Saturday, 5 April 2008

Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project Update


Click here for photo update (http://blog.rihspi.org/2008/04/rail-lifting-at-paco-station.html).

OECD report shows RP has low brain drain rate

By JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium
ABS-CBNNews
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=114114

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that while the Philippines has a low brain drain rate, Filipinos who reached college remain attracted in working or settling over long periods in OECD’s 29 member-countries.

The report also bared that some 46.7 percent of the nearly two million Filipinos in OECD member-countries are tertiary educated while 35.7 percent have secondary education.

The country’s brain drain rate (or the emigration rate of people holding a tertiary degree) is 3.9 percent in total, said the report titled A Profile of Immigrant Populations in the 21st Century.

The Philippines joins a group of origin countries with large populations such as Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and China which have "low" brain drain figures –meaning, less than five percent.

Countries with smaller populations have higher brain drain or emigration rates, some of which are more than 40 percent.

But in 24 of 29 OECD countries (counting some 1.819 million Filipinos), some 64.7 percent of them stay in these countries for over a decade compared to some 19.8 percent who have stayed in these countries from 5-10 years.

More males

By percentage, there were more males who have stayed abroad over-10 years than females (65.6 percent versus 64 percent).

Across educational levels, there are more Filipinos who stayed over-10 years in these OECD-member countries, compared to those staying from 5-10 years or from 0-5 years.

The highest among these groups of Filipinos by educational level is the group with tertiary education (66.8 percent), followed by those with secondary education (65.1 percent) and those with primary education (58.7 percent).

The OECD is made up of mostly developed countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Feminization

Filipinos located in the OECD area are the ninth largest foreign-born population, OECD reported, with females outnumbering males (1.187 million versus 0.745 million).

In terms of those holding tertiary education within their gender segment, females outnumber males by percentage: 48.3 percent versus 44.1 percent.

Filipinos in these OECD-member countries are also mostly employed (65.3 percent). While there are only some 3.4 percent of them who are unemployed in these countries, 31.3 percent of Filipinos are inactive.

There are also more employed males (69.6 percent) than females (some 62.5 percent), in terms of percentage counts within their gender segments.

By occupation, in some 26 OECD member-countries that count an estimated 332,000 Filipinos, some 58.9 percent of them are operators.

These countries, however, exclude Japan, Turkey, and the US.

Nearly 27 percent of these Filipinos are technicians, and 14.5 percent are professionals.

In OECD’s data on the sectors of activity of immigrant workers, covering some 1.208 million Filipinos in 27 of 29 OECD countries (minus Germany and Japan), some 52.5 percent of them are in personal and social services; 17.4 percent in agriculture and industry; 16.8 percent are in distributive services; and 13.3 percent are in producer services.

For some 173,000 tertiary-educated Filipinos aged 15 and above, 40.1 percent of them are graduates of humanities and social sciences.

Meanwhile, some 30.6 percent of these tertiary-educated Filipinos have degrees in education and health, whereas another 26.1 percent are science and engineering graduates.

The OECD report presented profiles of what it calls "immigrant" populations in their member-countries, the report being a result of OECD’s extensive immigration databases. The report also packaged information that lumped together data from all 29 countries, and in some select member-countries.

OECD even has data on populations coming from the top 50 origin countries of immigrants per OECD member-country.

Favored

Most of these OECD member-countries are favored destinations of Filipinos who Philippine government officials call permanent settlers or immigrants, pertaining to those who will live overseas for good.

Some OECD countries are destinations for temporary contract workers, such as Japan (overseas performing artists), Italy (domestic workers), United Kingdom (nurses), and Canada (caregivers).

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’s remittances data from the year 2000 to 2007 show that remittances coming from OECD members United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom total to some US$48.542 billion.

This is 66.5 percent of the worldwide seven-year remittance total of US$72.996 billion, with some US$14.449 billion coming in last year.

Doctors and nurses

The OECD report also said that Filipino nurses and doctors in OECD-member countries are among the highest in number, but the country’s health emigration rate to these OECD member-countries is lower that African and Carribean countries.

These countries stand out "as being disproportionately affected by the emigration of health professionals," the OECD wrote.

The OECD also wrote that the share of people with tertiary education is higher for the foreign-born (23.6 percent) than the native-born population (19.1 percent).

The emigration rate of tertiary immigrant women to these OECD-member countries is also higher than that of men with a similar level of education, OECD adds.

That emigration rate for immigrant women is some 13.9 percent, compared to the men, which is 9.7 percent.

Comments are welcome at ofwjournalism@gmail.com and at editor@ofwjournalism.net

RP aims for 92% self-sufficiency in rice in 2008

Agence France-Presse
Inquirer
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20080405-128592/RP-aims-for-92-self-sufficiency-in-rice-in-2008

MANILA -- The Philippines is targeting 92 percent self-sufficiency in rice this year and 98 percent by 2010, an agricultural spokesman said Saturday.

The statement comes after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced an ambitious multi-billion-peso plan to overhaul the country's agricultural sector to cope with the rising world price of food, particularly rice, the national diet staple.

This will be accomplished by restoring irrigation and post-harvest facilities, said Rex Estoperez, spokesman of the National Food Authority, the agency tasked with importing rice and monitoring the rice market.

He did not say how self-sufficient the Philippines was in rice but experts have previously estimated it at between 85 to 90 percent.

Speaking in an interview with ABS-CBN television, Estoperez said Arroyo had been upgrading the agriculture sector even earlier but the increase in population and the global rise in food prices had forced the government to step up its work.

He said that even with increased rice production, the country would still need to import, adding that it was still more expensive to produce rice in an archipelagic country like the Philippines compared with those with large land masses like Thailand and Viet Nam.

Housing Microfinance for the Entrepreneurial Poor

Microfinance entrepreneurs now have access to housing finance under a pioneering program crafted jointly by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). The program is expected to benefit about 3 million microfinance entrepreneurs.

Vice-President Noli De Castro, concurrent chair of HUDCC (seated center), led the program launching with (seated from left) BSP Officer-in-Charge Armando Suratos; HUDCC Secretary General Lucille Ortile; BSP Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla,Jr.; and Development Bank of the Philippines SVP Brillo Reynes,Jr. Also present were (standing, from left): Asian Development Bank Urban Development Specialist Florian Steinberg; BSP Managing Directors Leny Silvestre and Ma. Corazon Guerrero; Monetary Board Members Juanita Amatong and Nelly Favis-Villafuerte; BSP Microfinance Consultant Ed Jimenez; and BSP Director Fernando Caballa.

http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1791

Banks which plan to participate in the lending program will be accredited by HUDCC and DBP to ensure compliance with the provisions approved by the BSP. The loans shall have an assigned risk-weight of as low as 0% (zero) when guaranteed by the Home Guarantee Corporation or a 50% risk-weight if it is not guaranteed. Housing Microfinance loans are eligible as alternative compliance to mandatory credit allocation to agrarian reform and other agricultural credit.

After $10B phase 1

Pagcor looking for new site for project’s phase 2
By Max V. de Leon
The Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/0404&052008/economy02.html

JUST fresh from approving four proposals for the envisioned $10-billion Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Manila Bay Integrated City, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) announced that it is now shopping around for another site that will house the second phase of the project.

Efraim Genuino, Pagcor chairman and CEO, said Phase 2 of the project will be located outside Metro Manila, with Cebu as one of the prime candidates.

“We are already discussing the second phase and we have identified possible areas,” Genuino said.

He said as much as Pagcor wants to entertain more proposals from prospective investors for the Manila Bay Integrated City, the 90-hectare reclaimed area dedicated for this gaming-cum-entertainment resort will already be used up by the initial four project proponents.

“We are studying the market if there is a need to accept more proposals. But the problem is, there is no more space available there, so we are now discussing the second phase,” Genuino told reporters at the sidelines of the ongoing 2008 Asia’s Gaming and Entertainment plus Leisure Expo (Asia’s Gem) at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila.

Pagcor announced it has accepted the project proposals of Japan’s Aruze Corp., Genting Berhad of Malaysia, SM Investments Corp. and Australia’s Bloombery Investments Ltd. with average investments of $2 billion to $3 billion each.

Azure Corp., a major stockholder of Wynn Resorts and a renowned manufacturer of gaming machines, proposed the development of the Okada Resort Manila Bay.

It will be an integrated casino resort with 2,000 standard rooms and 300 VIP suites. Its main features would be an oceanarium targeted to be the world’s largest, theaters and a giant Ferris wheel similar to the London Eye and will be called the “Manila Eye.”

Genting Berhard, with its partners Star Cruises and Alliance Global Group Inc., is planning to build several hotels with a minimum capacity of 2,000 rooms and a world-class theme park. The company owns and operates the Genting Highlands Resort in Malaysia.

SM Investments Corp. proposed to put up a gaming facility in partnership with Asia-Pacific Gaming of Australia, and a major luxury hotel to be managed by Radisson Hotels & Resorts at the Mall of Asia Complex side of the Manila Bay Integrated City.

Bloombery Investments Ltd., on the other hand, is planning to build three luxury hotels with a total capacity of 1,500 rooms, with high-end retail shops, celebrity-themed dining, and a major entertainment and sports center.

The four groups had the ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday, and they are set to begin actual development by the third quarter of the year, Genuino said.

Meanwhile, Genuino said Pagcor is poised to increase its revenues this year by at least 11 percent to P30 billion from P27 billion last year.

Gaming consultant Dean Macomber, president of Macomber International, said in his presentation at the Asia’s Gem that the Philippines’ gaming industry can achieve revenues of up to $1.08 billion in 2010 and $1.8 billion by 2013.

Macomber said these numbers will increase further once the effects of the Manila Bay Integrated City kick in.

Currently, Macomber said the country’s gaming revenue is estimated at only $800 million, with the big majority coming from local players at $613 million.

He said although the Philippines is attracting up to 3 million foreign tourists per year, most are coming in not only to gamble but also to do business or just relax in the resorts.

“That is one good reason why Pagcor wants this integrated resort to create that interest,” Macomber said.

Once the country has offered a higher quality of gaming and entertainment experience to foreigners, the deeper it can penetrate the market, he said.

Once fully operational—the earliest by 2010—the integrated resort facility is seen to increase the country’s gaming revenues by at least 30 percent.

It is also expected to boost foreign tourist arrivals by up to 3 million individuals annually and generate over 250,000 fresh jobs.

Govt taking right steps in rice issue, says UN official

Xinhua
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2008/apr/05/yehey/top_stories/20080405top2.html

The government is taking right steps to prevent a possible food crisis, an official of the United Nations’ World Food Programme said Friday.

“Initially, we wouldn’t have been so concerned about the Philippines because it already is responsible for growing internally about 85 percent of the food that it consumes,” Valerie Guarnieri, the World Food Programme’s country director in the Philippines, told local media.

Guarnieri said the government can fill up the remaining 15 percent by just making “extra efforts” to get commitments from other countries to supply the food needed by the country, cable news network ANC reported.

She added that securing rice imports is one of the two best ways to prevent a food crisis in the country, which she said is being “aggressively” pursued by the government.

President Gloria Arroyo had announced that Vietnam has committed to sell to the Philippines 1.5 million metric tons of rice, which she said will augment the country’s rice supply starting June.

President Arroyo had also said that she plans to convince Thailand to sell additional rice to Manila.

The Philippine government has also started the process of providing rice stubs to poor Filipinos, as well as other measures to mitigate the rising prices of rice.

The National Food Authority has started selling rice at P18.50 (about $0.44) per kilo in poor communities.

The other way to mitigate the increasing prices of staple needs is to provide food subsidies to the poor, which, Guarnieri said, is already being done by the government.

The World Food Programme official added that the increasing prices of rice, and its possible unavailability in the world market can turn out as a positive development for Philippine agriculture, especially for the farmers.

“Countries, including the Philippines, would have to “reemphasize the need to look also at local production” now that there is a looming world food crisis, she said.

In the Philippines, Guarnieri added, the government should focus on measures on how to improve measures that would not only increase food security, but also “benefit poor farmers.”
--Xinhua

Friday, 4 April 2008

SIA Engineering and Cebu Pac signing

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/photos-apr2008/photo8-040408.htm

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo witnesses the exchange of documents between William Tan (right), president and chief executive officer of the SIA Engineering Co. and Lance Gokongwei, president and chief executive officer of the Cebu Pacific Air after the signing of the joint venture agreement to set up an aircraft heavy maintenance facility Friday (Arpil 4) at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark Freeport Zone Pampanga. (Marcelino Pascua-OPS/NIB Photo)

Big farmers group lauds PGMA’s order raising palay price

FRIDAY, APRIL 4, 2008 | AGRICULTURE
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=20503

NAGA CITY (PNA) -- The National Confederation of Irrigators Association (NCIA) with nationwide membership of over 700,000 rice farmers lauded the decision of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to raise the government buying price of palay from P12 to P17 per kilo.

The NCIA is the organization of all irrigators associations (IAs) in the country. Its more than 700,000 members are beneficiaries of National Irrigation Administration (NIA)-operated and assisted national, communal and pump irrigation systems spread out all over the country.

Silvestre Bonto, NCIA national president, said the President’s directive to the National Food Authority (NFA) to raise the government support price of palay to P17/kilo is a big boost in uplifting the economic status of rice farmers in the country who are mostly poor.

Bonto said they are very thankful to the President for the P5 increase in the government buying price for palay.

In a letter to Mrs. Arroyo, Bonto said that, "For so long a time, we, the country’s rice farmers, have been clamoring and praying for a just, fair and profitable price for our produce and it is only now under your administration that our plea has been heard and answered."

The farmer leader said by raising the price of palay, the President has economically empowered rice farmers, aside from motivating them to produce more, thus helping in the rice self-sufficiency program of the government.

Bonto also cited the priority given by the President to the country’s irrigation development program, specifically the massive repair and restoration works of various irrigation systems starting 2004.

He requested the President to order the NFA to release the one million bags of rice allocated to farmers organizations under the cereal agency’s 2008 Institutional Farmer as Distributors (IFAD) program.

The immediate release of the IFAD allocation to accredited farmers organizations (FOs) will help the NFA in making available the low priced but good quality government rice to poor people in the countryside.

Aside from this, the release of the IFAD allocation will "enable our members, who are direct beneficiaries of IFAD, to earn additional income, which we can use as production capital for the forthcoming planting season," Bonto said in his letter to Mrs. Arroyo. (PNA)

Arroyo allots P3B for Clark power project

By Reynaldo G. Navales
SunStar
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/pam/2008/04/04/news/arroyo.allots.p3b.for.clark.power.project.html

CLARK FREEPORT -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has approved the allotment of P3 billion for the upgrading of the power requirements of locators inside the Clark Freeport.

Clark Development Corporation (CDC) president Liberato Laus disclosed that the President had instructed the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to facilitate the Statement of Allocation and Release Order (Saro) to CDC and Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for the project.

The power-upgrading project, which is divided into three phases, would cater the power requirements of the more than 400 locators, according to Laus.

"We will implement the project to address the increasing power demand of incoming locators, including the needs of the power requirements of the US semi-conductor firm Texas Instrument and Clark international airport," he said.

He added that the current peak load demand in the freeport is 43 megawatts (MW) and this is expected to increase by 100 MWs within the next five years because of the entry of big investments.

He explained that the critical component of the project has been submitted and the acceptance of bids was set on April 4 this year.

He added that the target completion of the project is nine months after the contract awarding.

CDC authorities said upon completion of the project, locators inside the 4,400-hectare freeport would enjoy uninterrupted power supply.

Laus and the local executives in Central Luzon expressed their gratitude to President Arroyo for approving the upgrading of power infrastructure in this freeport.

Among those who expressed their gratitude to the President were Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio and Tarlac Governor Vic Yap; Mayor Boking Morales, co-chairman of the Metro Clark Advisory Council (Mcac); and president Victor Jose Luciano of Clark International Airport Corporation (Ciac).

Firm builds world’s 4th largest shipyard in Misamis Oriental

By Maria Cecilia Rodriguez
Mindanao Bureau
Inquirer
http://business.inquirer.net/money/breakingnews/view/20080403-128220/Firm-builds-worlds-4th-largest-shipyard-in-Misamis-Oriental

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines -- The construction of what its South Korean builders claim will be the world’s fourth largest shipyard facility has started in Misamis Oriental.

The $2-billion facility is expected to employ about 45,000 people -- including engineers, welders, fabricators and administrative personnel -- within the next three years, when the facility is expected to become fully operational, according to Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. Ltd. and Philippine officials.

The facility is being built in an area covering 441.8 hectares at the Phividec Industrial Estate located in the towns of Villanueva and Tagoloan, some 30 kilometers east of this city.

Hanjin said the construction of the shipyard would put the Philippines on the list of countries with the largest shipyard facilities, after South Korea, Japan and China.

But there will be human costs.

More than 200 families in two villages in Villanueva town will have to be relocated to give way to the shipyard, according to project officials.

Other coastal villages in Tagoloan town will also be affected.

Yun So Kim, Hanjin administrative manager, said the company was on track with the project’s timetable and that it expected to finish the first phase within the second half of the year.

He said the completion of the first phase would enable Hanjin to produce 80,000 tons a year of outfittings and pipes, among other items.

Kim said the civil works started after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Hanjin and the Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) in Cagayan de Oro in January. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo witnessed the signing.

It would be Hanjin’s second shipbuilding complex in the country.

Hanjin also operates a shipyard in Zambales which, as of last October, had a total direct hire of nearly 5,000 people, according to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

The Hanjin shipyard in Zambales recently figured in the news when at least five workers died in two work-related accidents within the facility in a span of three months.

The SBMA found Hanjin guilty of violating at least seven safety standards and ordered the company to comply with international safety standards.

Kim said that aside from civil works aspect, Hanjin, together with PIA, began public consultations in areas that would be affected by the construction of the Misamis Oriental facility.

During the consultations, communities voiced concern over relocation and livelihood issues, citing the failure of the PIA in the past to address their needs.

The PIA is the government agency mandated to administer the 3,000-hectare Phividec estate and takes charge of the relocation of the affected communities.

In a recent consultation with residents of the village of Tambobong in Villanueva, village officials criticized the PIA for not keeping commitments it made to families displaced by projects within the estate.

Some residents also said their crops were bulldozed without prior notice.

“We admit that the lands where our houses are standing are not ours. We are just occupants here. But what we only ask is the assurance that we will be justly compensated with the cost of building our houses, including the crops that we’ve planted,” village leader Delilah Abellanosa said.

Hanjin said it assured residents they would be compensated fairly for the crop damage as a result of the shipyard’s construction.

Kim said that for Phase 1 from 2008 to 2009, Hanjin would be investing $720 million for the purchase of shipbuilding facilities from Aveva and other foreign manufacturers.

“We started importing materials from Korea and other countries last January. We also use local materials but these are more expensive,” Kim said.

He said the $2 billion that Hanjin was sinking in the project was the company’s biggest investment yet outside of South Korea.

Kim said Hanjin was also focusing on developing the skills of its newly hired engineers so they could meet the company’s standards in shipbuilding.

“We already have a training center within the Hanjin compound (in Phividec) where all those who will be hired will undergo skills development,” Kim said.

Hanjin has said it is trying to thresh out land issues that delayed the project last year, such as the issue with the Jacinto group of companies, which previously owned part of the 441.8 hectares targeted for the shipyard.

PGMA briefed on Kuwaiti proposal for DMIA

http://www.pia.gov.ph/default.asp?m=12&fi=p080404.htm&no=44

The President's visit here for the signing of the agreements coincides with the formal inauguration of the DMIA's expanded passenger terminal (EPT).

Built at a cost of P55.9-million, the EPT boasts of a larger floor space of 6,279 square meters now occupied by larger check-in, pre-departure, arrival and baggage claim areas. It also features an additional Immigration counter, five new airline and ticketing offices, and a beefed-up concessionaires' area.

With the EPT, the DMIA is now able to serve some two million arriving and departing passengers annually, a huge leap from the 500,000 passengers the DMIA was able to serve in previous years.

The President will be given a guided tour of the EPT and its facilities before her meeting with Sheik Loay Kharafi, a Kuwaiti businessman who is scheduled to call on her to present a proposal to develop the DMIA in two phases.

The first phase involves a P53-billion investment on airport facilities and another P50-billion in airport buildings.

Sheik Kharafi will also present to the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) a proposal to put up resorts and hotels in the 2,200 hectares of land within the Clark Freeport Zone.

The proposed project will entail an investment of P200 billion.

Philippine forex reserves rise to record $36.5 billion in March

Enrico de la Cruz
Thomson Financial News
http://www.forbes.com/markets/feeds/afx/2008/04/04/afx4853606.html

MANILA (Thomson Financial) - The Philippines' gross international reserves rose to a record $36.5 billion at the end of March, boosted by the central bank's dollar purchases and income from investments abroad, data showed on Friday.

The current level, which was up from a revised $36.3 billion in February, could cover 6.2 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was equivalent to 5.2 times the country's short-term foreign debt based on original maturity, the central bank said in a statement.

The central bank is aiming to boost the foreign reserves, which include its holdings of gold and other foreign currencies, to up to $37 billion by the end of 2008 from $33.7 billion in 2007.

The reserves grew 46 percent last year, helped by the central bank's dollar purchases from the spot market to minimize the volatility amid surging inflows.

The peso was the best-performing currency in Asia last year, gaining nearly 19 percent against the U.S. dollar.

enrico.delacruz@thomson.com

Crawling out of the basket

LOWDOWN
Jojo Robles
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=jojoRobles_april3_2008

It’s the sort of story that doesn’t seem to get enough play in media— especially in this country, where the national obsession with politics and political scandal elbows out what in other places would be the biggest news of the day. But just because the media don’t think economic growth is sexy enough to make headlines doesn’t mean people outside the Philippines aren’t noticing.

The good news, according to recent reports from both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, is that the Philippines is no longer an economic basket case in a region of high-performing countries. The bad news is that the benefits of an improved national economy may not filter down to the poor before the effects of an expected regional downturn are fully felt soon.

But its heartening to note that both the ADB and the WB are convinced that growth can be expected to continue, albeit at a slower pace, given concerns about ever-increasing world prices of petroleum and food and the continuing economic slowdown in the US. Both institutions pointed out that the 31-year growth record posted by the Philippines last year, at a time when inflation was kept low and the budget deficit was trimmed, was noteworthy.

Last Tuesday, World Bank economists forecast GDP growth of 5.9 and 6.1 percent for 2008 and 2009, lower than last year’s regional average-beating 7.3 percent, but still good enough to track growth in the rest of the region. The Manila-based ADB agreed, predicting that the Philippine economy to grow 6 percent in 2008 and by 6.2 percent in 2009.

Still, the slower expansion will be better than the expected average 5.6-percent growth in Southeast Asia’s gross domestic product, the World Bank said in its “East Asia: Testing Times Ahead” study. The expected continuing growth isn’t as stellar as last year’s, well above the average 6.5 percent growth for all of Southeast Asia in 2007, but it is expected to cement our new reputation as an economy that consistently performs better than even our economically accelerating neighbors.

But both lending institutions warned that while the growth window remains open, it may not stay that way very long. And if the worldwide depression hanging like a cloud over most economies because of the bad news from the US and high oil and food prices persists, the gains in the Philippines may be wiped out before they get to be felt on the ground.

The ADB, for instance, warned the government not squander the gains by resorting to broad subsidies and price controls to counteract soaring food and energy prices. Any assistance to the poor should be carefully targeted to the most disadvantaged sectors to make sure that subsidies which might increase the deficit really help the poor that need them most.

The World Bank, on the other hand, advised the government to address continuing problems of low investments, widespread poverty and high unemployment, adding that developing countries could only start bringing down poverty rates after they post sustainable economic growth for 10 years. The Philippines, it said, is at the midpoint of a period of steady growth since 2002, when economic growth started outpacing population growth.

All of this isn’t as compelling as charges of scandal in high places. But then, most politicians in this country can’t seem to look beyond their noses and their plans for higher office anyway—their true genius is making it appear to the rest of us that these self-serving concerns should be really important to the rest of us, as well.

* * *

While the Philippines’ 7.3-percent growth last year was hailed as one of the best in Southeast Asia, beating regional powerhouses Indonesia’s 6.3 percent, Malaysia’s 6.3 percent, and Thailand’s 4.8 percent, it still wasn’t good enough to be best in the region. And even if our projected growth this is year is still expected to be better than our neighbors’ average, that doesn’t mean we’ll get that honor in 2008.

For example, Cambodia’s economic growth of 9.7 percent last year led Southeast Asia and is expected by the World Bank to still hit 7.5 percent in 2008, despite encountering most of the same problems that the Philippines is laboring under. The big difference between the Philippines and Cambodia lies in inflation, which Manila has kept under control better than Phnom Penh.

But while the Cambodian economy is growing at a very fast clip, our much smaller Indochinese neighbor (population: 15 million) is reeling from double-digit inflation rates, which are a measure of the increase in prices of basic commodities. Inflation in the Philippines was tracked at 5.4 percent in February, nearly double the average 2.8 percent in 2007, mostly due to rising fuel and food prices. But the same problems of rising food and fuel costs have caused inflation to shoot up to a nine-year high of 10.8 percent in Cambodia—and is threatening to seriously drag down one of the region’s best economic performers.

The fragile Cambodian economy is also even more vulnerable to an American recession that the Philippines’ because of the over-dependence on garment exports to the US and tourism—the main drivers of that country’s growth, according to the Bank. Of course, things are a lot better in Cambodia these days, compared to just a couple of decades ago when civil war, corruption and a lack of basic infrastructure combined to bring the country to its knees economically.

By contrast, the Philippines has been commended for its fiscal consolidation program of recent years, which started a “virtuous cycle” that brought down interest rates and kept inflation low, encouraging investment. “The Philippines has a very robust framework which should enable it to move forward quite aggressively,” one ADB official said. “What we need to do now is to ensure that the robust framework is implemented in a broader context.”

The key difference in the economic policies in the two countries is the focus in the Philippines on fundamental reforms that have been the keystone of growth in this country. These long-term changes are already bearing short-term fruit in terms of steady growth, even if their full benefits will probably be reaped many years from now.

Of course, both the ADB and the WB agree that a lot more needs to be done to permanently remove the Philippines from the ranks of the economic laggards in Southeast Asia—and to ensure that the gains in the national economy are felt all over the country, not just by business and not just in Metro Manila. But it’s encouraging to hear that the good news seems bound to continue, even if it goes largely unnoticed by people who rely only on the “bad news sells” media for information.

Air Force to buy 12 more helicopters

Florante S. Solmerin
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news3_april4_2008

THE Air Force is buying 18 night-capable attack helicopters instead of only six as a result of a P2-billion addition to its P1.2-billion budget, Air Force Chief Pedrito Cadungog said.

“With the additional budget, we hope to purchase 18 helicopters instead of six,” he said.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said there would be a re-bidding of the contract to supply the helicopters as a result of the increased order and the winning bidder’s failure to meet one requirement.

“The winning bidder did not conform to the specifications published in the circular of requirements regarding payload,” he said.

“[Each helicopter] should be able to lift 3,000 pounds, but it could only lift 1,500 pounds.”

Teodoro said the military also needed “more funds for training and increasing the proficiency of our pilots,” noting aging aircraft and pilot error had accounted for some of the accidents involving military helicopters.

Some officials and retired generals say Teodoro must push for more reforms and have the will to punish those involved in the allegedly anomalous bidding for the six helicopters originally bid out.

“What’s keeping him from finishing the investigation?” said a retired general who asked not to be named.

“Is he afraid of the accused officials or the business interest behind the nullified bidding?”

A defense official said 50 soldiers and officials were being investigated over the case.

Govt to spend $800m to revive Bataan nuke plant

Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news5_april4_2008

SINGAPORE—The Philippine government may invite investors to restore the nuclear power plant in Bataan at a cost of about $800 million to meet rising demand for power, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said here yesterday.

“We are seriously considering rehabilitating our mothballed nuclear power plant to help in our efforts to move away from fossil fuels,” Reyes said.

But the energy secretary said the 600-megawatt nuclear reactor could only begin operations in five to six years because the feasibility study alone would take two years, and putting the plant into actual operation would take another five years.

Reyes said the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the Bataan plant in February and allowed the government to go ahead with rehabilitation.

The Philippines, which depends on oil and coal for a large portion of its energy needs, plans to focus on renewable energy and cleaner-burning fuels including natural gas, Reyes said. The country is selling part of the state power assets in a plan to open the electricity market.

“It’s one of the markets in Asia which is furthest in its reform of the power sector,” said Erik Knive, chief executive officer of SN Power Singapore, which has invested $850 million in two hydroelectric plants in the Philippines.

The government might pass a renewable energy bill this year to lay a framework for investments in non-fossil fuel, Reyes said.

“The bill will help attract foreign investments,” Reyes said.

The government might sell 70 percent of the state power assets by August to offer customers a choice of electricity providers, Reyes said.

The government had sold 49 percent so far and raised $2 billion, he said.

The Philippines will allow large industries consuming more than 1,000 megawatts to choose their power supplier starting next year, Rauf Tan, commissioner of the Philippines’ Energy Regulatory Commission, said on April 1. Smaller consumers could select their supplier in five years.

In February, Reyes led a planning session for a 20-year energy program for the country, and nuclear power is one of the options being considered.

He downplayed safety issues over the nuclear plant itself because South Korea, where Westinghouse built a plant similar to the Bataan facility, has been operating for 20 years and has been rehabilitated to operate for another 30 years.

“The $2.3-billion loan used to put up the country’s nuclear plant was completely settled in April last year,” he said. Bloomberg

RP setting up firewall vs global slowdown

By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Business&p=49&type=2&sec=27&aid=2008040312

The Arroyo administration is setting up a “firewall” to shield the Philippines’ growth from the global economic slowdown, officials said Wednesday.

Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde issued the statement after the World Bank (WB) earlier warned that the country’s growth momentum would decelerate to 5.9 percent owing to the US economic slowdown.

The government is aiming for a 6.3-percent to seven-percent growth this year.

“President Arroyo is doing her best to build a firewall to protect the country’s growth rate against a global meltdown by frontloading government expenditures especially on infrastructure and by attracting foreign direct investments especially to labor intensive businesses,” Remonde said.

Secretary to the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo noted that the WB in early 2007 forecast a 5.8-percent growth for the Philippines but the country posted a 7.3-percent growth.

“We believe our hardworking people can again surprise the bank,” Saludo said.

Aviation and mining jobs hardest to fill

BY DARWIN T. WEE, Correspondent
BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW040408/content.php?id=081

ZAMBOANGA CITY — Aviation skills such as air traffic controllers, aircraft pilots, navigators and flight engineers as well as mining positions are among the hard-to-fill occupations in the country, the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics said in its recently released survey.

The study which was conducted in 2006 surveyed 7,630 managers, establishment owners, and top executives noting these hard-to-fill jobs often "remained unfilled [even] after more than a year [of vacancy]."

It was noted that the lack of aviation workers in the country is one of the reasons why the Philippines failed to comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Last year, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the country’s aviation safety rating to Category 2 (or below global safety minimum) from Category 1.

The mining sector is also suffering from a lack of Filipino mining engineers which is seen hampering the development of the mineral extraction industry.

Virgilio L. Leyretana, Sr., who chairs the Mindanao Economic Council, has earlier said that the country needs more than 750 mining engineers and geologists to sustain the current needs and the future demands of companies operating in the country.

Hard-to-fill jobs refer to occupations that have presented employers with the greatest recruitment difficulties as companies seek experienced staff, the survey said.

The survey noted that other top five hardest to fill jobs across sectors in "order of importance" are accountants and auditors, professional nurses, technical and commercial sales representatives, computer programmers and mechanical engineers.

These professions were part of the 222 hard-to-fill occupations identified.

"Nearly one in every four establishments (22.9%) has experienced difficulties in recruiting the best talents to fill up a job vacancy," the survey said, adding that "employers also indicated that it took them three to seven months to fill up the vacancies."

At least 70% of the employers agreed that there is a "shortage of qualified applicants that met the competency requirements or those that required professional license."

Stiff competition for few available talents among local firms, and "location" or "work schedule" problems were also cited.

In an earlier interview, Roger C. Peyuan, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (TESDA) deputy director-general for field operations, said that the government is strengthening its program on vocational schools to address job "mismatching."

TESDA is currently earmarking P1.4 billion this year for scholarship grants under its training-for-work scholarship and for the private education student financial assistance programs.

The fund targets to grant 730,000 students in the country for this year.

About P350 million will be allocated for at least 48,000 students who are studying in the business process outsourcing industry such as call center agents, computer programmers, and medical and legal transcriptionists.

The remainder will go to students who are planning to work in the industries of construction, agriculture and fisheries, processed food and beverages and tourism, among other industries.

PGMA launches "FIELDS"--food and agriculture strategy

Keynote Speech of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
National Food Summit
Fontana Convention Center, Clark Air Base
April 4, 2008
http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/today.htm#Keynote

A strong and growing economy is the central pillar we have labored to create to help guarantee peace, order and stability in our country. It is paying off: we have the strongest economy in over 30 years, a strong peso, with investments surging in, and we are close to balancing the budget.

Our economic comeback comes none too soon, for there are global clouds on the horizon that are driving up the price of oil and food, particularly rice.

Half of the planet depends on rice but stocks are at their lowest since the mid-1970s when Bangladesh suffered a terrible famine. Rice production will fall this year below the global consumption level of 430 million tons.

Wheat is suffering greater pressures, with price up 115 percent in a year.

Farmers worldwide are worried about feed costs.

For the last seven years we have been spending P 20 billion a year from budget and off-budget sources on Philippine Agriculture.

Since the global situation became apparent many months ago, I have been committed to helping increase and stabilize the supply of rice, as well as to deliver targeted subsidies to the poor who are most directly affected by the global price rises. We have reached out to our neighbors in Vietnam and others in ASEAN to ensure stable rice supplies. We have directed our government to crack down on price gouging; increase the supply of rice where necessary; invest more in planting and agricultural modernization; and to provide rice subsidies for our poor. I have delivered rice to the poor and gone to markets across the country to spot-check prices to protect our consumers.

We must work harder to grow and breed what we need.

We are going to cluster our food production drive in six assistance packages, which are the essential ingredients in making food abundant accessible and affordable. It is called FIELDS – F-I-E-L-D-S. F is for fertilizer. I is for irrigation and infrastructure. E is for extension and education. L is for loans and insurance. D is for dryers and other post-harvest facilities. S is for seeds.

On fertilizer, we will renew our push for organic fertilizer because the price of urea fertilizer being oil-based has increased 200 percent in the last two years. We must set aside P500 million from the ACEF fund for fertilizer support and production, especially for organic fertilizers. Specifically, the DA must utilize proven technologies like Bio-N to increase the yields of rice farmers in the current wet season and third crop.

On irrigation and infrastructure, I direct NIA to finish the rehabilitation of irrigation systems by 2010. On new construction, we encourage small irrigations systems, except for the large ones we have already committed to, like Kabulnan, Balintingon, Malmar and San Roque. We will spend P6 billion a year on irrigation and P6 billion on infrastructure, including farm to market roads, roll-on-roll-off ferry ports, and no-frills airports for agricultural cargo.

On extension and education, we recognize the importance of continuous training of farmers and fisherfolk on new technology. I instruct the DA to continuously implement programs and interventions with close cooperation from the DILG and the LGUs, as well as the DOST, aimed at training more trainors and technicians on new technology for dissemination to farmers; utilize the SUCs in its extension-related activities; provide more funds for training of farmers and fisherfolk on new and emerging technology. We will allocate P2 billion in research and development, P1 billion in capability building, P1 billion in trainors and technicians and P1 billion in the agricultural and fisheries education system.

On loans, I direct Secretary Yap to study how to maximize bank compliance to the agri-agra law. Meanwhile, the government financial institutions can assure P15 billion available for agricultural credit. But for farmers to have access to all this formal credit, I ask Congress to enact a law making farm land acceptable as loan collateral.

On dryers and other post-harvest facilities, I instruct the DA to establish appropriate integrated processing and trading centers in collaboration with the private sector, like the cold chain system and rice and corn processing centers. We will spend P2 billion on this from budget and off-budget sources.

On seeds, the most important is to support the seed growers. Their success will enable rainfed-lowland areas presently planted to good seeds to migrate to certified rice seeds and those planted to certified seeds, to migrate to hybrid seeds. Some 600,000 hectares this year will be targeted all over the country for certified seeds, with another 900,000 hectares for hybrid seeds planted by our farmers from 2009-2010. We must sustain funding this program which will require P2.7 billion for hybrid seeds and P6.5 billion for certified seeds for 5 harvests from 2009 until 2010.

In all these programs, we must be transparent. We will work to fix the corruption that still plagues our nation, including in the agri-business sector. We especially prohibit officials from dealing with fertilizer brokers and agents. They can only deal with official distributors in the regions and provinces.

The DA, NFA and NBI shall strictly monitor rice deliveries and investigate cases of hoarding, price manipulation and other illegal activities. We are holding officials accountable that have found to be corrupt and conniving with unscrupulous traders; we are letting the chips fall where they may as investigations are concluded and friend and foe alike and brought to account for their actions.

I have directed the DA and NFA to cancel the existing licenses of rice traders, retailers and bodegas. They have to apply all over again for accreditation.

According to Congressman Baham Mitra, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, the DA cannot watch over all transactions. According to him, RA 6670 gives power to appoint more Deputy Ombudsmen. In 1990 such deputy was appointed for the military. Considering the fact that farm spending may now be bigger than defense spending, a Deputy Ombudsman may be needed in agriculture. The appointment of a Deputy Ombudsman will be pursuant to our transparency initiative. It will also ensure that money is spent wisely.

Many things are left to be done. We plan on working hard the next two years to fulfill my Agri-business Agenda until the day I leave office. We will fight for Economy, including food security, Education and the Environment. We remain bullish on our country, optimistic about our future and deeply committed to being a force for good.

GMA to inaugurate Clark airport’s expanded terminal

By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star
http://philstar.com/index.php?Busine...&aid=200804034

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga — President Arroyo will open today the P112.9-million expanded area of the passenger terminal of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA), paving the way for the airport to accommodate some two million passengers per year.

The Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) said the President is also slated to inspect newly-installed facilities, including a P23-million baggage conveyor and check-in conveyor with carousel, a P10.2-million X-ray machine, a P14-million power generator equipment, a P4.9-million closed circuit television, and a P4.9-million flight information display system.

The civil renovation work for the expanded terminal cost P55.9 million, CIAC said.

“The expanded passenger terminal can now accommodate two million passengers annually, higher than its former 500,000 a year capacity,” the CIAC said, noting that already, the terminal processed some 533,000 passengers who arrived from international and domestic flights here last year.

CIAC said the DMIA “has been experiencing unprecedented growth in recent years with at least 60 commercial flights a week by international airlines Air Asia, Tiger Airways, Asiana, Hong Kong Express and China Southernand, as well as domestic carriers Seair, Cebu Pacific and Asian Spirit”.

The terminal now has a floor area of 6,279 square meters covering a pre-departure, check-in lobby, baggage claim area and the arrival area.

The expanded terminal also features an additional Immigration counter, five new airline offices, a concessionaire’s area and five airline ticketing offices.

CIAC also said the passenger terminal upgrading also included new restrooms and and a coffee shop at the arrival and pre-departure area.

The expansion has provided 914 square meters more to the previous 5,365 square-meter space, CIAC said, adding that that this expansion “translates to increased capacity”.

At the same time, CIAC president Victor Jose Luciano said his firm ‘’ will soon embark on the development of the Terminal 2 project which is expected to commence by the middle of this year.’’

‘’The Terminal 2 project will increase terminal capacity to seven to eight million passengers annually,’’ he noted.

Luciano also said the President will also witness the signing of two agreements between CIAC and Kuwait Gulf and Link (KGL) and SIA Engineering Company (SIA EC) before a walking tour of the expanded terminal.

Luciano said DMIA is ‘’increasing its capacity to keep up with the continuing growth in passenger volume,’’ as he noted that ‘’most OFWs from nearby Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Bangkok, Macau and Hong Kong now prefer the DMIA because of the budget airlines that has catapulted the airline industry in Central Luzon.’’

March inflation 6.4%, up from Feb 5.4%

National Statistics Office
Press Release
http://census.gov.ph/data/pressrelease/2008/cp0803tx.html
Click here for full report.

The annual headline inflation rate at the national level jumped to 6.4 percent in March from 5.4 percent in February. This was primarily due to the 8.2 percent hike in the annual rate of the heavily weighted food, beverages and tobacco (FBT) items from 6.8 percent. Higher annual rates in all the other commodity groups also contributed to the uptrend. Inflation a year ago was 2.2 percent.

  • Similarly, higher annual price increases in all the commodity groups caused the annual inflation rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) to gain by 1.3 percentage points, to 5.4 percent in March from 4.1 percent in February.
  • The year-on-year inflation rate in Areas Outside the National Capital Region (AONCR) also picked up to 6.8 percent in March from 6.0 percent in February brought about by higher annual price adjustments in all the commodity groups.

Excluding selected food and energy items, core inflation went up to 4.8 percent in March from 4.0 percent in February.

Upward movements in the prices of the heavily weighted food items such as rice, flour and flour products, pork, cooking oil, selected spices and seasonings, milk and milk products resulted to a 0.9 percent growth in the overall month-on-month inflation rate. Higher electricity rates and the series of price hikes in gasoline and diesel also contributed to the increasing trend.

End-March 2008 GIR Rises to US$36.5 Billion

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
04.04.2008
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=1789
View Table

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) rose to US$36.5 billion as of end-March 2008. This was more than US$200 million higher than reserves level in the previous month. Behind this development were the Bangko Sentral’s (BSP) net foreign exchange (FX) operations and income from investments abroad. These inflows were partly offset, however, by payments of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the National Government and the BSP.

The current GIR level could adequately cover 6.2 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was also equivalent to 5.2 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 3.2 times based on residual maturity. 1

The level of net international reserves (NIR) as of end-March 2008, including revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, stood at US$36.5 billion from US$36.3 billion at end-February 2008. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.

-----------------

1 Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

PGMA increases palay farmgate prices to P17 a kilo

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

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has increased the farmgate price of palay from P12 to at least P17 a kilo or a 42 percent increase.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the President has ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to match the commercial buying price of palay in the different regions using a credit line from Land Bank of the Philippines for its palay buying program.

Earlier, the President had ordered the release of P1.5 billion to boost rice production to avert a shortage of the staple amid a tight supply of the cereal in the world market.

Upon her arrival Tuesday from a three-day visit to Hong Kong, the President announced that P5 billion or five percent of last year’s P100- billion budget surplus would be set aside as subsidy to farmers in a move to increase rice production in the country.

Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, meanwhile, said government, financial and social security institutions would present next Tuesday their plans to utilize five percent of their 2007 surplus for rice production and other projects for the poor.

The government has mapped out plans to increase rice production, including the use by local government units (LGUs) of part of their budget surplus of more than P30 billion for food security in their localities; spending more on irrigation because 3,000 hectares of irrigated land need to be repaired; and boosting the distribution of hybrid palay seeds to farmers at a subsidized rate, among other agricultural programs.

Gov’t moving doubly hard to save OFW from hangman’s noose in Kuwait – De Castro

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 2, 2008 | OFW
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=20486

Vice President Noli de Castro assured President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last night that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is moving doubly hard to save Filipino domestic worker May Vecina from the hangman’s noose in Kuwait.

In July last year, Kuwait's lower court sentenced Vecina to die by hanging for the murder of the six-year-old child of her employer in January 2007.

The verdict has been affirmed by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation, Kuwait’s Supreme Court.

In an ambush interview at the presidential lounge of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Centennial Terminal 2 while he was waiting for the arrival of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from Hong Kong, the Vice President said he is just waiting for her go-signal for him to fly to Kuwait to personally appeal the death verdict on Vecina.

“Kung kinakailangan kapag sinabi ni Presidente, Noli pumunta ka uli doon at kausapin mo ang Emir, gagawin ko,” De Castro replied when asked if he was willing to go to Kuwait on a mission to save the life of the 29-year-old Filipina worker.

The Vice President, who is also the Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers, said that the DFA is extending every possible assistance to Vecina.

He recalled that during the trial of her case, Vecina was represented by a three-man defense panel created by the Philippine government.

The Emir of Kuwait has two months within which to sign the execution order on Vecina. During this period, the Philippine government can still appeal to the Emir for compassion and spare Vecina’s life.

The Vice President said that officials of the DFA were hoping for the best for the Filipino OFW, as he recalled the case of Marilou Ranario, another Filipino domestic helper whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after President Arroyo personally appealed Ranario’s case to the Emir.

De Castro also clarified that while the government is anxious to help Vecina out of her predicament, it must respect the Kuwait’s legal system.

“Hindi mabagal dahil may sistema sila (Kuwait). Hindi naman natin puwedeng diktahan and supreme court nila. Hindi mabagal iyon, wala sa atin ang proseso, nasa gobyerno ng Kuwait,” he said.

Cocoa exports can bring in $300M–Mars

COCONUT AND COCOA CAN GROW TOGETHER
By Jennifer A. Ng
Reporter
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/04032008/headlines02.html

MALAGOS, Davao—The Philippines has the potential to earn $300 million in export revenues if existing monocropped lands in the country are intercropped with cocoa, an official of Mars Inc. said.

Peter van Grinsven, cocoa sustainability field-research manager of Mars Inc., said the estimated export revenue is based on cocoa shipments totaling 200,000 metric tons (MT), at a conservative cost of $1,500 per MT. Cocoa beans’ current selling price average at $2,500 MT.

“There is a huge market for cocoa. In Asia alone, there is a big demand for fermented cocoa beans, but there aren’t enough cocoa beans to supply the region’s needs,” said van Grinsven at the sidelines of the launch of Mars Cocoa Development Center (MCDC) here.

The Mars official noted that China, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia import about 220,000 MT of good-quality fermented beans from West Africa, where 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is currently produced.

This, van Grinsven said, presents an opportunity for the Philippines.

Worldwide, the demand for various cocoa products grows by 3 percent year-on-year. Despite the increase in world demand, van Grinsven noted that leading cocoa producers like West Africa could not produce enough to supply the world’s appetite for cocoa, which has steadily increased over the last decade.

Besides new large markets for chocolate products like China and India, there has been a shift in consumption patterns in the established consumer markets to “dark chocolate,” which has a higher-cocoa bean content.

This is because recent studies suggest that cocoa flavanols, the naturally occurring compounds in cocoa, have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.

Mars itself is keen on looking at other suppliers for cocoa beans. Mars produces some of the world’s leading chocolate brands such as M&M’s and Snickers. The company is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, and operates in more than 65 countries. It has 100 manufacturing facilities globally, including one in China and one in Indonesia.

“We have said this before; we are willing to buy the cocoa beans produced by the Philippines,” said van Grinsven.

But before the Philippines can take advantage of the business opportunities presented by cocoa production, Mars officials said Filipino farmers need to improve productivity, control pest and diseases and produce good, quality beans through fermenting.

“While the Philippines currently produces 5,000 MT of cocoa, it has the potential to produce 100,000 MT by 2020, making it the second-biggest farm-export earner, next to coconut,” said Howard Shapiro, Mars’ global director of plant science and external research.

“However, a systematic and organized approach is required to reach this level. Among other things, it is imperative to demonstrate to farmers, the government, donor institutions as well as the world market, that the Philippines can indeed produce good-quality cocoa in sustainable farming systems,” Shapiro stressed.

To jump-start efforts to expand cocoa production, at least in Mindanao, the company set up the MCDC to demonstrate the positive aspects of cocoa cultivation and the suitability of cocoa for the Philippines.

Mars launched the project in collaboration with Acdivoca, CocoPhil and the Puentespina Farm. The center will validate and implement, in a single location, local and international “best practices” in all aspects of cocoa farming, such as germ-plasm evaluation and breeding, farm-rehabilitation methods and good agricultural practices.

Van Grinsven said the project is keen on encouraging farmers with 1 hectares of land or less to go into cocoa production.

Cocoa is a shade-tolerant crop that can be grown successfully with other trees such as durian and lanzones, besides coconut.

SPECIAL REPORT ON SUBIC, CLARK, AND THE SUBIC-CLARK-TARLAC EXPRESSWAY

Touted as the longest and the most modern expressway in the Philippines today, the 94-km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) is now expected to synergize the potentials of Subic and Clark free ports, the two key ingredients in the country’s bid to be a major service and logistics hub in Southeast Asia. Thanks to SCTEx, Subic Bay Freeport, which is being developed into a major maritime logistics and service center in East Asia, is now just 40 minutes away from Clark, recently named as Airport of the Year for Asia and the Pacific under the less than 15-million-passengers-a-year category. (By Henry Empeño, Business Mirror)

Read this and other interesting articles...

What the price of rice has to do with rice production

Global
FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Opinion&p=49&type=2&sec=25&aid=2008040271

Let’s not be too hard on ourselves by repeating the mantra that we have failed our children by not having enough rice for our needs.

Our current rice supply concerns is not an isolated case. The problem is global. Everywhere there is concern about thinning buffer stocks for all grains.

There are many reasons for thinning food buffer stocks. The most obvious reasons being the larger populations that need to be fed on nearly a constant (if not declining) amount of land devoted to agriculture.

The more immediate reasons are weather abnormalities that damaged rice crops in several countries including ours. Diminished harvest produce temporary tightening of supply. Temporary tightening of supply in turn puts upward pressure on prices.

In addition, upward price pressure has been magnified by higher fuel costs for transporting farm produce and the entry of large funds into commodities futures. The higher fuel costs are, themselves, outcomes of demand quickly outstripping supply of fossil fuels.

The rapid growth of three populous economies — China, India and Brazil — has put pressure on existing supplies of everything from fuel to food. Increasingly prosperous consumers in population-dense economies translates into bigger appetites for both food and fuel.

We are now dealing with food scarcity of Malthusian proportion.

As populations grow, there is greater demand for land to be converted from agriculture to housing. As economies advance, there is further demand to convert land for industrial use. The problems of normal growth are exacerbated by the early effects of global warming that has wreaked havoc on agricultural areas.

Global warming is credited for the abnormal rains that flooded large agricultural areas the past few months. Those floods wiped out harvests and added to the normal tightening of food supply. Australia, for instance, has alternated disastrously between droughts and floods.

Food prices have remained relatively constant only in those economies where agriculture is heavily subsidized such as Western Europe and North America. But the constant prices in these areas are deceptive. The real accruals to cost are concealed by subsidies, which transfer resources from other areas of social investment to agriculture.

That is a painful policy dilemma in many countries. When subsidies are removed, prices could rise to an extent that poverty quickly widens. The food stocks might as well be absent if people could not afford to procure them anyway.

But let us not seek relief in the fact that the food crisis is global rather than unique to our case.

Had agricultural productivity improved significantly over the past four decades, we might have a smaller problem that we now confront. The fact is, our agricultural productivity had stagnated for decades.

With the policy architecture governing our agricultural sectors, we might as well have decreed productivity to be stagnant.

We have cut up our land into uneconomical units. We have prevented the consolidation of our farms. We have discouraged agribusiness development and focused on addressing the social justice side of the matter. We have forbidden the use of transferred land as collateral. In a word, our policies have prevented proper capitalization and mechanization of our agricultural methods.

For years, we have tried to pay our rice farmers the lowest price possible. Yet at the same time, we somehow expected them to be committed to producing a crop that is not rewarded by the market. Now we are surprised that the average age of our rice farmers is 57 and that so much agricultural land has been idled for want of farmers to till them.

If we do not reward our farmers with a good price, they will not farm. If they do not farm, there will never be enough food available. But we must understand that rewarding farmers with an attractive price for their produce means that consumers will have to pay more.

So much has been said about good rice land has been converted to residential areas. That is so obvious to anyone driving down the south Luzon expressway.

But so little has been said about how much good rice land is left idle because it has become uneconomical to work the fields. Rice production, under the present policy regime, is a poverty trap. The more one farms this commodity, the poorer one gets.

I suspect that so little has been said about this because no one dares speak the dreadful truth: rice has to cost more so that more of it will be produced.

I suspect, as well, that the amount of land converted to residential use is minuscule compared to the amount of land idled by the sheer unattractiveness of tilling them. If we allow the price of rice to go up, that will have some social costs to be sure. But that will also encourage more people to go back to farming, earning better incomes and soaking up the pool of poverty.

In a word, we have supply problems largely because we have insisted on getting the price wrong.

If we get the price right, the supply problem should quickly work itself out. People, with little coaxing, will be a bit more prudent in consuming this commodity that uses up so much of our scarce fresh water supplies.

If the price is right, I might, as my ancestors have before me, actually go forth to till the fields.

Singapore firm wants to manage Clark airport

By Rendy Isip
Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news5_april2_2008

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga—Changi Airports International of Singapore is interested in managing the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport here in a bid to make it the country’s premier gateway.

A delegation led by the company’s vice president for strategic projects, Jose V.A. Pantangco, met recently with top officials of Clark International Airport Corp., led by its president and chief executive, Victor Jose Luciano.

“It has the potential for growth and we hope that we would be able to get involved in the development of this airport,” Pantangco said after a tour of the facilities.

The Singapore-based company hopes to increase capacity at the Clark airport from only 500,000 a year to at least two million a year once expansion of the terminal is completed.

In 2007, the airport registered over 533,000 domestic and international passengers, up from 480,000 passengers in 2006. It expects to serve over half a million passengers this year.

CAI is a subsidiary of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, which manages and invests in airports worldwide.

The Civil Aviation Authority is the owner-operator of Singapore’s Changi Airport, which has been named the “Best Airport of the World” for 20 consecutive years by Business Traveler magazine based in the UK.

Diosdado Macapagal Airport is home to several air carriers including Tiger Airways of Singapore, Air Asia of Malaysia, Asiana Airlines of Korea, and China Southern Airlines of China. Hong Kong Express recently started its three-times-a-week open chartered flights from Clark to Hong Kong, while Asian Spirit Airlines, the first local carrier to operate out of the airport, is set to launch its five-times-a-week flights between Incheon, South Korea, and Clark.

Local carriers such as Southeast Asian Airlines and Cebu Pacific Airways also operate at the airport.

President Arroyo spreads glad tidings in HK

BIZZ FIZZ
By Rene Martel
The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2008/apr/03/yehey/business/20080403bus12.html

WHEN the going gets tough, the tough get going—and President Gloria Arroyo was living that adage to the full in Hong Kong when she addressed the 11th Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.

A glowingly bullish President Arroyo gave her influential audience the glad tidings that 2007 was the best year for the Philippine economy in over 30 years, with economic growth sustained at 7.3 percent and a million new jobs created.

...

The President’s words were obviously well heeded. She came back home this week with $2 billion in new investments. Not bad for two days’ work in Hong Kong!

Email: bizzfizz_98@yaho.com

Farmer proves 200 cavans/ha. achievable

By MELODY M. AGUIBA
Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20080403120872.html

NUEVA ECIJA — The Philippines’ number one rice farmer— Fernando Gabuyo Jr. of San Jose, Nueva Ecija—is optimistic Filipino farmers can produce at least 200 cavans of rice per hectare which should contribute to the country’s increased rice sufficiency.

Gabuyo, 59, awarded almost yearly since 2003 by the government for his outstanding, nearly world record-breaking rice production of 355 metric tons (MT) per hectare yield, believes any farmer can achieve at least a 200 MT rice production given faithfulness to a few good rules and hardwork besides.

China’s world-record rice production is at 364 MT per hectare. And this is from the Chinese government’s own comprehensive effort and only at the research station.

Surprisingly, Gabuyo’s record is on a commercial farm (reaching to 10 hectares) and is already at a dryer 15.6 percent moisture content.

His secret are known to most agricultural technicians including the use of good seeds (inbred and hybrid), fertilizers, and pesticides.

But aside from these, he adds intermittent irrigation, farmers’ practice on pest control, Anaa-based growth hormones and trace minerals called "Mineral Booster," and one that he cannot do without—tender loving care translated into consistent scientific observation and remediation.

Gabuyo only had a yield of 237 cavans per hectare when he first received an award from the Department of Agriculture for the highest rice yield nationwide in 2003. He broke his own record with a 267 MT per hectare in 2004.

His good yield then he attributed partly to intermittent irrigation (alternate wet and dry soil) which he has long developed over the last 30 years that he has been farming.

"When soil’s always wet, the root looks rusty and decaying. But when allowed to have dry soil at intervals, the plant is able to breath, roots and stems are exposed to the sun and grow better," he said in an interview.

In 2005, his harvest suddenly jumped to 338 cavans and finally to 355 MT in 2007, or by almost 100 cavans from earlier harvests.

These times, Gabuyo found a partner in Philippine Orchard Corp. (POC) president Alfonso G. Puyat, a Filipino inventor who developed the Anaa-based growth enhancers which through its secondary elements (calcium, magnesium, sodium) allow enhanced chlorophyll production . That is together with the trace elements (zinc, copper, boron, sulfur, chlorine, among others) in it that also work for longer and stronger roots, stronger stem against lodging, and better-filled panicles and grains.

"Anaa has made a lot of difference in my yield," Gabuyo said.

Chemical fertilizers—the primary elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) still have to be used. This is along with added organic fertilizers— chicken manure and rice stalks decomposed faster through POC’s "Xemas," a decomposer that causes decay in two weeks instead of several months.

But chemical fertilizer use is already reduced substantially by six bags, saving cost of around P6,000 to P8,000. Moreover, growth promotants only costs a farmer an additional P1,340 per hectare to boost his yield which already includes P200 for Xemas, P180 for Anaa, P100 for Miracle Booster, and P100 for X-rice which is also for fertilizer effectivity, thick stems, and faster root growth.

Puyat discloses he has been fortunate to have Gabuyo as partner in applying POC-developed growth enhancers and probiotics.

"Mr. Gabuyo is not just an ordinary farmer. He’s an educated farmer. It pays well to know how to compute. He has very keen observation skills and is very hardworking. He was about to take an international shipping work until his father died and had to take on duty in the family farm," Puyat said.

Gabuyo finished Associate in Marine Engineering and was on an inter-island vessel before concentrating on farming.

He believes that even if farmers would only use selected inbred rice, he can substantially raise his yield to 200 cavans per hectare from the national average of only 75 cavans.

Recommended inbred seed includes Philippine Rice Research Institute’s 1163 which is resistant to many diseases including bacterial leaf blight.

Gabuyo said his use of these irrigation and growth-enhancing technologies go well with any hybrid rice varieties. He has already produced 346 MT per hectare from Bayer’s Bigante, 330 per hectare from Hyrice’s Rizalina, and 355 from SL AGritech’s SL-9.

Following instructions of technicians—such as making sure only one grain is transplanted on a hole (at a 20 centimeter distance from another plant) to make sure nutrients are not taken away by another plant—is another imperative.

A daily inspection on the plant’s rice growth is likewise a must.

"I’m focused on regularly inspecting the rice plant. Any plant needs the care of the farmer. When you visit it, you will observe any problem and you’re able to act fast to remedy it," he said.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Star Cruises to build $1-B leisure complex in RP

GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/87353/Star-Cruises-to-build-1-B-leisure-complex-in-RP

MANILA, Philippines- Star Cruises Ltd. an affiliate of the Malaysian conglomerate the Genting Group, is finalizing a venture with local holding firm Alliance Global Group Inc. for the development of a $1-billion integrated leisure and resort complex which would be part of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.'s Bagong Nayong Pilipino Manila Bay Integrated City Project.

In a statement, Alliance Global, which is the listed holding firm of businessman Andrew Tan said Star Cruises is partnering with its unit Travellers International Hotel Group. for the project.

Alliance Global said Pagcor hopes that the development will attract at least $4 billion in investments from both foreign and local investors and generate about 100,000 jobs.

Star Cruises and Travellers, Alliance Global said, are planning to build hotels with a minimum of 1,000 rooms spread out over several phases of development.

“Our proposal comes at an opportune time when there is increasing awareness of the Philippines as a tourist destination, with the country achieving a milestone in 2007 with a record three million tourist arrivals for the first time in its history," Tan said in the statement.

Star Cruises is a publicly listed company in Hong Kong with total assets $6.4 billion in 2007. Together with its affiliate, the Genting Group, it is involved in a diversified range of businesses including, leisure, hospitality, gaming, entertainment, cruise and cruise-related, power and oil and gas exploration.

The Genting Group, with total assets of $10 billion, is the largest Asian-based leisure, entertainment and hospitality conglomerate.

ADB allots $1.44B in loans for RP projects

GMANews.TV
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/87351/ADB-allots-144B-in-loans-for-RP-projects

MANILA, Philippines- Asian Development Bank on Tuesday announced that it has approved a total of $1.44 billion in loans for the Philippines, which will go to funding agrarian, health and energy projects for two years.

For this year, ADB Deputy Director General for Southeast Asia Tom Crouch said the regional lender has set aside $750 million loans for the Philippines, higher than the $583 million alloted for the country last year.

Crouch said ADB increased the loan allotment to the Philippines because of the country's improved fiscal situation.

Projects lined up for ADB loans are the Development Policy Support Project worth $250 million; the Agrarian Reform Communities II, $ 80 million; Support for the Sustainable Healthcare and Investment program, $50 million; Justice Reform Program, $300 million; Rural Electrification Cooperative, $40 million and Energy efficiency, $30 million.

In 2009, the ADB will support the Financial Market Regulation and Intermediation Program, $200 million; Development Policy Support Project Subprogram III, $200 million; Metro Manila Urban Services for the Poor program, $40 million and Support for National Transmission Corp., $250 million.

For technical assistance, the ADB will provide $7.11 million and $1.90 million in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Opening Statement during a Cabinet Meeting

TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2008 | GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT
http://www.gov.ph/news/default.asp?i=20485

Our trip to Hong Kong was dedicated to meeting with our strong OFW contingent in Hong Kong and to meeting with business leaders to encourage them to continue to make strong investments in the Philippines.

At a time when the Philippine economy is at its strongest in over 30 years, it is imperative that we stay focused on continuing to strengthen our economy through aggressive outreach to investors and to enhance our cooperation with governments in the region like Hong Kong.

One central component of our economic plan has been steady and consistent investment by our government in strengthening our regional economic engagement.

Taken together, all of these efforts – our economic plan at home and our foreign engagement abroad – have helped prepare us for the global economic forces that are affecting the Philippines today.

Our trip to Hong Kong is another action we took to continue to bolster our economy through more investments and to confer with vital business leaders on cooperative steps we can take to cushion ourselves in Asia against these global issues. We also took the opportunity to meet with our precious OFWs and introduce a series of programs we are taking to mitigate the strengthening of the peso against the dollar.

The fact that I have been asked to deliver the keynote address at the Asia investment conference in Hong Kong to over a thousands investors and fund managers underscores the interest the outside world has in the growing stability and economic fortunes of the Philippines.

We are proud to once again having carried the banner of our nation and led the charge for even more investments in our great nation.

Bahagi rin ng ating pagsisikap na umakit ng investment are palakasin ang ekonomiya, magpupulong ngayon ang NEDA Board upang talakayin ang ASEAN-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement na kasalukuyang binubuo ng mga ministro ng kalakal sa ASEAN. Gaya ng ginagawa natin sa Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement o JPEPA, sisiguruhin natin na makikinabang ang Pilipinas sa kasunduang binabalangkas ng ASEAN, lalo na ang mga manggagawa at maralita na umaasa sa investment para sa dagdag kita at trabaho.

Mag-uulat din sa NEDA Board si Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap tungkol sa ating mga pagkilos to crack down on price gouging; increase the supply of rice where necessary; and invest more in planting and agricultural modernization. Nagagalak tayo sa ulat ng Department of Justice at NBI na malapit na silang maghabla sa mga mangangalakal ng bigas na negbebenta ng bigas NFA na mahal.

Sa ating mga programa para sa abot-kayang pagkain, kailangan magtulungan ang lahat – gobyerno, mga pamahalaang local, pribadong sector, at mga samahang bayan. Noong isang lingo, pinulong natin ang mga negosyante sa ilalim ng National Price Coordinating Council, at hinirang si Bise-Presidente Noli de Castro upang subaybayan ang mga pagkilos para sa abot-kayang bilihin. Ngayon, nananawagan tayo sa mga pamahalaang local at mga korporasyon at institusyon ng gobyerno.

Inaatasan ko ang DA at DTI na makipagtulungan sa mga gobyernong local sa pagmamatyag sa mga bodega at palengke, at sa pagpapalakas ng ani ng bigas sa bansa. Dapat siguruhing mgay nagbebenta ng bigas NFA malapit sa mga maralitang barangay, at ipaalam sa tao kung nasaan sila sa mge sentro ng barangay at simbahan ng parokya. Inaatasan ko rin ang DA na gumawa ng programa upang makapagtanim ng palay ang mga LGU at ibenta ito sa NFA. Maraming lupain ang mga lalawigan at lungsod na pwede bungkalin, at sa local government code devolved ang Department of Agriculture sa mga local government. May pera sila upang pondohan ang pagsasaka – mga P32 billion surplus noong isang taon.

Maglalabas din tayo ng administrative order upang gamitin ng mga korporasyon at institusyon ng gobyerno ang limang porsyento ng kanilang surplus na mahigit sandaang bilyong piso sa pagsasaka ng palay at iba pang programang pangmaralita, alinsunod sa batas. Dapat silang sumangguni sa DA at DSWD sa pagbabalangkas ng mga proyekto at simulang ang mga ito sa loob ng tatlong buwan. Dapat magtulungan tayong lahat upang labanan ang kahirapan.

We look forward to key allies among LGU leaders and top GOCCs, GFIs and SSIs (PAGCOR, PCSO, SSS, GSIS, NPC and PNOC) to immediately and prominently respond to this call. We invite them to present their initial plans to the cabinet on April 8, and begin implementation within three months.

Plans for biggest RP tourism dev’t project bared today

Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN20080402120806.html

Four concepts for the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Manila Bay Integrated City – the Philippines’ biggest tourism development project ever – will be unveiled during the Gaming and Investment Conference for the 2008 Asia’s Gaming and Entertainment plus Leisure Expo (Asia’s GEM) today, Wednesday, April 2.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), through Board Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Efraim C. Genuino, will announce details of the approved concepts for the project in the conference at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino in Malate, Manila.

When completed, the $ 15-billion project is expected to boost tourist arrivals in the country by over a million to three million annually, generate over 250,000 new jobs, and dramatically increase government earnings.

A big local firm and conglomerates from Australia, Japan, and Malaysia submitted the approved concepts for the Bagong Nayong Pilipino, which also formally breaks ground during Asia’s Gem 2008.

All concepts for the project underscore the Philippines as a major tourist destination and an ideal site for "integrated resort" developments – that is, an entertainment and leisure complex that features a complete range of world-class amenities for people of all ages.

The proponents see the Bagong Nayong Pilipino having six-star hotels, gaming facilities, malls, museums, cultural centers, sports arenas, residential villages, and theme parks, with slight variations in each of the four proposals.

One proponent sees the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Manila Bay Integrated City, which will initially be built in 90 hectares of prime reclaimed land, as a "live, work, and play" complex 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The concept includes hotels and a popular theme park.

Another sees a resort with symbolic landmarks and amenities that represent "the very best of their type in Asia," including one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world.

Another foreign proponent sees the Bagong Nayong Pilipino built around three hotels facing Manila Bay, positioned to create "an unmistakable skyline address" for its resort complex.

A fourth sees the project having an "iconic structure" while seamlessly integrating with the existing amenities in the area.

Pagcor Chairman Genuino, who sees the project as the state-run firm’s ultimate legacy and contribution to the recovery of the country’s economy, said that the Bagong Nayong Pilipino will, "without cost to the government, create endless opportunities for local businessmen and generate jobs for our people."

Besides billions of dollars worth of revenues for the government in terms of direct foreign investments, lease payments, taxes, and tourism receipts, the Manila Bay Integrated City is expected to induce growth in locally based industries such as construction, information technology, food and beverage, hospitality, entertainment, and transportation.

Genuino has proposed that locators in the Bagong Nayong Pilipino pay salaries to their workers in US dollars, so Filipinos can earn as much as their counterparts in the gaming and entertainment industry abroad without leaving their families behind.

Pagcor co-presents Asia’s GEM 2008 with the EuroAsian Cooperation on Gaming Association (ECG), which Genuino heads as interim chairman. The expo is organized by the Asian GEM and Tourism Foundation, Inc.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

PGMA’s 3-day HK working visit worth it: US$2-B investment portfolio in bag

http://www.news.ops.gov.ph/today.htm#PGMA%92s%203-day

HONG KONG (via PLDT) – "It was all worth it."

She not only pressed flesh with overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong whose concerns she listened to and solved right in her hotel suite on the very first night following her arrival here Sunday (March 30).

She was not only the very first speaker at the much-awaited 11th Credit Suisse’ Asian Investment Conference (AIC) and then had a tea-time meeting with fund managers in portfolio investments Monday (March 31).

On the same day, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also clinched for the Philippines the latest addition to the Billion-Dollar Club of foreign investment locators – the HK-based Shimao Property Holdings which may yet bring first-world development to the eastern seaboard of the Visayas, particularly in Eastern Samar.

This, aside from the 42-hectare property development that Shimao plans to set up in Fort Bonifacio.

“It was all worth it,” the President enthused after announcing the US$2-billion investment to the Philippine media delegation over coffee and cocktails at the presidential suite of the Grand Hyatt Hotel last night (Monday, March 31).

But that is not all. The President also had a business meeting this morning (Tuesday, April 1) with the Hopewell Group whose chairman of the board paid a courtesy call on the Chief Executive at her hotel suite before flying back to Manila at 6 p.m. this evening.

The President received Mr. Gordon Ying Sheung Wu, chairman of the board of Hopewell Holdings which had earlier completed three power-station infrastructure projects in the Philippines, including the 2x367.5 megawatt or 735-mw Pagbilao power station in Quezon which is the Philippines’ largest coal-fired power plant.

The Hopewell group is hoping to develop an area around Sangley Point in Cavite.

And so, as she flies back to Manila after her brief working stay in this prosperous Chinese peninsula, President Arroyo has under her sleeve not only the soon-to-rise projects of the Shimao Group, and that of the Hopewell Group, plus possible investments from the fund managers she had met through Credit Suisse.

She will also be flying back home with a heart-warming consolidated Statement of Support from five OFW groups here that recognize the “single-mindedness of the President (Arroyo) in focusing on the economy.”

The statement of support echoes the President’s belief that political noise need not interfere with the administration’s focus on alleviating the lives of Filipinos.

“The economic facts and figures are indisputable – notwithstanding the unceasing political noise, the country’s economy grew (by) unprecedented levels, largely as a result of the single-mindedness of the President in focusing on the economy.

“By and large, the overwhelming majority of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) all over the world – except for the noisy few that are influenced by extremist and oppositionist groups – are supportive of the programs and initiatives of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in bringing our country to the threshold of development and progress,” the OFW statement said.

The supportive OFWs admitted being bothered by the “stunts of vested political interests who either could not wait for the next elections or are bent on destabilizing our democratic institutions.”

“We are bothered and concerned as much as our families and loved ones are in the country, mainly because the political disturbances caused by these groups are undermining the larger interests of our country and people,” they said.

For the supportive Filipino community in Hong Kong whom she had dubbed as “precious” when she treated them to a cocktail reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Sunday evening (March 30), the President has ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to work with the HK government for the possible return of the pre-2003 monthly minimum salary of HK$3,670 for foreign domestic helpers.

NAIA 3 update photos

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Top Philippine Students Strike Real Gold

By TERESA CEROJANO
Associated Press
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jq7_7JD5GNEPKxyyF5mKJQbZ4o1gD8VP0NDG1

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Students in a Philippine gold mining village strike gold every time they graduate at the top of their class — literally.

Robec June Calunia, a 12-year-old valedictorian, was among 10 students who received gold medals last week, said Francisco Tito, the leader of southern Diwalwal village.

The aim is to encourage students — children of small-scale gold miners — to excel in school, he said.

Mountainous Diwalwal is home to 40,000 settlers, most of them miners. Tito said he thought of the program six years ago when he saw an impoverished mother weeping after unsuccessfully trying to pawn her sick child's gold-painted school medal.

"I thought, `Why not give the children real gold medals.' Anyway, we have gold here," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Since 2003, village leaders have solicited gold contributions from miners for 10 medals a year. It costs $263 to produce each of the one-third ounce, 16-karat medals.

"The students are inspired. In fact, the competition has become stiff because some parents from nearby villages with bright kids now send their children to school in Diwalwal," Tito said.

It was the fifth gold medal for Calunia, a consistent top honor winner except for one year, he said.

Tito said even those who make some money on gold in the village, about 580 miles southeast of Manila, do not have the skills to make their small wealth grow, and accidents are common. Three years ago, 12 miners died when a tunnel caved in.

"So we are really striving to educate our children, because education is something they can hold on to," he said. "We have seen that education is more important than gold."