Saturday, 19 April 2008

Philippines pushes hybrid rice to solve soaring food prices

MANILA (AFP) — Farmers will be encouraged to shift to hybrid varieties of rice as the Philippines attempts to copy the China model for rice self-sufficiency, the agriculture department said Friday.

Though Philippine rice production reached an all-time high of 16.24 million tonnes last year, Manila has been scrambling to boost stocks and raise yields to avoid the sort of food riots that has hit other countries.

The price of the grain, the staple food for 90 million Filipinos as well as half of humanity, has nearly doubled amid rising global demand and weather-related production setbacks.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said he is to ask President Gloria Arroyo to approve a subsidy programme to promote higher-yielding hybrid seeds as part of government efforts to attain rice self-sufficiency by 2010.

Manila now imports about eight percent of the country's daily consumption requirement of 33,000 tonnes.

Pioneered by China, the world's top rice producer and consumer, hybrids are bred by crossing three genetically different varieties to produce a rice plant that grows faster and produces yields of up to 20 percent higher. More than half of China's rice farms now use hybrid rice.

Farmers need to buy new seeds to plant every year, which raises costs, because using seeds from the previous hybrid crop are unreliable. Hybrid seeds cost double that of the varieties now being used.

While they cost more, hybrid seeds yield up to seven tonnes of paddy rice per hectare (2.47 acres) compared to only 4.5 tonnes a hectare using so-called inbred seeds now favoured by Filipino farmers, Yap told reporters Friday.

"It would be more sensible for government to expand subsidies for hybrid seeds to encourage agribusiness companies to produce more of these hybrid seeds and for a lot more farmers to use them," Yap said.

"We will also encourage farmers to use organic fertilisers, which are cheaper and promote sustainable agriculture," he added.

The government earlier this week announced a billion-dollar investment in the farm sector over three years to boost yields.

Yap said the agriculture department wants to encourage farmers to use hybrid seeds in up to 250,000 hectares of rice farms this year.

Citi says Philippines will survive high commodity prices

By Doris Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is not at high risk of being rocked by food riots or political instability similar to what skyrocketing food prices and scant supply have done to some poor countries, American banking giant Citigroup said.


Philippines pre-pays $270m worth of foreign debt in 2 months

By Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard

Philippine companies pre-paid $270.2 million worth of foreign debt in the first two months of the year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said yesterday.

The Philippines in 2007 pre-paid $2.7 billion of foreign debt and another $3.9 billion in 2006 on the back of stronger dollar inflows and stronger peso.

The pre-payment of external debt was part of government’s strategy to slow down the appreciation of the peso against the US dollar to temper the impact of a stronger currency on exporters and relatives of migrant Filipino workers.

The International Monetary Fund has lauded government’s efforts to trim the external debt, one of the Philippines’ vulnerabilities, especially in the face of a global slowdown and a US recession.

The IMF said Manila had undertaken reforms to put its debt on a steadily declining path. The reforms included less reliance on foreign debt and loan buybacks.

The IMF, however, said the currency and maturity structure of public debt remained a cause for concern as the share of foreign currency denominated public debt was still relatively high in relation to other emerging markets.

A remarkable 7.3 percent economic growth in 2007 enabled the Philippines to register a significant improvement in external debt.

The external debt amounted to $54.9 billion at the end of 2007, up 2.9 percent on year despite pre-payments.

The central bank blamed the increase in the debt stock to the upward revaluation adjustment on borrowings denominated in currencies that appreciated against the dollar amounting to $1.6 billion and net loan availments of $765 million.

Friday, 18 April 2008

PGMA says RP is more resilient now to respond promptly to global woes


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that her administration will continue working to secure ample rice supply at stable prices particularly for the poor who are most affected by the global rise in fuel and food prices.

The President said this during the fellowship meeting of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) this afternoon (Friday, April 18) in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“Our first obligation and commitment is to put food on every table in the Philippines. Rice is a global issue and has deeply impacted the Philippines. We are taking strong, swift decisive action to make sure it doesn’t become a crisis, with singular focus on mitigating price to the best of our ability,” the President said.

Since the global problem became apparent several months ago, the President said the National Food Authority (NFA) promptly sourced out rice from Vietnam and other countries and sold it at subsidized prices to the poor to ensure stable supply and affordable prices.

Aside from rice subsidies, the President also ordered government agencies to crack down on price gouging, increase rice supply wherever necessary, and invest more in planting and agricultural modernization such as the immediate provision to farmers of certified and hybrid seeds and post harvest facilities.

“We will continue to work with our neighbors in the region to secure rice supply. We will work with nations of the world to share best practices and best ideas to make sure this is a one-time global event,” the President said.

With a strengthened economic situation, the President said the Philippines is now more resilient to maintain control and respond promptly to the current global problem.

“With this base of new-found economic stability, we are in a much better position to weather these economic and price pressures than ever before. That does not mean that it lessens the pain on our poor when rice and gas prices increase, but we are able to help ease this burden,” the President said.

After her speech, the President visited the AFP Commissary inside the military camp and personally observed the sale of 150 cavans of NFA rice at P18 per kilo.

Stable supply, not price control, will solve rice problem -- PGMA


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Thursday the government is determined to keep both supply and prices of rice stable, pointing out that one won’t do without the other.

In an interview with the media in Siargao Island, the President said the government is already implementing an action plan to overcome the challenge posed by the global rice supply crunch.

“If we control the price of rice then the more the supply will dwindle,” she said.

“Price control would only worsen the situation,” she pointed out.

The President visited Siargo Island yesterday to formally open the First Siargao Invitational Game Fishing Tournament.

She has spelled out the three-phased Action Plan as: first, ensuring the steady supply of rice and other cereals; second, ensuring that the staple would reach the consumers; and third, law enforcement which involves the taking of legal actions against rice hoarders and profiteers.

The Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) has expressed the same position as the President on the issue of price controls. In a report, HSBC said: ”Price controls and subsidies, while perhaps politically opportune, are hardly the answer (to rice supply woes).”

“Over time, such measures would have perverse impacts, merely prolonging the adjustment process that is required to bring inflation back to earth,” the HSBC report said.

The bank added that subsidies and price controls could entail substantial fiscal costs as it stressed the need for consumers to be prodded into buying less.

The bank recommended that instead of imposing price controls, farmers should be given more incentives to improve their production.

During the 2nd Food Security Summit at Clark Freeport Zone, the President committed P43.7 billion to the agricultural sector to ensure an “abundant, affordable and accessible” food supply.

The amount will be used to fund the administration’s “FIELDS” program. FIELDS stands for fertilizers, infrastructure and irrigation, extension and education, loans, drying and other post-harvest facilities, and seeds.

PGMA, Surigao Sur officials tackle irrigation, other local problems


CARRASCAL, Surigao del Sur -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Thursday to act immediately on the request of local officials for the rehabilitation of irrigation projects in this province.

The President issued the directive during a meeting with Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay, Gov. Vicente Pimentel Jr., Carrascal Mayor Alfred Arreza and other officials of the province at the Villa Remedios here.

Aside from irrigation, the local officials also discussed with the President other problems, such as poverty, unemployment and the lack of electricity in many areas of the province.

They said the province’s rice output would have been higher had NIA acted on their request for the timely repair of irrigation facilities in the area.

The President noted that Surigao del Sur is one of the “rice granaries” of the country, and given adequate assistance, particularly irrigation facilities, its production of the cereal would markedly increase.

Also on Thursday, the Chief Executive unveiled an “upgraded” Action Plan, backed by a P2 billion allocation for the development of the province, one of the country’s poorest.

She said the upgraded plan would focus on the three E’s Action Plan, namely education, economy and environment.

The Action Plan, she said, would address the main causes of lack of jobs, investment and infrastructure.

“Poverty and unemployment are indeed related to each other. The most important thing for graduating out of poverty is to have jobs and, to have jobs, you need investments. If you have investments, you need to have infrastructure,” the President added.

On the issue of electrification, the President said that by 2010, all barangays in the country would be lighted.

She said that the government is fast-tracking the electrification of some 2,000 barangays nationwide that have yet to be lighted.

The President arrived here Thursday to break the ground for the Surigao-Davao Coastal Road (SDCR) and the P200-million Claver-Carrascal Road.

More high schools go 'techie' in 2008 -- Lapus


MANILA (PNA) -- Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Jesli Lapus has been pushing for continuous installation of computers in all public high schools to further strengthen efforts at integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education.

ICT4E – or ICT for Education – was first expressed in the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action in line with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s goal to provide Education for All (EFA) by 2015. At the country level, it is to implement the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA).

BESRA is a set of policy reforms aiming to significantly improve the basic education sector by 2010. It has five critical thrusts, namely: School-based Management, Competency-based Teacher Standards, Quality Assurance and Accountability Framework, Early Childhood Education and Alternative Learning System, and Reengineering DepEd Governance.

"We are channeling a huge chunk of our resources to ICT4E. Our students are now living in the Information Age, and knowledge – not social status or financial capacity – is the key to seizing opportunities in the 21st century," Lapus said.

He further said that there will be an additional 600 schools that will set up computer laboratories and by the end of 2008, all high schools will have access to computers.

Among the 6,382 public high schools nationwide, 600 high schools have been recipients of the Deped Computerization Program for Fiscal Years 2003-2004 and 2006. The supplemental budget for FY 2006 has also benefited 355 public high schools.

DepEd targets 600 more schools by the end of 2008.

To date, the combined efforts of DepEd, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Government of Japan have helped 5,269 public high schools nationwide.

As an advocate of the use of technology in education, Lapus launched a massive computerization plan for all public high schools in 2006.

"Given the challenges both geographic and financial we face, ICT4E is the fastest and most economical means to improve basic education in the country," said the Education Chief.

ICT4E, as initiated by DepEd, focuses on five areas, namely: ICT-Enabled Curriculum, ICT-Enabled Teacher, ICT-Enabled Governance, ICT- Enhanced Content, and ICT Infrastructure.

The ICT-Enabled Curriculum seeks to develop materials that will produce graduates "with 21st century skills" through appropriate instructional materials and activities. The ICT-Enabled Teacher will provide capability trainings that hope to empower teachers, followed by ICT-Enabled Governance that defines digital solutions for greater transparency and effectiveness in governance.

Through ICT-Enhanced Content, students in public schools are enriched with information that is otherwise unavailable to them. Lastly, an ICT Infrastructure determines digital solutions to meet certain educational requirements.

Forging strategic partnerships with the private sector is vital to the implementation of these five areas. Through DepEd's Adopt-a-School Program, seven major programs have been initiated and sustained since 1994. Some of these private sector groups include Intel, Smart, Knowledge Channel, Microsoft, and Ayala Foundation.

Lapus has lauded these successful endeavors that significantly augmented the budgetary resources of the department.

He reiterated that "education is a societal concern, and crucial to the success of DepEd's ICT efforts is the continued participation of the private sector."

As a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Lapus repeatedly affirmed the pivotal role of ICT in education pursuant to international best practices.

The Education Chief said "computerization is not meant to take the place of reading – a habit that we continue to spur among public school children. When carefully utilized, computers can complement books, and transform the learning experience of our children." (PNA)

DA creates Eminent Persons Group to help oversee FIELDS

by Prix D Banzon (PIA)

Davao City -- After President Arroyo unveiled a P43.7 billion package of intervention measures to further boost farm productivity to achieve its food security and self-sufficiency, the Department of Agriculture has created an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to help oversee the implementation of the program.

The newly formed EPG as disclosed by the DA in a press statement is composed of former DA secretaries Domingo Panganiban, Carlos Dominguez, Roberto Sebastian, Salvador Escudero III, who is now a congressman, former agriculture undersecretary Apolinario Bautista, ex-Adminstrator Gregorio Tan of the National Food Authority, Philrice Exec. Dir. Leocadio Sebastian, Dr. Emil Javier of the National Academy for Science and Technology (NAST), Dr. Leo Gonzalez of Strive Foundation, and former PhilRice Director Dr. Santiago Obien.

The group will watch over DA's implementation of the President's F.I.E.L.D.S. initiative which stands for six areas of initiatives that will funnel a total of P43.7 billion.

F.I.E.L.D.S. stands for Fertilizer, Irrigation, Education and training for farmers and fisher folk, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and Seeds of the high-yielding, hybrid varieties.

One component of FIELDS is the availability of P15 billion credit facilities for small farmers. This fund is on top of the P5 billion that the Land Bank of the Philippines has set aside for lending to palay farmers.

To support this component program, the DA has teamed up with a federation of cooperative banks and a pro-farmer party-list group to make available loans to farmers to help ease the rural credit crunch and make the farm and fisheries sector more profitable for its small stakeholders.

In a memorandum of commitment, the DA represented by Secretary Arthur Yap, the Cooperative Banks Federation of the Philippines (BANGKOOP) led by Hermino Ocampo, the Luzon Farmers Party-list (BUTIL) group of Rep. Leonila Chavez, agreed to spur financing in the countryside by tapping coop banks as a source of loans for small farmers and fisherfolk.

PSE: Still should go down some more - John Mangun

John Mangun
The Business Mirror

One month ago, on March 14, the Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) closed at 2904.73. As of this writing, the market closed at 2,904.73. I know that it is just coincidental, but I wrote back then that the market should fall another 10 percent. In fact, I said it needed to fall another 10 percent before there would be a great buying opportunity.

Of course, immediately after I wrote those words, prices fell some and then went up over 3,000, seemingly to reverse its downward trend. A good friend who measures his portfolio in millions of pesos consoled me with the words that I could not be right all the time.

In truth, I am rarely "right" but often premature. I will say it again. The stock market will fall to the 2,600 level or even lower before any sustained rally can begin.

The stock market has been in a sustained decline since October of last year. Price upswings have taken prices only to the top on this long-term trend channel. For the same reason, declines have been fairly limited to the bottom of the trend channel. However, the overall price action is down and a reversal of that trend is not easy, nor will it come quickly.

This fall in prices is against a background of some reasonably strong negative news. Higher Philippine inflation, subprime fallout, high energy and food costs, a problem with the supply of rice and an increasing perception of distrust in the administration are all contributing to investor worries.

On the opposite side, there are a slew of good happenings. The property companies are reporting sustained strong earnings. Major foreign investors continue to come into the Philippines, as shown by a Macao group entering a listed gambling company and the Petron share sale. There has not been any foreign selling of the large IPO placements to foreign groups made last year. Capital spending is basically steady if not that robust.

Nonetheless, sentiments drive the market and, for now, the good news is ignored. You cannot argue with the price action, and the action is down and will be for some time to come. The only way that a quick reversal could occur is if we get 1) a sustained but rapid sell-off, followed by 2) an equal period of stagnate price movement.

Although there is some slight technical support at the 2,900 level, it is unlikely that we will see a rally from these current price levels. There are too many weak holders in the stock market right now. That is, a rally from 2,900 will bring in strong selling above 3,000, as we saw in the last month. Whet we need is for the nervous investors to cut and run, and I do not think that will happen at 2,900.

The support level on the PSEi is at 2,600, then 2,500 and then 2,000. I want to believe that 2,600 will be a turning point, but it may not be unless we move there quickly with large trading volume. The worst-case scenario is more of this crumbling of prices. If we do not see a climactic drop in the next month, then we may see a slow, painful deterioration to levels below 2,500 through the third quarter. The longer this slow burn takes, the lower the potential downside, even as low as a fall below 2,000.

As I said before, although prices have fallen some 50 percent from the highs, investors are still hanging in there, hoping to sell on short-term rallies. This does not forecast a strong price rally.

Technical short-term targets for some of the more heavily traded issues look like this:

Ayala Corp.—P4.00 then P3.60
Globe—P1,400 then P1,300
PNOC Energy Development Corp.—P4.50
Alliance Global—P3.50
Ayala Land—P9.00 then P8.00
BDO—P43.00 then P38.50
First Phil. Holdings—P40.00 then P30.00
Robinsons Land—P10.00 then P6.00
SM Investments—P250 then P210
Holcim Philippines—P4.50 to 5.00
Meralco—P70 then P60
Jollibee—P40 to 45

Most of these issues should reach their lower targets if and when the broad market hits its support at 2,500 to 2,600. Therefore, the most reasonable trading strategy if you are not into stock-market investing is to wait for the support levels of both the broad market and individual shares to be achieved. If you are still holding individual shares, I suggest you stop waiting for a miracle and get out, unless you are willing to hold on when prices are much lower.

Otherwise, hold on through the storm for brighter days ahead by "dollar cost-averaging," meaning buying an equal money amount of stock on a regular basis regardless of the stock price.

If we bottom out during the third quarter of 2009 at whatever level, we will see a long-term rally that will target well above the historic high. And the target date for that is 2010. Another coincidence, I suppose.

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PGMA in a parish rice distribution centre in Mindanao

BIGASAN SA PAROKYA—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is all smiles as she witnesses a mother with her child holding three packs of rice which she bought at P18.25 per kilo at the "Bigasan sa Parokya." The President inspected Thursday (April 17) the rice distribution by the Parishioners Rice Distribution Network at the Carrascal Parish Church in Carrascal, Surigao del Sur. At right is Father Rafael Batolino. (Exequiel Supera/OPS-NIB Photo)

NAIA hurdles Icao examination

By Recto Mercene
The Business Mirror

THE Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) has passed the security examination of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao), placing the Naia on a par with world-class airports around the world.

The Icao officials were “impressed with the consistent high-standard screening procedures of persons and luggage at various screening points,” according to Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) general manager Alfonso Cusi.

Cusi said Icao representatives Ken Robinson and Grahan Lockwood remarked that “the pat-down process was not only efficient but also nonintrusive.”

He told them the Miaa “is exerting all efforts geared toward further improving not only the security process, but also taking care of the sensitivity of passengers not to be unduly bothered by body frisking, which annoys many air travelers.”

The Icao officials arrived incognito March 13 and monitored for two weeks the security procedures, which is the air organization’s usual procedure to ensure accuracy of its evaluations.

Airports found to be deficient are immediately notified of lapses or lack of the prescribed practices, and those unable to remedy the situation within a prescribed period are downgraded to a lower category.

Business outlook bright in 1st quarter

BusinessWorld Online

BUSINESS OUTLOOK in the Philippines remained positive throughout the first quarter as businessmen deemed that the US credit crisis hardly made a dent on their operations and sales as of yet, investment group CLSA Asia-Pacific said.

Read the rest of the article....

Thursday, 17 April 2008

CBRE bullish on RP property market despite US subprime crisis


Property services firm CB Richard Ellis remains bullish on prospects for the Philippines, despite an economic slowdown in the United States.

CBRE is the world's largest real estate services firm, operating in 350 locations across the globe.

In a press briefing, CBRE Philippines chairman Rick Santos says increased government spending for infrastructure was expected to spur investor interest in the Philippines.

"These are favorable to the property industry because of the value it creates," said Santos.

So far, two foreign companies have on-going projects in the Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga, which Santos attributed to significant work that the government has done for infrastructure in the area, particularly the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway. These are a $1 billion Logistics Complex by the Kuwait and Gulf Link Investments and a $250 million Aircraft Maintenance Facility of Singapore Airlines Engineering Company.

"There's a lot of foreign money in investments with a five to ten-year horizon," says Santos, "That's not like portfolio money where they can take it out the next day."

In the Makati Central Business, for instance, building sales transactions has been brisk. An unfinished building along EDSA, beside Ecology Village and Dasmarinas Village, for instance, had been sold for P1.2-B. The buyer, according to CBRE, is a consortium of Alphaland Corp. and UK's Ashmore Group. The latter just bought the shares of Saudi Arabia's Aramco in Petron.

Rail loop winning bid out in June

By Gigi Muñoz David
The Manila Standard

Administrator Mel Robles of the Light Rail Transit Authority said the winning bid for the North Edsa-Monumento loop will be announced sometime in June.

He made the announcement at yesterday’s meeting of the Association of Regional Executives of Metro Manila in preparation for the Earth Day celebration next month.

“Probably by June 9, we will know whom we are to award the bid,” he said at the Monumento Station in Caloocan City where he unfurled tarpaulins on preserving water resources, joined by Philippine Information Agency Secretary Dodie Limcaoco and director Riza Baldoria, Environment Undersecretary Teresita Castillo and representatives from the Education Department and other government agencies.

The P6.3-billion extension line will add three stations—Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Edsa to “close the loop.”

The LRT 1 ferries passengers to Baclaran, Pasay City from Monumento vice versa while LRT 2 serves commuters from Recto, downtown Manila to Santolan, Pasig City both ways.

The Metro Rail Transit is interconnected with LRT 1 on Edsa for commuters up to North Edsa.

According to the Authority, the loop project would be completed in 2010.

“Once the Monumento to North Edsa link is completed, for sure pollution will be reduced,” he told Standard Today, noting that the loop project targetted a 2010 opening.

Population breaches 88M mark, but growth slows

National Statistics Office

Final results of the latest Census of Population (POPCEN 2007) conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) placed the Philippine population at 88,574,614 persons as of August 1, 2007. Said results down to barangay level were made official with the signing by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Proclamation No. 1489 on April 16, 2008.

The total population of the Philippines in 2000 (based on the 2000 Census of Population and Housing) was 76.50 million while it was recorded at 68.62 million in 1995 (based on the 1995 Mid-Decade Census).

Census Year Census Reference Date Philippine Population (in millions)
2007 August 1, 2007 88.57
2000 May 1, 2000 76.50
1995 September 1, 1995 68.62

Lowest population growth rate recorded since the 1960s

The 2007 and 2000 census figures translated into an average annual population growth rate of 2.04 percent for the period 2000 to 2007. As shown below, it was the lowest annual population growth rate recorded for the Philippines since the 1960s

Reference Period Average Annual Population Growth Rate for the Philippines
(in percent)
2000-2007 2.04
1990-2000 2.34
1980-1990 2.35
1970-1980 2.75
1960-1970 3.01

The projected average annual population growth rate for the period 2005 to 2010 was 1.95 percent. This projection was based on the 2000 Census of Population and Housing.


“The result of the 2007 Census of Population shows an annual growth rate of 2.04 percent from 2000 to 2007,” Augusto Santos, acting director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, told reporters.

He said the annual population increase for the past seven years was slightly higher than the government’s target of 1.95 percent up to 2010.

“In a sense, it was close to the target and lower than the previous decades,” Santos added.

The National Statistics Office conducted the census from August to September 2007, with August 1 as the reference period.

Santos said the Philippines’ population expanded from 1960 to 1970 at an annual rate of 3.01 percent. This slowed to 2.75 percent for the decade from 1970 to 1980, and further to 2.34 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Despite the increasing number of Filipinos, Santos said the government has no plans of changing its population policy.

President Arroyo has resisted use of contraceptives and other forms of family planning other than natural methods—a move applauded by the Roman Catholic Church but criticized by those who blame overpopulation for rampant poverty in the Philippines and recently for the food shortage. The Philippines is predominantly Catholic.

The Philippine population growth rate was much higher compared to Malaysia with an average 2.1-percent growth rate from 2001 to 2006; Vietnam, 1.4 percent from 2001 to 2006; Indonesia, 1.3 percent; and Thailand, 0.8 percent.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The Technohub: UP and Ayala partner to boost technology research

By Kris Danielle Suarez

A formerly vacant lot in Quezon City - occupied only by a carnival at Christmastime - is now a hub of frenzied construction activity. It is being transformed into a world-class information technology (IT) park.

The University of the Philippines (UP) and Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) teamed up to develop Phase I of the 98.5-hectare UP North Science and Technology Park, a center for science and technology research and development. This is the first of its kind in the Philippines.

The UP-Ayala Technohub, as it is called, is a 37.5-hectare development along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, which, upon completion, will house firms in the high-technology fields and high-value business process outsourcing (BPO) services, start-up companies, and incubate companies.

For UP, the IT park "fits right in" with the university’s vision to be a leading research university. The Technohub is planned to be a center where research and technology-based collaborative projects between industry and academe thrive.

UP also sees the park to be a "catalyst for development" of information technology and IT-enabled services, which would pave the way for "transforming innovative ideas" into products and services of the companies in the park.

UP vice-president for development Ruperto Alonzo said that the park, aside from housing IT companies (like those in telecoms, telematics, biotechnology), would go beyond the usual BPO services (the likes of contact centers).

The park would be home to "high-end" services such as wealth management, financial analysis, software development, and design and engineering services.

The park would also provide a two-way flow of ideas between the companies in the park and the UP community, and is envisioned to be a vehicle for collaboration between the industry and the academe.

Place for startups

For ALI, the rationale of building an IT park was simple: to help in developing the budding IT industry of the country by providing an incubation facility for IT startups that would nurture them, said ALI Project Development Manager Marc Reyes.

The park – a P6.5 billion investment by ALI – was designed with these companies in mind, specifically IT start-ups - "those that literally start in garages or small rooms with only a few people manning operations," Reyes said.

Start-ups would first be housed in the incubator area. After a period of three to four years, the "incubatee" - if the company becomes successful - would then "graduate" to the multi-tenant buildings, where it would enjoy larger office space and can have more opportunities to expand. If the company grows further, it could eventually move to its own building.

The design of the park allows for collaboration between small and big companies, said Reyes.

Retention of talent

The park will also provide opportunities for on-the-job training and employment for UP's students and alumni, and, for students and professors into research, open up opportunities to work with companies along their line of interest.

In addition, Alonzo hopes that the park would help stem the exodus of the university's professors to other universities or countries by providing them with venues where they could share their expertise through consultancy and collaborative works with the companies.

UP’s science community and ALI aren't the only ones to benefit from the development, said Reyes. Other disciplines, such as the humanities and the social sciences, will also find ways of collaborating with companies in the park.

"There is a plan to integrate the whole university [with the park]... we are currently in the process of pointing out how colleges can collaborate with the different companies in the park," he said.

The park would generate employment of 30,000 to 40,000. These would mostly be people with "specialized knowledge" such as engineers, scientists, and financial analysts, as well as those working in support services, Reyes said.

The government would also stand to benefit, mainly in taxes from the companies operating in the park.

A long time coming

The S&T park has long been planned by the UP administration, dating back to the time of former UP president Emil Javier, said UP Ruperto Alonzo.

However, it was only during the time of former UP president Francisco Nemenzo that the planning for the development of the area took off.

In June 2000, Nemenzo formed a technical working group assigned to prepare a master plan for the university’s north and south S&T parks. In January 2001, the master plan – containing comprehensive plans for the S&T parks as well as for the National Science Complex (NSC) – was finished.

The South S&T Park was the first park to be developed, although the development was hampered, said Alonzo, by the presence of informal settlers in the area allotted for the park.

On the other hand, the North S&T Park had little problems, due to the fact that the land was unoccupied and that squatters were mostly at the fringes of the property.

The bidding process for the development of the land started in 2002, and after several bidding attempts, ALI was awarded the project in 2005.

It is the second S&T-related property development inside the Diliman campus, the first one being the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) developed by UP and the Ayala Foundation, located at the university’s eastern fringes.

IBM in

Construction commenced October 2007, and as of April, two buildings are already finished and partially occupied. IBM is the only tenant so far, occupying one whole floor in one of the completed buildings as the company awaits completion of itsown building.

Within 2008, Reyes said, ALI targets to finish the six planned front row of buildings, and the last four buildings at the back area of the park by next year.

ALI has only developed around 20 hectares of their allotted area, and the development of the remaining areas - which is planned for residential and hotel facilities - will proceed according to market conditions, said Reyes.

The residential and hotel component will complement the area near the Asian Institute of Tourism, and is planned to serve the park's employees, tenants and locators.

Aside from the two buildings already finished, a retail strip fronting Commonwealth Avenue – which will house service facilities for the park’s tenants as well as to the public - is also being constructed.

The design of the IT park is environment- and pedestrian-friendly, with numerous green spaces and allotments for covered pedestrian walks between buildings to lessen vehicular traffic in the complex.

The park also has a park with a lagoon in the middle that would have recycled water, and a centralized air conditioning facility for efficient energy use.

Income for UP

UP leased the 37.5-hectare property to ALI for a period of 25 years, and technically, ALI owns the buildings and handles the park's day-to-day operations.

However, UP does more than just provide the space for ALI to develop an IT park.

As part of their partnership, Reyes said Ayala is encouraging tenants to collaborate with the university.

"UP provides the land, Ayala provides the development, but it goes beyond that. It’s a collaboration," Reyes added.

The park is projected to earn P200 million a year upon full development, which, Alonzo said, would be a "substantial addition" to UP's operating income and dwindling government subsidy.

Alonzo also said that throughout the lease period it is projected that the park will earn P4 billion. However, he said that the actual income would depend on existing market conditions.

Symbol of advancement of technology

Both Alonzo and Reyes said that the park would help in advancing science and technology in the country.

Both expressed hope that in the future, the UP North S&T Park would be a landmark as well as a symbol of progress, as well as a benchmark for similar parks that industries and other universities might put up in the near future.

As UP President Emerlinda Roman put it in her speech during the park’s groundbreaking last March 2007, the science park is "an act of faith and hope: faith in the future of the University, and hope for the future of the country."

"We’re taking extra effort to make this a symbol of the advancement of technology [and] progress of UP and the country," Reyes said.

"I hope [the park] would help in the S&T situation of the country in the long run... [I hope it would] help keep our scientists here, [and] help develop the industry," Alonzo said.

The technopark hopes to replicate the success of similar parks abroad, such as the Singapore Science Park at the National University of Singapore, the Tsukuba Science Cty at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and, of course, Stanford University's legendary Silicon Valley, home to countless giants of the IT industry.

But can this S&T park replicate the success of these parks?

"It would take time," Alonzo said. "It won't happen overnight... but we're getting there," he added.

Q1 2008 Balance of Payments

Figures in PHP millions

Jan 731
Feb 554
Mar 133
Q1 1,418

Jan 216
Feb 1,041
Mar 432
Q1 1,689

PGMA promotes Siargao as RP's game fishing capital


GEN. LUNA, Siargao Island --- The much-awaited visit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to this tropical surfing capital is expected to give a big boost to the island’s other unique, if still little known, natural attraction: a game fishing paradise.

Siargao Island off the northeastern part of the Caraga Region first drew national as well as international attention as a surfing haven.

The President is arriving here this afternoon to kick off the 1st Siargao Invitational Game Fishing Competition tomorrow at the Magpopongko Beach in Barangay Poblacion in the Municipality of Pilar.

The President's symbolic throwing of a fishing rod in Siargo waters tomorrow morning will mark the launch of this province's bid to become a favorite destination of local and international anglers.

Although it ranks as one of the five best surfing sites in the world, Siargao Island’s second biggest asset – that of being a game fishing haven -- has yet to break into the tourist industry’s lexicon of “must visit” destinations.

But local government officials here are confident that time will come soon.

Siargo Island’s niche as one of the best surfing sites rides on the crest of its powerful rollers or waves including the ''cloud 9,'' which is considered one of the world's top surfing waves.

Moreover, the island's centuries-old eco-system is a rich breeding ground for marine life such as marlins, groupers, rays, octopuses, tuna, crabs and squids.

Aside from its attributes as a surfing and game fishing paradise, Siargao Island also boasts of 8,760 hectares of mangroves, the biggest in the country, and a long stretch of coral reefs.

Once fully developed, the province’s tourism industry is seen as a major factor in uplifting the lives of the people.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said the lack of tourism infrastructure is now being addressed in a move to make Siargao Island an alternative destination to the world-famous Boracay Island in Aklan.

The Arroyo administration has tapped the top dollar-earning tourist industry as one of the sectors that could greatly contribute to jobs-creation.

The President has ordered a surge in infrastructure, including tourism infrastructure, as a firewall to the slowing down of the global economy and as a springboard of the Philippines to first world economy.

Siargao Island has been included in the President's development of central Philippines as ''tourism center'' in her super regions economic plan.

Firm to build solar-powered communication airships in Subic

John Bayarong

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — A international manufacturer of commercial airship will take over the Federal Express facility here in December, pledging to invest $500 million. The company is expected to employ 2,500 workers once it becomes operational.

The Freeport authority here signed an agreement with the Stratospheric Airship Technologies Sdn Bhd (SAT) to build solar-powered commercial airships that will carry broadband and telecommunications equipment.

The firm is eyeing to take over an area at the Subic Bay International Airport, which is now used by FedEx as a hub for its Asian operations. FedEx said it will transfer its Asian hub to Guangzhou, China, later this year.

SAT managing director Bryn Lloyd Williams said the airships will operate at a height of 65,000-70,000 feet — high above the clouds and air movement. The airships will be brought down once every five years for repairs.

The design of the airships, Williams said, is based on the early 20th century Zeppelins, but is now “totally different" since inert helium will be used instead of hydrogen so it won’t catch fire.

The project will entail the construction in Subic of “the largest single-spanned building in Southeast Asia."

In 2006, the UK Activity Report, business news and sales leads service, reported that the National Assembly for Wales was also in discussions with Stratospheric Airship Technologies of Malaysia about proposals to develop an airship manufacturing facility at the Royal Air Force St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Williams said the technology they have developed is 30 percent cheaper than the conventional satellite provision.

“We’re talking to Globe and Smart (the country’s leading telecommunication providers) and they have expressed a high level of interest to augment their land-based and satellite systems," Williams revealed.

“The key technological advantage here is that we don’t need the ground infrastructure which is too costly and sometimes, very difficult to install. In some places, it gets stoned or vandalized, and weather conditions interfere with its performance," he said.

SBMA has allocated a 10-hectare property at the Subic airport. Once FedEx vacates the area, SAT is expected to establish facilities like giant warehouses, hangars, and its huge single-spanned building.

The company expects to see actual production sometime in 2011 or 2012, with SAT producing at least 18 units a year to be sold in the Asean market for US$ 70 million each.

“We should be able to work up to a US$1 billion in exports a year," said Williams. “So far we have identified a market for about 70 units, so that would keep this going for a number of years." -

‘Win-win’ solution to wage increase issue sought

Genalyn D. Kabiling
The Manila Bulletin

Malacañang yesterday called for a "win-win solution" to the proposed salary increase to help workers deal with the increasing prices of oil and rice.

Acting Socio-economic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said the Cabinet has expressed support for a "calibrated" wage adjustment that will balance the interests of workers and viability of businesses.

Santos, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said the wage boards, which will determine the salary increase of workers per region, must strike such balance for the benefit of both labor and management.

Interviewed prior to a Cabinet meeting convened by President Arroyo at the Department of Justice, Santos acknowledged that the computation of wage adjustments by the regional wage boards would be a "tough balancing act."

He explained wage adjustments should consider the welfare of the workers without unnecessarily resulting in the bankruptcy of enterprises.

"While we want our workers to have an increase in wages so that they can afford the increase in the standard of living, at the same time we don’t want employers to lose their business," Santos said. "I’m sure a compromise, a win-win solution can be found."

Santos acknowledged that workers should be given reasonable salary increases to ease the pressures brought by the price hikes of basic commodities such as rice and fuel.

"If we don’t increase wages, then there might be an adverse impact on the economy as well. Dapat yung tama lang. It should be a calibrated increase," he said.

"If we increase it too much, it will reduce our competitiveness, cause businesses to close shop. It will mean unemployment," he warned.

Santos noted that the regional wage boards, which involve representatives from the government, labor groups, and management, issued the last wage increase in August, 2007.

Under the law, only one wage increase is allowed every year unless supervening conditions call for another adjustment.

"If there are unusual circumstances, like abnormal or extraordinary increases in the prices of basic commodities, then the regional wage boards can consider an upward adjustment of the salary," Santos said.

In the past few months, he said, oil prices have soared to $ 150 per barrel from just $ 30 per barrel. Rice now costs $ 700-$ 800 per metric ton from $ 400 per metric ton. "For rice, it’s a 100 percent increase," he said.

Last Monday, the President urged all regional wage boards to review the established schedules for a possible increase in the salaries of private workers. Mrs. Arroyo expressed support for wage and nonwage benefits to help workers cope with the rising cost of food and fuel in the country.

Bill would exempt minimum wage earners from income taxes

A day after pushing for a salary increase for private workers, President Arroyo yesterday endorsed the swift passage of a bill that would exempt minimum wage earners from paying annual income taxes.

Despite expected revenue losses from the proposed tax exemption, the President asked Congress to pass the bill in order to ease the pressures of the soaring oil and food costs on the Filipino workforce.

This was among several measures promoting the welfare of the Filipino workforce approved by the President during a tripartite dialogue among the government, labor sector, and employers in Malacañang.

Apart from tax breaks for small income workers, the President also endorsed a wage hike for minimum wage earners, one-year extension of condonation of loan penalties, and rice subsidy for workers.

Mrs. Arroyo also approved the expansion of income augmentation program to cover workers in the public sector, accessibility and affordability of government’s housing program for workers in the informal sector, and speedy resolution of labor cases.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said President Arroyo directed the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to coordinate with the legislature to finetune the bill on income tax exemption for minimum wage earners and hasten its passage.

"Given that cooperation with the legislative branch, mapapabilis na siguro since walang opposition from business groups. Tingin ko dapat lang masimplify para mapabilis," Roque said.

Alex Villaviza, vice president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), said Congress should find no obstacles in passing the bill on income tax exemption for minimum wage earners because there is no objection from the government and the employers.

TUCP spokesman Alex Aguilar said the Department of Finance has expressed support for the bill although the government could lose P950 million in revenues from the proposed tax exemption on minimum wage earners.

The tax exemption is expected to benefit more than 360,000 minimum wage earners.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Philippines: Arroyo Orders Regional Wage Boards To Raise Salaries Of Workers

Jennifer A. Ng
Pacific News Center

5:45 p.m. Manila, Philippines - The Philippine government will soon begin the process of studying the salary adjustments that will be given to workers in the private sector to mitigate the adverse effect of more expensive food and fuel.

In a Cabinet meeting this morning, government officials have agreed to raise the salaries of workers. With this, Regional Wage Boards (RWBs) will be convened all over the country to discuss the rate of salary adjustment.

"Because of the increasing prices of fuel and rice, we are calling for a meeting of the RWBs all over the country to discuss how the RBWs can help the workers cope with the rising world prices of oil and rice," said Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo encouraged the private sector to look at the possibility of giving wage and no-wage benefits. The President also urged private companies to establish day-care centers for working mothers.

A moderate labor group, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), proposed an P80 ($2) increase in the daily minimum wage of employees in the private sector to help them cope with the continuous spike in the price of price, bread, and other basic commodities like meat and processed meat products.

If this proposal is approved, the daily minimum wage of workers in Metro Manila will go up to P442 ($11) per day, from the existing P362 ($9).

Local reports, however, disclose that business groups are more keen on offering a package consisting of monetary and non-wage benefits.

Earlier, militant groups like Bayan have been proposing a P125 across-the-board wage hike to enable workers to cope with the spikes in the price of basic goods and services.

Meanwhile, the Department of Budget and Management has announced that the salary of government employees will go up by 10 percent this year. The increase will take effect on July 1. - Pacific News Center International

Rice prices: Poor against the poor

John Mangun
Business Mirror

In the United States, the greatest social divide began in the 1930s during severe economic times. That divide was not based on education, race or even economic status. The Great Depression took root with the meltdown of the financial system but was fueled and exacerbated by the Dust Bowl drought that hit the heart of America’s farmland between 1930 and 1936.

Literally millions of people moved from the farms to the city looking for jobs and economic security, and the face of American society changed forever.

No matter what is said or done, the needs and lifestyle of rural areas are different from the urban centers.

Virtually every country experiences this same divide. For example, China’s richer coastal areas are resented by poorer, rural Western China. Around the world, the rural-area citizens are less affluent than the metro dwellers. The same is true in the Philippines.

We are constantly told about the numbers of poor in the Philippines. But not all poor Filipinos are the same. They do not live the same. They do not think the same. Even the definition of "poor" differs between the urban and rural poor.

Of the urban poor, 80 percent live in Luzon, primarily Metro Manila. Of the rural poor, 80 percent live in the Visayas and Mindanao, outside of the larger cities.

Almost two-thirds of the poor are engaged in agriculture, fishery and forestry, and the depth of poverty is more than twice as great in rural areas than in urban areas.

However, even this idea of "depth of poverty" is ambiguous. In the last decade, the disparity between the income of the urban poor and the rural poor has narrowed significantly. While some of the urban poor have regular minimum-wage jobs, the cost of living uses all their income and they are therefore considered "poor."

The rural poor are "poor" because their agricultural or fishery livelihood provides only enough income to feed the family and little else.

The man who lives along the railroad tracks in Taguig and works as a messenger in the financial district of Ortigas worries about relocating to government housing communities in Muntinlupa as being too far from his job, cutting higher fare costs into his income. The fisherman in Misamis Oriental worries about being dislocated because of insurgent and counterinsurgent operations, disrupting his livelihood.

They both worry about the cost of fuel: the urban poor because of rising transportation costs; the rural fisherman because kerosene prices are up. They worry about the cost of trying to educate their children. They worry about peace and order. They worry about how they might both eventually get a little ahead. They worry about growing old and still being poor.

Nevertheless, the urban poor and the rural poor are not the same. And the price of rice may illustrate that fact most simplistically.

The urban poor are consumers and worry about the price they pay for rice.

The rural poor are producers and worry about the price they receive for rice.

They are both "poor," each with a different perspective and objective regarding the price of rice.

The government, through the National Food Authority (NFA), increased the buying price of rice from P12 to P17. One international newspaper interviewed a rural poor farmer who said he would make more money this year than ever before from the NFA.

The government increased the selling price of NFA rice by P1. A local television station interviewed a member of the urban poor who said he does not know how he can now feed his family.

Two poor. Two perspectives.

That happens when the government interferes in the free market by setting prices. "Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t."

Then some cry in anguish: "But this is wrong! The government is not a business." Actually, it is, to the extent that money comes into the government through various revenue schemes and goes out through various spending schemes. No money in means no money can be spent. Sure, it would be wonderful to pay the farmers P100 a kilo for rice and sell it for P1. But how could that work?

Any time the government steps into the free market, imbalances occur. When the government steps into the business arena, then it is held to most of the same economic rules as a private business.

So, which "poor" should the government subsidize; the urban rice-consuming poor or the rural rice-producing poor? To be successful, a choice must be made. But both cannot be done effectively.

The socialists and leftists would argue that all that needs to be done is to tax the wealthy more. Wealth redistribution through increased taxation is a fake. All it does is limit wealth creation, which hurts all economic classes.

The next logical step of this kind of government action is to force the urban poor back to the rice fields. But that is a discussion for another time.

An interesting aside to that interview with the poor farmer was when he said he prefers not to sell to the NFA because he can get a higher price selling in the open market. That may be the whole point.

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Philippine Airlines sets up budget unit

Agence France-Presse

Philippine Airlines said Tuesday it has set up a low-cost unit, PAL Express to do battle with rival budget carriers and boost the national flag carrier's profits.

PAL Express is to fly to Philippine islands with small airports from May 5 with a fleet of turbo-propeller aircraft, said Jaime Bautista, president of parent firm PAL.

The budget unit is expected to carry around a million passengers each year.

"At full operation, we project that profits will increase by around 300 million pesos (7.2 million dollars) while revenue should be about one billion pesos," Bautista told a news conference.

PAL Express will acquire the turbo-prop operation of a PAL affiliate, Air Philippines.

Last week, PAL announced the purchase of three Q300 and six Q400 aircraft manufactured by Bombardier Aerospace of Canada, valued at 150 million US dollars based on list prices.

Two Q300s have already arrived and three more will be arriving in the first week of May while one Q400 is due a week after that, Bautista said.

"PAL Express is a separate unit of PAL that will not directly compete with Air Philippines because PAL Express will be mostly present in areas where Air Philippines is not," Bautista said.

PAL booked revenue of 1.4 billion pesos in the year to March, up 17 percent from its previous fiscal year, Bautista said.

He said net profit dropped due to higher fuel costs but did not provide figures.

PAL is 85 percent-owned by listed company PAL Holdings Inc which is majority owned by tycoon Lucio Tan, who is listed by Forbes Magazine as the wealthiest man in the Philippines with a net worth of 1.5 billion dollars in 2007.

Lipa-Batangas City road to open Thursday


MANILA, Philippines - The P2.1-billion road extension project that links the cities of Lipa and Batangas will open for traffic on Thursday, April 17, its operator announced Tuesday.

Melvin Nazareno, president of Star Infrastructure Development Corporation, said motorists can start using the new toll road starting 6 a.m. Thursday.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo inaugurated the new toll road last April 2. The project is known as the STAR Tollway Project Stage 2 - Phase 1.

The new toll road is part of the P687-billion Luzon Underway Belt Project, which aims to connect, through a 300-kilometer network, the Subic International Container Terminal, the Batangas City International Container Port, and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at the Clark Special Economic Zone.

The road network runs through Central Luzon, Metro Manila, the Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon provinces) growth corridor, and the provinces of Mindoro and Marinduque.

Nazareno said the new toll road covers the 19.74 kilometer concrete stretch from Lipa City to the Batangas City International Container Port.

It is an extension of the Stage 1 project, the 22-kilometer, four-lane concrete stretch that links the town of Sto. Tomas and Lipa City, Nazareno said.

When fully operational, the road will reduce travel time from Manila to Batangas City by one and a half hour and Lipa to Batangas City by 40 minutes, he said.

The new toll road is expected to spur development in the Calabarzon region and generates [sic] employment and creates business opportunities in the area, Nazareno said.

The Star Arterial Toll Road, also known as the Apolinario Mabini Superhighway, is the third of the Southern Luzon Expressway network of three expressways that connect Southern Luzon with Metro Manila.

The other two are the Sergio Osmeña Highway, which connects Paco to Paranaque City and the Jose Rizal Superhighway, which connects Parañaque City with Calamba City.

US Hospital Ship to Visit Philippines

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A U.S. Navy hospital ship will visit the eastern and southern Philippines next month on a humanitarian mission, including areas where Muslim separatist rebels are active, Philippine and American officials said.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said Tuesday the USNS Mercy, one of two Navy hospital ships, will make stops in Samar, southeast of Manila, and the main southern island of Mindanao at the invitation of the Philippine government.

Muslim regional Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan told reporters late Monday the ship staff will conduct hundreds of surgeries — about half to repair cleft palates — and rehabilitate school buildings in the central Mindanao region.

They also plan to work in areas considered strongholds of the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is in peace negotiations with the government, he said.

Thompson said the assistance programs "are all about furthering our efforts with partners in the Philippines to help those in need and achieve prosperity and peace."

The Mercy spent about a month in 2006 treating hundreds of people in the southernmost island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, where U.S. troops are helping the Philippine military fight al-Qaida-linked militants.

Since 2002, U.S. troops have been training Philippine soldiers in counterterrorism while also conducting humanitarian missions in areas regarded as breeding grounds for Islamic militants, such as the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for numerous bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings.

The ship's crew will be doing humanitarian assistance and community outreach activities together with Filipino medical staff, Thompson said.

Ampatuan said the Mercy personnel will be in central Mindanao from May 29 to June 12.

Pre-Labor Day rounds: PGMA to visit factories to talk to laborers on the ground


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to visit factories as a prelude to the national celebration of Labor Day on May 1, which is also celebrated the world over as International Labor Day.

This was announced by President Arroyo herself at the closing of the hour-long Tripartite Labor Conference which she presided over at Malacanang’s Heroes Hall at lunch.

“The next step is to go to the factories. We will talk naman to the people on the ground,” the President announced.

The said Malacanang conference followed the Cabinet meeting cum tele-conference which the President had also presided over at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In the said conference, the President called on unions to help identify the areas where government rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) could be sold to ensure that workers who need it most have access to NFA rice. The conference was attended by members of the Trade Union of the Philippines (TUCP), the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), and the Philippine Government Employees Association (PGEA), among others.

Earlier, the Arroyo administration had already tapped local government units (LGUs) and churches not only to recommend ideal locations, but also vend the rice themselves.

Flanking the President in the tripartite meet were Vice President Noli de Castro and Labor Secretary Marianito Roque; and Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Press Secretary Bunye who had earlier announced (yesterday, Monday, April 14) that as per Presidential Proclamation No. 1463, Labor Day is an “exception to holiday economics” and will not be rationalized like other non-religious holidays which are now celebrated or commemorated on the nearest Monday of the month.

Also present were Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) secretary general Cerge Remonde and Presidential Legal Adviser Sergio Apostol; and representatives from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The President ordered the TESDA to allocate P25 million worth of scholarship vouchers for labor unions, in addition to the 25,000 scholarship vouchers worth P125 million which have already been availed of by labor union members as of December 2007. The TUCP representative revealed that its members had availed of 3,000 scholarship vouchers worth P15 million, with 62 percent of beneficiaries currently employed.

The President also ordered the representatives from the Department of Finance (DOF) to talk to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on how rice allowances could be exempted altogether from taxes. Regulation 8-2000 of the BIR provides that rice allowance worth up to P1,000 can be exempted from tax.

As to government workers’ request for “income augmentation,” President Arroyo reminded them that government workers will already be receiving 10-percent salary increases; but vowed to make a “special program” for the setting up of a Botika ng Barangay (BnB) version for government employees.

PGMA urges greater use of organic fertilizers


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made a strong pitch today for organic fertilizers to help the country’s farmers cope with the high cost of chemical fertilizers particularly urea, whose price had skyrocketed by 200 percent in the last two years.

The President made the pitch during a phone patch interview with Abulog, Cagayan Mayor Aline Alfonso at the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA)-Cabinet meeting this morning at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Ermita, Manila.

Although they have registered more than 85 percent increase in palay production lately, farmers in her municipality could barely make both ends meet because of the high prices of urea which have gone up from P980 to P1,600 per bag, Mayor Alfonso told the President.

“Urea is oil-based and we know the price of oil today. So ang gagawin natin ngayon massive investment in organic fertilizer,” the President said.

The Chief Executive said farmers should be encouraged to replicate the practice of other farmers who use chicken dung as fertilizer. Chicken dung has been found to be as effective as urea.

Aside from Mayor Alfonso, the President also interacted with Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario, Agusan del Sur Governor Ma. Valentina Plaza, and Occidental Mindoro Governor Josephine Sato, who all reported increases in palay harvests in their respective provinces.

The provincial leaders also thanked the President for providing farmers in their areas with certified palay seeds, post harvest and irrigation facilities.

Because their respective areas are well irrigated, the President assured the local government officials that the national government will provide them with certified seeds and organic fertilizers so that farmers can plant right after this harvest season.

In the face of the global food situation, the President earlier ordered a stepped up food production under a six-assistance program to make food abundant, accessible and affordable.

The program is called FIELDS -- for Fertilizer, Irrigation, Infrastructure, Extension and Education, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest and post-production facilities, and S for seeds and other genetic materials.

The President has allocated P500 million from the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) for fertilizer support and production, especially organic fertilizers.

The President said billions more would be spent on infrastructure such as ports, airports, farm-to-market roads and the rehabilitation and establishment of new irrigation systems.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Opening Statement during a meeting with the National Price Coordinating Council & NEDA


Mga Kababayan:

Magpupulong muli ngayon ang NEDA Cabinet Group at ang National Price Coordinating Council upang lalong paigtingin ang mga pagkilos para sa sapat at abot-kayang bigas.

The global rise in the price of basic commodities like fuel and rice is putting a strain on all hardworking Filipinos, particularly on our very poor.

Our strengthened economic situation gives us the ability and flexibility to respond forcefully to make sure we maintain control of the situation. Specific to the rice issue, we have an Action Plan, comprising three phases: First, is to secure supply; second, to ensure proper distribution; third, to guarantee enforcement of the law to protect our people against price gouging and corruption. That is why we are here in the DOJ today because cases were filed this morning and we may be discussing some of these cases later on.

Supply is secure for the foreseeable future. Total contracted quantity of NFA rice from the December 2007 to March 2008 bidding is 1.2 million metric tons. Fifty percent of the quantity has arrived. Quantity in transit is 66,000 metric tons. Rice being loaded at roadports is 30,600 metric tons. NFA is set to bid for additional rice stocks on May 2, subject to the approval of the Government Policy Procurement Board which will meet today, I understand. This is for rice for arrival in June, July and August.

Matagal nang sinisikap ng bansang maipantay and produksiyon ng bigas sa ating pangangailangan. Tuloy pa rin ang ating pagsisikap. Dapat ding siguruhin na sapat ang kikitain ng magsasaka. Kaya hanggang Mayo 17 pesos ang bili ng NFA sa palay.

Concerning distribution, the government is sparing no effort to ensure that our supplies of rice get from the source to the tables of Filipinos throughout our nation. But to improve the ability of government to deliver rice to those most in need, we are going to enlist the aid of the faith-based community -- our churches and mosques -- and perhaps the local governments as well. Nakikipagtulungan ang pamahalaan sa Simbahan, mga gobyernong lokal, mga ahensiya ng pamahalaan, kabilang ang Sandatahang Lakas at Pambansang Pulis, upang maihatid sa taong-bayan ang bigas at iba pang pagkain.

Concerning enforcement of our laws against price gouging and corruption, we have already taken steps to protect our consumers from rice and even bread bandits and unscrupulous traders together with their accomplices in the bureaucracy who would hold our citizens hostage to their own selfish and corrupt practices. Those who seek to take advantage of our people will be stopped.

I am leading the charge to crack-down on any form of corruption by public or private persons who would divert supplies or pervert the price of the essential commodity of rice in any way. Anyone caught stealing rice from the people must be thrown in jail.

This morning cases were filed in the DOJ, and DOJ will be issuing subpoenas today and the respondents will be given ten days to respond to the subpoena. Part of the Rules of Court.

In order to reinforce all of these, we will be submitting a Consumers Bill of Rights to Congress.

I call on all our leaders -- political, civic, religious -- to join hands and close ranks to meet this challenge.

Thank you.

OF Remittances Continue to Grow Strongly; First Two Months Reach US$2.5 Billion

Bangko Sentral

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks grew year-on-year by 16.0 percent to US$1.3 billion in February 2008. This brought the year-to-date remittance level to US$2.5 billion, 15.5 percent higher than the level recorded during the same period a year ago.

The continued strong growth in remittances could be attributed in part to the observed rise in the number of deployed skilled, and therefore higher paid, Filipino workers overseas. In 2007, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported that the number of deployed new hires in the fields of engineering, medical/healthcare, education, and food/hotel service, rose compared to the levels in the previous year. This trend has continued in 2008 as preliminary data for the period January - February 2008 showed that the number of deployed workers rose by 14.6 percent to 199,378 (from 174,046 a year ago). By skill type, both the numbers of land-based and sea-based workers increased by 13.0 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively.

The sustained growth in the level of OF remittances was also supported by local banks’ provision of enhanced banking services (such as mobile banking services) and continued tie-ups with foreign financial institutions that facilitated the transfer of remittance to beneficiaries.

The U.S.A, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong remained to be the major sources of remittances.

Click here to view table.

Hagedorn slams ATO over Palawan airport

The mayor says the terminal is a crucial facility to province
By Miguel Antonio de Guzman, Researcher
The Manila Times

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY: “Our dream of an international airport has been turned into a nightmare by the Air Transportation Office as the temporary airport terminal in the city is now a stinking, termite-infested “hell-hole” that could collapse anytime,” said a fuming Mayor Edward Hagedorn.

While outraged by conditions at the airport terminal, which he described as “unbearable,” the mayor noted that the airport modernization project under the supervision of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) through the Air Transportation Office (ATO) has been withheld for some reason.

“Tourists flocking to the city for summer are being subjected to torture by the DOTC and ATO because the airport terminal is virtually an unbearable, stinking oven,” Hagedorn said, noting that the place “had no working air conditioning system and worse, its comfort rooms were all foul-smelling.”

The current problems stem from the partial implementation of the proposed P3.2-billion airport expansion and modernization program that would transform the terminal into an international airport.

“This is ridiculous, Phase 1 of the airport modernization program entailed construction of a temporary terminal structure for which an old structure was refurbished at the cost of P27 million. The old structure, while not yet fully serviceable, is in danger of collapsing any time because of termite infestation,” Hagedorn warned.

“We cannot allow any more unfortunate incidents like travelers collapsing at the airport terminal because of extreme heat, which already led to the death of one traveler,” Hagedorn said.

“I am appealing to DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano to immediately provide a solution to these problems. We cannot afford any more unfortunate incidents to destroy our image in the local and international tourism industry,” the mayor said, explaining that Puerto Princesa City is primarily dependent on ecotourism and its agricultural and fishing industries.

“For any of its major sources of revenue to be threatened by government incompetence, is at the very least, unacceptable. At its worst, all those responsible for this mess should be sacked by DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza and brought to the graft courts for dereliction of duty and incompetence,” Hagedorn continued.

He then stressed that Secretary Mendoza should immediately order the resumption of the work at the airport as he pointed out that it is not only the temporary airport terminal that is a monumental mess but that the expansion program has been imperiled too because of the sudden, unexplained work stoppage.

“Clearly, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act stipulates that ‘No government project can be implemented without a certification on the availability of funds,” Hagedorn said, adding that bidding for Phase 2 has been postponed three times without any apparent reason and explanation.

“I was personally assured by PGMA that the funds for implementation of the temporary airport terminal’s development would be financed by proceeds from Malampaya income which will also fund the proposed P3.2-billion airport project.

Hagedorn also stressed that the city’s airport terminal is a very crucial facility that cannot be neglected at all. “At this time, Puerto Princesa City is nearly getting as many tourists as Boracay even without an aggressive, all-out marketing campaign. We will not allow incompetent and irresponsible officials at the ATO wreck years of hard work to bring our city to its lofty status as one of the country’s premier tourist destinations today,” Hagedorn said.

Delving into the current problem of the airport terminal, Hagedorn explained that the entire P3.2-billion Puerto Princesa City airport modernization project is largely dependent on how Phases 1 and 2 would be put up and operated by the ATO. Phase 3 is the construction of a brand new airport terminal building.

Summing it up, Hagedorn said “Puerto Princesa and all its visitors, especially air travelers deserve a reliable, comfortable and efficient airport terminal. The DOTC and ATO are duty-bound to give us this essential facility.”

BI posts record collection in first 3 months of year

Jun Ramirez
The Manila Bulletin

Government earnings from immigration fees skyrocketed to more than P500 million during the first quarter of the year, a new record high in the history of the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

BI acting Commissioner Roy Almoro disclosed that the agency’s collections from January to March totalled P510 million, the highest first quarter revenue ever posted by the bureau in its 67 years of existence.

Almoro said the take was P73.4 million or 17 percent higher than the target of P436.6 million for the three-month period.

It was also P61.6 million or 14 percent higher compared to the P448.3 million the bureau earned in the first quarter of 2007, he added.

"We are well on our way to hitting another all-time high income in 2008," said Almoro, who attributed the huge income to the reforms initiated by Immigration Commissioner Marcelino C. Libanan who assumed office almost a year ago.

Foremost of the reforms is the visa issuance made simple (VIMS) project that Libanan launched in the first week of last January.

The VIMS was credited not only for cutting red tape in the processing of visa applications but also ensuring that all fees due from foreigners who avail themselves of the agency’s services are fully remitted to the government.

"This is so because the VIMS was designed to detect fraudulent immigration documents and visa extensions, hence, no foreigner can file his visa application without updating his stay and paying the necessary extension fees," said Atty. Floro Balato Jr., BI spokesman.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Tax bureau sees record April collection

Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo
BusinessWorld Online

THE BUREAU of Internal Revenue (BIR) expects P80.6 billion in tax collection for this month alone, about 6.37% more than the P75.77 billion recorded in the same month last year.

The tax agency usually posts high collection in April, since the deadline of filing for individual income taxes falls on the 15th of the month, or tomorrow.

"This is a new monthly record," BIR Deputy Commissioner for Operations Nelson M. Aspe told reporters late last week.

He noted that the projected amount would be even higher than the tax agency’s highest actual monthly collection of P79.58 billion, which was booked in August 2007.

Mr. Aspe said the expected increase in collection would be a result of the BIR’s intensified efforts to encourage taxpayers to pay correct taxes on time. The BIR started its tax campaign in various regional division offices last month. Early this month, it also launched the BIR on Wheels program, which establishes public help desks in malls and government offices.

The agency is also being supported by the Tax Management Association of the Philippines in assisting taxpayers who approach these help desks to compute and file correct tax returns.

The BIR is hard-pressed to meet its 2008 goal of P845 billion, 18.4% higher than its actual collection in 2007, to avoid sanctions provided by the Lateral Attrition Law of 2005. The law provides a system of rewards and punishment to revenue agencies, depending on their total actual collection.

The government is financing bulk of its P1.227-trillion target this year through tax collections.

First-quarter collection

BIR Commissioner Lilian B. Hefti said preliminary figures showed that the tax bureau had booked P163 billion in taxes for the first quarter, 14.8% more than the P142-billion collection recorded in the same period last year.

Ms. Hefti said the tax bureau is in the process of consolidating and updating tax regulations in order to clear up any vagueness in current tax laws. "Perhaps the former BIR commissioners were not able to review the old regulations. Now, we are reviewing a lot of the old regulations, some dating as far back as 10 to 20 years ago," Ms. Hefti told reporters in the vernacular.

The tax chief last week released a draft circular which consolidates the rules and regulations for taxable transactions in securities trading.

Ms. Hefti said other regulations which are currently under review for consolidation involve the industries of shipping, airlines, and sugar.

"We just want to clarify issues which may be vague. That is the purpose of releasing circulars," Ms. Hefti said.

She said clear tax regulations would guide tax collectors and taxpayers in the performance of their duties, hence facilitating implementation of tax laws. —

Exporters expect growth in 1st quarter

BusinessWorld Online

FILIPINO EXPORTERS expect the industry to have grown in the first quarter, compared to January to March last year, citing a slightly stable currency and steady demand.

Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport) President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said in an interview late last week that he was particularly banking on better performance last month.

He said the organization expects to have the draft Export Development Plan (EDP), which details programs aimed at strengthening the export sector, ready by end-April.

"I think we can also come out with a growth target for the year by the end of the month. We expect growth for the first quarter, from the way things look. We had a strong January and February and we expect March to be better," Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.

Government data showed total export sales in February rose 10.7% to $4.118 billion from $3.721 billion in 2007. This pushed exports for the first two months of the year to $8.349 billion, 8.2% higher than $7.713 billion in January-February last year. Data have shown that exports growth slowed to 10.3% in the first quarter of 2007 from 11.4% in 2006.

An expected economic slow-down in the United States should not affect Philippine exports as much as it would have a decade ago, since the industry has been shifting to other markets in Asia and Europe, Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.

Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Chairman Arthur Young said he also expects a positive performance for the first quarter of the year, with huge shipments from Intel Philippines likely to have driven the growth for the semiconductor industry.

"January and February were up March still looks okay. I think the first quarter will be slightly up but for the second quarter, it’s conservative to say that it will be flat," he said in a separate interview.

Mr. Young also said there’s "fairly strong demand" for personal computers and notebooks, adding international research firms have projected that the global semiconductors industry could still grow by 2%-9% this year.

He said IC Insights, a US-based market research firm for the semiconductor industry, had projected the industry to grow by 12%-14% given a "slight" US recession and 8%-9% with a "mild" recession. But a "hard" recession will likely make the industry contract by 3%.

Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines President Nicolaas K. De Lange, meanwhile, said he expects a better year for his sector, compared with 2007 but said it was hard to project growth for the first quarter.

"The US recession is our biggest challenge because the US is our biggest market. Hopefully, there will be robust business elsewhere such as in the Middle East and Europe," he said.

Mr. Ortiz-Luis earlier said he was expecting zero growth for the industry this year, citing impact of a "strong" peso, as well as of high energy and labor costs.

Banks remain strong

BusinessWorld Online

THE PHILIPPINE banking system remained adequately capitalized as banks’ capital adequacy ratio (CAR) stood well above the required minimum, but levels slipped quarter on quarter following the implementation of the Basel 2 accord in July, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said.

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Update photos of Northrail-Southrail Linkage

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RP expands school rice program as costs soar

Agence France-Presse

MANILA - The Philippines said Monday it would expand a school soup kitchen program as soaring food prices have put pressure on millions of parents to cut costs by pulling their children out of class.

Students in an additional 600 school districts will benefit from the 5.3-billion-peso (127-million-dollar) "Food-for-School Program", which last year helped feed 2.7 million children, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

Under the initiative, students in kindergarten and first grade receive a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of iron-fortified rice to take home to their families on 120 days of each school year.

"Malnourishment or hunger hinders the child from participating in classroom activities, resulting in a slow learning curve," Lapus told reporters.

"The results of our school feeding program are encouraging and if this continues we hope to further reduce the number of students dropping out from school because of poor health and nutrition," he added.

The Philippines, one of the world's leading rice importers where some 30 million people live on a dollar a day or less, has been hard-hit as prices have soared amid dwindling global stocks and strong demand.

Some parents are faced with the choice of paying for school fees -- or food.

The government has pinpointed malnutrition and poor school performance as the top factors influencing the primary educational system's dropout rate.

Since the program started in 2005, malnutrition rates at public elementary schools have dropped from 21 percent to 17 percent, Lapus said. Attendance also improved by five percentage points to 95 percent.

Lapus said current high rice prices should not hinder the program, as the government had already allotted rice for the program.

President Arroyo calls on Senate to ratify JPEPA


CALAMBA CITY, Laguna – Underscoring the importance of implementing the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called on members of the Senate today to immediately ratify the bill when Congress convenes next week.

The President made the call in her opening statement before meeting with officials and guests of Yazaki-Torres Manufacturing Incorporated (YTMI) at the wiring harness producers' manufacturing plant here.

"We hope the Senate will ratify the JPEPA when Congress convenes next week," the President said.

The President pointed out that among the benefits of ratifying the JPEPA would be increased revenue for the government, agricultural, and the nursing and care-giving sector, and poverty reduction.

"Studies estimate the JPEPA benefits between P6.5 to P110-billion for the government due to an improved investment climate with projected direct investments from Japan amounting to P365 billion plus more than 200,000 jobs compared to costs around P4-billion that will come from tariff reductions," the President said.

"The studies also show overall positive impact on poverty reduction," she added.

"Tariff on our farm goods will also fall to zero that will boost the export of Philippine agricultural products add to that the high wage hiring of our nurses and caregivers," the President said.

The President also allayed fears that with the JPEPA in force, the Philippines may be turned into a dumping ground for toxic wastes coming from Japan.

"About the environmental issue – the fear that we will be the dumping ground for Japanese toxic wastes: their importation is banned by international as well as national fiat. In any case, during my last visit to Japan, Japan signed a side letter making that clear," the President said.

Under the JPEPA, sufficient provisions that will protect the environment and prevent any illegal trade in toxic waste are specified. It does not contain any provision explicitly allowing trade or liberalized entry of regulated or banned products in both countries.

The President also pointed out that the Philippines could be left out of enjoying the benefits of the trade agreement with Japan since our neighboring countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei already have working agreements with Japan and are "moving in front of us."

"The Philippines was the first country after Singapore with which Japan pursued the idea of an economic partnership agreement. But Japan has entered into the same kind of agreement since then with Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei and here we are at the starting point with everybody moving in front of us," the President said.

"The JPEPA is worth it. We cannot afford not to ratify it because with everyone but us on board, eh di dadalhin ng Hapon ang negosyo sa kanila," the President stressed.

"So we hope the Senate will ratify the JPEPA when Congress convenes next week," she added.

The JPEPA is a framework for cooperation between Japan and the Philippines that includes assistance in human resources development, research and development, and technology development and transfer.

Domestic airport under rehab

Rudy Santos
The Philippine Star

The Manila International Airport Authority has started rehabilitating the old Manila Domestic Airport (MDT), MIAA general manager Alfonso Cusi said.

He said the old terminal is undergoing piecemeal rehabilitation to accommodate a bigger number of departing and arriving passengers.

“The expansion of the domestic airport facilities will increase its seating capacity by 66 percent, (which) will ease congestion, especially during the peak season,” Cusi said.

The MDT was built in 1948, serving all local airlines except Philippine Airlines, which uses the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 for its international and domestic flights.

Cebu Pacific agreed to relocate their cargo area to pave way for the new arrival area, while the arrival area will now be the departure area.

The MIAA expanded the domestic airport’s flight check-in lobby and security check areas, and built more boarding gates, holding areas and restrooms, Cusi said.

The new arrival area will also have five new baggage conveyors, instead of the three conveyors at the current arrival area. – Rudy Santos