Saturday, 3 May 2008

President Arroyo on economy issues

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Speech during the General Assembly and Induction of Officers of the Federation of Philippine Industries and Launching of the FPI-FFCCCII Advocacy “Buy Pinoy – Buy Local”
Grand Ballroom, Hotel Intercontinental Manila, makati city, May 2, 2008

Thank you.

Thank you Secretary Ermita for your introduction and thank you for being here at the same time that your brother is here. It turns out he’s a member of the Board of Directors of FPI. Now, we have a direct link between Malacañang and the FPI.

Chairman Carlos, President Arranza, Executive Vice President Coseteng, other officials of FPI, other officials of the Philippine government -- we see Bayani Fernando and Bebot Villar here -- officials of the Federation, ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, Congratulations to the newly-inducted officers of FPI. And thank you for working with the government and the rest of the business community and the labor community as well to promote the growth of the nation’s industries.

Congratulations on your fight against smuggling! Congratulations on your joint project with the Federation on your “Buy Pinoy - Buy Local” campaign. The campaign against smuggling and the campaign to ‘Buy Pinoy,’ as Jess Arranza said earlier, are related to each other because as Jess quoted earlier, “When the buying stops, smuggling stops.” So, the move to ‘Buy Pinoy’ is a market-based solution to smuggling.

Other things being equal, economists like me focus on market-based solutions except that many times economists like me interpret the market-based solution to mean that they don’t necessarily believe in buying local because they don’t necessarily believe that buying local is always in the best interest of the nation. The argument given in Orthodox Economics is that other things being equal, there are instances when it will cost a huge amount of money and create inefficiencies to merely buy local.

But as has been said on this platform earlier other things are not equal when there is smuggling.

And so, therefore, we support the campaign to buy local. And to support your campaign, I hereby instruct Secretary Ermita -- your brother in Malacañang -- to reissue our Executive Order regarding the Government’s Preferential Procurement of Materials and Supplies Produced, Made and Manufactured in the Philippines.

The challenge here is to reconcile the legitimate interests of our local businessmen, on the one hand, with the obligation to make available the best goods and services for our taxpayers at the lowest cost from a truly open and competitive market. But given the track record of FPI in supporting our initiatives for a better life for our people, there is enough good faith and goodwill in FPI for us to master that challenge together.

We share the challenge of fighting smuggling. The leaders of FPI here on stage and I also share a governance style based on faith and hard work. I have made tough and politically unpopular decisions to raise revenues and crack down on smugglers so that we could invest in our infrastructure and our people. There is no room in the development of our country to tolerate smuggling and the corruption that goes with it when so much remains to be done to invest in the nation.

We have a lot of room to increase our tax and customs collections through strengthening investments in technology and innovation, bolstering our compliance and anti-corruption efforts, and regulatory and legislative reforms we will deliver on the necessary revenue to balance the budget and make the vital investments that have been neglected for a generation. We count on FPI to help implement new innovations and also to evaluate the use of sophisticated technologies that will allow us to increase collections.

We will soon have watchdog bodies for the Bureau of Customs, as mentioned by Jess. I note a recent report that the PORTALS program linking customs with industry sectors is getting ready for start-up. We expect the FPI to be part of the PORTALS.

I guess some of you might have noticed that I was on the phone and on the text while I was still seated, that’s because I called up Customs, and you know earlier when we were in Customs there was a name that keep frequently coming up among the importers, about three cases, successive, that with the reports from industry or with our spot checks they came out and now charges are being filed against them. In fact, charges had been filed against them and new charges are being filed against them. So I said, the problem is how did they get accredited to begin with. So, I asked Jess Arranza earlier, “Remember the last time I spoke before the FPI, I said I want you to be part of the Accreditation Committee.” So he said, it hasn’t been done yet, that’s why I called up Boy Morales. So he said, “Please tell them it’s going to be done. FPI will be part of the new Accreditation Committee.” You see Boy reorganized the Accreditation Committee, because precisely as I said, how come this guy gets caught three times in a row. How did he get accredited in the first place? So, Boy had to reorganize the Accreditation Committee and in this reorganized Accreditation Committee you will be there.

I have put a lot of pressure on our Customs Bureau. You’ve seen part of it on TV, a lot of it is also behind closed doors and executive sessions. But I have also taken an interest in making sure that this area gets the support it needs for me to deliver positive results.

But the principle of “No buyers, No sellers” -- if there are no buyers, there will be no sellers -- applies not only to smuggled goods. It also applies to the anti-corruption program. So, I ask the FPI to make sure that the private sector does not seek “slight favors” from your working friends in the Customs. That should be one of the responsibilities of FPI -- that kind of culture in the business community

From the day I took office, we have been focused not only on protecting our industries from the unfair competition of smuggling but also on modernizing every aspect of the underpinnings of global competitiveness, so that you will be at par even with the fair competition. And we have in last year’s State of the Nation Address... no, two years ago in 2006, I enumerated the strategic areas where we are working, investing in a comprehensive program on competitiveness including:

1. Making food affordable to keep our labor cost globally competitive. And I’m glad, as was mentioned earlier -- was it Ito who said? -- that the labor sector has been very cooperative with us. And it is only right that we make sure that their food remains affordable;

2. Reducing the cost of electricity to make our factories regionally competitive;

3. Modernizing infrastructure to efficiently transport goods and people;

4. Mobilizing and upgrading knowledge and technologies for productivity; and

5. Reducing red tape -- and the ultimate red tape is corruption -- reducing red tape in all agencies to cut business costs.

Let me say a little bit about each of these five. On food, we have been working on agricultural modernization, from the development of new hybrids -- which we have been working with the IRRI, for instance. I just came from there today -- to see how their new innovations can be rolled out. To unprecedented investments in irrigation -- 1.4 million hectares, never seen before in history. And to dramatic increases in loans, four-fold as a matter of fact, to help our farmers purchase better equipment.

But as Ito mentioned, there are global clouds on the horizon that are driving up the price of oil and food, particularly rice. And again as Ito mentioned, thankfully, we are now in a vastly improved position to weather this storm than at any other time in recent memory.

I’ve seen this coming for some time now -- certainly before the world took notice. That is why we were reaching out to Thailand and Vietnam for rice supply long before the headlines. So don’t be alarmed by today’s headlines, both Thailand and Vietnam and other neighbors elsewhere, have already concluded contracts with us of 1.2 million metric tons enough to cover the 10 percent differential between our production and our consumption.

If we’re to go into the market again it’s for buffer stocks so that’s why it’s a “take it or leave it” situation as far as NFA is concerned. In other words, we can take it or we can leave it, depending on how the prices are. We are managing the issue the best way possible through our three-step program to contain price and prevent a crisis. FAO named 36 countries in a rice crisis. Certainly, the Philippines is not one of them. FAO has said that too. One of the three phases is to ensure supply, which as I just mentioned earlier, we have essentially done for the foreseeable future. Two, guarantee distribution, particularly to those most in need, and we are doing that through our own distribution to schools when classes start, as well as through the church and religious network. Third, we are ensuring enforcement of consumer protection by a fierce effort to crack-down on rice bandits especially those who divert NFA rice and tag it as commercial rice so they can get a higher price for it.

On the second area of competitiveness – electricity. I have been wondering aloud why power costs in Luzon, in the Luzon Urban Beltway, where many of you operate, should be so high when Luzon is reliant on imported oil for only one percent of its power.

And therefore we know there is room for improvement in the rates. I have instructed NAPOCOR to charge Meralco only P4.11 per kilowatt hour, the same rate it charges Luzon Electric Cooperatives, instead of the 6 to 10 pesos at which Meralco has been buying from NAPOCOR and from WESM at peak hours.

Last night, at a meeting after midnight -- one of the very few meetings we have after midnight because Ed and I usually sleep very early -- but Ed was in the meeting and we are happy that when we were asking NAPOCOR to account for it, they did even better. The generation cost of high load factor PEZA Ecozone locators has been reduced to an average NPC billing rate to Meralco not of P4.11 but of P P3.52 per kilowatt hour.

There are a number of petitions I instructed to be filed before the Energy Regulatory Board:

1) Is to enjoin MERALCO from buying electricity from WESM at peak hours;

2) Is to ensure preferential treatment for poor households and power-intensive industries in the distribution of Transco charges by Meralco;

3) Prohibit Meralco’s system loss from being charged as a separate item. Remember these are petitions we don’t know how ERC will finally judge and they’re independent of us, so we can’t dictate on them how they will judge;

4) To require Meralco to charge the same as VECO, CEBECO or Davao Light, whose distribution charges along with all the 140 utilities and cooperatives are all lower than Meralco.

We spent last night, or maybe this dawn Ed Ermita and I and a couple of officials who are involved in the petition, where the papers are, what are the missing links, how can they fast track. To make a long story short the ERC will hear these petitions on Tuesday, May 6. Yes, Jess Arranza said you will be there. Please be there with all your legal luminaries because this is going to be a tough legal fight. And you will be the beneficiaries, your workers will be the beneficiaries, your consumers will be the beneficiaries, the Filipino people will be the beneficiaries, but you are the ones with the means and the articulateness to be able to make a good case before the ERC.

In the other branch of government, Congress is in the process of amending the Electric Power Industry Reform Act to remove the requirement of 70 percent power privatization for open access because open access will give industrial consumers like you... we allow industrial consumers like you to enjoy the power of choice which will also mitigate the cost of electricity.

On the third item, infrastructure. This year, investment, public investment will be about 200 billion pesos from the national government, the government corporations and the local government for among other things 9,000 kilometers of roads together with other investments in education, healthcare and training along with new bridges and ports to upgrade our competitiveness among others.

Investing in the vital infrastructure also includes building up our environment as a reflection to our commitment to the quality of life. People need to breathe clean air and swim in clean water while also building manufacturing and bridges to span our waters.

Speaking of clean water. Last Earth Day, we celebrated the environment and the theme of the DENR was “Clean Water.” We had a Cabinet meeting on that day, Tuesday is a Cabinet day. And Secretary Ermita gave us his program on the requirements for clean water. One of the most important waters we have to clean is the Pasig River. And one of the most important reasons for why the Pasig River is not clean is that we have only a five percent coverage, sewerage coverage in Metro Manila. Now sewerage is the responsibility of the two concessionaires so I guess if we want to really be competitive, FPI should also help us to be very persuasive with the two water concessionaires to fast track their sewerage system for which they are charging us after all.

Boosting spending on infrastructure, we are also building a firewall against any global economic volatility and we are creating a springboard for further growth to ensure we are able to sustain our economic momentum.

On knowledge, as part of the billions we are spending in education and training, we are investing three billion pesos in Science and Engineering Research and Technology Development, including scholarships for masters and doctoral degrees in Engineering in seven universities. Upgrade know-how and learning, and Filipino talent is unbeatable.

Speaking of learning and training, I’m glad to hear about the interface between FPI and TESDA, in order to tap TESDA’s resources in education and training to improve the skills and capabilities of workers employed by FPI members.

On red tape. Earlier this year, I instructed the Anti-Red Tape Task Force headed by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, who can’t join us today because after our dawn meeting he had to go to Indonesia to Bali for the Asean Economic Minister’s Meeting. But he heads the Anti-Red Tape Task Force. I tasked him and I tasked the Procurement Transparency Group of Secretary Nonoy Andaya to link up with the business sector, the academe and the church to draft reforms in government systems.
Through constant consultations with your leaders, and with all of you whenever we can, the Cabinet where Ed is the primus interpares and I will continue to seek ways to improve... to help improve industry efficiency. On your part, I encourage local industries to find, defend and expand your competitive niches.

We will continue to support “Buy Pinoy – Buy Local.”

We will continue to partner with you against smuggling. That’s why we have Bebot Villar signing the MOA with FPI. And I’d like to thank Mrs. Arranza because Jess says you’re the one who tells your husband always to be supportive of me. No wonder you are there whenever we need you.

We will be there when you need us.

Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.

NorthWind to complete plant expansion in August

Alena Mae S. Flores
The Manila Standard

Bangui Bay, Ilocos Norte—NorthWind Power Development Corp., owner of the country’s first wind farm, will complete its expansion to 33 megawatts from 24 MW by August.

NorthWind chairman Ferdinand Dumlao said in a briefing that the company had completed the groundwork for the expansion and would be ready to install the wind turbines shortly. The wind turbines are set for shipment to Ilocos Norte.

NorthWind plans to sell the additional capacity to be generated from the expansion to Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative. Any excess would be sold to the wholesale electricity spot market, Dumlao said.

NorthWind supplies 40 percent of the province’s power requirement while National Power Corp. provides the balance.

Dumlao said the company would offer a 7-percent discount on its rates to the cooperative.

He said the company’s expansion plans, including the possibility of setting up a wind farm in Cagayan Valley, had received support from Japanese, Danish and Spanish investors and creditors.

“We hope we can tap more funds so we can expand more in this province,” he said.

Dumlao said the passage of the Renewable Energy Bill would also help in enticing investors to pour in funds for these capital-intensive projects.

“The provision in the RE bill that will allow investors to enjoy incentives will help promote wind energy development,” he added.

Southeast Asia's 1st biogas plant opens in Quezon City

By Perseus Echeminada
The Philippine Star

The first Biogas Emission Reduction Project in Southeast Asia was launched the other day at the Quezon City Controlled Disposal Facility in Barangay Payatas.

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr., together with Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, led the inauguration of the biogas plant which will serve as the city’s contribution in efforts to reduce global warming.

The plant has been registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the country’s first Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) activity.


Arroyo joins Garcia in taking on Meralco

By Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard

PRESIDENT Arroyo has urged business groups to join forces with the government in a “tough legal fight” against the Manila Electric Co. to stop the Lopez-controlled group from charging its system losses to consumers and to bring down its distribution charges.

Mrs. Arroyo yesterday expressed impatience over Meralco’s slow pace in lowering power rates, saying state-owned National Power Corp. had already lowered its generation charges on the biggest distributors of electricity.

She said the decision was reached in a meeting Thursday night with National Power executives and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

At the meeting, National Power officials said they had already reduced the average billing rate to Meralco to P3.52 per kilowatt-hour for high-load customers in the special economic zones.

“I have also instructed Napocor to charge [for all other areas in Luzon] only P4.11 per kilowatt hour, the same rate it charges Luzon electric cooperatives, instead of the P6 to P10 at which Meralco has been buying from the [Wholesale Electricity Spot Market] at peak hours.”

Mrs. Arroyo’s statement came as the Government Service Insurance System, which owns 33 percent of Meralco, pressed the company to release documents detailing its electricity purchases. Meralco management yesterday responded by daring GSIS president Winston Garcia to wrest control of the company.

Garcia said that as a representative of a major stockholder, he simply wanted to know why electricity rates were so high.

In the wake of Meralco’s recent announcement that it would raise electricity rates, Mrs. Arroyo said the government would pursue its case against the power distributor before the Energy Regulatory Commission.

She also asked members of the Federation of Philippine Industries and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries to field their best lawyers during the May 6 commission hearing.

“I am wondering out loud why power rates in the Luzon urban beltway should be so high when Luzon is reliant on imported oil for only 1 percent of its power,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “Therefore, there is room for improvement in the rates.”

Talking to business leaders, Mrs. Arroyo said: “Please be there with all your legal luminaries because this is going to be a tough legal fight and you will be the beneficiaries, your workers will be the beneficiaries, your consumers will be the beneficiaries, the Filipino people will be the beneficiaries, but you are the ones with the means. to make a good case before the [commission.”

The Trade Department had earlier petitioned the energy commission to bar Meralco from passing its system losses to consumers and to force it to lower its 16-percent return on rate base to 12 percent to bring down power costs.

“We want to prohibit Meralco’s system loss from being charged as a separate item,”the President said.

“We also want to require Meralco to charge the same as VECO [the country’s second largest power distributor], Cebeco, or Davao Light, whose distribution charges, along with all 140 utilities and cooperatives in the country, are all lower than Meralco.”

The Trade Department also sought to stop Meralco from buying at the electricity spot market during peak hours, when power is at its most expensive, and to give priority to households and power-intensive industries in the distribution of the charges of the National Transmission Corp. to Meralco.

Mrs. Arroyo said business groups should help the government fight for lower Meralco rates, since the energy commission ws an independent body that could not be ordered around.

“Remember, these are petitions. We don’t know how [the energy commission] will finally rule. They are independent of us, so we can’t dictate on them how they will judge,” she said.

Palace berates Misamis mayor over Hanjin extort claim

By Rene M. Alviar
The Manila Standard

A FURIOUS President Arroyo confronted Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental, Mayor Paulino Emano over charges local officials had demanded money from a South Korean firm to approve its $2-billion shipyard in Mindanao, an official said yesterday.

She then called for an investigation and ordered no one spared, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

He said a task force would look into the matter after officials of Hanjin Heavy Industries complained that the mayors of Tagaloan and Villanueva had extorted money from them, and in exchange for releasing the company’s environmental and business permits.

“The President, who was furious over these charges of extortion, said nobody should be spared in this investigation,” Puno said.

“The conflicting statements of the mayors and Hanjin officials on the charges of bribery and extortion are puzzling, to say the least.”

Emano claimed that it was Hanjin that offered him a P400-million bribe after Mrs. Arroyo confronted him on the matter, Puno said.

He said it was strange that the bribery charges came after a driver employed by Hanjin was allegedly attacked by men connected with the Tagaloan mayor.

“It does not make sense for a group that claims to have been bribed to respond by ordering an attack on a company driver of the alleged briber,” Puno said.

He said the President was concerned that the incident could seriously hurt the government’s efforts to attract foreign investment.

Hanjin is the proponent of the $2-billion Mindanao Training Center Project being put up in the municipalities of Tagaloan and Villanueva in Misamis Oriental, which is expected to generate 40,000 jobs in Northern Mindanao.

Hanjin started the project by clearing the 8-hectare project site, but work on it has since stopped.

“Right now, they [Hanjin] are not inclined to continue with the project,” Puno said.

He said National Police Chief Avelino Razon Jr. ordered the relief of Chief Insp. Claudio Mariquit and Senior Insp. Nannette Odchigue, police chiefs of Tagaloan and Villanueva towns, respectively, to ensure an impartial investigation of the case.

President: Lower power rate

Time for Meralco to give special treatment to poor
By Angelo S. Samonte
The Manila Times

President Gloria Arroyo on Friday said she wants the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to bring down its electricity rate to P3.52 per kilowatt hour (kWh) from the current P6 to P10 per kWh.

President Arroyo cited the recent reduction of generation charges by the National Power Corp. (Napocor). These charges are imposed by Napocor on Meralco, a power distributor. Meralco sources its power from its contracted independent power producers, Napocor and the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

With the reduced generation charges from Napocor, the President said, it is time for Meralco to give preferential treatment to poor consumers.

Mrs. Arroyo added that Meralco could even adopt the lower rates being imposed by electric cooperatives in Davao in the southern Mindanao region and by 142 other electric cooperatives in the rest of the country.

The President asked the private sector to help the government press Meralco into lowering its electricity rate. This sector, she said, can ask Meralco to stop charging consumers for its system losses. Such losses refer to electricity supposedly stolen from the Lopez-owned utility.

Mrs. Arroyo invited business organizations to attend a hearing set for May 6 by the Energy Regulatory Commission on the high cost of electricity in the country.

She told the business groups that any reduction in power rates “will benefit your employees.”

The Lopez-owned Meralco last month raised its electricity rate by P0.9753 per kWh, causing the higher electricity billings in April for consumers in franchise areas of the utility.

A big slice of the rate hike came from Meralco’s higher generation charges, which went up by P0.5188 per kWh, and its distribution charges which shot up by P0.3036 per kWh.

A plunge in the utilization of the country’s coal plants last month resulted in a spike in the distribution charges of Meralco, according to the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC).

In March, the contribution of the coal plants to the power-generation mix at WESM, which is run by PEMC, dropped to 21.3 percent, from 29.9 percent in February.

The share of the more expensive natural gas in the mix soared to 52.9 percent, from 43.8 percent. Other power plants recorded about the same level of utilization from previous months.

The low utilization of the coal plants came after government-owned Napocor signed about P10-billion worth of supply contracts with eight foreign firms for its coal needs this dry season in the country. The season begins usually in April and could last until June.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Philippine President told RP on way to rice self-sufficiency

LOS BANOS, Laguna – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was assured here today that the Philippines is well on the way to regaining self-sufficiency in rice.

The assurance was made by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Dr. Robert Ziegler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), during her visit to the IRRI to witness the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Department of Agriculture (DA) and IRRI entitled “Accelerating Rice Production in the Philippines” at the University of the Philippines (IP) here.

Yap pointed out that Filipino farmers produce more rice per hectare than their Thai counterparts. Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter of the cereal.

He pointed out that the world is experiencing decreasing rice inventory due to raising global demand, climate change and reduced spending on research and infrastructure.

“The UN-FAO (United Nations-Food and Agricultural Organization) has listed 36 countries, Madame President, this year that will need assistance for being food insecure. Nine in Asia alone but the Philippines, being able to produce about 90 percent of our rice needs, is not on, this list,” Yap said.

For a time in the early 1970s, the Philippines was self-sufficient in the staple food.

Under the agreement, the DA and IRRI will undertake joint efforts to increase rice production in the Philippines starting this wet planting season by developing new high-yielding varieties and hybrids.

The two agencies will also assess and increase the output of the current rice growing areas, as well develop new areas using geographic information system, remote sensing, crop and climate modeling and other modern farming techniques.

Zeigler noted that despite the present high yield of palay per hectare in the Philippines, many Filipino farm scientists are working on new farming methods and technologies to further increase production of the cereal.

“The much higher yield that the Philippines had compared to the yields of the world’s largest exporter, Thailand, is testament to the ingenuity, hard work and effectiveness of the Department of Agriculture’s performance,” Ziegler said.

Despite geographical and natural challenges such as typhoons and lack of river deltas, the IRRI said Filipino farmers generally use less pesticides than other Southeast Asian rice farmers and are harvesting almost a ton per hectare, which is higher than the production of their Thai counterparts, he added.

Under the agreement, IRRI and the DA are targeting an average rice harvest of five tons per hectare, which would make Filipino farmers the most productive in Southeast Asia, ahead of Vietnam and Indonesia.

Before the signing ceremony, President Arroyo inspected new rice varieties at the IRRI experimental station and presented to three farmer representatives the one-page fertilizer management guide that would help farmers maximize the use of expensive fertilizers and at the same time produce higher yields.

[Note: Rice output in 2007 in metric tons--Thailand 20M; Philippines close to 17M]

PGMA makes surprise visits during meetings of two Regional Wage Boards

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in unprecedented surprise visits, sat in today during the meetings of two Regional Wage Boards (RWBs), in NCR and Region 3.

In an ambush interview, the President said: “I just want to see for myself how things are going.”

The President also bought packed snacks “to give sustenance to those who are doing overtime work.”

President Arroyo earlier asked the RWBs, thru Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Marianito Roque, to speed up deliberations on new wage levels, “even if they have to work overtime on Labor Day, which is a non-working day for the rest of the country.”

100,000 local & int'l jobs up for grabs in 100 'G.M.A. Job Center Kiosks' nationwide,000

Some 102,000 local and international jobs are up for grabs today as the Department of Labor (DOLE) launches 100 GMA Job Center Kiosks nationwide in celebration of Labor Day.

With the theme “Manggagawang Pinoy: Kasangga sa Pagsulong ng Kaunlaran,” the DOLE said the “simultaneous Jobs Fair will be conducted on May 1, 2008 in all regions (with) a projected 102,000 job vacancies (local and overseas)… available to the job seekers.”

“The GMA Jobs Center Kiosks will be officially launched nationwide with 100 kiosks available in key areas such as malls, LGUs (local government units) and DOLE regional offices,” according to the DOLE.

Ten of the 100 GMA job kiosks are located at the World Trade Center (WTC) at the Cultural Center Complex in Pasay City, where “an estimated 30,000 job vacancies (local and overseas) will be available” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today (May 1).

Some 70 local companies and 38 overseas recruitment agencies are participating at the WTC’s Hall A, with pre-employment documentation services provided by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the National Statistics Office (NSO), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Social Services System (SSS), Pag-ibig Fund, PhilHealth and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Some 20 beneficiaries and ‘Accredited Co-Partners and Rural Workers Associations’ under the DOLE Poverty Free Zone (PFZ) Program are also showcasing their products such as curtains and bed sheets, RTW (ready-to-wear clothes), bakery products, peanut butter, woven products, rice crackers and squash noodles.

Also, the DOLE is awarding a total of P23.5 million in livelihood grants “in selected regions” that will benefit 8,455 workers in both the formal and informal sector.

Of the P23.5-million Labor Day livelihood fund, P9.8 million will be granted to organized workers in the formal sector that will benefit 5,939 workers; while P13.7 million will be awarded to informal sector workers with 2,516 beneficiaries.

Also in various malls nationwide will be a ‘Labor Day Sale’ starting May 1, 2008, in cooperation with the Philippine Retailers Association, and with the following participating retailers, among others: Centropell, 128 Dream Fountain Corp., Kamera World, Miladay Jewels, Adidas Philippines, Festival Supermall, Shangri-la Mall, Robinson’s, and Shoemart.

President Arroyo eyes expansion next year of Strong Republic Nautical Highway

Cagayan de Oro City—The Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH), one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's major legacy projects, is up for expansion next year.

This was revealed by Transportation Undersecretary Maria Elena Bautista during the last day of the three-day 2nd roll-on/roll-off caravan that launched the completion of the SRNH with the test-run of one of the major ro-ro routes---the Central Nautical Highway.

Bautista said the expansion of the SRNH would focus on the east-west lateral connections so as to realize the President's vision of a seamless transport system.

This would entail networks of roads, bridges and ports that would link the Eastern Nautical Highway to the Western Nautical Highway.

To realize this goal, Bautista said based on the workplan of the department for the SRNH for this year until the end of the President's term in 2010, they have identified 15 RORO port projects for development, upgrading or rehabilitation.

These include the ports of Caticlan in Aklan, Dumangas in Iloilo, San Antonio in Sorsogon, Esperanza in Masbate, Daanbantayan in Cebu, Naval in Biliran, Toledo in Cebu, Getate in Bohol, Tabuelan in Cebu, Bogo in Cebu, Balud in Masbate, Taytay in Palawan, Ajuy in Iloilo, Ubay in Bohol and Eagano in Cebu.

Moreover, Bautista said there is also a need to declare as national roads all roads that form part of the SNRH network .

As such, the national government shall fund the construction, maintenance and upgrading of these roads that are part of the SRNH network, especially the ''missing links'' and new connections.

PGMA approves 10% salary increase for gov't workers

ANGELES CITY, Pampanga -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said here today that she has signed an Executive Order (EO) granting a 10-percent increase in the basic pay of government workers effective July 1.

The President made the announcement after sitting in on the deliberations of the Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board (RTWPB) of Region III here this afternoon (May 1, Thursday).

Funds for the salary increase will be taken from the 2008 national budget which includes a P41 billion allocation for miscellaneous benefits of government employes.

Earlier, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the EO would be similar to last year's issuance which granted civilian employees of the national government a 10 percent increase in their basic salary.

Last year’s EO also granted a P1,200 increase in the monthly subsistence and other allowances of policemen, soldiers and other uniformed personnel.

Andaya explained that a 10-percent increase in the basic salary of the employees of the national government would require more than P9 billion over a six-month period.

Similarly, a 10 percent increase in the basic salary of some 277,900 policemen, soldiers, firemen, jail guards and Coast Guard personnel alone would cost an additional funding of P2.84 billion for six months.

Hanjin allowed to continue ship building operations

BusinessWorld Online
With a report from Geefe P. Alba

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — Local executives of the two towns hosting a $2-billion shipyard project of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. in Misamis Oriental have agreed to withdraw halt orders on the Korean firm’s operations.

A statement sent to BusinessWorld on Wednesday night by the regional office of the Interior and Local Government department said Mayors Paulino Y. Emano of Tagoloan and Juliette T. Uy of Villanueva had lifted the stoppage order on the operation of Hanjin inside the Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corp. (Phividec) industrial estate.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, during her visit to this city on Wednesday, spoke with the two mayors and ordered Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar S. Moreno to head task force Hanjin Mindanao, which should find ways to resolve the issue.

President Arroyo listens as officials of South Korea-based Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corporation explains to her points about the Koreans’ $1-billion investment during her visit to the Hanjin shipbuilding construction site at the Subic Bay Freeport in this file photo dated Sept. 27, 2006. — BW File Photo

Undersecretary Renato L. Ebarle of the Presidential Management Staff, Interior and Local Government Regional Director Quirino M. Libunao and Phividec Administrator Ninfa A. Albania had been speaking with the mayors for days to stop their opposition to the Hanjin project.

Hanjin was reportedly thinking of pulling out its project — a major investment accomplishment of the Arroyo administration — due to problems with the host communities.

Since March, residents of the two towns have been complaining that the company and its contractors had failed to make some good promises on relocation, as well as on the hiring of locals.

During a public consultation in late March, Eduardo Rubic, Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp. project coordinator, assured the towns of Villanueva and Tagoloan that these would be prioritized for hiring.

But he also said not all applicants who are residents of the two towns would all be accepted by the company.

"Applicants will have to be chosen properly and they will pass through standard procedures. If the employer is dissatisfied with the skills and qualifications of the applicants, then they won’t be accepted," Mr. Rubic told participants during a dialogue with community leaders.

The regional office of the Interior and Local Government department said both mayors had agreed to allow Hanjin to continue operating provided it complies with agreements it had agreed to, including the relocation of affected families and the employment of local workers.

Mario B. Sumalinog, team leader of MJ Consulting Services, a firm subcontracted by Hanjin, said the shipyard has assembly and repair bays to cater to large ships of up to 120,000 tons and other marine vessels, a power station, fabrication facilities, warehouse and structures for housing and offices.

The complex will be built in five years and, once completed, will have the capacity to build 12 large ocean-going ships every year under a state-of-the-art automated system.

The total area to be used by the Korean firm is estimated to be 500 hectares.

Aside from its shipyard site, a training center and a staff house for Korean nationals will also be put up, which are estimated to require at least 16 more hectares.

JPEPA: The way forward

BusinessWorld Online

IN 2002, the Philippine government was granted a unique opportunity to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States, when careful preparations were made during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Mexico for Pres. George W. Bush to have the Philippines take the lead in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to negotiate a two-way economic partnership with the world’s largest economy.

Unfortunately, our country proved unable to grasp this mandate to lead what would have been a pioneering initiative to strengthen our own bilateral economic ties with the United States, and to deepen US engagement in Southeast Asia even further, at a time when US Congress held positive views on free trade agreements (FTAs).

In belated realization of its importance, our government finally decided last year to aggressively revisit the FTA proposal with the US government. By then, however, the window had long since started to close. Other countries had proceeded ahead of the Philippines on FTA talks with the United States, while the mood in the US Congress became less favorable to free trade generally.

It was, sadly, a missed opportunity to propel our national development and progress.

On the official agenda of the Philippine government now lies the future of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), a formal bilateral undertaking designed to consolidate our economic links with Japan, which is the world’s second largest economy.

Similar to other economic agreements with foreign powers of great importance, it may be reasonably assumed that the provisions of JPEPA were expertly negotiated in great detail by both sides. Furthermore, while it is not possible to foresee every conceivable problem, perceived or real, that JPEPA might create, it is nonetheless equally reasonable to assume that two friendly states, with a well-established record of amity and cooperation, should be able to iron out any remaining differences in a mutually satisfactory and diplomatic fashion.

The significance of JPEPA is that it is expected to achieve the twofold purpose of liberalizing and enlarging trade and investment between the Philippines and Japan, while establishing a legal framework to deepen our interdependent partnership. In an era of dynamic globalization and of deepening regional integration, the building of such partnerships is a key strategic objective of all states, large or small, industrialized or emerging.

The Philippines must not be left behind again in this process.

Accordingly, 20 leading professional and business organizations, including the Management Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and others, have signed a joint manifesto for the ratification of JPEPA which concludes that collective economic gains anticipated will far outweigh the feared losses.

Among the expected benefits of JPEPA which the manifesto cited were:

  • Continued growth of Philippine exports to Japan, by at least 20%, in four vital industries, i.e., garments, semiconductors, furniture and automotive. The agreement is expected to attract additional investment of up to $444 million, resulting in the creation of 150,000 new jobs. It will also lead to a positive movement of upstream industries into these vital areas, which is projected to generate $750 million of additional economic activity.
  • In addition, millions of rural workers will be benefited when the agreement opens up a new tariff-free market over time for a broad range of Philippine tropical fruit (mangoes, pineapples, bananas, etc.) vegetable and seafood exports (tuna, shrimps, crabs, among others).
  • The agreement will restore the Philippines as a major competitive investment destination in East Asia and will help us to narrow the gap with our more economically dynamic neighbors in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI). When ratified, the agreement is projected to attract an estimated P365 billion in direct Japanese investments over four years, triggering a new FDI wave for our country.
  • Furthermore, the agreement will reinforce the position of the Philippines as a major production base for Japanese automotive, electronics and semiconductor industries, at a time when both the Philippines and Japan must deal with increased competition in these areas from other economics.

A recent paper by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) concluded that JPEPA will be good for the economy. This is a well-studied assessment by a major Philippine think tank that deserves to be seriously considered in assessing the value of JPEPA.

PIDS conservatively estimates that, for the medium to long term, real Philippine gross domestic product gain would range from .09% to 1.7%. Moreover, PIDS believes that the more significant gains will arise, not from greater access to the Japanese market, but from the improvement in the investment climate as a result of enhanced features of the agreement.

PIDS has pointed out further that the emphasis on cooperation in the agreement should help to draw in more Japanese investment capital, technology and expertise, which would strengthen our capacity to meet the mounting challenges of the new age of globalization and help out country’s economic catch-up process. Programs and prospects of cooperation under JPEPA will encompass human resource development, financial services, information and communication technology, energy and the environment science and technology, trade and investment promotion, small and medium enterprises, tourism, transportation, and road development.

Most importantly, PIDS foresees a notable positive impact on poverty reduction. With all sectors expected to have at least some improvement, more than 200,000 of our people are projected to be moved up above the extreme poverty threshold.

Objections to JPEPA have been registered in various areas of the proposed partnership.

On toxic waste, for example, in a dialogue with the Japanese Embassy, it was established that the agreement fully advocates environmental protection. Contrary to local concerns expressed, there has been no case whatsoever of Japanese toxic waste export to the Philippines since the Basel Convention in 1993. whereas, in contrast, there have been 102 cases of Philippine toxic waste export to Japan.

JPEPA does not prevent either country from adopting measures for its own protection. Thus, the Philippines is expected to continue taking strict measures on imports of toxic waste based on Republic Act 6969. Following the Basel Convention, which indicates that a party to the Convention cannot export toxic waste without written consent by an importing party, the banning of Japan’s toxic waste export to the Philippines was additionally strengthened by a diplomatic exchange of letters.

Another major objection involves Japanese investors being allowed to engage in areas of investment which appear contrary to constitutionally limitations. However, it is believed that all constitutional limitations in areas such as public utilities, the practice of professions, ownership and administration of educational institutions, mass media and others are fully preserved in JPEPA. Since Japan acknowledges the limitations set by the Philippine Constitution, the Philippines would be under no obligation to provide "national treatment" to Japanese investors in these areas.

Consequences of delays

To date, Japan has concluded economic partnership agreements with Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia and is in negotiations with Vietnam.

In the event of an extended delay, other countries will be in a position to arrange a better environment for Japanese investors. We can also expect that other countries’ products will be imported to Japan with lower tariffs. In addition, Filipino professionals such as nurses and caregivers will have fewer chances to obtain jobs in Japan.

On a broader perspective, undue delays and/or imposing of new conditions in the implementation of the agreement will likely lead to a downward assessment of the Philippines as an attractive investment destination by many foreign investors — and not just the Japanese.

JPEPA was signed on September 2006 and has been awaiting ratification by the Philippine Senate. It is imperative, therefore, that Filipino citizens and the business sector join together in encouraging the honorable members of the Senate to ratify JPEPA so that the Philippines can finally signal to its ASEAN and East Asian neighbors its ability to effectively participate in the process of economic integration and liberalization.

We do need to convince the Philippine government that today, not tomorrow, is the time to form strategic partnerships to help us reach our ultimate goal of being an industtialized country, capable of competing globally. We must have vision, boldness and resolution to prepare our nation to engage ever more deeply with the global economy.

There is no other alternative. We cannot wall ourselves off from the rest of the world. As demanded by the realities of our day, it behooves our country to move forward.

Finally, there are far too many examples readily available of successful development through greater economic openness and overseas partnership for us to accept old arguments that protectionism is the only viable response to globalization. There is nothing nationalistic about erecting barriers where these barriers hurt the real national interest.

Let us, in conclusion, recall what nationalism should mean in the words of Jesuit Father Horacio De la Costa on his vision of a progressive Philippines: "What we are prepared to defend is this: That if we are nationalists, it is not because we wish to separate ourselves from the rest of men, but, on the contrary, because we wish to build up a nation that can make its own distinctive contribution to the general advancement of the human race."

Amb. Albert del Rosario is chairman of the Board of Directors of BusinessWorld Publishing Corp. and the Philippines’ former ambassador to the United States.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

3,000 workers needed for Laguindingan Airport Construction

Mike Banos
American Chronicle
April 15, 2008

The Lagiuindingan Airport Development Project (LADP) now under construction in Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental will be needing some 3,000 workers at its peak.

Engr. Della L. Capicenio, LADP project manager, said in a media briefing held April 11, 2008 in Cagayan de Oro, that figure would be the maximum number of workers to be employed at the airport construction project.

As a gateway to Mindanao, one of the three main islands of the Philippines, the new airport will be located 30km northeast of Cagayan downtown and north of Mindanao. It will serve as the replacement of the old Cagayan de Oro Airport at Lumbia and the Iligan (Balo-i) Airport in Lanao del Norte.

The revised project cost of P7.853 billion (US$167.09-million) for the LADP was approved by the NEDA Board September 18 last year.

At present, the project components now under construction include the P188-million access road, P43 million site development for the Relocation Site Phase II, P25 million house construction component for the same area, and P4.991-billion main civil works.

Korean construction firm Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction (HHIC) is the winning contractor for the LADP.

DOTC sources said three Korean construction firms –Hanjin , Samsung and Daewoo had initially signified their intention to bid for the project but that Samsung eventually dropped out of the final bidding, leaving Hanjin and Daewoo.

HHIC is not a new to Misamis Oriental and Northern Mindanao. In its previous incarnation as the Hanil Development Co., Ltd. it was responsible for the construction of the Iligan-Cagayan-Butuan Road (ICBR) in 1973 which is still cited as one the country's best highways today. Hanil changed its name to Hanjin Construction Co., Ltd. on Mar. 12, 1994.

Since 1973, HHIC has successfully completed a total of 70 development projects including the Manila LRT (Light Rail Transit) system and Davao International Airport. It has been the No.1 foreign construction company in the Philippines.

At present, the company is launching 9 development projects including Bacolod Airport, Bohol-Bayon Dam/Canal, Metro-Illy Road, Catubic Dam and is developing a dockyard in Subic Bay."

HHIC is also the contractor for the site construction, taxiway, and passenger terminal construction of the Incheon International Airport completed in November 1992.

Although HHIC only ranks 12th in Korea and 98th globally in terms of construction engineering capacity, HH is one of Korea's Top 100 companies, and is held in high esteem globally as the first shipbuilding company in Korea. It is one of the world's Top 10 shipbuilding companies and has been cited as the World's Outstanding Shipbuilder for the 15th straight year since 1992.

On top of the Laguindingan airport project, HHIC will also construct a US$1.5 billion shipyard complex at a 440 hectare site in the Phividec Industrial Estate in Misamis Oriental. The project is expected to create some 30,000 new jobs for engineers, welders, and steel fabricators. Construction of the shipyard would start early next year and be operational by 2010.

Besides shipbuilding and repair; infrastructure, architecture and engineering; Hanjin also undertakes plants and logistics equipment manufacturing.

U.S. Amb. Kenney congratulates President Arroyo for conceiving Strong Republic Nautical Highway

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- US Ambassador Kristie Kenney congratulated today President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for conceiving the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) which, she said, would help bring peace and development in Mindanao.

Ambassador Kenney said this during the 2nd SRNH Conference this morning at the conference hall of the Xavier Estates located along Airport Road here.

"We are all here today to congratulate the President, the government of the Philippines and the Filipino people because they have truly linked the Filipino nation. Congratulations. Today, what we are seeing is the vision and hard work that come together to produce great results," Kenney said.

The US Ambassador said the Roll-On Roll-Off (RO-RO) ferry system of the nautical highway has attracted more tourists and made easier the movement of people and products by linking the country's food baskets
with markets here and abroad.

"More tourists, more products are available in your markets in the Philippines and in markets throughout the world," she said.

Conceding she is a "dedicated salad eater," Kenney said the great nautical highway and the port in Bongao has now allowed "Tawi-Tawi fishermen to export seaweeds to Manila and other parts of the world."

"It is a great step forward in bringing peace and prosperity to Mindanao and I want to thank you Madam President and we will continue to support you in that effort," Kenney said.

In her speech, the President thanked Kenney and the US government for undertaking peace building projects in southern Philippines, particularly the United States Agency for International Development-Growth with Equity in Mindanao (USAID-GEM).

The President said the SRNH was launched when its first segment, the Western Nautical Highway (WNH), was completed in 2003. The WNH cut by 12 hours the travel time between Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte the port of Batangas passing through Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, Roxas, Mindoro Oriental and Caticlan, Aklan.

In her speech, the President ordered the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to fast-track the completion of the Dapitan-Siocon road to link the WNH to the provinces of Basilan Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The President thanked the US government, through Ambassador Kenney, for helping build roads, ports, healthcare and schoolbuilding projects in Basilan Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi that complemented the WNH.

"Thanks to the U.S. government, this Nautical Highway can now connect through the Dapitan-Siocon Road which we are completing, to the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi Corridor made up of the GEM RORO ports in Lamitan, Basilan, in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, in Siasi, Sulu and in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi," she said.

"Indeed, the U.S. has worked side by side with our military and local officials on a large number of community public works projects. The positive impact of these projects cannot be overstated: from RO-RO
ports to health care like the U.S. Mercy; the building schools. The outreach has built more than buildings - it has built trust, which is the basis for effective and lasting democracy. If anybody wants to see a place
where Muslim brethren welcome U.S. soldiers with open arms, it is in southwestern Philippines.

“Thank you Ambassador Kenny," the President added.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

President Arroyo's speech in the 2nd Strong Republic Nautical Highway Conference

Xavier Estates, Cagayan De Oro City, April 30, 2008

In 2002 I presented to the Cabinet a work program to reduce transport costs from the food basket of Mindanao to the large consuming population of Luzon. Then Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo and then Philippine Ports Authority General Manager Al Cusi had started doing something about decreasing handling and wharfage costs. I instructed the DBP to take the lead for other measures like financing logistics, storage and port facilities.

We pulled out from the DBP filing cabinet an obscure master plan of a Sustainable Logistics Development Plan initiated by their SVP Marietto Enecio made up of 48 Road and Roll-on-Roll-Off routes.

At a Mindanao Shippers Conference that year, we launched the DBP Program with P 20 billion for long-term lending.

When we completed the Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte to Dumaguete, Negros Oriental and Roxas, Mindoro Oriental to Caticlan, Aklan routes in 2003, we baptized as the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, a 900-kilometer seamless stretch of roads and ports that cut travel time by 12 hours from Dapitan to Batangas port and on to any point of Luzon by land.

Thanks to the U.S. government, this Nautical Highway can now connect through the Dapitan-Siocon Road which we are completing, to the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawitawi Corridor made up of the GEM RORO ports in Lamitan, Basilan, in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, in Siasi, Sulu in and Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

Indeed, the U.S. has worked side by side with our military and local governments on a number of community public works projects. The positive impact of these projects cannot be overstated: from RORO ports to health care to building schools, the outreach has built more than buildings - it has built trust, which is the basis for effective and lasting diplomacy.

Now we showcase the Central Nautical Highway. We started last Monday by launching the link from Bulan, Sorsogon to Masbate City to Cawayan, Masbate, to Bogo, Cebu to Cebu City, which has an existing RORO link to Tubigon, Bohol. Yesterday we traveled by road from Tubigon to Jagna, Bohol and by RORO to Mambajao, Camiguin, from where you can motor to Benoni, Camiguin. This morning we saw off a RORO ferry in Benoni bound for Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. In sum, the Central Nautical Highway goes from Sorsogon to Misamis Oriental.

Can President Arroyo do anything about NAIA-3?

NAIA 3: Icon of Ate Glue’s failure?
By Boo Chanco
The Philippine Star

She has less than two years left in her term unless she decides to stay for good. If she plays it by the rules, she has very little time left to open that damn NAIA 3. Sure, that monument to corruption can be blamed on the Ramos and Estrada administrations too. But she would have had 10 years by the time she bows out of office to make that embarrassing white elephant useful.

Lost in the euphoria of opening the Subic Tarlac Expressway, Ate Glue must come down to earth and address the seeming hopelessness of NAIA 3. If she fails to open it before she bows out, and she is fast running out of time, NAIA 3 will become of icon of the colossal failure of her 10-year watch over this poor country of ours. Whatever else she may be able to deliver before she bows out will be lost in the stink of NAIA 3.

My colleague at the opinion page, Ms Sara Soliven de Guzman expresses the desperation I often hear among our countrymen: “I have had enough of the promises made by the government. I do not understand why they cannot get things done. My pet peeve right now is the NAIA-3 Terminal which began more than five years ago. I am sure another ‘corrupt’ deal took place somewhere down the road – like always.”

Actually, Sara, that project started in the last years of FVR, so it is at least a dozen years old, if you count the years devoted to planning and bargaining over spoils. I share Sara’s view that it “is sad our President is not lifting a finger to fight this problem. She continues to give instructions left and right to her men to resolve problems. Handing down the problems to the hands of the Ombudsman or the Supreme Court will not do. Madame, take some action for once. Do not leave such critical issues to your men. Show us your grit!”

Indeed, my dear Ate Glue, it is difficult to believe that the President of the Republic is hopeless in getting all the parties together to hammer some kind of a deal to get the NAIA 3 operating even as the legal points are argued in court. Government has already paid P3 billion of public funds to PIATCO in compliance with court orders but nothing much has moved. We must have also spent even more than that in legal fees to our foreign lawyers working on the World Bank and Singapore cases related to NAIA 3.

Worse, the public is being given the impression that the administration is the one blocking a swift resolution of the legal issues. There were reports that Malacañang tried to lose that case in the World Bank. I have been told that former Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano and our American lawyers were at their wits end trying to understand why their legal position was being undermined by the Philippine government, as if their client wanted to lose. Luckily for the Filipino nation, the case was so strong we won anyway.

I have also been told that a Filipino technical panel was appointed by a local court to look into what constitutes just compensation but was not given a budget to hire internationally reputable consultants to help them get the job done. Indeed, they were not even given an operational budget. What is going on here?

There is one other good reason why Ate Glue must open that airport before 2010. It would help belie rumors that the reason she can’t move aggressively on the project is because she is compromised… that the other party has incriminating evidence linking those close to her to improprieties in the deal. That may be pure bunk. But how else can anyone explain why the President of the Republic can’t do something as ordinary as open an airport terminal building?

Even assuming there are knotty legal issues involved… the President of the Republic must have an army of lawyers who are good enough to handle all those. The President of the Republic must also have enough persuasive powers, moral or coercive, within the country to get people in business with government to see things her way.

Maybe Ate Glue’s problem is that she does not have the right people. This reminds me of Secretary Saludo’s comment in defense of former generals in the armed forces and the national police appointed to Cabinet and other positions. Saludo vouched for their competence, as he justified their appointments also as recognition of their services in the security field.

That’s just the point. They may be good in security related assignments but something like the DOTC requires more specialized training and the kind of results oriented temperament of a private sector executive. The deliverables must be delivered in the private sector, no excuses or out the door you go.

Look what has happened at the DOTC these past few years. Not only has the retired police officer on top failed to deliver NAIA 3 after so many promised deadlines, he has allowed the country’s premier airport to suffer an international ratings downgrade and somehow got Ate Glue into the worse corruption scandal of her administration with the ZTE deal. Ate Glue obviously needs someone of better caliber.

Maybe, the reason Ate Glue can’t get moving on NAIA 3 is because she has the wrong people working on it. But whatever the reasons for this continuing national embarrassment, Ate Glue must worry about this failure to open NAIA 3 now that her time is getting short. Maybe, if she visited NAIA 3 every day, the way she visited Customs on two successive days a week ago to get results in the anti-smuggling drive, maybe something will happen. Now is the time to do what she does best... micromanage. Throw a tantrum, Ate Glue and your cell phone as well at the DOTC Secretary, if you must... but get results, not excuses.

Ate Glue’s nautical highway is fine. But at the end of her term in less than two years, NAIA 3 must no longer be the monument to our government’s ineptness and corruption… an icon of the utter failure of the 10 years of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration.

It is a horrible legacy to contemplate, no doubt about it.


Reader comment

Michael Thomas Mamuric sent this e-mail.

Good day Mr. Chanco. I’m here to react about the message of an unnamed OFW, which was posted yesterday (April 28, 2008) on your Demand and Supply Article of The Philippine Star (Section B-2).

I have to say that I feel exactly the same way: we really need a decent domestic and international airport to compete with our neighboring countries. I really feel bad and ashamed whenever I hear news about the current state of the NAIA — like the time when the domestic terminal was hit by blackout, when the NAIA Terminal 1’s roof leaks when it rains hard, etc. Don’t even get me started on the NAIA Terminal 3 — it’s been 10 years since its construction was started, and now, we don’t even know if it will be opened at all! I’m sorry to say this, but our airport is a shame compared to our neighbors. But I think the only asset noticed about NAIA is its friendly airport staff.

I believe that the government should first provide a decent airport that is at par with world standards before they can attract more foreign investments. I agree with the unnamed OFW’s message: first impressions really last. If the terrible NAIA airport is the first thing foreigners see when they land at our country… I don’t even want to think about it.

Thanks as well for reading me. Good day!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Federal govt gains steam in Senate

By Fel V. Maragay
The Manila Standard

Assuming that a federal system of government will be in place by 2010, members of the Senate will no longer be elected at large but members of the House of Representatives will still be elected by congressional districts.

As spelled out in Joint Resolution l0 signed by 16 senators led by Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., members of the Senate will be elected by federal states. Six senators each will be chosen for each of the ll component states that will comprise the federal republic.

But Pimentel said the president and vice president will continue to be elected on a nationwide basis.

Pimentel said the move to do away with the election of senators on a nationwide basis will reduce the cost of election and prevent them from accepting lobby or bribe money to recover campaign money or pay off poll-related debts.

“By electing senators by federal states, the chronic problem of lack of representation or under-representation of certain regions of the country will be effectively solved,” the legislator from Mindanao said. “This will remove a major caused of social discontent and national disunity. With this scheme, no federal state will complain that they have no voice in the Senate.”

Meanwhile, Juan Miguel Zubiri became the l3th senator to sign Resolution l0 calling for the convening of Congress into a Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution and install a federal system.

“I am in full support of this resolution. From day one, I am for federalism as this is the only way to speed up the development of the neglected regions in the country, particularly in Mindanao and to alleviate poverty in the countryside,” Zubiri said.

In fact, he said he and his father, Bukidnon Gov. Jose Zubiri have been spearheading the federalism movement in the province.

Apart from Pimentel and Zubiri, other senators who have signed the resolution are Senate President Manuel Villar, President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada, Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, and Senators Edgardo Angara, Pia Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson and Ramon Revilla Jr.

The resolution provides that the House will be composed of not more than 350 members. Senators cannot serve for more than two terms while congressmen can still run up to the fourth term.

The federalism move got another shot in the arm when Speaker Prospero Nograles pledged support for the proposal while his immediate predecessor, former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. of Pangasinan announced that he will file a House counterpart of the Pimentel bill.

Palace set to unveil rice sufficiency plan

Othel V. Campos, Joyce Pangco Pañares, Roy Pelovello with AFP
The Manila Standard

RICE specialists are polishing a plan aimed at increasing rice harvests over the next two years to make the Philippines self-sufficient in the grain from 2010 and beyond, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said yesterday.

He said the plan featured more areas planted to rice, higher investment in irrigation, increased seed and fertilizer subsidies, better watershed management, and the drafting of local government units to help increase production.

His department would submit the plan to Malacañang soon for presidential approval, he said.

“This medium-term master plan aims to make the Philippines self-sufficient in our staple food and enable it to ride out the emerging food crunch that is now sweeping across the globe,” Yap said.

He said seven former agriculture secretaries, two former administrators of the National Food Authority, and specialists from the International Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and various non-government organizations were helping his department polish the plan.

Yap made his statement even as President Arroyo said she planned to trim the National Food Authority’s rice subsidies and focus on producing more of the grain as a result of escalating rice prices.

The NFA loses billions of pesos each year buying rice at market prices and then selling a portion of it at subsidized rates to help the poor.

Investment bank Credit Suisse has warned that the government may lose some $1.3 billion this year in subsidizing the price of rice stocks sold to the poor.

Separately, the World Bank has said the Philippines has spent 1.6 percent of its economic output in subsidies from 2000 to 2005.

But Mrs. Arroyo said she was open to finding a new role for the NFA.

“Our first obligation right now is to put food on the table and the NFA has a role to play in that,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“But in the longer term, with prices being where they are now—and if they continue to stay where they are—then it would be good economics to look at producing more [rice] for ourselves.”

The specialists helping to put the rice plan together said better watershed management would ensure enough water for rice crops, while corporate farming would help boost yields.

“Among the points we agreed upon is to focus on production support for irrigated lands, so that we can improve the per-hectare yield in these prime areas from the current target of four tons to five to six tons per hectare,” Yap said.

The government aims to achieve 92.38-percent sufficiency in rice production this year, when rough rice production is projected to reach 17.32 million metric tons.

The average yield per hectare has gone up to 4.04 metric tons per hectare from 3.07 metric tons in 2000. And rice production reached a record 16.24 million metric tons last year despite a dry spell.

Cagayan de Oro Urges Skilled Workers To Fill Up Hanjin Manpower Needs

City Mayor Constantino G. Jaraula is urging all skilled workers in the city to apply for the massive hiring of employees offered by Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corporation.

This after only 2,000 skilled workers have responded to the Jobs Fair held by Hanjin over the weekend at the City Tourism Hall. Mayor Jaraula said that the Korean company has allotted 5,000 skilled laborers for Cagayan de Oro City alone.

With only 2,000 skilled workers who responded to the call, Mayor Jaraula said that there are still 3,000 skilled workers needed to fill up the manpower requirement pledged by Hanjin for the city.

Along this, Mayor Jaraula ordered the Public Employment Services Office (PESO) to continue accepting applicants for the various positions offered by Hanjin.

He likewise urged all skilled workers such as carpenters, masons, steelman, erector, welder, painter, heavy equipment operators, civil engineers, autocad operator and electricians to process their applications at the PESO in City Hall.

The Korean ship-building company presently needs at least 12,000 to 15,000 workers for its initial operations of the US$2-billion shipbuilding project within the Phividec Industrial Estate at Villanueva, Misamis Oriental.

The Korean shipbuilding firm targets to employ 45,000 workers. Interested applicants are advised to bring their resume or bio-data, residency certification from the barangay, picture and certificate of previous employment. PESO Manager Juvy Paza disclosed that workers who will be hired for the Hanjin project will receive a salary between P350 to P380 per day.

QC-Bulacan expressway proponent eyeing P3B a yr from project


MANILA, Philippines- The proponent of the North Luzon East Expressway (Nlee) project, a 54.9-kilometer elevated expressway from Quezon City to Baliwag in Bulacan, expects to generate P3 billion in yearly revenues from the tollway.

“The total project cost will amount to P13.6 billion," said Ausphil Tollways Corp. president Ricardo Penson during a press briefing on Tuesday. “The power component of the project will cost over P1 billion."

Local firm Ausphil, the project's proponent, has partnered with French construction giant Egis Projects for the Nlee.

The project has a power component that includes several low friction hydroelectric turbine stations capable of initially generating up to 35 megawatts (MW) of power, with a future additional capacity of 80MW. It will also include water catchments and filtration ponds that can collect and distribute 15.2 million m3 of swale filtered water for future use.

Penson said Ausphil has secured a permit to produce power from the Department of Energy two years ago. The license will be awarded once Ausphil finishes construction of the power facility.

The remaining cost in the company's estimate will go to the construction of the pipeline that will be used for the collection and distribution of the swale filtered water.

Penson said all three components of the project will be carried out simultaneously.

“The power and the water components of the project are all integrated in the tollway project. With a 35-MW hydroelectric power plant, that will generate for us about P1 billion in revenue while the toll road business will probably generate P2 billion. Of which, the MWSS (Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System) gets 10 percent of that," he said.

Ausphil and MWSS have signed a contract lease for use of 21-kilometers (km) rights of way for a fixed rate during construction plus revenue sharing the 30 years of commercial operation of the tollway.

Penson said that the tollway project also seeks to address power and water shortages by providing the potential to immediately generate renewable energy.

The build-operate-transfer (BOT) project was awarded to Ausphil in May last year. The company expects to receive its notice to proceed in June this year.

The awarded facility will be constructed in two stages. La Mesa Parkways, or stage 1, will run 18.9 km from Commonwealth Avenue to Bigte, Norzagaray, north of San Jose del Monte.

Stage 2 involves the rehabilitation of 36-km road from Norzagaray to Baliwag converting the current two lane road into a four-lane highway.

Ausphil said the Nlee will reduce travel time between Metro Manila and northeast suburban areas. In 2000, traffic load in the area was estimated at 52,000 vehicles daily. By 2010, it is expected to peak around 89,000.

Road fees are pegged at P80 for the whole stretch.

Egis will play a major role as the operations and maintenance partner through La Mesa Parkways Corp. Its subsidiary, Egis Road Operation and Tollways Management Corp., is part of the consortium led by First Philippine Holdings Corp. that won the right to operate the Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway.

Ausphil’s Australian associates include Aspen International which supplies toll equipment and other road systems and the Macquarie bank group which acts as financial adviser. Baseline Consultants and Integrated PhilConsult completed much of the early engineering design. Final detail engineering will be provided by Schema Technics.

Investments from local corporations surging--Pres Arroyo

PGMA says SRNH is engine of prosperity and growth for all Filipinos

ON BOARD M/V SUPER SHUTTLE FERRY 12, BOHOL SEA—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo underscored today the importance of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) amid the global economic slowing down and food shortage.

In her opening statement at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Cabinet meeting on board a RO-RO vessel enroute to Camiguin, the President said the roll-on/roll-off transport system plays a vital role in bringing affordable food to the tables of the people.

At the same time, the President expressed confidence that the Philippines can sustain its historic 30-year high economic growth despite the global economic slowdown.

''Amid rising global oil and food prices and the world economic slowdown, let us remember that investments are surging in our land,'' the President said.

''With our roll-on-roll-off ports and highways, we are not only linking our nation more closely and efficiently, but also bringing markets and sources of goods closer for the different regions of our country...'' the President added.

The President said the RO-RO, which she first showcased in 2003 through the Western Nautical Highway, provides lower transport cost for agricultural products.

'With an efficient, faster and lower cost of transporting agricultural produce from the Visayas and Mindanao, bringing affordable food to the poor in Metro Manila is now a reality with the completion of the SNRH,'' the President said in Filipino.

Moreover, the President said part of the P200 billion (US$ 5B) infrastructure budget this year was allotted to building roads, ports and bridges that are vital components of the SRNH.

The President stressed that putting in place vital infrastructure would attract more investments in the countryside, particularly in agriculture.

The President said that despite the global economic slowdown, the Philippines’ infrastructure investments are ''surging owing to increase in revenue collections.''

''With our revenue efforts and public investments reaching unprecedented levels, business confidence remains high, despite the global economic slowdown,'' the President said.

She cited the private investments amounting to some P250 billion (US$ 6B) from leading enterprises such as Ayala, SM, JG and San Miguel Corporation.

The President added that these private investments contribute to the creation of more new jobs.

''As we aim to sustain our 30-year record growth into its 30th consecutive quarter, let us keep our sleeves rolled up for world-class achievements, and our attention undistracted by fractious politics, and focus on jobs, incomes, stability, and food on every table,'' the President said.

Cheap Medicines Bill passed

Statement of Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye Re: The final passage of the “Cheap Medicines Bill”

President Arroyo is very pleased that this long-awaited bill has finally been passed.

In behalf of our people, she wishes to thank the Senate and House of Representatives for their dedication and hard work in coming up with an affordable medicines law that we can all be proud of.

This major milestone in our quest for affordable medicines adds meaning to our forthcoming celebration of Labor Day.

It reminds us of the need to safeguard the health and well-being of our workers and their families.

Let’s now work together as a nation to ensure its effective implementation.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Speech during the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Charter Bill Signing Ceremony

U.P. Cebu Library Conference Hall, UP Library Bldg.
Cebu City, Cebu, April 29, 2008

Daghang salamat, UP Cebu, ang atong host karon, ang alma mater og akong inahan sa iyang pre-med.

It is an honor to mark the year of the UP centennial anniversary by enacting the law to "Strengthen the University of the Philippines as the National University."

There is no greater pleasure for a UP alumna and former faculty member like me, than to be able to sign into law what will confer on our alma mater the enhanced capability to fulfill its mission and spread the benefits of knowledge to our people.

Surely the pride and honor are shared by the legislators who authored, co-authored, sponsored, co-sponsored and refined the bill that now becomes law. Most of them graduated from UP, or have children attending UP. All of them believe in the mission of the University of the Philippines. To all our authors and sponsors and all who voted for the law, thank you.

UP has been the training ground of the country's top leaders in government including many of our Presidents, pillars of business and various professions, and of a great number of our intellectuals past and present.

Strengthening the UP Charter now is timely, not only because the University turns a hundred years old this year, but also because new challenges in the 21st century call for new ways of thinking and new approaches to modern situations.

The new Charter ensures that the revenues of UP will be plowed back into its programs. It safeguards the University's physical assets and exempts its earnings, including donations and grants, from taxes. It exempts UP personnel from the Salary Standardization Law.

By providing institutional autonomy, the UP Charter protects students' democratic access, strengthens the University's administration through the Board of Regents and upholds academic freedom.

It recognizes the effectiveness of the UP System, which has set up constituent universities in strategic parts of the country, including our host campus today.

Furthermore, as a centennial gift, this law provides for the allocation of P500 million to the University of the Philippines, to be released over five years.

This is in addition to the P200 million we gave the PGH in 2006 and 2007 and in addition to the P500 million for the science and technology complex in Diliman.

We set up the science and technology complex because in 2004 UNESCO found that the number of researchers, scientists and engineers in a developing country is 340 per million of the population. In our country we have only 48 per million Filipinos. To achieve the UNESCO benchmark in the shortest possible time and to boost our effort at global competitiveness, the Philippine government is investing P3 billion from budget and off-budget sources in Engineering Research and Development Technology, including the UP Science and Technology Complex, between 2007 and 2010. This is to promote engineering R&D activities in the country at a significant scale in order to modernize every aspect of the economic underpinnings of the Philippines, including agriculture, to propel economic growth. Modernization will need a critical mass of R&D-capable manpower that will attract technology-based investors to the country. Since last school year, seven universities led by the UP College of Engineering have been offering scholarships for masters and doctoral degree programs in all fields of engineering.

The consortium steps up the creation of a favorable environment for science and technology to flourish. We can do it; we have the knowledge to build the basic industries that engage in high-value added activities such as design, R&D, product conceptualization, product development, and innovation. Investors know our caliber; our manpower is world class. At the forefront are our engineers; they are indeed the engines for national growth as they help spawn high-tech companies. With engineering R&D, led by the University of the Philippines, we further hone their skills and create our own technology roadmaps that will bring science and technology right at the doorstep of the Filipino nation.

With UP as the National University, the primus inter pares among state universities in our country, the leader in academic standards, and the primary seat for advanced studies, research and advancement of intellectual thought, this law ensures the hundred-year tradition of producing the best minds.

With this law, may the minds produced by UP become modern-day exemplars of the famed Oblation, that enduring symbol of the University’s offering of itself to the Filipino people.

To the UP students, faculty, staff and officials in all of its campuses, and to the authors of the strengthened UP Charter, congratulations!

President Arroyo inspects another important link of Strong Republic Nautical Highway

TUBIGON, Bohol – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo inspected today another important link of the Roll-On, Roll-Off (RO-RO) for Greater Inter-island Transfer, Mobility and Accessibility (RO-RO-GMA) of the administration’s flagship project, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH).

Situated on the northwestern coast of Bohol about 54 kilometers away from Tagbilaran City, Tubigon Port is an important link in the Tubigon-Cebu City RO-RO route.

During the last seven years, the Arroyo administration has invested some P134 million in the upgrading of Tubigon Port in line with the efforts of the government to ensure the fast and efficient movement of goods, people and services between the provinces of Bohol and Cebu.

In his project briefing, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) General Manager Manue Boholano said the completion of the rehabilitation of Tubigon Port has greatly increased the number and volume of rolling cargoes passing through the port.

He told the President that the improvement in RO-RO usage indicates an increasing acceptance by the business sector of the RO-RO transport system in the economic activities of the two island provinces.

With the RO-RO transport system, the fastest and cheapest way to transport goods from Mindanao and the Visayas to Metro Manila, prices of basic commodities will be reduced.

The government has spent a total of P200 billon in improving the various ports of the Nautical Highway.

From Tubigon, the President, along with members of her Cabinet and local officials, motored to Jagna Port in Jagna town, where she officially led the send-off for the RO-RO M/V Super Shuttle Ferry 12 bound for Camiguin Island.

SCTEx starts commercial operations

By Jacob Cunanan
The Business Mirror

MABALACAT, Pampanga—Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) officials kicked off the start of commercial operations of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) in simple ceremonies held at the Toll Operations Center Building in barangay Dolores here Monday.

However, only 62 kilometers of the Subic-Clark section of the expressway was opened, as the final stages of construction along the remaining 32 km on the Clark-Tarlac section are still ongoing.

Present during Monday’s ceremonies were Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council (SCADC) chairman Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan, BCDA president Narciso Abaya, Japanese ambassador Makoto Katsura, Japan Bank for International Cooperation chief representative Hiroshi Togo, and local government officials and guests from Central Luzon.

Abaya said the SCTEx is no ordinary road project, as he emphasized it is a critical component of the government’s vision to transform Central Luzon into an international logistics hub by connecting the free ports of Subic and Clark and providing a modern toll road that stretches up to Tarlac.

“Now that the SCTEx is completed, we await with anticipation the roar of motor vehicles traversing the 93.7-km toll road. We are eager to provide our motorists, our locators and businessmen, our local and foreign tourists, the safe and convenient motoring experience that only a world-class toll road can provide,” Abaya said.

“And while today marks Day One of the SCTEx commercial operations, we are confident that in the months and days to come, the SCTEx will prove its true value to our people—not as a mere busy expressway but as the lifeblood of an international hub that holds so much promise for the nation as a whole,” he added.

Ambassador Katsura said the government of Japan recognizes the importance of infrastructure improvement in achieving socioeconomic development of the Philippines in raising the standard of living of the Filipino people.

He said the Japanese government is very pleased to have an opportunity to assist this infrastructure project, which is expected to have a significant impact on the Philippines’ economic growth by creating wider opportunities for trade, investment and employment.

“This project will provide the main transportation network that will further accelerate the economic growth in the Central Luzon area and will maximize the potential of Subic and Clark economic zones as gateways and logistics centers to and from the Asia Pacific region,” Katsura said.

“As a long-time partner of the Philippines in its efforts toward economic development, Japan intends to continue extending its assistance to your nation-building efforts, including efforts to improve infrastructure, by helping construct efficient road networks that can bring in better employment opportunities and improve the overall welfare of the people,” he said.

Pamintuan said that if there is a “highway to heaven,” it must be the SCTEx, as he pointed out that the expressway will surely bring not only Central Luzon, but the entire country, to the heavenly bliss of progress and development.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are not only making a mere step as we formally open the world-class SCTEx but are actually making a quantum leap to progress. With the completion of the SCTEx, we can now visualize a frenzy of development that is sure to occur in the towns, cities and provinces traversed by the highway,” the SCADC chairman said.

Pamintuan acknowledged the single-mindedness of President Arroyo, who focused on delivering the development commitments she made to the people, notwithstanding the discordant cacophony of political noise coming from a few sectors, which he described as apparently wanting to die down the country to permanent underdevelopment.

“The SCTEx, in fact, is one of the most significant components on the menu of development projects initiated and undertaken by the President to bring our country to the doorstep and into the ranks of developed nations,” Pamintuan said.

SCTEx program manager Robert Gervacio said only 62 km of the Subic-Clark section starting from the Clark North A Interchange in this town’s boundary has been opened, with the remaining 32 km deferred to give way to the final stages of constructing rice- farms crossings, aside from the installation of steel posts, cables and other accessories by the National Transmission Corp. (Transco) dedicated to the electric-power requirements of the multibillion-peso investment of Texas Instruments in the Clark Freeport Zone.

The opening of the remainder of the SCTEx, from the Mabalacat boundary here to Tarlac City, has been set for July this year.

“Actually, the remaining 32-km stretch of the SCTEx to Tarlac is ready for passage. But the ongoing construction may pose safety risks, so we decided to wait out the completion of two major construction projects—the rice-farms crossings and the Transco lines. Motorists safety is our paramount concern,” Gervacio explained.

He said the rice-farms crossings are overpasses that will allow farmers to have access to their fields, which were hitherto contiguous farmlands until SCTEx cut through them.

“These farmers are also our stakeholders and they should continue to enjoy income from their produce. Their access to their rice farms on the other side of the expressway through these overpasses will assure that,” he said.

The SCTEx assures motorists a travel time of 40 minutes from Clark to Subic and 25 minutes from Clark to Tarlac. The Tollways Management Corp., also the operator of the North Luzon Expressway, has pegged the toll fee at the SCTEx at an introductory price of P2 per km.

The rate for Class 1 vehicles that will ply the route from the Tipo Toll Plaza just outside of Subic to the Clark Logistics Interchange in Mabalacat is priced at P112, the Clark North B Interchange P123 and the Clark North A P123.

Once commercial operations start for the remaining Clark-Tarlac section, Class 1 vehicles intending to travel the full length of the SCTEx from Subic to Tarlac City will pay the maximum P181 toll fee, Subic to Concepcion P144 and Subic to San Miguel P172.

Philippines aims for rice self-sufficiency by 2010

RP to wipe out rice imports by 2010
By Jennifer A. Ng
The Business Mirror

THE Philippines is eyeing to wipe out rice imports by 2010 with the implementation of its “rice self-sufficiency master plan,” which primarily targets a “100-percent rice self-sufficiency” by increasing production.

“A 100-percent self-sufficiency is not impossible, especially since the government is investing heavily in rice production,” said Leocadio Sebastian, executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), in a phone interview.

Sebastian said the “rice self-sufficiency master plan” will primarily target to step up the provision of agricultural-extension services to rice farmers and provide production loans to them.

The PhilRice official said the Department of Agriculture (DA) may submit the rice self-sufficiency blueprint to Malacañang by Friday for the President’s approval.

In a statement, the DA said the general and location-specific intervention programs of this blueprint are now being firmed up by the DA along with seven former agriculture secretaries; two former administrators of the National Food Authority (NFA); officials of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), PhilRice, the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna (UPLB); and other experts from farm-based nongovernment organizations.

IRRI deputy director general William Padolina, for his part, said the success of the rice self-sufficiency plan will hinge on the government’s “political will.”

“A lot...will depend on how the national government will allocate resources. Also, the local government units have to be mobilized in a concerted manner so they can provide the necessary extension services to farmers,” said Padolina.

The IRRI official said the provision of agricultural-extension service to rice farmers is crucial to enable them to optimize their resources and increase their production.

Sebastian said the implementation of the rice self-sufficiency blueprint will go into high gear by the dry season of 2009. By 2010 the goal is to become 100-percent self-sufficient in palay production.

This means that the Philippines will no longer have to import rice from neighboring Asian countries. This year the government is importing a minimum of 2.1 million metric tons (MMT) of rice to plug its production shortfall and beef up the country’s buffer stock.

The DA is currently overseeing the implementation of the P43.7-billion “FIELDS Package” announced by President Arroyo during the last National Food Summit held on April 4.

FIELDS stands for Fertilizers; Irrigation and other rural infrastructure; Extension, education and farmers’ training; Loans; Dryers and other postharvest facilities; and Seeds of the high-yielding varieties.

President Arroyo had announced during the food summit that P500 million will be set aside for fertilizers; P6 billion for irrigation works and P6 billion more for farm-to-market roads; P5 billion for extension and education, P15 billion for loans; P2 billion for postharvest facilities; and P9.2 billion for seeds.