Thursday, 31 December 2009

Manila to welcome 2010 with 30-minute fireworks display

Effect of full moon on Mayon being monitored

Ngayong Pasko (Ryan Cayabyab)

The San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra

The repertoire of the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra (SMPO) spans centuries of diverse music. As a young ensemble, its wide selection of works encompassing musical genres attests to its versatility and dynamism. The SMPO also displays its confidence in tackling the entire range of symphonic works in its collaborations with both classical and popular artists.

The San Miguel Master Chorale

The San Miguel Master Chorale (SMMC) is the latest recipient of the Aliw Award for Best Choral Group. As the country's first truly professional choir, it has participated in three international arts festivals: the 27th International Bamboo Organ Festival in Manila, Philippines; the 4th Taipei International Choral Festival in Taipei, Taiwan; and the Jeonju Sound Festival in Jeonju, South Korea. It was one of the few choirs chosen to perform in 2005 in the main concerts of the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto, Japan.

Since its inception in November 2000, the SMMC has premiered various choral works of European, Russian and Filipino masters. The SMMC, along with the SMPO, has also released the double CD The Sacred Works of Ryan Cayabyab. The SMMC is now preparing to record its debut solo album of a cappella arrangements by Ryan Cayabyab and several members of the Chorale.

Ryan Cayabyab (born Raymundo Cipriano Pujante Cayabyab but affectionately known as Mr. C) is a renowned Filipino musician and the current Executive and Artistic Director of the San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts. His works range from commissioned full-length ballets, theater musicals, choral pieces, a Mass set to unaccompanied chorus, and orchestral pieces, to commercial recordings of popular music, film scores and television specials.

Philippine threat assessment 2010

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

There always seems to be two Philippines. One Philippines shows up on the front pages of the newspapers and is a part of the official record. The other Philippines seems to hide in the shadows quietly. Often these two Philippines cannot be reconciled with each other. They do not seem to fit together.

The Maguindanao massacre is a tragic example of this phenomenon. While this terrible and senseless event of historic proportions hits the headlines, the logical conclusion is that it should have some sort of a great economic impact on foreign investment. But it does not. The global slowdown and great recession in the US should have severely impacted overseas Filipino remittances. Remittance rose nicely in 2009. The Philippines through the last two decades should have been a country with significant problems paying its foreign debt. Every creditor has always been paid in full.

Whether continued good fortune, divine intervention or something unfathomable in the Philippine bloodline, this country always remains standing, stumbling at times, but never going down for the full count.

Obviously, the major event for 2010 will be the elections. We always look economically toward these national political contests as if we were expecting a rich uncle from the US to arrive with a large number of balikbayan boxes filled with goodies. In 2010, the country may hit the jackpot.

When you look at the war chests of the several presidential candidates Villar, Teodoro, Aquino and Estrada, the “unofficial” spending amounts could be staggering. We could potentially see P30 billion or more added to the economic system by May. Considering who the candidates are, this is going to be political slugfest, and the money is going to pour out. How significant is campaign spending? In 2007, political spending added an estimated 0.34 percentage point to GDP growth.

So where is the threat? That much money pumped into the economy in such a short time might trigger a jump of inflation as the money will be spent immediately. In the long term this money will be beneficial and well- absorbed in the system. Short-term, there may be some headlines that will create a negative attitude, dampening enthusiasm for investment.

It has been a while since anyone has talked about the Philippines “shooting itself in the foot.” That is where I see the most significant economic threat in 2010.

As I wrote on Tuesday, I believe that 2010 has the potential for bringing us a much deeper and more serious global economic situation than in 2009. Let’s assume for the moment that a large portion of the things I mentioned come to pass; bad dollar, worsening US economy, a major sovereign-debt default or two, a geopolitical crisis.

Perhaps the strongest criticism that one could make about Philippine government policy is that far too often, that policy is reactive rather than proactive. It very often appears that the best and the brightest in government lack the ability to anticipate coming train wrecks and are too often paralyzed by inaction to get out of the way.

Tropical Storm Ondoy is a good example. The system and the people in the system failed terribly. One might accept the excuse that no one correctly predicted beforehand the ferocity of the storm. But at some point, someone in government should have figured out that a disaster was happening before their eyes and more quickly mobilized resources.

The election season may coincide with global economic turmoil/meltdown. With the current government involved in the campaign at so many levels and in so many races, the government’s eye may not be on the ball. That is a real and serious threat.

For example: Assume that a country like Greece suddenly defaults on its debt payments. Venezuela, the Ukraine and Argentina are all 50/50 or worse to default in 2010.

The devastating ripple effects would be enormous, immediate and build daily over time. And you’re worried about fake global warming? This would be a tidal wave sweeping over countries like the Philippines, affecting currencies, stock markets and bond prices.

Iran is a powder keg waiting to explode, and that explosion will rock oil prices. And prices go up much more quickly and they come down after the situation passes.

A major bank failure in the US could trigger a general run on banks all over the West, causing the dollar to collapse and commodity prices to jump 10, 20 and 30 percent.

Confidence in the government to anticipate and be prepared for these types of scenarios and to have the determination and ability to respond quickly is not very high. The tendency of the Philippine government to respond to crisis slowly and often inadequately is real and is serious. Together with the fact that the current government may be focused on the election or a newly installed government still getting adjusted could be a very great threat to Philippine economic stability in 2010.

“Wait and see,” “Play it by ear,” “bahala na”: all of these are dangerous attitudes that will not serve the country well in 2010.

Have you made at least a mental threat assessment for your personal and business finances for 2010? It is important that you consider some of the “what ifs” and the potential impact. Take action before, not just after. Get some money in the stock market, which will suddenly boom if the dollar falls. Budget out the impact, if gasoline jumps to P60 per liter. Forecast your business around both a 10-percent rise and a similar fall in the peso-dollar rate. Be prepared and be ready to act, if necessary, for a variety of potential situations that might occur.

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SMART ends year with 40-M subscribers

Manila Bulletin

Despite economic slowdown, natural calamities and fierce competition, Smart Communications, Inc. (SMART) ended the year with 40 million cellular phone subscribers and 1 million broadband via subsidiary Smart Broadband, Inc. (SBI).

As of end-2009, SMART has also extended the coverage of its cellular network to all of the country's 1,619 cities and municipalities.

Its broadband service covers the country's major cities, through a network of 3G/HSPA cellular and fixed broadband base stations. The bulk, or ninety-eight of its cell sites, are powered by renewable energy source - wind and/or solar energy - an initiative that won for SMART in February 2009 the Green Mobile Award from the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade group for the mobile industry.

"SMART continued to roll out our 2G, 3G and fixed wireless broadband networks nationwide to reach even those in remote locations," according to President and CEO Napoleon L. Nazareno. Last month, SMART likewise completed testing of the most advanced broadband technologies such as HSPA+, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access or WiMAX, and Long Term Evolution or LTE in various parts of the country.

"Broadband is the key to success in the increasingly converged world of telecom, Internet or data, and media. SMART made wireless broadband Internet more affordable and widely available - whether via mobile phone, the PC, or laptop - anytime, anywhere," according to SMART Chief Wireless Advisor Orlando B. Vea.

New immigration cards on Jan. 1

Recto Mercene
Business Mirror

THE new arrival and departure (A/D) card for international passengers will be issued for full implementation starting tomorrow (January 1, 2010) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) said the Airline Operators Council (AOC) has been given enough time to dispose of their old cards.

“The airlines have until Thursday [December 31] to use the old embarkation and disembarkation cards,” according to Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan, saying that the previous document could not be read by computers in all major airports.

The cards are filled out by airline passengers when they enter or leave a country.

Libanan’s directives are being carried out by Fernando Sampol, airport operations chief for all international airports in the country.

The BI said the new immigration card is machine-readable and in compliant with international standards.

However, the AOC, through its president Ma. Lourdes Reyes at the Naia, said they had an agreement with Libanan that the new departure cards will be used for all departing passengers, while the old departure/arrival cards will remain in use for all arriving passengers until the supply lasts.

“We still have some 20 million copies of the old cards in our warehouse. We are not against the implementation of the new cards, all we want is to work on this together and not question their authority,” Reyes said, adding that during the past years the members of the AOC have shouldered the cost of printing the cards.

“During those times, the BI did not spend a single centavo as their contribution to the printing of the cards,” Reyes said, adding that the airlines distribute a total of 22 million cards each year.

Libanan emphasized that the new immigration card contains vital information on passengers’ demographics and travel characteristics, which are collated and stored.

He added that such information would enable key stakeholders in the tourism industry, including airlines, travel agencies and tour operators, to make better business decisions, formulate policies and plans, and implement programs.

“In addition, it enables the Philippines to maximize data-collection mechanism to generate statistics comparative with the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” the BI chief said.

Launched and implemented in June, the arrival/departure cards aim to have an accurate, timely, efficient, progressive and uniform means of recording and retrieval of the arrival and departure record of passengers.

The bureau, however, opted for partial implementation of the new card after the AOC officials requested Libanan for more time to dispose of their old card.

Patch Arbas, BI technical staff chief, said the project was the result of a memorandum of agreement that Libanan and Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano signed.

Arbas added that the agreement also provides for the joint encoding by the BI and tourism department of all the information travelers write in the cards.

Earlier, BI officials justified the use of the new cards as a valid exercise of the bureau’s function to document the arrival and departure of passengers and as chief regulator of the entry and stay of foreigners in the Philippines.

Also, the BI said the new card helps the bureau exercise its law-enforcement function, particularly in tracing the entry and departure of suspected terrorists, human traffickers, drug lords, arms smugglers and other persons involved in transnational crimes.

We’ll deliver all machines on time, poll supplier vows

Sara Susanne D. Fabunan
Business Mirror

DESPITE being 35,000 short of the original target of 42,000 committed for delivery by the end of 2009, the consortium supplying the hardware for the country’s first nationally automated elections in 2010 stressed on Wednesday all machines will be at the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) doorstep on time.

Smartmatic-TIM president and chief executive officer Juan Villa sought to allay fears among the Comelec officials and other stakeholders that they may not be able to deliver all the 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting machines to be used for the May 2010 polls.

In a press briefing during the presentation of the first batch of PCOS machines in Manila, Smartmatic-TIM’s Villa said the manufacturing of the machines will be completed in China by the first week of February 2010.

“[All of them are] ready for shipment [by then]. We were there about two or three weeks ago. It’s a world-class [manufacturing] facility what we have in Shanghai. We won’t have problems with the production,” Villa told reporters.

And to prove they are capable of producing the machines on time, Villa committed to ship to the country close to 10,000 machines on a weekly basis in time for the February 21 deadline of delivery.

“We will be delivering at the rate of 9,600 PCOS units every week, starting next week, until the end of February. Our target is, we will deliver all the 82,000 machines one week ahead of schedule,” Villa added.

On Wednesday five cargo trucks were parked in front of the Comelec office, containing the 4,000 PCOS machines that were presented to the media and personally inspected by Comelec Chairman Jose Melo, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal and officials of Smartmatic-TIM.

Earlier in the day, an additional 3,200 PCOS machines arrived in Manila following the delivery of the first batch on Monday night.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said earlier a vessel of Maersk Line arrived in Manila on Tuesday carrying with it some 1,727 power generators and 3,200 PCOS units.

On arrival, the machines will be immediately stored at a warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Melo said they will be stored and tested in the warehouse until the time they are shipped to some 40 Comelec regional hubs sometime in April.

“So that they will be nearer the precincts, they will be dispersed all over the country. That is for the facility of deployment on Election Day,” Melo said.

In the memorandum of agreement with Smartmatic-TIM, the poll body leased a total of 82,200 PCOS machines with the second and final batch originally set to arrive by February 2010.

With the arrival of the first batch of PCOS machines, the Comelec’s Melo said their fears about the delays in the machine delivery have been eased somewhat.

“Our level of confidence has gone up. I’ve been telling the Smartmatic-TIM officials ‘I have to see the machines before they get paid anything’,” Melo said.

The Comelec head had earlier said issues of delays in the automated election project were giving him nightmares.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

PGMA's New Year's Message

Philippine Stock market ends 2009 with 63% gain

by Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

THE stock market rebounded from a global financial slowdown to end the year up 63 percent, making it one of the best-performing equities markets in Asia and positioning it for further growth in 2010.

“Almost everyone is expecting a better 2010,” said Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Holdings Inc.

“Companies are already announcing possible investments, capital expenditures, possible mergers and acquisitions, backdoor listings and initial public offerings because of the positive outlook for next year.”

The Philippine Stock Exchange Index closed at 3,052.38 against the previous year’s close of 1,872.85.

The index hit its highest closing level this year on Dec. 2, when it finished at 3,111.96.

“The level it achieved this year was quite remarkable despite economic weakness,” AB Capital Securities said.

“What we can look out for next year are those sectors with high growth levels and stocks with the highest potential to benefit from an economic turn.”

AB Capital expects the market to test the 3,100 level next year.

Del Castillo said the election-related spending next year was likely to benefit consumer-related stocks such as power, telecommunications and food.

Markets will be closed starting today, when dealers go on an extended holiday break. Trading will resume on Jan. 4.

By next year, analysts said, investors would be closely watching the minutes of the Federal Reserve meeting set on Jan. 6, as well as key US economic indicators such as employment and retail spending data.

On the local front, the market would pay attention to policy rates, expected to remain steady until February, and the “political risk premium” of the May elections.

Over the long term, First Metro Investments Corp. said, the prospects for earnings and growth would likely continue to pick up in 2010 because of restructuring and cost-cutting measures carried out in 2009.

First Metro also expects the struggle for control of Manila Electric Co. between San Miguel Corp., led by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., and Metro Pacific Investments Corp., led by Manuel V. Pangilinan, to continue and expand to other areas.

“The tussle over Meralco control between MVP and Cojuangco seems far from over, and it is extending to other firms and projects such as Philex and utilities,” First Metro said.

It said both parties had enough cash to finance future acquisitions.

Among the top gainers for this year were Atok Big Wedge, which closed at P101 a share from only P1.60 in 2008; Philex Mining Corp., which closed at P16 from only P4.90 last year; Aboitiz Power Corp., which ended at P8.60 from P3.80 in 2008; Megaworld Corp., which ended at P1.48 from P0.66 a share last year; and Meralco, which closed at P205 from P59.50.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

SLEX extension to Lucena confirmed

Tollway takeover in 2010
Jeremiah F. de Guzman

Transfer of control over South Luzon Expressway to Manila Toll Expressway Systems Inc. has been moved to February next year, said a top official.

In a phone interview on Monday, MATES president Isaac David told Standard Today after a hearing before the Pasig City Regional Trial Court that the status quo has been extended.

Through a Toll Operation Certificate dated Nov. 27, regulators granted MATES the authority to use the SLEX facilities now owned by the government.

A temporary restraining order against immediate transfer of control was obtained by present operator Philippine National Construction Corp. effective until 1 p.m. Dec. 17.

The court requested that a status quo be maintained to avoid unforeseen violence during the takeover.

David said PNCC expressed willingness to hand over to MATES the control of the tollway.

“They requested for a one-month transition period so that PNCC employees can prepare for the takeover,” he said.

PNCC has more than 500 employees that maintain the SLEX and man its toll stations from Alabang to Sta. Rosa.

David assured PNCC employees that MATES will provide P110 million for the retrenchment of all PNCC employees and added that PNCC employees could still apply for jobs with the new management.

According to him, around 1,000 to 1,500 employees will be hired once control was transferred to MATES. This include 24/7 toll operators and construction workers for the extension of SLEX from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to Lucena.

David also confirmed the extension from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to Lucena this year, with an allocated budget of P10 billion.

“Two lanes, one on each side, will be constructed plus the shoulders on both sides as planned.

“This will be widened depending on the availability of the right of way,” David said, adding that the project would cover 30 months.

MATES is 40-percent owned by PNCC with 60 percent shared equally by local firm Alloy Manila Expressway Inc. and the Malaysian firm subsidiary MTD Manila Expressways Inc.

Majestic Mayon

Fiery attraction. Glowing lava cascades down the slopes of Mayon volcano as seen from Sto. Domingo, Albay, Sunday evening. BULLIT MARQUEZ, AP

Listed RP banks stage strong rebound as profits surge 68% in 2009

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

AFTER being shaken by the global financial crisis in 2008, the Philippines’ eight biggest listed banks staged a major turnaround this year with their combined net income growth averaging 68 percent in the first nine months to P29.8 billion, reviving investor interest in the stocks.

Their share prices surged this year, with Security Banking Corp. leading the pack with an increase of 145 percent as of Monday after several dividend declarations and a P2.5-billion stock-rights offer in October.

It’s been another year of surprises for the banking industry and the economy, according to Bankers Association of the Philippines president Aurelio Montinola III.

“Everybody thought 2008 would be a good year and then it turned out bad. And everyone thought 2009 would be bad but it turned out good,” he said in a recent interview.

The Philippines is now widely expected to post a modest growth of 1 percent in gross domestic product this year, one of a few Asian economies that managed to avoid contraction, thanks to the still-growing remittances of Filipinos abroad that fuel consumer spending.

Pascual Garcia III, president of the Chamber of Thrift Banks,  said the pessimists—particularly foreign analysts who early this year mostly predicted a contraction in remittances and the weakening of the peso beyond the level of 50 per US dollar—have been proven wrong.

“Our economy escaped recession and our banks stood strong and healthy amid the global crisis,” he said.

The Philippine banking system has passed the so-called stress tests conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco Jr.

At a recent forum he hosted for the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Tetangco said local banks were given a clean bill of health after the tests conducted under the IMF/WB’s Financial Sector Assessment Program.

The banking industry’s nonperforming loans (NPL) were found to be at manageable levels while capital adequacy remained above the minimum regulatory requirement of 10 percent.

Latest data showed the banks’ NPL ratio averaging 3.3 percent in October, the 13th month in a series when the incidence of bad loans averaged lower than 4 percent.

The industry’s average capital-adequacy ratio, an indication of capacity to absorb risks associated with lending, stood at 14.81 percent as of end-June.

With a “significant” improvement in bank profits and the P19.4-billion issuances of Tier 1 capital notes and unsecured subordinated debts qualifying as lower Tier 2 capital by several lenders, the qualifying capital position of the banking system as of end-June was 6.18-percent higher compared with the previous quarter, the BSP said.

Tycoon Henry Sy’s Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO) expects to end 2009 with net income hitting its profit guidance of P5.5 billion, representing a 172-percent increase over last year’s bottom line of P2.2 billion.

BDO—the country’s biggest bank in terms of assets, loans and deposits—posted a 31-percent increase in net income for the first nine months to P22.3 billion and also booked higher fee-based income and bigger trading gains.

Shares in BDO jumped 56 percent to P39 apiece on Monday from its opening level of P25 on January 5, the first trading day in 2009.

Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. rallied 84 percent to P45 from P24.50. The country’s second-largest bank in terms of assets reported a 24-percent increase in nine-month net income to P4.6 billion, boosted by a 22-percent rise in net interest income.

Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands, the biggest bank by market value, rose 16 percent to P47.50. It booked a net income of P7.3 billion for the first nine months, up 11 percent over profit of P6.6 billion in the same period last year.

Other top gainers include Philippine National Bank, Union Bank of the Philippines, China Banking Corp. and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.—which all posted improved bottom lines this year.

The best performer, however, was Security Bank with its share price surging 145 percent to P54 from P22.08 on January 5. The lender’s January to September net income jumped 27 percent to P2.2 billion from the same period last year, bringing its annualized return on average equity (ROE)—a measure of profitability—to 21 percent.

Security Bank’s ROE was the industry’s highest.

In its year-end report on the equities market, First Metro Investment Corp. painted a cautious outlook for banks in 2010.

Global threat assessment 2010

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

The year 2009 was not an easy time. Do not expect global conditions to be much better in 2010. In fact, there is a high probability that things economically and politically will become even more problematic.

Focus will be on the US economy and there is very little indication that the situation is going to improve in the months to come. An optimism that you hear about that economy is, at the least, spin; and at the worst, propaganda.

The bright spots that you might see highlighted are nothing more than “cherry-picking,” that is, looking for any specific numbers that could be used to justify a favorable outlook.

The stock market in the US is trading outside the bounds of reality. However, if you could borrow money for almost nothing in order to buy shares, then it would make sense to do so. And if enough people jump on this strategy, prices are going to rise. Listen to words of the CEO of Mohamed El-Erian of the US investment company Pimco which manages $1 trillion in assets, including the world’s largest mutual fund. “We’re on a sugar high. It feels good for a while but is unsustainable.” His point is that the recent burst of economic activity fed by government spending and near-zero interest rates will soon wither away. Mr. El-Erin forecast for the US market: Stocks will drop 10 percent in the space of three or four weeks.

The fact the holiday spending did not collapse entirely is due to Americans having put off purchases for many months and now pulling cash, not credit cards, out of their wallets to buy things at heavily discounted prices. This is not a sign of sustainable economic recovery.

Further, the US government must refinance some $2 trillion of short-term debt in 2010 or default on existing treasury debt. Where exactly is that money going to come from? Foreign governments and investors have reduced their purchases of US government debt by such an extent that the largest buyer of US government debt is the US government itself, through the Federal Reserve. The US Department of Treasury (or Finance in the Philippines) issues the debt and the US Federal Reserve (Bangko Sentral) is the buyer. This is a Ponzi scheme as the Federal Reserve has no assets to buy and is merely using newly printed dollars to give the illusion of that there are buyers of this debt paper.

The dollar will fall and gold will rise; potentially, gold could skyrocket.

The odds of a sovereign government going bankrupt and defaulting on its loans are almost a certainty. Greece and Ireland are on the brink. Iceland already did early in 2009 but the amount was covered by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB cannot afford to bail out a Greece or an Ireland. Oil producer Venezuela is already in default on its government obligations. They owe the oil companies some $5 billion that has little chance of being paid. If the oil companies do not get paid, they will continue to pull operations out of the country, forcing oil-generated revenues to fall further, eliminating the fund necessary to pay the sovereign government obligations. In Europe, the Ukraine is touching on being a failed state, both economically and politically.

The situation it the Middle East is rapidly going from bad to worse as Iran inches closer to nuclear capability and faces massive domestic political unrest and rioting. Can the outside world contain any Iranian political fallout from affecting world oil prices? No one knows for sure.

China could be the biggest story of 2010. Note this carefully: China has used its economic stimulus to keep factory production high in order to keep employment stable. That accounts for its good economic-growth numbers for 2009. But those goods are not being sold either internationally or domestically. World demand for Chinese-produced goods has not returned to the levels of 2007, and Chinese production capacity is well above what it was in 2007. This bubble cannot last forever and may burst toward the middle of 2010, if the US spending pattern stays on the current downward-to-flat track.

The most interesting attribute that will make 2010 will be a further push to new global realignments away from dependence on the US economy and toward more regionalized cooperation. We see this already with Japan moving as quickly and as closely as possible to a stronger alliance with China. Europe also is consolidating rapidly while reaching out to Russia.

The greatest threat to global stability lies in general with a resurgence of Islamic terrorist activities and greater open conflict, as witnessed in recent continuous bombings in Pakistan and military action in Afghanistan. Obama’s disastrous foreign policy has increased global danger from North Korea to South Asia to the heart of Europe.

The one nation that has the greatest potential for economic disaster with an enormous ripple effect is Great Britain. The political scene is chaotic with Prime Minister Gordon Brown teetering on being forced out through new and early parliamentary elections. Its credit rating should have been lowered one quarter ago, but the impact of a G-7 country having its debt a “junk” status is almost too much to consider. And if Britain goes, then the smaller nations in trouble (Greece, etc.) are doomed.

As for the Philippines? Come back here on Thursday.

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AFP ‘on track’ in resolving insurgency problem by 2010

Manila Bulletin

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Victor Ibrado has said the military remains on track in its goal of resolving the insurgency problem by 2010 despite setbacks in its operations brought about by the series of calamities that hit the country and the now infamous Maguindanao massacre.

In his message during the AFP’s 74th anniversary celebration, Ibrado said, “Despite destructions in our internal security operations (ISO) campaign brought about by the series of natural calamities – from typhoons Ondoy to Pepeng to the threat of eruption of Mt. Mayon – and our recent campaign to end lawlessness in Maguindanao, we have continued to gain headway in fulfilling our deadline in defeating the insurgency menace.”

“Your AFP has successfully constricted the insurgents’ pipeline of support and have significantly reduced their strength and influence,” Ibrado said.

The AFP Chief noted that from a high of 107 New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla fronts in 2005, the military has reduced them to just 51 and have steadily reduced their strength and firearms.

“Whether in Bicol, Samar, or Zamboanga, their numbers are dwindling as a result of our well-strategized campaign. No longer will they threaten our kababayans in Marinduque and Bohol. No longer will they be able to extort from businesses in Romblon, Leyte and Misamis. These once threatened localities are now strongly denouncing their violent ways,” Ibrado said.

He said as a result of the military’s successes in its ISO campaign, the AFP has began to turn over internal security functions in the certain areas to the local government’s Peace and Order Council (POC) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

In an interview, Ibrado said the anti-insurgency operation was definitely affected in the areas where the forces that were re-deployed to calamity-stricken provinces and in Maguindanao following the Nov. 23 massacre were taken.

He said the President’s directive to end the insurgency problem by 2010 remains on track, adding that there has been no change in the instruction.

The AFP Chief further said, “Like in our fight against insurgency, significant operational inroads have also been made against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Surgical strikes and covert intelligence operations have resulted in the neutralization of their leaders, recruiters, and financiers. The public can be sure, we will get them no matter what,” Ibrado stressed.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Working President (433)

25 December 2009

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Series of ash explosions rock Mayon

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

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Malls also a hit on Christmas day

Victims trapped inside sunken ferry?

Why 2009 wasn’t so bad for our country

By Harvey S. Keh
Manila Bulletin

When one would look back at 2009, images of the gruesome Maguindanao massacre, Typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng, the impending eruption of Mt. Mayon, the Katrina Halili-Hayden Kho sex scandal and political bickerings would dominate the year that is just about to end.

Yet, despite all the negative news and our seeming inability to move forward as a nation, there are also several inspiring and uplifting stories that continue to make us feel proud of being Filipinos.

This year we saw the emergence of Filipino youth-led social enterprises such as Rags2Riches, Hapinoy, Bejeweled and Chains for Change to mention a few. These social enterprises bank on the ingenuity and innovativeness of the Filipino youth towards helping uplift the quality of life of marginalized communities all over the country.

The wonderful thing about social enterprises is that it does not only help solve society’s most pressing problems but more importantly it is able to generate enough profit for these positive changes to become scalable and sustainable.

The Ateneo School of Government has also seen a marked increase in the number of people who are enrolling in its social entrepreneurship program since more and more Filipinos are seeing this as the new way of being able to contribute to nation-building.

As we gear towards the upcoming 2010 national elections, we have also seen youth-led organizations such as Youth Vote Philippines create campaigns and projects that are aimed at encouraging the Filipino youth to register for the upcoming polls.

This campaign was brought to different colleges and universities all over the country and was able to encourage several thousands of first time voters to go out of their way to register. Given that more than 50 percent of our country’s voting population is comprised of Filipinos aged between 18-40 years old, the power of the youth when harnessed properly will be able to actually elect the right kind of leaders for our country. Youth Vote Philippines has also opened an online portal which will enable young Filipinos to access information about the different national candidates who are running in the 2010 elections. This will help all of us choose the kind of government leaders that our country sorely needs.

During the latter part of the year, we were again given pride and honor through the selection of our very own Efren Peñaflorida as this year’s CNNNN Hero of the Year. Efren has shown us that the Filipino youth can become a catalyst for positive change in our country if he or she decides to do so. Through the efforts of Efren and his friends at the Dynamic Teen Company in Cavite, thousands of out of school youth and street children are given proper education thereby giving them a better chance of achieving a better quality of life in the future. Efren’s very humble beginnings have shown that one need not be rich and powerful to be able to become a changemaker in our society.

Finally, this year also saw the bayanihan spirit in action as we have seen during the massive rescue and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Although many of the victims were not known to us, many Filipinos here and abroad went out of their way to share their resources with those who needed it the most. More importantly, we saw young Filipinos taking time to volunteer to sort, pack and deliver the relief goods in the different evacuation centers all over the country. This has shown that amidst great tragedy the Filipino spirit will continue to prevail.

Now, as we enter 2010, I look forward to another year full of stories of hope and inspiration as we enter a crucial time in the history of our young nation. Let these stories of hope in 2009 continue to inspire us to be part of the change that we want to see. Let us work together so that 2010 will not only be a new year for all of us but more importantly a new life and a new beginning for our country.

Harvey S. Keh is director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo School of Government.

Comments are welcome at

Mayon at its best

Tourists have been flocking to Mayon Volcano to witness its awesome display of flowing lava and pyroclastic materials as authorities continue to expect a major eruption anytime soon. (Photo by LINUS G. ESCANDOR II)

December 25, 2009, 3:16pm
Manila Bulletin

LIGNON HILL NATURE PARK, LEGAZPI CITY – Residents were treated to an overnight fireworks display that greeted Christmas Day here as Mount Mayon spewed more lava and pyroclastic materials, prompting some people to spend noche buena on top of this hill for a view of the glowing volcanic materials trickling down Mayon’s slopes.

“Magayunon!” (It’s beautiful!),” a girl told her father who was busy shooting pictures not only of Mayon Volcano but also the view of Legazpi City after partaking their traditional noche buena on top of Lignon (pronounced as "linyon") Hill here.

So spectacular was that sight that Albay Governor Joey Salceda was prompted to say that Mayon’s activities since Thursday night was the most beautiful sight he had seen so far from the rumbling volcano, what with the glowing lava that looks like tentacles in the slopes.

“It’s Mayon at its best,” Salceda said.

The spectacle has drawn many tourists to Lignon Hill, considered a view deck for Mayon Volcano, as good weather and clear skies allowed a clear view of the burning lava flow on Christmas Eve.

Cars lined up at the foot of the hill waiting for their turn to enter the view deck since only 10 cars can enter the narrow space of the hill at any given time.

We noticed that there are more people climbing the hill tonight than in the past few days. Maybe it is because of the good weather. We can see the volcano clearly,” said Kim Chan, chief security officer of Lingnon Hill Nature Park.

A few meters away from the hill lies the observatory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Volcanologist and Phivolcs Planning Officer Delfin Garcia said the skies have cleared since 2 p.m. last Wednesday.

“It has been cloudy for the past three to four days. The skies cleared up only 2 p.m. last Wednesday. In the past few days, we cannot see the height of the eruption column,” Garcia said.

The glowing red lava coming from the volcano can be seen in both sides oozing from the summit. Explosions were also heard intermittently, giving tourists more excitement.

Burning particles were also seen detaching from the glowing rocks that cascaded down the slopes, like fireworks displays ordinarily seen during New Year's Eve revelry and on special occasions.

While the volcanic activities were indeed wonderful to behold, they brought, however, more jitters and anxiety to affected residents and local disaster officials after scientists said the threat posed by Mount Mayon is far from over.

Resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said there were actually 96 ash explosions recorded, each followed by audible booming sounds, during good visibility that are actual manifestation of intense activity inside the volcano.

“These explosions produced light brown to grayish ash columns that reached as high as two kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

At least 98 rock fall events were also detected, and three were observed to have generated pyroclastic flows that moved down within two kilometers from the crater, he added.

The rock falls, he explained, were actually a result of the detachments of lava fragments deposited in Mayon’s upper slopes.

The emission of sulfur dioxide and occurrence of tremors are on the downtrend but Laguerta said they are not an assurance that Mayon’s activity is subsiding. He said it could even spell out more danger.

Despite the huge volume of lava oozing out of the crater and the booming ash explosions that some thought was already a major eruption, Laguerta said they do not call for the hoisting of alert Level 5 that would indicate a hazardous eruption is ongoing.

“Medyo bitin pa kasi, I mean one of our categories in declaring alert level 5 is successive tall ash columns that could reach an average of five kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

The ash explosions since Thursday night up to Friday only reached as high as two kilometers.

“So we still have to monitor and wait further for the activities in the next days,” said Laguerta.

Rumbling sounds and explosions were more evident Friday night than in the previous days while the explosion column or smoke-like chamber on top of the volcano can also be seen clearly even without the aid of a telescope.

Satellite images gathered two days ago revealed there are already a total of 20 million cubic meters of lava that has been discharged by the volcano.

“Now, there are scattered rock falls,” Laguerta added.

In a separate interview, Phivolcs director Renato Solidum explained that rock falls are detached fragments of the lava flow that would generate pyroclastic flows.

“While lava is flowing, there are also other hazards related to it. The fragments, they get broken into pieces and they bring in other materials and that produces pyroclastic flows,” Solidum said.

Friday, 25 December 2009

QTV: 'Secret Santa' pays hospital bills of some patients at PGH

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

Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Christmas Message

President's pre-Christmas visit to Legazpi City

PGMA Leads Destruction of illegal Drugs in PDEA, Q.C.

74th Founding Anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Philippines volcano activity intensifies - 24 Dec 09

Govt starts Christmas bonus release on Thursday

Green light for the radio frequency ID project

Alvin Capino
Manila Standard

It appears that there is no more impediment to the implementation of the radio frequency system by the Land Transportation Office this January with the failure of militant groups to get a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

Earlier, the militant transport group Piston, together with Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza and Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod had asked the Supreme Court for a permanent injunction order with prayer for a TRO.

With their usual paranoia, the progressive groups claimed that the project could be used by the government to spy on and invade the privacy of people who are perceived as enemies of the state.

“Invasion of privacy” is a refrain we hear from Leftists whenever the government tries to implement programs and projects that seek to install order and convenience for the public. This is their mantra against the national ID system that would give a unified ID for all citizens to make transactions with government easier and make it difficult for people to assume multiple identities.

Using the “invasion of privacy” line to object to the project, however, verges on the ridiculous.

LTO’s RFID will serve as a vehicle’s birth certificate of sorts and will serve as the unique ID for a vehicle from motorcyles to trucks.

How this can be used to invade an individual’s privacy is hard to imagine. Perhaps the militant groups opposing the adoption by LTO of the system can explain how they came to this conclusion.

The system can be used as a deterrent to carnapping since any attempt to register a carnapped vehicle will immediately raise alarms.

The system will stop the practice of non-appearance for mandatory emission testing for vehicles before registration. Once the system is in place, RFID readers will be installed in all LTO authorized emission testing centers. It can easily be verified if the vehicle is actually in the center when the emission test is conducted.

RFID will make it easier to stop “colorum” buses and jeepneys. With a tag reader, a law enforcer can immediately detect if a public transport vehicle has a franchise or if it is operating outside its franchise area.

Transportation chief assistant secretary Arturo Lomibao had a meeting with Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima to explain the system and assure her that the technology does not invade the rights to privacy of motorists.

De Lima had expressed concern about possible privacy rights violations amidst the controversy generated by the opposition to the announcement of the planned implementation of the system.

Lomibao said he assured De Lima that LTO’s strict protocols would not allow RFID to be used to harass motorists.

In a recent talk with journalists, Lomibao stressed that no contact information like address or telephone numbers can be accessed through the RFID. The tag does not have global positioning capability.

One expert earlier explained that a cell phone was potentially more invasive and was more of a threat to privacy than RFID. There are devices, after all, which can trace the location of a cell phone user as well as tap voice and text messages sent through the cellular phone.

Lomibao said that an RFID reader will show only the following information: RFID unique code, motor vehicle file number, engine number, chassis number, plate number, motor vehicle type, color, make, series, year model, body type, registered owner, last registration date and alarms on the vehicles and whether the alarms have been settled or still unsettled.

If it’s a public utility vehicle tagging the RFID through the reader would also show the franchise number, the authorized route, and the name of the owner/organization.

It would seem that only the militant Piston is still opposing the implementation of the RFID system.

All other major transport groups led by 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK) led by sectoral representative lawyer Vigor Mendoza had expressed their all out support for the implementation of the RFID through a resolution signed by the organization’s key transport leaders nationwide.

The resolution urged President Gloria Arroyo to immediately implement the RFID project as well as the interconnectivity program of the LTO and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Aside from 1-UTAK other transport groups which have publicly expressed support for the LTO RFID project are Acto, Pasang Masda and Fejodap.

The P350 price has been cited by some of those opposing the project to ask government to junk it. They say the charges are exorbitant and the price of RFID is just a fraction of what will be charged to vehicle owners.

Like the issue of RFID potentials to spy on vehicle owners, the issue of exorbitant price is baseless and unreasonable.

The P350 price for the RFID tag is a one-time payment. The tag has a warranty of 10 years so the yearly payment amounts to P35/year.

Those who say the tag is overpriced conveniently forget the fact that the P350 covers not just the tag but the entire system plus its operation, the yearly maintenance, value-added tax and government’s revenue share.

For every P350, the VAT for each tag is P37.50, the revenue share for the national government is P20.43 and the fund allocated for the LTO Training Fund is P32.93. These three items alone total P90.86.

If you factor in the capital expenditure for the hardware, software, readers and network equipment as well as the cost of personnel to be hired specifically for the project, the general administrative cost and the cost of the tag the net to Stradcom, the service provider is less than P20.

The P350 cost of the RFID is reasonable if you compare it to the Epass for Slex (P1,300) and the EC tag for Nlex (P1,000). Of course the Epass and the EC tags uses the old battery powered active type system which is good for three to five years while the passive type non-battery operated RFID system is a next generation identification technology similar to barcode readers.

Perhaps a fairer comparison is RFID systems used in other countries for transport. The Touch and Go payment card in Malaysia and Octopus system in Hongkong for payment of tolls and payment in retail outlets cost the equivalent of P2,000. The EZ link payment card in Singapore cost the equivalent of P600. Compared to these cost, the P350 for the LTO RFID tags is reasonable.

Perhaps Ocampo and Masa can look at other issues that would really be relevant to the public. They do not sound reasonable in their opposition to the RFID project and only he carnappers, the colorum operators and the unscrupulous emission testing centers are happy with their efforts to stop what appears now as a good project.

PGMA distributes relief goods in Legaspi City evacuation center

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today oversaw the distribution of foodstuffs and other basic necessities in various evacuation centers in Legaspi City.

Later, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, chairman of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, told the President that the number of solders and policemen patrolling the area around Mayon Volcano have been doubled to ensure that everybody is moved to safer grounds and nobody is allowed to go within the danger zone.

For their part, officials of Philvolcs told the President the volcano could erupt any time.

In a media briefing in Malacañang earlier, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita disclosed that 9,880 families had been moved to temporary shelters after the volcano showed signs of imminent eruption.

The families, composed of 47,137 individuals, are now housed in 26 school and other government buildings in the cities of Legaspi and Tabaco and in the towns of Maliliput, Camalig, and Guinobatan.

The President had flown in from Hong Kong, where she spent three days for a much needed rest with her family.

It has always been the President’s practice, Ermita said, to go directly to disaster and calamity areas from a trip abroad.

“She is one President I know, who after landing goes to the hangar of the airport and fly to any place in the Philippines, where her presence is needed” Ermita said.

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, Ermita said, Philvolcs had hoisted Alert Level 4, which means the volcano could erupt within days.

According to Ermita, school authorities have been advised to devise ways to enable students in evacuation centers to hold regular classes as soon as possible.

So far, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has released 10,200 sacks of rice worth P9.37 million, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and RDCC have given away three truckloads of relief goods worth P2.1 million.

There is also a P500,000 standby fund for the purchase of additional relief goods if needed.

Also, the UNICEF donated 20 trailers of water jugs for the affected residents around the volcano.

The Executive secretary said the NDCC, RDCC, and other local government officials, along with private organizations, have made the necessary preparations to achieve zero-casualty, in pursuant to a policy formulated at President Arroyo’s insistence.

Before leaving for Hong Kong a few days ago, the President met with disaster control officials and ordered them to strictly implement the Extended Danger Zone (EDZ).

The EDZ consists of eight kilometers on the southern part and seven kilometers on northern part of the volcano’s summit. Nobody is allowed to go within that radius. (PND)


Arroyo orders police to find Mayon holdouts

By Rey M. Nasol
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines—-"Find the 56 holdouts!”

That, according to Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, was how President Macapagal-Arroyo barked out the order to military and police officials to find at least 56 people who reportedly refused to leave their homes despite Mayon’s Volcano’s continuing eruption, when she visited on Wednesday a temporary shelter for hundreds of people evacuated from homes and farms threatened by the volcano.

The President was reacting to the information that despite the continuous intense level of activity of Mayon, some resident refused to leave their homes within the danger zones.

But even people who have moved to evacuation centers, still go back to their homes—to check on their property, feed their animals, do some laundry, take a bath, use the toilets, gather firewood or any other personal reason—defying the danger.

Salceda said President Arroyo gave the order after clearing with the Department of Justice the forcible removal of stubborn residents still holding out in their homes.

She arrived in Legazpi at about 2:10 p.m. to personally convey her assurance of support to the affected residents now temporarily housed at various evacuation centers.

Ms Arroyo visited the Mayon evacuees at the Gogon Elementary School, which houses residents of Barangays Bonga and Buyuan, both within the declared danger zone.

She distributed food packs.

The school houses 743 families or 3,643 individuals.

The President was briefed by Phivolcs resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta on the condition of Mayon.

Salceda also explained to the President the nature of the existing disaster mitigation measures being put to work in all evacuation centers in the province.

“In response, President Arroyo committed P35 million worth of goods to the province of Albay but as of this time the provincial government is still utilizing its calamity funds,” he told local journalists.

“I already assured the President that everything is being taken care of by the provincial government in partnership with concerned government agencies,” Salceda said.

He said the province's resources are good for the next 17 days.

Salceda said that aside from ensuring food, sanitation, health services and safety of the evacuees and their properties, the provincial government was implementing a "cluster response approach" whreby nongovernment organizations, United Nations agencies and other stakeholders have identified their respective responses.

The President then proceeded to the Naval Forces of Southern Luzon in Rawis, Legazpi City, to inspect the stockpile of food and other donations from the World Food Program.

The joint Philippine Army-Philippine National Police Task Force Mayon has been conducting a census of individuals who keep on coming back to their homes despite the volcanic activity, including lava flows and ejections of ash, steam and gases.

“Because they cannot be told to stay at their designated evacuation centers, they would be asked to sign a waiver for risking their lives there,” said Capt. Razaleigh G. Bansawan, task force spokesman.

But this has yet to be decided upon by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.

Bansawan said the implementation of a “no human activity” policy inside the danger zone was part of Salceda’s zero-casualty goal.

Bansawan said a report submitted to the PDCC was the subject of a new study to determine whether the local government units had truly evacuated all threatened residents.

He said their initial information showed that some 100 residents were still in Mabinit, barangay of Legazpi City within the eight-kilometer danger zone.

However, Salceda has strongly recommended not to allow any human activity within the danger zone.

“If you are there and Mayon violently erupts, you are dead, so what is the use of a waiver? It is better to stay away from the volcano while there is still time and return to normal habitats if Mayon returns to normal condition. After all, the government will help them rebuild their homes, farms and their lives," he said.

The Department of Health has provided P6 million for medicines and portable toilets for the evacuation centers in Albay.

Salceda briefed six teams of doctors and nurses from different government hospitals in Manila who arrived at the PDCC conference hall Wednesday to augment local workers at the shelters.

Tthe PDCC has secured 10,000 water jugs, mats and blankets.

DSWD Regional Director Remia Tapispisan immediately released and prepositioned materials at the Naval forces office in Rawis, Legazpi City for distribution to the operation centers.

The PDCC has also activated a water purifier donated by the Spanish government. It has a capacity of 30,000 liters per hour capacity.

However, for bathing, cooking and laundry, the Bureau of Fire Protection has been tasked by the PDCC to distribute water to all the evacuation centers three times a day.

Albay folks brave Mayon fury ‘to feed the pigs'

Manila Bulletin

Legazpi City— Living up to their Bicolano reputation as passionate lovers, Albay couples brought to evacuation centers while Mayon Volcano is threatening to blow its top have been braving the dangers of hot lava and cascading boulders, returning to their homes inside danger zones to consummate their fiery love, officials have discovered.

Triggered by curiosity as to why some evacuees have repeatedly been caught returning to their homes, local authorities here launched an investigation and discovered that the oft repeated alibi of going back “to feed the pigs” is actually a euphemism and password for making whoopee.

“So if you hear couples telling authorities in evacuation centers that they have to go back para mabaog ning orig (to feed their pigs) back home, it actually means that they will have sex,” said Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

Aside from the report of security forces tasked to evacuate those in the six-kilometer and eight-kilometer danger zones that they had evacuated the same people at least thrice, Salceda narrated that local authorities tasked to supervise evacuation centers also discovered the modus when a couple tried to get permission to go back.

Asked why, the husband said that they simply must because their pigs would starve to death if they fail to feed them.

At that point, one of the couple’s kids butted in and said, “wara man kitang mga orig” (but we have no pigs), Salceda narrated.

The official also disclosed that they have observed frequent verbal tussles between couples in evacuation centers, attributing the altercations to the lack of sex for both of them.

“We understand them because it is a biological need. The biggest punishment if you are married is not doing it for days,” said Salceda.

As such, Salceda said that when evacuations began as early as November, local disaster officials immediately ordered the setting up of at least two conjugal rooms in every evacuation center.

But the evacuees won’t do it there.

“Based on our reports, they won’t avail it. Possibly because they are afraid that they would be laughed at or teased or they are afraid of peeping toms,” said Salceda.

And since the 26 evacuation centers in Albay are now almost congested, Salceda said they are considering the distribution of entrance stubs to all motels near the evacuation centers in order to give couples their needed intimate moments.

He said they are still on the planning stage as to the number of stubs that would be procured and distributed and the number of stubs that would be given per couple.

“But one thing is for sure: we will not give the stubs to husbands because they might use them with other women aside from their wives,” the governor said.

Real toys make real memories

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Looking back at the “good old days” is definitely a sign that you are entering your “mature” years. That being said, there may have been some advantages from “before” that we do not have “now.”

The US economy is a disaster. Real unemployment is above 20 percent. There is no growth in economic activity as evidenced by the latest revision of the third-quarter gross domestic product, previously reported as up 3.53 percent, then revised downward to 2.78 percent and now pegged at 2.24 percent. The critical retail and housing sectors are “bottom bouncing” and showing no growth.

But all that has not stopped American shoppers from jumping on the latest Christmas toy, Zhu Zhu Pets.

The US has a well-founded reputation of one toy being available in time for Christmas that turns into a craze. Every year stories emerge of shoppers practically killing each other to get the last one in stock. Parents driving hours to little rural towns where there might be one left. And, of course, entrepreneurs hoarding items early and selling them for three or four times the retail price on eBay. This year is no different.

The hot toy for 2009 is the Zhu Zhu Pet, a battery-operated motorized hamster-looking toy, which name means “little pig” in Chinese.

According the company’s web site, “Zhu Zhu Pets are the world’s first innovative, realistic, interactive, plush and artificially intelligent hamsters that talk and move around in their own play sets [two AAA batteries included].”

Zhu Zhu Pets are the brainchild of an American toy company employing a couple of dozen executives and sales people and several dozen more workers in China doing the manufacturing. They will undoubtedly make millions; not the Chinese, of course.

I will admit it. I like kids’ toys. Over the years, I realize I have bought toys for my sons that I probably wanted for myself. And I am possibly a little jealous. When I was a child, if you wanted your toy gun to go “Bang!” you had to shout “Bang!” Now, that toy gun has a computer chip that says “Bang!” and a lot more than that, and almost certainly does it in 20 different languages. But you know, even after more than half a century, I can still remember a small tree branch I had that sort of looked like a rifle. I played with that gun for a whole summer vacation. It never said “Bang!” but it did have a sling that I made out of two old shoelaces tied together and an aiming sight from some gold thumbtacks.

The creator of the electronic hamsters says the objective was to make a toy that offers the fun of a hamster without the mess. “The best alternatives to real live hamsters, Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters don’t poop, die, or stink.”

And that is my objection to Zhu Zhu Pets.

There have always been pets roaming through my family. A couple of hundred tropical fish, several cats, nearly a dozen dogs, mice, birds and the latest addition, a guinea pig, have called my house their home. And every one of them pooped, sometimes stank, and a few have died. And I am glad they did not run on two AAA batteries.

I remember when the oldest boy was still short of his seventh birthday. Our dog wandered around the house all day not feeling well and about dinnertime suddenly started heaving and coughing and then died on the kitchen floor. The vet said it was probably canine distemper or something like that.

Before that night was over, my boys got their first taste of one part of living: the death of a loved one. The dog was bundled up in an old blanket and we dug a grave outside in the back garden. The youngest boy, about 5, thought that in addition to the leash, the dog’s food bowl should be buried, too, so that is what we did.

My young sons learned an important lesson that night, much more important than learning that if your pet Zhu Zhu stops moving, it is time to buy new batteries.

My children also learned over the years that pets, like people, poop and need to be cleaned up after. And if you take the enjoyment of loving a pet, you also take the duty and responsibility of cleaning up the pet’s mess.

The Zhu Zhu people say that they “create positive disruption through innovation, whereby saving magic from extinction.” I am not sure what kind of magic they are saving as toy manufacturers but I remember the magic in son No.3’s eyes the first time he saw the momma guppy give birth to 30 baby fish.

The true lessons of life have to be learned by living life, not by fake imitations. A few summers ago, the boys wanted to earn some extra money so they set up a fish-ball/cheese-fry business outside the house. They discovered about working capital and raw-material costs and profit margins and division of labor. The youngest wanted to be the cook but he could not quite reach the cooker properly. So he was happily in charge of napkins and toothpicks. And they also found out about unsold merchandize, having to eat leftover fish balls for dinner and breakfast.

The only one in my house that would probably appreciate a Zhu Zhu hamster is the Labrador Jake. Every time Jake gets too close to the realistic, interactive, plush, and actually intelligent guinea pig named Jack, he gets his nose whacked. The Zhu Zhu would be easier to catch and chew on.

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IMF, WB say RP banks stress-free amid crisis

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its sister firm the World Bank (WB) have given the Philippine banking system a clean bill of health, pronouncing it stress-free from the debilitating impact of the global economic slowdown.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco announced this development at a forum he hosted on Tuesday for the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap).

According to Tetangco, the IMF/World Bank tandem conducted a so-called stress test on the banking system to try to determine the areas rendered weak or troubled by the economic woes of countries including the United States, Japan and much of Europe.

“The results have been positive. Philippine banks were found to be in position to weather the stress created by the global economic downturn,” Tetangco said of the tests conducted under IMF/WB’s Financial Sector Assessment Program.

 The series of probes was conducted in the weeks just before a team of IMF economic experts subjected the Philippines to a review under Article IV of the Agreements in November.

Member-countries agree under Article IV to open their macroeconomic books to IMF analyses at least once a year, for monitoring and compliance purposes.

In the areas of bank nonperforming loans (NPLs) and capital adequacy, for example, the IMF found no reason to be concerned.

According to Tetangco, none of the double-digit NPL rates prevalent in the wake of the 1997 region wide financial crisis was uncovered during the tests.

This means Philippine banks continued to lend to the productive units of the economy and optimize local output; and yet the quality of those loans remained well within the 8 percent minimum set by the Bank for International Settlements and the 10 percent set by the BSP.

Latest data show the banks’ NPLs averaging 3.3 percent in October, the 13th month in a series when the incidence of bad loans averaged lower than 4 percent.

The banks’ capital-adequacy ratio, an indication of capacity to withstand the erosion of capital as a consequence of bad loans and other operational hazards without falling by the wayside, stands 4- or 5-percentage point higher to around 14 percent to 15 percent at present.

The BSP requires Philippine banks to observe a minimum capital adequacy ratio of 10 percent or risk regulatory penalties such as a status downgrade or denial of access to interbank credit privileges to encourage compliance.

“Philippine banks were found to have a good mix of declining NPLs and better capital levels during the tests,” Tetangco said.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

QTV: Arroyo set to visit evacuation sites in Albay

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

QTV: Strombolian phase of eruption usually precedes big eruption

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

Mayon's rumblings stronger

Politicians now engage in 'V-blogging'

Remittances seen rising by at least 8% in 2010

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

FROM an expected growth of at least 4 percent this year, remittances of Filipinos abroad are likely to be stronger in 2010, possibly rising by at least 8 percent, as recession-hit countries hosting tens of thousands of Filipino workers are now recovering, according to DBS Bank.

The Singapore-based institution, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, expects the crisis-hit economies of the US, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong to grow in excess of 4 percent in 2010, “which could well mean remittances growing by 8 percent or more.”

A growth of 8 percent means remittances next year will exceed $18 billion, from the projected level of $17.1 billion this year, which is based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) forecast of at least 4-percent growth from last year’s $16.4 billion.

The reported figure does not include money sent through nonbanking channels.

The DBS forecast is more bullish than the BSP’s latest projection, which is for remittances to rise by 6 percent in 2010.

The bank was among several foreign financial institutions that had painted a grim scenario for remittances to the Philippines this year, projecting a contraction because of the global downturn.

But they were all proven wrong as remittances continued to rise and kept the domestic economy afloat while many rich nations plunged into recession.

“Remittances next year should grow even more strongly than they have this year as the global economy reflates,” said DBS economist Lim Su Sian, who projected a growth of 4.8 percent for the Philippines’ gross domestic product in 2010.

“[Higher remittances] should help to keep consumer spending supported.”

Lim expects private consumption expenditure in the Philippines to rise by 4.8 percent next year, from this year’s projected 3.4-percent growth.

The increased spending of Asian consumers is now seen driving economic growth in the region at a time global trade remains in the doldrums.

Remittances course through banks rose by 6.7 percent in October to $1.5 billion, bringing the cumulative inflows for the first 10 months of the year to $14.3 billion, representing a growth of 4.5 percent over the same period last year.

The BSP attributed the steady growth in remittances to the conti-nued deployment of Filipino workers abroad.

“The country’s long-term deployment outlook has remained favorable in the Middle East countries, specifically in Saudi Arabia’s construction and health workers,” BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. in a recent statement.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Extra pay for working on Christmas holidays

MANILA, Philippines—Extra pay await workers who will work during the holidays: regular holidays on December 25 (Christmas Day) and December 30 (Rizal Day), and January 1 (New Year’s Day), as well as the special non-working days on December 24, and December 31, the Department of Labor and Employment said in an advisory.

Siting Proclamation 1699 which declares December 24 as an additional special non-working day throughout the country and the Labor Code, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the following pay rules shall apply:

* For the regular holidays of December 25, December 30, and January 1:

1. If the holiday falls on an employee’s regular workday:
- If worked, employee is entitled to 200 percent of his/her basic wage for the first eight hours and, for work in excess of the eight hours, to an additional 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

- If un-worked, the employee is entitled to 100 percent of his or her regular daily rate, provided he or she was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

2. If the day is the employee’s rest day:
- If worked, the employee is entitled, for the first eight hours, to 200 percent of his or her daily rate plus 30 percent and, for work in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

- If un-worked, the employee is entitled to 100 percent of his or her regular daily rate, provided he or she was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

3. Where the day immediately preceding the holiday is a non-work day in the establishment or the scheduled rest day of the employee, he or she shall not be deemed on leave of absence on that day, in which case he or she shall be entitled to the holiday pay.

* For the special non-working days on December 24 and December 31:

1. If worked, an employee is entitled to 130 percent of his/her daily rate for the first eight hours, and to an additional 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day for work performed in excess of eight hours.

2. If un-worked, he or she is not entitled to any payment, unless there is a favorable company policy, practice, or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) granting payment for special days even if not worked;

3. If worked and falling on the employee’s rest day, the employee is entitled for the first eight hours to 150 percent of his or her regular daily rate, and for work performed in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

For clarifications regarding the holiday pay rules, call the department’s Bureau of Working Conditions at tel. no. 527-3000 local 301.

No child's play: Kids render music that transcends age

Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines—Mariana Ablan, Kaira Palcos and Lia Nanca look like normal kids at first glance. but after the three played their Orff instruments, they made me realize: the universal language of music transcends boundaries that highly complicated classical pieces are also made for the young.

Mariana is one of the marimba players of Temple Hill International School Instrumental Ensemble while Kaira and Lia play lead percussion instruments for the Philippine Montessori Center Instrumental Ensemble, which performed for the New York Children's Orchestra Society in April 2008. Both groups performed with the Philippine Madrigal Singers at the “Thankful” concert on December 15.

“When I saw my sister and two brothers play the guitar and drums, I also wanted to be into music and learn to play at least four instruments. Now after being part of the group, I realized how fun it was plus I learned how to listen to other people and meet new friends,” said 10-year old Mariana, who spent the last four years with the ensemble.

“I joined the group to play music, have fun and overcome my shyness,” said Kaira and Lia.

“Music is fun and it's for everyone,” added Kaira who just turned six this year.

Kaira and Lia, who play the marimba and glockenspiel, and Mariana, who also plays the base xylophone and temple blocks are mentored by music teachers Maria Catherine Zulueta and Lois Espinosa from Philippine Montessori Center.

Both teachers said they adopted the philosophy and methods of German composer Carl Orff in teaching music to pre-school children. Orff, over his 30 years of work, observed that young children responded most to rhythm so he focused on teaching music via rhythmic expressions.

“Orff instruments like the small glockenspiel, concert bells and triangle are used for teaching kids because they use cross motor skills that children have raw, in the beginning. Of course, we simplified how the orchestra music can be played using percussion instruments to match it to the skill sets of the children,” said Espinosa.

“Then in 1982 our school director asked us to form a group that would perform intermission numbers during our culminating activity. From two children playing Orff instruments that are found in the classroom, we have added members to play new instruments and later, we introduced more songs,” she added.

“Since most of the kids are first-timers, they have no preference in music so they learn whatever you introduce. Now we endorse classical pieces because studies have shown that help in brain development especially in critical thinking functions,” said Espinosa.

Realizing that Filipino children love melody as much as rhythm, the teachers introduced more complicated pieces from Broadway, overtures and Filipino classical compositions, which has become a staple numbers in the group's performances both here and abroad.

“Children are definitely easier to handle than adults, I believe. They are like sponges, they absorb what you teach them. Of course, we selected them based on their innate musical ability but we also considered their attitude,” said Zulueta.

“Attitude is very important because while learning music, they must also learn discipline which is very much part of the processing of learning to play music and working as a team,” she added.

Above learning musical prowess and artistic fluency, Espinosa added that the children in the group learn values such as patience, concentration, discipline and teamwork.

“Over time we have noticed and the kids themselves too, that they become more patient and more considerate of others like when a teacher works with a child while the rest waits. They do not blame others for mistakes during practice sessions or even in performances,” she said.

“We don't have ranks, there is also no hierarchy on who gets the bigger part. They know they are a group and whether they play a minor, a major or a soloist role, they are happy because they know they are as important as everyone else in the group. Plus, they are better academically and more emotionally stable,” said Espinosa.

Zulueta and Espinosa added that through the group, awareness on the marimba—a wooden instrument with keys similar to the xylophone that are hit by a mallet—has been rising. The once forgotten indigenous instrument is gaining high interest worldwide and also among members of the instrumental group who want to take advance lessons for playing the instrument.

“I want to learn to play the marimba better. Although it is a challenging instrument, I enjoy it,” said Mariana.

Zulueta added that the group also adopted the angklung, an indigenous musical instrument from India which uses two to three bamboo tubes set to a specific pitch and attached to a frame.

As for Mariana, Kaira and Lian, all three said they would pursue learning more instruments that would be introduced in the group as they ponder a musical career in the near future.

While 80 percent of the ensemble's member usually leave for another school in the following year, Zulueta and Espinosa said the difficulty of training a new group of children every year does not compare to the fulfillment of seeing the kids perform as a group and in collaboration with other artists.

Asked for their message to the group, Espinosa said: “I hope you (kids of the ensemble) continue making music either as a soloist or a group. Keep at it.”

“You are the reason that continually inspires music teachers like us to keep going year after year,” said Zulueta.

Irrigation agency set to build P1-B dam for Leyte’s rice areas

S. Q. Meniano

TACLOBAN CITY -- The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) will build next year a P1.1-billion dam that will store water to irrigate 3,000 hectares of farms throughout the year.

"This will be the first earth-filled storage dam to be constructed in Leyte," NIA regional manager Romeo G. Quiza told journalists here recently.

The Hibulangan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project, which will be implemented in Villaba town in Leyte, will involve the construction of a 35.5-meter earth-filled dam with storage capacity of about 10.8 million cubic meters of water.

It will irrigate the farms in the towns of Villaba, Matagob and Matalom, which are known as the rice-producing areas in Leyte.

Mr. Quiza said the project is designed to mitigate the impact of climate change. "Because of climate change, we expect prolonged dry spell or longer rainy days. We need a storage dam to store water during the wet season and release it during the dry season," he said.

The Regional Development Council endorsed the project last week for implementation early next year.

The reservoir will be located in Barangay Sulpa, Villaba, Leyte.

A network of irrigation canals will carry water to farmlands in barangays Hibulangan, Bugabuga, Tumamak, Sta. Cruz, and Capinahan, all in Villaba municipality.

Service roads will be built on the bank of the canals.

"Also, the project envisions to provide the community an opportunity to engage in inland fish production within the reservoir area. This project will boost the socioeconomic status of farmer-beneficiaries in the area," Mr. Quiza said.

The dam is scheduled to be completed in two to three years, depending on availability of funds from the national government.

It is among the eight Small Irrigation Reservoir Irrigation Projects in a list of 28 projects that were endorsed to the National Economic and Development Authority for submission to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

The project was also one of the four priority irrigation projects in the Regional Development Plan 2004-2010 that was deemed vital to the region’s economic expansion. Other priority irrigation projects are located in Catarman-Bobon in Northern Samar, Dolores in Eastern Samar, and Basey in Samar.

Leyte accounts for two-thirds of the region’s annual rice output. The province has 4,500 hectares of irrigated farms. Eastern Visayas has a total rice area of 160,000 hectares, of which 57,000 hectares are covered by irrigation systems.

BPOs’ continued boom boosts language schools

Claudeth Mocon
Business Mirror

LEARNING a new language can be made easy, enjoyable and affordable—that’s the mantra of Berlitz Language and Learning Center, the world’s premier language service provider, which is enjoying a boom as outsourced businesses increasingly put a premium on proficiency in a foreign language.

Berlitz Philippines, with centers at Peninsula Court in Makati City and the newly opened branch at Connecticut in San Juan, is not only polishing the skills of those in the business-process outsourcing industry, but also making individuals ready for opportunities abroad—armed with another language.

William Go, president of Berlitz Philippines, said those aspiring to work or migrate abroad will no longer be faced with the dilemma of communicating or understanding a foreign language.

“One can benefit from our trainings. Those who want to work abroad, for example, who want to learn Japanese, can enroll with us. Right now there are job opportunities in Japan for nurses and caregivers. We give them lessons; or if you want to migrate to places like Canada, you can learn French here and you’ll have a big advantage because you know how to speak their language,” Go said after the soft launch in San Juan of the school’s latest branch on Saturday.

The launch was also graced by Berlitz board chairman Renato Constantino Jr., Berlitz director Fortune Joy de Lara, general managerAna Michelle Hilvano, and other partners. San Juan City Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito also graced the opening of the new branch.

Ejercito thanked Berlitz for putting up business in San Juan.

Berlitz offers Language Training in English for Business Presentations, Business Writing, Grammar Fluency, Public Speaking, Accent Nuetralization Program, Business, Arts and Entertainment, Social Situations, Negotiations, Meeting and Presentations and Pronunciations also in  Filipino, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish French, German, Italian, Portugese, Bahasa-Indonesia and Fookien.

It also offers Language Evaluation (Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking) in English, Filipino, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Bahasa-Indonesia, Thai and Korean.

Language Translation/Interpretation is also included, along with courses such as: United Kingdom and American Training in culture, geography and accent; Call Center Essentials like Customer Management, Stress Management and Effective Communication Skills, among others; and other cross-cultural training.

Go added that Berlitz is getting a boost from the BPO industry’s fast growth in the country and around the world. Berlitz, for instance, has the edge when it comes to assessing the competency of a call-center agent before hiring.

Potential employers want to make sure that what they get are really competent staff, Go said, noting that most of the Filipinos they graduate are employed in call centers.

“We are actually making Filipinos find jobs especially in BPOs; with Berlitz, their chances of hiring is higher,” he stressed.

For those interested, class types in Berlitz are as follows:

Private instruction, which is a “one-on-one class with you and your instructor. Lessons are done at your pace and class schedules are flexible”;  

Semi-Private Instruction. this type of class is similar to the private class, but the number of students is limited to two to three students that are of the same proficiency levels, as determined by their language instructors;

Group classes. These classes consist of four to six students who are of the same proficiency levels.

Charter Classes. Charter lessons were developed especially for their corporate and institutional clients. The internal group may have a maximum of 10 participants. Charter lessons are efficient because of the small number of students. Moreover, because of the fact that they work in the same company, their goals are attuned and they will have more interaction outside the classroom.