Saturday, 25 October 2008

Philippines eases visa procedures for tourists

Willy Rodolfo III
The Business Mirror

THE Philippines made a fairly large step toward encouraging and increasing tourist arrivals with its “visa-upon-arrival” program for every foreigner scheduled to start next year.

“This single act is more than P500 million in additional promotions budget for the DOT [Departmen of Tourism],” said Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano. “This has been in the works for many years and is very important because the first things tourists ask us is about their visas.”

The system will allow nationalities from nonvisa countries to fly to the Philippines through tourism department-and immigration bureau-accredited tour operators and get their visa on arrival. Nonvisa visitors are citizens of Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries, Korea, Japan, the United States and western European countries.

Durano anticipates that with the new program, arrivals from such visa countries as the former Soviet Union states, Russia and other countries in Asia and new members of the European Union would be encouraged to visit. He hopes the department would then hit easily, if not overshoot, its target visitors for next year.

“Countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia are the emerging markets with a lot of money for travel,” said Durano. “Most of our growth is from emerging markets that are former communist countries.”

He said the program makes it much more convenient for many prospective tourists to get Philippine visitor visas, noting that in some countries, the Philippine embassy or consulate is too far from many prospective tourists’ towns and cities.

Libanan said, however, that arrivals under the program must still be cleared by immigration upon arrival before they are allowed out of airports or seaports.

The program was formally inaugurated with the signing of an agreement between the Department of Tourism and the Bureau of Immigration at the sidelines of the 6th International Tourism Forum for Parliamentarians and Local Authorities, organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization in Mactan, Cebu.

Aside from the MOA, Durano and Commissioner Marcelino Libanan of Immigration also signed a joint memorandum circular instructing their respective offices to implement the program from January 1, 2009.

Libanan also announced the launch of their Interpol database next month to give the bureau timely data on internationally wanted criminals that airport officers can readily tap to check any arriving visitor.

Finance dep’t enlists public help vs corruption among revenue collectors

BusinessWorld Online

The Department of Finance (DoF) is stepping up its anti-corruption drive among its ranks, ordering revenue-generating agencies the Internal Revenue and Customs bureaus, as well as its other attached agencies to encourage citizens’ participation it its Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) program.

In department order no. 28-08, Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said posters to inform the public about the DoF-RIPS program have already been printed, with assistance of the United States Millenium Challenge Account-Philippine Threshold program, for circulation and posting in all offices of the department’s attached agencies.

"The BIR, BoC and all other bureaus or agencies attached to the DoF are hereby enjoined to post in a conspicuous place within office premises of all their respective departments, units, and offices nationwide at least one copy of DoF-RIPS poster, in a manner that will give an unobstructed view to the general public and other stakeholders transacting with the said bureau and/or agency," he said in the order, dated last October 21.

RIPS was created pursuant to Executive Order No. 259, series of 2003, to investigate and prevent corruption in the revenue-collecting agencies attached to the Finance department.

"There is an urgent need to issue the appropriate rules and regulations to enforce the proper posting and preservation of said DoF-RIPS posters, thereby ensuring full and effective dissemination of the information and other data presented therein to the general public," he said.

Mr. Teves said RIPS has engaged in an "unrelenting, systematic, and focused campaign" to prevent graft and corruption in the revenue-collecting agencies of the government, conducting lifestyle checks and investigating allegations of graft and corrupt towards the filing of administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.

"To maximize the effectiveness of the DoF-RIPS as an anti-corruption unit, there is an imperative necessity to inform the public about its structure, mandate, programs, initiatives, contact details, and other relevant data regarding its operations to facilitate, among others, the free flow of tips and raw information from stakeholders and informants, which can be used as basis for further investigative activities," he added.

Other agencies attached to the Finance department are the Bureau of Local Government Finance, Bureau of Treasury, Central Board of Assessment Appeals, the Insurance Commission, the National Tax Research Center, the Fiscal Incentives Review Board, and the Privatization and Management Office.

S.E. Asian nations adopt 10-year Rice Action Plan

Neil Jerome C. Morales
BusinessWorld Online

Southeast Asian nations on Friday endorsed a 10-year Rice Action Plan drafted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) involving increasing yields, research dissemination, and rice policy support, to make sure rice crises like the one that hit in the first half of this year will no longer recur, a press release by the IRRI read.

Agriculture ministers of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) approved the seven-point action plan during the 30th annual meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry in Hanoi, Vietnam this week.

ASEAN includes the world’s two largest rice exporters, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the biggest importer, the Philippines. Other members of ASEAN are Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei.

"We have the scientific expertise, knowledge, and partnerships to grow the rice Asia needs and now...we have strong political support," the statement quoted IRRI Director General Robert S. Zeigler as saying.

"The only thing missing are the financial resources needed to implement this," Mr. Zeigler said, telling the ministers that IRRI needs an additional $15 million a year for the next 10 years to support the ASEAN Rice Action Plan.

"At a time of trillion-dollar bailouts for the global financial sector, $15 million a year is barely the annual bonus of a former Wall Street executive," Mr. Zeigler said.

In a phone interview, IRRI spokesman Adam Barclay said "even as countries are worried about the financial crisis, we hope that support for agriculture would not be lost."

The Rice Action Plan was drafted by IRRI amid the rice price crisis in the first half, in consultation with its partners around the region.

At the height of the rice crisis in the first half, the United Nations World Food Programme observed that global rice stocks hit at a 20-year low while rice prices surged to a 20-year high. Consequently, the first half saw Philippine rice prices rising 40%-50% to P35-P45 per kilogram from P25/kg-P30/kg.

The seven-point plan includes "reducing the gap of 1-2 tons per hectare between actual and potential yield in most ricefields; accelerating the delivery of new postharvest technologies to reduce losses; accelerating the adoption of higher-yielding varieties; upgrading breeding of hybrid seeds; accelerating research on rice varieties; developing a new generation og rice scientists and researchers; and providing a conducive policy environment for rice production."

"[Delivery of post-harvest services] often gets neglected and it results in a lot of losses every year," Mr. Barclay said, noting that as much as 15% of yields are lost.

Philippine inflation seen falling to 2.5%-4.5% towards end-2009

G. S. dela Peña
BusinessWorld Online

Inflation is expected to continue tracing a downward path to reach low single-digit levels until 2010, a central bank official said on Friday.

Speaking at the sidelines of the anniversary celebration of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Diwa C. Guinigundo said inflation this month is expected to be lower than the 11.9% recorded in September, largely due to a decline in oil and food prices. He did not provide specific numbers.

Monetary officials have said that inflation had already peaked after hitting a high of 12.5% in August.

Mr. Guinigundo said price of Dubai crude — the benchmark for Philippine fuel pump prices — has gone down to around $63 per barrel, a significant decline from the $140.80-per-barrel level recorded last July 3. This raised expectations of further decline in domestic pump prices.

Prices of food have likewise gone down, following favorable weather conditions and early harvest in some parts of the country as well as the lifting of export bans by rice-exporting countries, he said.

Mr. Guinigundo also said low single-digit inflation rates ranging from 2.5%-4.5% should mark the months towards the end of 2009.

"[Towards the end of 2009], we expect inflation to hit that range," the central bank official told reporters, adding that inflation rate should still be at the upper end of that range, since too rapid a decline from 12.5% to low single-digit levels would be "recessionary."

He added that monetary authorities are looking at the same inflation range of 2.5%-4.5% as the average for the entire 2010.

Inflation was expected to average between 9%-11% this year, a breach of the 3%-5% target range set for the year. Inflation next year was expected to average at 6%-8%, a breach of the 2.5%-4.5% target.

EC, Malaysia President vow continued support for Mindanao peace talk

The Manila Bulletin

BEIJING. Cjoma (Via PLDT) — The European Commission’s Jose Manuel Barroso and Malaysian President Abdullah Badawi yesterday assured President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of continued support to the Philippines search for a peaceful settlement of the secessionist conflict in Mindanao.

In separate biliateral talks at the sidelines of the Seventh Asia-Europe Meeting that opened yesterday, the two leaders committed their continued assistance in solving the Mindanao issue.

Arroyo informed Badawi on the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-Ad) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the Malaysian head of state vowed to maintain his country’s help in seeking a settlement of the secessionist rebellion.

Malaysia had mediated the latest round of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF which produced the MoA-AD.

Arroyo and Badawi had a working breakfast for their bilateral talks at the kerry Center Hotel yesterday morning. Joining Arroyo in the meeting were peace adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon and members of the House of Representatives, including Reps. Danilo Suarez (NP, Quezon), Rodito Albano (Kampi, Isabela), and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (Kampi, Leyte).

Mrs. Arroyo likewise held dialogues with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat before motoring to the Great Hall of the People to discuss vital economic and security issues with Barroso.

ASEAN+3 OK $ 80-B fund as shield from int'l turmoil

President Arroyo, other leaders reach agreement at Beijing meet
Ben R. Rosario
The Manila Bulletin

BEIJING, China (Via PLDT) – Leaders of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) together with heads of state of China, Japan, and South Korea yesterday reached a consensus to take protective and preemptive measures that would shield vulnerable countries among them from the damaging effects of the worldwide financial turmoil.

They agreed to seriously consider the creation of a standby facility of at least $ 80 billion which could be raised to as high as $ 350 billion.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met with her counterparts in ASEAN+3 in a breakfast conference during which they agreed to set up a technical working group that will recommend the mechanics of a cooperative effort to help any ASEAN country in need to weather the financial storm.

During the meeting of ASEAN+3 on the sidelines of the Seventh Asia-Europe Meeting here, President Arroyo proposed a financial strategy that would set up the fund to cushion the impact on the economies of countries that would be affected.

She suggested that at least 50 percent of the total amount to be agreed upon be made immediately available.

In a briefing with reporters, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the heads of states agreed that the 1997 financial crisis that lashed at Asia, particularly member countries of ASEAN, has "provided useful lessons and served as a reminder on the improtance of sustained vigilance."

Teves said the meeting also agreed that the ASEAN member nations give an "unequivocal signal to increase investor confidence that ASEAN is resolute and better prepared to weather the crisis."

"They will work together to advance regional and economic integration, including accelerating the Chiang Mai initiative," he said.

The Chiang Mai Initiative calls for the establishment of a regional financing arrangement among the ASEAN nations, China, Japan, and Korea.

Teves explained that under a multilateral arrangement, any one of the contributing countries can tap the available credit facility. A formula and other requisites will still have to be proposed by finance ministers of member nations, who are expected to meet soon.

The mechanics of the plan will be submitted to the ASEAN+3 heads of states in their meeting scheduled on Dec. 17.

Teves said there was likewise a consensus to pursue the early implementation of an Asian bond initiative to ensure access to financing in spite of the volatility of the global market.

"There’s going to be a working group looking at the different proposals," Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco said.

Thailand, the country worst hit by the 1997 Asia financial crisis, batted for an increase in the amount of the proposed standby fund.

While Tetangco did not state the amount proposed by Thailand, Favila revealed that Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat believes raising the amount from $ 80 billion to $ 350 billion could be a comfortable compromise.

"It’s important that it be fairly sizeable. There’s a proposal to raise it from $ 80 to $ 350, but it should be quick disbursing and it should provide minimum conditionalities," Teves added.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Beautiful Bohol

By Saltshock

A time lapse movie on Bohol Province. Includes the Chocolate Hills, Panglao Island, Loboc River cruise and rajah sikatuna national park.

Philippine photos

By Saltshock

Philippines -- A Far Away Place

By Salt Shock

Various scenes in Palawan, Davao, Batangas and Mindoro

Video of North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) - Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx)

By Salt Shock

Travel the North Luzon Expressway and the brand new Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway in less than four minutes. Of course possible only through time lapse. Camera used - Nikon D80, with intervalometer.

Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project Photo Update

Click here to see a shot of the PNR DMU by Rotem, at the Railways and Industrial Heritage Society of the Philippines blog.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


AFP And Chino S. Leyco
The Manila Times

President Gloria Arroyo is to ask Congress to pass a law quadrupling bank deposit insurance to boost confidence in the banking system amid a global credit crisis, aides said Tuesday.

The maximum insured deposit guaranteed by the state-run Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC) will be increased from P250,000 to P1 million (about $20,800).

President Arroyo sees the increase as a “proportionate response to the global uncertainties,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a news conference.

He stressed that while the country’s banking system is stable, the increase was felt necessary to help underline confidence.

“There are no bank runs now,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said.

“The 1997 [Asian financial] crisis prepared us for this eventuality,” he said. “Our fundamentals are strong, but we are ready for possible problems in the future.”

Dureza said the step would also be in line with those already made by other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members that have “already increased their deposit insurance.”

Asean is a regional bloc of 10 countries that include the Philippines.

A P1-million guarantee on bank deposits could also require “a possible injection of equity” by the government into the deposit insurer, Ermita said.

President Arroyo has ordered her economic advisers to thresh out the details of the proposed law with congressional leaders, he added.

The central bank, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, earlier said Philippine banks’ combined exposure to subprime securities was less than 1 percent of the assets of the country’s banking system.

The banks holding these assets have made provisions for potential losses.

Earlier Tuesday the central bank said the non-performing loans (NPL) on the books of the Philippines’ largest banks were 3.88 percent of their total assets in August, an improvement over the previous month’s 3.98 percent and the 5.28 percent ratio a year earlier.

Universal and commercial banks, which are allowed to engage in other financial services, such as investment banking, now have bad loans totaling P91.53 billion compared to their total loan portfolio of P2.36 trillion.

The central bank gave no data for thrift banks.

“The industry sustained an improving trend for the past six months and kept the NPL ratio below 4 percent for the past three months,” it added.

The 1.07 percent month-on-month improvement was complemented by a 1.45 percent expansion in the total loan portfolio of universal and commercial banks.

Increase needs study

The Department of Finance will study the proposal of doubling the amount of deposits insured by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.

Earlier, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the proposal would require capital infusion from the national government and might result in higher deficit spending – if that move would be shouldered solely by the state.

“Likelihood is the national government will absorb this [capital infusion]. Unless there are corresponding revenues, there will be an additional deficit,” Teves told reporters also on Tuesday.

He said there is a convergence in principle about the increase in insurance coverage, but as to how that would be financed, “that will have to be studied.”

One option that could lessen the effects on the country’s fiscal condition, according to the Finance secretary, would be for government and private banks to share the responsibility of infusing capital into the deposit insurer.

But Jose Cuisia Jr., a former central bank governor and now Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. (Philamlife) president and chief executive officer, said the proposal may be unrealistic considering the current financial position of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.

He asked where would the government get the money to infuse additional capital into the deposit insurer.

Neo colonialism

By Mike Wootton

Colonialism is alive and well in the Philippines, despite the current fashion of “diversity and inclusiveness”—for those who may not have come across this overly complicated human resources coined term it means integrating into the environment in which you are operating, or put more simply giving local people equal opportunity in your international business.

Indeed the Spaniards and the Americans are no longer directing the affairs of the Philippines, but neo Colonialism is insidious. I will cite two examples.

Foreign embassies and indeed foreign multinationals tend to insist that their staff located in the Philippines pay high salaries to their household employees. The salary levels to which they guide their employees are generally way above the local going rate, I have heard of P12,000-P14,000/month for house helpers with one or two days off a week, medical expenses covered, free food, etc., etc. Well “really good” you may say when the local rate is P4,000-5,000/month.

But is it? It may be nice for somebody for a year or two or however long is the posting of their foreign employer, but what happens when they leave their Philippines assignment and the helpers are looking for jobs in the local market—very difficult to match the high Embassy dictated salary levels, very disappointing and a hard adjustment back to local rates—unhappiness and frustration.

Another example is that of the foreign multinational industrial company who decides to build some sort of production facility in the Philippines—and this also covers some of the foreign contractors. How much do they want to know about Philippines capabilities and capacity—very little I think. “We will use the same suppliers and consultants that we use all over the world—we will import concrete pipes from New Zealand or Thailand” (because that is where we usually get them)—“Philippines capacity?—don’t know” (don’t care!) “probably not available, and would be poor quality anyway.”

There is perfectly competent Philippines capacity for most construction requirements, if only people would bother to look for it (mind you it is not always easy to find) and it is available at a fraction of the cost of materials imported from for example, New Zealand. This colo-nialist attitude puts the investment cost up and therefore becomes an important factor in the decision making as to whether or not to invest in the Philippines.

Once again, people do not try, they take the easy way, its safe and there is not too much effort involved; they can still find time to involve themselves in golf, and other extraneous pursuits in order to ensure that their quality of life doesn’t suffer by a posting in the Philippines. To recommend to their foreign masters the use of local Filipino resources instead of tried and tested international contractors and suppliers involves the risk of blame if things go wrong, use the familiar and even if it does go wrong, you won’t be blamed—let’s have an easy life. Even more counterproductive to Filipino investment prospects is to have local offices of international contractors who will not consider the use of Filipino resources.

I have an example in which a foreign investor was told by a foreign contractor in the Philippines that the cost of his investment would be 40 percent higher than it actually would have been using Filipino resources, because the foreign contractor would use only foreign manufactured goods and management personnel. This damages Filipino investment prospects as well as Filipino industry.

Unusual you may say for me, a Brit, to be saying this sort of thing. I am no longer attached to a large multinational. I am now a foreign investor in my own right, but having been here for 11 years and having seen from the inside the attitudes of major multinationals and the foreign contractors who purport to serve them, and who follow them all over the world (good business for them) and contrasting this with my own investment and development efforts, I am well aware that if you look hard enough there is plenty of capacity in the Philippines. It is not necessary to go to the expense of importing concrete pipes from New Zealand etc - and that by making use of local capacity better returns on investment can be achieved. More is the pity that many foreign multinationals don’t really care about the cost; their Philippines based senior management people just want an easy life.

So, yes colonialism is still around, albeit not in the commonly understood sense and in some cases it is damaging the Philippines. The Philippines can however help itself here, certainly in the construction area by making it easier for foreign investors to find out what is actually available in the way of capacity.

Mike can be contacted at

Yao undertakes Zest Air refleeting plan

By Elaine R. Alanguilan
The Manila Standard

ZEST Airways Inc., formerly Asian Spirit, has taken delivery of five new aircraft as part of a refleeting program that aims to capture a 10-percent share of the low-cost air travel market.

Banker and juice magnate Alfredo Yao, who also owns Zest-O Corp. and Philippine Business Bank, told reporters the budget airline will also receive five more brand-new aircraft next year as the airline beefs up its fleet to become a significant player in industry.

“We are rationalizing the fleet. Five MA-60 aircraft were already delivered and two more Airbus jets are coming in next month,” said Yao. All seven aircraft came from Canada.

The Airbus A-320s are ideal for regional and high-traffic domestic destinations, while the five 60-seater turboprop MA-60s will be used for short distance flights.

Yao supposedly earmarked in excess of $200 million for the ambitious refleeting program.

By the end of the year, he said the carrier would have a fleet of 10 to 11 after his group disposed of the aircraft that used to be part of Asian Spirit’s fleet.

The airline has also been adding the number of frequencies to existing destinations as well as flying new routes in recent months as part of its expansion program.

“Hopefully, we can get a 10-percent market share after a year of operations,” said Yao, noting the changes in the airline industry.

He said destinations like Caticlan in Aklan used to be dominated by small carriers like Asian Spirit and SEAIR, but even Philippine Airlines is now flying to that destination.

The company is eyeing the usual regional destinations like Hong Kong after inaugural flights to Inchong, Korea, Sandakan, Malaysia, and Macau. It is also looking at flying new domestic routes like Busuanga in Palawan.

Three local airlines expand in Clark to boost tourism, trade


MANILA, Philippines - Services at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Pampanga expand with the recent approval of more flight entitlements for three local carriers.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) last week approved new flights of Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair), Zest Air (formerly known as Asian Spirit), and Air Philippines, which will start operating at the DMIA in November.

The regulator has granted Seair a weekly allocation of 1,260 seats to fly a Clark-Hong Kong route and 2,520 seats for a Clark-Macau flight. The airline will also fly four times a day to Thailand.

Seair is likewise planning flights to Brunei and Malaysia, as well as to Palawan and Zamboanga.

"Clark will now be linked not only to Mindanao but also to Southern Asian neighbors like Brunei and Malaysia," Clark International Airport Corp. president and chief executive Jose Victor I Luciano said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Zest Air will fly daily to Hong Kong and Thailand, and twice daily to Macau via Clark.

Air Philippines, on the other hand, will also be serving Clark with a frequency of two flights a week to Macau.

The increase of airline services in Clark is part of the government's efforts to boost tourism, trade and investments in Central and Northern Luzon. - GMANews.TV

Manila plans $2B fund to shield economy from crisis

MANILA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Wednesday she supported a plan to create a 100 billion peso ($2.06 billion) fund to help insulate the economy from a recession in United States.

Arroyo said the fund, a proposal made by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and to be financed by the government and private banks, will be used to bankroll education and infrastructure projects.

Arroyo said state-owned financial institutions including Development Bank of the Philippines and pension fund Social Security have committed to contribute to the fund.

"We hope the private banking sector will join in this," she told a business forum.

"That way, we can put our money in human capital formation which will provide direct income and services to the poor."

Arroyo also announced a series of measures to cushion the impact of a possible U.S. recession on the domestic economy, including those aimed at minimising the impact on the remittances of Filipinos working overseas, a key engine of growth.

"So far there has been no displacement of expatriates related to the financial crisis," she said.

Arroyo also said the domestic economy has "shock absorbers" including a strong banking system that will help it weather the global economic turmoil.

The government is also confident its full-year budget deficit could be smaller than the targeted 75 billion pesos or 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, Arroyo said.

"So far as of the end of September, it is 53.4 billion pesos which we can extrapolate to 71.2 billion pesos by the end of the year and privatising Petron will provide additional headroom of 25.7 billion pesos," she said.

The government has offered to sell its 40 percent stake in oil refiner Petron Corp (PCOR.PS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) to Ashmore Group PLC (ASHM.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) which already holds 50.57 percent of the company. ($1=48.62 pesos) (Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Kazunori Takada)

Philippine gov’t buying P17-B local rice to boost production

The Manila Bulletin

The National Food Authority (NFA) will spend R17 billion to buy one million metric tons of rice from local farmers starting first quarter of 2009 to boost rice production in the country, Malacañang announced yesterday.

The government decided to increase NFA’s buying volume of palay from 2.5 percent to 10 percent to bring the cost of rice subsidies to a level viable for farmers and affordable to consumers, according to Press Secretary Jesus Dureza.

The aggressive NFA domestic rice purchase was reached during a joint meeting of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) cabinet group, the National Food and Energy Council, and the Price Coordinating Council presided by President Arroyo in Malacañang.

"There is a decision that NFA will buy at least 10 percent of total rice production. According to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, his estimate is that this will amount to about 1 million metric tons that NFA will have to buy costing about R17 billion," Dureza said.

With this latest government intervention, Dureza said, the administration aims to strike a balance between keeping rice costs within the reach of poor Filipinos and giving incentives to Filipino farmers to plant more rice.

"When we start buying the 10 percent of the total palay produce, we will be able to influence the price to a level that will still be viable to the farmers to be able to plant rice and continue with their productivity, but at the same time also make it also affordable to the consumers," he said.

At present, the NFA buys palay at R17 per kilo at farmgate prices and sells the staple at R18.25 per kilo to poor Filipinos, which is half the prevailing market price. So far, it has bought only 250,000 metric tons from local farmers this year.

Dureza assured that the government will keep the R18.25 NFA rice level. The rice subsidy, one of the anti-poverty programs of the Arroyo government, benefits hundreds of thousands poor families with access cards.

He said the government’s increased purchase of domestic rice may influence private rice traders to also raise their farmgate prices, currently at R14 per kilo, to benefit farmers.

Dureza said there might a slight increase in the prices of rice sold in commercial stores eventually. "If prices are too low, consumers will be happy but farmers won’t plant rice," he added.

Secretary Yap, in a teleconference with reporters, said the higher buying volume of NFA will start this December until the first quarter of 2009.

In another meeting in Malacañang, Dureza said the NEDA board approved a R1.7-million credit line for energy efficiency and climate protection project in the country.

The Land Bank of the Philippines will account for R344.29 million while the rest will be funded by Germany-based lending firm Kredintanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (KfW).

The credit line aims to manage consumption of primary energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions by supporting initiatives and projects on energy efficiency and climate protection. It will be implemented from 2009 to 2012.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Financial turmoil may be blessing in disguise for Philippine BPO industry

The Manila Bulletin

The financial crisis may have put the US economy in excruciating agony right now, but this same misery, ironically, stands to benefit the Philippines.

The country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, in particular, is expecting a windfall as a result of US firms moving their outsourcing needs to the Philippines where the cost of labor is much cheaper.

Industry players, as well as research firms and observers, are one in saying that the American financial crunch could pose no danger to the Philippines and could, in fact, bring in more outsourcing jobs.

Benedict Hernandez, president of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), stated in a circular that the growth forecast for the industry remains "robust" at 30 percent this year.

The growth figure, according to Hernandez, is based on a mid-year assessment with the group’s members, who represent 80 percent of the industry, and from industry suppliers who report about 35 percent growth in orders for their equipment this year.

"We believe that the global financial situation is driving even more interest from US-based companies in the Philippines as a lower cost and superior quality destination for their contact center outsourcing needs," he stated.

Interestingly, Hernandez said some CCAP members have "even reported an increasing interest from other countries like the United Kingdom and Australia to take advantage of a lower-cost, superior value offering of the Philippines."

He added: "We are excited to grow to more than 200,000 employees generating over billion [sic] this year as our industry’s contribution to nation building."

Oscar Sanez, chief executive of the Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), was also quoted in television saying that the outsourcing sector isn’t expecting any slowdown but is actually looking forward to getting more jobs from the US.

Canada-quartered IT analyst firm XMG buttressed the industry’s assertion, saying IT and the offshoring industry will remain as bright spots in the next two years.

"Industries such as the financial, insurance and manufacturing industries, which will all take a direct hit by the slowing economy, will slash jobs. This increases the potential talent pool for larger and upbeat business process third party vendors with healthy sales pipeline for business process services," the XMG report said.

However, XMG said it has revised its growth forecast for outsourcing to 24.2 percent from the 34 percent it predicted in 2007. The cut, the analyst company said, is due to "reduced investments by captive operations."

"The global financial upheaval will have a deleterious effect across most industries, but the IT industry and offshoring specifically will still experience double digit growths," said XMG chief analyst Lauro Vives.

He added: "These numbers are rare bright spot during tough times."

XMG said the research results are in-line with its expectations that the technology services sector will continue to hold steady regardless of the economic situation.

"No matter what the economic situation dictates, the sought after resource will always be people and expertise."

A lawmaker, meanwhile, said the emergence of JP Morgan Chase as the largest US bank augurs well for the country as it is expected that it would soon offshore more back office jobs to the Philippines.

Catanduanes representative Joseph Santiago, chairman of the House information and communications technology committee, said in a statement that JP Morgan’s acquisition of Washington Mutual Inc. (WaMu) is a boost to the country since WaMu is a key client of call center operator PeopleSupport.

PeopleSupport, which was recently acquired by India-based Aegis Corp., runs three call centers in the country and employs around 8,000 Filipino agents.

"When American firms slash costs due to mergers or an economic slowdown, the first to go tend to be high-paying US–based jobs. They hardly bother to reexamine toward scaling down their low-cost outsourcing activities here, at least not on the basis of cost," he stated.

"Among US banks, JP Morgan is the most comfortable with the Philippines. The bank has been here for 47 years. It has become totally acclimatized to our political and economic conditions," Santiago noted.

"Our sense is, now that it has become larger, JP Morgan would be inclined to build up in a big way its contact centers and other back offices here," he added.

JP Morgan first outsourced customer support jobs to the Philippines in 2003 by putting up a 900-seat contact center in Makati City. The US bank recently launched a new 1,400-seat contact center in Taguig City.

After acquiring Bear Stearnsin March and then WaMu last month, JP Morgan has emerged as the largest US bank in terms of market capitalization, surpassing Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.

Santiago, meanwhile, stated he expects the American International Group Inc. (AIG) to sell its local outsourcing subsidiary, AIG Business Processing Services Inc. (AIG-BPSI).

AIG-BPSI provides back office operations and contact support services for AIG businesses worldwide.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Domestic Liquidity Growth Accelerates in August

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral
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Domestic liquidity or M3 growth accelerated in August, expanding by 9.8 percent year-on-year from 4.1 percent in July. This was based on the Depository Corporations Survey generated from the Financial Reporting Package (FRP), the new system of bank reports that is consistent with the International Accounting Standards (IAS) and International Financial Reporting System (IFRS).1

The expansion in domestic liquidity was driven by the strong growth in net domestic assets (NDA) at 10.0 percent from 0.4 percent in July. This can be attributed primarily to the sustained expansion in credits extended to the private sector at 19.0 percent (higher than the 12.8 percent growth posted in the previous month), supported by the strong bank lending growth during the period. Meanwhile, credit extended to the public sector continued to decline, dropping by 1.9 percent as the build-up in the deposits of the National Government (NG) more than offset the increased lending to the NG and to local governments and other public entities. The expansion in the net foreign assets of depository corporations slowed down to 5.4 percent (from the 12.5 percent growth registered in July), due largely to the decline in the foreign assets of depository corporations (at 14.2 percent) as banks’ investments in foreign securities during the month were lower relative to the same period a year ago.

According to BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr., the level of domestic liquidity is important in the assessment of the inflation outlook. He said that the BSP will continue to ensure that the liquidity conditions are consistent with the price stability objective, while at the same time being mindful of the growth requirements of the economy.


1 All numbers were worked back to show a consistent series.

Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project Photo Update

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Airport makeover from inside and out

Vito Barcelo
The Manila Standard

When the sprucing up is done next month, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 will defy its ’80s vintage.

The facelift starts with the facade’s all-glass window at the departure area along with trees and flowering plants lining up at the parking lot, according to Tirso Serrano, assistant general manager.

Completed in 1981, the facility covered 67,000 square meters with a carrying capacity of 4.5 million passengers a year.

“The oldest air terminal is undergoing renovation to have a new look,” Serrano said, adding that the arrival section would be sporting new rubberized flooring to replace worn-out tiles.

Not to be outclassed by the Naia-3, an entire structure built from ground up, the comfort zone would fit flights other than those of the Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

“Naia-1 will continue to serve all foreign airlines,” Serrano said, noting that the four restrooms were upgraded as well.

“The bowl saves at least 100,000 gallons of water a year. There is no need to flush.”

The renovation would cost at least P100 million to be sourced by the Manila International Airport Authority from fees and rentals, said Serrano.

Cardinal Rosales advises solons on population, health bill

Leslie Ann G. Aquino
The Manila Bulletin

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales yesterday urged lawmakers to think of more creative ways to manage the population properly instead of just trying to limit it, if they really want to give the people a better life.

"Our lawmakers take this population issue as a purely economic and social issue. It’s an ethical issue not just purely socio and economic. It’s a moral issue," he said at the Baseco compound in Manila, where he celebrated mass for the urban poor.

"What I want for them to do is emulate Mayor (Alfredo) Lim. He is using his imagination on how to really help the people," he said.

"Roads, playgrounds, and education – that’s the way to do it," Rosales said. "Having a playground will not only develop close ties among families but also help married couples find another form of recreation. Many adults, especially married couples, only know one form of recreation. That’s not right. With this, the adults can join the young ones in having clean fun."

The Catholic Church has been opposing the passage of the reproductive health bill in Congress due to its promotion of the use of artificial contraceptives such condoms and pills. House Bill 5043 reportedly is only eight votes shy of approval on second reading. It has been co-authored by 112 out of the 238 congressmen. The bill needs 120 votes to be approved.

Meanwhile, Rosales described as long overdue the establishment of a fund to finance international efforts against global warming.

"We have been saying that for a long time in our sermons, but nobody believed us," he said."We need it very much. Global warming is not an economic issue; it’s a survival issue and, therefore, it’s an ethical issue."

"What the people fail to realize," he said, "is that the earth was created by God not only for this generation but for all generations to come. All these resources from earth -- mineral resources, chemical resources like crude oil, water resources, forests, rivers and lakes, the air… are not only for us to enjoy. In the mind of God, these are also for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren."

He noted that last Saturday, lawmakers from various countries issued the "Manila Declaration" calling for the establishment of a global fund that cam be utilized in "reducing human, social, economic, and environmental vulnerability to climate-related hazards."