Saturday, 6 September 2008

New shipyard opens in General Santos

RS SArmiento
BusinessWorld Online

GENERAL SANTOS — The tuna industry got another boost with the opening early this week of a shipyard said to be the biggest in south and central Mindanao.

Signal Marine Shipyard, owned by the country’s biggest fishing companies, opened the first of three slipways where ships can be built, repaired or dry-docked.

The facility sits on a five-hectare property in the hamlet of Cabu at Barangay Tambler in this city touted as the "Tuna Capital of the Philippines." Two more slipways spanning 210 meters will be built, each to carry a 3,000-gross tonnage vessel.

"This is proudly a Filipino-owned corporation," said tuna businessman Marfenio Y. Tan, head of San Andres Fishing Corp., and one of the incorporators of Signal shipyard.

Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene A. Dominguez, who was at the launching, hailed the initiative, which he said would boost the potentials of the tuna industry.

Francis T. Laurel, president of Frabelle Fishing Corp., credited Mr. Tan for initiating the shipyard project two years ago.

"The people of Sarangani province and General Santos City will benefit from the project in terms of direct and indirect employment of 500 workers, plus the increase of trade and allied services in the area," Mr. Laurel said. — R. S. Sarmiento

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Cebu Pacific expects revenues to grow 30%

By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes
The Philippine Star

Gokongwei-owned Cebu Pacific (CEB) expects its revenues this year to grow by 30 percent compared to last year, amidst a regime of high fuel prices and dampened economic prospects brought about by inflation.

For the third quarter of 2008, the company said it sees revenues improving 35 to 40 percent as against 2007, according to CEB president and CEO Lance Gokongwei.

The airline industry has slowed down, with overall Philippine domestic business expected to grow 10 to 12 percent compared to last year, which is relatively low considering that in 2007, the domestic airline industry grew 23 percent as against 2006. “But a 10-to 12-percent growth this year is still a good achievement considering the fuel price increase and inflation,” Gokongwei pointed out.

In terms of bottom line, he projects that they will be operating in the red in the third quarter, the traditional lean period for the local aviation industry due to the rainy season. “Hopefully, fourth quarter will be a turnaround,” he said.

But in terms of purely recurring income, Gokongwei expects the company to be profitable by yearend. “CEB still has one of the best business models globally and in terms of recurring revenue and profits, we are still doing very well,” he said

During the first half of 2008, CEB posted a net loss of P16 million. Gokongwei, however, pointed out that on a purely operating basis, they made P900 million. Majority of the loss, he said, was due to foreign exchange losses.

He noted that the price of fuel from January to August this year nearly doubled compared with fuel cost in the same period last year. “This is a difficult time for the aviation industry. But we are looking for ways to cope, which includes finding new ways of distribution such as via the Internet, undertaking fuel conservation programs, and building ancilliary sources of revenues,” he stressed.

In order to reduce on cost, CEB had to redirect some of its international flights from the losing routes to the profitable ones. CEB has exited the Manila-Hanoi and Manila-Xiamen route while increasing the number of flights on the Manila-Singapore and Manila-Hong Kong routes.

CEB also launched the ‘Go Lite’ fares for no-check-in bags and reduced the flight baggage allowance to 15 kilos.

Despite the difficult times, CEB is still pushing through with the modernization and expansion of its fleet. Four more ATRs and one Airbus would be purchased and leased, respectively, before the end of the year. This will be in addition to the two ATRs purchased earlier this year and three Airbus planes leased.

Next year, the company will be acquiring four additional ATR aircraft and leasing two more Airbus planes.

The airline has transferred its entire domestic and international operations to the world-class NAIA Terminal 3 and has strengthened its Cebu hub with two additional ATR aircraft.

CEB is still expected to end the year with close to seven million passengers flown, as against 5.5 million in 2007. “We will still be among the top 20 low cost air carriers worldwide in terms of revenues,” he said.

It also broke the record in terms of highest number of domestic passengers flown when it flew 512,000 passengers in May this year. “This is a validation of our business model, which includes focus on affordable fares,” Gokongwei added.

The company is looking at flying to Osaka, Japan where Philippine air carriers have available air rights. Gokongwei revealed that they are just completing the accreditation process with the Japanese civil aviation authority, which hopefully will be finished in the next couple of months.

Central Bank sees forex reserves hitting $40 B next year

By Des Ferriols
The Philippine Star

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said the country’s forex reserves would likely top $40 billion in 2009 due mainly to the expected strong inflow of remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

According to BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo, the 2009 reserves would be at most $3 billion better than this year’s projected level of $36.5 billion to $37 billion, with the surge coming mainly from remittances from overseas Filipinos.

The gross international reserve (GIR) is the sum of all foreign exchange flowing into the country from exports of merchandize, earnings from businesses abroad, foreign borrowings, investments and remittances.

Out of the total reserve, Guinigundo said the balance of payments (BOP) is likely to approximate this year’s level but he would not give more specific estimates.

The balance of payments (BOP) is the sum of the country’s transactions with the rest of the world paid out of the foreign exchange reserves. Last year, the country was in a surplus position recorded at $8.6 billion but this year, officials expect only about $2.5 billion.

In 2009, even with the GIR expected to reach a record level of $40 billion, the BOP is projected to match this year’s level, with oil prices still volatile and global inflation rate going up.

This year so far, easing foreign exchange outflows and the surge in foreign exchange inflows propelled the country’s net reserves back to a surplus level of $142 million in July, reversing the $248-million deficit in June to bring the seven-month position to $2.076 billion.

The effects of remittances on the BOP were particularly strong this year, showing that country’s position bounced back in July as remittances soared to $1.5 billion.

BSP governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said the BOP also received a boost from foreign exchange receipts from the privatization of power assets sold by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp (PSALM).

Tetangco said the July inflows were enough to reverse the BOP deficit in June which was the first monthly BOP deficit the BSP reported since November last year.

The BSP said heavy foreign exchange outflow also eased in July when the country’s GIR neared the $37-billion mark and reached $36.9 billion.

The BSP said the major inflows which contributed to the increase in reserves included deposits by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) of proceeds from the privatization program of the National Power Corp. (Napocor).

The BSP projected that the country’s GIR would reach $37 billion this year, expressing optimism that all things considered, the country’s balance of payments would still be at a surplus level.

Although reaching record highs this year, however, the BOP position has been under significant stress from the surges in oil prices that eroded the reserves.

BSP said the country’s balance of payments surplus could dip even lower than the projected $2.5 billion level this year and monetary officials are reexamining their numbers to determine just how low.

This year, however, sources from the Monetary Board said the BOP position could be even lower than latest projections, mainly due to huge outflows of foreign portfolio investments.

Of particular concern was the capital account where foreign portfolio investments were booked as they enter and leave the country. Although the outflow had eased somewhat, foreign direct investments are still significantly slower than expected.

ADB sets P500m for Sin village

By Joel M. Sy Egco
The Manila Standard

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said 1,158 squatters who were evicted from the 10-meter waterway easement in Punta, Sta. Ana moved to four seven-storey buildings and a three-storey school building.

Thousands of illegal settlers were named beneficiaries of the housing project of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission under its Pasig River Environmental Management and Rehabilitation Sector Development Program funded by the ADB.

“This project is a dream of our beloved, the late Cardinal Sin. But now, here it is, made possible through our cooperative efforts. The housing and the school will definitely be a big help to our needy countrymen in this part of the City of Manila ,” Atienza said.

PRRC executive director Deogracias Tablan Jr. reckoned as of May 2008, at least 6,217 informal households along Pasig River have been resettled with 1,728 families lined up by yearend.

Atienza added that the relocation also aimed to revive the river, help reduce flooding from accumulation of waste, and prevent disease outbreaks.

The housing program alone cost P316 million.

The village school building has 34 classrooms, two laboratory rooms, and a basketball court. Eighty percent of its P53-million cost was borne by the ADB through the Paremar component, with the 20-percent balance coming from the government counterpart fund.

Atienza, who is also chairman of the commission, led rites attended by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Joseph Edward Adams, Bishops Gabby Reyes, Francisco San Diego, Mylo Vergara and Ina ng Laging Saklolo parish priest Father Mark Munda.

Sin, who retired in 2003 after heading the Manila Archdiocese for 30 years, died in 2005; he was 76.

Hanjin completes second ship in Subic yard

By Cecille Garcia
The Manila Standard

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—South Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp.-Philippines announced yesterday the completion of its second container ship, named CMA CGM Turquoise, with a market value of over $60 million.

Hanjin completed the ship just over a month after delivering its first order, the mv Argolikos, to its Greek owner on July 4.

The new vessel, which can accommodate 4,300-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) containers, was towed from Hanjin’s Drydock 5 to the shipyard’s quayside, where it will sit for three months as electrical systems and other facilities are installed prior to its sea trial.

The vessel will be delivered to Dioryx Maritime Corp., the Greek shipping company that bought mv Argolikos.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority administrator and chief executive Armand Arreza said CMA CGM Turquoise was part of the 16 container vessels scheduled for completion in the free port zone.

Hanjin, one of the biggest shipbuilders in the world, has invested about $1.7 billion for its shipyard project here and employs more than 5,000 workers.

Hanjin officials said productivity in the shipyard was fast catching up with South Korea ’s.

“Filipinos learn fast—now they are experts,” said Hanjin quality assurance director Yoonha Kim.

He said Filipino workers displayed “world-class efficiency” in hull construction and engine installation for the Turquoise within the standard Hanjin timetable of 13 months.

Kim said the completion of the second vessel showed the increased efficiency and technical know-how of Filipino workers compared with the construction of the mv Argolikos, which took 14 months.

“Our goal is to be at par with our South Korean counterparts in terms of efficiency and quality of work,” Kim said during the launch.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyoearlier praised the skills of Filipino workers at Hanjin’s shipyard here.

Gov’t to build another terminal in Clark; bigger traffic expected

BusinessWorld Online

THE GOVERNMENT is building a $142-million airport terminal at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga as it anticipates increased air traffic and passengers from nearby provinces.

Eleven local and foreign companies are vying for the contract to build the terminal, which can accommodate eight million passengers a year, said Victor Jose I. Luciano, president of the Clark International Airport Corp. Bidding for the project, expected to be completed in two years, will start in the middle of this month.

Mr. Luciano told reporters yesterday the new terminal would complement the existing one at the Pampanga airport, which can only handle two million passengers yearly.

He said the Clark hub is "envisioned to become the future international gateway" since Manila’s international airport system is already congested.

Officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) have said the airport system in the country’s capital consisting of the old domestic terminal, and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminals 1 and 2 are used by more than 20 million passengers yearly — above its designed capacity of 18 million.

With the opening of the NAIA-3, which is expected to run at full capacity by the first quarter of next year, Manila’s airport system will get an additional capacity of 13 million passengers a year.

The NAIA-3 is occupied by Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) low-cost brand PAL Express, and Air Philippines. MIAA officials said the terminal is running at 60% of its capacity.

Mr. Luciano said the Clark terminal could be an alternative to the Manila airport, especially for passengers coming from Northern and Central Luzon. He said the region is the second richest area in the country next to the greater Metro Manila area.

Eventually, he added, the two terminals would have to be connected somehow.

Mr. Luciano said the country’s airport terminals would be comparable to those of New York, London and Bangkok, which all have multiple terminals.

Also yesterday, Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific announced that it was setting up a hub in Clark.

Cebu Air, Inc. President and Chief Executive Lance Y. Gokongwei told a briefing that starting Nov. 8, two European-made ATR aircraft would start flying out of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport daily for Hong Kong and Singapore, four times weekly to Macau and thrice weekly to Bangkok. All flights will have return trips to Clark.

Mr. Gokongwei said flights between Clark and Cebu City in Central Visayas would become daily from three times a week.

"This will make the Philippines, especially the Northern and Central Luzon region, as a more attractive tourism and trade destination," he said.

The airline announced in May an order for six small ATR aircraft and an option to buy eight more units for a total purchase price of $275 million.

The company will also set up a heavy aircraft maintenance facility in Clark, expected to open by yearend. The P2-billion facility, a joint venture with a Singaporean firm, will cater to medium- to long-haul, narrow- and wide-bodied jets.

Aside from its ATR aircraft, the airline will also base one of its 18 $40-million Airbus jets in Clark for international flights.

Mr. Gokongwei said he expects the airline to post double-digit profits this year, even as the company continues to post losses in the third quarter, a lean season.

He said the airline would recover during the holiday peak season in the fourth quarter, but declined to give further details.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Update photos of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR)


Modern terminal to rise in Clark airport by 2010


MANILA, Philippines - The government is soliciting bids for a planned multi-million dollar terminal which will be built to accommodate the growing number of passengers using the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga.

At least 11 local and international groups have already expressed interest to bid for the $142-million project, Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) President and Chief Executive Victor Jose I Luciano said.

Among the bidders are companies from Singapore, Korea, China and the Middle East. Luciano said local bidders include F.F. Cruz & Co., Inc. and the Ayala Group.

In a phone interview, F.F. Cruz Marketing Manager Joey V Mamuyac confirmed the company's bid for the terminal, adding that it has tapped a partner for the project. He declined to give more details about the bid.

Officials from the Ayala group, on the other hand, were not available to confirm or deny its involvement in the terminal project.

Luciano said the winning bidder will have a 70 percent stake in the terminal, while the CIAC will hold the remaining stake.

Construction of the airport will start 45 days after the winning bidder has been determined by end-September. The terminal is expected to be operational by February 2010.

"The new terminal will increase Clark's capacity to nine million (passengers) from the current two million capacity," Luciano told reporters. Passenger volume in DMIA is expected to reach 800,000 this year.

The airport executive said the new Clark terminal is "very modern" and is designed using a $2-million technical grant from the Korean government.

DMIA is being groomed to be the Philippines' premier international gateway amid the congestion of aircraft and passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila.

ADB hits ‘unprofessional’ airport bidding conducts

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

THE Asian Development Bank yesterday criticized the government over a failed $167-million project to improve airports in the Visayas and Mindanao .

In a report released yesterday, the bank said it had cut off funding for the Third Airports Development Project in 2005, saying almost none of its targets were met.

“ There was an overall lack of good governance, although no direct allegations of corruption were reported,” the bank said, noting that land acquisition and resettlement were completed four years behind schedule.

Consultants for the project were expected to be fielded as early as 1998, but were not mobilized until early 2000, the bank said.

“ The main causes of the project’s failure were the slow progress of land acquisition and resettlement activities, severe delays in recruitment of consultants, and significant civil works and equipment procurement problems,” the report said.

The project was supposed to bring major improvements to airports in Puerto Princesa and Cotabato and minor improvements to those in Sanga-Sanga, Dipolog, Butuan, and Pagadian.

Of the $167-million budget for the project, only $25.68 million was used, mostly for land acquisition and resettlement, the bank said. The project was supposed to get $114 million in loans from foreign lenders, but only $12.15 million had been disbursed so far.

The ADB said the funding to be co-financed by the European Investment Bank was not used.

The bank pinned much of the blame on the Transportation Department.

“Despite the redesign of some aspects of the project to encourage improved equipment purchase, procurement was unsuccessful, mainly as a result of unprofessional actions by the Department of Transportation and Commun-ication’s pre-qualification bidding and awards committee,” the report said.

It noted complaints from some bidders who claimed that information was leaked to favored contractors and suppliers.

“The procurement process was lengthy and often flawed. There were several cases where the pre-qualification bidding and awards committee and ADB’s procurement committee had significant differences of opinion on bid evaluation and contract award,” the bank said.

The bank had pledged $93 million at market rates, equivalent to nearly a third of its average annual lending to the Philippines of $290 million.

The bank said the country’s inadequate domestic airports limit trade and investments. The project would benefit the Philippines , the bank said, but added that it had no plans to resume financing it. With AFP

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

One year after: RP largely unscathed from US subprime mess


More than a year after the US sneezed from its subprime mortgage troubles, the Philippines, unlike other Asian countries, did not catch a cold, local financial experts said.

Two factors explain why the twin impact of collapsing real estate and banking sector did not reach our shores: Our overseas workers, and to an extent, the outsourcing companies, kept buying or leasing real estate products no matter what. With the real estate market still vibrant, the local banks, already equipped with lessons during the hubris lending in the nineties, have remained healthy and liquid.

In a forum last August 29 entitled "The US subprime meltdown: Will the fallout hit RP?" attended by local financial sector experts, Danilo Antonio, managing director of Credit Rating and Investors Services Philippines Inc., gave assurance that since the subprime blowout, the Philippine property sector as well as capital markets stayed healthy.

"The boom is far from over because there's a huge backlog in demand for housing in the country," he said.

In mid-2007, fears of the end of the country's property boom began to escalate due to tightening access to mortgage loans not only in the US, then a major market for local real estate developers, but also globally.

The seriousness of the US subprime mortgage trouble was realized in June 2007 following the collapse of two hedge funds managed by New York-based Bear Stearns, which at that time, was one of the world's largest investment banks. The rippling effects required the injection of billions of dollars into the system for liquidity.

Stable OFW and BPO markets

Antonio expounded on reasons why effects of the subprime crisis are hardly felt here. For one, he said the Philippines has reduced dependence on the US and started to diversify markets. The country is now heavily marketing its property products to buyers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Antonio further said that rather than building high-end projects catering to the few elite, most property firms have embarked on an aggressive expansion in the middle-income and low-cost housing segments that have wider market reach.

He said affordable houses priced from P1 million to P2.5 million and medium- and high-density condominiums that cost between P2.5 million and P5 million are considered as "hot items" today.

"Cheap housing has unlimited demand," he said.

Antonio emphasized that this buoyant demand particularly comes from more than 10 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who send home at least $1 billion in remittances monthly.
He said majority of customers buy homes for "end use" and not as an investment which they could sell at higher rates.

Not even rising loan interest rates could hurt this demand. "These OFWs really want to buy so they save. If in case they need to borrow, a point or so difference in rates doesn't really matter. They'll still take whatever funds are available," Antonio pointed out.

Apart from OFWs, he said the burgeoning business process outsourcing industry also has strong appetite for property developments.

More capital as RP banks stay liquid

The continued growth in the real estate sector is bolstered by ready credit lines provided by the country's highly liquid banks.

Antonio said Philippine banks could well weather a global financial turmoil, set off by problems with subprime mortgages in the US.

Subprime mortgages are loans granted to homeowners who have poor credit standing. Real estate agents in the US enticed customers to avail of homes through loans from banks that carry adjustable interest rates.

These homes also had minimal down payment requirements that spurred more demand, which in turn, led to an increase in housing prices.

Banks and other financial institutions repackaged the subprime loans with less risky ones, spawning the so-called collateralized debt obligations, and sold them to investors such as mutual funds and hedge funds worldwide. These high-risk instruments were attractive because they had higher yields.

However, when more and more borrowers defaulted, investors started to dump these assets, pushing their prices down. Homes were foreclosed and many mortgage lenders filed for bankruptcies. The backlash was global.

Only, here in the Philippines, "there is really no evidence" that any of the financial institutions were exposed to these soured debts, according to Gamaliel Pascual, senior advisor at Regina Capital Development Corp.

"Our banks seem to be healthy and liquid," he said.

Pascual also said that the Philippine mortgage market is "primitive," meaning banks still need to fully utilize the securitization law, which is still at its infancy. The law allows the transfer or sale of assets and asset-backed securities of banks to a special purpose vehicle.

Lastly, Pascual noted that local banks are more cautious with their lending and have stronger capital bases that equip them to withstand massive loan defaults.

Indirect effect on stock market

Pascual pointed out that the subprime crisis so far affected the domestic equities market only indirectly, in the form of risk aversion.

The possibility of a global credit squeeze, leading to an economic recession in the US, Asia's vital trading partner, sent jitters to stock markets in the region including the Philippines.

As a result, investors started pulling out, sending the markets to their worst levels. The Philippine Stock Exchange, for one, entered into bear territory as early as January 22, when the key index settled at 2,978.41, down 24 percent from its peak of 3,896.74 last October 8, 2007. A bear market is defined as one that falls by more than the threshold of 20 percent from record high.

In the first half, the local bourse lost 32 percent to 2,459.98 due to continuous flight of institutional foreign investors.

Pascual said these investors opt to put their money in more appealing investments like commodities.

"The thinking of investors is to go out of the Philippines first and speculate in commodities like oil and metals," he said.

Pascual added that speculation in oil, which factors in dwindling supply or any threats to production, is partly to be blamed for the sharp spike in crude prices, another whammy for the equities market.

"When oil prices are high, inflation gets higher too. This is another thing that investors are scared about in the Philippines."

Pasig Ferry becoming more popular with rise of fuel, fare prices

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PGMA pays tribute to 2008 Ten Outstanding Publics School Teachers

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo paid tribute today to the 2008 Ten Outstanding Public School Teachers for their valuable contributions to the teaching profession, their personal integrity, character, instructorial competence and professional community involvement.

An annual event sponsored by the Metro Bank Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the Metrobank Group of companies, the search for outstanding teachers was established to promote the culture of excellence in education.

During the awarding rites held at Malacanang’s Rizal Hall this morning, the President presented each of the awardees a gold medallion in recognition of her outstanding performance. Four of the awardees came from the elementary and four from secondary levels, and two from the higher education category.

The President congratulated each of the awardees and posed with them for a souvenir photo, along with their respective family members, relatives, nominators and mentors.

Aside from the gold medallion, the outstanding teachers received a trophy and a cash prize of P300,000 each.

The awardees for the elementary level were: Jesusa M. Antiquiera, an English teacher for 36 years of Padre M. Gomez Elementary School; Lyn Padillo, an English Master Teacher for 12 years of Naga Central School, Naga City; Maydelyn R. Antioquia, an English Teacher for 16 years of President Manuel Roxas Memorial School-North, Roxas City, and Marie Theresse M. Bagas, the 1st awardee of West City Central School of Cagayan de Oro City and a Science Master Teacher II for 34 years.

For the secondary school category, the winners were Rowena R. Hibanada, the 1st awardee of Pedro Diaz High School in Muntinlupa City. She has been teaching Social Studies for 14 years.

Ermie E. Rabara, who has been teaching Chemistry for 25 years in Midsayap-Dilangalen National High School; Jeanette G. Dials, an Assistant Professor I, an English subject teacher for 18 years at the Mariano Marcos State University Laboratory High School in Laoag City; Noemi O. Obcena, a Master Teacher II in Cagayan National High School in Tuguegarao City where she has been teaching English subjects for 31 years; Dr. Irma R. Makalinao, a professor IV of the University of the Philippines-Manila who was cited for her 14 years of work as an toxicology and children’s environmental health specialist; and Virginia C. Cuevas, Ph.D., a professor VIII of the University of the Philippines- Los Banos, who specializes on plant and fungal ecology.

On behalf of her fellow awardees, Hibanada thanked the President and their respective nominators and mentors for their support and belief in their respective contributions in building the future of the Filipino youth as well as the nation.

The awardees vowed to continue building the pillars of public education even as they affirmed their commitment to the upliftment of the nation and the pursuit of excellence in education.

Philippines to export livestock products soon -- Yap

PALAYAN CITY – The Philippines will soon break into the livestock export market as the country is about to be globally declared foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-free, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said today.

This will be the first time that the Philippine will export livestock products, Yap told a media briefing at the Nueva Ecija Convention Center here.

He said that the Visayas and Mindanao have already been internationally accredited as FMD-free and the government is filing a claim for Luzon to be also declared free of the dreaded disease that afflicts carabaos and cattle.

“FMD-free na ang Visayas at Mindanao internationally, so Luzon na lang ang pinapa-accredit natin ngayon,” Yap said.

The DA official arrived here this morning with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the celebration of the 112th anniversary of the Sigaw ng Nueva Ecija,” the historic event when this province and seven other provinces revolted against Spain.

Yap said discussions are under way for the exportation of livestock products from General Santos City and Davao to Singapore.

To support the export of meat products, Yap said the government, in cooperation with the private sector, will invest in world-class slaughterhouses, refrigeration and processing facilities to make the country more competitive in the global market for livestock products.

He added that although avian flu (bird flu) is endemic in Asia, the Philippines is fortunate that it has been spared the virulent disease.

Yap said the national government, in cooperation with local government units (LGUs), is strengthening regulations to prevent the entry of avian flu into the country.

The government is also encouraging investments in the poultry sector to increase the production of chicken and other poultry products.

Eastern Samar opens Borongan airport

By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

Borongan, Eastern Samar – Foreign and local tourists may now have a convenient way of discovering the unexplored paradise in Eastern Samar.

This, after the new airport in the provincial capital city of Borongan opened here yesterday with an inaugural flight of South East Asian Airlines (Seair).

The historic landing of the first commercial flight to the eastern-most tip of the Visayas was marked by festivities of a people that saw a new door to better opportunities.

Gov. Ben Evardone said they have long been hoping and working for the opening of the Borongan City airport, which he expects to help boost tourism and business in the province.

“We have arrived. We made history today and we will continue to make history. A lot of opportunities are waiting out there for Eastern Samar,” Evardone told his constituents after landing via the historic flight at around 12 noon.

The governor believes that the new airport – the first in the province and which directly links it to Manila, will “unclog and unleash opportunities for our people.”

“Our province used to be isolated in the Eastern Visayas since there was no direct flight to Manila and we had to go to Calbayog in Western Samar or Catarman in Northern Samar. Now, we are very happy and fortunate to have this airport,” he said.

Evardone said he was thankful to President Arroyo for prioritizing the airport in her agenda. The national government has initially released P20 million for the project and has allocated another P20 million for its development.

The governor also thanked the management of Seair for granting his invitation for the airlines to fly to Borongan from Manila and back.

Seair president Avelino Zapanta admitted it was “a gamble” on their part to accept Evardone’s invitation: “But when the governor and the mayors met with us in Manila, they demonstrated their solidarity in building this project so we are also happy to help.”

Zapanta said they decided to extend operations to the new airport after seeing the potential of the province of Eastern Samar in becoming a well-developed tourist destination.

“We are also happy to be the first airline to fly into the city of Borongan. That’s history and you can’t erase that. We are also hoping this will contribute to economic progress to the province,” he added.

The maiden flight took an hour and 20 minutes via Seair’s Dornier 328, a 32-seater German aircraft known to be one of the fastest jet props in the world, which left Manila Domestic Airport at 10:50 a.m.

The airline said the Manila – Borongan and Borongan ‑ Manila flights will initially operate for two days in a week, specifically on Mondays and Fridays.

Eastern Samar, dubbed by the Department of Tourism as “unexplored paradise,” has a total of one city and 22 municipalities and is home to over 400,000 people.

Local officials said the people of the province who are “hospitable and very gracious hosts” are its best offer to tourists.

They also took pride in the rich history of the province. It was where Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish navigator who discovered the Philippines, first set foot on Philippine soil – specifically in Homonhon island in Guiuan.

The province is also popular among international and local surfers. The Calico-an island, also in Guiuan, is reportedly a favorite destination among surfers.

“We are already part of the international surfing community. In October, we are hosting an international surfing competition,” said Evardone.

National ID system moving forward — Neri

BusinessWorld Online

AN IDENTIFICATION (ID) system unifying government services could be in place as early as next year with the card issued by the Social Security System (SSS) at its core, the chief of the state pension fund yesterday said.

Newly appointed SSS Administrator Romulo L. Neri said the National Statistics Office (NSO) could soon provide the so-called "common reference number" that would harmonize the ID systems of the SSS, the Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS) and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Other state agencies and government-owned-and-controlled firms are expected to join in the SSS-led ID network.

"The multipurpose ID will take one or two years to cover more millions of members. Within this month, ibibigay na sa amin ng NSO (the NSO will give us) the common reference number for each ID user so that an SSS ID could be used for PhilHealth and eventually for other transactions" Mr. Neri said at sidelines of the SSS’s 51st anniversary celebration yesterday.

"The SSS ID will be interconnectable or interoperable," he pointed out.

The SSS’ role in building a unified ID network is embodied in Executive Order 700 signed last January 16. The move veers away from earlier efforts to implement a national ID system which failed to get legal backing from the Supreme Court and the support of human rights groups.

Under that Malacañang-issued directive, the NSO and other government agencies were tasked to help the SSS develop the unified multipurpose ID system.

The state pension fund should be able to clear its ID backlogs, some 700,000 of its 28 million members, before the year ends, Mr. Neri said.

The SSS has been issuing its ID, which officials said contains biometric and other security features, since late 1990s.

Cebu Pacific posts RP record in monthly passengers’ traffic

The Manila Bulletin

Low-fare airline leader Cebu Pacific (CEB), reported yesterday that it had set the record in carrying the most number of passengers in the history of Philippine domestic air travel for a single month.

Based on Civil Aeronautic Board (CAB) data, the Gokongwei-owned airline carried 512,081 passengers in May 2008. Prior to this record, Philippine Airlines flew 463,423 passengers in May 1997.

Candice Iyog, CEB vice president for marketing and distribution said, "We believe that the growing domestic air travel market can be attributed to the low year round and promotional fares we have been offering to the public. CEB has been a catalyst in this growth and has made air travel an affordable option to many passengers with fares that are comparable with other modes of transport including buses and ferries. "

She added, "We continue to make air travel convenient and make the Philippine islands more accessible as we operate new inter-island routes."

CEB continues to be the largest domestic carrier in the Philippines. With the recent announcement of new flights from its Cebu hub and addition of its Manila-Busuanga service, it offers 1,006 local flights weekly and operates 39 routes to 27 domestic destinations.

Iyog concluded, "We hope to carry more passengers this year and passengers can expect a better airport experience with CEB operating both domestic and international flights from NAIA Terminal 3."

Monday, 1 September 2008

Aboitiz ferry builder launches new vessel, eyes more orders

Marites S. Villamor
BusinessWorld Online


BALAMBAN, CEBU — Aboitiz-owned fast ferry builder FBMA Marine, Inc. has launched another high-speed catamaran into the sea for outfitting and trial voyage before its final delivery to New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

FBMA is building two more fast ferries at its shipyard in Balamban, about 64 kilometers west of Cebu City, while bidding for four building contracts in the Carribean, company Chairman Roberto E. Aboitiz said.

"We’re looking at prospects to build four vessels for the Carribean. It’s a tough business, but we’re banking on technology, quality and reputation," he said on the sidelines of the launch of the boat.

The two vessels being built are for Wightlink, which provides ferry services between the Isle of Wight and mainland Britain.

The vessels, both 41-meter high-speed catamarans, will be used for the Portsmouth-Ryde crossing. These are targeted for delivery to Britain in the summer of 2009.

Betico II, the latest catamaran to be rolled out of FBMA’s fabrication shop, costs $22 million and will be delivered to SAS Sudiles, a joint venture of the governments of Southern Province and Loyalty Islands Province of New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific. It is targeted to be completed in October and reach New Caledonia on Oct. 15.

A catamaran is a type of multihulled boat consisting of two hulls, joined by a frame. Catamarans can be sail- or engine-powered.

"We’re very happy to see the final work. We’re happy that FBMA has provided a unique vessel that meets our specifications," Southern Province President Philippe Gomes said.

Loyalty Islands President Neko Hnepeune said they had required a vessel that would be fuel-efficient and provide comfort while traveling in the rough waters between Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, and the three islands of Loyalty Islands Province.

The two presidents led the delegation from New Caledonia that attended the launch of the vessel here on Saturday. "Betico II will be a testimony to FBMA’s capability to build high-quality boats," Mr. Hnepeune said.

The vessel is a 57-meter high-speed catamaran that can carry 356 passengers and 10 vehicles. It will replace an Australian-built vessel that officials said "has not performed as expected."

FBMA won in April 2007 the contract to build the vessel over seven other shipyards, including Australian shipbuilder Austal. Mr. Gomes said a French maritime official who visited the shipyard here to inspect work on Betico II had assured them that they had made the right decision to award the contract to FBMA.

"He told us the vessel was being constructed under very strict conditions and that the FBMA is the best shipyard for the kind of vessel we have ordered. This comment is very important to us because the cost [of the vessel] is too high," Mr. Gomes said.

Mr. Aboitiz said the New Caledonia government had taken a leap of faith when it awarded the contract to FBMA. "We’re not the biggest but we’d like to think that each vessel we build does what it is designed to do. [New Caledonia] took a leap of faith in our ability."

The challenge now, he added, is to complete the vessel and deliver it to the client on time. About 500 workers, all Filipinos, are working on the three vessels.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Domestic liquidity grows 5.1%

By Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard

Domestic liquidity grew at a faster rate of 5.1 percent in June due mainly to steady inflows of remittances from migrant Filipino workers, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said yesterday.

Net foreign assets jumped 17.7 percent in June from a year ago despite the flight of capital from the stock market arising from global risk aversion. The central bank reported a 34.8 percent increase in net foreign assets while banks and other depository corporations registered a 16.4 percent drop.

Domestic credits rose 8.3 percent with the both public and private sectors posting increases. Public sector credit increased 2 percent from a year ago while that of the private sector rose 11.8 percent.

Central bank’s net domestic assets inched up 1.5 percent.

The central bank has been tightening up on monetary policy since June to bring down inflation. Higher interest rates aim to encourage banks to park their funds with the central bank as excess cash in the system fuels inflation.

The central bank raised its rates by 25 basis points yesterday after hiking them by 25 basis points in June and 50 basis points in July.

It raised the benchmark rate Thursday to tame inflation, saying the economy was “strong enough” to withstand a third increase in borrowing costs since June.

The central bank said the rate increase should help bring down core inflation, which excludes oil and some food prices. Core inflation, which is more easily influenced by domestic monetary policy, was higher than headline inflation.

“If we are able to manage inflation and manage it well, it will actually promote growth,” Deputy Gov. Diwa Guinigundo said. Philippine economic expansion is “still above strength” amid “encouraging” exports.

Economic growth eased to a three-year low of 4.6 percent in the second quarter as consumer spending waned, the government said. Countries from Indonesia to India are raising borrowing costs this year as higher commodity prices spur inflation, even as a global slowdown stifles demand for Intel Corp. computer chips and other Asia-made goods.

“If the central bank doesn’t raise rates now, they run the risk of inflation becoming a heavier burden later on,” said Yvette Marquez, who helps manage about $6.5 billion as a senior trader at BPI Asset Management. “Better fix it now than fix it later.”

Palace hikes public works spending to revive growth

Roy Pelovello
The Manila Standard

MALACAÑANG is proposing a 20-percent increase in public works spending next year to help revive the economy, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said yesterday.

The proposed 2009 National Budget sets aside P147.5 billion for infrastructure projects, an amount 20.7 percent higher than this year’s P122.2-billion appropriation and about 1.7 percent of the expected gross domestic product next year from 1.6 percent this year.

The proposed budget for the Highways Department next year increases to P230 billion when combined with the P32.1 billion to be spent on infrastructure by government-owned and -controlled corporations, and by another P50 billion if the budget for infrastructure building by the local governments is added.

“The government had already seen the signs of the slowdown early enough, and so it had to let go of its target of a balanced budget this year to stimulate economic growth via increased infrastructure spending,” Andaya said.

The depth of the economy’s slowdown in the first two quarters has surprised many analysts, and apparently even the National Economic Development Authority, which lowered the first quarter growth to 4.7 percent from 5.2 because of revisions in data for construction, trade and foreign inflows.

Second quarter growth was even lower at 4.6 percent.

Andaya said the biggest slice of the 2009 infrastructure pie, at P83.9 billion, would go to building roads and bridges.

The amount excludes the P4.37 billion that the Agriculture Department will use to build farm-to-market roads, and the P1.63 billion appropriated by the Agrarian Reform Department for infrastructure building.

“The increased funding for infrastructure is to address the concerns of foreign investors who would want to see more roads and bridges,” Andaya said.

“As these are being built, they generate jobs. When finished, they spur economic activity.”

The government is also allocating P13.2 billion for irrigation and P7.6 billion to repair or expand provincial airports.

In Metro Manila, Malacañang has set aside P4.3 billion to extend the Light Rail Transit’s Line 1 to the north, P858 million initially to extend Line 1 to Cavite from Baclaran, and P1.8 billion for Metro Rail Transit 3’s “operational requirements.”

The 2009 budget also set aside P8.519 billion to build 11,480 classrooms and 750 science laboratories and computer rooms.

And for the first time, the government would be providing the Health Department with P1.5 billion to supply clean water to hundreds of needy villages, Andaya said.

It is also allocating P7.5 billion to build and repair seawalls and flood control systems, P151 million to repair ports and lighthouses, P1.16 billion to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and P20.68 billion for the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Fund.