first round, Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s outspoken trainer, said he knew it was going to be easy. Roach had predicted that Pacquiao would stop De la Hoya in the ninth round.

Although the bout ended officially as an eighth-round TKO, De la Hoya quit before the sound of the bell to begin the ninth, prompting referee Tony Weeks to halt the fight.

"I am only surprised that my trainer picked the correct round that I won," said Pacquiao who stands only 5-6 compared to De la Hoya’s 5-10 frame.

De la Hoya did not disclose his plans for his future, although he hinted a few days ago that a loss would drive him to retirement so he could concentrate on running the affairs of his Golden Boy Promotions and spend more time with his family.

"We will see what happens," said De la Hoya, leaving the question hanging.

What had been labeled as a dream match turned into a nightmare for boxing’s biggest star. So dominating was Pacquiao that in a few instances, he backed away from putting the final touches on the cornered Dela Hoya.

"I felt pity for him," Pacquiao said.

Roach, however, reminded Pacquiao that he had a job to finish.

Near the end of the eighth, Pacquiao was drilling De la Hoya with head and body shots, but the former Olympic champion, to his credit, withstood the barrage.

At the time of the stoppage, Pacquiao was way ahead in the scorecards of the three judges. Two of the three judges scored the first round for De La Hoya but the remaining rounds were all Pacquiao.

Stanley Christodoulou scored it 79-72, while Adelaide Byrd had it 80-71 and Dave Moretti saw it 80-71.

The stunning result did not surprise Top Rank chief Bob Arum.

"The press is never wrong. They said this was going to be a mismatch and it was a mismatch," Arum said.

In a survey conducted on the eve of the fight by the Bulletin, seven out of 10 boxing writers predicted that De la Hoya would knock out Pacquiao in devastating fashion, citing his size and experience.

The opposite happened with De la Hoya quitting before the start of the ninth round.

Pacquiao, who weighed 142 lbs, earned not lower than [] million, while De La Hoya, who came in at 145 lbs, had not less than 16 million.

Both fighters are also l going to cash in on the pay-per-view sales.

Pacquiao, who celebrates his 30th birth anniversary on Dec. 17, said he plans to return to the ring in May or June, possibly against British Ricky Hatton.

The now-retired Floyd Mayweather Jr. is also on Pacquiao’s radar.

The win boosted Pacquiao’s win-loss-draw record to 48-3-2 with 36 knockouts, while the defeat saw De la Hoya’s mark slide to 39-6 with 30 stoppages.

The last time De La Hoya suffered an abbreviated loss was against Bernard Hopkins in a middleweight bout a few years ago.

Philippine Senate expected to approve national budget this week

SWIFT REACTION TO FINANCIAL CRISIS
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN20081208143039.html

The Senate is expected to approve the proposed P1.4 trillion national government budget for 2009 this week as it sets a marathon session starting today to finish deliberations on the outlays for government agencies, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

"We will hopefully approve the budget on second and third reading tomorrow after just a total of five days of marathon sessions," Zubiri said.

"Although there are only a few agencies left in the deliberations, since those are major infrastructure agencies - such as the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Agriculture, we expect prolonged debate," he said.

"We also expect debates on the budgets of the Department of Energy and the Ombudsman as deliberations were suspended last week," Zubiri added.

Agencies whose budgets are lined up for deliberations include the Departments of Agriculture, Public Works and Highways, Environment and Natural Resources, Social Welfare and Development and Budget and Management.

Meanwhile, deliberations will continue on the budgets of the Department of Energy, National Security Council, the Ombudsman, National Power Corp. and on some Special Purpose Funds, he said.

"We will propose amendments to make this budget more relevant to the global economic meltdown. We will provide budget to cushion the impact of a slowing world economy. We will throw a lifeline to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who might loose their jobs abroad by allocating funds for retraining and retooling them so that they could seek new employment," he said.

"We are also increasing the funds on hunger-mitigation and nutrition programs as we expect many poor families to have much less money to spend for food," Zubiri said.

"We will also increase the budget for infrastructure projects that would create jobs and pump-prime the economy, and increase support services to the agricultural sector, especially in agrarian reform communities," he said.

Zubiri said "this would be the first time in recent years that Congress will pass the budget this early and approve the Bicameral Conference Report before the Christmas break on Dec. 19."

"We will have the 2009 General Appropriations Act before the year ends," he stressed.

"I thank my colleagues for their cooperation in expediting the passage of the budget and for their incisive interpellations and comments to temper government spending and bring transparency and efficiency to our expenditure programs," Zubiri said.

Foreign businessmen urge solution to transmission line issue

The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20081208142983.html

Foreign businessmen have urged for a win-win solution to the conflict between National Transmission Corporation (TransCo) and Dasmariñas Village residents over a transmission line near the posh residential village in Makati City.

Robert Sears, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham), said that although the law and due process should be respected at all times both parties must come up with a win-win solution to resolve the issue.

"We need a win-win solution because the Dasmariñas residents I believe do not also want a power blackout situation," Sears said.

"It’s really a public infrastructure issue and it is up to courts but due process must be respected. If dismantling the transmission line means blackout for Metro Manila and public safety is a concern then people should rethink because of the cost to society," he added.

Sears has proposed that TransCo be given enough amount of lead time to prepare for the transfer of the transmission line.

"One would hope that the court would not impose an immediate transfer of the transmission and if it insists then how, this should be thought through," he said.

The transfer of the transmission line is expected to take at least two years at a cost of P1 billion.

"TransCo should be given reasonable time while maintaining service to the public," he said.

The row between TransCo and Dasmariñas Village residents stemmed from a complaint filed by some residents of Dasmariñas Village on March 9, 2000, before Branch 135 of the RTC in Makati seeking, among others, a permanent writ of preliminary injunction to cause National Power Corp. (Napocor) to remove the steel towers and high-voltage transmission cables installed near Tamarind Road.

The residents cited as basis for their complaint studies downloaded from the Internet showing that exposure to electromagnetic radiation emanating from transmission cables allegedly gives rise to afflictions like cancer, brain tumor, breast cancer, leukemia, abortions and birth defects.

Despite showing contrary evidence against the allegations made by Dasmariñas Village residents and presenting arguments that a court injunction would violate Presidential Decree 1818, which prohibits courts from issuing restraining orders or preliminary injunctions in cases involving infrastructure and natural-resource development projects of, and public utilities operated by, the government, the Napocor lost its case.

Residents of Dasmarinas Village succeeded in the legal battle after the Regional Trial Court in Makati issued a writ of execution barring TransCo from transmitting electricity through a critical transmission line near the village.

The government, through the Napocor-Transco, has repeatedly warned that deenergizing or stopping the transmission of power through the Dasmariñas portion of the Sucat-Araneta-Balintawak line would lead to reduced power loads resulting in brownouts and increase the cost of electricity in Metro Manila and elsewhere in Luzon.

The contested portion of the transmission line traverses a 3.2-kilometer area from Lawton Avenue (inside Fort Bonifacio) to Pasong Tamo Extension, which is near Tamarind Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati City.

Transco, which assumed the electrical transmission function of Napocor by virtue of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, would be forced to increase its transmission charges to recover the high costs of building an alternative-transmission line, the Solicitor General earlier told the Court.

There could also be adverse effects on the reliability and stability of the transmission system should Napocor-Transco implement the Court’s decision owing to the possible increase in the cost of electricity and material time needed to build alternative transmission routes.

The Sucat-Araneta-Balintawak 230-kiloVolt transmission line is a critical artery of the national transmission grid. Since electricity generated from power plants in Southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao pass through this critical transmission line, its decommissioning would adversely affect Metro Manila, including the whole Luzon grid, according to studies presented by Transco.(BCM)

Saturday, 6 December 2008

PGMA hails construction of prov’l bus loading, unloading stations along EDSA


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waves as she inspects the foot bridges located under the EDSA overpass at the corner of Quezon Avenue after she formally launched the 16th Metro Manila Development Authority's (MMDA) Provincial Bus Loading and Unloading Station and Connecting Foot Bridges in the area. At left is MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando. (Bert Canilang/OPS-NIB Photo)


President Gloria Macapagal-Arrroyo converses with the Metro aides as she inspects the foot bridges located under the EDSA overpass at the corner of Quezon Avenue after the formal launching ceremonies of the 16th Metro Manila Development Authority's (MMDA) Provincial Bus Loading and Unloading Station and Connecting Foot Bridges in the area. At left is Laguna Governor Luningning Lazaro. (Bert Canilang/OPS-NIB Photo)

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/today.htm#PGMA%20hails

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lauded today the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for constructing provincial bus loading and unloading stations along the 24-kilometer stretch of Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), saying the project would ensure greater safety for commuters and ease traffic congestion.

The EDSA-Quezon Avenue loading/unloading station is one of the 16 stations to be constructed along EDSA this year in keeping with the President’s directive to the MMDA to conceptualize a new traffic improvement scheme for EDSA.

The President had noted that the use of common bus stops for both provincial and the city buses was contributing to traffic gridlock along EDSA.

There are at least 3,000 city buses that ply daily the EDSA route, which passes through the territories of five cities – Caloocan, Quezon, Pasig, Makati and Pasay.

Provincial bus operators had also urged MMDA to construct pre-selected loading and unloading stations along EDSA for the convenience of commuters.

Of the 15 provincial bus loading and unloading stations, nine are located on the north-bound lane of EDSA -- at Magallanes, Guadalupe Bridge, Boni Serrano, Julia Vargas Avenue (Megamall), Ortigas Avenue, Timog/East Avenue, Quezon Avenue, North Avenue (Trinoma) and Balintawak.

On the south-bound line, the six stations are in West Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Timog/East Avenue, Ortigas Avenue, Ayala Avenue and Taft Avenue.

Malaking pakinabang ang naidulot sa ka-Maynila-an ang araw-araw na pagko-commute (ng mga galing sa Central at Southern Luzon papasok sa kanilang mga opisina). Nababawasan ang kanilang (gastusin o) amenities na kailangan nilang ihandog kung dumadayo lamang,” the President said.

Pinasisigla din nitong mga commuters ang negosyo ng transportasyon at serbisyo sa Metro Manila at kanilang mga probinsya,” she added.

The President said that the project, which includes the construction of foot bridges, has greatly improved the general safety of passengers and commuters who have to cross EDSA to get to their destinations.

“Without bus stops (and its connecting foot bridges), imagine that a senior citizen from Zambales who wants to go to Megamall will have to stop at the terminal of Victory (Lines, Inc.) in Pasay City then take a Metro Manila bus or MRT to reach Megamall,” she said.

She added that the “designation of the bus stops would end the guerilla practice of picking up and unloading passengers along EDSA and it will address the legitimate economic and safety imperatives that have been raised by provincial commuters and by the governors who have told us that their constituents were having a hard time.”

After the launching ceremony, the President walked to the adjacent unloading station where she personally greeted passengers arriving from places north of Quezon City.

She was then escorted to a nearby staircase where she took a guided tour of the foot bridge before heading back to Malacañang.

Joining the President were MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, QC 4th District Rep. Nanette Castelo-Daza, 3rd District Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., 2nd District Rep. Mary Anne Susano and Governors Victor Yap (Tarlac), Aurelio Umali (Nueva Ecija), Enrique Garcia (Bataan), Joselito Mendoza (Bulacan) and Teresita Lazaro (Laguna).

Hanjin to proceed with world's 2nd largest shipyard in Misamis Oriental

By Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20081205-176162/Hanjin-resumes-work-on-2-B-shipyard

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The decision of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) to resume the construction of what is being touted as Asia’s largest ship-building project in Misamis Oriental was an early Christmas gift to the people of Northern Mindanao, Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno said.

The $2 billion ship-building facility will sit on a 441-hectare area that spans the towns of Villanueva and Tagoloan.

The Korean company said it would be the second largest such facility in the world when finished.

Hanjin suspended the project in May over a row with officials of the two towns.

But Trade Secretary Peter Favila told reporters in Hong Kong early Wednesday that Hanjin has decided to push through with the project, which will employ about 40,000 people from the construction stage to the actual operation.

“Company officials told me that they are proceeding with the project. They are just waiting for some approval,” Favila was quoted in newspaper reports as saying.

“That is good news. It helps that we did not give up,” Moreno told the Inquirer by phone. Moreno heads a Malacañang-created task force to oversee the project.

He admitted to have heaved a sigh of relief upon knowing that the Korean company was finalizing the resumption of the project, one of the largest single investment at the Phividec Industrial Estate.

“Now we will proceed with what we are supposed to do,” he said.

Andrew Tan’s big bets

VIRTUAL REALITY
By Tony Lopez
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2008/dec/06/yehey/opinion/20081206opi6.html

This year, Alliance Global Inc. chair and Chief Executive Offiver Andrew Tan made two big bets—on casinos and in tourism. They will make him the biggest hotelier in the Philippines, in addition to being the biggest business process outsourcing office developer and the second biggest mid-income high-rise residential and office developer.

Tan, 59, is chairman and CEO of Alliance Global Group Inc., his holding company, and chairman, president and CEO of Megaworld Corp., his property development company.

Alliance is one of the Philippines’ leading conglomerates, with interests in the food and beverage industry, real estate development and quick service restaurants.

Tan, who doesn’t gamble, is investing at a dicey time when many casinos are in financial doldrums and attendance has dropped. At the same time, high-end hotels are having problems drawing top tourist dollar.

Tan thinks hotels and entertainment are revenue-drivers of the company in the future.

Andrew is one entrepreneur who looks beyond the passion and mood of the moment. He didn’t become rich by being daunted by present-day obstacles and challenges.

Tan has partnered with a unit of Genting, the Malaysian gaming company, to build two mega resorts and casinos—one across the NAIA Terminal 3 and the other on reclaimed land along Manila Bay.

An Alliance Group subsidiary, Travellers International Hotel Group Inc. (Travellers), has ventured into tourism-oriented development. It will invest at least US$1.55 billion in two large-scale tourism projects to be developed in various phases over the next few years.

The project includes the building of 5,000 hotel rooms which will make Travellers the largest hotel owner in the country.

With the growth in the global tourism industry and the positioning of Travellers as a major player in this sector, it is expected that Travellers will be a major contributor to Alliance Group, the company says.

On June 2, 2008, the state Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. issued Travellers the first provisional license to participate in Pagcor’s ambitious project, a leisure and entertainment complex which includes the development of the Bagong Nayong Pilipino Entertainment City and Resort Complex on Manila’s famous reclaimed bay area.

Travellers has also set development in another tourism site—the Newport City Integrated Resort located across the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City—where it will build three hotels and a themed shopping and entertainment center.

Alliance Group has concluded a deal with Star Cruises Limited of Hong Kong whereby Star Cruises will eventually acquire 50-percent (direct and indirect) interest in Travellers.

Star Cruises, the third largest cruise operator in the world, is a member of Malaysia-based Genting Group, one of the largest leisure and entertainment companies in the world. This partnership will transform Travellers into a major growth driver for Alliance Global within the next few years, the company says.

For 2008, of the 17 new residential projects scheduled for launch, 16 have already been launched and substantially pre-sold. Total potential revenues from the 17 are P26 billion to be realized over time.

For BPO office, 50,000 square meters has been completed and over 90 percent leased. The remaining balance of 50,000 square meters of BPO office space schedule for completion this year is about 40 percent pre-leased.

On the retail side, 45,000 square meters of retail space was recently completed and is now about 80 percent pre-leased. These developments are expected to enhance RE (real estate) results.

Likewise, more McDonald’s restaurants will be opened during the year and a number of existing ones re-imaged to boost QSR income.

New alcoholic beverages have been pipelined plus a customer activation program put in place as well. In September, EDI launched a consumer promo, “Tagumpay Sa Negosyo,” that gives out enterprise fund for the winner to set up his own business. All these aim to achieve the profit goal for the year.

Tan is the first developer who saw the potential of once sleepy Libis in Quezon City as a prime property. He developed Eastwood City.

He predicted the huge demand for call centers considering the Philippines’ English language skills and strategic location. He put up call centers, becoming its biggest developer.

He sensed the strong demand for housing from cash-rich Filipino workers. He developed housing projects for them.

By so doing, Tan became big almost overnight, a stirring rags-to-riches story.

Gifted with visionary entrepreneurship—and the proverbial Midas touch—Andrew is at the top of his game, presiding over a business conglomerate with a workforce of more than 4,000, total assets of P111 billion and equity of P77.65 billion.

Alliance Group has three major operating units:

• Real estate, which includes Mega­world and Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc.,

• Food and beverage which includes the (1) distilled spirit manufacturing, marketing and distribution, presently with Emperador and Generoso brandy labels, (2) operations of the foreign-based subsidiaries that handle the manufacture and international distribution of food products, (3) glass container manufacturing business that produces flint glass containers primarily for internal requirements, and (4) distribution of consumer products under international labels

• Quick service restaurant business (QSR)—operates under the McDonald’s brand, in accordance with a master franchise agreement with McDonald’s USA. Golden Arches Development Corp. represents this segment.

Emperador is the world’s best-selling brandy. It helped that the Filipino aspirational taste shifted from gin to brandy.

Brandy actually financed Tan’s acquisition and expansion during the difficult years after the 1997 Asian Crisis. The business was giving him profits of P1 billion annually, enabling him to undertake feverish construction during the real estate slump and reaping the benefits of recovery.

Megaworld Corp. is the largest developer of space for business process outsourcing (BPO). It is the second biggest in the mid-income high-rise residential condominium development.

In less than 20 years, the Megaworld Group has developed and completed 50 residential, office and commercial projects.

Founded by Tan in 1989, Megaworld is one of the leading property development companies in the Philippines.

Philippine government employees get P10,000 Xmas bonus

Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=politics5_dec5_2008

PRESIDENT Arroyo has ordered the release of more than P11 billion to cover an additional P10,000 Christmas bonus for all state workers, including contractuals who have been employed in government service for at least four months.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said P7,000 of the productivity bonus will be shouldered by the national government while P3,000 will be sourced from the savings of their respective agencies.

“I have been authorized by the President to end all watercooler chismis, lunchtime talk, powder room chitchats and evening novenas on what will be this year’s yearend productivity bonus,” Andaya told members of the Philippine Government Employees Association during their national assembly at the Palace yesterday.

He said the President is expected to sign this week the executive order for the additional Christmas bonus totaling P11 billion for national government workers alone.

Andaya also said the third round of salary increase for state workers, officially known as the Salary Standardization Law 3, will be implemented next year.

Just Build It

Peter Wallace
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=peterWallace_dec5_2008

What I want to do today is concentrate on infrastructure because it is one of the most neglected, yet most needed sectors. It is also a great way of avoiding a recession as it probably does stimulate an economy.

And let me start with the South Luzon Expressway. I pointed out the chaotic construction and suggested too that quality wasn’t to necessary standards. So action 1 is to cancel the contracts and give it to someone like Leighton Contractors who did such an excellent job on the North Luzon Expressway (to be completely transparent, Leighton is one of my clients but I will not benefit financially from making this recommendation. It does, though, mean I know the competence and professionalism of this company). Or Kajima-Obayashi-JFE Engineering-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. (KOJM) and Hazama-Taisei-Nippon Steel (HTN) who did the Clark-Tarlac-Subic connection.

Then rebuild the Northern Samar roads. Poverty is so prevalent there.

LRT-7 is an excellent concept that would provide efficient public transport from the north into the city. Yet it took seven years to get a contract signed. That was in February this year, 10 months ago. So you’d expect that construction had started by now. No way. All the permits, licenses, negotiations have yet to be completed. Here’s something that could really help the economy during this crisis. It’s stuck in the bureaucracy.

My wife and I have adopted a town, Calminue, in Laguna. Calminue had no road, no electricity, no water, and a school with only half a roof. Needless to say, it had no income to speak of. We put the roof back on, the electricity is on the way, and the mayor started a concrete road before the elections—but stopped it after 100 meters and the end of the elections. So there is no road and there is still no water.

I’ve no doubt at all this is replicated in hundreds (thousands?) of towns. Visit any rural town from the northernmost part of Luzon to the southern areas in Mindanao and you’ll know you’re still in the Philippines mainly because the “structural design” of every town would be the same. It’d be like you stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” because almost exactly the same kind of unpaved or partially paved, narrow road in one town is replicated in every other. A dilapidated school building in one town would have a cousin in another. One or two “grand” houses (generally the mayor’s and the vice mayor’s) amongst the other badly painted ones along the “national highway” can be observed in every town.

By the way, you should see the new town hall in Calamba, it rivals Malacañang Palace. A huge monstrosity in a town that has constant grid lock on its roads, if you can call the one lane (the other—where it exists—is blocked by tricycles, jeepneys, people) a road. I guess it satisfies the mayor’s ego, although it doesn’t satisfy the people’s needs.

Basically, quality of infrastructure is the same in hundreds of towns throughout the Philippines. The Philippines is a quarter century behind its neighbors. So it’s no wonder then that 28 million Filipinos have remained in poverty. How can they not be anything but poor when they don’t have access even to the most basic infrastructure? Less than 1 percent of the poorest have piped drinking water, only 8 percent own flushed toilets (and no seats on those toilets of course), and only about 7 percent have access to electricity. In consonance with this is the people’s sources of livelihood—there’s none.

So here’s where pump priming could really work. Constructing the road, finishing the power lines, and installing water piping would provide immediate jobs, not to mention improve the plight of all those Filipinos in poverty who don’t even have access to basic infrastructure. The local people should be hired to be the laborers for all this work with the country’s soldiers helping out as part of their civic program. The people could then grow crops and get them to the market, giving continuous income and economic upliftment. If it would take too long for new construction to get started, focus on the rehabilitation and upgrading of existing infrastructure so that productivity could increase. Or in most cases, start.

Now isn’t that a much smarter thing to do if you want to avoid a recession and build an economy than giving people a broom and T-shirt—to sweep the dilapidated streets.

Governors and mayors could easily implement such infrastructure projects as they have control over their resources. But the need to concentrate only on “quick result” projects to enhance their re-election potential means the really serious, necessary stuff gets brushed aside—it takes too long for results to show. Well, they could have finished many projects before the next election if they started earlier and not during the re-election period. Another problem is the small geographical area that a mayor controls, it’s a reason why local government units only manage to implement small-scale projects. Yet they could do the bigger jobs if there were coordination between them that would enable them to pool their resources.

But, as I said last week, what worries me most is that too much of whatever funds that can be found to pump prime will be used to pump prime someone’s bank account instead. It’s silly to pretend otherwise, the Philippines is corrupt. Every survey, every analysis says so.

So I want people in the private sector that we trust to oversee all fund releases, and have authority to fully inspect. This is a unique opportunity (out of crisis) for the President to prove she’s determined to fight corruption and help the country avoid a financial meltdown. It’s time to do radical things.

Of course the other thing is that even if the money is available, I’ve some real doubts that it can be spent. Government agencies already can’t spend the funds given them. Their systems are so corrupted (in the operational, not financial sense) that they can’t get all the projects started that are assigned to them. Added to that the complete lack of coordination among line agencies in implementing projects, and progress just doesn’t happen.

The problem with the infrastructure system in the Philippines lies on the basic tenet that building infrastructure requires sound policies. And if there’s anything that’s not present here, it’s sound policies. Sound policies would mean simplification of the bureaucratic processes, approvals where as little discretion as possible is needed, where automatic approvals are given when targets are met. Sound policies would mean consistency in policy implementation to encourage private sector participation, yet the “multi-layered” risks originating from the constant and irrational intervention of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government just make sound policies impossible.

Oh the talk is there, but the reality isn’t. The president has promised to reduce red tape, well we could wrap all the Christmas presents to be given this Christmas by 90 million Filipinos to each other—and still have tape left over.

There’s a world crisis, it’s time to go beyond talk and effect action. I’ve suggested a few specifics above, I’ve lots more.

Comments to my columns can be sent to plw@mydestiny.net

What downsizing? Job fair comes in handy

By Arlie Calalo
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=police3_dec5_2008

AT LEAST 30 big companies in Metro Manila are responding to the government call to expand employment opportunities amid fears of reduced jobs due to the global economic crunch, the Labor Department said yesterday.

Secretary Marianito Roque said in a statement that the biggest employers in the National Capital Region have lined up openings at a job and career fair today in Far Eastern University’s Sampaloc campus.

“Many of the participating firms are continuously hiring, an indication that the economy continues to generate employment despite the financial crisis,” he said.

Setting up booths to process applicants on the spot are the NCO Group, eTelecare, HSBC Global Resourcing, Trendworks (Skechers), People Support, Teleperformance, Concentrix, VXI Global Solutions, McDonalds, SM Department Stores, Megaworld Corp., Gerry’s Grill, Sterling Paper Group of Companies, Giordano Phils., Top Ideas, KFC/Mister Donut, Telus, Axis Global Technologies, Sun Cellular, Aboitiz Transport Systems Inc., Toyota Shaw Ortigas, Eastern Telecom, Abenson Inc., Nestlé Inc., St. Luke’s Medical Center, PLDT, Teledevelopment, John Clements and Convergys.

Roque said the job fair would usher in the celebration of the agency’s 75th anniversary on Dec. 8.

“The event underscores DoLE’s relentless effort to help Filipino workers find employment since its foundation in 1933.”

Jobseekers should bring ID photos, copies of their resumés and credentials. They can also register for pre-employment requirements with the National Bureau of Investigation, National Statistics Office, Social Security System, and Bureau of Internal Revenue, which have their own help desks.

Applicants can also avail of legal and welfare services through JobStreet.com, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Labor office.

President gives bus stops a once-over

Rio N. Araja and Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=police1_dec5_2008

PRESIDENT Arroyo is inspecting today passenger bays to see for herself the impact of the traffic remedial measure on Edsa.

Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando said she wanted to gauge the practicality of 15 loading and unloading points for provincial buses on the 24-kilometer stretch which had defied previous attempts to get rid of the gridlock.

He said the scheme would sort out 3,000 city buses from the 2,500 provincial buses, incorporating radio frequency tagging to optimize the number of public utility vehicles based on passenger demand.

Fernando said the look-see would cover the agency’s new traffic geometric improvements such as U-turn slots, footbridges, pink fences, gantries, directional signs, pavement markings and curbs designed to ease traffic flow while promoting the safety of motorists, commuters, pedestrians and the general public.

He said nine north-bound and six south-bound bays have been opened aside from the Balintawak and Magallanes entry points, all delineated by signages—Taft Avenue, Ayala Avenue, Guadalupe bridge in Makati City; and Boni Serrano, SM Mega Mall, J. Vargas Avenue, Ortigas Avenue in Mandaluyong City; and Timog Avenue, Quezon Avenue, North Avenue, Trinoma mall in Quezon City.

Edsa’s third lane is set aside for provincial buses with the first and second lanes for city buses to facilitate the transfer of passengers without hampering the flow of traffic, according to Fernando.

Businessmen say 4.5-5.0 % economic growth still possible

By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20081206142885.html

Businessmen yesterday said that 4.5 to 5 percent growth this year is still possible and a lower but conservative 3 percent growth next year given the impact of the global financial crisis on the local economy.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Miguel B. Varela said during its year-end briefing that a 4.5 to 5 percent growth this year is still possible because the global financial crisis has not yet affected the local economy.

"There is no serious implication this year as a result of the crisis. There is no closure and layoffs but this does not mean we are not going to share of it. For now, the only sign is the weakening of the peso and it is an indication that not everything will be good next year," Varela said.

Varela further cited the country’s sound economic [fundamentals] and the strong banking sector that are supposed to bolster confidence among businessmen.

The exports sector though will be vulnerable particularly electronics and garments since over 60 percent of their exports go to the US market but there are other good news like the continued bullishness of the business process outsourcing sector, which is expected to hit 30-35 percent growth this year.

For next year, PCCI honorary chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis said the conservative growth would be 3 percent.

"The local economy is going to post a conservative growth. It cannot grow below 3 percent," Ortiz-Luis said.

PCCI president Edgardo B. Lacson also said that even at 3 percent growth, the local economy would not be in a recession mode unlike other countries.

"This means there would still be jobs creation," he added.

Ortiz-Luis, who is also president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said that unemployment rate is expected to soar in March next year because of the graduation of over 1 million students from college, who will be joining the job market.

"But there is not really a very adverse impact as of now, everybody paid bonus although there is little loss in sales," he added.

Lacson added that because of the economic slowdown next year and the private sector is expected to hold back their investments, the PCCI is pushing for the implementation of P100-billion stimulus program.

"We will have all the details of this stimulus program before end of this year," Lacson said noting that some of the infrastructure projects would have to be implemented in the first quarter next year.

The P100 billion, a private-public investment program, would be used to fund projects for the agriculture sector, infrastructure, energy and education.

Lacson, however, said that government and the private sector are ensuring that the loans would not become behest as what happened during the Marcos administration.

Lacson said the government would be hiring experts, technical people to look into the proposed projects to ensure the project is viable.

A project proponent is also required to put up 30 percent of the project cost.

"Measures must be in place to safeguard the fund otherwise we will just be throwing money in the blackhole," he said.

Government financial institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank of the Philippines, Government Service and Insurance System and the National Development Co. are helping put up the fund. Private commercial banks are also joining, Lacson said.

Businessmen, however, do not see the need to raise more taxes saying the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs just have to improve their collections.

"We have to look at measures of raising revenues without hurting the people," he said.

One thing the business community does not want to see is the Congressional pursuit for a Charter change.

"The merits or demerits of the proposed Cha-Cha is not for us to judge but given the problems of the world, turmoil and the impending impact on the local economy, it is uncalled for and untimely," he said.

"Cha-cha is a very polarizing activity, it must happen but all political parties must agree. The timing is so bad at this time and it is like shooting our foot again," he said.

Ortiz-Luis also said that the move in Congress tinkering on the issue of security of tenure, banning subcontracting activities and criminalizing it will make the BPO players just disappear.

"We have an advantage over Vietnam, Thailand and India but if we pushed with these changes in the labor laws then the BPO might just walk away," he said.

Lacson described the move as out of sync with the government’s campaign to grant lifetime visa to foreign investors who would employ 10 people in his business.(BCM)

November inflation down to 9.9%

EDU LOPEZ
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20081206142881.html

Declining prices of consumer goods and the price rollback of petroleum products have slowed down the country s inflation rate to 9.9 percent in November from 11.2 percent in October.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) has also attributed it to the continued deceleration in the annual rates of the heavily weighted food, beverages and tobacco (FBT) index together with those of the fuel, light and water (FLW) and services. Inflation a year ago was 3.2 percent.

In Metro Manila, the annual inflation likewise continued to move at a slower pace of 6.8 percent in November from 8.0 percent in October due to the slower annual price increases in FBT, housing and repairs (H&R) and services index.

The slowdown in the annual price hikes of FBT, FLW and services items eased the year-on-year inflation in areas outside the National Capital Region (AONCR) by 1.4 percentage points to 11.2 percent in November from 12.6 percent in October.

Excluding selected food and energy items, core inflation further picked up to 7.9 percent in November from 7.8 percent in October.

Compared to October, the country s consumer prices posted a negative rate in November as it fell by -0.6 percent. This was effected by the downward price adjustments in rice and vegetables and the series of price rollbacks in petroleum products such as LPG, kerosene, gasoline and diesel.

The annual inflation rate in NCR decelerated by 1.2 percentage points to 6.8 percent in November from 8.0 percent in October.

The same trend was also observed in areas outside Metro Manila. The annual inflation rate in the area also slid to 11.2 percent in November from 12.6 percent in October.

All the regions registered slower annual inflation rates with Zamboanga Peninsula recording the biggest decrease of 3.9 percentage points (13.2% from 17.1%).

The lowest annual rate of 9.2 percent was posted in MIMAROPA while the highest was still noted in Eastern Visayas at 16.5 percent.