Saturday, 7 February 2009

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific still bullish on Northern Mindanao prospects

Geefe P. Alba
BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW020709/content.php?id=044

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — The country’s biggest domestic airlines remain bullish about their Northern Mindanao prospects this year despite the global economic downturn.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific officials said they are increasing flights to this city and have no plans of laying off workers.

Early this week, the regional office of the Labor department said Air Philippines is reducing its workers in this city, with two employees so far laid off based on official notice submitted to the agency.

Tourism industry leaders projected a lower number of visitor arrivals this year not only due to the global economic slump but also due to negative media reports about Mindanao.

Licerio F. Cruz, PAL branch manager, said the airline has actually increased flights between this city and major destinations to accommodate the growing number of inbound and outbound passengers.

"In December, we increased daily flights to four from three because of the peak traveling period," said Mr. Cruz in a brief interview.

The routes cover Manila-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Cagayan de Oro. "We maintained the four daily flights after the Christmas season," Mr. Cruz said.

Also, flights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays have been increased to five.

The same optimism is shared by Cebu Pacific, which introduced budget fares three years ago.

"Our Cagayan de Oro operation has remained one of our strongest performing routes. We continue to maintain high passenger loads with our trademark low fares, convenient schedule, and new planes," said Candice A. Iyog, vice-president for marketing and distribution, said in an email to BusinessWorld.

Ms. Iyog said Cebu Pacific would also be adding flights to Cagayan de Oro City next month. "Our Manila-Cagayan de Oro flights will increase from 35 times weekly to 39 times weekly," she said.

Cebu Pacific currently operates five daily flights from Manila to this city. The budget airline also flies twice daily from this city to Cebu City.

Manila's NLEX-C5 link construction to start in March

BusinessWorld Online
http://www.bworldonline.com/BW020709/content.php?id=043

MANILA NORTH Tollways Corp. (MNTC) will begin the construction of North Luzon Expressway (NLEX)-Segment 8.1 that would link C-5 to NLEX before the quarter ends, Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC) told the stock exchange yesterday.

MNTC, the operator of NLEX, said the construction of Segment 8.1 will begin in March and is expected to be completed in April 2010.

"We expect construction activities to stimulate the economy in the areas where the roadway will be built and [in effect] create some 600 jobs," Rodrigo E. Franco, MNTC president and chief executive officer said.

NLEX Segment 8.1 is a 2.7 two-lane kilometer expressway that will link Mindanao Ave. to NLEX. Based on the plans, a toll plaza will be built on Mindanao Avenue where motorists can enter and exit NLEX, effectively easing the traffic congestion on EDSA Balintawak.

Ramoncito S. Fernandez, First Philippine Infrastructure Inc. (PFII) president and chief executive officer, said the C-5 to NLEX connection is crucial to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s plan to decongest Metro Manila.

FPII owns majority of MNTC. FPII, in turn is majority-owned by MPIC.

MPIC further states that MNTC’s Segment 8.1 teams are accelerating the remaining construction components and are coordinating with the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Toll Regulatory Board and other government agencies for completing the remaining right-of-way requirements for the project.

WB cites firm’s success in Philippine wind power tech

By EDU LOPEZ
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20090207147517.html

The World Bank (WB) has cited the success of NorthWind Power Development Corp. (NorthWind) in generating electricity through the wind power technology in Bangui Bay, Ilocos Norte.

Neils Jacobsen, Danish engineer and environmentalist who has managed several power projects in the Philippines since the early 1990s, attributed the NorthWind’s success to a combination of three factors: right timing, right financing, and support from the World Bank through its Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF), which enabled NorthWind to generate more resources through the sale of carbon emission reduction credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

The project started with 15 wind turbines in 2000 with 25 megawatt of capacity and a 60-kilometer transmission line to the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative in Laoag City. The project costs million, financed largely through an interest-free mixed credit from the Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

In June 2008, NorthWind added five more turbines, raising the wind farm’s capacity to 33 MW, enabling the company to provide half the province’s power needs.

WB country director Bert Hofman said the World Bank’s carbon finance program is a natural extension of its mission to fight poverty. "We want to ensure that poor countries can benefit from international efforts to combat climate change including the emerging carbon market for GHG emission reductions."

Philippine end-January 2009 GIR Nears US$40 Billion Mark

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases
02.06.2009
http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=2003
CLICK HERE TO VIEW TABLE

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) reached US$39.6 billion as of end-January 2009, US$2.0 billion higher than the end-2008 level of US$37.6 billion. The current GIR level could cover 6.0 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was also equivalent to 4.8 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 3.0 times based on residual maturity.

The marked increase in reserves was due mainly to deposits by the National Government of proceeds from its 10-year bond issue, and by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) of proceeds from the privatization of the National Transmission Corporation (TRANSCO), as well as inflows arising from the Bangko Sentral’s (BSP) net foreign exchange operations and income from its investments abroad. These inflows were partly offset by payment of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the NG.

Net international reserves (NIR), including revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, rose to US$38.0 billion from US$36.0 billion at end-2008. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.

Micro-finance helps Philippine landless women farmers

The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/AGRI20090207147397.html

Marta Malijan is a pig raiser in Bitin, Laguna. The other year, she took a loan from the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development, Inc. (CARD) for her agribusiness activity. Today, she has eight breeders and is raising over 50 piglets.

With the improvement she made with the loan, she was able to raise enough funds to branch out her business and set up a small dry goods store. She also partnered with Genelyn Agao, another CARD beneficiary, in setting up a beauty salon in their community.

Aling Marta and Aling Genelyn are just two of the many beneficiaries of the micro-finance program of CARD, a non-government organization and a known innovator in micro-finance which focuses on helping agricultural communities.

This year, the hundreds of other landless women farmers are set to benefit from the program as CARD received a P440,000 grant from Chevron Geothermal Philippines Holdings, Inc. The amount will be used in the implementation of "Sikap," a production loan facility in Barangays Bitin, Sta. Elena and Limao in Laguna. The three barangays are some of the host communities being supported by CGPHI.

CARD was tapped by CGPHI to be its partner in micro-lending activities for its host communities. Under said partnership, CARD will implement Sikap Loan which seeks to support the livelihood activities of landless women in the province. Through Sikap, members can get an initial loan amount of P2,000 to P7,000, payable in six months or one year at 2.5% interest per month. Repayment is weekly.

CARD and CGPHI’s partnership for this micro-finance program aims to give poor women in three barangays in Laguna a better chance in life by providing them opportunities to build sustainable livelihoods and lifestyles. Seeking to educate women farmers in managing their money and establishing savings, CARD requires members to save at least P40 per week, which can be withdrawn as long as 15% of the principal loan is retained.

The partnership between CARD and CGPHI was established in December 2007 through a memorandum of agreement. Through this partnership, CARD was able to grant loans to 226 women in Barangays Bitin, Sta. Elena and Limao, up from 143 women members prior to CARD’s receipt of funding assistance from CGPHI. By end of 2008, 240 women were able to receive assistance from the financing program.

CGPHI is a steam-field operator providing geothermal energy to the Tiwi and Mak-Ban power plants located in Albay and Laguna-Batangas provinces. It is committed to being an active and engaged partner to its host communities through enterprise and capacity-building programs.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Stimulus

Editorial
The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2009/feb/06/yehey/opinion/20090206opi1.html

The Philippine economy is not exactly on a free-fall. The current year will most likely see a two percentage drop in the gross domestic product (GDP) and job losses numbering to tens of thousands. The overseas employment picture is not as bright either but the worst-case scenario—because of the fixed contracts and continuous hiring—will not result in an economic shell shock.

Still, there is no reason for government to act as if it were still times of economic stability. There is no reason to be smug and complacent. The experts’ view that we are one of the few countries to be hit by a signal number 1-type (not a category 5 economic hurricane that has hit Iceland and the United States) of tropical economic storm should not be a source of real relief.

The national government has responded to the threat of a global economic catastrophe with a P330-billion stimulus package, a spending program of several components and definitely the largest spending program by the state in recent memory. Pro-administration and anti-administration officials should drop all quibbling and support it.

It should be endorsed with unprecedented comity.

There are several noteworthy components of the P330-billion package. An P18-billion emergency employment program, which aims to provide jobs to jobless Filipinos and to recently dislocated workers, is part of the stimulus program. As complement, Domingo Panganiban, the agriculture expert who oversaw the most successful food production programs in the country’s history, should be named administrator of these emergency job programs.

The decision of the Arroyo administration to front-load the hard infrastructure components of the program with urgency is another laudable thing. The construction of school buildings, roads and bridges, farm-to-market roads, small-scale irrigation systems that can be run by farmers and that are environment-friendly, and other related public work projects will not only create additional jobs. They are necessary. In addition, serious infrastructure work—designed for the Philippines as a modern or even an advanced country—should be built. Our more economically successful neighbors—Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia—started building multilane highways in the 60s, some of these 10-lane and 12-lane motorways—even before there was any sign of traffic congestion developing. They just thought ahead and planned for a future when their cities would burgeon, and commercial, industrial and tourism activities would escalate. We have to modernize our ageing and investor-unfriendly infrastructure network.

If the stimulus program would allot the entire P15-billion needed to fill up the classroom shortage, so much the better. With that, we can reduce the class size in our public schools—now at a dismal 50 students per class.

After extending the unanimous support the stimulus program requires, pro-administration and opposition figures alike have more duties to fulfill. Such as:

• Prod the implementing agencies of the specific projects under the stimulus program to exercise utmost transparency in the bidding and awards process. Contracts should not go to cronies and favored contractors.

• Push for a creation of an oversight body that would monitor the progress of the projects covered by the stimulus program.

• Reduce the amount allotted to tax cuts, which by the estimate of the National Economic Development Authority, would reach roughly P40 billion. Putting this amount in real spending, such as a road or mass transport program or in renewable energy, would be a better investment.

The bidding and awards work for public works contracts, for supplies and for services rendered is now governed by a much-improved law, the E- Government Procurement Act. The law generally demands transparency and accountability in the bidding process—starting with its provision to open up every bidding to the broadest pool of contractors and service providers.

The law also bans negotiated contracts or the award of contracts under the simplified bidding rules. More, it mandates the full use of ICT technologies for a more open bidding and awards process.

The full application of the provisions of the E-Procurement Law will guarantee integrity in the bidding process.

Full vigilance should be exercised by the oversight body. All leakages should be promptly corrected. Those found involved in rigging contracts should be sent to jail. Government personnel found corrupting these projects should be meted an additional lifetime ban from working in government. Private contractors and suppliers should likewise be blacklisted and made to pay heavy fines.

The stimulus program is too important and too big to be allowed to fail. We Filipinos—our government, the political opposition, civil society and ordinary people—have to do everything that needs to be done to ensure the integrity of every project under this spending program, which is nothing less than our national lifeline in these deeply troubled times.

Philippine gov't hiring 500,000 for construction

By Joel E. Zurbano
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news4_feb6_2009

THE Public Works Department will hire half a million laborers this year as part of the government’s pump-priming program to soften the impact of the economic crisis.

“These people will be hired to work for 3,414 infrastructure projects nationwide,” Public Works Senior Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan said.

He said 80 percent of the workers would be hired directly by local governments to harness the labor force in the communities where the projects are located, while the remaining 20 percent would be hired by project operators or contractors.

Bonoan said the program would begin in February or March, once the bidding for the projects was completed.

“This is part of our pump-priming program all over the country and P60 billion is allocated for this. That is only 60 percent of our total budget. The remaining 40 percent will be used for other projects for the rest of the year.”

Bonoan said the workers would be hired as engineers, foremen, carpenters and helpers and “anything that has something to do with construction.”

Undersecretary Ramon Aquino said most of the projects were part of the Super Regions program mentioned by President Arroyo in her State-of the-Nation Address.

Of the 3,414 projects, 554 are in Central Luzon worth P7.791 billion, but the biggest project is in Mindanao.

Some of the priority projects are the Baler-Casiguran road, which will cost P1.683 billion; the rehabilitation, improvement, and widening of Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan port road amounting to P821.076 million; all in Region 3; the concreting of Marikina-Infanta road in Quezon worth P958 million; the construction and rehabilitation of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway and other major roads in Metro Manila amounting to P300 million; the construction of C5 extension which will cost P250 million; the widening of Bontoc-Banaue Section in Ifugao amounting to P224.5 million; the concreting of Bontoc-Tabuk-Tuguegarao road, and Tinglayan Lubuagan-Tabuk Section II that will cost P1.773 billion.

The decongestion of Metro Manila and other urban areas are among the priorities.

The department said its infrastructure program would augment government efforts to establish a strong foundation for the economy and to counter the threat of a recession.

A word for the World Bank

Editorial
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=28&layout=blog&Itemid=64

THE World Bank is accusing Philippine officials and contractors of colluding to overprice government road projects that it had intended to fund. But other than allegations of corruption, perhaps local investigators should also look into possible flaws in the funding process. And in this line, maybe the World Bank shares in the blame.

For one, its decision not to impose ceilings on project bids—contrary to local bidding practice—invariably allows contractors to maximize profits by overpricing bids. It is naive to think that bidders will not take advantage. After all, it is difficult to collect payments for government projects, and contractors normally lose unless contract prices are adjusted.

Worse, the World Bank went to town with its story of corruption and collusion even as bribe money did not seem to have actually changed hands. As noted by the bank itself in a press statement released from Washington, D.C. on January 14, “As a result of swift action when suspicions of collusion in the bidding process were raised by the project team, the World Bank stopped an estimated $33 million from being awarded. No World Bank funds from the NRIMP 1 project were disbursed to the now-sanctioned firms.”

The World Bank acted, by its own admission, based on mere suspicion of its project team, although it likewise claimed in the same press statement its consequent “investigation uncovered evidence of a major cartel involving local and international firms bidding on contracts.”

It remains uncertain, however, whether documentary and testimonial evidence were actually collected in the course of its internal investigation, and that due process in the Philippine context was observed during its probe. Neither is it confirmed if any evidence actually admissible in local courts has been turned over to the government.

Nonetheless, given the results of the World Bank’s internal investigation and despite the pending investigation of the bank’s complaint by the Philippine government, the bank moved ahead to sanction contractors and prohibited them from participating in future bank-funded projects.

But even this sanction seems half-baked, given the bank’s own conditionality that “[their] debarment can be reduced or terminated after [so many] years if the [debarred] firm[s] put in place a compliance program satisfactory to the World Bank”—a jail term with provision for parole on good behavior.

And as if this is not confusing enough, while the bank withdrew part of the funding for the first phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program, or NRIMP, it still financed the second phase of the project. And this was after several safeguards were reportedly put in place, in cooperation with the Philippine government.

Adding to these mixed signals is that while the bank indicts the Philippine public-bidding process, it continues to peddle loans to the very same government it accuses of wrongdoing, as it expresses interest in a number of emerging financing opportunities. This includes the program for conditional cash transfers to the poor under the proposed P300-billion fiscal-stimulus package.

One cannot help but recall the case involving a 10-year program for rural development in Mindanao that started in 1998. By 2002, during the World Bank’s evaluation of the first phase of that project, it reportedly warned that it could pull out funding due to dismal implementation. But just last year it started the program’s second phase with an offer of $123 million. This was after a subsequent evaluation indicated that “communities continued to pursue their projects, surpassing the targets of the communities [in poverty alleviation].”

If anything, this experience with the Mindanao program indicates that the World Bank, despite all its good-governance practices, can also make mistakes in judgment. Fortunately, in the case of the Mindanao program, it corrected itself in time and took remedial measures, including the additional offer of additional funding last year.

The sad part is that in the case of the NRIMP’s controversial first phase, through the World Bank’s premature public disclosure of sanctions against contractors it unilaterally deems corrupt, it preempts the Philippine government’s own investigation of the scandal. Worse, such disclosure is without accountability, not at the risk of pain or censure, and hides behind the mantle of confidentiality and multilateral privileges.

If at all the World Bank allegations cannot be conclusively proved in local courts, then its premature disclosure of sanction would have done irreparable damage to the country, its international reputation, its government, its private contractors, its public-bidding process and its people. The World Bank action is not unlike that of grandstanding politicians who publicly accuse rivals of wrongdoing without producing evidence or proof, and then hide behind parliamentary privilege.

Philippine inflation eases to 7.1% in Jan.; Central Bank hints at further rate cuts

The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20090206147431.html

The country’s inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), decelerated to its slowest pace in 10 months in January, providing the central bank leeway to further ease monetary policy to bolster economic activity amid the global downturn.

The National Statistics Office NSO) said yesterday that the inflation rate rose 7.1 percent on year, slower than December’s 8.0 percent due to a decline in fuel prices and stable commodity prices. It marks the fifth consecutive month that inflation has moderated after rising to a 17-year high of 12.5 percent in August.

The inflation rate in January last year was 4.9 percent.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. hinted of possible further rates cut to provide stimulus to the economy.

Tetangco said the slowing inflation rates, which fell to 7.1 percent for January, was within the BSP’s expectation, allowing monetary officials more leeway to adjust rates lower.

"(Our) expectation for a continued slowdown in price increases gives the BSP more room to support the economy and ensure that there is sufficient liquidity for the efficient working of the financial markets," Tetangco, who is in Malaysia, said in a text message to reporters yesterday.

The BSP in its last policy rate meeting reduced rates by 50 basis points and readjusted inflation forecasts lower to 3.9 percent for 2009 and 4.7 percent for 2010. "We will continue to closely monitor developments so that our policy settings remain responsive to evolving scenarios," said

The NSP said the annual inflation rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) likewise further eased to 4.3 percent in January from 4.5 percent in December due to the negative annual price adjustments in the fuel, light and water and services index and the slowing down in the annual growth rates of clothing and miscellaneous items index.

Annual price movements in areas outside the National Capital Region (AONCR) also decelerated as its annual inflation rate further slid to 8.3 percent in January from 9.6 percent in December.

NSO said this was attributed to the negative annual growth rate posted in the fuel, light and water index together with the downward annual price increases in all the other commodity groups.

Excluding selected food and energy items, core inflation further slipped to 6.9 percent in January from 7.3 percent in December.

The annual inflation rate in NCR further slowed down to 4.3 percent in January from 4.5 percent in December.

NSO noted that the annual inflation rate in areas outside Metro Manila also improved to 8.3 percent in January from 9.6 percent in December due to the continued deceleration in the annual growth rates registered in all the regions except for Bicol.

The biggest slowdown of 2.4 percentage points was seen in Zamboanga Peninsula (9.0% from 11.4%).The lowest annual inflation in January at 6.1 percent was still noted in CALABARZON while Eastern Visayas still posted the highest inflation rate at 12.7 percent. (EHL)

European tourists to the Philippines growing

The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/BSNS20090206147432.html

The increase in visitor count in 2008 is greatly attributed to the strong performance of the high-spending tourists from Russia, which posted a growth of 34 percent, France by 19 percent, and the United Kingdom by 10 percent. Scandinavian countries also recorded substantial increment as arrival from Finland grew by 19 percent, Norway by 16 percent and Sweden by 6 percent.

In addition, the Department of Tourism’s (DoT) effort to diversify and offer new tourist products in the market like adventure, diving and bird watching provided impetus to stimulate an increase in awareness of the country’s tourist potentials and substantial turnout of high-value visitors with greater propensity to stay longer and spend more.

Chinese tourists during the year expanded to 163,689 as the DoT worked with Chinese travel agents and airlines to mount new charter flights between Shanghai and Nanning to Cebu, Guangzhou to Clark, Nanning and Kunming to Manila.

Australia surpassed its previous year record with 121,514 arrivals, posting 8 percent increase. It also overtook Taiwan and Hong Kong, ranking it in the 5th place. Canada, another strong market, continued to show significant improvement with 102,381 tourists.

The Middle East market led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia posted 29% and 7% hike respectively, in tourist arrivals as Middle Eastern airlines enjoyed an average of 90% load factor between Manila to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as Cebu to Doha.

Korea and the USA remained the top source markets with a share of 19 and 18 percent, respectively, accounting for 38 percent of the total tourist inflow.

Cruise arrivals surged by 22 % with Manila and Cebu being the major ports of call. Aside from MV Costa Allegra, five (5) new cruise ships arrived with an aggregate of 4,226 passengers.

Year 2008 also saw the contraction in total outbound travel of key source markets. Korea’s total outbound declined by 4.9% (-594,054) Japan’s total outbound travel slipped by 7.4% (-1,290,591) and the USA by 0.4%.

This trend underpinned the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report that tourism growth in the Asia Pacific region was declining rapidly by mid 2008. Arrivals to Singapore dropped by 1.5% in spite of several high profile events.

Foreign tourists to Hong Kong with exception of arrivals from China also declined by 4.5%. Despite these market developments, international visitor arrivals to the Philippines grew by 1.5% in 2008, reaching 3,139,442.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Philippine Coast Guard hiring 1,000

CLICK HERE TO CONTACT THE PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD DIRECTLY FOR QUERIES ON HIRING AND EXAMS

Joel E. Zurbano
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=politics5_feb5_2009

THE Philippine Coast Guard will hire 1,000 new personnel to be deployed in the maritime hubs of the Visayas and Mindanao, particularly Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

Commandant Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said the additional men will be a welcome boost to the current 5,000 personnel of the Coast Guard.

“[But] the Coast Guard needs more people because we are an archipelagic country with more than 7,000 islands,” said Tamayo.

Even if the agency would deploy one personnel for every island there would still be “a lot of unguarded islands.”

The Coast Guard operates through five area commands, 64 districts and 192 detachments nationwide. The agency assigns between three to five personnel for every detachment.

“I have been saying that the Coast Guard is one of the over-challenged coast guards in the world. We wish we could raise our number of personnel to 25,000 so there would be more detachments that would be put up, so there would be more areas that we could cover, the more we could protect, and the more coastlines we could service,” said Tamayo.

It would take about 10 years for the agency to be able to hire 10,000 more recruits.

Cagayan Freeport creates close to 6,000 jobs

The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business4_feb5_2009

Thousands of Filipinos have found jobs at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport, as the new economic hub in northeast Luzon continued to draw fresh investments and international tourists.

Cagayan Economic Zone Authority administrator and chief executive Jose Mari Ponce said the number of potential jobs in the economic zone increased exponentially in just seven years, from just 195 in 2002 to 5,918 as of August 2008.

The 2008 employment expectation in the economic zone rose 80 percent from 3,283 potential jobs registered in 2007. Potential job generation was estimated at 2,541 in 2006.

“Once these investments become fully operational, we expect more jobs to be created for Filipinos not only in Cagayan province, but also in other provinces of Cagayan Valley [Region 2],” said Ponce.

Cagayan Valley groups the northeast Luzon provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and Batanes.

Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Sta. Ana, Cagayan is the fastest-growing industrial, logistics and tourism hub in the country. It was established in February 1995, by virtue of Republic Act No. 7922. Ceza manages the free port and attracts new locators into the economic zone.

Philippines Education Department pushes financial literacy in secondary schools

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2009 | EDUCATION
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23512

Iloilo City -- Beginning academic year 2009-2010, public high school students will learn the basics of stock exchange and capital markets through the Department of Education and the Philippine Stock Exchange Module Development Project.

According to the DepEd press report, the project seeks to integrate relevant capital markets information in the Secondary Education Basic Education Curriculum through Teacher's Guide.

The proposed Teacher's Guide will give mentors real life situations on how the economy works. It will be prepared and validated by education specialists and experts in the field.

Topics that will be part of integration are the nature, importance and roles of the Philippine capital market and stock market in nation-building and development. These topics would be integrated in Economics, which is part of the fourth year curriculum of high school students in the beginning of academic year 2009-2010, the DepEd press report disclosed.

Students will also learn basic concepts of investing in the stock market including the benefits, risks and rewards of investing in the stock market. They will also be made aware of the objectives of the Philippine Stock Exchange as regulator of the country's stock market, the DepEd press report disclosed. (DepEd/PIA 6)

Philippine President's Bahrain visit ‘very successful,’ says Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2009 | FOREIGN RELATIONS
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23510

MANAMA, Bahrain (via PLDT) – It was a “very successful visit.”

The assessment of President Gloria Macapagal’s two-day visit here came from no less than her host: His Royal Highness Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Salman Al Khalifa.

In a chance interview with a member of the media at the Royal Terminal of the Bahrain International Airport Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa said the President’s visit further strengthened the labor, diplomatic and economic relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Philippines.

During their first formal meeting here Tuesday, the Bahrainis leader told the President that his country needs more Filipino workers, particularly salesladies to man Bahrain’s burgeoning shopping malls.

On a personal note, Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa said that he and the President are “good friends,” and that they have a similar leadership style, specially their approach to the political and economic problems of their respective countries.

“We are in support of each other with the present situation and I wish the Philippines (all) the best. And I’m sure the Philippines will come up clear from everything for any trouble,” he added.

He reiterated that the reason why Bahrain treated Filipino workers very well is because the Filipino is “friendly, talented, hospitable and hardworking.”

The Philippines and Bahrain are “survivors,” regardless of the problems that confront both countries, the Bahrainis premier added. He did not amplify.

The oil-rich Middle East kingdom, which hosts 45,000 Filipino overseas workers, also needs more foreign professionals and skilled workers including engineers and nurses.

His Highness led the red carpet welcome for President Arroyo when she arrived here. Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa also led the airport send-off when President Arroyo left Bahrain for the Washington leg of her foreign trip.

“(It was a) very successful visit... from the President... and we hope we will continue to strengthen (our) relations on all levels,” he said.

“I’m wishing the Philippines and the Filipino people all the best in her (President’s) leadership,” he told the Filipino reporter.

He cited the President’s strong will and leadership amid the global financial downturn, adding that the Philippines is really blessed because it will not be affected so much by the global economic crisis.

“The Philippines is intact. The Filipinos will go on despite the challenges they face. We are very supportive of the President and the Filipino people,” he said in response to a question on his assessment of President Arroyo’s handling of the political and economical problems of the Philippines.

Philippine gov't crafts tourism stimulus package

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2009 | TOURISM
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23513

San Fernando City, La Union -- Tourism industry is a large foreign earner and source of employment for the Philippines. It is one of the bright lights for the country amid the doom and gloom of the current worldwide economic crunch.

To spur tourist arrivals despite the global economic crisis the government has crafted a stimulus package for the industry.

The stimulus plan which is intended to insulate the tourism industry from the impact of the global meltdown includes, an aggressive marketing strategy that makes the Philippines as the best and cheapest tourist destination at this time, especially for the "depressed markets" like the United States and Japan.

Based on the plan the Tourism Department in tandem with airlines and hotels has cut by half the cost of tour packages for US and Japan, the target markets.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said the new tour packages focused on the two target markets, hotels and airlines will offer discounts starting February to April this year.

Durano said the reduction of airfare and hotel rates aimed to attract American and Japanese tourists to visit the Philippines this year, in the wake of the global financial crisis affecting the world's largest economies.

Together with Japan, Korea and US account for more than half of visitor arrivals in the Philippines.

International visitor arrivals from [the] US and Japan both fell in 2008, as the world's two target economies entered recession last year.

Arrivals from Japan went down 9 percent last year while those from US dropped 1 percent. Tourists from Korea also declined 9 percent.

Despite the global economic crunch the DOT expects to attain its target within range of 3-4 million tourist arrivals this year owing to the stimulus package and the momentum generated by the agency's aggressive sales blitz in its major and emerging tourism markets including China, Russia and other European countries.

The agency is also confident to create 3,000 new jobs this year in support to President Arroyo's program to provide one million jobs in the next first six months of 2009. (PIA La Union)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Philippines to generate over 1-M jobs from WB rural farm projects in Mindanao

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2009 | AGRICULTURE
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23496

DAVAO CITY (PNA) -- The government is expected to generate over one million jobs for farmers and beneficiaries of the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP) that will be implemented this year by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

DA Undersecretary for Operations Jesus Emmanuel Paras said the MRDP project is part of the overall government multi-billion peso stimulus package of the government to stimulate the Philippine economy amidst the global recession now crippling the world's giant economies.

"Based on our rule of thumb estimates, yes, it's possible the MRDP project this year can generate over one million jobs for farmers and their beneficiaries in Mindanao," Paras told reporters during a recent media forum here.

For rural infrastructure alone, Paras said a total budget of $ 43 million (approx. P2 billion) has been set aside this year for the construction and repairs of farm-to-market roads, post-harvest facilities, irrigation systems, portable water systems and other farm projects.

As of December last year, the government has already released P114 million for 13 rural infrastructure projects and P57.5 million for 23 livelihood projects in the regions of Caraga, Northern Mindanao, Western Mindanao and Central Mindanao.

"This project has to start immediately, we cannot wait as the full impact of the global recession will soon be felt by Filipinos, especially the poorest of the poor in the rural areas," Paras said.

Funded partly by the World Bank, the MRDP requires a 50 percent share from regional and provincial governments where the various rural infrastructure projects will be implemented.

Project proposals to be funded partly by the World Bank are submitted by these local government units to the DA for review and approval.

The number of farmers, laborers, contract workers and the business opportunities that will grow out of all these projects all over Mindanao, Paras said, can reach over one million people "directly or indirectly benefited by the various MRDP projects" all over Mindanao. (PNA)
LDV/AAP/lvp

WB-gov’t to spend $ 43M in Mindanao to boost farmers' income
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2009 | AGRICULTURE
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23495

DAVAO CITY (PNA) -- Billions of pesos spent on various rural infrastructure projects in Mindanao are expected to boost farmers' income, generate a million jobs and soften the impact of the global recession in the Philippines.

"We're doing everything to make sure these funds are well-spent in this process of pump priming the country's economy through various rural infrastructure projects," said World Bank Task Team Leader Carolina Geron during a recent media forum here.

Geron is working closely with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to set into motion one of the government's stimulus package, the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP) whose rural infrastructure projects in the island will be funded with $ 43 million to come from the World Bank and local government units, split 50-50.

The MRDP is a five-year program launched in 2007 jointly funded by the national government, local government units and the World Bank.

It sets into motion various infrastructure projects in the countryside like farm-to-market roads, bridges, rural water supply and irrigation systems.

DA Undersecretary for Operations Jesus Emmanuel Paras said the government has expressed deep concern for Filipino farmers in the rural areas, specially the poorest areas amidst the global recession.

"We've got to help these poor farmers, they have nowhere to go in this global crisis except to the government--and we're here to help them," Paras said.

Spending billions of pesos on various farm projects in the rural areas will definitely help stimulate the economy of this southern island and cushion the full impact of the global crisis, he added.

So far, some P163 million had been released to 19 towns all over Mindanao after 75 of their various rural infrastructure projects were approved by DA and the World Bank in December last year, according to Paras.

Paras said the government has also funded various livelihood projects in Mindanao recently, releasing P67.5 million to local government units in the island's five regions.

These livelihood projects which are expected to soften the full brunt of the global recession this year, include small-time food processing, commercial vegetable growing, pig raising, cattle fattening, poultry and egg production, he said.

"We're hoping all these funds will be released by governors or town mayors directly to farmers and beneficiaries of these livelihood projects instead of being diverted elsewhere," Paras said. (PNA)
LDV/AAP/lvp

Philippines is a forerunner in wind energy generation‏

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2009 | ENERGY
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23497

MANILA (PNA) -- The Philippines is not third world in wind energy. In 2008, it remained sixth in Asia and the only Southeast Asian country ramping up wind power alongside its industrialized neighbors in the region.

With China producing 6.6 gigawatts (GW) of new installations last year, Asia became a new powerhouse in the global wind market which in 2008 became a US$ 47.5-billion industry, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reported Tuesday.

GWEC said global wind energy capacity exceeded 120.8 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2008. Over 27 GW in new capacity came online last year, 36 percent more than in 2007.

“Wind energy is now an important player in the world’s energy markets,” GWEC announced in a statement, where it noted the rise of the U.S. as the world’s largest wind energy producer and the emergence of wind energy as the leading technology in Europe for the first time in 2008.

Asia accounted for 30 percent of new wind power installations put up last year, ending 2008 with 24.4 GW in total cumulative capacity.

Fifty percent of this comes from China alone as it doubled its capacity for the fourth year in a row, to land next only to the United States among the top performers of 2008.

On a cumulative scale, China is now ranked fourth in the world with the potential to overtake Germany and Spain by 2010, the GWEC said.

Quoting an official of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association, it added that China would start to enter the U.K. and Japanese markets this year and to explore the U.S. market in coming years.

Aside from China, GWEC data showed the region’s top producers were India, with 1.8 GW new installations last year for a total 9.6 GW; Japan, 356 MW in 2008 for a total 1.88 GW; Taiwan, 81 megawatts (MW) in 2008 for a total 358 MW; and South Korea, 43 MW in 2008 for a total 236 MW.

The Philippines figured in the GWEC tally as the only Southeast Asian country ranked in Asia, with 8 MW new installed capacity for the year.

The Northwind Power Development Corp. landed the country on that list as it operates a total 33 MW of installed capacity out of its wind farm in Bangui, Ilocos Norte.

According to the Department of Energy, the Philippines has good potential for wind power due to its location on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific monsoon belt.

It said a 1999 study done by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined that the country has over 10,000 square kilometers of windy land area. This could potentially produce 70 GW of installed capacity.

Aside from the Ilocos Region, which has the highest potential for wind energy utilization, other high potential wind farm sites in the country include Mountain Province, Cuyo Island, Basco, Catanduanes, Tagaytay City, Lubang and Cabra Islands, the western portions of Batangas, Guimaras, Masbate, the northeast coast of Negros Occidental, and Palawan.

The U.S. toppled Germany as the world’s top producer of wind energy last year. It produced over 8.3 GW of new capacity that raised the country’s total installed capacity by 50 percent to 25.17 GW by the end of the year.

Wind energy projects accounted for 42 percent of new power plants put up in the U.S. in 2008. The industry also created 35,000 new jobs during the year, bringing the sector’s cumulative employment to 85,000.

“The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo,” the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said in its own statement, quoting CEO Denise Bode.

But it noted the country’s economic and financial crunch woes have eroded this momentum with job cuts in the wind power manufacturing sector. The AWEA is looking to restore the industry’s momentum with the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan, it said in its January 27 statement.

Year 2008 also marked the first time that wind energy became the leading technology in Europe.

“On average, 20 wind turbines were installed for every working day of 2008. By the end of the year, a total of 160,000 workers were employed directly and indirectly in the sector, which saw investments of about EUR11 billion in the EU,” according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

It announced Tuesday that 8.48 GW of new wind power capacity was installed in the European Union last year, accounting for 43 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity built in the region.

This exceeded numbers for gas, oil, coal and hydro power capacities that came onstream during the year, the EWEA pointed out.

The GWEC reported that total wind power installed capacity in Europe is about 66 GW, of which the EU accounts for almost 65 GW.

Based on GWEC data, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka round out the wind energy capacity in Asia with combined installations of 6 MW as of end 2008. (PNA)
LDV/LJMC/mec

Philippines reaps benefits of VAT

Market Files
Lito U. Gagni
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5574:expectations-on-the-economy&catid=28:opinion&Itemid=64

The sobering realization on the US economy hit home when, upon the inauguration of President Obama, the markets went into a tailspin referred to as “Black Wednesday.” And it has see-sawed since, up one day and in a precipitous drop the next day, indicating that personal charisma alone does not move markets. What is important is decisiveness and political will—these are what investors look for, not the rock-star appeal. The market rout after the euphoria on the precedent-setting win of Obama was revealing.

Revealing, in a sense, that banks are hard-nosed creatures that would not let credit lines loose simply because the new president happens to have tremendous rock-star appeal. This is especially so when they got hit by big losses on wrong bets. For the banks to make credit rolling once again, which is what is needed in the US economy, is for them to be assured of getting paid. “Once burned, twice shy,” a market truism says. That is why experienced leaders know that when it comes to dealing with the economy, decisiveness and political will are the better tools.

Economic necessities require rolling up one’s sleeves and stepping into the muddy and murky waters of ambivalent public opinion. This is what the Philippines can lay claim to, for the government’s decision to implement the expanded value-added tax (E-VAT) system has steered the country away from the huge government bailouts that the US Federal Reserve and Treasury have implemented for the US financial sector. The Philippines did not have to issue more debt notes to shepherd the economy to a soft landing.

There was much opposition to the E-VAT when it was brought up. Many politicians even made political capital out of the public’s aversion to paying additional taxes. Many political personalities won in the 2007 elections by whipping up resentment against the revenue-generating measure. Some even projected that the economy could collapse. But that, perhaps, is the meaning of political will. It means risking one’s popularity to do what is right for the country. This is what decisiveness and political will mean.

And now, because of the much-derided tax measure, the revenues from the E-VAT form the backbone of the planned P300-billion economic-resiliency plan the National Economic and Development Authority announced recently. Had the President buckled under the threat of character assassination, the country would not have had the financial wherewithal with which to fund such a plan. It is ironic that the much-maligned E-VAT would actually provide some relief to the poorer sector during these times of economic difficulties spurred by the debacles of Wall Street.

Under the plan, those E-VAT-generated resources will help create and save jobs and assist overseas Filipino workers and others who may be adversely affected by the contraction of the economies of their host countries. In a sense, it is ironic that while the E-VAT was termed antipoor, it is now bruited as the best tool to help the poor. The economic-resilience fund calls for a combined private-public sector push for an aggressive infrastructure and social-services program that will create jobs and trigger a chain of positive effects on other sectors.

This infrastructure buildup, now also set to be implemented by Obama, is obviously a way of preparing for the inevitable influx of tourists and businesses when a global economic rebound takes place. It takes the slack brought about by the big losses on Wall Street that now have reached Philippine shores. With it, the country could be better prepared for the next surge in business activity, thanks to the decisiveness and political will of the government. At a critical juncture in the country’s economic history, its leaders did not blink.

Funds from the E-VAT, we understand, were also responsible for the government’s ability to expand spending during the first 11 months of 2008 by 11 percent—expenditures necessary to ensure steady economic growth and to protect the sectors most affected by higher oil prices. And we believe that those resources—and the political will that characterized their implementation—are the bases for the relative optimism in the forecast of our economic performance for 2009. Pragmatism dictates that the growth target be adjusted to more reasonable levels: a GDP growth of between 3.7 and 4.7 percent for 2009.

Economists from the University of Asia and the Pacific foresee a Philippine GDP growth of between 3.8 and 4.5 percent. Several international financial institutions see growth at between 3 percent and 4 percent. It ironic then that the E-VAT-generated resources actually have much to do with Fitch’s rating of the country’s economy as “reasonably healthy” and Credit Suisse’s announcement that the country remains an attractive investment destination. The E-VAT provided welcome news amid the global economic meltdown.

And to think that before the E-VAT was implemented, there were doomsday scenarios painted on the economic horizon should the measure be implemented. This is part of our political culture and probably cannot be avoided. Some political personalities perhaps still believe that painting a pessimistic economic landscape would help them win the polls. Or at least help them gain rock-star appeal. That’s okay. But it is well to remember that it is decisiveness and political will—not rock-star appeal—that account for the rather relatively positive prospects for the country’s economy in 2009.

Philippine inflation forecast at 4.4% by April

Erik de la Cruz
The Manila Standard
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5550:metrobank-unit-sees-rp-inflation-at-44-by-april-bsp-rate-cut-in-march&catid=25:bankingandfinance&Itemid=61

DISINFLATION trend in the Philippines will continue with the headline figure likely to have decelerated to 6.9 percent in January and hit as low as 4.4 percent by April, giving the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) room to continue cutting interest rates in March.

Analysts and economists at First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIL), the investment-banking arm of the Metrobank Group, and University of Asia & the Pacific (UA&P) gave these forecasts in their joint monthly commentary.

They expect the domestic economy to continue expanding but at a slower rate of 3.0 percent to 3.3 percent in the first quarter, after growing by an unexpectedly decent 4.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008.

“Remaining relatively less scarred by the world financial and economic crisis in 2008 is somehow a confidence booster. However, we probably have not seen the worst,” they said in the January issue of FMIC’s The Market Call.

The US economy, they said, may hit the bottom in the first quarter of 2009, but it is not expected to return to positive-growth territory until the fourth quarter of the year. Four quarters of decline will be the longest—and probably the deepest—recession in decades for the US, a key market for Philippine labor and exports.

Disinflation, or the slowing of the rate at which prices increase, will allow the BSP to cut key interest rates by a further 25 basis points at its next policy-setting meeting scheduled for March 5, they said.

They expect inflation to decelerate to 6.8 percent in February, 6.3 percent in March and 4.4 percent in April, as crude-oil prices stabilize at $40 to $50 per barrel from last year’s all-time peak of over $140 per barrel.

The headline inflation figure in December was a slower-than-expected 8 percent against 9.8 percent in November, with oil prices sliding further while food prices staying stable. The January inflation data will be released by the government on Thursday.

“Demand for crude oil is now expected to decline not only because of the recession in the US, Europe and Japan, but also because of the sharp slowdown now believed to impact China, India and other emerging economies,” the FMIC-UA&P team said.

The BSP last week slashed its overnight interest rates by half a percentage point after a rate cut of the same magnitude in December, to 5.00 percent for borrowing and 7.00 percent for lending. With inflation pressures expected to continue easing in the coming months, the BSP has signaled the possibility of more rate cuts.

Other economists are looking at rate cuts of more than 100 basis points this year.

Despite bleak prospects for the global economy this year, the FMIC-UA&P team maintains an upbeat outlook for the local bond market.

The national government (NG) will likely incur a wider budget deficit of P180 billion this year, more than four times the original ceiling of P40 billion, as it plans to increase spending on infrastructure and social services to stimulate the economy, the team said. This, it said, implies more government borrowings from the domestic market.

“The net domestic borrowing for the year could reach P172.5 billion, or around 2.1 percent of GDP. Thus, more NG debt papers are to be auctioned, and since we expect inflation to go below 5 percent by April 2009, the BSP will likely continue to lower its policy rates,” the team said.

“This makes us optimistic on the success of these future auctions.”

President Arroyo to WEF: Successful conclusion of DOHA round needed to alleviate economic downturn

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2009 | FOREIGN RELATIONS
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23481

DAVOS -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the global economic meltdown has accentuated the need for the successful conclusion of the stalled Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) here, the President stressed that the success of the Doha Development Round of the WTO talks could be an important factor in addressing the global economic downturn.

Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, a member of the Philippine mission to the WTO in Geneva, said the President’s urgent message was that the world economic and political leaders that gathered here for this year’s WEF meeting must not “let the financial crisis distract us from medium and long-term projects that the global multi-lateral institutions are involved in.”

The Doha talks “must continue, must be completed, and that is where the interest of the developing countries can take their rightful place in the global structure of the economy,” President Arroyo said during the panel discussion on “rebooting the global economy” last Saturday.

She was one of six panelists at the discussion moderated by Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News.

Her co-panelists were Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); Joseph Stiglitz, professor of Columbia University, USA; John Monks, secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) based in Brussels; Yoshihiko Miyauchi, chairman and chief executive officer of Orix Corp. in Japan; and Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The conclusion of the Doha Round was one of three suggestions proffered by President Arroyo on re-energizing the world economy. The two other proposed “solutions” were for “a fundamental reform of the global financial regulation,” and the expansion of the group of finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s leading economies "into a G20 or even a G30.”

The Doha Development Round is the trade-negotiation round of the WTO which seeks to lower trade barriers around the world and enable countries to increase trade globally.

Started in 2001, the Doha Development Round remains deadlocked over such issues as trade remedies, agriculture subsidies, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

In an interview on Sunday (Feb. 1) in Klosters, where the Philippine delegation to the WEF was billeted, Teehankee said that “… keeping markets open is a necessary precondition to fostering renewed global growth and recovery.”

“There was a breakdown (of WTO talks) in December, but progress was made towards 80-90 percent of the modalities of the new trade rules (of the WTO); so the current situation is the Doha round could be concluded if there is enough political will.

“And as the G20 Washington Summit did call for, there should be an early conclusion to the Doha Development Round,” Teehankee said.

“The President further added, given that this is a development round, that this could be an example whereby the western powers, the developed world, could deliver on the development promise as part of the global recovery that we are trying to achieve,” he added.

The completion process could be hastened, he said, with a “signal from the Obama administration that they are willing to pursue further the development round.”

“As reported by… various trade ministers, including Brazil’s trade minister and Indonesia’s trade minister, we are very close, 90 percent, to finishing all the modalities in agriculture.

“If completed, the Doha Development Round will lead to tariff savings and tariff-cutting in developed countries, as well as in other developing countries, which will increase market access both for agriculture products and industrial products throughout the world.

“Of course, the Philippines, together with other countries, will also offer some concessions in services opening and also tariff openings, subject, however, to special development flexibilities that the Philippines has negotiated,” he said.

Teehankee stressed that under the “leadership of President Arroyo, the government is in dialogue with our private sector and it has been the shared policy that keeping markets open and government assistance and support for particular affected industries or sectors is the best way.”

This is “because as many countries have experienced, keeping the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region open has actually led to greater growth for the Philippines,” he said.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Philippines readies jobs for displaced overseas workers

PGMA orders DOLE to prepare for deployment displaced Filipino workers overseas
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2009 | LABOR AND WELFARE
http://www.gov.ph/news/?i=23493

MANAMA, Bahrain (via PLDT) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed today the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to spearhead the “simple and not complicated” implementation of the programs for the displaced Filipino workers abroad.

During her meeting, this was the marching order of the President to Labor Secretary Marianito Roque this morning with the Filipino community at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

The President arrived in Riyadh from Milan, Italy last night after attending the 2009 World Economic Forum (WFF) in Davos, Switzerland to check the working and living conditions of the more than one million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Nandito si Secretary Roque ng DOLE, inatasan ko siya na tiyakin na ang mga reglamento at proseso para makaabot sa pondong ito ay simple at hindi complicated. Huwag nating pahirapan pa (expatriated Filipinos) sa pamamagitan ng maraming red tape,” the President said.

The President said that the DOLE and the Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) will spearhead the implementation of the government programs for displaced expatriate Filipino workers.

She said it is now the payback time for the heroic efforts of the expatriate workers so, that adding these efforts will not go unreciprocated.

“Sa panahong ito na nagdadaang mga pagsubok and expatriates, ang inyong pamahalaan ay hindi natutulog, “ the President said, adding that the government has a program of full reciprocity to help OFWs who lost their jobs.

The President also directed the DOLE and OWWA to coordinate with the agencies involved in the livelihood assistance programs of the government such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

She explained that the initial allocation of P1 billion will be allotted for livelihood support for displaced OFWs. The fund will be sourced out from the OWWA and government lending institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines.

This fund, she said, will be utilized to finance the small businesses to be established by the displaced Filipino workers and for their re-training.

She also said that the DOLE and OWWA will create “help desks” in the provinces assist Filipino workers.

AT the same time, the government is now conducting an on-line information drive thru the phil-job.net to help Filipino expatriate workers search job and employment opportunities via internet.

“Kaya nating pondohan lahat nitong mga programa dahil kung ihahambing sa maraming ibang bansa, ang Pilipinas ay nananatiling “island of stability in an otherwise stormy global sea of economic troubles,” she said.

Comelec bares poll automation plans

Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
http://technology.inquirer.net/infotech/infotech/view/20090202-187041/Comelec-bares-poll-automation-plans

MANILA, Philippines-- The Commission on Elections (Comelec) plans to use the supplemental budget to lease precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, a poll official said as he explained the plan for the local and national elections in 2010.

The PCOS machines will be deployed in 80,000 clustered precincts nationwide, said Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino Jr. in an interview.

Tolentino said each clustered precinct will have one PCOS machine, which can accommodate up to 1,000 voters.

To maximize the use of each machine, the poll body is planning to extend voting hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the poll executive said. Comelec is also setting up computer servers to handle the canvassing and consolidation of results from the voting precincts.

Tolentino said that once a precinct has the final voting results, the PCOS machine will transmit the voting results to the Comelec main office, which houses the “consolidation servers,” while also providing copies to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the dominant majority and minority parties and an appointed citizen's arm.

The official said this system will discourage premature announcement of winners because the results are immediately known to the public.

Counting of votes in every precinct will only start after the closing of polls at 6 p.m. Once the voting results are certified by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), the PCOS machine will start transmitting the results.

Tolentino said the system will not allow second transmission or consolidation of results at the precinct level. This will eliminate multiple canvassing and proclamation.

After the Comelec main office receives the final tally of the precinct results, the board of canvassers from the municipality, city or province can retrieve the voting results from the consolidation servers of the poll body, Tolentino said.

Once voting results of a province are in, the national board of canvassers can retrieve results, Tolentino said.

Results can be posted as running total of votes per candidate at the Comelec website, which would allow the public to view the results immediately.

He said that the system requires that the chairman of each precinct and the board of canvasser's unit will hold a “smart key” for retrieving specified voting results from the consolidation servers, said Tolentino.

The chairman of each municipal and provincial election board offices will also hold the key.

The smart key has encrypted biometrics information, which will serve as an identification of the municipal or provincial canvassing board officer.

Tolentino said there are three paper trails in the proposed automation plan. This includes the marked ballot by the voter, scanned or digital image of the marked ballot taken by the PCOS machine and the stored data of the voting results in the precinct machine.

In his presentation of the automation plan to the Senate committee on Finance, Tolentino added the Comelec proposes to have a total of six personnel for the Board of Election Inspectors.

In the past elections, the BEI is composed of a chairman, a poll clerk and a third member.

With the automation plan, there will three additional support staff to the chairman, poll clerk and a third member, the Comelec plan showed.

During Monday’s public hearing, Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the finance committee, requested the Comelec to provide a breakdown of the supplemental budget for poll automation plan.

Currently, Senate Bill (SB) 2984 authored by Angara and SB 3021 by Senator Richard Gordon seek to authorize a supplemental budget of P11.3 billion for the automation of the 2010 elections. Both bills are slated for a second public hearing next week.

Taguig to build own version of Eastwood City off C-5

By Ferdinand Fabella
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news4_feb3_2009

A NEW commercial district will soon rise along C-5 Road in Taguig City as part of its P1-billion urban development program.

Called Skyline City, the planned entertainment and commercial area will be put up along a 1.5-kilometer portion of C-5 Road in Ususan village, complete with a shopping mall and medium- to high-rise buildings, according to Taguig Mayor Freddie Tinga.

Tinga last week signed a P1-billion joint-venture agreement with R-II Builders Inc. through its chairman, Reghis Romero II, for the mixed-use development of 11-hectares in the villages of Ususan and Bagong Tanyag.

“This will realize our ‘One Taguig’ vision” Tinga said, adding the project would benefit “all sectors” of his city.

Initially, Skyline City will cover an 8.8-hectare area along the Ususan village portion of C-5 Road, between the Petron and Shell gas stations, and will be patterned after Eastwood City in Libis, Quezon City.

Tinga said that aside from a mall, medium- to high-rise buildings would also be built to house various businesses including call centers.

The other component of the P1-billion development project will involve the construction of medium-rise residential buildings in Bagong Tanyag village for qualified city employees, policemen, teachers and squatters.

The qualified beneficiaries would also be given livelihood opportunities through a P100-million cash outlay by R-II Builders, Tinga said.

Tinga signed the agreement with R-II Builders chairman Reghis Romero II and director Mikee Romero, and City Administrator Wilfredo Villar.

Villar said construction of the Skyline City and Bagong Tanyag housing projects would start this year, and would be completed in two to three years.

Under the 25-year joint venture agreement, R-II Builders will finance the development projects including the relocation of the qualified beneficiaries for the housing projects.

“The city government will not spend a single centavo in this venture. R-II will finance all the development,” Villar said, adding the city government would make money from the taxes and rentals of business establishments in Skyline City.

He said about 30,000 local employees and qualified squatters would benefit from the housing project.

How the Philippines can save the world

Outside the Box
John Mangun
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5519:how-the-philippines-can-save-the-world&catid=28:opinion&Itemid=64

Disappointed and discouraged are the only ways to describe my reaction to those Filipinos who continue to bash the Philippines.

The release of the nation’s 2008 economic numbers (ahead of the time I thought they would be) could have been a moment of just a little amount of Filipino pride. When you look at countries like Spain, Singapore, Japan and others that saw their economies shrink in 2008, the Philippines did not do badly, all things considered. Instead, we got comments like this: “The supposed growth in the economy in recent years should be taken with a grain of salt.”

The millions of Filipino individuals and Filipino-owned businesses who made that 4.6-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth happen clearly showed that, not only “The Filipino Can” but “The Filipino Did.” To every Filipino worker and every Filipino business owner who worked harder and never gave up—unlike that man in Los Angeles who recently killed himself, his wife and his four children after losing his job—stand tall and be proud.

We survived and even prospered a little through times of P50-a-kilo rice and P60-a-liter gasoline. Perhaps having the words “Economist” and “UP” on your resume means that you make so much money, anything less than a new Mercedes every year means the country is in a recession.

As another example of how clueless economists can be about the Philippines, Simon Wong, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank said, “I think most of the growth came from government spending.” While another “expert” Nicholas Bibby, an economist at Barclays Capital was quoted, “My suspicion is the upside surprise probably came from private consumption [spending].”

Keep doing your analysis gentlemen. Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.

I can remember when the foreign press used to describe the Philippines as “a basket case,” and “the sick man of Asia,” not with comments like “Overall, the Philippines will be better insulated from the collapse of external demand compared with other Asian economies.”

Why is there so little pride in the positive economic developments and accomplishments that the Philippines has made since the Edsa revolution? I believe it is the result of the pervasive “colonial mentality” after Edsa. The nation had come out of a black and stagnant economic prison. The Philippines sat at the feet of Western experts, like children looking for answers.

We embraced with enthusiasm most of their advice. We were told to “globalize” and we did. And then we saw our export products barred entry to other “free” markets. Our agricultural products were deemed unfit for Australia and Japan. Yet Mexico shipped their mangoes to the US, stealing Filipino heritage by calling them “Manila Mangoes” because no one would buy “Mexican Mangoes.”

Treated like the black sheep of the world economy, the Philippines was told and even warned that the only road to prosperity was to rely on exports for economic growth. Yet today, large and small economies that believed that theory are suffering the most during this global economic contraction.

Overseas Filipinos were scorned and insulted for being just domestic helpers. Now the world’s shipping industry would stop and the West’s hospitals would close if not for Filipino workers. Not too long ago, a Filipina in Japan was obviously a prostitute. Now Japan begs for our nurses and caregivers, needing 500,000 by 2016.

Seven years ago, most Western companies laughed at the idea of outsourcing to the Philippines. Now, the Philippines and India, with a population 10 times as large, controls 50 percent of the world’s outsourcing business. And our growth rate is double that of India’s.

The Philippines always hits high on the list of “corrupt countries” and the local press seems to delight in that fact, never saying that perhaps that sort of evaluation might be exaggerated in this sense: name a single major Filipino company, public or private, that ever put a nonexistent billion dollars on its balance sheet as India’s Satyam Computer was recently discovered doing. Where is the example of a Filipino Enron, Lehman Brothers or AIG?

Filipino banks were once heavily criticized for being much too small and undercapitalized. Again, where are the Philippine bank failures, except for a few, possibly crooked, rural banks that probably should have been closed years ago. Further, by the most important gauge of a bank’s financial strength, Filipino banks are twice as strong as most of those in the West. A bank’s capital adequacy ratio (CAR) measures the amount of total assets against risky assets, such as bad loans. The Filipino banks’ CAR usually runs twice as high as what is required by international standards. Thus, there are no Washington Mutual or IndyMac Bank type failures in the Philippines.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Arroyo, as she does from time to time, gave a brilliant speech to an international audience. I saw her do it once at an Asian Development Bank forum, impressing global business and political leaders.

In Davos, she politely reminded the West that for the last 10 years, they pursued polices that drove their economies into a black hole. Countries like the Philippines used that time to build themselves up. The President called for the West to included countries like the Philippines in all further global economic discussions so the West might learn some “helpful new ideas.”

I agree and using our strong points, of which you should be proud, might just help save the global economy.



PSE stock-market information and technical-analysis tools were provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc. E-mail comments to mangun@email.com.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Fil-Ams join anti-abortion protests in the US

By RODNEY J. JALECO
ABS-CBN North America News Bureau
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/pinoy-migration/02/02/09/fil-ams-join-anti-abortion-protests-us

WASHINGTON D.C.- America’s raging debate on abortion rights is driving many Filipino-Americans to the forefront of a growing protest movement that could dent US President Barack Obama’s immense popularity.

Broderick Bello skipped work and drove his family from Rocky Mount, North Carolina last January 23 to join a protest march on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the landmark decision giving women the right to abort pregnancies.

“We’re here with my sons to give them some experience for making changes for the unborn who can’t speak for themselves,” he said.

Kimberly Espresion said she flew all the way from San Jose, California to join the march. “It’s really important to stand up for life. This is really my first time, this is the first year I was able to go to march. It’s really important because we have a new administration in the White House,” she said.

The Supreme Court voted on Jan. 22, 1973 by a 7-2 majority, that abortion is a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Anti-abortion groups led by a coalition of church organizations have been pressing for a reversal of the decision.

But they have an ever bigger worry with the proposed Senate bill 2020, more popularly known as FOCA or the Freedom Of Choice Act.

FOCA aims to expand on the gains of Roe vs Wade and other court decisions addressing abortion issues in the US. It provides for expanded women reproductive health care, penalizes anyone who interferes with a woman’s right to an abortion, and provides federal protection to women needing an abortion.

President Obama has said he would sign FOCA if it reaches his desk.

When the issue was brought up during the presidential debates last year, he appeared to pin his position on preventing teenage pregnancies, bolstering family unity and improved healthcare – conditions he believed would eliminate the need for abortions.

But his pro-choice stand, especially his tacit endorsement of FOCA, has raised alarms from the American heartland to the Vatican.

“He is not really concerned for life,” concluded Filipino priest Ed Sombilon, who shepherds a Fort Lee parish in New Jersey.

Fr. Jerome Magat, a vicar at the St. William of York parish in Stafford, Virginia and chaplain of the Filipino Family Fund, warns that the FOCA in its current form “would be the most radically pro-abortion legislation.”

“The Freedom Of Choice Act would practically guarantee abortion as a fundamental human right, thus making any opposition to it dangerous,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“If you were a doctor or nurse who does not want to perform abortions, you could get penalized for that. Taxpayers will fund abortions,” he added.

The Catholic Church is spearheading a campaign for parishioners to mail postcards to their lawmakers, urging them to junk FOCA.

Exit polls revealed 53 percent of Catholic voters chose President Obama in the November elections.

The friction between the White House and Vatican is threatening to spread to other issues like gay rights and stem cell research.

But a Fox News report quoted Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the US Catholic Bishops Conference Secretariat, as saying the abortion issue will likely the main flashpoint with the Obama administration.

“Filipinos have a tremendous opportunity to be real players in the cause for human life,” Fr. Magat said.

“Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. We come from a country where abortion is taboo and we have a culture that values the family. Filipinos carry all these traits that are so ready-made to be converted to such strong players in the pro-life movement,” he explained.

The number of Fil-Ams at the anti-abortion rally here appeared to buttress a pattern that became visible in last year’s presidential campaign.

Fil-Ams in the Greater Washington DC region who said they would not vote for then-candidate Obama almost always recited the same reason – his support for abortion.

Bro. Jonathan Dumlao grew up in California but is now enrolled at a seminary here. “We’re here for the truth,” he declared at the anti-abortion protest.

“I’m nervous about the kind of decisions President Obama may make,” the future priest admitted.

“His views are pro-choice so we can just pray for his conversion and hopefully he doesn’t enact any laws against life. This is a battle between the culture of life and the culture of death,” Dumlao said.

Philippine President Arroyo talks tough in Davos

President takes Obama to task
By Angelo S. Samonte
The Manila Times
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2009/feb/02/yehey/top_stories/20090202top1.html

President Gloria Arroyo said the United States must take the lead role in reversing the global recession and developed nations must give developing countries more voice in running the world economy.

“What we want is for America to do something because the last thing we want is for America to do nothing. It may be vague on what should be done, but the worst thing is for [America] not to do anything,” President Arroyo said during a plenary session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday.

“It is ironic that the developing countries now are doing better than the developed countries, and yet if they will not have a say on how to structure the world economy that’s really wrong. So we need to have the developing countries represented in a bigger way, they have something to share, they [have been] able to keep their countries resilient,” she told forum participants.

Mrs. Arroyo took the US to task for the global recession when she was asked during the forum on “Rebooting the Global Economy” if a planned borrowing by Washington this year from international lending institutions would ease out the Philippines and other developing countries from the debt market.

“Of course, we know that America is by far, well, the biggest economy, the single biggest economy in the world. We would have wished that this didn’t happen. But Filipinos love America. And what we can say is that it is so easy to have 20-20 vision on hindsight,” she said.

Rebooting the global economy, the President added, suggests something pretty radical because when countries try to stimulate it, they must turn the entire economy off like a computer.

“But the economy, we cannot turn it off. We cannot wipe the slate clean. We cannot start all over again because there are people involved, there are lives involved,” she stressed.

The President pointed out that “what is important here is that we must not neglect those who feel the hardship of the global downturn the most, and that is the poor.”

She proposed three solutions to reenergize the world economy: “Number one, we need a fundamental reform of the global financial regulation; Number two, Doha must continue, must be completed, and that is where the interest of the developing countries can take their rightful place in the global structure of the economy; and Number three, G7 must expand into a G20 or even a G30.”

In mentioning Doha, the President was referring to the Doha Round of talks of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

When asked by moderator Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg, about her “optimism that we are going to move to a G20 regime” even as the G20 countries are also encountering problems, Mrs. Arroyo explained: “The others have said in this platform, the meeting of the G20 in April is going to be a very important meeting so that is already one.”

“That is one indication of how important and how useful the G20 can be,” the President said. “But we must even go beyond the G20 because we need to [be] represented in the coordinated policy-making in the world’s diverse kinds of economies. Because if we do not have diverse economies represented on the table, then perspectives would be lost, and new ideas will not be gained.”

Mrs. Arroyo argued that developing countries must be represented in a bigger way because they have something to share. “How were they able to keep their countries resilient? They have that [resiliency] to share.”

She also told the forum that the Philippines is prepared for the global economic downturn because the Philippine banking system is liquid and the country has readied its funding needs for the entire year.

“Actually, as far as the Philippine government is concerned, we’ve already financed our needs for the rest of the year. So we’re not worried about that,” the President said.

“And as far as the private sector is concerned, we have a lot of liquidity in our Philippine banking system. In fact, in our fiscal stimulus package that we have, the private banks are going to be a very important part of it,” Mrs. Arroyo added.

The government is doing everything to mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis on the country, saying there are programs in place to assist displaced overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs).

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who officially assumed his new post on Sunday, said the President had ordered the Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to step up government efforts to provide all possible assistance to returning OFWs.

These programs, according to Remonde, include providing OFWs with loans that they can use to put up small businesses and training them on other skills that would qualify them for jobs in other countries.

He said that the President is stopping over in the Middle East on her way back from the World Economic Forum to look for more job opportunities for Filipinos in the oil-rich region.

Despite displacement of some OFWs from their jobs abroad, there are also other countries such as Australia and New Zealand and those in the Middle East that are still viable overseas job markets for Filipinos, Remonde added.

He also pointed out that during the last Cabinet meeting before the President left for Davos, “we had the impression that there are more job openings in other job markets abroad than there are OFWs losing their jobs.”

Remonde called for calm and sobriety, saying resorting to “alarmist” pronouncements and actions would be counter-productive for the country, the economy and the people.

Pangilinan: First Pacific units to invest P38b in Philippines this year

Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business2_feb2_2009

The local units of Hong Kong-based conglomerate First Pacific Co. Ltd. are allocating more than P38 billion in capital expenditures in their projects in the Philippines.

Manuel Pangilinan, chairman of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and managing director of First Pacific, said his group was committed to new investment prospects, despite the global economic crisis.

Speaking at the 60th inaugural meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines in Makati City on Friday, Pangilinan said PLDT was maintaining its 2008 capital expenditure level of P27 billion into 2009.

“Our hospital group has budgeted over P1 billion in renovation and equipment capex in the next two years. The North Luzon Expressway will spend P2.1 billion in capex this year, ahead of the P90 million spent in 2008, and is looking at new tollways expansion,” Pangilinan said.

He said Maynilad Water Services would have spent P8 billion in capital expenditure this year, compared with P6 billion in 2008, if tariffs had been adjusted as scheduled.

First Pacific last year bought into mining giant Philex Mining Corp. A unit of PLDT is also in talks with the Belmonte family for the controlling stake of Philippine Star.

Pangilinan said while the Philippines might not be able to escape the impact of the global financial crisis, the intrinsic value of the economy provided some degree of protection from external shocks.

Domestic consumption and government expenditure account for about 84 percent of the gross domestic product in the Philippines. Remittances from migrant Filipino workers provide stimulus for spending, he said.

To strengthen the economy, Pangilinan said the government should invest in infrastructure projects, which will create jobs and boost economic growth.

New Cebu hotel hiring 1,000

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=business1_feb2_2009

CEBU—A five-star hotel and resort built by Korean investors on Mactan Island is now hiring more than 1,000 staff to run the 7.5-hectare project when it opens in April this year.

“During this global economic downturn, we are showing to the world that Cebu is bullish,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

Durano said Philippine BXT Corp. had spent more than P4 billion to build the 557-room Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa on a 7.5-hectare paradise in Maribago, Lapu Lapu City.

It will be run by Imperial Palace, which also manages hotels in Seoul, Korea and Fukuoka, Japan.

The project has a 180-meter wide beach line, impressive swimming facilities and private villas.

The resort will soon have its own 18-hole golf course and country club designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer in central Cebu.

Durano said more than 2,000 Filipinos were employed during the construction phase of the project, while 1,100 others will be employed as hotel staff when it opens this year.

Shenon Kwon, public relations manager of Phil BXT, confirmed that positions were available for all divisions in the company, including administration, guest relations and reception, room, restaurants, laundry and facilities.

Durano said thousands of others would benefit from the project, including suppliers, transport owners, and retail operators.

Lilia de Lima, director-general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, said the project proved that there were opportunities in the economy, despite the financial difficulties of electronic companies located in special economic zones.

De Lima went to Cebu last year to declare the hotel area a tourism economic zone. She said Phil BXT’s project was the first tourism ecozone declared by President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo in the Visayas.

“We see the potential of our investments here in Cebu,” said Park Jong Hwan, president of Phil BXT.

Amando Huh, general manager of Imperial Palace, said the hotel company was also looking at other investment opportunities in the Philippines.

Durano said the new five-star hotel would provide more rooms for foreign tourists, which are expected to remain above three million this year, despite the global economic crisis. Some 3.2 million foreign tourists visited the Philippines, he said.

Durano said the last four years were the renaissance period for Philippine tourism, with the impressive growth in international visitor arrivals and tourism investments.

US premium chocolate features Davao cocoa

The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news5_feb2_2009

SPRINGFIELD, Missouri—Askinosie Chocolate has produced a bar made from cocoa imported from Davao, its first single-origin chocolate bar from the Philippines that it calls Davao, Philippines 77%.

The first cacao brought to Asia in 1600 was grown in the Philippines, and Askinosie Chocolate is the first to export Filipino cocoa beans in nearly 25 years, says the company, a small batch chocolate manufacturer that buys its beans directly from farmers.

“The beans used to make this tantalizing bar are very exclusive, making the Davao, Philippines chocolate bar uniquely exotic.”

Ari Weinzweig, founder of the world-famous Zingerman’s Deli, describes the 77% Bar as “Dark and deep with a touch of toastiness. It’s dry like a full-bodied, well aged red wine. This bar is compelling in its own East Asian way.”

“We are excited about [Askinosie’s] work with [Filipino] farmers so that people around the world can share the taste of what our cocoa beans can produce,” says Josephine Ramos of the Cacao Foundation of the Philippines.

The Davao Bar is made from lush, tropical, shade-grown, chemical-free Trinitario beans, and is described as the “chocolatiest-tasting bar” from Askinosie yet.

Philippine Consul-General Blesila Cabrera and Trade Representative Glenn Penaranda were in Springfield for the release party for the Davao Bar on Jan. 30.

Askinosie Chocolate’s founder, Shawn Askinosie, travels to Mexico, Ecuador and the Philippines to work directly with farmers and buy their produce.

This arrangement allows the chocolate to be traced to the source and to be labeled “Authentic Single Origin Chocolate.” It also allows Askinosie Chocolate to share its profits with farmers.

Philippine export zones see 5% rise in employment

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
With Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news1_feb2_2009

JOBS at the special economic zones will rise 5 percent this year despite the global financial meltdown that has forced electronics makers, the Philippines’ top exporters, to cut down on production, an official said yesterday.

“This is our fighting target this year,” said Lilia de Lima, director-general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

“Our fighting target in investment is a 10-percent increase, and in employment a 5-percent increase.”

De Lima made the statement even as the central bank lowered its projections on the growth of worker remittances, to a range of 3 to 6 percent from 6 to 9 percent, as a result of the expected layoffs in the developed economies.

“Job losses will affect the deployment of labor, but there is enough flexibility in terms of Filipino labor because of their profile,” Bangko Sentral Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said.

“We’re exporting more skilled workers—mainly medical and other professionals—and they can easily switch [job locations] depending on where the opportunities are.”

In January, the central bank forecast that remittances would expand 6 to 9 percent this year to reach $17.9 billion.

Another official said the government had allocated P18 billion for the first stage of its emergency employment program to help laid-off workers.

The amount would help create new employment for 63,672 low-income workers, said Domingo Panganiban, head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

“The beneficiary workers will be hired in projects that will serve to improve and preserve the fruits of our recent economic gains,” he said.

De Lima said some electronics firms were cutting production, but new investment in other sectors would take up the slack to keep employment growing at the special economic zones.

“While some companies are slowing down, there are some that are starting or expanding,” she said, citing a company producing medical instruments.

“The problem is that we are just counting the minuses; nobody is counting the pluses. There are companies from other Asian countries that are planning to transfer here, but we cannot disclose them yet.”

De Lima said Flash-memory maker Numonyx had absorbed 600 employees laid off by Intel Corp. in Cavite province, and that it would soon move its machinery from Pudong in China to the Philippines.

She said companies at the special economic zones employed more than 600,000 people, and that new investment would keep the employment level well above that figure this year.

Philippine police hiring more recruits

Cecille Suerte Felipe
The Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=436479&publicationSubCategoryId=68

While a lot of companies have started terminating some of their employees and streamlining operations, the Philippine National Police (PNP) continues to hire more policemen.

In a statement sent to The STAR, PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa said that with the hard times, the PNP is expanding and hiring new recruits.

“The police service is inversely affected by the economic crisis. When people are losing jobs in the private sector, that is the time we hire more policemen. When times are hard, petty crimes rise,” he said.

Only last month, the PNP inducted into service 4,782 new recruits, 1,424 of them women.

The recruits included 91 licensed professionals such as medical doctors, lawyers, criminologists, chemists and even a priest.

Verzosa described these professionals as people seeking to make a real difference in their community, ready for a variety of experiences and a life full of excitement.

Verzosa is working to raise the salaries and benefits of policemen, from housing to medical, legal assistance and education assistance for their dependents to make a career in the PNP more attractive.

At present, a new recruit with a rank of Police Officer 1 (PO1) receives P9,466 as basic monthly salary.

Professionals, on the other hand, enter the police service as Inspector or Senior Inspector with a basic pay of P18,334 and P19,067 respectively.

“It’s not very high but it’s not very low either. We’re trying to raise it further, but of course we have some budget constraints to consider,” Verzosa said.

The PNP chief is also working on a project started by his predecessor – a move to provide houses for the entire police force.

A 2006 survey showed that only 51,000 of the PNP’s 120,000 personnel live in their own houses. The same survey revealed that those 51,000 perform better than their renting counterparts.

This is the reason why the PNP has partnered with private group Gawad Kalinga and has began two housing projects for policemen in Tarlac and Taguig City. Both projects are called “Pulis Kalinga.”

On top of the pay and benefits, those who try their luck with the PNP could expect a lifetime of growth as the organization invests more on its human resources.

Verzosa said promotion is underway for those who would volunteer to be assigned to the provinces where there are less policemen.

“We want to encourage our ranking policemen to volunteer to be assigned to the Visayas or Mindanao where police presence is more needed. Our problems in Metro Manila do not originate here but in the provinces, that’s why we’re beefing up our forces in some areas in the Visayas and Mindanao which are considered breeding grounds of lawless elements,” he said.

Verzosa added that many benefits await those who would volunteer to be assigned to far-flung areas.

“We will promote them because we want our police headquarters in the barrios to be led by officers. They will get all allowances and they can even stretch their pay in the provinces because the standard of living there is lower,” he said.

Those interested to become policemen can go to the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame or its regional offices.

Non-commissioned officers should be college graduates, 21 to 30 years old, physically fit, with good moral conduct, and must pass a battery of tests.

They may contact the PNP’s Directorate for Personnel and Records Management at (02) 721-9685 or 723-0401 to 20 local 4511 or 4501 or send an e-mail to dprm@pnp.gov.ph.