Saturday, 28 February 2009

Philippine nurses and seafarers in Japan

JPEPA secures Japan jobs
Nurses, caregivers to get first crack

By Angelo S. Samonte
The Manila Times

President Gloria Arroyo announced on Friday that Filipino health workers could now work in Japan starting April through the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

“For the first time, Japan will accept foreign health workers, our very much in demand Filipino nurses and care workers,” the President said in her speech during the 28th joint meeting of the Philippine-Japan Economic Cooperation Committee and the Japan-Philippines Economic Cooperation Committee Friday at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City.

After the signing of the JPEPA in September 2006, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) immediately signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services for the deployment of Filipino nurses and caregivers to Japan.

The POEA said that it is initially targeting 400 Filipino nurses and 600 caregivers for deployment to Japan within two years. The basic monthly salary for care givers is $1,600 while nurses will get a slightly higher pay, the agency added.

Filipinos who are employed under the MOU are guaranteed a contract of three years, provided they have passed the Japanese licensure examinations.

With JPEPA in place, President Arroyo said she is hoping that the agreement would also open more opportunities for Filipino workers who are educated, highly productive and fluent in English.

“We hope to see more trade in outsourcing, tourism, maritime and air transport, banking and telecommunications,” the President added.

Mrs. Arroyo said that the trade agreement is about bringing advantages to both nations while eliminating disadvantages. She allowed, though, that it requires adjustment from both parties.

“We must be bold and try harder in these trying global times. The JPEPA is the greatest test of keeping our bonds strong and our economies open to each other,” the President said.

World-class Filipino seamen

During the same meeting, Mrs. Arroyo was informed that over 70 percent of Japanese maritime operations are now manned by Filipinos.

“Over 200,000 Filipino citizens now live in Japan. In addition, and this is not so widely known, Japanese maritime shipping operations now rely on Filipino sailors for about 70 percent of their crew,” Toshitaka Hagiwara, the senior adviser of Komatsu Ltd., told participants to the meeting.

Komatsu Ltd. is a world-leading manufacturer and distributor of construction and mining equipment and industrial machinery. The company has been operating in the Philippines for decades.

Hagiwara said that most Japanese shipowners have set up training centers in the Philippines, even before the ratification of JPEPA.

“Almost all major Japanese shipping companies have opened maritime crew training facilities in the Philippines, expecting to develop ready access to highly qualified Filipino sailors from hereon,” he added.

Hagiwara said that JPEPA also opens Japan’s doors to Filipino nurses and caregivers.

Even before the JPEPA’s ratification late last year, Mrs. Arroyo had acknowledged Japan’s trust and confidence in Filipino seamen, many of whom have the rank of master engineer or chief engineer.

The President said that the cooperation between the Japan Seamen’s Union and its Filipino counterpart, the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, in establishing local maritime schools and training centers helped give recognition to the Philippines as the undisputed maritime manning capital of the world.

Doris Magsaysay-Ho, the president and chief executive officer of Magsaysay Maritime Corp., the largest manning company in the country, said there are over 28,000 Filipinos working in Japanese ships who remitted more than $3 billion last year.

With more than 25 years of maritime partnership between Japan and the Philippines, Ho added, Filipinos now comprise 55 percent of the membership of the All Japan Seaman’s Union and are classified as non-domiciled special members.

Palace backs full automation in 2010

By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang said yesterday it was for the full automation of the 2010 elections and called on its allies in Congress to support this position in its deliberations on the supplemental budget for the automated elections.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said President Arroyo has made it one of her priorities to have a fully automated electoral system in the country in order to eradicate fraud during elections.

The position of the Palace runs counter to that taken by Speaker Prospero Nograles, a key Malacañang ally, who said he would insist on the implementation of a “hybrid” or partially automated elections next year.

Nograles said the House of Representatives would push for the automation of elections for national positions, namely the president, vice president and senators.

For local government officials, including congressmen, Nograles said the manual voting system should be retained.

Nograles could not explain why his colleagues are insisting on partial automation.

“The stand of the Palace is clear – that it is for full automation of the elections. It’s a program of President Arroyo and we hope Congress and the Comelec (Commission on Elections) will work together to attain that program and vision set by the President,” Remonde said.

The proposed P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 elections is still with the House of Representatives and with just a few session days left in the calendar of Congress before the month-long Lenten break, it appears unlikely that this would be passed within the time frame stated by the Comelec.

Remonde said the President is open to the calling of special sessions during the Lenten break in order to pass the supplemental budget.

At the Senate, Sen. Richard Gordon called on the House of Representatives to expedite the passage of the supplemental budget for the full automation of the 2010 polls.

Philippine Lower House blocking fully automated elections

Hybrid elections prone to fraud, cost P5b more
By Fel V. Maragay
With Roy Pelovello and Arlie Calalo
The Manila Standard

POLL officials yesterday warned that the hybrid automation system backed by the House of Representatives would cost the country P5 billion more in the 2010 elections, yet would still be prone to cheating.

Testifying before the Senate finance committee, Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Melo said the House passed the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for poll automation, but made its release conditional on the passage of a new law governing the 2010 elections.

Melo said most congressmen favored a hybrid system in which only the election of national officials—the president, vice president and senators—would be automated. That would leave the election of local officials, including congressmen, under a manual voting system.

But Melo said such a system would actually incur more costs, such as those needed for separate ballot boxes for the automated and manual systems.

The manual system of voting and counting that the House favors for local officials would still be susceptible to cheating, he said.

But Senator Richard Gordon, principal author of the Automated Elections Law, said the manual process was not allowed. In fact, he said, the law prescribes full automation for both national and local polls in 2010.

The law provides that from the polling precincts, ballots will be brought to the municipality or city and then to the provincial and finally national levels.

The ballot boxes could be opened and the votes counted manually in case of protests, Gordon said.

Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the finance committee, said that Speaker Prospero Nograles had told him that the primary concern of the congressmen was that they would not have a record of the voting results at the precinct level.

“If they have something to hold on to—the results by precincts, a paper trail, a printout from each precinct—then all their fears about automation will disappear,” he said.

Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri rejected the House proposal for manual voting and counting for local officials.

“Let us remove the cloud of doubt over our electoral process by computerizing both the national and local elections without exception. We have seen in the past how the manual system has been taken advantage of by unscrupulous elements to commit fraud,” Zubiri said.

In a previous hearing, the Comelec recommended the full use of the Precinct Count Optical Scan or PCOS, dropping its earlier proposal for the Direct Recording Electronic since it is too expensive.

But the senators suggested that the Comelec look into leasing instead of buying the electronic voting machines to save on costs.

Angara said his committee would recommend immediate passage of the Pll.3-billion supplemental budget without imposing any condition. But he said the Senate could not pass its version of the measure unless it was first approved on third and final reading by the House, where all appropriations bills emanate.

If the House failed to approve the bill next week, then the Senate would have to wait until April l2 to act on it because Congress would go on a month-long recess starting March 7.

Zubiri said Congress should speed up approval of the supplemental budget for automated polls to enable the Comelec to bid out the project according to its timetable. He said he would push for the holding of a special session of Congress if necessary during the month-long break.

Melo warned that if Congress took too long to debate the hybrid system favored by the House, the Comelec would run out of time and would have go back to an entirely manual system for the 2010 elections.

Also yesterday, the Palace called on Congress to speed up the passage of the supplemental budget.

“It is the wish of the President to have automated polls. That is one of her promises, one of the top 10 agenda of the President when she assumed office,” said Anthony Golez, a Palace spokesman.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Philippines allows private firms, farmers to import rice

Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The government has allowed local private companies and farmer organizations to import as much as 300,000 metric tons of rice this year to help build up the country’s inventory, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said.

The government opened this window to prospective importers two weeks ago and the 300,000 metric tons would form part of the 1.8 million metric tons of rice imports programmed for this year, Yap told reporters.

Last month, the government signed a contract with Vietnam for supply of 1.5 million metric tons of rice.

The government has opted for a government-to-government negotiation, instead of the usual tenders held by the grains agency National Food Authority (NFA), to prevent another rice price crisis like last year’s, which was blamed partly on the holding of auctions for big volumes.

Yap said prospective importers would have to find their own sources, set their own prices, and pay a minimal service fee to the NFA.

He said the 50 percent tariff on rice imports would be waived because all importations would be covered by the tax expenditure subsidy of the NFA, and the NFA would be the importer on record.

Last year, rice traders and farmer organizations were lukewarm to the idea of buying rice abroad, importing only 71,000 metric tons, out of the 300,000 allowed.

Yap said that in case the private sector could not import the full allowed volume this year, the government would import the remainder. “That’s why we’re doing it early, we’re giving them a chance right now to begin importing,” he said.

The NFA is tasked to maintain a 15-day rice stockpile at any given time and a 30-day buffer stock during lean months. With editing by

NorthRail construction resumes in the Philippines

Elizabeth Sanchez-Lacson
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Construction work on the 82-kilometer North Luzon Railways Corp. (NorthRail) project, which aims to link Caloocan City to the Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga province, resumed in the first week of February, the company said.

In a statement, NorthRail said its chairman, Edgardo Pamintuan, had reported to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at a Cabinet meeting in Clark last Tuesday that “every aspect that would contribute to faster construction work will be explored and employed to cover for the delay of project, which now runs to five years.”

Sources said the first phase of NorthRail project, to connect Caloocan City to Malolos City in Bulacan province, spanning about 42 kilometers, was estimated to cost more than P1 billion.

The succeeding phases will connect the Malolos railway to Clark.

Pamintuan said the Malolos viaduct portion started taking shape following completion of 14 board piles, and faster buildup was expected as work accelerated.

He said problems about design and other engineering details, which contributed to the delay of the project, had been threshed out following “a harmonization workshop conducted among a group of Filipino engineers and their Chinese counterparts during a three-week session in Tanjin, China, last December.”

“One of the several measures adopted for faster project completion was the agreement with project contractor Sinomach (formerly known as China National Machinery and Equipment Corp.) to work together with more Filipino subcontractors,” Pamintuan said.

He said NorthRail’s engineering, executive, and administrative and support staff now reported to an office closer to the project site for better and faster coordination and improved work efficiency.

The five-year delay was also caused by right-of-way disputes and the sustained effort of some individuals to derail the project, he said. With editing by

Jobs, jobs, jobs

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo talks to Nova Dangalan from Bacoor, Cavite, one of the displaced overseas Filipino workers who where given P50,000 as livelihood loans to start their micro enterprise business Wednesday (Feb. 25) during the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Jobs Fair at Blas F. Ople Building in Ortigas Avenue, Mandaluyong City. (Rey Baniquet/OPS-NIB Photo)

Philippine gov’t to hire 180,000 workers under 6-month emergency employment program


MANILA (PND) -- Malacañang has set the stage for the temporary employment of 180,000 Filipinos from the middle and middle-low income classes and the poorest of the poor as part of the government’s strategy to cushion the impact of the deepening global financial turmoil.

In Executive Order (EO) No. 738, which Malacañang released today, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stressed that the 180,000 workers to be hired for six months far exceed the number of job losses of 39,000 since last year as reported by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Under the EO, the President directed all Cabinet members to draw up and prepare emergency work programs, doable and fundable livelihood projects designed to benefit the vulnerable sectors of the population.

She ordered all government agencies to set aside 1.5 percent of their respective allocations for maintenance, overhead and operating expenses for the six-month emergency employment program.

The temporary employees may be assigned to conduct census, surveys, price monitoring and other activities earlier identified in the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Em0ployment Program (CLEEP), the President said.

Of the 180,000 jobs to be opened, 50,000 will be in Region lV-A and the Bicol provinces; 20,000 in Cebu, Mactan Economic Zones, Leyte and Samar; 20,000 in the Subic and Clark Economic Zones, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bataan and Zambales, and 5,000 in the CARAGA region.

The remainder will be “distributed among the other regions of the country, with priority for the 10 poorest provinces and the 1,000 poorest municipalities.”

The emergency employment program also includes “training with income support at half of minimum wage” in in-demand skills for workers.

Priority will be given to displaced workers as follows: 20,000 female workers from Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon, Camarines provinces and Albay; 5,000 from Region III; 5,000 from Region VII; 5,000 from the CARAGA Region, and 50,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The income support will provide for meals and transportation of the trainees.

In another significant move, the President ordered the integration of the government’s livelihood programs into a one-stop shop under the Regional Livelihood Program Office.

At present these livelihood programs are implemented separately by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Trade and Industry (ADTI), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Finance (DOF), and Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs).

The President also directed the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to provide opportunities for 250,000 workers over the six-month period.

On the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, the President said, the coverage should be expanded to include the CARAGA and Cordillera regions to “cover low/no income families and avoid the incidence of child labor, especially in manual mining-intensive areas.”

Subic's new container terminal-1 begins to spur growth in Luzon

Olongapo City (26 February) -- Subic's New Container Terminal-1 (NCT-1) is beginning to spur growth among industries in Luzon that need to widen their reach in the global market.

Already, actual collections by the Subic seaport in 2008 reached P276.24 million, which is 21 percent higher than the P228.21-million target for 2008, according to retired Captain Perfecto Pascual, who heads the Seaport Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

He noted that since NCT-1 started its operations in April 2008, it has tremendously contributed to the revenue upsurge, as the facility rakes in some P4.3 million into the SBMA Seaport's coffers monthly.

Pascual noted that updating of shipping fees being collected in the Port of Subic likewise helped, along with the decision of the SBMA to modify its policy on vessel and cargo charges, including those levied on the Philippine Coastal Corp, whose exemption from paying said fees was cancelled in the fourth quarter of 2007.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said NCT-1, which comprises the first phase of Subic's $ 215-million port development project under the Super Regions program of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has a cargo-handling capacity of 300,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) and is now primed to position Subic Bay as the new maritime logistics center of the Philippines.

"Now that the infrastructure are in place, it would be easier to attract foreign investments and boost local trade at the same time," he added.

The NCT-1, which is now being operated by the Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC), has already unloaded shipment deliveries from the port of Kaoshiung in Taiwan.

The commercial operation of the NCT-1 boosts Subic's bid to attract more investments and become a major catalyst in propelling economic growth in the country.
SBITC vice chairman Francisco Delgado III said, "Subic is now fully-equipped to attract, foster and support industries, and it is a key to an industrialized Philippines."

"NCT-1 will provide the global link needed by industries in the Central and Northern Luzon growth corridor," he added.

Pascual said despite the global economic downturn, the SBMA Seaport expects a revenue of P316.3 million this year, compared to actual revenue collections of P276.24 million in 2008.

"The slowdown in the shipping industry, ironically, turns out good for the Port of Subic since shipping lines began to use Subic Bay as a place to lay by their vessels," he said.

As of last count, 22 vessels are laid up in Subic Bay to wait out the recession. The SBMA Seaport earns about P6 million monthly from these idle ships, Pascual noted.
Subic's container port and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) at the neighboring Clark Freeport are the key ingredients to government efforts in transforming the former Subic and Clark military bases into a globally-competitive service and logistics hub in the Asia-Pacific region.

Subic's port and Clark's airport are now connected by the 94-kilometer Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, which plays a crucial role in facilitating the efficient transfer of raw materials, products and services between the two free ports and other industrial areas in Luzon. (PNA)

Designer brings haute couture to Philippine prison

Michaela Cabrera

MANILA (Reuters Life!) - For inmates at a maximum-security prison in the Philippines, doing time has taken on a fashionable turn since an up-and-coming local designer recruited them to help craft his collection.

Puey Quinones conducts weekly workshops at the New Bilibid Prison to create couture cocktail dresses, bags and belts which are later sold in boutiques for hundreds of dollars.

The prison houses more than 12,000 inmates, with nearly half serving sentences of 20 years or more for crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.

Quinones said he was hesitant to even enter the compound at first. But to his surprise, the prisoners embraced the fashion workshops, with many turning out to be artistic.

"On the first visit, I was really scared because I was thinking these people here are convicts, you know, they might stab me or kidnap me inside," Quinones told Reuters Television.

The designer initially kept his project a secret, fearing the stigma against convicted prisoners might affect his business.

But when his clients found out about his prison-made couture, they scooped up his designs.

While the inmates are trained in construction, automobile mechanic work, and arts and crafts to give them skills they can use to get jobs when they are released, many never thought they would be passing their sentence making dresses.

Around 30 prisoners from the compound have been working with Quinones in the last year and a half, learning how to paint, bead and embellish fabrics.

Joefry Faderes, who was convicted of robbery and has been in prison for 12 years, said the work he and other inmates do with Quinones has helped give them dignity.

"We're so pleased. Imagine, we're in prison and yet people outside appreciate our work. Typically we're viewed as mere prisoners, people think we're the garbage of society," Faderes said.

Quinones' finished dresses and tops sell for 3,000 to 7,000 peso ($60 to $145) in boutiques, and made-to-order gowns can fetch up to 20,000 pesos ($415).

The inmates receive a small fee for their work, but many say they are not doing it for the money.

James Anthony Uy, sentenced to at least 32 years for kidnapping, homicide and rape, is in his 11th year behind bars.

He said Quinones inspires the inmates to be creative, and the fashion workshops brighten up their monotonous lives.

"We know that we're not outside, but in a way, we kind of forget that we're in prison," Uy said.

Quinones, who gives his workshops for free, believes the inmates deserve another chance at getting their lives back on track.

"These people are also human beings, and they're creative also, and they deserve a second chance," he said.

"In the future, if they get out of jail, they have something to look forward to, that they can work for other companies, even if it's not my company, at least they've learned something inside."

($1=48.13 pesos)

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Bahrain bags more flights to the Philippines

Jose Bimbo F. Santos
BusinessWorld Online

THE TWO-DAY air service negotiations between the Philippines and Bahrain ended yesterday with that Middle Eastern state bagging more flights.

Specifically, Bahrain is now entitled to 50 weekly flights to the Philippines, up from the current 13. Philippines, on the other hand, has no flight restrictions to Bahrain.

The 50 flights are divided as follows: eight flights to Manila, 28 to Subic Freeport, seven to Cebu, and another seven to other points except Manila.

Porvenir P. Porciuncula, deputy executive director of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), described the air talks with Bahrain as "very friendly and cordial."

The Philippine negotiating panel, led by Transportation and Communication Under-secretary Doroteo A. Reyes II, included representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Tourism, CAB, and airport authorities.

Philippine Airlines flies daily between Manila and Bahrain under a code-sharing agreement with Gulf Airways.

Cebu Pacific Air, meanwhile, said yesterday that it was open to mounting flights to Bahrain. "We welcome the development in the RP-Bahrain agreement. We are always looking for possible destinations for our route network expansion," Cebu Pacific Vice-President for Marketing and Product Candice A. Iyog said in a separate phone interview.

Mr. Porciuncula said Zest Airways had informally expressed interest in mounting flights to Bahrain, though this could not be confirmed with airline executivves as of press time.

The country is next scheduled to negotiate with Australia and Brunei.

NZ luring skilled Filipinos

Emilia Narni J. David
BusinessWorld Online

NEW ZEALAND is positioning itself as a destination for highly skilled overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Philip Burdon, chairman of the Asia- New Zealand Foundation, said in an interview last Wednesday night that "there is a rapidly expanding Asian population in New Zealand and the country is definitely opening up to more Asians."

He added that 11% of the population of New Zealand is currently composed of Asians and that by the year 2026, 25% of the population would be Asians.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), there was an estimated 23,000 Filipinos in New Zealand in 2007. The number is expected to have doubled last year. Around 360,000 Filipinos were estimated in Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Palau and Papua New Guinea) with majority living and working in Australia.
POEA has said that it is expanding the market where OFWs can go to including New Zealand. However, majority of Filipinos still prefer to go to markets like the United Kingdom and to the Middle East.

Mr. Burdon said New Zealand can be a good choice for OFWs who are in the health care, hospitality, information technology, accountancy, law and agricultural industry.
"We have high standards and demanding criteria, but that is to ensure that the standards in the country are met," he said.

Richard Grant, executive director of the Asia-New Zealand Foundation, said "We are a nation that is in transition, where so many of our young people are moving across New Zealand or outside of the country. So, immigrants and migrant workers can integrate well."

Thursday, 26 February 2009

A seamless Luzon Urban Beltway

Mia M. Gonzalez / Reporter
Business Mirror

MANY people are impressed by how the Nlex has encouraged traffic to Northern Luzon, and the President hopes to see similar results elsewhere in Luzon.

CLARK FREE PORT—President Arroyo has ordered concerned government agencies to work on turning the Luzon Urban Beltway (LUB) into a “seamless, investment haven” to attract more business to the area.

“Let us develop the Luzon Urban Beltway into a seamless priority infrastructure project,” the President said at the Cabinet meeting held at the Holiday Inn Resort Hotel here.

A Palace statement said that by seamless, the President [means linking] South Luzon as far as Batangas to Northern Luzon through the Star Tollways system-South Luzon Expressway-Slex-C5-Nlex [in an] unbroken expressway route.

The President directed various heads of government agencies and concerned government-owned and -controlled corporations and government financial institutions to fast-track the completion of priority infrastructure projects in the beltway by the end of her term.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Lorelei Fajardo said 13 LUB projects worth a total of P39.34 billion, excluding the cost of upgraded hospitals, were completed as of 2008, and that there are 17 other ongoing projects with a total cost of P140.7 billion.

The completed projects are the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEX), Panday Pira Access Road, DMIA Terminal Radar Approach Control, DMIA Passenger Terminal Expansion, Subic Bay Port Development, Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, Batangas Port Development Project 2, Lucena Port Terminal, Kawit Port, Marinduque Port, Edsa Rehabilitation and the Naia Terminal 3.

Among the ongoing projects are the C5 North Link Project, Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan Road, Marikina-Infanta Road Project, South Luzon Expressway Expansion Project, Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project, Clark South Interchange, Porac Interchange, Floridablanca Interchange, additional access roads, LRT 1 North Edsa Extension and the Northrail Project 1.

The other ongoing projects are the PNR Commuter Train, 300 MLD Treated Bulk Water Supply, MWSS Water Projects, Energy Projects, Kamanava Flood Control and Drainage System Improvement Project, and the Immigration Customs Quarantine Project.

Philippines makes first exports of Galoc crude oil

By Judy Hua and Dharmasari Haroun

SINGAPORE, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The Philippines has made the first oil exports from its new Galoc field, originally aimed for use by domestic refineries, to capitalise on better prices of sour crude in regional markets, officials said on Wednesday.

Galoc, off southwestern Philippines, came on stream in October but was shut down in mid-December for inspection following production problems due to bad weather and production will resume as early as Wednesday, the officials said.

Two 300,000-barrel cargoes of Galoc's crude or Palawan Light, was sold to Thai Oil TOP.BK and South Korea's SK Energy (096770.KS), ahead of the December shutdown, said J.V. Emmanuel de Dios, Chief Executive Officer of Nido Petroleum Ltd (NDO.AX), one of field's equity holders.

A similar-sized cargo had been earlier sold to top Philippine refiner Petron (PCOR.PS).

"Personally, I like more to be sold in the country, but if there is benefit to be sold outside the Philippines in terms of better price, which also benefit the government, that should be good," de Dios told Reuters, adding they would not rule out occasional exports whenever there are opportunities.

The cargoes were sold abroad also because of maintenance at Petron's 180,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery between December to around mid-February, he said on the sidelines of an upstream oil conference.


Vitol and European trader Trafigura are the two main marketers of Palawan Light, which has a higher sulphur content than most other Asia-Pacific crudes at 1.64 percent.

Sour crude prices have been rising on the back of the ongoing deep OPEC cuts, which led to lower supply of Middle Eastern sour grades.

Alex Parks, Chief Executive Officer of Australia oil firm Otto Energy (OEL.AX), another equity holder of the field, said production of the oilfield could resume "within 24 hours".

Production should ramp up quickly to the 13,000-14,000 bpd levels seen before the shutdown, de Dios said.

Galoc Production Company (GPC), in which European trader Vitol has a 68.6 percent stake and Australia's Otto Energy a 31.4 percent interest, is the operator of the field, with a 58.29 percent share.

The remaining 41.71 percent share of the field is split between Nido Petroleum, with 22.28 percent, and several Philippine partners.

Nido also had two successful oil discoveries in Philippines -- Yakal and Tindalo -- in 2008, and is now targeting first oil from these discoveries in 2010, de Dios said.

Nido is confident of weathering the current economic downturn, because it requires no major capital expenditure this year after Galoc started production last year and before the two new productions come onstream next year.

"You see a lot of oil companies cutting down their spending. We have two discoveries, now having the opportunity to actually develop them," de Dios said.

"We have cash, that means we don't necessarily think about that. There is no major capital expenditures in 2009."

Nido and Philippine National Oil Co-Exploration Corp (PEC.PS) are selling part of the interests in their 50:50 joint venture in an oil and gas exploration project in the Philippines.

BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) and the Philippine unit of Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) both want to bid for the stakes, a state official has said.

De Dios declined to say when the interests can be awarded but would not rule out offering operatorship to the new partners. (Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved.

Most workers in Philippines to get pay hikes - study

By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Most local employees will get salary increases as a majority of private businesses disclosed that they will be hiring more people despite of the global economic crash, an international survey said.

The International Business Report (IBR) released by Punongbayan & Araullo showed that 76 percent of Filipino business leaders expect either to increase wages above the rate of inflation or in line with it, while only two-percent plan to reduce pay. A small part or 12 percent do not expect to offer any pay rise.

The IBR also stated that 35 percent of local privately held businesses (PHBs) expect to increase their number of employees while 49-percent plan to maintain their current total workforce.

“Local PHBs are in a different boat when it comes to employment issues,” Greg Navarro, managing partner and CEO of P&A said.

On the question of declining pay or offering no pay raise in the next 12 months, the country ranked 26 out of the 36 countries surveyed. Number one was Taiwan, followed by Singapore and Hong Kong.

“Earlier results from the IBR showed that 63 percent of local PHBs see ‘lack of skilled workers’ as a major constraint to their business expansion. So while we’re hearing about companies around the world not having enough business to keep all their employees, Filipino business leaders have the jobs but have difficulty finding the right workers. It’s a no less worrying situation to be in,” Navaro noted.

He said this is particularly true of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry because BPO companies in the Philippines expect to create 100,000 more new jobs this year.

The IBR also asked respondents about the effect of migration – outbound and inbound – on their country’s economy. This showed that 73 percent of Filipino business leaders see migration as either extremely positive or positive. Only 14 percent see the movement as having either an extremely negative or negative impact on the economy.

“Obviously, Filipino business leaders here are looking at the positive impact that remittances have on the RP economy,” Navarro said.

In 2008, nearly 1.4 million Filipinos were deployed overseas to work, representing a 28-percent increase from the previous year. And despite warnings that money from OFWs would slow because of the global financial crisis, remittances last year posted a 13.7-percent growth, compared to its 13.2 percent rise in 2007.

Reality and the experts

John Mangun
Business Mirror

From December 18, 2008: “The current crisis is going to be solved like all crises: one person, one family, one community at a time. That is, as long as government does not make it worse and government does help out a little and in a constructive way. The latest world doom machine is the financial crisis. And it is not going to happen.”

I know what you’re thinking: Who am I to disagree with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and all the top economists? These people are all experts talking about the United States and Philippine economies. I mean, I spend most of my working day sitting in front of the computer wearing a pair of jogging pants and an old Boracay T-shirt. House slippers are optional.

We have studies, report and analyses all saying the same thing about the Philippines. For example, overseas Filipino remittances are going to go flat or worse because the number of overseas workers is going to drop like a rock due to the bad global economy.

I know that workers and remittances are an important issue. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the United States in the financial and construction industries. Sure, there are probably some, maybe even many Filipinos who work in those sectors. But the bulk of US remittances comes from school teachers, nurses, IT people and the like who are not going to lose their jobs.

But this is just the beginning, we are told. Just wait until the full force of the economic disaster reaches our shores like some giant tsunami that takes days or weeks or months to travel this far. You might think, though, that after nearly nine months of gloom and doom, something bad ought to be happening even now.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Jennifer Manalili reported the number of Filipinos going abroad to work this past January was 25 percent higher from a year earlier, “As of end-January, we have deployed 165,000, and that’s higher than last year, and also considering that there is crisis.” And the POEA still has 400,000 unfilled job offers. I particularly like this quote from the Inquirer: “She [Manalili] said the data was the opposite of what the government had expected.” Reality different from what the experts predict? I am shocked and amazed.

I think remittances are going to grow at least as much as in 2008. Suppose you are a Filipino nurse working in Chicago. Two years ago, your extra cash might have been able to buy a car or a condo. Not necessarily in 2009. So what do you do? Send that money and maybe more money home to RP.

If a person listens to and believes what he hears all the time, then he/she might act according to all the gloom-and-doom prediction. If there are not going to be any overseas jobs available, why would any potential employee even try to apply? I think people are smarter than the “experts.” The “dumb average citizen” just does what he thinks is right even if the smart guys are telling him he is wrong.

In the United States, the biggest “gloom and doomer” is President Obama. From Reuters: “Since he took power on January 20, Obama’s rhetoric had taken a turn into grim territory, with bleak warnings that the damage to the US economy may be irreversible and that a catastrophe lay just around the corner.”

Except, while Obama is yelling the sky is falling, the Conference Board’s index of leading US economic indicators has risen for two months in a row. But that is not all. Existing home sales rose in December. Pending home sales went up in December.

New orders for consumer and nonmilitary capital goods went up in January. The index of manufacturing went up last month. The index of services rose last month for the second month in a row. Hourly earnings rose 4.5 percent in December following a 3.3-percent increase in November. Money and investment are starting to move gain, with corporate-bond markets thawing out as $127 billion in dollar-denominated debt was issued in January, the most for any month since May 2008.

Amid all the negative talk, Americans are starting to realize that 92 percent of the work force has jobs. While the housing sector is badly hit, 95 percent of all homeowners are paying their mortgage amortization every month.

Here, too, those with a negative mindset are still preaching the end of the economic world, but events are changing the reality. From a local economic expert writing yesterday: “Filipino seamen, about one-fourth of overseas Filipino workers, are extremely vulnerable. There has been a sharp decline in world trade.” I cannot argue with that. Except the Baltic Dry Index, which measures the cost of shipping key raw materials like copper, steel and iron, has more than doubled from its recent lows. That means, gradually, demand for ships to carry cargo is increasing, pushing lease prices to double what they were at the bottom only a few months ago. This brightens the outlook for all economies, including ours.

Yes, the government needs to target and immediately financially assist certain industries that are under severe pressure. Small industries such as furniture exporters must be subsidized, absolutely without any delay. The numbers coming from the Cebu Furniture Industries Foundation are devastating. The Philippines needs a few billion pesos invested properly in this economy right now. Not a few hundred billion pesos in Obama-size pork through the rest of the year.

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Arroyo points out the need to move quickly

PGMA: Gov’t will accelerate investments in infra sector to sustain economic growth

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the government will accelerate infrastructure investments this year to insulate the country from the global crisis and sustain economic growth.

The President made the statement before top local and international investors during the Philippine Economic Briefing themed, “Challenges and Opportunities in a Global Crisis,” this morning at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City.

“We have accelerated our investments in 2009. These expenditures are not meant to break the bank. We have brought forward investments to further stimulate our economy, to help our people, and to sustain the growth that has been so important to our economic success,” the President said.

Welcoming the President at the Dusit Thani Hotel were more than 1,000 top local and foreign businessmen, the country’s economic managers who earlier presented our country’s healthy fiscal and economic situation, and hotel general manager Prateek Kumar.

Among those present were Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Gary Teves, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco Jr., National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ralph Recto, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Peter Favila, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap.

The President said the early implementation of tax and other economic reforms have provided the country with enough revenues to fund huge investments in human and physical infrastructures.

This includes the P300-billion economic stimulus package the President earmarked last year that helped cushion the initial impact on the country of the global financial crisis.

She added that sound fiscal management and prudent monetary policies have provided the country with gross international reserves of almost $40 billion.

“But we must move quickly if we are to ensure that our economy stays on path,” the President said.

In his presentation at the Dusit forum, Andaya said the government would frontload 60 percent of the infrastructure programs of major government departments to encourage labor and capital intensive projects in the first quarter of this year.

To spur more economic activities, Teves added that the government needs to spend more on irrigation and road projects, education, quality health care, and other critical infrastructure to help the poor and the vulnerable.

“We remain mindful that this acceleration of investments must be balanced. We cannot abandon our hard-fought gains in fiscal discipline. We are well aware that we must both spend wisely and be prudent if we are to leave our nation in a healthy condition for the next generation. That is the road we were on before the onset of this global crisis. That is the road on which we would like the country to continue when this challenge has passed,” the President said.

Philippines in a race against economic challenges -- Arroyo


MANILA (PND)--President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the Philippines is in a race against economic challenges and the country must move quickly “if we are to ensure that our economy stays on path.”

Addressing a gathering of local and international investors at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City this morning, the President said her administration will act with deliberate haste to address these challenges at a time of deepening global economic crunch.

Pursuing her theme that there’s no time to waste, the President said in a message beamed to government leaders: “Let’s not wait for Congress to pass this or that because we have lump sums in our budget,” referring to the government’s economic stimulus program.

“Let’s not wait for the private sector to come up with their part of the promised P100-billion private sector fund. Let’s work on our P50-billion contribution,” she added.

The President assured the nation that the massive spending to further stimulate the economy and sustain economic growth will not be made at the expense of fiscal prudence.

“We cannot abandon our hard-fought gains in fiscal discipline. We may increase the deficit, yes, but it must be a finite number and not the sky is the limit. We must have a projection, a ceiling that we will stay under.”

“We are well aware that that we must both spend wisely and be prudent if we are to leave our country in a healthy condition for the next generation. That is the road we were on before the onset of this global crisis. That is the road on which we would like the country to continue when this challenge has passed,” she stressed.

The President admitted that the global financial crisis now appears to be worse than most people had anticipated. But she pointed out that she remains cautiously optimistic that the Philippines can be insulated from the full blow that most of the world is now experiencing.

“Yet, we realize that with each passing day, that objective becomes a greater challenge and therefore we must always be ready to innovate,” she said.

She said that the biggest challenge confronting the country is the “challenge of jobs.”

Before proceeding to Dusit Thani Hotel to address the “Philippine Economic Briefing,” the President said she dropped by at the jobs fair being held at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) along Ortigas Ave. in Mandaluyong City where she had an interaction with Filipino workers some of whom were recruited on the spot for employment abroad.

She said she hoped that the employment numbers for Filipinos abroad will continue and so far, there has not been a major slump. Last year, 5,500 Filipino expatriate workers lost their jobs but that number remains largely the same.

Since last year, 39,000 domestic workers, mostly in the export sector like electronics, garments, auto parts, and mining have been displaced. The good news is 3,000 new jobs are being processed daily, she said.

Moreover, the President said that many displaced workers are finding new job opportunities as self-employed. Some have gone into food processing, garments, perfume-making, meat-processing and other livelihood projects.

She said she has been hearing that the Philippines was lucky compared to other countries now caught in the cusp of the global crisis. The thing is “we worked hard to be lucky. We have been able to cushion the blow today because of the pain we endured yesterday.

“With the support of Congress and our dedicated civil servants, we took the economic reform medicine and improved our banking system, raised revenue, cracked down on smugglers and streamline our revenue system,” the President said.

Philippines a model for bidding -- World Bank

By Fel V. Maragay
With Roderick T. dela Cruz, AFP
The Manila Standard

THE World Bank yesterday sidestepped its own findings of bidding irregularities and said the Philippines is being considered as a model for international procurement.

At a technical briefing for the Senate, World Bank country director Bert Hofman said the country was eligible for about $600 million in development loans despite the Bank’s recent report that a bank-funded road expansion project was rigged.

Hofman said financing for road, school, social welfare, food assistance and other projects was already in the pipeline, but it was up to the Arroyo administration to decide which loans to take.

Hofman also told Philippine senators that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank might adopt some of the Philippines’ procurement rules for international competitive bidding.

“We think highly of the Philippine procurement rules and regulations. We have some debates where Philippine rules differ from World Bank rules. We are considering, together with the ADB, whether some of the Philippine rules may be adopted for international competitive bidding,” he said.

At a press conference after the briefing, Hofman said the senators asked him if the Philippines was in danger of having its loan privileges suspended if the government ignored its report of bid rigging.

That is not under discussion,” Hofman said. “Our policy is one of engagement. We do not... disengage unless in very extreme cases.”

The World Bank sent a referral report to the Office of the Ombudsman in November 2007 and blacklisted three Filipinos and four foreign construction companies after its investigators were convinced that they had colluded in a $33-million road expansion project.

“A referral to the authorities serves to enable them to take the information and documents referred to them and investigate the matter under domestic law as they deem appropriate, and at their discretion,” Hofman told the senators, reading from a prepared opening statement.

“This administrative process is not intended to be, and indeed cannot be, a substitute for a determination by a member-country as to whether the actions of such firms and individuals in a World Bank-financed program or project give rise to breaches of that member-country’s laws,” he added.

Hofman said it was up to local authorities to prosecute companies that the bank had blacklisted for collusion. He also welcomed a Senate inquiry into the case and said it was working closely with the government to improve procurement systems.

Senator Mar Roxas, who presided over the briefing, criticized the Ombudsman for dragging its feet on the case despite the “preponderance of evidence” in the World Bank report.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said they started to investigate the alleged irregularities upon receiving the referral report.

But she said the Ombudsman’s probe was stymied by the Bank’s failure to furnish documentary and testimonial evidence, especially the names and addresses of complainants and witnesses.

Gutierrez said that it was only in the middle of this month that the Ombudsman was furnished supporting documents, including transcripts of interviews with the complainants and witnesses.

In reply to a question from the senators, Gutierrez said her office would release its preliminary report on the alleged rigging of bids in a World Bank-funded road project by the first week of March.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, who was present at the technical briefing, said the Philippines was now negotiating for up to $l-billion in financing from the Bank for the next three years, including a loan for a rural power project.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

All Systems Go for Philippine Railway Linkage Project

HUDCC Turns Over Close to 10km cleared right-of-way to PNR

THE railroad tracks in Metro Manila are getting more and more visible as Vice President and concurrent Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Noli 'Kabayan' De Castro turned over to the Philippine National Railways (PNR), another 1.5 km of cleared right-of-way (ROW) covering the Tondo sub-segment of the Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project (NSLP).

This is the result of the clearing operations and massive relocation of informal settler families living in slum communities along the Northrail and Southrail tracks undertaken by the National Housing Authority (NHA) as part of the PNR's rehabilitation and modernization program.

The Manila segment of the NSLP spans over an 11.85 km stretch involving 16,179 families from Tondo, Sta. Cruz, Sampaloc, Sta. Mesa, Pandacan, Paco, and San Andres sub-segments (North to South). To date, 15,021 families have been relocated comprising about 93% of the total magnitude for relocation in Manila.

With the clearing of the 1.5 km stretch of the Tondo sub-segment comprising 13 barangays, the total cleared ROW now covers a total of 9.85 km or 83% already cleared. The remaining 2.0 km in Tondo is expected to be completed by end of February 2009.

“We will complete the rail resettlement program this year. This is part of our contribution to the government’s 10-Point Agenda to decongest Metro Manila by opening up the nearby provinces through infrastructure development”, Vice President and HUDCC Chairman De Castro said.

Since the start of the relocation programs for the Northrail and Rail Linkage projects, more than 55,000 families have been given permanent homes in different resettlement sites, the most massive, peaceful, and humane relocation implemented by government to pave the way for the modernization of the Philippine railway system.

Of this total, 21,232 families came from the Northrail’s PNR right-of-way spanning Kalookan to Mabalacat, Pampanga while some 34,367 families were from the NSLP, which stretches from the southern part of Kalookan to Calamba, Laguna.

“It is not just simply clearing the railways to make way for a faster and modern rail transport system. It is also important to provide the relocated families with improved living conditions and access to basic services in cooperation with the private sector and the local government units,” De Castro said.

Managing through challenging times, Part II

Map Insights
By Manuel V. Pangilinan
BusinessWorld Online
(*Excerpts of speech delivered by the author as guest of honor and inducting officer at the Jan. 30, 2009 MAP inaugural meeting. Mr. Pangilinan is chair of PLDT and MAP Management Man of the Year 2005 Awardee.)

Of course, the simplest approach to government spending is to pay down debt, and benefit from the positive effects of a possible upgrade in creditworthiness. With the decline in debt premium, credit availability at lower cost may spur private sector investments. It must be better to spend nothing but retire public debt, than to spend something but on the wrong things.

The last leg of the tripod concerns government’s capacity to execute the economic stimulus plan, and the confidence it may inspire in the process. Few details so far are known about the plan.

Let me now turn to regulation and governance.

This crisis reflects the greatest regulatory failure in modern history — a failure that cuts across banking supervision to securities and exchange regulation and disclosures, to credit rating oversight.

Apart from the external regulatory breakdown ...governance in corporations had been breached. Board oversight must have been lax and deficient. More importantly, the financial incentives in place favoring the CEO and his senior managers propelled them toward unprecedented greed, excess, and abuse. The banking system was part of the problem — with leverage and exotic financial instruments, which must have befuddled both investors and regulators.

Activist shareholders have proposed a range of measures to encourage chief executives to focus on the long term rather than the next quarter, to give shareholders a say on pay and to make it easier for them to nominate their candidates for board seats.

Ultimately however, any analysis of successful companies shows there is no single governance style that guarantees success. That said, moves to make directors more responsive to shareholders and to open board elections to challengers could be helpful. It can also be useful to tie executive compensation with long-term results by parceling out compensation over a number of years, with provisions for withholding portions, if performance fades. At the end of the day, the best solution to governance is greater transparency.

At PLDT, we recently adopted a new thrust in corporate governance called Enterprise Risk Management. This approach forces us to take a sophisticated and comprehensive look at the principal risks we face — from the risks of typhoon damage or terrorist attacks, to the dangers from competition and access to funding.

Let me move to my final point — poverty and philanthropy.

When times turn rough, resources normally devoted to social work are one of the first to be axed. But the needs of the poor will still have to be addressed even in a downturn. They certainly will not disappear in this crisis. In fact, they will get worse as unemployment rises. The role of corporate philanthropy during this time becomes even more critical than ever. This is a time for all of us to come together.

First Pacific regards 2009 as a year of two halves. In the first half, we’re seeing investment values driven by a contractionary environment, with equity and debt products undervalued but volatile. At some point in the year, these extreme valuations should provide attractive opportunities as risks growth dissipate, and deleveraging pressures ease.

It is this which drives us to encourage our companies to be affirmative in setting their goals despite the crisis; to be mindful of new investment prospects; to stay positive in outlook and spirit.

PLDT is maintaining its 2008 capex level of 27 billion pesos into 2009. Our hospitals group has budgeted over a billion pesos in renovation and equipment capex in the next two years. NLEX will spend 2.1 billion pesos in capex this year, ahead of the 90 million pesos spent in 2008, and is looking at new tollways expansion. Maynilad would have spent 8 billion peso capex this year, compared with 6 billion pesos last year, if tariffs had been adjusted as scheduled.

It is my hope that all of you at MAP will accept the challenge of crisis leadership, which says that it is ourselves who can best solve our problems. Let’s listen to that ancient maxim about leadership, espoused by the philosopher Lao Tzu: "The poor leader is he who the people despise;/ The good leader is he who the people revere;/The great leader is he who the people say, — we did it ourselves."

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Manila Airport Authority earmarks P3b to build Panglao airport

Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

THE Manila International Airport Authority yesterday said it will invest P3 billion to build the Panglao International Airport in Bohol province.

Tirso Serrano, assistant general manager for airport development and corporate affairs, said the consultancy firm TGCI Engineers had completed the feasibility study while Phil JAC Inc. had been commissioned to do the new airports detailed design.

The agency, which has administrative control and supervision over all international airports, said it would also help upgrade and build Caticlan Airport, the gateway to the resort island of Boracay.

Alfonso Cusi, general manager of the airport agency, said the Ninoy Aquino International Airport had increased its capacity to 32 million passengers a year with the opening of Terminal-3.

The agency also disclosed plans to expand the terminal to better handle the increasing passenger traffic.

Last year, the Naia complex handled about 90 percent of all international traffic in the country and accounted for more than 22 million international and domestic passengers. That represented 75 percent of all passenger movements nationwide.

Aside from opening Terminal-3, the agency also expanded the Terminal-1 arrival lobby and made other renovations to make it more functional.

“The Naia complex would undergo further improvements in the years to come as this is essential to keep up with the demands of our stakeholders, airline operators and passengers,” Cusi said.

He said the use of wide-bodied jumbo jets had made the upgrading of the Naia’’s landing strip necessary, particularly the shoulders, to accommodate the wing span of new aircraft.

The runway could now accommodate new aircraft such as the Airbus A380, Cusi said. Two gates per terminal could fit the wide-bodied jumbo jets, he said.

Philippines sees 2009 BOP surplus at $500 mln-source


MANILA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Philippines will likely end this year with a balance of payments (BOP) surplus of $500 million, far higher than a $89 million surplus in 2008, which was a four-year low, a central bank source said.

'It (BOP) will still be in surplus, at $500 million,' the source said late on Tuesday, ahead of the expected release of updated 2009 Philippine macroeconomic estimates on Wednesday.

The source did not give further details.

The Philippines had a BOP surplus of $1.735 billion in January, reversing a deficit of $275 million in December, boosted by proceeds from a $1.5 billion global bond and the sale of rights to operate the country's power grid to a private group.

Analysts expect the country's external payments position to be under pressure this year with remittance flows predicted to slow sharply, if not contract, after rising by double-digits in at least the last three years.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said on Monday the country's economic managers were looking at lowering the high end of its current 3.7-4.7 percent growth forecast for the year, more optimistic than estimates in a Reuters poll and that of the International Monetary Fund.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco)

Amid difficulty lies opportunity

Written by Personal Finance
Chinkee Tan
Business Mirror

For the past few weeks, I have been receiving a lot of invitations to speak at company kick-off sales for their respective organizations. The hot topic that is being requested all the time? “How to succeed in tough times.”

The economy is going to slow down this year. All you hear are the cries of economists, businessmen and governments, moaning that things aren’t good and will not get better anytime soon—tough times are right around the corner.

This reminds me of a story of an executive who lost his job. Finding a job during those times was so scarce, he was forced to look at the classified ads and saw an opening in the zoo—a zoo that was well-known for its main act “George the Gorilla.” Unfortunately, George fell ill and died, resulting in the decline in the zoo’s revenues. The owner then thought of a great idea by making a replica gorilla suit that looks like George.

In short, the job opening was for anyone who is willing to act, eat and swing like a gorilla. Desperate to find work, the executive accepted the job. He walked, ate, played and swung like a gorilla. He was a great hit since he had more tricks and was smarter than the original gorilla.

One day, as he was swinging passionately from one of the tree branches, the branch broke off and he fell into the next cage, the lion’s cage. The lion started growling and was about to attack the gorilla. Out of panic and fear, the executive in the gorilla started to shout: “Help, I am a man! I am not a gorilla, help!” The lion moved in closer and whispered, “Shut up! Do you want us to lose both of our jobs?” This is what I call “tough times.”

When I was interviewed at the start of the year in the program of Joel Zobel of dzBB 594, Bangon Na Bayan, I was asked if I see tough times this 2009.

The first thing we should ask ourselves is: “What are tough times?” The answer is that it’s all about perception.

What you see is what you get—all the predictions and projections of the experts often become self-fulfilling prophecies because they are creating the “perception” that things are ”tough.” But are they really that bad?

You can look at a glass of water as half-empty or half-full.

Ask yourself which perspective you are going to take. Do you see tragedy or opportunity?

Here is my take for this year. In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.
I can still remember the later part of the administration of President Cory Aquino. Our country was suffering from a severe power shortage. Businessmen in the manufacturing and retail stores were all complaining that workers can’t work efficiently and sales are at an all-time low.

Surprisingly, my business was booming during those times! My business? I was one of the few manufacturing and marketing rechargeable electric fans. Anything we manufactured was immediately sold. Business during those times was booming! Why? I found an opportunity in times of difficulty. It is all about finding the right business at the right time. It is all about perspective.

To prove a point. Try reading this sentence, “OPPORTUNITY IS NOWHERE.” How did you read it? Did you read it as “ Opportunity is No Where”? Or did you read it as “Opportunity is Now Here”?

We need to be resilient and have a keen eye for opportunities during tough times. Let us not deny that we will definitely face challenges and trials during tough times. However, no matter what happens, we should never give up. One thing I learned in life: Situations, circumstances, hardships and challenges in life can stop us temporarily from moving forward. But it is only YOU who can stop yourself permanently. Be resilient. Find ways and means so you can get what you want in life.
Position yourself and prepare yourself in tough times.

Remember, tough times won’t last, but tough people do!

Chinkee Tan is the best-selling author of the book Till Debt Do Us Part; a lifestyle trainer, speaker, and a Registered Financial Planner. For speaking engagements, please contact or log on to and Join the 14th RFP Program (April 18 to June 6, 2009). Visit or inquire at No. 634-2204.

Selling umbrellas

John Mangun
The Business Mirror

You have much more important things to do than following what is going on with the world economy. Keeping your wife or husband happy, taking care of your kids’ future, even feeding the family dog is a higher priority. But there is a lot going on that will affect your life and country.

Every time I say that the Philippine economy is in pretty good shape, with a positive outlook, I get these e-mails accusing me of being a mouthpiece for the Arroyo administration.

Let me tell you this. I wish I was the President’s mouthpiece. I would probably make a lot more money, and the Philippine government badly needs an economic spokesperson. Most government officials sound and look like scared schoolgirls about to cry (or worse) every time someone asks them a question about the economy.

But I cannot blame them since the questions they have to answer are based on sometimes silly and inaccurate economic analyses.

You see, there are a lot of bad things going on out there. By that, I mean outside the Philippines. When government economic leaders are asked “serious” questions, the seriousness of those questions is in real doubt. Take overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The Department of Labor says that as of January 30, the number of OFWs laid off has reached 5,404 since October 2008; 80 percent are from Taiwan. So then, the questions come about that subject with some wailing and whining.

Five thousand lost jobs are serious to those individuals but, realistically, it means little to the nation overall.

I would like to know the opinion of the economic leaders of a country of 90 million people what they think about Japan, for example.

Japan’s economy is now shrinking at an annual rate of more than 12 percent. This is an absolutely staggering figure. This means that 15 years of economic growth is potentially going to be wiped out in 2009. Imagine your personal net worth, cars, home value, bank accounts; they are suddenly reduced back to the level they were in 1994. This is an incredible story that is all but ignored by our press.

I want to know what the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance and others think on its implications for the Philippines. As the second-largest economy in the world, I am curious if maybe there might be some impact on the Philippines, as Japan is also our second-largest trading partner. We gained about $750 million net from Japan last year through employment and exports, and I think that is more important to the economy than the 5,000 laid-off OFWs in Taiwan.

Has anybody in the government crunched the numbers on what a 12-percent contraction in the Japanese economy might mean to us? Our “askers” never think to ask.

Japan is an economic disaster that is growing into a catastrophe. Having said that, here is an opportunity. The potential of the Philippines becoming the No. 1 outsourcing hub for Japanese companies is huge. Japanese companies are surging into outsourcing their customer service. Did you know that there are more than 10,000 Filipinos studying Japanese in our local schools right now? There are some 50 Japanese companies now outsourcing to the Philippines. There could be 500 if we do something about it.

If Japan is a disaster, then Europe is disintegrating. An internal European Commission report says European banks may require a $20-trillion, with a capital “T,” bailout. That is more money than the total annual gross domestic product of the US.

Why am I telling you all these? Because too many “experts” are saying that what this means is that we should run and stay in a cave on Mount Makiling until the financial storm passes. Total, total nonsense. You want to get rich during a storm? Sell umbrellas. The bigger the storm, the more umbrellas you sell.

The Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) spent a ton of money trying to bring investors to the Philippines when the New York market was at 8,000 on its way to 14,000, and when no one needed the Philippines. You think maybe right now global investors might be looking for a better alternative than a Dow Jones sinking below 8,000, and might be looking for a stock market where companies aren’t going broke, still making profits and stocks are cheap? So why aren’t we shouting that in the foreigners’ ears every waking minute?

Global interest rates are at historic lows like since 200 years ago, and banks are failing faster than can be counted. In the Philippines, you can actually make profit buying a local bank time deposit and the bank will not go out of business. Or how about Philippine bonds from a government that is not begging the world to buy its debt like the US, and then paying nearly zero interest?

It might be nice if Congress would spend as much time writing 21st-century laws that would make it easier for foreigners to invest in our financial markets as it is spending time on other things. I can open a stock-trading account for the London stock market online with a credit card. To invest on the PSE, a foreigner living abroad needs to hassle through at least two Federal Express deliveries to trade our market.

At the end of World War II, the Netherlands was destroyed. That first winter, tens of thousands succumbed to starvation and cold. One man picked up his ax, chopped down a tree and made coffins to sell to those who huddled inside, dying and waiting for the bad times to pass before they would get moving.

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Managing through challenging times

Map Insights
By Manuel V. Pangilinan
(Speech delivered by the author as guest of honor and inducting officer at the Jan. 30, 2009, MAP inaugural meeting. Mr. Pangilinan is chair of PLDT and MAP Management Man of the Year 2005 Awardee.)

Part I

It has been two years almost to the day since I was given the privilege of joining your fellowship. In those two years, the world has been turned on its head. The Dow Jones peaked in July 2007 at 14,164 — then plunged to its depth in November 2008 at around 7,500. The US economy grew by a respectable 2% in 2007, but is now deep in recession.

In 2007, the advanced economies rose by 2.6%. In 2009, the IMF expects these economies to contract by 0.3%. The International Labor Organization has predicted that around 51 million will lose their jobs this year. One minute it was 85-year-old Bear Stearns that collapsed, the next it was 158-year-old Lehman brothers, and then the entire global financial system needed a bailout. Who would have thought that these two years would see once sturdy names devastated — from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, to AIG, Merrill Lynch, HBOs, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, and even Satyam computer services in India?

Welcome to 2009. As the crisis deepens and financial markets tumble, calamity jokes have sprung. Liquidity is now defined as wetting your pants after you’ve seen your investment portfolio. When you get your bank account nowadays, and it is marked — insufficient funds, you’re not sure whether this refers to you or to your bank. Now what is the capital of Iceland? About three dollars and change!

And you might be amused by the recent changes in these blue-chip corporate logos because of the crisis.

Causes and consequences

The epicenter of this crisis lay in banking systems which leveraged their balance sheets. Antecedent to this phenomenon, the exceptional high levels of liquidity, together with low interest rates, which reflected the US government’s overly accommodating monetary policy after 9/11, were a toxic combination. The creation of exotic financial instruments like credit default swaps, collaterized debt obligations, and the like, contributed to this leveraged velocity.

The liquidity reflected what FED Chairman Ben Bernanke has called — the global savings glut — the enormous financial surplus realized by highly successful economies like Brazil, India, China, Russia — and the oil-producing countries. Until the mid-90s, most emerging economies ran balance-of-payments deficits as they imported capital to finance growth. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 changed all that. After 1997, surpluses grew throughout Asia, in Russia, and in Brazil — which were recycled to the West in the form of portfolio investments.

Facing low yields, this tsunami of liquidity naturally sought higher ones. It is axiomatic in finance that yields on loans are inversely proportional to credit quality. Consequently, huge amounts of capital flowed into the subprime mortgage sector and toward weak credits in the US, Europe, and eventually to other parts of the world. And like most spikes, this one eventually reversed itself — and with a vengeance.

The former dean of the Wharton School, Thomas Gerrity, said that the collapse reflects a — classic delusion, a madness of crowds. We’ve lived through it over and over again — and never learn.

The Philippines will not escape the unpleasant effects of this crisis. Fortunately, the intrinsic structure of our economy, provides us with a fair degree of protection from these external stresses.

From an expenditure perspective, a large portion of our GDP — equivalent to as much as 84% — is accounted for by domestic consumption and government expenditures. Our net exports — meaning exports minus imports — account for no more than 4% of GDP, or less than 1/20th of aggregate domestic private and government consumption. As well, it is estimated that the decline in the net value of our exports in 2008 — gross exports minus imported inputs — is only around P115 billion. In proportion to our nominal GDP of P6 trillion, this reduction accounts for a modest 2% of GDP.

The fact that exogenous elements are of moderate importance to our national-income accounts, ironically highlights both a strength and a weakness — an advantage in times of crisis, but a disadvantage in times of global economic prosperity. Further, it demonstrates that our economy is not substantially integrated into the global economic mainstream. Using Philip Medalla’s analogy: the Philippine boat never left the harbor during this crisis — as it didn’t during the Asian crisis of 1997.

Furthermore, the following features of our economy offer additional advantages:

First, positive, albeit slower, growth in OFW remittances that will continue to buoy domestic consumption.

Second, a more diversified base of OFWs with certain parts of their employment belonging to the less vulnerable sectors.

Third, lower inflation reflected in reduced food and fuel prices. The fall in oil prices may balance the effects of reduced exports.

Fourth, low interest rates which offer greater monetary flexibility, and an attraction for borrowings by corporations and individuals.

Fifth, a healthy and liquid banking system and a corporate sector that is not, on the whole, heavily leveraged. The relatively robust condition of our banking and corporate sectors are lessons learned from the Asian crisis of 1997.

Sixth, improved macro-debt dynamics such as lower government debt to GDP ratio, a decrease in total external debt to GDP, and — because of the e-VAT — a slightly higher tax revenue to GDP. If the planned economic stimulus package of P330 billion were to be implemented quickly and competently, this will help reinvigorate the economy.

While it may seem that the Philippines may escape this crisis and elude recession, it cannot evade its adverse effects. A lower growth scenario in 2009 is therefore realistic. That said, we still must ask ourselves this question: How can the strength inherent in our economy during times of global distress be translated into strength — instead of weakness — when global prosperity returns eventually?

Indeed, the question which both we in the private sector and government must strive to answer is — How good can we make it? And not — How bad can it get?

Government’s role

So, how have governments responded to the crisis?

All of them have adopted a broadly similar menu of fiscal and financial incentives, differing only in size and detail.

While this menu may seem to be an easy recipe to follow, the package hinges on three critical ingredients: the size of the package; the quality of spending; and credibility of the government and the confidence it inspires. Like a tripod, one missing leg could compromise the effectiveness of the package as a whole.

The first leg of the tripod relates to the scale of the package. Although the Bush/Obama rescue packages may together exceed a record $1.2 trillion — representing about 10% of US GDP — some fear that this may not be adequate to increase output and prevent a rise in unemployment. In the Philippines, the government proposes an "economic resiliency plan" of P330 billion — roughly equivalent to 5% of GDP. Whether P330 billion is sufficient to avert a crisis is a critical question. Some economists advocate that at a bare minimum, an additional 1.5% of GDP must be allocated for vital social spending like infrastructure and education alone.

Apart from size, the quality of public spending is equally important. We should understand that this crisis is not an unfettered license to spend.

The challenge therefore must be where and how to prioritize spending. The stimulus plan may wish to focus on: (1) creating immediate short-term impact on consumer spending; (2) projects that support economic growth in the long term; and (3) programs that address poverty.

I have not tired of stressing how infrastructure investments can be a catalyst for economic growth and job creation. The maintenance and repair of existing roads and bridges for example can quickly raise consumer spending by creating employment. Investment spending has the potential to lower the cost of domestic production, providing an added incentive for foreign investors to locate domestically and promote home employment.

Government must make the pragmatic decision to concentrate its infrastructure expenditure in the country’s core-growth areas, rather than spreading it around the country. These core areas include the National Capital Region; the Central to Southern Luzon growth corridor; the metropolitan Cebu area; and the metropolitan Davao area. These areas account for a large and growing share of national output, with the National Capital Region and the Calabarzon area alone producing almost half — 48.4% — of GDP. Not only the government but also the private sector should mobilize, direct, and focus their infrastructure spending in these strategic locations.

There is a range of options available for the government to help put money into consumers’ pockets. Income tax cuts and reduced value-added tax are alternatives. These measures, however, might be difficult in the face of weak revenue performance, exacerbated by the non-indexation of specific taxes to inflation. Moreover, measures like these hardly benefit the poor — most of whom are employed in the non-taxed sectors — and only half of their spending is covered by consumption taxes such as VAT.

The challenge, therefore, is to find the most effective way to soften the blow on the poor without heavily compromising the government’s fiscal position. One program that appears to offer promise is conditional cash transfers. If correctly implemented and rightly targeted, this program can help achieve health and education outcomes that would enhance the country’s human capital stock, and improve our chances of riding the wave of recovery. The conditional cash transfer framework has been popular in Latin America in helping poor families directly, and has the following common features:

(1) Direct transfer of cash to the poorest of the poor.

(2) Requirement for poor households to comply with certain conditions, including continued enrollment of children in schools and checkups at health centers.

(3) Poor households are chosen through a rigorous poverty targeting mechanism.

(To be continued)

Monday, 23 February 2009

NAIA to remain country’s top gateway

By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Filed Under: Air Transport
MANILA -- The Ninoy Aquino International Airport shall remain the country’s top gateway with the expected full operation of Terminal 3 in 2009, according to airport executives.

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Alfonso Cusi said the opening of Terminal 3 would increase the complex’s total terminal capacity to 32 million passengers a year in the next five to 10 years. The MIAA does not see NAIA being overtaken by other international airports in the country, according to Cusi.

Cusi, in an interview with reporters, said the MIAA has been focusing on how to turn NAIA into a globally competitive airport, providing new facilities and services consistent with international standards.

Terminal 3, which opened in 2008, has yet to reach its full operational capacity because international and domestic airlines are still finalizing their transfer to the new facility. Earlier, MIAA said Terminal 3 would be fully operational by the middle of 2009.

Cusi said that in 2008, the NAIA complex, handled about 90 percent of all international traffic in the country and accounted for more than 22 million international and domestic passengers or 75 percent of all passenger movements in the country.

He attributed the increase in passenger traffic to the aggressive marketing and promotional efforts of domestic airlines and also to the opening of Terminal 3, which provided added space for more passengers.

MIAA statistics obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer showed that the existing design capacity of the three NAIA Terminals and the Manila Domestic Airport could accommodate 30 million air passengers.

The transfer of international flights to Terminal 3 and accommodation of more domestic flights there would enable Terminal 1 to host more domestic flights. The adjustments would translate to an additional two million air passengers in the next five to 10 years, according to the MIAA's projection.

Side by side the reconfiguration of flight accommodations in the complex, Cusi said MIAA embarked on “modest but useful” improvements aimed at maintaining the prestige of NAIA being the country’s main gateway.

The Terminal 1 arrival lobby has been expanded and other renovations were done to give it “a more updated look” and make it more functional to address the changing operational needs of the gateway.

For the passengers using the terminals, MIAA accredited metered taxis and set up free shuttle services.

New security equipment were also acquired and a “more judicious” housekeeping has been practiced, Cusi said.

The MIAA is also currently enforcing a program first launched in 2007, dubbed “Go the Extra Smile,” which aims not only to promote the complex as the friendliest airport but also to project the inherent good-natured characteristics of the Filipinos in the NAIA where nine out of 10 international passengers pass by.

Cusi said the NAIA complex would undergo further improvements in the years.

Cusi said the state-of-the-art wide bodied jumbo jets called for the upgrading of the NAIA's landing strip.

The existing runway, he said, could manage to service large new aircrafts as noted by the 2007 team of the A380. Existing parking gates at the NAIA terminals with some adjustments could also house the A380 series.

Cusi said NAIA’s two gates per terminal could fit the wide bodied jumbo jets.

In view of the estimated increase in passenger traffic within the next years and the upgrading of the runway strip, MIAA would increase the passenger capacity of the holding gates and put into place additional check-in counters, the airport chief added.

Airport officials said the growth in the number of passengers would also mean a growth in the cargo volume being handled by NAIA.

MIAA assistant general manager of airport development and corporate affairs Tirso Serrano said the agency has been planning to build new cargo houses that would cater to the expected growth in cargo volume.

MIAA is also studying the probability of converting airport properties into attractive and functional “airport cities” that will bring in bigger and better businesses closer to the airport complex, according to Serrano.

Cusi said collection efforts and revenue generation would be maximized to enable the agency to support its capital expenditures and further infrastructure programs.

"The NAIA would continue to provide its investors and the traveling public with the necessary upgrades in passenger servicing and airline accommodation to provide responsive, dynamic and meaningful services for many years to come," Serrano added.

LRT 1 extension: video update

As of 11 February 2009

Update video: Philippine National Railways

Update video: Philippine National Railways

Tanyag Taguig Railway Renovation

Philippine Govt to shoulder MRT 7 common station costs

By Darwin G. Amojelar, Reporter
The Manila Times

IN A bid to meet President Gloria Arroyo’s directive to build a “Grand Central Terminal” for the three mass rail transits (MRT) next year, the government would have to shoulder all the expenses for the project since the MRT 7 investors have yet to get financial closure, an official of the Transport department said.

In a letter to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Guiling A. Mamondiong, undersecretary for rail transportation, said the government would build an elevated grand terminal that would be walking distance to commuters of all lines situated near the intersection of EDSA-North Avenue and West Avenue.

The plan is to construct a Metro Manila Integrated Rail Terminal (MMIRT) for the existing MRT 3, the ongoing LRT 1 North Extension and the proposed MRT 7.

Mamondiong said the proposed conceptual design and location is a product of lengthy discussions among the stakeholders, which include the Transport agency, the Light Rail Transit Authority, the Metro Rail Transit Authority, Universal LRT Corp. (ULC), the MRT 7 proponent and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. The design is compliant with the requirements of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Transport official said it would cost the government an estimated P317.7 million. Since the MRT 7 would still have to complete financial closure by December, the P460-million deductive cost to MRT 7 may be advanced by the government.

“Therefore, to implement MMIRT now, the total budgetary requirements is P777,698,717,” Mamondiong said.

According to the official, the additional cost to the government in building the MMIRT would now be lower compared with the scheme that involves dismantling two stations and then building the MMIRT later.

“The MMIRT would surely help to reduce travel time and generate more passengers for Line1, MRT 3 and MRT 7,” he said.

Mamondiong said the target completion of the project is May 2010 and full revenue operation on or about August 15, 2010.

The LRT 1 North Extension is also expected to be completed in May next year, which will cost around P6.32 billion.

The project involves the extension of LRT 1 to the North Avenue station of MRT 3, the construction of two new intermediate stations— Balintawak and Roosevelt—and a terminal station, the LRT 1 North Avenue station.

Once running, the LRT 1 North Extension is expected to serve about 800,000 to 1 million passengers.

The 20-kilometer MRT 7, meanwhile, would cost around $1.235 billion and will run from San Jose del Monte station in Bulacan to SM City station in North Avenue and would be linked to LRT Line 1 and MRT 3.

This line will begin its route from Tala, Caloocan City, passing through La Mesa dam reservoir, Fairview, Batasan, Diliman, Philcoa and end at EDSA-North Avenue.

It will serve an estimated two million commuters in the northern parts of Quezon City and Caloocan City.

Apart from the elevated transport system, ULC will also build a 17-kilometer, six-lane asphalt access road in Marilao, Bulacan that will lead to its depot in Tala.



Pinoys among top earners in U.S., census data bare

Dennis D. Estopace
Business Mirror

PINOYS in the United States remain among the top earners among foreign-born residents, according to a new analysis of data from the 2007 American Community Survey (ACS).

“Among the foreign-born, those from India, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines have the highest median household incomes,” a statement issued by the ACS on Friday said.

Median household income is $50,740 for the total population, $46,881 for the foreign-born population and $51,249 for the native population.

Indian-born US residents top the list with median household income at $91,195.

US Census Bureau data revealed the median family income of Filipinos is at $81,625 (P3.8 million at $1:P47). Individual per-capita income is set at $34,167 (P1.6 million), higher than the $26,688 US average. The average household size is 3.32 while the average family size is 3.72.

“The foreign-born from Somalia and the Dominican Republic had some of the lowest median household incomes,” the ACS statement said.

The Philippines is also the third-largest group of foreign-born US residents at 1.7 million, following China (1.9 million) and Mexico (more than 11.7 million people).

Most Filipinos are between 35 and 54 years, forming 42.9 percent of their total population in the US. Less than a percent (0.4 percent) are under 5 years old. The US Census Bureau data cited the median age at 46. The bulk of the Filipino population, 1.6 million, are above 15 years old.

Majority of the Philippine-born US residents are women (58.3 percent), majority of whom are categorized as married. Some 159,220 women above 15 years old were said to be never married.

“These new ‘selected population profiles’ highlight the diversity among the many different foreign-born groups in the United States,” Elizabeth Grieco, chief of the Census Bureau’s Immigration Statistics Staff, was quoted in the statement as saying.

“This diversity is due in part to the way the various communities were established, whether it be through labor migration, family reunification or refugee flows.”

Even before World War II, Filipinos have been recorded to have migrated voluntarily or involuntarily to their colonial master’s land. Majority of them populated Hawaii and California. Veterans who fought side-by-side American soldiers were also allowed to enter US borders, currently forming 4.8 percent in the Census Bureau’s data.

The data also reveal majority of the Philippine foreign-born US residents are in the labor force (68.6 percent). Forty-two percent of them are in management, professional and related occupations while less than a percent (0.3 percent) are in farming, fishing and forestry occupations in the US.

Majority (81.5 peercent) are said to be private wage and salary workers, while less than a percent (0.1 percent) are unpaid family workers. Hence, majority of Filipinos (69 percent) can afford to own a house; the rest are renting. The US Census Bureau data revealed that on average, nearly four people occupy an owned housing unit, and nearly three in a renter-occupied unit. Gross rent is $985.

Majority of them live in units built between 1960 and 1979 (26.1 peercent), while only 8 percent live in structures built before the war (1939 or earlier). Majority of Filipinos also spend less than 30 percent of their household income on their mortgage while 46.5 percent said 30 percent or more of their income go into their units.