Friday, 18 January 2008

Brand New Bacolod-Silay airport opens today

By Chrysee G. Samillano
Original report at the Businessworld Online

BACOLOD CITY — Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra yesterday celebrated mass and blessed the new P5.6-billion New Bacolod (Silay) Airport, which will start commercial operations today.

Vice-President Manuel "Noli" L. de Castro will inaugurate the new airport this afternoon together with Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza, Minister Akira Sugiyama of the Japanese embassy, Japan Bank for International Cooperation representative H. Togo and local government officials.

The old 37-hectare airport in Bacolod, which had been in operation since 1936, was shut down after the last flight last night.

Still opposing the new airport, Bacolod Mayor Evelio R. Leonardia, who was in the last flight, said the Torres and Lizares families who donated the property for the old airport, have the legal right to regain the property if it is no longer used as an airport.

"According to the donors — the Lizares and Torres families, the property is meant for an airport. So that if it is going to be sold, or used for something else, they may have a legal right to take it back," he said.

The Lizares and Torres families donated 17 hectares for the airport. Tycoon Lucio C. Tan owns the other 20 hectares.

Retain old airport

Mr. Leonardia was in Manila to submit a petition for the retention of the old airport to Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita. The petition was supported by 100,000 signatures.

The new airport, located about 20 kilometers north of Bacolod in Barangay Bagtic, Silay City, occupies 187 hectares, has a 2,000-meter runway, 15 check-in counters, and three pre-departure areas that lead to three tubes.

It has a cargo terminal building and a fire fighting station, located right next to the control tower. —

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

OF Remittances in First Eleven Months Rise to US$13.1 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Release

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks in November amounted to US$1.2 billion, expanding by 3.8 percent relative to its level in the previous year. Since May 2006, monthly remittances have surpassed US$1 billion. The level of remittance in November 2007 brought the cumulative amount for the eleven-month period to US$13.1 billion, higher by 14.1 percent compared to the year-ago level of US$11.4 billion. Remittances coursed through banks are projected to reach US$14.3 billion in 2007.

The sustained strong remittance flows in November reflected the continued rise in the number of deployed overseas workers. Preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that total deployment in November 2007 rose year-on-year by 7.7 percent to 81,530, marking the fifth consecutive month that the deployment figure recorded an increase from the respective year-ago levels. In particular, the number of deployed land- and sea-based workers in November grew by 10.1 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. Classified by skill, the bulk of deployed land-based Filipino workers comprised mostly of higher-paid professional and skilled workers such as medical and healthcare workers staff, engineers, office and restaurants/food service staff, and production-related personnel.

Higher remittances from January to November 2007 were also attributed to the increase in the number of remittance centers abroad as banks and other financial institutions strengthened their tie-ups with foreign remittance agents. These developments provided remitters fast and efficient modes of remittance transfer facilities and also allowed beneficiaries to avail themselves of the range of financial services offered by banks.

To date, the bulk of remittance flows came from the U.S., U.K., Italy, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Kuwait firms plan $10 bln Philippines investments

By Ulf Laessing
From Reuters
Original report at The Guardian

KUWAIT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Kuwaiti firms including logistics provider Agility plan to invest more than $10 billion in infrastructure projects in the Philippines, the company leading the group said on Tuesday.

The firms and one non-Kuwaiti company plan to develop airports, ports, railways, power stations and telecommunications in the Southeast Asian state, Kuwait investment firm Al-Abraj Holding Co said in a statement on the Kuwait bourse Web site.

The Philippines government has said it wants to invest 1.7 trillion pesos ($41 billion) in its power, water, telecommunications and transport industries by 2010. Last year, it offered 10 infrastructure projects worth $2 billion to foreign investors.

Hanjin sets up $11.9-M R&D project in Subic

By Henry Empeño
Original report at The Business Mirror

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—After the hardware, here comes the software.

Subic shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co. is now putting up a research and development (R&D) project here, apparently to speed up its shipbuilding program in the free port and broaden its exposure in the local maritime industry.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza said Hanjin has put up the HHIC-Tech Inc. to focus on the information technology (IT) component of its naval architecture projects here.

The new venture, which is projected to employ 196 technicians, is worth $11.9 million, thereby putting Hanjin’s total capital exposure in Subic at $1.695 billion.

“This will be another plus for Subic’s maritime industry because this new company will be introducing new technology and exposing local workers to the latest industry trends,” Arreza said.

“What Subic got earlier from the shipyard project was the hardware part of the business. Now we’re getting the software component, which is just as essential to any maritime operation,” he added.

According to a project profile from the SBMA Manufacturing and Maritime Business Department (MMBD), HHIC-Tech would mainly undertake research and development (R&D) studies, and provide technical support, advisory and consultancy services, as well as IT-enabled services.

The firm would specialize in computer-aided design, electronic data retrieval, electronic directory and library, and structural ship drafting. As an R&D outfit, it would also draft and train personnel to supply industry needs, the MMBD said.

MMBD manager Ronnie Yambao also disclosed that HHIC Tech would not only provide services to its parent company, the HHIC-Philippines Inc., but would also target client-businesses that are engaged in shipyard operation, maritime construction and repair, maritime export and distribution.

While the new firm would be seeking customers with businesses in mortgaging, pledging and disposing of ocean-going vessels, ship instruments and accessories, as well as parts and supplies, the new firm would not be involved in public utility operations, Yambao clarified.

The establishment of Hanjin-Tech came after Hanjin inaugurated last month the first phase of its Subic shipyard project, a 2.3-million-sqm global shipbuilding base seven times bigger than its original facility in Busan.

Hanjin officials earlier said its world-class shipbuilding facility here will produce some of the world’s largest sea vessels, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) supertankers, very large crude carriers (VLCCs), and container ships.

As of the end of 2007, the Subic shipyard has already received orders for 40 units of cargo vessels, company officials also said.

Arreza also said on Tuesday that the SBMA has extended the lease by HHIC-Philippines of the Lower Mau loading area here, which is used by the company to load heavy equipment and materials ferried across the bay to its Redondo Peninsula shipyard.

“We’re extending to Hanjin all the support we can give in recognition of its growing investments in Subic, and its equally huge role in generating employment for local residents,” said the SBMA official.

Arreza noted that the South Korean company has put the Philippines on the shipbuilding map when it first invested $1 billion for the shipbuilding facility here two years ago.

Last year, the firm announced additional investments worth $684 million to cover costs for several ship orders that it has received from various shipping companies around the world.

Foreign investors outstrip locals in 2007 projects

Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Foreign equity investments dominate the investment registration in 2007 versus the local in 2007 investments inflow that tallied P349.08 billion or 28.67 percent higher versus P271.29 billion than 2006.

Data released by the Board of Investments and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, the government’s premier investment generating agencies, showed that foreign investors account for 54 percent of total investments for P189.72 billion while Filipinos account for 46 percent or P159.36 billion of the total.

The top five foreign investors are Singaporeans with P44.12 billion investments mostly in power projects versus P6.31 billion in 2006, Japanese with P38.37 billion in the electronics sector versus P19 billion, Americans with P36.05 billion in electronics and water projects versus P37.84 billion, Dutch with P14.51 billion mostly for power projects versus P7.19 billion and Norwegians also in the power sector with P11.17 billion worth of investors.

"This means that foreign investors are back both in manufacturing and infrastructure," said Trade and Industry Undersecretary Elmer C. Hernandez, who is also managing head of the BoI.

"The reinvigorated interest of the foreign investors in the country is important to further fuel our economic recovery," Hernandez said.

Normally, foreign investors account for 40 percent of total investments inflow until it was leveled at 50-50 with Filipinos. It was only glaring in 2006 that foreigners already dominate the investments scene.

Last year’s investments cover 766 projects that are expected to generate direct employment of 144,714 as against the 698 projects in 2006 that generated 130,376 jobs opportunities.

"This surge in investments is a reflection of the investors’ confidence brought about by the much-improved economic condition of the country and the enhanced business environment," said Trade and Industry Secretary Peter B. Favila.

Favila said that the government will continue to pursue policy reforms to improve further the country’s competitiveness in the global market.

"We mean business when we said we will improve government transactions. All this is meant to bring in more business for the country and provide more jobs to Filipinos," Favila said.

Hernandez also noted that significant growth were posted in the power and water supply, mass housing, IT services and manufacturing sectors.

"The renewed interest in the power sector will ensure that the growing power requirements of the country in the immediate future is being addressed now," Hernandez said.

He further noted the fact that the investments in the power sector are in the renewable and environmentally clean sector.

From Youtube to the Herald Tribune

Dance is part of rehabilitation at Philippine prison
By Alexandra A Seno
Full article at The International Herald Tribune

Cebu, Philippines --Six months ago, Crisanto Niere and Wenjiel Resane were just two more inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, serving time for drug trafficking. Today, they are Internet superstars.

YouTube footage, uploaded in mid-July, shows the prisoners dancing to the Michael Jackson song "Thriller." It has been viewed more than 10 million times and become one of the most popular clips ever on the video-sharing Web site. The skit features Niere, playing Jackson, and Resane, as the "girl," along with more than 1,500 other inmates performing in the background.

Read more and see video.

Monday, 14 January 2008

EVAT and populism

By Dan Mariano
Mar Roxas’s demagoguery
Original article at The Manila Times

On any day of the week tens of thousands of vehicles running on gasoline or diesel fuel clog every square meter of EDSA. So many of them take to this main artery of Metro Manila an extraterrestrial visitor might conclude that petroleum is dirt cheap in this country.

If the visitor peers through the tinted windows of private vehicles, he would see that most of them have only one passenger. This is the case even for many gas-guzzling SUVs.

Outside malls some motorists park their cars with their air-conditioners—and, therefore, engines—running so that the interior of their vehicles remains cool when they come back from shopping.

Jeepneys, buses and other commercial vehicles belch black smoke—a sure sign of poor engine maintenance, which directly translates to abysmal fuel efficiency, not to mention air pollution.

At both northern and southern ends of EDSA jeepneys can be seen parked by the curb with their engines running idle while their drivers take a break.

Meanwhile, buses cruise the highway half full or even less. As they jostle for passengers at bus stops, they clog three lanes of EDSA as they box each other out for the dwindling commuters who prefer not to take the MRT. Some sections of EDSA have been turned into de facto terminals by scores of buses, further denying other motorists precious road space.

Slow-moving delivery vans and 10-wheelers hog the innermost lanes, forcing other road-users to resort to dangerous maneuvers just to pass them. When the inevitable fender-benders—or worse—occur traffic backs up.

These and other bad driving habits all contribute to the bumper-to-bumper traffic, which has become the permanent condition on EDSA.

Nobody has come out with a reliable estimate of how much gasoline and diesel fuel gets burned merely as waste on EDSA, but it would be safe to say the figure runs into millions of liters annually.

The wasteful consumption of gasoline and other oil products on EDSA and the rest of the Philippines, for that matter, can only be due to the fact that Filipinos still regard petroleum—notwithstanding world crude prices hitting $100 a barrel—as cheap enough a commodity to squander.

Dangerous populism

Sen. Mar Roxas is calling for a suspension of the 12 percent EVAT on gasoline and other oil products in order to “spare Filipinos from the effects of skyrocketing oil prices.” His well-known ambition to run for president in 2010 obviously explains his dangerous populism—but as a trained economist, he ought to know better.

Keeping oil artificially cheap—through an indirect state subsidy, which an EVAT suspension actually amounts to—would not only distort free market forces. It will also sustain demand at current levels and, worse, further abet wasteful consumption.

In the end the only beneficiaries of political measures “to keep oil prices within the reach of consumers” are the oil companies, which are thus assured of hefty ROIs.

There was a time when gasoline and other oil products were really dirt cheap—so much so that the country became dependent on imported petroleum for 95 percent of its energy requirements. But when world crude prices shot up due to the Mideast oil embargoes of the 1970s the shock forced Filipinos to develop other energy sources.

“Today the country’s dependence on imported oil has been reduced to 35 percent,” said Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas at the Kapihan sa Sulo media forum Saturday.

Alternative energy sources, such as geothermal, hydro, wind, solar and coal, have allowed the country to cut to 10 percent its dependence on imported oil for power generation, i.e. electricity.

Imported oil, however, continues to drive the country’s transport system. “Cushioning the effects” of high fuel prices through EVAT suspension, as Roxas proposes, will only reinforce bad driving and other habits that waste fuel.

Instead, politicians like Roxas would do the country a real service if only they exercise genuine leadership. His bid to keep fuel cheap enough to squander will probably earn brownie points from the proverbial peanut gallery—but it offers no long-term solution to our dependence on imported oil.

If the oil embargoes three decades ago jumpstarted the development of alternative energy sources to generate electricity, politicians like Roxas should see the currently skyrocketing oil prices as another opportunity to further wean the country away from its dependence on gasoline and diesel fuel—this time for mass transport.

As in any crisis, solutions to our energy problems can be solved through intelligent, farsighted statesmanship—not political demagoguery that caters to the public’s desire for instant gratification and/or resistance to long-term change.

Local officials thank GMA for ‘medical ship’ BRP Ang Pangulo

By Yul Malicse
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Local government units from the country’s poorest provinces and other areas hailed President Arroyo yesterday for transforming the presidential yacht BRP Ang Pangulo into a mobile medical facility to deliver free medical services and medicines to their needy constituents.

"The people of Surigao del Norte are heartfully thankful to President Arroyo for this humanitarian gesture," said Gov. Robert Ace S. Barbers of Surigao del Norte, one of 10 provinces set to receive medical services from the presidential yacht this month.

Aside from Surigao del Norte, the other provinces that would be served by the presidential yacht are Surigao del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Maguindanao, Masbate, Agusan del Sur, Misamis Occidental, Biliran and Lanao del Norte.

Mountain Province, which is also listed as among the poorest provinces in the country, benefitted earlier from the "Serbisyo Muna Project" which has been expanded by Mrs. Arroyo through Administrative Order No. 159. The project is now known as People’s Government Mobile Action, with the acronym PGMA.

Since Mountain Province in the Cordillera is a noncoastal area, medical and socioeconomic services were delivered by Serbisyo Muna and the PGMA through the coordination of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chairman and chief executive officer Efraim C. Genuino.

The National Statistical and Coordination Board (NSCB) has provided a list of the country’s 79 provinces ranked according to the 2003 Poverty Incidence Report.

Genuino, known for supporting pro-poor and humanitarian projects not only in far-flung places but also in depressed areas in Metro Manila, conferred with Commodore Jose Luis M. Alano, commander of the Service Force of the Philippine Fleet, and Capt. Antonio M. Mendoza, commanding officer of BRP Ang Pangulo, immediately after Mrs. Arroyo issued the order last week to transform BRP Ang Pangulo into a mobile medical facility.

"This is the first time that the BRP Ang Pangulo is committed fully for delivery of medical services to the country’s poorest provinces," Alano and Genuino both said.

"This is not simply undertaking a medical mission. This is delivery of medical services and needed medicines to the fullest, and for free," they added.

In his meeting with Alano and Mendoza, Genuino was accompanied by Pagcor corporate communications chief Edward "Dodie" King and former Agusan del Sur Gov. Adolf Edward "Bong" Plaza, project coordinator. Plaza himself is a resident of Agusan del Sur, one of the country’s poorest provinces.

Genuino has donated an X-ray machine and led a team in viewing the structure of the vessel to install the other much needed medical facilities, including operation room.

The facility will render free medical treatment and consultations on dental problems, eye ailments including cataract, circumcision, kidney and heart ailments among other medical cases.

Nat’l gov’t posts P197.5-billion outstanding cash balance in Nov.

By Lee C. Chipongian
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

The National Government (NG) has an outstanding cash balance of P197.45 billion as of November 30 from only P147.23 billion in the previous month, Bureau of the Treasury papers said.

The government is "awash with cash," said some officials, and there are no real urgency to borrow overseas. But Finance Undersecretary and Acting National Treasurer Roberto Tan said that timing is of importance and if and when opportunities arrive, the NG will issue bonds worth $ 500 million. The central bank has already approved in principle the proposed foreign borrowing, the first and only for 2008.

For the first 11 months NG’s actual cash balance was higher than program. In 2006 the government closed the year with an outstanding cash balance of P141.93 billion.

Of the total cash, P109.87 billion are deposited with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and P91.59 billion are with government financial institutions or GFIs.

Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) has P57.77 billion of NG cash while Land Bank of the Philippines accounts for P33.82 billion.

Philippine National Bank still maintains about P3.94 billion of NG money despite that the government already sold its last shares in the bank worth P998 million middle of last year. Another government bank Philippine Veterans Bank has P1.36 billion of NG cash as of end November.

Cash in foreign banks, on the other hand, amounted to P10.42 billion, according to the BTr. The BTr only has P6 million of NG money from P107 million in October.

To save more on interest payments and boost the NG cash balance, the government is planning to buy back Republic of the Philippines bonds or ROPs to reduce the country’s debt level to below 60 percent of gross domestic product this year.

Prepayment and debt swaps/exchanges is part of the government’s debt management strategy to reduce its dependence on foreign borrowings, cut the costs of external debt service and free up more collaterals to increase the cash balance.

The Department of Finance said plans for prepayments and debt swaps depend on the NG cash position.

As of September 2007, the NG debt level is P3.83 trillion while external debt stood at $ 54 billion, also as of the first nine months. For the full year 2007, the central bank said the country’s total dollar reserves were at record high of $ 33.7 billion.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Nationwide Crime Rate Down By 40% In 2007

Mike Cohen, Pacific News Center Correspondent
Original report at Pacific News Center International

Manila, Philippines - The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that the crime rate in the Philippines dropped by 40 percent in 2007.

PNP Director General Avelino submitted a formal report on the crime rate in the Philippines to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The news was welcomed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "There is much to celebrate today, especially the big decrease in crimes in the past year, not only in Manila, but also nationwide," said Arroyo during the 107th founding anniversary of the Manila Police District (MPD) at its headquarters along United Nations Ave. in Manila.

"Congratulations to the Manila police and congratulations to the police throughout the country," she added.

The President also thanked Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim for the 60 new vehicles that the city government donated recently to the MPD, formerly the Western Police District (WPD).

Prior to entering politics, Lim was Manila's chief of police, and later head of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). He was already a senator when he decided to run for mayor in last year's local and senatorial elections.

The President also thanked Lim for his commitment to protect her presidency in the face of renewed destabilization moves last year.

"Mayor Lim is a man of his word, and he has supported law and order and refused to allow destabilization to threaten democracy in Manila during his term – his commitment to the law and democratic process shows he is a good leader of Manila," said the President.

Meanwhile, the President ordered Razon to include the MPD in the PNP's housing program, and to build the proposed units for MPD members behind its main headquarters on UN Ave.

She also urged MPD head Chief Superintendent Roberto Rosales to continue his campaign against illegal drugs and warring gangs in the city.

Rosales, who is known for his successful campaign against illegal drugs as provincial PNP chief in Quezon province, is celebrating his first year as MPD head. Some of the largest drug busts and drug-related arrests in Philippine history happened during Rosales' tenure as PNP chief of Quezon Province.

The President recalled in her 2003 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that she paid a special tribute to Rosales for turning down a P35-million bribe from drug syndicates operating in Quezon.

"Now, I count on Rosales to move aggressively against drug syndicates in Manila, and the gang wars disturbing the neighborhoods," said Arroyo.

Gang violence has risen to alarming levels, as some of the street gang have ties to foreign-based branches of organized crime groups that are linked to international crime syndicates. Gang wars, have led to deaths and increased drug use in urban areas.

Also present during the anniversary ceremonies were Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, a former PNP chief and former secretary of National Defense; National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director

Geary Barias; Manila Representatives Amado Bagatsing and Grace Bonoan; and Manila Bulletin Chairman Emilio Yap who donated P500,000 to the MPD social fund.