Saturday, 26 April 2008

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) monitoring flagship projects

BusinessWorld Online

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) has started monitoring close to 70 infrastructure projects to ensure the government delivers.

In a statement, the 30,000-strong PCCI said it had instituted a working committee to look into project completion.

"We must fast-track all these priority projects so that we can give more incentives to both domestic and foreign investors to put up investments in the country," the statement quoted Edgardo Lacson, PCCI executive vice-president, as saying.

Special trade envoy and PCCI Chairman Emeritus Donald Dee said businessmen were focused on monitoring 68 flagship projects announced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The projects include the completion of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3; acquisition of lots critical to the operation of an instrument landing system at Kalibo Airport; and a feasibility study for the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

The PCCI said it was working with the Pro-Performance Infrastructure Task Force under the Office of the Presidential Management Staff in monitoring the projects.

"The agencies should move fast so that people could utilize all these infrastructure projects. We note that some of these projects are experiencing undue interruption due to the delay in release of funds and deadlock in the bidding process." Mr. Dee said.

"With PCCI on board the process, there is greater avenue for transparency and push to implement and prioritize important infrastructure projects especially in the countryside."

Lack of planes delay OFW departures by four months

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

President Arroyo opens Central Nautical Highway as Ro-Ro caravan “sails on” Monday

The third component of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) -- the Central Nautical Highway, -- is about to “sail on” on Monday from Bulan, Sorsogon in Luzon all the way to Misamis Oriental in Mindanao.

The Central Nautical Highway Roll-on-Roll-off is the central trunk route connecting the province of Sorsogon to Balingoan in Misamis Oriental, passing through Central Visayas and connecting to the east-west trunk routes of Cawayan in Masbate, Bogo Port in central Cebu, Tubigon Port in Bohol, then to Jagna Port also in Bohol, and to the Mambajao Port in Camiguin.

The President will send off on Monday the RO-RO caravan that will test the viability of the nautical highway at the Bulan Port and Cawayan Port.

At some points of the voyage, she shall be joining the caravan.

The RO-RO caravan’s “sail on” from bustling Jagna Port in Bohol on the way to Mambajao Port in scenic Camiguin will have the President on board as she will be presiding over Tuesday’s National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Cabinet Group meeting as the caravan sails on to the Bohol Sea.

The caravan ends Wednesday (April 30) in Cagayan de Oro City with the holding of the Central Philippines SRNH Conference.

The SNRH -- an integrated set of highway segments and ferry routes, combined with road and ferry routes not formally part of SRNH -- is touted as one of the President’s legacy projects as it stands to spur economic development in the countryside. It links the island provinces through an efficient transport system that would enhance access to tourists areas throughout the country; and offers an alternate route for the flow of agricultural products at a lesser cost.

The President has said that” …the nautical highway brings development closer to the provinces… that will connect the market of Luzon to the production centers, the agricultural production centers of Mindanao.”

Travelling by Ro-Ro reduces the cost of travel by 37 to 43 percent for passengers, and 24 to 34 percent for cargo when compared to both sea and air travel.

It also reduces travel time by 10 to 12 hours when compared to ordinary sea travel.

Called the “highway of the sea,” the Ro-Ro system ferries trucks carrying goods and produce from Mindanao to Luzon and vice versa, directly to their destinations, without unloading in every port.

The SRNH -- a 919-kilometer (land) and 137 nautical mile (sea) transportation infrastructure -- includes the Western Nautical Highway or the western seaboard trunk route that links Manila and Dipolog City in Mindanao, and the Eastern Nautical Highway or the eastern sea link that connects Biliran in Leyte to Surigao City.

And, of the course, the Central Nautical Highway that would be opened Monday (April 28). Transportation Undersecretary Len Bautista stressed that the sea route, once it goes on its maiden sail Monday, must be operational from thereon.

The Montenegro Lines and Negros Navigation would be plying the central seaboard trunk.

Palace pushing for Senate ratification of five important proposed treaties

Malacanang is pushing for the Senate ratification of five proposed international agreements or treaties, including the Optional Protocol Against Torture whose ratification is being advocated by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN-HRC).

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), had earlier reported in the UN-HRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) early this month in Geneva, Switzerland that “the Arroyo government is set to accede” to the Optional Protocol Against Torture and Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

“President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to soon instruct the government to take formal steps to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” Ermita had enthused before the UN-HRC.

"This Optional Protocol is meant to strengthen the implementation of the Convention Against Torture to which the Republic of the Philippines has been a State Party for (the past) 22 years since 1986, so it is also in our national interest to be a party to this instrument," the PHRC had added in its earlier statement.

Aside from the additional/optional anti-torture protocol of the UN, the Arroyo administration is also championing the proposed Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), the UN Convention on Disability, the RP-Australia Visiting Forces Agreement, and the Avoidance of Double Taxation on New Zealand Forestry.

The above-named proposed treaties were “among others (international treaties)” that Malacanang is pushing for Senate approval, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) said during its “Legislative Update” at the latest Legislative-Executive Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting Tuesday.

In the said April 22 LEDAC meeting, PLLO Undersecretary Bernardino Sayo had first enumerated the 17 common legislative agenda (CLA) “targeted for approval before (the) end of the first regular session of the 14th Congress in June 2008.”

And then in conclusion, Sayo added, thus: “And finally, we wish to likewise push for the Senate ratification of pending international agreements or treaties, including among others the following…”

Of the five recommended treaties for ratification, it is the JPEPA that is “now in its advanced stage in the Senate,” added the PLLO official.

Work on P7.8-B airport in full blast

International airport expected to start operation in 2011
The Manila Bulletin

LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental — The ground work on the state-of-the-art R7.8-billion Laguindingan International Airport here is now on high gear, it was reported.

The modern airport, which is set to be completed in 2011, is a flagship project of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Northern Mindanao under the Mindanao Super Region Program.

A provincial official inspected recently the work on the project and reported that "all systems go and the ground work continues without delay."

Engineer Delia Capicenio, project manager of the Laguindingan Airport Development Project (LADP), told Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno that the acquisition of the affected properties for the access roads being undertaken by the provincial government is now 100 percent complete.

The ground preparation for the airport’s access road, including road embankment, excavation and sub-grade preparation started last July 2007, and is now 28.27 percent accomplished.

The construction of the access roads costs P188 million. Target date of completion of the ground work on road embankment and excavation and sub-grade preparation is August, this year.

Engineer Capicenio said the main civil work of the airport costing P4.991 billion started on Jan. 18, this year, and is now .38 percent complete.

The groundwork on the establishment of consultants and contractors’ temporary facilities, mobilization of contractor’s resources at site such as materials, labor, equipment, and site cleaning is now in full blast.

Target date of completion is January 2012, she said.

Air navigation and support facilities that would cost P708 million will be bidded out this year.

The Laguindingan International Airport is funded with a loan secured by the Philippine government and the government of Korea.

The loan was sourced out from various creditors in Korea. These are the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCP) for the original loan of $ 22.40 million; EDCP for the supplemental or additional loan amount of $ 8.2 million; Export credit, $ 62.75 million; Nordic Investment Bank (NIB), $ 13.38 million; and government of the Philippines, $ 60.36 million. These amount to 7.09 million or R7.853 billion.

The total loan is payable in 20 years, with a grace period of 10 years. The repayment will start two years from now or in 2010 and will be shouldered by the national government, it was learned.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) already started drawing from the loan proceeds that were used as advance payments for contractors.

The operation of the Laguindingan International Airport once completed and operational, will create more employment, boost the economy of the region, and add tax revenues, particularly Laguindingan town and nearby areas, Moreno said.

Moreno said the international airport will not only cater to international flights, but also domestic flights.

"We are moving forward and we are optimistic of more economic activities in the years ahead in this province," Governor Moreno said.

P4.2-B Bohol int’l airport finished in 2010

Mars Mosqueda
The Manila Bulletin

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol — Gov. Erico Aumentado said Bohol is gearing up for the construction of multi-billion infrastructure project that is also meant to help boost the province’s tourism program.

Aumentado said the construction of the proposed P4.2-billion Panglao International Airport will surely help bring about increased economic opportunities in the province with the expected inflow of more tourists and other local visitors.

The bidding for the international airport project will begin in July with the first phase of the facility expected to be ready by April 2010.

The first phase consists of the construction of 2.5 kilometer runway with allied facilities, said Aumentado.

The second phase consists of the construction of terminal building and allied facilities and possibly the extension of the runway to 3.8 kilometers.

"President Arroyo wants the project finished within her term and the entire Boholano community will be happy that we will be having our international airport in 2010," said Aumentado.

The ground-breaking ceremonies will be held on May 8.

Aside from the Philippine Airlines, Aumentado said he has already received the commitment of Korean Airlines for a direct flight from Korea to Panglao Island as he stressed that more airlines have expressed their interests in flying direct to the province.

Department of Tourism (DoT) Regional Director Pat Roa agreed with Aumentado on the availability of flights to and from the proposed international airport, saying a lot of airlines had asked if Bohol has an international airport.

"If only the current airport in Tagbilaran City can accommodate a 747 airplane, it could have opened many chartered flights to Bohol," said Roa.

President Arroyo signed Memo Order No. 282 which mandates that Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), being the principal fund source of the airport project, should assume full control in the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed airport.

Same memo mandates that the project has the clearance by the Commission on Audit to implement the corporate fund intended for the completion of the project. The latest memorandum signed by the President provides a support for the implementation of Executive Order 341 which gives MIAA the authority to exercise control over all airport projects in the country.

In order to signal the commencement of the airport project, the President will be arriving here on May 8 for the laying of the "time capsule" right at the proposed site which is in Central Panglao island.

The airport will be built on a 211-hectare property. Of the 211 hectares, 162 hectares had already paid off, 21 hectares were bartered with other lots while three hectares may be expropriated by the government.

The new airport traverses four barangays, namely, Lourdes, Bolod, Tawala and Danao in Panglao town.

DFA asks Senate to defer action on controversial RP-Japan pact

Charissa M. Luci
The Manila Bulletin

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo yesterday asked the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations "to defer consideration" of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) to pave the way for an exchange of notes between the two countries.

Romulo has written Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, committee chairperson, seeking an early diplomatic exchange of notes between Manila and Tokyo before the Senate continues its deliberations on the economic pact.

"May I have the honor to request the Committee on Foreign Relations to defer consideration of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) in order to allow the Department to explore appropriate exchange of notes between the government of Japan and the Philippines relating to the same," Romulo said yesterday in his letter to Santiago.

His request was made during the visit of Tsutomu Sato, Japan’s Senior Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication, who is promoting the Japanese Digital TV Standard "ISDB-T" (Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting for Terrestrial) in the country.

National gov't posts P49-B primary surplus in Q1

The Manila Bulletin

The National Government posted a primary surplus of P48.7 billion, 30.9 percent higher compared to year-before and 6.6 percent more than the program for the period of P42.1 billion, the Bureau of the Treasury said.

For March only the primary surplus – which is the excess budget minus interest payments – reached P11.7 billion from a deficit of P3 billion the same period last year.

BTr data show that the first quarter primary surplus was computed based on collected revenues of P253.5 billion and expenditures net of interest payments of P204.8 billion.

In March, total revenues were P84.8 billion and expenditures minus interest payments amounted to P73.1 billion.

According to Department of Finance numbers, NG interest payments in the first three months totalled P100.2 billion, P2.1 billion below the program for the period and 12.4 percent higher than 2007. For March, interest expenses amounted to P30.3 billion.

On Thursday, the DoF announced a national budget deficit of P51.6 billion in the first quarter, P8.7 billion lower than programmed ceiling of P60.2 billion.

For March, the budget deficit was P18.6 billion.

Last year the government had a primary surplus of P255.4 billion, P15.1 billion more than what was programmed for the year of P240.3 billion.

A growing primary surplus means a government’s capacity to pay debt is improving.

DoF Secretary Margarito B. Teves said that while they are sticking to a zero-deficit budget by the end of this year, he said he now prefers to call it "financing the fiscal requirements" rather than calling it a balanced budget goal.

"We are hopeful that, despite gobal economic volatility, we will be able to further improve collectios," Teves stated. "We remain unwavering in our commitment to raise the revenues to fully finance the budget this year and any additional spending that may be necessary to sustain growth and address the issue of food security."

US Senate OKs Filipino veterans bill

Approves grant of benefits by overwhelming 96-1 vote

The Manila Bulletin

CHICAGO, Illinois (JGLi) – The United States Senate approved on Thursday, April 24, 2008, the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act (S. 1315), which includes the grant of benefits to Filipino World War II veterans living in the Philippines, by an overwhelming vote of 96-1.

The bill provides for a flat rate of $ 3,600 annual non-service disability pension for single Filipino veterans living in the Philippines, $ 4,500 annually for married veterans, and $ 2,400 annually for surviving spouses.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the US Veterans Affairs’ Committee, applauded his colleagues in the 100-member Senate for passing the bill. "The Filipino veterans of World War II fought bravely under US military command, helping us win the war only to lose their veteran status by an Act of Congress. I commend my colleagues for supporting those veterans who stood with us," said Senator Akaka, who crafted the unprecedented cloture motion vote Tuesday, April 22, 940, that paved the way for floor vote of the bill Thursday.

Senator Akaka added: "I am also very pleased that the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 can finally move forward. This bill makes needed improvements to veterans’ benefits by expanding and increasing support for veterans, their families, and their survivors. I urge my colleagues in the House to act swiftly on this much needed bill."

During the floor debate, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) rose to speak against a proposed amendment that would have removed the health and pension benefits due to the Filipino veterans. Clinton, co-author of Senate Bill 1315,reiterated her commitment to continue to support and fight for the Filipino veterans equity bill "as a matter of restoring the honor and dignity of these courageous veterans."

White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) hailed the passage of the bill. In a statement released by Michael Ortiz, press staff of the senator, Obama said, "Our veterans and service members have made incredible sacrifices for our nation, and today, the Senate honored their service by providing them with the care and benefits they deserve."

John Normoyle, press staff of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), quoted Senator Durbin as saying, "Restoring veteran status to the Filipino veterans who served alongside American soldiers in World War II is long overdue. There were 470,000 Filipinos who answered President Franklin Roosevelt’s call and stood shoulder to shoulder with America’s bravest."

He said: "During WW II, President Roosevelt issued a military order and called to service the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, which was American territory at the time. This entitled the Filipinos who served alongside US troops to full veterans’ benefits."

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, sponsor of the original S. 57, the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill, hailed the Senate passage of legislation that provides approximately $ 166 million for a special pension for Filipino veterans who fought alongside US forces during World War II.

"Senate approval of the benefits for the surviving Filipino veterans is the first step in removing a more than 60-year-old stain on our national honor," Senator Inouye said. "Senate approval was the right action to take and it fulfills our long-held promise to our Filipino comrades in arms."

For nearly 20 years, Senator Inouye has fought to have the benefits for the Filipino veterans restored. In January of this year, he and US Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made an official trip to the Philippines, and one of their meetings was with Filipino veterans of World War II.

"America must not forget how crucial the efforts of Filipino veterans were to the success of the Allied forces in World War II," said Senator Stevens said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (DNevada) said, "Democrats have led the way to expand eligibility for traumatic-injury insurance and specially adapted housing benefits to veterans with severe burns. We are also increasing benefits for veterans pursuing apprenticeships or onjob training."

Prior to voting on final passage of the bill, the Senate debated on an amendment to remove a provision, providing a limited pension for Filipino World War II veterans residing in the Philippines. This amendment was defeated by a vote of 56-41, with Akaka leading the charge for the Filipino veterans’ pension.

Jon Meligrito, press spokesman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) headed by Ms. Alma Q. Kern, said for the amendment of Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) objecting to the Filipino veteran pension to come through, he would have needed 49 votes since there were 97 senators present. Six Republicans joined the Democrats in rejecting what was widely viewed as a highly discriminatory act against Filipino veterans.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for debate and a floor vote. The House version of the Filipino Veterans Equity bill pending before Chairman Bob Filner (H.R. 760) seeks higher benefits.

If the measure passes Congress, it will then go to President Bush for his signature.

NaFFAA National Chairwoman Alma Kern asked the Filipino-American community members not to rest on this milestone yet. She said athey have to keep on calling members of the House of Representatives to urge them to support the Filipino Veterans Act.

"We have to see this campaign through to the finish. It’s up to us to make it happen," she said.

This comprehensive, budget-neutral omnibus veterans’ benefits bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in June last year and reported to the full Senate in August.

The Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 would provide a veterans’ pension to Filipino veterans of World War II residing in the US and in the Philippines. Under the proposed bill, veterans residing in the Philippines would receive a smaller pension than those residing in the US, to account for differences in cost-of-living in the two countries.

The Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 also includes a multitude of improvements on veterans’ benefits, including provisions to establish a new program of insurance for service-connected disabled veterans, expand eligibility for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection coverage under Service members’ Group Life Insurance, increase the maximum amount of Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance that a service-connected disabled veteran may purchase,provide individuals with severe burn injuries specially adapted housing benefits, and extend for two years the monthly educational assistance allowance for apprenticeship or other on-the-job training.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Update photos of DMIA (Clark)

Click here for photo by patlite.
Another photo by patlite.

PGMA rallies Filipinos to vote on line for 3 RP natural wonders

DUMAGUETE CITY – “Let’s vote online for our natural wonders.”

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made the call as she exhorted all Filipinos here and abroad to help the government in its campaign for the Tubbataha Reef, Chocolate Hills and the Underground River to win in the search for the world’s “Seven New Wonders of Nature.”

The President made the appeal during a three-on-one interview with her by broadcast journalists Glenda Descuatan, area manager for Visayas of Skycable ABS-CBN 2; Malacañang reporter RG Cruz of ABS-CBN 2; and KBP Negros Oriental president and DYSR radio station manager Roy Bustillo at one of the showrooms of Sidlakang Negros Village here.

The President said that from here, she would proceed to Tubbataha Reef to dive there and dramatize “my simple contribution” to the country’s campaign to sell to the world the Chocolate Hills in Bohol and Underground River in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, among others.

“We are encouraging all Filipinos who are either living here or working abroad to vote for our natural treasures.” the President stressed.

She said all environmental-friendly Filipinos should vote online through to ensure that the Tubbataha Reef, Chocolate Hills and the Underground River will be included in the most coveted list .

The President stressed that it would be an honor for the country to have these beautiful spots become part of the seven new wonders of the world to further boost Philippine tourism and its growing economy.

“So we need all Filipinos to vote for them. It’s an online voting and you have to vote for seven new wonders to ensure that they would get included in the worldwide search for nature.

Tubbataja Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a famous national marine sanctuary in Sulu Sea. It is a popular diving site because of its renowned and globally significant biodiversity.

Its two atolls lie on the Cagayan ridge and roughly encompass 100,000 hectares of corals and over a thousand species of marine life.

Bohol’s Chocolate Hills—which are scattered in the towns of Carmen, Butuan, and Sagbayan—is famous for its dome-shaped grass covered limestone hills that turn brown in summer when the hills dry up.

These almost uniform 1,268 perfectly cone-shaped hills, mostly between 30 to 50 meters high, are considered among the National Geological Monuments of the country due to their scientific value and geographic uniqueness.

To date, Tubbataha is now ranked seventh, the Chocolate Hills in Bohol is Number 9, and the Underground River in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan is Number 20 in the Top 77 Live Rankings of the worldwide online poll for the Seven New Wonders of the World.

Owners invest P1.6 B more in hospital

Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The Manila Bulletin

Professional Services Inc., which is majority- owned by Benpres Holdings Corp. of the Lopez Group, is investing P1.582 billion for the expansion and modernization of its tertiary hospital Medical City in Pasig in anticipation of a boom in the country’s medical tourism industry.

Aside from Benpres, the other stockholders of Professional Services are Insular Life Insurance and Splash Holdings.

The additional capacity would be used to increase capacity with an additional 250 beds, acquire modern equipment, introduce new medical services and expand the capability of existing services.

The project has been endorsed by the Department of Tourism for approval of tax and fiscal incentives by the Board of Investments under the priority sector Hospital Medical Services, Healthcare and Wellness.

The expansion project is expected to start commercial operation in July 2010 employing 150 jobs.

The Medical City has been in operation for the past 40 years and is known for world-class healthcare complex that serves some 40,000 inpatients and 380,000 outpatients a year.

It is located on a 1.5 hectare property along Ortigas Avenue in the business district of Pasig City.

It is composed of 100,000 sq.m. of floor space and includes two Nursing Towers joined by a Podium, bridgeways and a Medical Arts Tower . The first 15-storey Nursing Tower with a heliport and a Business Center is currently fitted for 500 beds. The second Nursing Tower provides capacity for an additional 300 beds.

The 18 floors of the Medical Arts Tower house 280 doctors’ clinics and selected commercial spaces, such as banks, a restaurant, a food court and a convenience store and gift shop. Located within the 6th floor Podium are diagnostic and intervention facilities, as well as support and administrative offices. The 3-basement level parking accommodates over a thousand vehicles for clients and staff.

TMC’s boasts of a distinguished medical staff of some 1,000 physicians, all of whom are experienced, recognized and established experts in their various fields of specialization – Medicine, Surgery, Orthopedics, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, Anesthesiology and Psychiatry. They are complemented by physicians in other fields of diagnostics and ancillary services – Pathology, Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Pain Management, Radiation Oncology and Chemotherapy. All physicians affiliated with TMC, many of whom are internationally trained, pass a strict credentialing and privileging process.

The medical staff is supported by a 2,100-strong organization composed of allied medical and administrative staff who have honed their expertise over many years of loyal service to the institution.

TMC also serves as a hub of a network of satellite clinical facilities delivering a full range of diagnostic and therapeutic services to ambulatory patients. The satellite network demonstrates TMC’s commitment to bring its unique brand of health services right into the communities of its patients.

At the heart of TMC’s service philosophy are new paradigms of hospital care as addressing the entire continuum of health needs, and the patient as an equal, informed and empowered partner in the pursuit and preservation of health.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Basic Financial Education for 12 Million Grade School Students

Bangko Sentral

Lessons on saving and money management will be part of the public elementary school curriculum from Grade I to Grade VI starting June this year, as provided under the Memorandum of Agreement signed yesterday by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Department of Education. The objective is to prepare our youth in handling economic and financial opportunities. The agreement was signed by BSP Governor Amando Tetangco, Jr.(second from left) and DepEd Undersecretary Ramon Bacani (third from left) with BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo (left) and DepEd Adopt-A-School Director Mari Paul Soriano (right). BSP and DepEd also agreed to re-launch the highly successful "Tulong Barya Para sa Eskwela" coin collection and fund-raising campaign which raised roughly P15 million in total benefits for public elementary schools. Governor Tetangco said "Tulong Barya" serves as a national lesson in saving as it proves to our schoolchildren that every little amount saved adds up - including "barya" or coins. "Tulong Barya Para sa Eskwela” therefore is a perfect complement and parallel activity to the integration of saving and money management in the grade school curriculum. Undersecretary Bacani said the financial education program will benefit our country's 12 million grade school pupils and enhance the financial know-how of our public school teachers, numbering about 350,000 nationwide.

Photo update of South Luzon Expressway

Click here for photos by Lucentino at (

In a surprise move, senators give qualified yes to charter debate

By Aries Rufo

Majority of the senators have given their qualified support to open debates on charter change, in a major shift of position when, only three months ago, they viewed it with distrust and suspicion.

The chamber’s main proponent Aquilino Pimentel pulled a surprise Wednesday night when he filed Joint Resolution No. 10, with 10 other senators as sponsors, "to convene Congress into a constituent assembly" to revise the Constitution and establish a federal form of government.

More surprising is the fact that Pimentel was able to gather bipartisan support for the charter change resolution, including those who were opposed to it before such as Senators Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero and Senate President Manuel Villar.

Only last February, senators criticized an apparent move by the Palace to revive charter change amid corruption charges against the Arroyo administration. Lawmakers believed it was an attempt to distract public attention from graft issues confronting the government.

The numbers indicate a major change of heart from the usually skeptical chamber, suspicious of any attempts to tinker with the Constitution.

It is expected to be calendared for hearings by the Senate committee on constitutional revision and change chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, an administration senator. Gordon, who is not a signatory, says he is studying the resolution.

Trigger debates

How did Pimentel do it?

Pimentel told that he was able to convince his colleagues by assuring them that the main purpose of his initiative "is to spur public discussions" on charter change and the benefits of a federal form of government. Pimentel is an advocate of federalism.

"The concept (of federalism) is new to the country. I filed the bill to trigger debates so that people will know what this is all about," Pimentel said.

Pangilinan, in a text message, said he signed the resolution "with reservations as to the mode/timing."

"The support is qualified. While I support the concept of federalism, I will only support charter change after 2010," Pangilinan stressed. On his second term as senator, Pangilinan’s tenure will end in 2013.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon said he agreed to be co-author of the resolution "if only to open debates on charter change." Biazon’s term as senator will expire on June 2010.

The resolution will require the revision of 14 of the existing 18 Articles of the Constitution and the addition of two new articles. It seeks to adopt a federal presidential bicameral form of government.

No to GMA beyond 2010

Specifically, it calls for the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country and one federal administration region.

It seeks the transfer of the legislative department to the proposed Federal State of Central Visayas, the judicial department to the Federal State of Northern Luzon while maintaining the executive department in the proposed Federal Administrative Region of Metro Manila.

"By doing so the other geographical regions in the country, the Visayas and Mindanao, will now fully appreciate that they are important parts, and not merely appendices of the Republic," Pimentel said in a statement.

Other major proposals: the election of senators based on states; the election of senators representing overseas voters; the election of the president and the vice-president as a team; the abolition of the Judicial and Bar Council which screens nominees to the judiciary etc.

To ensure that the initiative would not be taken advantage of by President Arroyo to prolong her stay in power, a transitory provision is provided categorically stating that her term will end in 2010 and that she is not qualified to run for the same office under the Constitution.

More senators?

Pimentel said two-term senators like him will not benefit from the proposed charter amendment as the proposed draft states they are covered by a ban from seeking a third term.

He said two or three more senators are willing to support the initiative.

Asked if there is ample time to amend the Constitution before 2010, Pimentel admits that "realistically, it will be difficult."

A poll commissioner also doubts whether charter change can be pulled off before the 2010 presidential race. The commissioner notes that the proposed changes will still be submitted for ratification by the public.

Palace formally endorses to wage boards labor groups’ petition for pay hikes


Malacañang endorsed formally today to the regional wage boards the petitions filed by labor groups for the pay increases of workers in the country’s 17 regions so they could appropriately breeze through the high costs of rice and other basic commodities following a surge in the global prices of oil and rice.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he was informed by acting Labor Secretary Marianito Roque that petitions for wage increase ranged from P60 to P150 while the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines has asked for an P80 across-the-board wage increase for Metro Manila workers.

The Regional Tripatite Wages and Productivity Boards was ordered Wednesday by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to work overtime to reach a decision on the wage levels in their respective regions, even if this meant working on May 1, Labor Day.

The President saw the urgency to speed up the deliberations on the wage issue due to the rising prices of commodities.

The 17 regional wage boards were tasked to monitor and assess the wage situation across the country based on national and regional socio-economic indicators, Ermita said.

He added that the decision to raise or not to raise wages will depend on the Regional Boards based on their assessment of the economic needs of the workers, the capacity of the employers to pay a wage increase, and the development requirements of the region.

Normally, wage increases must be a balance between protecting the purchasing power of low-income workers and preserving existing jobs.

Since 1989, the minimum daily wage in Metro Manila was adjusted 15 times and the increase granted ranged from a low of P12 to a high of P26.50.

At present, the National Capital Region’s (NCR) existing wage rate is P362 per day after the latest increase of P12 per day granted by the Board last Aug. 28, 2007.

Pacific Philippines

The Bangkok Post

The Philippines and its 7,107 islands scattered across the length and breadth of the Pacific present great opportunities for aqua sports and wow island-hopping tourists with their endless coastlines, pearly white beaches, colourful coral reefs and most importantly, the friendliness of engaging natives who it seems are born musicians.

The Filipinos are mostly a people with a Western bent whose ancestry is variously Malay, Spanish, Chinese and hip savvy American.

Special among these islands are Cebu and Boracay noted for their mystic, natural beauty and habitat. My tour began at the island of Nalusuan which I accessed from Mactan located a few kilometres southwest of the Cebu mainland which can be divided into Lapu-Lapu city area and the municipality of Cordova.

The main mode of transport is a motorised outrigger, a canoe-shaped wooden boat called banca. The locally designed contraption somewhat resembles a spider. Since the main source of livelihood of most islanders is fishing, they build and customise their boats to the conditions of the sea they frequent. The banca has evolved with time, the boats becoming bigger with the need to ferry produce and, more recently, tourists.

Our banca was a simple fishing boat built to withstand the waves and ferry tour groups. Equipped with wings, or katig in local speak, for stability, it had more luggage and passenger space, foldable plastic windows to serve as a shield against wind, especially useful during the monsoon season.

Most boats anchored at the pier seemed to reflect the personality of their owners. Filipinos are known to extend their character and artistry to personal possessions like their houses and cars, noted Victoria of the Philippines Tourism Development Department.

"Just like the jeepneys which are colourfully designed depending on taste of the owner, our ferry boats are given names to lend them a sort of personality. The christening often depends on names of the eldest or youngest child of the boat owner, some times even on the nick names of their favourite offsprings."

Being a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, she said, name of saints are also used in the belief that it will offer their boats protection. In other cases, such as winning a lottery, the owner will accord his boat a name based on the winning numbers.

Before we set off, at the pier I spotted locals chilling out in the late morning sun, while adults bunched in groups around a game of cards and women hawked shell necklaces to arriving tourists.

"Filipinos are easy-going people," noted John M. Buenconsejo, our tour guide, as we boarded our banca to Nalusuan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary at Olango Reef, Cordova.

"The source of their inner strength and friendliness are a fervent belief in God and and nature, and a sense of security that comes from neighbourliness and close family ties," explained Buenconsejo.

Along the ride to Nalusuan that sits between Cebu and Bohol, I spotted small boats plying everything from coconut to exotic shells. The turquoise sea coupled with the cool afternoon sea breeze made for a pleasant ride.

We stopped briefly at Hilutungan, an island that has a sanctuary for marine life. We threw bread crumbs to announce our arrival but failed to incite the desired response. Looking around we spotted several other tourist boats in the vicinity and understood why the creatures were oblivious to our presence. Hilutungan, said Buenconsejo, means a place for massage in the local dialect. In the old days fishermen would stop here for a massage or hilot.

Close to half hectare in size, Nalusuan boasts a wharf 260 metres long under which thrives marine life. Operated by a private company since 1971, the island is being touted as the next haven for snorkellers and divers. Arriving there we passed a large man-made salt water pool bubbling with creatures, including a mammoth sea turtle and lapu-lapu, a species of grouper native to the sea around the island.

The island comes alive at meal time as locals regale tourists with songs current and old classics as they feast on freshly grilled seafood sold in open-air restaurants or they can choose to cook their own meals to suit their taste.

Pointing to healthy coral reef, our guide explained that divers relish exploring the sea bed as it is home to diverse forms of marine life, among them fish, sponge and coral of the soft type.

Korean honeymooners and Russian tourists could be seen having a jolly good time indulging in jet skiing, kayaking, speed and paddle boating. The island also has accommodation for tourists.

The next morning we flew to Boracay via Caticlan. Boracay is also accessible by air from Manila and Cebu through two of the Philippines' principal gateways - Caticlan and Kalibo airports. Kalibo is the capital of Aklan province and has been dubbed " Paradise Island of the Philippines". It boasts the oldest settlement in the country dating to 1213 when people from Borneo migrated there.

Boracay's geography sets it apart from other islands in the archipelago. Sheltered from vicious easterly typhoons by surrounding islands, it sits on the northwestern tip of Panay in western Visayas region off the Sibuyan Sea.

Boracay, occupying 1,000 hectares, is a tropical paradise spoken in the same breath as Bali in Indonesia and the Maldives. It boasts crystal blue waters, powder white sand tempered with fine coral, liberal doses of tropical palms and flowering plants, and a healthy marine population in the sea around it. Also available is a mix of low and high-end accommodation fit for all purses.

Boracay, an enticing retreat for sun-worshippers and divers, oozes with party mood. Its popular Long Beach straddling the Sulu Sea stretching four and a half kilometres lures young and the old alike. The island though is small - just seven kilometres long and a kilometre wide at its narrowest point- but its beach has been voted "best" by Yahoo Travel, other web sites and publications.

One place not to be missed while island hopping is the blissfully secluded Puka Shell Beach named after the millions of puka shells found there. Visitors can get there by renting a banca. Along the route they will be treated to scenic land and seascapes.

Although the sea here is slightly rougher and deeper and the sand less powdery white than it is on Long Beach, the peace and beauty especially at sunset is unmatched.

Puka shells dot the entire 800-metre-long shoreline livened up by coconut trees under whose shade tourists can be seen seeking cover. Islanders collect the shells and string them into necklaces and ornamental jewellery for sale to tourists.

Shops with thatched roofs grace the shoreline selling beads, souvenirs and occasionally ice cream. And be reminded: if you plan to spend a whole day on Puka Shell Island don't forget to carry your own food and water.


Boracay is a paradise for sun-worshippers and divers from across the globe, like their second home. Although the high season is December to April, Boracay holds tourist events throughout the year such as Ati Atihan Festival and sporting competitions, while July to November is low season. Summer months are best for sunbathing.

Cebu is also called the Queen City of the South. It is the oldest and busiest metropolis in the Philippines after capital Manila. It offers a combination of sandy white beaches, good dive sites, nightlife and easy access to other destinations in the country via Mactan International Airport. Most resorts in Cebu offer diving and other water sports. Its most popular island is Mactan, a short distance from Cebu city.

Getting there

Low-cost airline Cebu Pacific offers direct flights from Bangkok to Cebu on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, all departing at 11:55pm. Domestic flights are also available from Cebu to Boracay via Caticlan. Its reservation hotline is (632) 70-20-888. For more information, call Nancy Tours at 022-669-608, 022-664-751 to 4 and Thai Sky NTT Tours 02-693-7888 .


In Cebu: Maribago Bluewater Beach Resort,
The Hilton,
Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa,
In Boracay: Boracay Tropics Resort,
Mandala Spa &Villas,
Boracay Regency, email:
Fairway & Bluewater,

2 polls: Filipinos OK lifestyle change, are pro-environment

By Imelda V. Abaño
The Business Mirror

SINGAPORE—Filipinos are among the world’s leaders in contemplating serious changes to their lifestyles to address climate change, according to a recent global public-opinion survey presented Tuesday to more than 1,000 business leaders from over 30 countries attending the Business for the Environment Global Summit 2008.

The global poll of 22,182 people in 21 countries worldwide, including 1,000 Filipinos in urban areas, suggests that citizens in general—including those in the US and China, the world’s biggest polluters—are more prepared than their governments to support tough measures.

Doug Miller, president of GlobeScan Inc., the global polling company that conducted the survey on behalf of the BBC-World Service, presented the highlights of the survey conducted between May 29 to June 26, 2007.

“The people in developing countries, as well as in the developed world, are ready to take action and to make significant lifestyle changes to help prevent climate change. It is now up to the government leaders and the business sectors alike whether to support climate action or not,” Miller said during his presentation.

The poll found that an overwhelming 95 percent of Filipinos are eager to step up and ready to make significant changes in lifestyle to prevent global warming. Canadians came second with 91 percent of those interviewed, while the Russians were last at 43 percent.

Overall, 83 percent of respondents agreed that individuals would definitely or probably have to make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of climate-changing gases they produce.

Putting the spotlight on the business sector, GlobeScan, in support of the United Nations and the Business for Environment Summit, has announced that it started this April 2008 a new global climate-change survey, this time involving the world’s business leaders, Miller said.

“We are conducting a survey of business leaders around the world asking them a series of questions mainly related to climate change,” Miller told the BusinessMirror.”

“We would like to know what it’s like inside their business around this issue, like on how serious is it compared to other things that they are concerned about; what they are doing about it and how they are working in terms of their governance.”

Miller said the survey will be released in June 2008.

He shared with the BusinessMirror initial findings conducted on about 140 business leaders. The early result showed that most companies, or 44 percent, “value the engagement of business sector to their respective governments.”

“What the business sector most misses is a clear government policy direction to know what their boundary conditions are so that they can make their business decision, play a role in working with their governments to put forward appropriate goal settings and legislation,” Miller explained.

Most companies, he added, are also actively working on the climate-change issues mainly from the point of view of getting their management systems in place like having sustainable energy, clean water and waste management within the company.

“The business sector is so important in our fight against climate change. They need to act now, reflect on the challenges and propose solutions for a better ‘green’ economy,” Miller said.

As for the lifestyle survey, Globe- Scan interviewed, besides Filipinos, respondents across the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

“The survey shows that Filipinos are very concerned about climate change,” Miller told the BusinessMirror. “Like everyone around the world concerned, people in the Philippines are much more ready to endure their share of the burden than most politicians, and that they are really ready to play their part in the solutions.”

Miller believes people are mainly driven by erratic weather patterns that scare them, and that “humans are making a real mess of things.” This is clearly significant in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia and their neighbors in the region, Miller adds.

The survey showed that more than 65 percent of the people around the world say that governments, businesses and everyone else “need to take major steps very soon” to tackle climate change; 25 percent felt “modest steps” would do; and only 6 percent said no steps were necessary.

On the question, “if technological change would solve the climate change problem without the need for any lifestyle change,” 58 percent of the respondents said “yes” and 36 percent said “no.”

The survey found that in South Korea, India and China, 48 percent of those surveyed had avoided products or brands for environmental reasons in the recent past.

In 18 of the 21 countries polled, the more popular argument is that less wealthy countries should limit emissions. Just three countries, Egypt (53 percent), Nigeria (50 percent) and Italy (49 percent), opt for the position that less wealthy countries should not be expected to limit emissions.

Those favoring limits on the emissions of less wealthy countries include China (68 percent) and a plurality of Indians (33 percent to 24 percent) though many Indians (43 percent) do not have an opinion. This is also the dominant view in Brazil (63 percent), Indonesia (54 percent), Kenya (64 percent), Mexico (75 percent), the Philippines (49 percent) and Turkey (41 percent).


By Cai A. Ordinario
The Business Mirror

FILIPINOS are now regarded as among the more environment-conscious citizens in the world according to a new Voice of the People Survey conducted by foreign-based think tank Gallup International in celebration of International Earth Day 2008.

The survey results showed that “virtually all” Filipinos and citizens from the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, Singapore and Colombia perform at least one action regularly to protect the environment.

“Virtually all people declared they take at least one action to protect the environment in the UK, the Philippines, Ireland, Singapore and Colombia.

“Conversely, the highest proportions of respondents that declared they don’t implement any of the mentioned measures are Russia, 40 percent; Bulgaria, 36 percent; Argentina, 25 percent; Cameroon, 25 percent; Romania, 22 percent; and Turkey, 22 percent,” the survey stated.

Further, the survey showed that in terms of specific actions, around 95 percent of Filipinos surveyed said they try con-serving energy at home. TheUK came second with 91 percent; Ireland, 90 percent; Ecuador, Singapore; the United States, 88 percent; and Spain, 86 percent.

The survey also showed that 90 percent or more of respondents declared they recycle or create less waste in Ireland with the highest percentage of 98 percent; UK, 96 percent; Spain, 93 percent; Canada, 93 percent; Singapore, 91 percent; Luxembourg, 91 percent; Switzerland, 91 percent; Sweden, 91 percent; and the Philippines, 90 percent.

The survey also said that eight in 10 respondents said they use less water. Singapore scored 86 percent; Ecuador, 86 percent; UK, 82 percent; Spain, 81 percent; the Philippines, 80 percent; Colombia, 79 percent; Dominican Republic, 79 percent; and Ghana, 78 percent.

Overall, Gallup International said global warming is recognized as a serious threat by a large majority of world citizens. The survey showed that around two-thirds or 66 percent in the world perceive that impact in the area where they live.

Moreover, the survey, which interviewed over 60,000 people in 57 countries last year, also shows that 85 percent of those surveyed declared they are taking measures to protect the environment.

“Whereas scientists and global organizations repeatedly alert about the risks of global warming and images like the large-scale melting of Antarctica’s ice are seen more frequently, our Voice of the People survey suggests that the message has been understood. World citizens perceive the global warming as a real threat to their day-to-day lives and are reacting to it. It is encouraging to find out that an overwhelming majority is taking measures to help protect the environment,” Gallup International secretary general Meril James said in a statement.

Respondents in Asia Pacific (78 percent) and Latin America (73 percent) showed the highest levels of concern about the impact of global warming. This was followed by Western Europe with 66 percent; six out of 10 respondents in North America with 62 percent; and Eastern and Central Europe, 59 percent; are concerned about global warming.

Nevertheless, the survey showed that in the United States four out of 10 respondents do not perceive a serious impact in the area where they live. This represents 38 percent of respondents in the US.

In all countries surveyed, the majority of respondents declared that global warming is having a serious impact in the area where they live, the exception being Iceland—where those who disagree with this statement (59 percent) are twice the numbers of those who agree (29).

“This could be explained [by] the emphasis on the country’s sustainable energy resources and clean air and water in public discourse,” the survey showed.

When it comes to saying that global warming has a serious impact in their areas, the highest percentages are found in Albania with 97 percent; Hong Kong, 93 percent; and Romania, 91 percent.

However, the largest proportions of citizens who do not perceive a serious impact of this phenomenon are from Iceland with 59 percent; Germany, 51 percent; Russia, 47 percent; Norway, 43 percent; UK, 41 percent; and US, 40 percent.

The survey, however, stated that a lack of answers to questions were more frequent in Senegal with 25 percent; Nigeria, 25 percent; Ghana, 20 percent; and Poland, 20 percent.

Respondents were asked whether their household takes any of six different possible actions aimed at protecting the environment: 85 percent of surveyed citizens declared they implement at least one of them.

The most frequent actions are using less energy in the house, 62 percent; recycling or creating less waste, 61 percent; and using less water, 54 percent.

Four in 10 respondents use less spray products or use spray products that don’t affect the ozone with 40 percent, while three among 10 surveyed use fewer batteries or replace common batteries with rechargeable batteries and use a car less or take public transport more frequently.

Villar seeks gas subsidy for 1.4-M coastal fishermen

The Manila Bulletin

Senate President and Nacionalista Party (NP) President Manuel "Manny" B. Villar Jr. yesterday urged the Executive department to extend gas subsidy to 1.4 million coastal fishermen who are reeling from high gas prices as up to 80 percent of what they earn from their dwindling catch goes to fuel.

"Before the prices of diesel shot up 260 percent from P14.90 per liter in January 2003 to an average P39 per liter last week, 51 percent of fishermen were already poor, the most in a sector," Villar said, citing a National Statistical Census Board study in 2002.

Villar, son of a shrimp vendor from Bataan, said "unknown to many, fishermen are first to feel the impact of gas price increases because the major ingredient in catching fish is fuel."

"You need fuel to power boats, to make ice that will preserve the fish, and to run the vehicles that will bring the catch to the market," he said.

Villar said unlike jeepney drivers, who are organized and have leaders who would demand diesel discounts and fare hikes from the government when gas prices inch up, "the country’s fishermen suffer in silence, which government meets with silence in return."

He said a gas subsidy for fishermen is justified because what the fisheries sector produced in value is bigger than the output of all rice farmers.

Villar said a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources research showed that the share of gas and all the total fishing expense of a coastal fisherman ranges from 31 percent, for those who use shrimp gillnet, to a high 80 percent for "drift, hook, and line" fisherman.

Close to 90 percent of a shrimp trawl’s expense goes to diesel while in tuna long-line fishing, 70 percent of expenses goes to the fuel bill, Villar said.

"Because fishing is an oil-reliant industry, half of the retail price of galunggong, dilis, tulingan, matangbaka, alumahan, tambakol, and bisugo represents fuel expenses," Villar said, referring to the top seven species caught in municipal waters, or the body of water 15 kilometers from the coastline.

Yao Group to refleet merged airlines

The Manila Bulletin

The Yao Group of Companies is investing P3 billion to P4 billion to refleet a new domestic airline, which would be the result of the merger between Asian Spirit and Southeast Asian Airlines (SeaAir).

Company chair Alfredo Yao said they purchased the two airlines for "less than P2 billion."

After the merger, Yao said they are planning to buy five new aircraft to boost its chartered flight fleet.

Yao, who talked to reporters at the sidelines of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and Department of Education’s "Financial Education Program for Elementary Students" MoA signing yesterday, said that they will also rebrand the fleet.

The Yao Group owns fruit-juice maker Zesto.

The group first bought Asian Spirit from the Airline Employees Cooperative (AEC). AEC, a group of 36 members, is a domestic passenger airline with scheduled services to tourist destinations and secondary and tertiary airports that were largely ignored by the bigger airlines.

SeaAir, on the other hand, is a chartered flight airline operating short routes.

The Yao Group plans to expand SeaAir’s limited chartered flight operations in the country as well as fly to other countries in the region.

SeaAir had plans to compete in the booming regional budget air travel with the expansion of its operations to Singapore and Macau after it forged an agreement with Tiger airways for a long-term lease of two A320s.

At the moment, SeaAir operates its own in-house maintenance facility at Clark Airfield, Pampanga. It has 13 aircraft.

It flies to select destinations in the country including Clark, Antique, Bacolod , Baguio , Baler, Bantayan, Basco, Caticlan and Kalibo, Busuanga, Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Calbayog, Camiguin Catarman, Zamboanga, Jolo and TawiTawi.

In the meantime Asian Spirit have flights to San Jose, Cauayan, Boracay, Masbate, Virac, Daet, Batanes and Tablas.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Philippines in the running to host Chrysler plant

BusinessWorld Online

THE PHILIPPINES will be competing against Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia and Vietnam for a manufacturing facility that American car maker Chrysler is planning to build in the next three years to strengthen its foothold in the region.

Peter MacKenzie, Chrysler Southeast Asia managing director, yesterday told BusinessWorld that his company was looking to tap other markets in the region such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, and strengthen its presence in existing markets the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore.

"We are thinking of putting up a production facility and the Philippines is way up there with Vietnam and Malaysia. The Philippines is a priority," he said, citing steady domestic demand for the firm’s Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands as well as strong economic fundamentals.

Mr. MacKenzie, who was in Manila for the launch of a new Chrysler Town and Country minivan, declined to say how much the firm would be investing for the new plant.

The company currently exports completely built-up units to Asia from production facilities in the United States and Austria.

For the Philippines, Mr. MacKenzie said he expects robust growth this year, to be propelled by demand for the Town and Country Touring Edition minivan, Chrysler 300C sedan and the Jeep Commander SUV.

The company is looking to sell 30% to 50% more vehicles this year.

"We sold 384 units last year and for this year, we are looking to sell about 500. For the rest of Southeast Asia, we are looking at a 38% growth from last year," he said.

Mr. MacKenzie said his company was also planning to build on its 0.4% local market share through additional facilities and new models. He said the company was looking at launching another vehicle within the year but did not give further details.

CATS Motors, Inc. is the exclusive distributor of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles in the Philippines.

Mr. MacKenzie said Chrysler was counting on the growing high-end vehicle market in the Philippines to boost growth, adding that the automaker’s offerings were "cost-effective".

Domestic vehicle sales grew by 18.4% in 2007, to 117,903 units from 99,541 units in 2006, on the back of a strong economy and new model introductions.

Industry sales for the first quarter of 2008, meanwhile, increased to 28,904 from 26,199 last year. For March alone, the industry sold 10,624 units, up 12.2% from February.

The top carmaker was Toyota Motor Philippines, Corp. which sold 10,119 units as of last month — down by 1.4% from 10,264 last year — and in the process cornering 35% of the market.

Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. was next, selling 4,034 units during the period, up by 0.9% from 3,999 last year.

Rounding out the top three in terms of sales was Mitsubishi Motors Philippines, Corp. which disposed of 3,684 units, up from 3,214 last year.

Hybrid varieties can make RP self-sufficient in rice

By Rudy A. Fernandez
The Philippine Star

STA. CRUZ, Laguna — At least 800,000 hectares planted to hybrid rice (HR) can make the Philippines self-sufficient in this cereal.

This was asserted by Henry Lim Bon Liong, chairman chief executive officer of SL Agritech Corp., the country’s top hybrid rice producer.

ST Agritech maintains a 40-ha research and demonstration (R&D) farm at Barangay Ogong in this capital town situated about 100 kilometers southeast of Manila. It also has 700-ha production area in Lupon, Davao Oriental.

Lim stressed hybrid rice’s potential in making the country self-sufficient in this crop to officers of the Philippine Agricultural Journalists, Inc. (PAJ) who visited SL Agritech’s R&D farm here recently.

At present, according to government statistics, average yield from inbred (ordinary) rice varieties is only 2.8 tons per hects. Average yield of a hybrid rice variety is 6.5 t/ha.

Of the country’s 4.2-ha farmlands devoted to rice, only about 300,000 ha are planted to hybrid varieties.

The country is expected to produce 17.3 million metric tons of palay (11.2 million mt milled rice) this year but the requirement is 12.1 million mt.

Lim told the agriculture journalists that those planting the three percent — 8M hybrid rice variety bred by his corporation have been averaged 8-10 t/ha. But there are exceptional farmers who have been harvesting much more.

One is Adelaida Badong of Baao, Camarines Sur, who reaped 344 cav/ha in 2005. Another, Fernando Gabuyo of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, produced 355 cav/ha.

Once, Lim told the journalists, a team of SL Agritech, while on to Cagayan Valley, spotted a tricycle bearing a small streamer on which were emblazoned the words “Katas ng SL — 8M”. When interviewed, the driver said he had earned from planting the hybrid rice variety enough to buy two tricycles and to purchase two more hectares of ricefields to add up to his original two ha.

But a few others have become millionaires because of HR. Example is a young farmer who netted P115,000/ha in his 18-ha farm.

In the latest cropping season, some farmers in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, who planted HR also average 10 /tha.

Lim asked the government, with media’s support, to intensify its information program to increase farmers’ awareness on the potentials of hybrid rice.

As it is, he said, more than 90 percent of the country’s farmers have not chosen to plant HR for one reason or another.

Moreover, there are those who continue to criticize the HR program.

Lim did not elaborate, but from this corner’s observations, the disparaging words came from the usual government critics and from farmers themselves who tried the technology but failed because they did not meticulously follow the recommendations in growing hybrid rice.

Once, a Southeast Asian group accused the government of implementing the Hybrid Rice Commercialization Program “even in the absence of proofs that it does increase farmers’ yields.”

A daily newspaper (not The STAR) also had headlined a news report branding hybrid rice as “fit only for animals.”

But the “swivel-chair critics” conveniently glossed over success stories.

“Hybrid rice production is not a lazy man’s job,” outstanding San Mateo (Isabela)) HR farmer Honorato Maningas stressed when interviewed by researchers Imelda Olvida, Charisma Love Gado, and Salembai Abdullah of the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice).

“Some of them (other farmers) are lazy, stubborn, and impatient,” he said.

San Mateo farmer Flor Ramento also volunteered: “My highest yield in inbred rice was only 120 cav/ha. With hybrid, my highest yield was 180 cav/ha. From my profit, I was able to buy farm machines. More important, my children finished schooling (accounting and nursing) through my earnings from hybrid rice.”

Down south, Renerio Guevarra of Digos City, Davao del Sur, told PhilRice: “As long as I use hybrid rice, I get a yield of at least 13 t/ha.

Badong also advised: “Mas maganda siguro kung subukan muna nilang (critics) magtanim ng hybrid rice para ma-experience din nila. Kaya siguro nila nasasabi yung mga negatibong bagay na yan kasi hindi pa nila nasusubukan. Nakikinig lamang sila siguro sa sabi-sabi.

Why isn’t Cebu represented in the air panel?

By Bobit S. Avila
The Philippine Star

I got an e-mailed reaction to the April 18 article about my meeting with Lance Gokongwei, as the success of Cebu Pacific Air was linked to the growth of our domestic tourism, especially in Central Visayas. But this letter is truly an eye-opener or should I say a wake-up call about the future of Cebu’s international tourism industry. No doubt, the person who wrote me this letter is an industry insider and truly knows what’s going on, that is why I was requested that the name of the writer be withheld.

“Dear Mr. Avila, I read with great interest your column today regarding your talk with Lance Gokongwei of Cebu Pacific. The public takes its hat of, indeed, to Cebu Pacific for providing low-cost air services to the traveling public and most importantly, for providing competition in servicing our domestic air routes. The Cebu Pacific phenomenon would not have been possible if not for Executive Order 219, signed during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, liberalizing our air services, thus making it possible for Cebu Pacific, Asian Spirit, and SEAIR to provide the Filipino people good alternatives to Philippine Airlines. Now that our domestic destinations are well served, we should turn our attention to our international routes, which are still underserved.

“Cebu, as a growth center in Central Philippines for tourism, trade and commerce, is not well-served by our Civil Aeronautics Board. Are you aware, for instance, that under our Air Services Agreement with Singapore, Cebu has to share 8,700 seats per week with Manila and Davao? Silk Air is currently mounting 288 extra seats per week, above its allowed capacity, between Singapore and Cebu. These seats will still have to become permanent entitlements in the next round of negotiations with Singapore and will have to be shared with Davao.

“The Bangkok-Cebu route will have to be expanded as well, from the 850 seats per week, which are allowed under the current agreement. Expanding this route will enable our local carriers and their Thai counterparts to develop the network from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, etc. and bring in the European markets to Cebu and the rest of Central Philippines.

“I suggest that the Cebuanos get their act together and lobby PGMA to include a representative from the Cebu private sector in the Philippine air negotiating panel. Take a good look at Clark. It is represented in the air panel by the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC). Thus, each time there are air talks, Clark is able to get its voice heard. The growth in the number of air passengers to Clark is very dramatic – from 7,880 passengers in 2003 to 540,000 in 2007 – a 673 percent growth in just four years!

“Get the CAB to schedule air talks soonest with Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan with the sole objective of increasing flights between our countries. The last time we had air talks with Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia was in 1995 with Taiwan, in 2000! While the rest of the world has been busy increasing air connectivity, the Philippines has been sleeping or at least lulled into believing that our national flag carrier is doing us a great service.

“If and when these air talks are finally scheduled, be sure Cebu is represented. All it needs is for PGMA to issue an amendment to EO 296, which constitutes the air panel. She should have no problem doing that. She loves Cebu and the Cebuanos and the Central Philippines, as a Super Region for Tourism is one of her centerpiece projects. Regards and more power! (Name withheld upon request.)”

Thanks to this letter for giving us a ton of information about the Philippine air negotiating panel, of which I submit I only have a vague idea. Pardon my ignorance, all the time I thought that these air negotiations where done only at the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). If not for this letter, I wouldn’t have known that Cebu wasn’t represented in the air panel despite our having the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) since the early 90s.

Hence, it is time to lobby for Cebu’s inclusion in the air panel and this can be done through the Regional Development Council (RDC-7) chaired by Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia or if our Cebuano congressmen would care to issue a resolution asking PGMA to have Cebu represented in that panel.

But more important perhaps is that the last time we had talks with the air panel was eight years ago, so while the airline industry is experiencing a crisis of sorts because of record highs in the prices of fuel, however, thanks to competition in the airline industry, many Asians, especially in ASEAN, are flying the regional routes, and this is why we need to restart those air panel talks right away. I hope my friend Tourism Boss Ace Durano is listening.

Solons told to support food initiatives

Ben R. Rosario
The Manila Bulletin

House Speaker Prospero C. Nograles yesterday rallied members of the House of Representatives to support a six-point legislative initiative as the chamber’s contribution in addressing the rice supply situation in the country.

The legislative agenda includes the grant of incentives to banks that will accept farmlands as collateral for agricultural loans and a bounty system for informants who could turn in to authorities suspected rice hoarders.

Nograles directed the House Committee on Agriculture to conduct regional consultations with farmers to determine other legislative measures that might guarantee a successful food security program in the country.

Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra, House Agriculture panel chairman, said the nationwide consultations will start immediately. He added that reports on proposed legislative measures will have to be acted upon before Congress takes another break in June.

In a press conference, Nograles said food sufficiency and food production are vital issues that the House should tackle swiftly.

"We do not want to get into a situation where we will have hungry and angry people. We also believe that if we are not food sufficient, if this country is dependent for food on other countries, we will be at the mercy of the countries who can supply us with food," the House leader stressed.

Nograles said the foremost among the six legislative proposals to be fasttracked is the legislative support for corporate farming.

Under the bill, the country’s top corporations will be encouraged to produce the rice requirement for their employees.

"We will ask the private sector, the most profitable corporations in the country, to start going into corporate farming to produce food mainly for their own employees and their families," Nograles said.

According to the House leader, talks with officials of Smart, Globe Telecoms, Gokongwei Group, San Miguel Corp., and the Ayala Corp. will be scheduled soon to explain to them the program.

Asia now has enough rice supply — ADB

The Manila Bulletin

SINGAPORE (Dow Jones) — Asia shouldn’t panic about a rice shortfall since the region now has enough supply to cover demand, said Rajat Nag, managing director general of the Asian Development Bank Tuesday.

Rice prices have soared along with other food commodities this year, which is a particular problem for Asia where it is a staple food.

Last year, global rice demand rose by 0.9 percent while production increased by 0.7 percent, but while stocks are at their lowest in decades, he said they are sufficient for now.

Many countries have opted to ban certain food exports or impose price controls but these have "counterproductive effects" on the planting decisions of farmers, he told reporters.

While such moves might help individual countries, trade bans can hurt other countries and are detrimental to longer-term trade relations. He urged Asian countries to work together to ensure their neighbors have sufficient supplies of key commodities but said a regional fuel or food bank wasn’t the best solution.

He urged additional spending on, in particular, agricultural research into how best to boost yields and infrastructure — agricultural or otherwise — to ensure supplies get swiftly to where they are most needed.

Nag blamed, among other things, the pursuit of biofuels and biofuel subsidies for the current rise in food prices.

Companies' 2007 Net Earnings

(Figures are in pesos)

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) [2%] 36B
Ayala [33%] 16.2B
Globe [13%] 13.3B
SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) [14%] 12B
BPI [11%] 10B
JG Summit [33.4%] 8.61B (Philstar figure as of 16 Apr 2008)
Metrobank [27.5%] 7.04B
Banco de Oro Unibank, Inc. (BDO) [2%] 6.5B
Pilipinas Shell [54%] 6.36B
Development Bank of the Philippines [26%] 4.72B
First Holdings [63%] 4.4B
First Gen Corporation [14%] 4.3B
Aboitiz Power [124%] 4.1B
China Bank [4.8%] 3.68B
Vista Land [138%] 3.47B
Alliance Global Group Inc. (AGI)[14%] 3.3B
Union Bank [15.5%] 2.9B
International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) [52%] 2.7B
Security Bank [42%] 2.7B
Robinsons Land [42%] 2.44B
Jollibee [9.4%] 2.36B
GMA Network [10%] 2.3B
Holcim Philippines Inc. (HPI) [47%] 2.2B
Filinvest Land [87.1%] 1.68B
First Metro [33%] 1.4B
PNB [50%] 1.23B
ABS-CBN [62%] 1.2B
Alaska [65%] 663M
Phil-Seven profit [172%] P54.83M

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Update photos of the Northrail-Southrail linkage

Click here for photos at

Congress leaders assure PGMA of the passage of 17 administration bills


House Speaker Prospero Nograles assured President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today that the House of Representatives would pass at least 17 bills under the administration’s Common Legislative Agenda (CLA).

Nograles made the assurance during the joint Legislative-Executive and Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) and National Price Coordinating Council (NPCC) meeting in Malacanang Tuesday, which the President presided over.

Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye said House leaders promised to pass on or before May 1, the cheaper quality medicines bill and the income tax exemption for the minimum wage earners from paying income tax.

Bunye said nine senators, 13 congressmen, and sectoral representatives were present during the joint LEDAC and NPCC meeting.

He noted that aside from Congress, the Senate under the leadership of Senate President Manny Villar is equally determined to be part of the solutions to the country’s rice problem by passing 17 priority bills.

“I believe everybody is interested and is looking for solutions. That is a good start,” Bunye said describing the atmosphere during the meeting.

The administration’s Common Legislative Agenda (CLA) to be targeted for passage before end of the first regular session of the 14th Congress in June 2008 are proposed measures on:

1. Affordable Quality Medicines
2. Credit Information System
3. Establishment of the Personal Equity Retirement Account (PERA)
4. The bill amending the Customs Brokers Act
5. The bill imposing stiffer penalties for Illegal Possession of Explosives
6. Amendments to the EPIRA Law
7. Renewable Energy
8. National Tourism Policy
9. Amnesty Proclamation
10. Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) Extension with Credit Access Mechanism
11. Income Tax Exemption for Minimum Wage Earners
12. Consumer Protection
13. Amendments to the Ombudsman Charter
14. Witness Protection
15. Anti-Smuggling Act
16. Magna Carta for Women
17. Fire Protection Modernization

The LEDAC meeting, the first for this year, also discussed the rice problem and measures to mitigate the impact on the lives of the people of the rising prices of other commodities.

PGMA, Congress leaders’ meeting centered on producing more rice


The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council’s (LEDAC) discussion on the problem of supply and price of rice centered on “producing more” of the commodity, and it has been “tacitly approved… and incorporated.”

Thus revealed Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye in his briefing this afternoon (April 22, Tuesday) about the regular Tuesday Cabinet meeting, and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) that followed, specifically on the country’s rice situation.

“Everyone was in general agreement that we have to take care of rice production and distribution,” added Bunye who enthused that the attendance of senators in the LEDAC was “more than the usual attendance from the Senate.”

Bunye said nine of the 24 senators attended the council meeting, including Senate President Manuel Villar, and Senators Mar Roxas, Rodolfo Biazon, Francis Pangilinan, Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

On the other hand, members of the House of Representatives who attended the meeting was headed by House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

“Everybody is concerned (and wants to) contribute to the solution of our (rice) problem… Everybody wants solutions – that’s a good start,” Bunye enthused further.

The LEDAC, explained the Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman, is a “regular mechanism that is called from time to time to discuss common legislative (measures).”

“It has worked – the discussion was very lively this morning – it is a movement forward,” Bunye continued.

The discussion, explained Bunye, “centered on producing more… It was tacitly approved (and it has) been incorporated.”

Press Sec Bunye also revealed that “there was no question on the presentation per se” of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap who showed the joint body a 14-slide power point report entitled “The Rice Situation.”

Yap also showed an eight-slide presentation on the “Prevailing Prices of Unprocessed Agricultural Commodities monitored by DA-BAS (Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Statistics),” namely: rice, sugar, cooking oil, meat and poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits.

The LEDAC discussed 17 priority measures that were contained in the “Proposed LEDAC Common Legislative Agenda.” The measures include the following:

Priority Measure No. 10 which seeks to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); Priority Measure No. 12 about Consumer Protection that includes Senate Bill 2074 (Consumer Food Safety Act); and the proposed Anti-Smuggling Act.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Opening Statement during the Joint LEDAC-NPCC Meeting

EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATIVE MEETING--President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presides over the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) and National Price Coordinating Council (NPCC) Meeting Tuesday (April 22) at Malacanang's Heroes' Hall. Also in photo are House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Senate President Manuel Villar, Senator Francisco Pangilinan, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Richard Gordon, and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri. (Rey Baniquet/OPS-NIB Photo)


I call this LEDAC Meeting to order.

And for today we have invited also the members of the Price Coordinating Council. Can we ask Secretary Peter Favila to lead the opening prayer.

Mr. Vice President and the other members of the Cabinet, Mr. Senate President and the other members of the Senate, Mr. Speaker and the other members of the House, other members of LEDAC, members of the Price Coordinating Council, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to this LEDAC Meeting.

Today is Earth Day and in our Cabinet meeting earlier we took up the theme of DENR for this year which is “Clean Water.”

The environment has a great deal to do with the high fuel prices, the global climate change and the lessen production of food in the world today. So, what we will be discussing with the Price Coordinating Council yesterday is also very much a result of the events that have happened to the environment over the past several years.

Our vision is based on a strong and growing economy. It’s the central pillar that we have labored to create to help guarantee peace, order and stability in our country.

The results of our efforts come none too soon. There are global clouds on the horizon that are driving up the price of oil and food, particularly rice. Thankfully, with the support of previous legislation and with Executive Action and with the good work of our business sector, our workers, our farmers, we are now in a position to weather this storm.

But this is a global problem and we must work together to resolve this.

We are totally sensitive to the fact that a large segment of the Philippine population is price sensitive.

Sa buong kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, sama-samang pagkakabalikatan ang laging nagpapatibay at nagdadala ng ating sambayanan lampas ng mga ligalig, kalamidad at pagtutulungan sumagabal sa bansa.

Pagkakaisa at pagtutulungan din ang ating pakay sa mahalagang pulong sa araw na ito.

Paiigtingin ang ating pagsisikap na maipasa ang kinakailangang mga batas, lalo na para sa abot-kayang gamot, kaltas-buwis sa mga manggagawa, proteksyon ng mga mamimili, reporma sa lupa,, mga panukala para sa ating kalikasan at mga panukala upang umakit ng negosyo at lumikha ng trabaho.

Dinig natin ang panawagan ng mamamayan na magkapit-bisig ang lahat, anuman ang partido, upang sama-sama nating maihatid sa abot-kayang halaga ang pagkain, paggamot, at iba pang biyaya ng kaunlaran sa bawat Pilipino.

During the entire administration, we have have been focused on our economy and modernizing every aspect of the economic underpinnings of the Philippines. This includes agriculture, from development of new hybrids to bringing irrigated land to 1.4 million hectares -- the largest irrigated area ever in our history -- to investments in best agricultural practices, to increases in loans to help our farmers purchase the best equipment, among other activities. What is happening now with rice and global prices despite all these efforts is a once in a millennium global crisis.

Because we must work together to resolve this, together with other countries but most of all, among ourselves, we have invited the Price Coordinating Council, leaders of the private sector to join our meeting.

Once again, welcome to all!

And as we excuse the media we can now go to Secretary Jake Lagonera who will start us with the briefing on the common legislative agenda.

P1B earmarked for new SCTEx interchanges

By Chris T. Navarro

MABALACAT - The construction of the P417 million Clark South Interchange will start this month to directly link the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) and the Clark Freeport Zone to the P27.7 billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).

At least P1 billion will be poured into the construction of the new interchanges along SCTEx that include a new one in Floridablanca, one in Porac, and two in Clark, near Mabalacat.

"This is a welcome development in the area because it will maximize development of DMIA, the Clark Freeport Zone and the nearby communities like Mabalacat town," said Mabalacat Mayor Marino "Boking" Morales.

Morales said there are two interchanges linking Mabalacat town to SCTEx -- the Dolores Interchange and the Mabiga Interchange.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) is planning to build two interchanges within Clark -- the Clark South Interchange which will connect to Clark's Mitchell Highway and the Panday Pira Interchange which will lead to Expo Filipino.

Morales said with the construction of the Clark South Interchange and the Panday Pira Interchange, Mabalacat town will have three entry points to the Clark Freeport Zone.

"We hope for more progressive Mabalacat," said Morales, who together with Pampanga local officials led by Representative Carmelo Lazatin and Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan welcomed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her Monday's short visit to SCTEX.

Morales said with SCTEx, "Clark will be an investment haven."

"Because of her strong leadership (President Arroyo), we believe that her vision for the Philippines being a first world country by 2020, will be realized," said the mayor.

The proposed Clark South Interchange, which will have two toll plazas, will be built at a cost of P416,939,116.55 and is expected to be finished by January next year.

"We are happy that PGMA (President Arroyo) exerted political will to have this (interchanges) funded immediately because it is a vital element in linking the two ports," said former Clark Investors and Locators Association (Cila) president Frankie Villanueva.

SCTEx is expected to play an important role in the development of the mega-logistics and services hub in the Subic-Clark Corridor, with Subic as site of a deep-sea port and Clark as site of an international airport.

President Arroyo had envisioned the development of a logistics and services hub in the corridor in a bid to have a seamless flow of goods in and out of the country.

Ombudsman sacks 9 public works execs over ASEAN lamp posts

By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

The Office of the Ombudsman yesterday ordered the dismissal from public service of a director of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), eight other officials of the agency, and eight city engineers of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu cities in Cebu province for alleged overpricing of decorative lampposts installed for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit held in Cebu last year.

In a 25-page decision, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said DPWH Regional Director Robert Lala, formerly assigned at Region 7 and now at the National Capital Region office of the department, and the other respondents have committed the administrative offense of grave misconduct for acquiring 1,800 lampposts and other street lighting facilities that were excessively overpriced.

The case involved the acquisition and installation of lampposts and street lighting facilities along the streets of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu cities for the 12th ASEAN Summit held in January 2007. The Ombudsman said Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arthur Radaza should also be held liable since, as the properly designated official with the duty to protect the government at all times, he should have been discerning in affixing his signature on documents for the lighting facilities.

“The DPWH officials are the ones who most obviously appear to be liable as they were the ones who approved all programs of work, awarded the projects to winning contractors, and executed the corresponding contracts,” Gutierrez stressed.

Also dismissed from the DPWH were Gloria Dindin, former assistant director for Region 7; Marlina Alvizo, assistant director and chair of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the regional office; Pureza Fernandez, officer-in-charge of the Maintenance Division; Cresensio Bagolor, assistant chief of Maintenance Division; BAC members Agustinito Hermoso, Luis Galang, Restituto Diano, and Buenaventura Pajo.

The city engineers of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu cities involved in the project were likewise ordered dismissed. They were identified as Hidelisa Latonio, Gregorio Omo, Mario Gerolaga, Alfredo Sanchez, Rosalina Denque, Julito Cuizon, Fernando Tagaan Jr., and Rodelio Veloso.

The Ombudsman also ordered the dismissal from service of former Mandaue City Mayor Thadeo Ouano for approving the Program of Works and Detailed Estimates (POWE) of the facilities despite the glaring overprice. But since Ouano no longer holds public office, penalties of forfeiture of benefits and perpetual disqualification were imposed on him.

Aside from dismissal from public service, charges of violation of R.A. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) were also filed yesterday with the Sandiganbayan against Lala, Ouano, and the other DPWH officials and city engineers.

Gutierrez also filed graft charges against Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Radaza, Isabelo Braza, president and chairman of contractor Fambik Construction and Equipment Supply Company; and Gerardo Surla, chairman of Gambik Construction and Development, Inc.

The Ombudsman said Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., however, was not included in the charges because he was not identified as a respondent in the complaint filed by various groups after the investigating panel reviewed the complaints.

“We based it on evidence, not on allegations. The investigation was based on the complaint and Secretary Ebdane was not included. So we don’t have basis to charge him,” said Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni.

Ebdane said the DPWH has not received any communication yet from the Ombudsman on the case of Lala and the eight other DPWH officials.

He said the department would exhaust all legal means to help Lala and the eight officials who have been ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman.

He said they will ask the anti-graft court to reconsider its decision, and if they lose in the graft case, they could still seek the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Lala denied having any knowledge of the accusations against him.

Wala akong alam, wala akong alam. Prayer na lang muna kami dahil wala kaming kasalanan dyan (I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything. We’ll just pray since we have no fault here),” Lala said.

Gutierrez issued the order upon recommendation of the fact-finding committee created by Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas to investigate the alleged anomaly in the P365-million project.

She ruled that the overpricing was proven by simple comparison of the POWE prepared by Mandaue City and importation documents of the lampposts from China.

The import documents showed that the cost of the poles used for the lighting facilities was ten times cheaper compared to the declared prices.

A single-arm pole was imported at P7,536, but was declared in the POWE at P72,500. The government paid P85,500 each for double-arm poles that actually cost only P8,121. A triple-arm pole originally cost P9,523 but was padded ten times and declared at P95,000.

The apex-type lampposts originally cost P6,738 each while the dome-like lampposts could be bought at P11,750. Their prices were supposedly declared at P50,000 each in the POWE.

Lala, Dindin, Fernandez and Bagolor did not file any counter-affidavit with the anti-graft body during the investigation.

Some of the respondents argued in their respective defenses that the costs in the importation documents should not be used as basis for assessment as they were declared for taxation purposes only.

Officials of the DPWH regional office in Cebu also maintained that the price estimates for the lampposts were reasonable and competitive.

But the investigating panel stressed that the overpricing of the lampposts based on documents was undeniable.

“By their signatures (in the contracts), respondents own up not only to their respective participation in the preparation of the subject documents, but also whatever import and consequences arising from there.

Inevitably, they should be made accountable for the overpriced costs they placed in the Program of Works and Detailed Estimates,” the Ombudsman said in its decision.