Thursday, 27 March 2008

STAR Tollway inauguration photos

The Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (also known as the STAR Tollway or CALABARZON Expressway as town folks call the tollway) is a four-lane 22 km expressway in the Philippines. The STAR Tollway is operated by STAR Infrastructure Development Corporation (SIDC). It runs from Santo Tomas to Lipa City in the province of Batangas.

For pictures you may never find on TV or in the newspapers, click here (, courtesy of REMORA.

Private biz to fund P63B of projects

By Cai U. Ordinario
The Business Mirror

IN an effort to control government spending on infrastructure projects and encourage the private sector to participate in national development, the government has bared 10 priority projects that will be proposed for financing by the private sector.

In his presentation at the Philippine Development Forum (PDF) Wednesday, National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Acting Director General Augusto Santos said the 10 projects would amount to at least P63.35 billion.

Included on the list are the P3.01-billion North Luzon East Expressway (NLEE) Project, P38.87- billion Metro Manila Tollway (Nlex-Slex Connection via C6), P11.52-billion MRT Line 2 East Extension to Masinag, Antipolo and P2.80-billion Panguil Bay Bridge.

The list also included the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx); P5.20-billion 300 million liters water per day (MLD) Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Bulk Water Supply Project; P1.95-billion 50 MLD Wawa River Project; and the Department of Energy’s Power Capacity Requirements for the Luzon Grid of 1,950 megawatts (MW) from 2010 to 2014, Visayas Grid of 820 MW from 2011 to 2014 and Mindanao Grid, 850 MW from 2009 to 2014.

The 10 projects are included in the updated P2.06-trillion Comprehensive Infrastructure Investment Program, which identifies the government’s major infrastructure projects to be implemented from 2007 until beyond 2010. The projects will be financed through various sources.

Santos said in a statement that 28 percent of the total projects, or P575 billion, will come from the private sector; 59 percent, or around P1.2 trillion, from the national government; and 6 percent, or P114 billion, from government-owned and -controlled corporations.

Government financial institutions will shoulder 1.3 percent, or P27 billion; local government units, 0.38 percent or P8 billion; and other sources such as grants, Universal Charge for Missionary Electrification and Energy Regulation 1-94 will be tapped for 6 percent, or P131 billion of the total investments.

Meanwhile, the NLEE involves the construction of toll roads on a 22-kilometer (km) two-lane toll road extending from Plaridel to San Rafael, Bulacan; a 34-km two-lane toll road extending from San Leonardo to San Diego, Cabanatuan; and a 45-km two-lane toll road connecting the Plaridel and Cabanatuan bypasses.

The Nlex-Slex connection via C6 involves the construction of a 59.5-km toll road from the Nlex in Bocaue to the Slex in Bicutan.

Santos said the project would also serve as an alternative north-south expressway link to decongest Edsa and other arterial roads.

The MRT Line 2 East Extension is a 4-km eastern extension of MRT Line 2 from Santolan in Pasig City to Masinag Junction in Antipolo, Rizal, with additional two passenger stations. The project is divided into two phases: the 1.5-km east extension from Santolan, Pasig City, ending at Imelda Avenue with one station located at Imelda Avenue/Marcos Highway, and the 3-km east extension from Sta. Lucia to Masinag in Antipolo, Rizal.

The Panguil Bay bridge project involves the construction of a 260-meter main bridge and 2,100-meter approach viaducts to link Central to Northern Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the issuance of notice to proceed for the Interim Service Provider (ISP) for the O&M of the SCTEx is expected in April 2008. The ISP will operate the facility for six months and may renew it for another six months. Afterward, the O&M of the SCTEx will be bid out for a permanent operator.

The 300 MLD bulk water-supply project aims to supply treated bulk water to the southern part of Metro Manila covered by Maynilad Water Services Inc., while the 50 MLD Wawa river project aims to provide water supply to 150,000 residents of San Mateo, Rodriguez, and Erap City in Rizal.

On the other hand, for the Luzon power grid project, Santos said the indicative supply from the private sector are the 550 megawatts (MW) provided by First Gen Holdings and 600 MW by KepCo in Batangas by 2009. Another 600 MW will be provided by GN Power by 2010.

Santos said of the total capacity of power grid project in Visayas, a 220-MW capacity has already been committed: 200 MW by KepCo and 20 MW from the Nasulo project.

The Mindanao power grid project, Santos said, will mean an additional 850-MW capacity for the province. Currently, 210 MW is from the Mindanao coal-fired power plant.

Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Stage 2, Phase 1 inaugurated

LIPA CITY -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prepares to wave the green flag (similar to the motocross rally flagging down) to signal the soft opening of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway Project (Stage 2, Phase I) at Barangay Tambo, Lipa City to Barangay Balagtas in Batangas City Wednesday (March 26). Flanking the President in photo are Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto and her husband, former Sen. Ralph Recto. (Dado Aguilar-OPS/NIB Photo)

RP assured of 1.5 million metric tons of rice supply from Vietnam annually

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, Pampanga – The Philippines is assured of 1.5 million metric tons of rice imports annually from Vietnam starting this year, barring natural disasters and harvest losses in that country.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo witnessed today the exchange of the instrumentalities between the two countries on the three-year agreement on the sidelines of the Philippine Reform Agenda Forum organized by the World Bank (WB) at the Fontana Conference Center here.

The Memorandum of Agreement on (MOA) was earlier signed by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Vietnamese Industry and Trade Minister Yu Huy Hoang.

Yap said the agreement on the country’s rice imports from Vietnam would help beef up the National Food Authority’s (NFA) stockpile and guarantee enough stock of the commodity amid the tightening of rice supply in the world market.

The rice supply agreement between the two member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states that the “Vietnamese government agrees to sell, unless under circumstances of natural disaster and harvest loss, and the Philippines agrees to buy up to 1.5 million metric tons of Vietnamese white rice annually starting 2008, subject to market and production conditions and to terms allowable under applicable laws of both countries.

Both countries agreed to take “strict measures” to stop illegal rice trading between the two countries.

The Vietnam Southern Food Corp. and the NFA are the agencies of their respective governments authorized to implement the terms of the MOA, which will be in effect for three years.

It will be automatically renewed for another three years, unless terminated by either of the parties through diplomatic channels six months prior to the intended date of termination.

Vietnam and the Philippines signed the agreement “in order to ensure that the rice market is stable in both countries and to cushion the adverse effects of climate change, pest infestation, drought, floods and other calamities that are being experienced and may hereafter be experienced by the ASEAN countries.”

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Biliran posts biggest gains in campaign against poverty

Province is top performer in poverty alleviation among 80 LGUs
Manila Bulletin

NAVAL, Biliran — The poverty situation may not be too good as shown by records from the National Statistics and Census Board (NSCB), but Biliran province has proven to be the exact opposite by posting the largest decrease in poverty incidence among the country’s 80 provinces.

Based on the 2006 NSCB data, Biliran had gained a 15.1 percentage point decrease of poverty incidence from 46.5 in 2003 down to 31.4 in 2006, even lower than its 2000 figure of 33.3 percent.

The 2006 poverty statistics was officially released to the public last March 5, following a programmed release two years after the reference year.

The report showed that there are 27.6 million poor Filipinos in 2006, up by 3.8 million or 16 percent from its 2003 figure of 23.8 million poor Filipinos.

In contrast, Biliran province bounced back from being number 9th in the top 50 poorest provinces in the country in 2003, up to number 49th in 2006. Before that, Biliran ranked 44th in 2000. It showed that somehow the province suffered a major setback in 2003.

Biliran Gov. Rogelio Espina explained that the sudden surge of poverty incidence in 2003 was caused by "Egay" and "Gilas", two of the most severe typhoons which hit the country and passed directly over this island province.

The multi-million damage to crops, infrastructure, dwellings, public facilities, disruption in local trade and commerce, and most especially the source of income and livelihood of majority of the residents was reflected in the 2003 poverty survey of NSCB, which resulted to more families under the poverty line.

The province’s sinking to the 9th poorest province in the country in 2003 had prompted the governor to carry out measures to alleviate poverty and spur local economy.

He launched a food self-sufficiency program that diversified into livestock, high-value crops, and fruit trees on top of increasing rice production.

Increasing the availability of food during this period, the Espina also implemented a capitalization program for small businessmen, cooperatives, and even the marginal fishermen, farmers, vendors, and the like which had encouraged growth of the local economy.

Espina’s political rivals had been using the 2003 poverty incidence as an issue against his leadership and administration, claiming that poverty was worsening in Biliran under his watch.

The governor said that as his detractors had been proven wrong, the issue came to rest.

"No matter how well my detractors can twist the facts to satisfy their malicious intent, the NSCB data is there to stay. I felt vindicated," he added.

Palace, Rosales cite agreement on land dispute

By Genalyn D. Kabiling and Leslie Ann G. Aquino
Manila Bulletin

Malacañang yesterday welcomed the agreement forged between Sumilao farmers and San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) over a land dispute in Bukidnon.

Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita said that President Arroyo looks forward to the resolution of the decade-old conflict that stemmed from the ownership of a 144-hectare land in Bukidnon.

"Siyempre naman kahit papaano," Ermita said when asked if the President wants the agreement, in which the disputed land would be returned to the farmers, to be completed soon.

Ermita admitted that the President opted not to interfere with the negotiations between the farmers and the SMFI because the Executive branch will become the "final arbiter" in the case.

"The Office of the President is the final arbiter that is why we do not want anything to do with their negotiation," he said.

"Kung ano man ang mapagkasunduan, that is the time that the final action or decision of the Office of the President should be rendered," Ermita added.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal B. Rosales yesterday cited the agreement forged between the Sumilao farmers and SMFI.

According to Fr. Reggie Malicdem, secretary of Rosales, he was very delighted over the agreement that was reached during the Holy Week.

Malicdem said Rosales is set to join the Sumilao farmers in Malaybalay, Bukidnon for a thanksgiving mass.

Farmers want to distribute PL480 rice for benefit of cooperatives

Manila Bulletin

A group of rice farmers is asking government to allow them to distribute imported rice from the United States’ PL480 program which will benefit 1,000 rice farmers’ cooperatives nationwide and enhance their competitiveness.

The National Food Authority (NFA) which takes custody and distribution function of the rice under the US commodity loan program can conduct a bidding of the rice which must be participated by farmers’ cooperatives, according to 11 Central Luzon-based farmers’ cooperatives in a letter to US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney.

The access of Filipino rice farmers on this imported rice will give them a chance at an equitable distribution of opportunities.

"Annually, millions of bags of rice are distributed to farmers’ organizations by NFA nationwide. But we’re unable to avail of even a single bag of the US PL 480 program. We believe this violates the Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA)," said the cooperatives.

In a separate letter to Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, the cooperatives said that farmers’ participation in a Farmer as Distributor Program (FDP) which has once been implemented by the NFA is in harmony with the government’s goal to lift the monopoly of NFA on rice importation and distribution.

While acknowledging NFA’s position that the distribution of the US PL480 rice should abide by the terms of distribution between the US Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Department of Finance, the farmers said that the US rice should be open to the private sector in compliance with safety net provisions for farmers under the Magna Carta for Small Farmers.

And in order to let farmers distribute this rice, NFA should conduct a rice auction that breaks down bids into smaller volume of 500 to 1,000 bags per lot.

"AFMA states that government’s goal is to provide a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth and the principle of protection from unfair competition. But the big volume per lot makes it impossible for small farmers’ cooperatives to participate with their limited resources," they said.

The US PL480 commodity loan amounts to around $ 20 million yearly which at current market price of $ 700 per metric ton for 25 percent brokens could total to about 29,000 metric tons.

US solar panel companies increase investments here

Sales expected to top $1B this year

US solar panel companies are increasing investments in the Philippines to cash in on a booming market, confident their technologies will trim the cost of photovoltaics and help realize the promise of large amounts of cheap power coming from the sun.

Initial investments resulted in the Philippines accounting for 3 percent of global output of solar panels last year. And this share is bound to increase as demand for cleaner energy rises, and US firms such as SunPower Corp. (SPWR) and privately-held Solaria Corp. ramp up local production.

SunPower and Solaria decided to set up shop in the Philippines to leverage its long experience in producing semiconductors, the country’s main export product.

The Philippines produces around 20 percent of the world’s semiconductors and is host to such heavyweights as Intel Corp. (INTC) and Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN).

The sector certainly is red hot — according to Solarbuzz, a San Francisco-based solar energy consultancy, world solar cell output reached 3,436 megawatts in 2007, up from 2,204 MW a year earlier.

Japanese producers accounted [for] 26 percent of global output, but they have been overtaken by Chinese manufacturers, who raised their market share to 35 percent in 2007 from 20 percent a year earlier.

SunPower, which accounted for all Philippine solar cell output in 2007, will spend the bulk of its capital budget of around $300 million this year to boost capacity in the Philippines, the company’s vice president of public policy and corporate communications Julie Blunden told Dow Jones Newswires recently.

SunPower, majority-owned unit of Cypress Semiconductor Corp. (CY) and listed on the Nasdaq, exports solar cells from the Philippines to the US, Europe and parts of Asia, including Japan. Exports from the Philippines totaled $220 million in 2006.

Blunden said the capacity expansion to produce solar panels that could generate a total 250 MW should boost sales to $1.2 billion this year.

Sales in 2009 should top $2 billion as capacity rises to 430 MW, she added.

By 2010, SunPower expects sales to reach 650MW, even higher if new supply contracts are secured, Blunden said.

The (company’s) growth is breathtaking," said Blunden, describing the surge in the company’s revenue from just $11 million in 2004 to $1 billion projected this year.

Suvi Sharma, president and chief executive of Solaria, said its solar cell panel factory only started commercial operations this year, but added work is already underway to double capacity to 50 MW by the second half of 2008.

Solaria has devised a way to use semiconductor equipment to produce twice the number of solar cells from the same amount of silicon used by others to produce one panel, said Sharma.

"Today solar is not the cheapest solution; buying from the grid is cheaper," said Sharma.

But eventually, Sharma noted, probably as early as 2010, electricity from solar panels will achieve grid parity even without government subsidies, particularly if the price of silicon does drop by half with the increase in supply.

An increase is raw materials, fuel prices and tight supply has recently increased the cost of polysilicon, another raw material used for the production of semiconductors.

However, the market is expected to become more in balance this year, as several leading polysilicon producers will be ramping up output substantially in 2008.

Blunden said SunPower has already seen polysilicon prices easing in the first quarter and costs should come down further as old, expensive supply contracts roll off. (Dow Jones)

Monday, 24 March 2008

Visitor arrivals up by 11.7% in February

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

International visitor arrivals grew 11.7 percent in February from a year ago, as guests from top markets continued to flock in the country despite the political tension during the month.

Arrivals reached 276,809 in February this year from 247,731 recorded a year earlier, according to the Tourism Research and Statistics Division.

The number of guests from major markets such as East Asia, North America, Northern Europe and Australia posted double-digit growth in February.

The Department of Tourism recorded 570,612 arrivals in the first two months of 2008, up 9.7 percent from 520,256 visitors registered during the same period in 2007.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said arrivals were expected to rise 10 percent this year, while international tourism receipts were seen to hit $5.6 billion.

This follows a year of breakthrough for tourism last year, when arrivals hit 3.1 million and tourist expenditure amounted to $4.89 billion.

Durano said last year’s growth also raised the total number of direct employment in tourism to 3.78 million and contributed significantly to the country’s 31-year high economic growth of 7.3 percent last year.

The Korean market contributed the largest arrivals in February 2008 with 56,832 and a share of 20.5 percent to total visitor traffic. Arrivals from Korea grew 14.6 percent from 49,579 the previous year.

Arrivals from the US, with an 18.2 percent share, climbed 9.4 percent to 50,372 from 46,036 a year ago. Visitors from Canada went up 28.9 percent to 7,963.

However, arrivals from Japan fell 4.8 percent to 31,469 from 33,053 the previous year.

Arrivals from China recorded the highest growth of 45.3 percent to 22,446 in February. Arrivals from Taiwan were down 2.9 percent to 13,148 while tourists from Hong Kong grew 7.5 percent to 12,955.

Forty more ecozones planned in the provinces in five years

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo

THE GOVERNMENT plans to establish about 40 more economic zones in about five years, as part of a bid to compete better for more investments and spur economic activity in the countryside.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Lilia B. De Lima said the country is targeting to have about 200 economic zones by 2013 from the current 160 to get more big-ticket companies to invest here.

"Our vision for the next five years is to have more economic zones in the countryside. We expect to have pockets of development in other areas outside Metro Manila," she said in an interview.

Citing PEZA data, Ms. De Lima said the country has about 60 manufacturing and industrial zones and about 80 information technology parks and centers.

The other economic zones, which include tourism economic zones as well as medical tourism parks, have been approved but are not yet fully operational, she said.

PEZA data also showed the National Capital Region has the most number of economic zones or about 70.

Areas without economic zones are Region II, which include the provinces of Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino; Region XII or SoCCSKSarGen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City); and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"Investments in the countryside are essential, particularly for Mindanao. These economic zones will help attract investors," Ms. De Lima said.

Business and industry groups wanting to help poor Filipinos earlier formed a new foundation aimed at channeling much-needed resources to the country’s poorest countryside areas. Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Samie Lim said the Countryside Economic Development Foundation has two thrusts — to look for model cities for investments and identify 10 most deprived areas where more investments could be poured.

"Instead of waiting for the government to tell us where to invest, we’re scouting for prospective investments sites," he said.

In an earlier interview, Ms. De Lima said the government expects big-ticket investments in the electronics, shipping and automotive parts industries to enter state-owned economic zones by the first semester.

Ms. De Lima said three to four foreign investors are likely to come before the end of the month, but declined to name the firms.

Development goals in focus

Annual meet kicks off this week

THE GOVERNMENT will this week meet with key development partners, seeking to shore up financing for infrastructure projects deemed crucial to economic growth.

The two-day Philippines Development Forum (PDF) kicks off in Clark, Pampanga this Wednesday, and Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said the government would woo international financial institutions to provide assistance to the private sector.

Click here for PDF website.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Building a new Philippines


Warmest Easter greetings to every Filipino!

As the world celebrates the Resurrection of the Savior of mankind, we pray that we Christian Filipinos will keep in our hearts Easter’s message of love, salvation, and resurrection.

May we always bear in mind and show in our lives the truism that there is no victory without sacrifice, no redemption without faith, no renewal without hope, and no significant change without resolve.

Like the apostles on Good Friday, we can so easily feel that the burdens weighing down on us can be beyond our strength to bear. But, with determination and Divine Providence, we’re building a new Philippines, breaking free from decades of debt, decline, and underdevelopment.

Easter’s dawn after Black Saturday inspires our quest to reform Philippine society and achieve the quality of life we wish for ourselves and our children. Every small sacrifice made, every act affirming our faith in God, our countrymen and ourselves, every hope to reach a goal contributes to reformation that will strengthen the Filipino nation.

Let us pray that all of us can draw from Easter the lessons that encourage us to work for the resurgence of an economically, politically, and morally stronger Philippines.

On this feast of the Resurrection, I remain bullish on our country, optimistic about our future, and deeply committed to being a force for good.

Mahal tayo ng Panginoon.

Let us forever be humble at having the privilege of being loved by our Creator and Savior.