Saturday, 6 December 2008

PGMA hails construction of prov’l bus loading, unloading stations along EDSA

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waves as she inspects the foot bridges located under the EDSA overpass at the corner of Quezon Avenue after she formally launched the 16th Metro Manila Development Authority's (MMDA) Provincial Bus Loading and Unloading Station and Connecting Foot Bridges in the area. At left is MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando. (Bert Canilang/OPS-NIB Photo)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arrroyo converses with the Metro aides as she inspects the foot bridges located under the EDSA overpass at the corner of Quezon Avenue after the formal launching ceremonies of the 16th Metro Manila Development Authority's (MMDA) Provincial Bus Loading and Unloading Station and Connecting Foot Bridges in the area. At left is Laguna Governor Luningning Lazaro. (Bert Canilang/OPS-NIB Photo)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lauded today the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for constructing provincial bus loading and unloading stations along the 24-kilometer stretch of Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), saying the project would ensure greater safety for commuters and ease traffic congestion.

The EDSA-Quezon Avenue loading/unloading station is one of the 16 stations to be constructed along EDSA this year in keeping with the President’s directive to the MMDA to conceptualize a new traffic improvement scheme for EDSA.

The President had noted that the use of common bus stops for both provincial and the city buses was contributing to traffic gridlock along EDSA.

There are at least 3,000 city buses that ply daily the EDSA route, which passes through the territories of five cities – Caloocan, Quezon, Pasig, Makati and Pasay.

Provincial bus operators had also urged MMDA to construct pre-selected loading and unloading stations along EDSA for the convenience of commuters.

Of the 15 provincial bus loading and unloading stations, nine are located on the north-bound lane of EDSA -- at Magallanes, Guadalupe Bridge, Boni Serrano, Julia Vargas Avenue (Megamall), Ortigas Avenue, Timog/East Avenue, Quezon Avenue, North Avenue (Trinoma) and Balintawak.

On the south-bound line, the six stations are in West Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Timog/East Avenue, Ortigas Avenue, Ayala Avenue and Taft Avenue.

Malaking pakinabang ang naidulot sa ka-Maynila-an ang araw-araw na pagko-commute (ng mga galing sa Central at Southern Luzon papasok sa kanilang mga opisina). Nababawasan ang kanilang (gastusin o) amenities na kailangan nilang ihandog kung dumadayo lamang,” the President said.

Pinasisigla din nitong mga commuters ang negosyo ng transportasyon at serbisyo sa Metro Manila at kanilang mga probinsya,” she added.

The President said that the project, which includes the construction of foot bridges, has greatly improved the general safety of passengers and commuters who have to cross EDSA to get to their destinations.

“Without bus stops (and its connecting foot bridges), imagine that a senior citizen from Zambales who wants to go to Megamall will have to stop at the terminal of Victory (Lines, Inc.) in Pasay City then take a Metro Manila bus or MRT to reach Megamall,” she said.

She added that the “designation of the bus stops would end the guerilla practice of picking up and unloading passengers along EDSA and it will address the legitimate economic and safety imperatives that have been raised by provincial commuters and by the governors who have told us that their constituents were having a hard time.”

After the launching ceremony, the President walked to the adjacent unloading station where she personally greeted passengers arriving from places north of Quezon City.

She was then escorted to a nearby staircase where she took a guided tour of the foot bridge before heading back to Malacañang.

Joining the President were MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, QC 4th District Rep. Nanette Castelo-Daza, 3rd District Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., 2nd District Rep. Mary Anne Susano and Governors Victor Yap (Tarlac), Aurelio Umali (Nueva Ecija), Enrique Garcia (Bataan), Joselito Mendoza (Bulacan) and Teresita Lazaro (Laguna).

Hanjin to proceed with world's 2nd largest shipyard in Misamis Oriental

By Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The decision of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) to resume the construction of what is being touted as Asia’s largest ship-building project in Misamis Oriental was an early Christmas gift to the people of Northern Mindanao, Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno said.

The $2 billion ship-building facility will sit on a 441-hectare area that spans the towns of Villanueva and Tagoloan.

The Korean company said it would be the second largest such facility in the world when finished.

Hanjin suspended the project in May over a row with officials of the two towns.

But Trade Secretary Peter Favila told reporters in Hong Kong early Wednesday that Hanjin has decided to push through with the project, which will employ about 40,000 people from the construction stage to the actual operation.

“Company officials told me that they are proceeding with the project. They are just waiting for some approval,” Favila was quoted in newspaper reports as saying.

“That is good news. It helps that we did not give up,” Moreno told the Inquirer by phone. Moreno heads a Malacañang-created task force to oversee the project.

He admitted to have heaved a sigh of relief upon knowing that the Korean company was finalizing the resumption of the project, one of the largest single investment at the Phividec Industrial Estate.

“Now we will proceed with what we are supposed to do,” he said.

Andrew Tan’s big bets

By Tony Lopez

This year, Alliance Global Inc. chair and Chief Executive Offiver Andrew Tan made two big bets—on casinos and in tourism. They will make him the biggest hotelier in the Philippines, in addition to being the biggest business process outsourcing office developer and the second biggest mid-income high-rise residential and office developer.

Tan, 59, is chairman and CEO of Alliance Global Group Inc., his holding company, and chairman, president and CEO of Megaworld Corp., his property development company.

Alliance is one of the Philippines’ leading conglomerates, with interests in the food and beverage industry, real estate development and quick service restaurants.

Tan, who doesn’t gamble, is investing at a dicey time when many casinos are in financial doldrums and attendance has dropped. At the same time, high-end hotels are having problems drawing top tourist dollar.

Tan thinks hotels and entertainment are revenue-drivers of the company in the future.

Andrew is one entrepreneur who looks beyond the passion and mood of the moment. He didn’t become rich by being daunted by present-day obstacles and challenges.

Tan has partnered with a unit of Genting, the Malaysian gaming company, to build two mega resorts and casinos—one across the NAIA Terminal 3 and the other on reclaimed land along Manila Bay.

An Alliance Group subsidiary, Travellers International Hotel Group Inc. (Travellers), has ventured into tourism-oriented development. It will invest at least US$1.55 billion in two large-scale tourism projects to be developed in various phases over the next few years.

The project includes the building of 5,000 hotel rooms which will make Travellers the largest hotel owner in the country.

With the growth in the global tourism industry and the positioning of Travellers as a major player in this sector, it is expected that Travellers will be a major contributor to Alliance Group, the company says.

On June 2, 2008, the state Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. issued Travellers the first provisional license to participate in Pagcor’s ambitious project, a leisure and entertainment complex which includes the development of the Bagong Nayong Pilipino Entertainment City and Resort Complex on Manila’s famous reclaimed bay area.

Travellers has also set development in another tourism site—the Newport City Integrated Resort located across the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City—where it will build three hotels and a themed shopping and entertainment center.

Alliance Group has concluded a deal with Star Cruises Limited of Hong Kong whereby Star Cruises will eventually acquire 50-percent (direct and indirect) interest in Travellers.

Star Cruises, the third largest cruise operator in the world, is a member of Malaysia-based Genting Group, one of the largest leisure and entertainment companies in the world. This partnership will transform Travellers into a major growth driver for Alliance Global within the next few years, the company says.

For 2008, of the 17 new residential projects scheduled for launch, 16 have already been launched and substantially pre-sold. Total potential revenues from the 17 are P26 billion to be realized over time.

For BPO office, 50,000 square meters has been completed and over 90 percent leased. The remaining balance of 50,000 square meters of BPO office space schedule for completion this year is about 40 percent pre-leased.

On the retail side, 45,000 square meters of retail space was recently completed and is now about 80 percent pre-leased. These developments are expected to enhance RE (real estate) results.

Likewise, more McDonald’s restaurants will be opened during the year and a number of existing ones re-imaged to boost QSR income.

New alcoholic beverages have been pipelined plus a customer activation program put in place as well. In September, EDI launched a consumer promo, “Tagumpay Sa Negosyo,” that gives out enterprise fund for the winner to set up his own business. All these aim to achieve the profit goal for the year.

Tan is the first developer who saw the potential of once sleepy Libis in Quezon City as a prime property. He developed Eastwood City.

He predicted the huge demand for call centers considering the Philippines’ English language skills and strategic location. He put up call centers, becoming its biggest developer.

He sensed the strong demand for housing from cash-rich Filipino workers. He developed housing projects for them.

By so doing, Tan became big almost overnight, a stirring rags-to-riches story.

Gifted with visionary entrepreneurship—and the proverbial Midas touch—Andrew is at the top of his game, presiding over a business conglomerate with a workforce of more than 4,000, total assets of P111 billion and equity of P77.65 billion.

Alliance Group has three major operating units:

• Real estate, which includes Mega­world and Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc.,

• Food and beverage which includes the (1) distilled spirit manufacturing, marketing and distribution, presently with Emperador and Generoso brandy labels, (2) operations of the foreign-based subsidiaries that handle the manufacture and international distribution of food products, (3) glass container manufacturing business that produces flint glass containers primarily for internal requirements, and (4) distribution of consumer products under international labels

• Quick service restaurant business (QSR)—operates under the McDonald’s brand, in accordance with a master franchise agreement with McDonald’s USA. Golden Arches Development Corp. represents this segment.

Emperador is the world’s best-selling brandy. It helped that the Filipino aspirational taste shifted from gin to brandy.

Brandy actually financed Tan’s acquisition and expansion during the difficult years after the 1997 Asian Crisis. The business was giving him profits of P1 billion annually, enabling him to undertake feverish construction during the real estate slump and reaping the benefits of recovery.

Megaworld Corp. is the largest developer of space for business process outsourcing (BPO). It is the second biggest in the mid-income high-rise residential condominium development.

In less than 20 years, the Megaworld Group has developed and completed 50 residential, office and commercial projects.

Founded by Tan in 1989, Megaworld is one of the leading property development companies in the Philippines.

Philippine government employees get P10,000 Xmas bonus

Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard

PRESIDENT Arroyo has ordered the release of more than P11 billion to cover an additional P10,000 Christmas bonus for all state workers, including contractuals who have been employed in government service for at least four months.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said P7,000 of the productivity bonus will be shouldered by the national government while P3,000 will be sourced from the savings of their respective agencies.

“I have been authorized by the President to end all watercooler chismis, lunchtime talk, powder room chitchats and evening novenas on what will be this year’s yearend productivity bonus,” Andaya told members of the Philippine Government Employees Association during their national assembly at the Palace yesterday.

He said the President is expected to sign this week the executive order for the additional Christmas bonus totaling P11 billion for national government workers alone.

Andaya also said the third round of salary increase for state workers, officially known as the Salary Standardization Law 3, will be implemented next year.

Just Build It

Peter Wallace
The Manila Standard

What I want to do today is concentrate on infrastructure because it is one of the most neglected, yet most needed sectors. It is also a great way of avoiding a recession as it probably does stimulate an economy.

And let me start with the South Luzon Expressway. I pointed out the chaotic construction and suggested too that quality wasn’t to necessary standards. So action 1 is to cancel the contracts and give it to someone like Leighton Contractors who did such an excellent job on the North Luzon Expressway (to be completely transparent, Leighton is one of my clients but I will not benefit financially from making this recommendation. It does, though, mean I know the competence and professionalism of this company). Or Kajima-Obayashi-JFE Engineering-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. (KOJM) and Hazama-Taisei-Nippon Steel (HTN) who did the Clark-Tarlac-Subic connection.

Then rebuild the Northern Samar roads. Poverty is so prevalent there.

LRT-7 is an excellent concept that would provide efficient public transport from the north into the city. Yet it took seven years to get a contract signed. That was in February this year, 10 months ago. So you’d expect that construction had started by now. No way. All the permits, licenses, negotiations have yet to be completed. Here’s something that could really help the economy during this crisis. It’s stuck in the bureaucracy.

My wife and I have adopted a town, Calminue, in Laguna. Calminue had no road, no electricity, no water, and a school with only half a roof. Needless to say, it had no income to speak of. We put the roof back on, the electricity is on the way, and the mayor started a concrete road before the elections—but stopped it after 100 meters and the end of the elections. So there is no road and there is still no water.

I’ve no doubt at all this is replicated in hundreds (thousands?) of towns. Visit any rural town from the northernmost part of Luzon to the southern areas in Mindanao and you’ll know you’re still in the Philippines mainly because the “structural design” of every town would be the same. It’d be like you stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” because almost exactly the same kind of unpaved or partially paved, narrow road in one town is replicated in every other. A dilapidated school building in one town would have a cousin in another. One or two “grand” houses (generally the mayor’s and the vice mayor’s) amongst the other badly painted ones along the “national highway” can be observed in every town.

By the way, you should see the new town hall in Calamba, it rivals Malacañang Palace. A huge monstrosity in a town that has constant grid lock on its roads, if you can call the one lane (the other—where it exists—is blocked by tricycles, jeepneys, people) a road. I guess it satisfies the mayor’s ego, although it doesn’t satisfy the people’s needs.

Basically, quality of infrastructure is the same in hundreds of towns throughout the Philippines. The Philippines is a quarter century behind its neighbors. So it’s no wonder then that 28 million Filipinos have remained in poverty. How can they not be anything but poor when they don’t have access even to the most basic infrastructure? Less than 1 percent of the poorest have piped drinking water, only 8 percent own flushed toilets (and no seats on those toilets of course), and only about 7 percent have access to electricity. In consonance with this is the people’s sources of livelihood—there’s none.

So here’s where pump priming could really work. Constructing the road, finishing the power lines, and installing water piping would provide immediate jobs, not to mention improve the plight of all those Filipinos in poverty who don’t even have access to basic infrastructure. The local people should be hired to be the laborers for all this work with the country’s soldiers helping out as part of their civic program. The people could then grow crops and get them to the market, giving continuous income and economic upliftment. If it would take too long for new construction to get started, focus on the rehabilitation and upgrading of existing infrastructure so that productivity could increase. Or in most cases, start.

Now isn’t that a much smarter thing to do if you want to avoid a recession and build an economy than giving people a broom and T-shirt—to sweep the dilapidated streets.

Governors and mayors could easily implement such infrastructure projects as they have control over their resources. But the need to concentrate only on “quick result” projects to enhance their re-election potential means the really serious, necessary stuff gets brushed aside—it takes too long for results to show. Well, they could have finished many projects before the next election if they started earlier and not during the re-election period. Another problem is the small geographical area that a mayor controls, it’s a reason why local government units only manage to implement small-scale projects. Yet they could do the bigger jobs if there were coordination between them that would enable them to pool their resources.

But, as I said last week, what worries me most is that too much of whatever funds that can be found to pump prime will be used to pump prime someone’s bank account instead. It’s silly to pretend otherwise, the Philippines is corrupt. Every survey, every analysis says so.

So I want people in the private sector that we trust to oversee all fund releases, and have authority to fully inspect. This is a unique opportunity (out of crisis) for the President to prove she’s determined to fight corruption and help the country avoid a financial meltdown. It’s time to do radical things.

Of course the other thing is that even if the money is available, I’ve some real doubts that it can be spent. Government agencies already can’t spend the funds given them. Their systems are so corrupted (in the operational, not financial sense) that they can’t get all the projects started that are assigned to them. Added to that the complete lack of coordination among line agencies in implementing projects, and progress just doesn’t happen.

The problem with the infrastructure system in the Philippines lies on the basic tenet that building infrastructure requires sound policies. And if there’s anything that’s not present here, it’s sound policies. Sound policies would mean simplification of the bureaucratic processes, approvals where as little discretion as possible is needed, where automatic approvals are given when targets are met. Sound policies would mean consistency in policy implementation to encourage private sector participation, yet the “multi-layered” risks originating from the constant and irrational intervention of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government just make sound policies impossible.

Oh the talk is there, but the reality isn’t. The president has promised to reduce red tape, well we could wrap all the Christmas presents to be given this Christmas by 90 million Filipinos to each other—and still have tape left over.

There’s a world crisis, it’s time to go beyond talk and effect action. I’ve suggested a few specifics above, I’ve lots more.

Comments to my columns can be sent to

What downsizing? Job fair comes in handy

By Arlie Calalo
The Manila Standard

AT LEAST 30 big companies in Metro Manila are responding to the government call to expand employment opportunities amid fears of reduced jobs due to the global economic crunch, the Labor Department said yesterday.

Secretary Marianito Roque said in a statement that the biggest employers in the National Capital Region have lined up openings at a job and career fair today in Far Eastern University’s Sampaloc campus.

“Many of the participating firms are continuously hiring, an indication that the economy continues to generate employment despite the financial crisis,” he said.

Setting up booths to process applicants on the spot are the NCO Group, eTelecare, HSBC Global Resourcing, Trendworks (Skechers), People Support, Teleperformance, Concentrix, VXI Global Solutions, McDonalds, SM Department Stores, Megaworld Corp., Gerry’s Grill, Sterling Paper Group of Companies, Giordano Phils., Top Ideas, KFC/Mister Donut, Telus, Axis Global Technologies, Sun Cellular, Aboitiz Transport Systems Inc., Toyota Shaw Ortigas, Eastern Telecom, Abenson Inc., Nestlé Inc., St. Luke’s Medical Center, PLDT, Teledevelopment, John Clements and Convergys.

Roque said the job fair would usher in the celebration of the agency’s 75th anniversary on Dec. 8.

“The event underscores DoLE’s relentless effort to help Filipino workers find employment since its foundation in 1933.”

Jobseekers should bring ID photos, copies of their resumés and credentials. They can also register for pre-employment requirements with the National Bureau of Investigation, National Statistics Office, Social Security System, and Bureau of Internal Revenue, which have their own help desks.

Applicants can also avail of legal and welfare services through, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Labor office.

President gives bus stops a once-over

Rio N. Araja and Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard

PRESIDENT Arroyo is inspecting today passenger bays to see for herself the impact of the traffic remedial measure on Edsa.

Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando said she wanted to gauge the practicality of 15 loading and unloading points for provincial buses on the 24-kilometer stretch which had defied previous attempts to get rid of the gridlock.

He said the scheme would sort out 3,000 city buses from the 2,500 provincial buses, incorporating radio frequency tagging to optimize the number of public utility vehicles based on passenger demand.

Fernando said the look-see would cover the agency’s new traffic geometric improvements such as U-turn slots, footbridges, pink fences, gantries, directional signs, pavement markings and curbs designed to ease traffic flow while promoting the safety of motorists, commuters, pedestrians and the general public.

He said nine north-bound and six south-bound bays have been opened aside from the Balintawak and Magallanes entry points, all delineated by signages—Taft Avenue, Ayala Avenue, Guadalupe bridge in Makati City; and Boni Serrano, SM Mega Mall, J. Vargas Avenue, Ortigas Avenue in Mandaluyong City; and Timog Avenue, Quezon Avenue, North Avenue, Trinoma mall in Quezon City.

Edsa’s third lane is set aside for provincial buses with the first and second lanes for city buses to facilitate the transfer of passengers without hampering the flow of traffic, according to Fernando.

Businessmen say 4.5-5.0 % economic growth still possible

The Manila Bulletin

Businessmen yesterday said that 4.5 to 5 percent growth this year is still possible and a lower but conservative 3 percent growth next year given the impact of the global financial crisis on the local economy.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Miguel B. Varela said during its year-end briefing that a 4.5 to 5 percent growth this year is still possible because the global financial crisis has not yet affected the local economy.

"There is no serious implication this year as a result of the crisis. There is no closure and layoffs but this does not mean we are not going to share of it. For now, the only sign is the weakening of the peso and it is an indication that not everything will be good next year," Varela said.

Varela further cited the country’s sound economic [fundamentals] and the strong banking sector that are supposed to bolster confidence among businessmen.

The exports sector though will be vulnerable particularly electronics and garments since over 60 percent of their exports go to the US market but there are other good news like the continued bullishness of the business process outsourcing sector, which is expected to hit 30-35 percent growth this year.

For next year, PCCI honorary chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis said the conservative growth would be 3 percent.

"The local economy is going to post a conservative growth. It cannot grow below 3 percent," Ortiz-Luis said.

PCCI president Edgardo B. Lacson also said that even at 3 percent growth, the local economy would not be in a recession mode unlike other countries.

"This means there would still be jobs creation," he added.

Ortiz-Luis, who is also president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said that unemployment rate is expected to soar in March next year because of the graduation of over 1 million students from college, who will be joining the job market.

"But there is not really a very adverse impact as of now, everybody paid bonus although there is little loss in sales," he added.

Lacson added that because of the economic slowdown next year and the private sector is expected to hold back their investments, the PCCI is pushing for the implementation of P100-billion stimulus program.

"We will have all the details of this stimulus program before end of this year," Lacson said noting that some of the infrastructure projects would have to be implemented in the first quarter next year.

The P100 billion, a private-public investment program, would be used to fund projects for the agriculture sector, infrastructure, energy and education.

Lacson, however, said that government and the private sector are ensuring that the loans would not become behest as what happened during the Marcos administration.

Lacson said the government would be hiring experts, technical people to look into the proposed projects to ensure the project is viable.

A project proponent is also required to put up 30 percent of the project cost.

"Measures must be in place to safeguard the fund otherwise we will just be throwing money in the blackhole," he said.

Government financial institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank of the Philippines, Government Service and Insurance System and the National Development Co. are helping put up the fund. Private commercial banks are also joining, Lacson said.

Businessmen, however, do not see the need to raise more taxes saying the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs just have to improve their collections.

"We have to look at measures of raising revenues without hurting the people," he said.

One thing the business community does not want to see is the Congressional pursuit for a Charter change.

"The merits or demerits of the proposed Cha-Cha is not for us to judge but given the problems of the world, turmoil and the impending impact on the local economy, it is uncalled for and untimely," he said.

"Cha-cha is a very polarizing activity, it must happen but all political parties must agree. The timing is so bad at this time and it is like shooting our foot again," he said.

Ortiz-Luis also said that the move in Congress tinkering on the issue of security of tenure, banning subcontracting activities and criminalizing it will make the BPO players just disappear.

"We have an advantage over Vietnam, Thailand and India but if we pushed with these changes in the labor laws then the BPO might just walk away," he said.

Lacson described the move as out of sync with the government’s campaign to grant lifetime visa to foreign investors who would employ 10 people in his business.(BCM)

November inflation down to 9.9%

The Manila Bulletin

Declining prices of consumer goods and the price rollback of petroleum products have slowed down the country s inflation rate to 9.9 percent in November from 11.2 percent in October.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) has also attributed it to the continued deceleration in the annual rates of the heavily weighted food, beverages and tobacco (FBT) index together with those of the fuel, light and water (FLW) and services. Inflation a year ago was 3.2 percent.

In Metro Manila, the annual inflation likewise continued to move at a slower pace of 6.8 percent in November from 8.0 percent in October due to the slower annual price increases in FBT, housing and repairs (H&R) and services index.

The slowdown in the annual price hikes of FBT, FLW and services items eased the year-on-year inflation in areas outside the National Capital Region (AONCR) by 1.4 percentage points to 11.2 percent in November from 12.6 percent in October.

Excluding selected food and energy items, core inflation further picked up to 7.9 percent in November from 7.8 percent in October.

Compared to October, the country s consumer prices posted a negative rate in November as it fell by -0.6 percent. This was effected by the downward price adjustments in rice and vegetables and the series of price rollbacks in petroleum products such as LPG, kerosene, gasoline and diesel.

The annual inflation rate in NCR decelerated by 1.2 percentage points to 6.8 percent in November from 8.0 percent in October.

The same trend was also observed in areas outside Metro Manila. The annual inflation rate in the area also slid to 11.2 percent in November from 12.6 percent in October.

All the regions registered slower annual inflation rates with Zamboanga Peninsula recording the biggest decrease of 3.9 percentage points (13.2% from 17.1%).

The lowest annual rate of 9.2 percent was posted in MIMAROPA while the highest was still noted in Eastern Visayas at 16.5 percent.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Construction to fuel Philippine fourth-quarter growth

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

The National Economic and Development Authority sees the construction sector to keep growing in the fourth quarter and until next year, on the back of increased government spending and continuous expansion of the real estate industry.

Dennis Arroyo, the agency’s policy and planning director, said in a news briefing that construction would help drive economic growth above 3 percent in the fourth quarter, despite the anticipated recession in many economies such as the United States, Japan and the European nations.

The country’s gross domestic product in 2008 is seen to expand within a range of 4.1 to 4.8 percent. Actual growth in the first three quarters was 4.6 percent.

GDP growth in 2009 is seen to remain respectable at a band of 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent, led by the expected double-digit growth in construction, as the government committed higher allocation for infrastructure development.

Public construction rose 20 percent in the third quarter from a year ago, led by the 52.7 percent increase in national spending and 11.6 percent growth in local government allocation.

Neda said the sustained demand for real estate by migrant Filipino workers and business process outsourcing sectors also helped pushed total construction in the period.

Public construction fell 12.9 percent in the first quarter and 6.5 percent in the second quarter, owing partly to a delay in the approval of the 2008 budget as well as to low fund disbursement rate of the Transportation and Public Works Departments.

Neda urged the two agencies as well as other government offices to increase their disbursement rate in order to stimulate growth and mitigate the impact of global economic uncertainties on the domestic economy.

Economic Planning Secretary and Neda director-general Ralph Recto said the government should continue to invest in needed infrastructure to boost growth and create employment, increase the absorptive capacity of its line agencies and push for policy reforms in key sectors.

Arroyo said the sector would remain strong because of the buoyant housing sector as well as office space development, prodded by the expanding business process outsourcing industry.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Philippines--spending boost not necessary

With a report from Ruby Anne M. Rubio

THE GOVERNMENT does not see any need to increase spending beyond current targets, with officials claiming the Philippine economy is unlikely to slip into a recession.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Deputy Director-General Augusto B. Santos and Budget Secretary Rolando G. Andaya, Jr., reacting to a United Nations proposal that countries spend more to limit a global slowdown, said doing so would mean higher borrowing costs and could affect investments.

In the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009 report, the UN economists said "fiscal policy stimuli" equivalent to up to 2% of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) would "prevent the world economy from falling into a much deeper and more prolonged recession."

The NEDA’s Mr. Santos said "In the case of the Philippines, we are ... [already in] deficit spending and that is [equivalent to] 1% of the GDP or P75 billion. If we double this, probably the Philippine economy cannot afford that."

"We can go to higher deficit spending and fiscal stimulus if the Philippine economy is going on (sic) a recession but we are not ... If we go to higher deficit spending, that may hike interest rates and that would dampen productivity and economic growth."

Mr. Andaya agreed, saying: "We have to balance things. That (the UN proposal) would mean we would have to borrow more and that would increase our debts. Besides, interest rates will also go up. We do not need that because we are not in recession."

Albay Governor Jose Ma. "Joey" S. Salceda, a Palace economic adviser, urged caution.

"If we are in a surplus, that (a fiscal stimulus ) would be easy, that will be a no-brainer. But given the financial meltdown and lower global trade, then we need to skillfully calibrate any stimulus package," he told BusinessWorld.

"Interest spike driven by deficit spending ... [will be] short-lived and counterproductive because it will kill private corporations’ outlay ... who would invest if interests (rates) are high?," he added.

Mr. Salceda, a former legislator, market analyst and presidential chief of staff, said "the window for a fiscal stimulus has narrowed" because of the global slowdown.

Finance officials, meanwhile, said the government should not lose sight of maintaining sound fiscal performance.

"Fiscal stimulus is the antidote to recession. That is why we have increased our deficits for next year," Finance director for fiscal policy and planning office Ma. Teresa S. Habitan said.

"[But] It really depends on where you are spending. We should have more quality spending. We are spending more for infrastructure to create more employment and spending for public services to cushion the poor from the negative impact of a slowdown."

The government has targetted a fiscal gap of P102 billion for 2009, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP. This is an increase from an earlier target of P40 billion, or just 0.5% of GDP.

It also expects to balance the budget by 2010.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III, coordinator of the Action for Economic Reforms, noted that the main problem was efficient tax collection.

"I am okay with deficit spending, especially considering the economic downturn, to finance human development and infrastructure. But this should be accompanied by a structural improvement in tax collection," he said.

University of Asia and the Pacific economist Victor A. Abola said highly indebted countries cannot afford to spend 2% of their GDP.

"That is a very general rule that does not fit every country. They may fall into a debt spiral, which will constrain future growth. On the other hand, some low-debt nations like China can overspend even more than 2% without serious repercussions.

"As for the Philippines, we still have high debt ratios relative to peer-rated countries. Thus, we should proceed with caution ... [But] I think it is still okay for us to have a deficit of 1.5% to 2% without endangering the improvement of our debt ratios."

JPMorgan expands Philippine BPO facility

The Manila Bulletin

JPMorgan Chase & Co. of the United States is expanding its outsourcing operations here with 6,000 more seats next year for a total of 8,400 seats by end of 2009 to support its global operations.

Barry E. Marshall, company senior country operations officers for global operations, told reporters covering the BPO Summit Philippines said the additional seats next year would beef up its existing back office operations in Fort Bonifacio.

"This will further support our global services operations," Marshall said.

The company’s BPO operation in the country has been running for the past five years already. It has been serving its American credit card clientele.

In September this year, the company opened its 14,050-seat call center facility at the New Quad Building in Fort Bonifacio.

JPMorgan has been housed at the Philamlife Tower in Makati City since 2003.

JPMorgan did not sustain as much damage from the US subprime mortgage mess by avoiding bad mortgage investments and focusing instead on its commercial and retail banking businesses.

JPMorgan said its expansion attests to its increased optimism in the Philippine economy.
Marshall said that its expanding business in the country is an indication of its strong faith in the local economy. (BCM)

PLDT SME Nation prepping up small, medium-sized enterprises for global arena

The Manila Bulletin

PLDT SME Nation, PLDT’s newest brainchild specially designed to skew PLDT’s services towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is preparing up the local retail industry for the global arena.

The retail mid-market sector is on the threshold of redesigning business practices to address the continuously evolving market demand while at the same time, controlling costs to stay competitive.

The local retail SMEs is also swiftly realizing that IT infrastructure being offered by PLDT SME Nation can help them address some of their IT issues and concerns. They are aggressively investing in basic computing infrastructure such as networked Point-of-Sale systems and IP-based data exchange between the head office and the branches.

Customized back-end for optimized operations

A number of retail chains have taken advantage of the platform offered by PLDT SME Nation. Consequently, all have enjoyed faster transactions, more transparent operations and larger profits.

Take the care of Plains and Prints. Erickson Farillas and his wife turned the company from an 11-square meter stall in Shoppesville Greenhills into a real player in local fashion retail.

"Before we had to wait several days before getting accurate sales and inventory data from our stores. Now we can get reports from all our 51 stores the following day,’’ says Farillas.

He adds: "Sales and inventory data from our stores are transmitted daily to our head office. The data is consolidated and updated reports are produced daily. We are able to plan better to maximize our revenues.’’

Hard work and dedication also guaranteed the success and growth of Folded and Hung, another popular local apparel brand. Owner Ronald Pineda also started out in Greenhills tiangge row and now oversees a chain of 35 company-owned as well as eight franchised outlets.

"It was and is very costly but very profitable and gratifying if you do it right,’’ Pineda says. "We learned a lot from doing everything the first time since this is my first business with this kind of magnitude.’’

He shares that Folded and Hung have Shops. Work and Microsoft RMS Software in place.

"With the Shops. Work service and Microsoft RMS Software, we have greatly reduced the man-hours of posting and generating sales and inventory reports. Unlike before that we had to utilize a number of personnel just to do the tasks,’’ says Pineda.

He states that as of the moment, Folded and Hung is concentrating more on the full roll-out of Shops. Work and that they have considered getting PLDT’s BOSS Central to minimize the cost of toll calls.

"We chose PLDT’s service primarily because of its wide service and area coverage, which fortunately covers where most of our stores are and where other service providers are not present,’’ he says.

Another apparel company, Arrow, first used remote access software that allowed it to interconnect different branches using the landline. "However this method is tedious since it entails connecting to each branch one at a time to send and retrieve data. It was also inconsistent (and therefore costly) as it was completely dependent on one landline,’’ says an IT representative.

Arrow is now looking to invest in PLDT Shops. Work IPVPN to achieve much-valued real-time sharing of data as well as faster, more efficient remote access to their different branches.

Edward Canlas, who owns and manages Onesimus, the country’s largest quality barong and suit maker realizes that his own company is at a crossroads. It is about to tackle wider market, establish and maintain a profitable web presence through PLDT MyDSL Biz and truly realize the full benefits of being a fully armed digital business.

Enabler of information and communication technology

PLDT SME Nation makes connecting remote branches and outlets to their main offices easy and manageable. SMEs can take advantage of PLDT’s converged technology and connect most, if not all, of the satellite stores to the main offices through high speed links or via virtual private networks.

With all stores "webbed’’ in a robust network, entrepreneurs can easily monitor sales transactions in real time, facilitate on-the-spot price adjustments, check on any of their store’s shopping traffic using IP cameras in real time, and conduct "distance learning’’ or "e-training’’ sessions via video conferencing to upgrade the skills sets of retail staff. Simply put, an empowered store with immediate access to business-critical information is definitely a shop that works.

PLDT SME Nation as the leading steward and enabler of information and communication technology invites retailers nationwide to join and become a partner; to embrace technology as it has become a crucial tool in everyone’s business.

For more inquiries, visit http://www/ or call PLDT CBG Helpdesk 177.

Krispy Kreme to open more Philippine stores next year

The Manila Bulletin

Despite the global economic slowdown, Krispy Kreme, America’s most loved doughnut, plans to open at least 12 more stores in the Philippines next year.

Carlo Fajardo, Krispy Kreme, International Marketing Manager, revealed this during the opening of the 9th store of Krispy Kreme at the Ground Floor of Gateway Mall, Araneta Center. Krispy Kreme’s other branches are in SM Megamall; Greenhills Shopping Center (1st drive-thru store in Asia); TriNoma Mall; SM Mall of Asia (drive-thru); Jaka Bldg., Ayala Ave.; and Robinson’s Galleria.

The Philippine franchise of Krispy Kreme is under the care of the Max’s Group of Companies. Besides the stores that Krispy Kreme operate in the United States and Canada, there are also franchise-owned stores in the United Kingdom, Australia, Kuwait, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Philippines wins bid to host World Health Tourism Congress

The Manila Bulletin

The Philippines has won the bid to host the 2009 World Health Tourism Congress, making the country the first in Asia-Pacific to serve as venue for this prestigious global event.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said this development marked the country’s serious effort to be positioned as a global health and wellness destination.

"The 2009 WHTC (World Health Tourism Congress), which will be held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila on March 26 to 28, will bring hundreds of leading health and wellness tourism players – both buyers and sellers – from all over the world," Durano said.

"Yet, this 2009 WHTC will just be the fourth since its initial staging in Germany in 2006, and we have won the privilege to host it after some fervent negotiations," Durano pointed out.

After Germany, Cyprus hosted the second WHTC on March 23-25, 2007 and Spain the third last April 4-6.

The WHTC gathers the world’s health and wellness service providers and corporate and institutional buyers for a three-day conference, workshop and one-on-one business sessions, enabling both parties to forge supply contracts, establish market linkages, form partnerships, and do various mutually beneficial transactions.

"Thus, our country’s participating health and wellness industry players will have the opportunity to meet the world’s best qualified corporate and institutional buyers in an exclusively business environment where only those who are invited can attend.

As such, they will have the undivided attention of their potential customers," Durano explained. The country won the bid to host the WHTC 2009 partly because of an emerging trend in the Arab World to move to Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, according to managing partner Hadi Malaeb of Aura International Dubai, the congress organizer.

Malaeb told a recent press conference that 92,000 medical tourists from the United Arab Emirates alone came to the Philippines last year compared to only 60,000 to Thailand. Citing a 2006 Globalysis study, Malaeb placed the value of the world’s health and wellness tourism industry at billion.

"And this is projected to soar to billion in 2012, indicating that health and wellness is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry," Malaeb said.

The Asian market alone, according to Malaeb, consists of 1.5 million medical tourists spending a daily average of 2 compared with the 4 of regular inbound visitors.

Thus, the WHTC is strongly focused on sports medicine, wellness, medical and cosmetic treatments such that the participating solution providers to be invited are hotels, spas and health resorts, airlines and air ambulance companies, medical services agents, inbound tour operators specializing in health tourism, and general and specialist hospitals and clinics, especially those engaged in cosmetic dentistry, plastic surgery, and orthopedic and sports medicine, according to the Department of Tourism (DoT).

"Their services will be matched with the needs of corporate buyers who have been pre-qualified as the ultimate decision makers in their respective organizations for matters on well-being and medical travel," said DOT Undersecretary for Sports and Wellness Tourism Cynthia L. Carrion.

"These corporate buyers are looking for solution providers who can understand and provide their specific needs. During the WHTC’s three-day run, they can decide on which sets of services they need and which solution providers to tap for their full-year requirements," Carrion added.

The corporate buyers, according to travel industry leader Angel Ramos-Bognot, are health officials of various countries, particularly from the Arab World, who are the biggest spenders in medical travel; insurance companies whose network managers decide where to send their clients; third-party medical agents, mostly from North America and Western Europe, who combine travel arrangement with medical treatment for their clientele; and outbound tour operators looking for health and wellness destinations for clients back home.

"The 2009 WHTC will bring this large global market within the reach of our health and wellness industry, and our success in gaining the privilege to host it early next year clearly indicates that our campaign to establish a niche in this field is gaining ground," Durano stressed.

Mercy flights bring Thais one way, Filipinos the other

580 Filipinos repatriated from Thailand
More flights to come
The Manila Bulletin

A total of 580 Filipinos stranded in troubled Thailand had already been repatriated, the Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday, even as the country’s two international airlines announced it will continue with special flights to ferry more of the stranded to Manila.

Cebu Pacific said it will fly another plane to U- Tapao airport in Rayong, Thailand, to fetch 180 Filipinos while Philippine Airlines announced another 322-seater Airbus A330 wide body jet will be flying to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to bring home 320 Filipino tourists.

Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing Candice Iyog said a second flight will leave today for Thailand to pick up around 180 passengers stranded as a result of the closure of the two Bangkok airports last week.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., said "The Philippine embassy will provide land transportation from Bangkok to the U- Tapao military base."

The passengers will be transported to a Bangkok check-in area and then to the U-Tapao military base, approximately two hours away where the flight will take off for Manila.

The Cebu Pacific flight is the fourth flight to Thailand to repatriate stranded Filipinos following the closure of two major airports due to political unrest, DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal said.

Of the 580 stranded Filipinos, 442 of them flew back to Manila from Chiangmai via PAL special flight the other night, while the rest were airlifted by Cebu Pacific at 7:30 a.m. yesterday.

"With these three flights, Philippine embassy believes that all Filipino strandees in Bangkok shall have been brought safely home," Conejos said.

"Nonetheless, DFA has reserved arrangements with Cebu Pacific to undertake another flight mission, should that be necessary," he said.

Meanwhile, PAL flight PR732 bound for Thailand left Manila at 4:30 pm yesterday carrying 70 Thai passengers stranded in Manila since regular commercial services between the two countries were stopped after Thai protestors forced the closure of Suvarnabhumi airport near Bangkok.

More than a hundred Thai nationals were ferried back to Chiang Mai aboard PAL’s first mercy flight last Monday.

PAL vice president for corporate communications Rollie Estabillo said the airline delayed the departure of the mercy flight from Manila by one hour to give the stranded passengers coming from Bangkok more time to commute to Chiangmai. Land travel from Bangkok to Chiangmai takes approximately eight hours.

According to Estabillo, 320 passengers had checked in for the flight at their remote check-in office in Bangkok.

The flight is expected to arrive back in Manila at 1:30 a.m. today.

Earlier, the passengers who arrived Monday late evening and yesterday morning aboard separate PAL and Cebu Pacific flights at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) said they were just glad to be home.

"After more than a week of uncertainty, we are finally home safe and sound," said Alma Solis in her dialect while lined up at an immigration counter along with other passengers from PAL "rescue" flight PR-733.

Solis, a domestic helper in the Middle East returning home for Christmas, said her Kuwait Airline stopover at Suvarnabhumi Airport last week was the start of six days of being stranded in Bangkok with 90 other overseas Filipino workers aboard her flight.

"We pooled our resources and bought rice and viand," she said, adding that she is "thankful for the help that PAL provided in bringing them home."

She said they were booked at the Arami Hotel while they waited for news of their flight home from their airline.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said that the stranded Filipinos came from different hotels in Bangkok and were bused to Chiang Mai, a trip which took around nine hours.

Ellen Batan of Batangas said that she didn’t mind the nine-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Batan said she and three other relatives flew to Bangkok last Saturday to buy a "special" gift for a relative who is getting married this Friday in her hometown.

"We heard that the protesters were being given leniency by the authorities because the King’s birthday is due on Friday, but after that, there will be arrests and troubles would ensue," Batan said. "It was really timely that PAL came over to fly us home."

PAL president Jaime Bautista met the arriving passengers.

"Natutuwa kami nandito na ang mga kababayan nating na stranded, today we’re mounting another Mercy flight for the remaining Filipinos in Thailand," Bautista said.



Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Philippine President says economic reforms saved RP from crisis

HONG KONG (via PLDT) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today the ''painful economic reforms'' she carried out during the early part of her administration have worked well for the Philippines to weather the present economic slowdown.

''It is very important for us to make sure that the global crisis will not become a crisis in our country but in order to do that, we need to have resources and if we have not made hard choices several years ago to raise revenues, but since we did, we have addressed the challenge,'' the President told the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Asia Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

The President added that with the revenue reforms that tremendously increased revenue collection, the government was able to provide a steady supply of affordable rice, and subsidized rice for the poorest of the poor, as well as keep transportation cost low as the financial crisis began.

''So the biggest challenge is not what steps to take but the resources to be able to carry on those steps,'' she said.

She added that the Arroyo administration would not have been able to mitigate the impact of the present financial crisis and high food prices ''if we did not have the revenues.''

Asked by former US President William Clinton if this is applicable in other countries, the President said, ''certainly, the steps are, but the challenge would be were they able to do their homework beforehand to be able to have the strong fiscal position to do all these.''

Arroyo, Chinese foreign minister agree Chiang Mai Initiative 2 can be launched without ASEAN Summit in Thailand,%20Chinese

HONG KONG (via PLDT) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jieche agreed today that the ''Chiang Mai Initiative 2'' could be launched this month even if the ASEAN Summit scheduled to be held in Thailand in mid-December would be postponed.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, who is with the President in Hong Kong, said this was part of the President's and Yang's discussion when they met this noon at the Presidential Suite of the Island Shangri-La Hotel here.

The Chinese foreign minister also thanked the President for pushing the expansion of the Chiang Mai Initiative when she called for a meeting of the 10 ASEAN-member nations and their dialogue partners, Japan, China and South Korea, or the ASEAN+3 before the formal opening of the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Beijing in October.

In that meeting, the President pushed for a quick-disbursing regional facility with minimal conditionalities, and its expansion, from $80 billion to $250 billion.

Last month, the Philippines played host to the high-level meeting on the Chiang Mai Initiative 2 that is aimed at helping ASEAN countries experiencing liquidity problems.

The President and Mr. Yang's meeting was described by the Press Secretary as a ''warm exchange'' about further strengthening RP-China relations.

The President also met today with Mongolian President Nambaryn Enhkbayar, with the two leaders discussing ways on how to enhance bilateral relations between their countries.

The Mongolian President said the Philippines is a ''key leader in many aspects'' and that he would like to establish trade relations with the Philippines, specifically in agriculture, mining and tourism, according to Dureza.

The Mongolian president also invited Filipinos to visit Mongolia.

Other provinces eyed for wind farms

Paul M. Icamina
The Manila Times

NORTHWIND has started to gather wind data in nearby Cagayan province for another possible wind farm there. Batanes is being eyed as yet another site.

After the wind farm in Bangui, 16 other areas will be offered by the Department of Energy (DOE) for investment with a total capacity of 345 megawatts.

Early this year, the DOE launched the First Philippine Wind Power Contracting Round that offered 16 wind sites. Philippine Hybrid Energy Systems, Inc. was awarded three power contracts for wind projects in Marinduque; Baleno, Masbate and Tablas, Romblon with a combined 30 megawatts of capacity.

Trans-Asia Renewable Energy Corp. was also awarded a contract for a potential 30-megawatt wind project in Sual, Pangasinan, and San Carlos Wind Power Corp. in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental for a 25-megawatt wind farm.

Companies that bid for the 11 other sites are now in the process of securing power contracts.

NorthWind is looking into another 40-megawatt wind power project in the next two years in Cagayan province, about 70 kilo-meters from Bangui Bay.

Privately financed with a $53-million grant from Denmark, the Bangui wind farm has a lifespan of over 20 years and saves about 15 million liters of diesel oil a year.

NorthWind was formed in 1999 by Danish and Filipino investors led by businessman Niels Jacobsen of Denmark. It was financed by a $40-million build-operate-and-own loan from the Danish Development Agency (Danida).

Danida shelled out $29.35 million of the $50-million project cost through a zero-interest mixed-credit facility, which was complemented by a guarantee from the Philippine Export-Import Credit Agency. About $10.5 million came from grants, while the balance was put in by NorthWind shareholders.

NorthWind’s major shareholders include Moorland Phils., Phildane Resources Corp. and Fabmik Construction and Equipment Corp.

“Wind is free,” Tiatco smiles, half in jest, quickly pointing out that compared to oil, wind power is expensive by the kilowatt. This is because of the initial investments involved, not to say the currently expensive (read: not commercially widespread) technology. “It is almost double the cost” when compared with conventional fossil fuel, he says.

But after the initial expensive investment to put up the facility, “we don’t pay for fuel anymore,” Tiatco points out, unlike say coal-fired power plants that need coal day in day out.

Big investments

Wind energy could unlock a new era of big investments in the country. The country stands to benefit if it moves quickly and rides the fast growth of the wind energy market, attracting not only power investors but wind manufacturers as well.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia estimates wind energy alone can supply almost 3.5 percent of the country’s electricity needs by the year 2012.

The investment value of wind energy would reach up to almost $3 billion from wind power projects, providing employment, sustainable development and—clean energy. With this pace of development, wind energy can supply up to 12 percent of the country’s electricity needs by 2020, Greenpeace says in a study “Renewable energy [r]evoluton.”

For the first five years the fixed price established for wind energy translates to P5.21, about 44 centavos higher than Meralco’s generation charges of P4.77 (for the month of February this year).

Under this cost, 100 megawatts of wind energy installed would result in an additional average cost per consumer of 0.15 centavos per kilowatt-hour or less than a fifth of a centavo.

For the consumer who averages 100 per kilowatt-hour of electricity consumption monthly, this would mean an additional 13 centavos to the electricity bill.

With an installed capacity of 1,400 megawatts, the average addition per kilowatt-hour to consumers will only be 1.69 centavos per kilowatt-hour.

Domestic flights resume in Marinduque

By Gerald Gene R. Querubin

BOAC, Marinduque -- After almost four years since domestic flights ceased plying the Manila-Marinduque-Manila route, businessmen, and local executives lauded the resumption of domestic flights to this province.

Gerry Jamilla, Marinduque’s provincial tourism officer, is optimistic that the resumption of ZestAir’s domestic flights to Marinduque will boost the province’s tourism industry.

“With the revived air travel going to and from the province, more tourists can now visit Marinduque. It will now be easier to package tours as travel time is cut short and tourists can stay longer in the province,” Jamilla said.

Land and sea travel to Marinduque from Manila via Lucena City in Quezon province usually takes 8 to 10 hours, while air travel would only take 30 minutes from Manila.

And with the provincial government’s thrust to go full blast in promoting Marinduque as a must-see tourist destination, coupled with the expected reopening later this year of the province’s premiere exclusive resort, the Elephant Island, Jamilla is hoping that the Marinduque Airport will again be busy with guests.

The airport had its last domestic flight in 2004. The Asian Spirit airline used to ply this route but terminated it due to business losses as the number of passengers taking the airplane could not sustain local operations.

Carlito Fabaleña, the province’s director of the Department of Trade and Industry, said local businessmen would greatly benefit from the resumption of domestic flights and was expecting that Marinduque would now be more attractive to potential business investors.

“The delivery of goods to and from the province will now be faster,” Fabaleña remarked.

“Almost all business establishments will gain from this -- from the small sari-sari stores, to grocery stores, courier companies, newspaper dealers and most especially, the province’s butterfly exporters,” he added.

Marinduque is known as the butterfly capital of the Philippines as almost 80 percent of the country’s butterfly exports are from this province.

A China-made 56-seater MA-60 ZestAir airplane made its initial and probing flight November 15, carrying six passengers going to Marinduque and lifting off with five passengers bound for Manila.

Marilou Sto. Domingo Bernales, a businesswoman from the capital town of Boac and the first passenger to book for ZestAir’s initial flight, said traveling to and from Manila would now be more convenient.

“Investors will now have easy access to the province,” she added.

Rosalie Sulit, a gasoline station owner, can only heave a sigh of relief now that travel time to Manila will be shorter and safer for a business person like her.

ZestAir initially scheduled the Manila-Marinduque-Manila flights every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The plane departs from Manila at 8:40 a.m. and leaves Marinduque at 10 a.m.

Monday, 1 December 2008

RP response to Thai airport crisis laudable

The Philippines is one of the few countries who have responded quickly and appropriately to the Thai crisis. It is repatriating some 500 stranded Filipino passengers, ferrying them by bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, instead of trying to pick them up from the now-crowded military airbase at U-Tapao. Philippine Airlines is bringing in the planes. See

Among the countries who have responded quickly are Macao, who repatriated 150 Macao tourists early on in the crisis.

Hong Kong has not responded adequately. Radio commentaries have chided Cathay Pacific for declining to send more planes for several reasons, among them crowding at the airbase.

Australia has not managed to get proper coordination from the Thai authorities. See

"Japan's two major airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways said Sunday they are organising flights from the U-Tapao air base to bring back tourists stranded by mass protests." See

Spain is sending two air force aircraft and one Iberia plane to pick up 500 stranded Spanish passengers. Some 260 Russian tourists have been repatriated courtesy of Thai Airways. But the UK said they will not charter flights to repatriate British citizens. See

China completes also the repatriation of thousands of Chinese today. It started several days ago. China had provided seven charter flights to repatriate its stranded nationals, believed to number 2,000-3,000 people, by Saturday. See

PAL to airlift Filipinos stuck in Bangkok

BusinessWorld Online

PHILIPPINE AIRLINES (PAL) will send today a special Boeing 747-400 to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to fly home Filipinos stranded by the political crisis that has shut its main airports in Bangkok for nearly a week.

In a statement, PAL Chairman Lucio C. Tan said the repatriation was out of goodwill and solidarity with fellow countrymen caught in a crisis away from home. He said PAL was ready to operate additional emergency flights to Thailand if needed.

Flight PR 732, a utility flight without passengers, will leave Manila at 12:30 p.m. and will arrive at Chiang Mai International Airport two-and-a-half hours later.

The return flight, PR 733, will leave Chiang Mai at 5 p.m. and will land back in Manila at 9:30 p.m.

"About 200 passengers have confirmed seats on the flight to Manila. The number is expected to increase as the Philippine embassy in Thailand organizes the travel arrangements of Filipinos stuck in hotels in Bangkok and elsewhere," the flag carrier said.

The B747-400 is the largest aircraft in the PAL fleet, with a capacity of 433 seats and 24 tons of cargo.

PAL canceled its regular, twice-daily service to Bangkok on Nov. 26 when anti-government protesters took over Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand’s main gateway, and later, the secondary gateway of Don Muang International Airport.

The airports have not been able to resume service since the political crisis in Thailand deepened. Early yesterday, a pair of explosions injured dozens in Bangkok as protests against the Thai government continued.

During the run-up to the first Gulf War in 1990, PAL evacuated hundreds of Filipino refugees from Baghdad and Amman. In 1999, a PAL jet airlifted Filipinos from Phnom Penh as a civil war erupted.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Philippines to repatriate Filipinos stranded in Bangkok

By Deutsche Presse Agentur

Manila - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Sunday ordered the foreign affairs department to repatriate hundreds of Filipinos stranded in Thailand after two airports in Bangkok were shut down by political protestors last week.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Arroyo ordered the release of 15,000 dollars for assistance to the Filipinos unable to return home after the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in Bangkok were blockaded.

Ermita said Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis would thresh out the details of the return of the Filipinos, who would first be taken to Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai, to be flown back to Manila.

Seguis said at least 509 Filipinos were stranded in Bangkok, staying in different hotels or other lodging. They will be taken to Chiang Mai by bus, he added.

"We hope to finish the paperwork within the day," he said.

Thousands of anti-government protestors stormed Bangkok's airports last week to block the return of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsowat from a summit in Peru, and hope to force the government to resign.

Somchai put both airports under emergency decree Thursday and ordered police to clear out the demonstrators, but authorities have failed to act, fearful that an assault would lead to bloodshed.