Saturday, 28 March 2009

Philippines one of the best performing economies in Asia


Press Secretary Cerge Remonde this morning said that the Philippines is now recognized as one of the best performing economies of Asia, thanks to President Arroyo's economic and fiscal policies.

In an interview with Radyo ng Bayan, Remonde cited Business World's report, showing "the peso has outperformed most of the emerging market currencies so far this year and is likely to prove a strong value in 2009 as the Philippine economy is least vulnerable to the factors of hammering markets elsewhere."

Remonde added that "the Philippines will likely be the only nation in Southeast Asia to post a sharp pick-up on its balance of payment surplus in 2009, partly, the result of loans and privatized proceeds. So, talagang dapat din nating malaman na kinikilala talaga ang ating bansa ngayon bilang the best performing economy in Southeast Asia despite the global crisis."

Reports said the U.S. is now showing signs of improvement and recovery from the crisis, which Remonde said will augur well for the Philippines and the rest of the world. "As you know, may kasabihan nga na that when America is sick, the rest of the world catches a cold. And it is precisely that reason na noong nagkaroon ng pag-collapse iyong mga financial houses ng Amerika ang buong mundo ngayon ay naharap itong global economic crisis."

"Buti na lamang dahil sa vision at determination ng ating Pangulo, we are not as badly affected as the rest of the world," Remonde said.

Besides, he said, under President Arroyo the Philippines diversified its export market and now "medyo iyong percentage ng ating international trade with the US has already gone down a bit compared to the previous years. So, we have become less dependent on the US for trade though the US remains our major trading partner and a world political and economic leader."

Remonde repeated that President Arroyo has her plate full, attending to her economic programs, creating jobs and addressing poverty and hunger rather than political issues like charter change.

"As I have already pointed out, si Pangulong Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ay wala ng panahon diyan sa mga pulitikang usapin. Dahil siya po ay nakatutok po sa ating ekonomiya at sa paglikha ng trabaho," Remonde stressed anew.

"By continuing investment in hunger mitigation programs, the President seemed to have succeeded in this area as borne by the Social Weather Station's February survey, showing hunger incidence dipping to only 15.5 percent," Remonde said.

"Ang sinabi nga ng Pangulo sa kanyang talumpati kahapon na patuloy ang investment ng ating gobyerno sa mga food for work programs, food for school programs, livelihood programs at ipagpatuloy at i-eexpand po ang pakikipagtulungan ng ating gobyerno sa simbahan at iba pang mga faith-based organizations na magkakaroon ng mga joint projects like feeding programs and livelihood programs po diyan."

Finally, he said that the Department of Public Works and Highways is now rushing its construction of a major road project that will link Surigao with Davao. This biggest road project for Mindanao was discussed in the Cabinet meeting in Misamis Oriental where the President tasked DPWH to work 24/7 to ensure its completion.

He added that the President will inaugurate today the P218 million provincial government complex in Maguindanao which will house the provincial Capitol, sports and social centers and other government offices. Of the P215 million, P25 million came from the President's Social Fund. She will lead the ribbon cutting to be assisted by ARMM Regional Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, the Maguindanao Governor, and Cabinet Officer for Regional Development of ARMM, Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, and other top local officials.

Billionaires' net worth decline everywhere except in the Philippines, Nigeria and UAE

Surveying The Damage
03.11.09, 06:00 PM EDT

Wealth has vanished all over the world. This map depicts the change in the number of billionaires in each country over the past 12 months -- and how the $2 trillion decline in collective net worth among the world's billionaires was divvied up. Poland and Kazakhstan sustained the largest percentage losses of wealth, while the U.S. had the largest net loss of billionaires. Only three spots on the map showed gains: Nigeria, The United Arab Emirates, and The Philippines.

Philippine poll body relaxes automation bid requirement


MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections Special Bids and Awards Committee chairman Ferdinand Rafanan says the poll body has decided to relax the eligibility requirement for bidders to the P11.3 billion automation project to encourage more participation Video report by reporter Anna Valmero.

Philippines may produce 27% more gold this year

By Luzi Ann Javier and Haslinda Amin
Manila Standard

THE Philippines may this year produce 27 percent more gold, its most valuable metal export, as mining companies start new projects or expand mines to meet rising demand, the government said yesterday.

Output will expand to 1.45 million ounces, from 1.14 million ounces last year, according to a government estimate provided yesterday.

Production might rise to 2 million ounces by 2012, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza said.

Gold has gained 6 percent this year as investors buy the precious metal to act as a haven asset as the dollar weakened and equities globally dropped.

“While the global crisis exists, gold will always be a very sound investment,” Atienza said in a Bloomberg television interview in Singapore Thursday. He forecasts “a steady growth” in bullion prices.

Gold for immediate delivery fell 0.2 percent to $932.24 an ounce at 12:49 p.m. Singapore time.

The value of the Philippines’ resources sales, including gold, copper, silver and nickel, might rise 42 percent to $2.1 billion this year from 2008, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said.

CGA Mining and its Philippine partner, Filminera Resources Corp., would produce 163,000 ounces of gold this year from their Masbate mine, the bureau said.

Nickel laterite ore production in the Philippines will drop by more than half to 4.05 million tons, from 8.28 million tons a year ago, as demand for the raw material used to produce pig iron plunges, according to the government.

Meanwhile, gold traded little changed in Asia as a rally in equities reduced investor demand for the precious metal as a haven and store of value.

Bullion is down 1.9 percent this week as the benchmark MSCI Asia Pacific Index rallied 7.5 percent.

Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest exchange-traded fund backed by the metal, stood unchanged at a record 1,124.99 metric tons on Wednesday, according to figures on the company’s Web site.

“Commodities are likely to depend on US dollar movements and risk appetite,” Tobias Merath, head of commodity research at Credit Suisse Group in Singapore, wrote in a note Wednesday.

“Recent volatility in risk appetite causes investor interest to shift quickly. Speculative positioning suggests that there is further potential for profit-taking to weigh on gold prices.”

Gold for immediate delivery was up 0.2 percent at $935.45 an ounce at 2:28 p.m. in Singapore, after rising to $938.15 an ounce earlier.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen 5.9 percent this week on optimism the global economy is stabilizing and credit markets may be revived after a US government plan to help investors buy toxic assets.

The dollar last traded at $1.3584 per euro from $1.3583 on Wednesday.

Among other precious metals for immediate delivery, silver was down 0.2 percent at $13.46 an ounce, platinum rose 1.2 percent to $1,137.75 an ounce, and palladium was unchanged at $215.50 an ounce at 1:58 p.m. in Singapore.

Philippine electronics workers to get 6-month pay package

By Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

SAN JUAN, Batangas—The government will spend P100 million to shoulder half the minimum wage of thousands of workers who would otherwise be laid off by the electronics industry as a stopgap measure to prevent further job losses, President Arroyo said yesterday.

Under an agreement worked out with the electronics companies, the government will also pay for the workers’ food and transportation allowances while they undergo training at the Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority.

The electronics companies in turn will keep the workers on their payroll and shoulder half their salaries, and in the expectation of putting them back to work when world demand for their products picks up again.

“Many electronic companies have requested for subsidies for their workers” Mrs. Arroyo said.

They know that the electronics sector will soon pick up and come back. They don’t want to lose their workers and they’d like to keep them on their payroll if they can even if they’re not really working.

“So the idea is to pay them half of the minimum wage while they are training. Tesda will help them with the scholarship for the training so that when the market comes back they are now more skilled,” the President added.

“The government must provide incentives to help the private sector keep and create jobs.”

Without saying how many workers were involved, Mrs. Arroyo said the government could sustain the program for about six months to prevent further job losses in the face of a global recession.

Tesda had released P10 million as start-up fund for the program, which would be implemented in cooperation with the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc., Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said.

Roque said the government, through Tesda, would give the affected workers P100 a day for food and transportation.

SEIPI president Ernesto Santiago said even employed workers who had off hours could benefit from free training, but would receive a smaller daily allowance of P60.

Workers who would otherwise be laid off would receive roughly P200 from their employers during their training with Tesda, or about half of the P386 daily minimum wage.

“Any help for the industry is favorable, particularly the training. With this, our laid-off workers and those currently employed can receive training as we prepare for the economic upturn,” Santiago said.

He said the training would cost about P10 million per cycle for a total of 10 cycles.

Mrs. Arroyo said the program would prevent more workers from getting laid off and prepare the industry for the expected revival during the second half of the year.

Roque said Tesda could finance the training of all electronics workers, and especially now that the agency’s budget had been doubled to P2 billion.

“Last year, when Tesda’s budget was only P1 billion, they were able to train 170,000 workers. Now that their budget has been doubled, we can expect them to be able to absorb some 340,000 workers for training,” Roque said.

Philippine exports, dominated by electronics, slumped by 41 percent in January from the same period in 2008, its steepest fall since the global economic crisis hit demand for locally made products.

Dennis Arroyo, policy planning director of the National Economic and Development Authority, said the semiconductor and electronics industry expected business to recover by the third or fourth quarter of the year.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Philippines' San Miguel 2008 net profit up 124%

11 hours ago

MANILA (AFP) — San Miguel Corp., one of the Philippines' largest companies, said Thursday that net profits rose 124 percent from a year earlier to 19.3 billion pesos (400.5 million dollars) in 2008, mostly through asset sales amid flat demand.

The group, known for its beer but which is rapidly diversifying into heavy industries, said net profit excluding "non-recurring gains on sale of investments and properties" rose 4.0 percent to 7.22 billion pesos.

Sales grew 14 percent to 168 billion pesos.

San Miguel president Ramon Ang said "a combination of operating leverage and tighter reining in on costs" allowed the company to grow its profits amidst difficult market conditions.

It said the economic downturn had affected volumes in its beer business in China, with Hong Kong volumes rising a mere five percent.

The Vietnam brewery also suffered a volume decline while brewing operations in Indonesia and Thailand grew robustly in contrast.

Its majority-owned domestic brewing business, San Miguel Brewery Inc., saw a 25 percent rise in net profit to 10 billion pesos, with sales up 11 percent to 48.79 billion pesos.

Hard liquor unit Ginebra San Miguel suffered a 291 million-peso net loss.
San Miguel said poultry operations remained healthy with 15 percent revenue growth to 48.81 billion pesos, while its milling, dairy, oils and fats segments were affected by a "rise in raw materials costs."

Ang said: "It's been a significant year in the continuing strategic evolution of San Miguel Corporation with our company entering the power, energy and telecommunications sectors."

In the past year San Miguel has agreed to sell a 43.25 percent stake in its domestic brewing business to Japan brewer Kirin and signed a deal to acquire a 50.1 percent stake in top refiner Petron Corp. from London-based Ashmore Group.

It also struck a deal with Qatar Telecom to go into the telecommunications business in the Philippines and acquired a 27 percent stake in top Philippines power distributor Manila Electric Co.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

UP group proposes 15% VAT to shore up budget

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
With Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

THREE economists from the University of the Philippines yesterday made major economic proposals to the next president, including one that would raise the value-added tax to 15 percent from 12 percent to strengthen the government’s fiscal position.

In the third Ricardo Romulo lecture series at the Dusit Hotel in Makati City, former Cabinet ministers under the Estrada administration and now UP economics professors Dante Canlas, Felipe Medalla and Benjamin Diokno listed several proposals for a new economic roadmap that would help the next administration address the global and domestic challenges ahead.

The lecture series was organized by the Makati Business Club in cooperation with the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

Canlas, a former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, said the challenge for the next president, who will be elected in 2010, was to achieve sustained economic growth and employment and macroeconomic and consumer price stability.

Diokno, a former budget secretary, said the success of the next administration would depend on the availability of financial resources, citing the need to raise the country’s tax effort by expanding the revenue base.

He predicted that the Bureau of Internal Revenue would face a revenue shortfall of P100 billion in the face of the global financial downturn this year, while the government’s fiscal deficit would exceed P200 billion.

“The first order of business for the next administration is to broaden the tax base,” Diokno said as he cited the need to rationalize the fiscal incentives given to companies, reform excise taxes, and make self-employed professionals like doctors and lawyers pay the correct taxes.

While the UP economists pushed for an increase in the VAT rate, they said the corporate income tax rate should be brought down to 25 percent from 30 percent.

“We should impose higher taxes on consumption and reduce taxes on income,” Diokno said. “Hard work should be rewarded.”

Diokno also proposed a national tax on property to be collected by municipalities. He said many local government units did not collect real estate taxes.

Medalla said the next administration should spend tax collections on infrastructure development and on doles to the poorest of the poor. Giving the poor cash was acceptable as long as they used the money to keep their children in school, he said.

Diokno said it would take P25 billion a year to give cash to the poor all over the country to help them survive the hard times.

The UP economists said that money should come from the savings to be had from the abolition of the National Food Authority, which lost P75 billion last year.

President Arroyo said it was possible that new taxes would be imposed during the remainder of her term, including a tax on text messages.

She said the government needed all the revenue it could generate to keep the deficit at bay.

“We have to compare our deficit with other countries,” she said.

“We have to make sure our deficit as a percentage of our gross domestic product is within the standards... because we have to be fiscally prudent.”

She declined to comment on a proposal in the House to impose a fee on every text message sent, saying she would wait for the results of the committee hearings.

P250-million shipbuilding facility to rise in General Santos City


MAASIM, SARANGANI — A Filipino-owned company based in this province announced in a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this week that it will put up a P250-million shipbuilding facility at the Gensan Ship-yard, read a statement of the Mindanao Economic Development Council, or MEDCo, yesterday.

The Gensan Shipyard and Machine Works, Inc. (GSMWI), a member of the RD Group of Companies, will build twin slip-ways with a combined capacity of 10,000 gross registered tons (GRT) and is proposed to be operational within the year.

Business and jobs

The facility is expected to cater to the transportation and logistics needs in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

"The Philippines and most ASEAN countries need shipsto transport their products," the statement quoted Rodrigo E. Rivera, Sr., RD Group chairman and chief executive officer, as saying.

When completed and fully operational, the shipbuilding project should be able to generate about 700 jobs, the statement read further.

Mr. Rivera added that the project will support the roll on/roll off sea transport program of the government and medium-sized vessel construction for export to other Southeast Asian markets.


The project is also seen to contribute to the growth of the Maasim-Kiamba-Maitum growth area, with its strategic location to the BIMP-EAGA.

MEDCo chairman Virgilio L. Leyretana, Sr. said the shipyard will enable Mindanao to more actively participate in BIMP-EAGA trade and investment.

The statement said GSMWI estimates the new shipyard to bring in about $1.5 million in the first year of operation, with revenues increasing 20% annually from there on.

A MEDCo report said that investments in Mindanao doubled to P10.583 billion in the third quarter last year from P5.053 billion in the same period in 2007.

The Gensan Shipyard now has two floating dry docks with a combined lifting capacity of about 4,000 GRT and occupies approximately 185,000 square meters.

Expansion works at the shipyard are now in varying stages of completion.

"We need more of these initiatives in our efforts to enhance transportation of goods and commodities, and to push for connectivity of our transport sector in Mindanao and in BIMP-EAGA," Mr. Leyretana said.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Update photos: Laguindingan Airport project


The greatest financial gamble, Part 2

John Mangun
Business Mirror

The US government just took the biggest financial and policy gamble in the history of the civilized world. That is not an exaggeration. And win or lose, the US Treasury’s move last week will determine the next five years of the US economy, the global financial condition, and will affect you right here in the Philippines.

The US Treasury is embarking on a financial scheme to buy the bad loans of approximately 30 large banks using non-budgeted funds. That means that, in effect, the Treasury will be printing money to pay for some $700 billion of these loans.

The immediate effect was seen in the 6-percent spike in the New York stock market as the banking and financial stocks led the rally. However, the stated purpose of this plan is not to bail out the banks but to provide more funds for consumer and business lending.

If the purpose were to merely prop up the financial institutions and the stock market, this is a great idea and it will work. But if the purpose is to jumpstart a falling US economy, it is doomed to failure. Here is why.

The economic growth of the United States in the last 10 years was accomplished by borrowing money at all levels, consumer, business and government. In 1998, the total amount of household debt was 6 $6 trillion; in 2008, that amount had ballooned to $16 trillion. Now here is something very interesting. During that same period, the amount of workers as a percentage of the total population declined from nearly 65 percent to now just over 60 percent. What this means is that wealth was not being created by people making things, providing services or even pushing paper around. “Wealth” was being created by borrowing. All those houses, cars, DVD players, were not paid for by working but by borrowing. In reality, the economic growth of the exporters like China was also paid for by Americans borrowing, not producing.

As I said on Tuesday, the Treasury plan is based on the assumption that the only way to get the American economy moving is for Americans to start spending. And the formula is to encourage by whatever means possible American consumers to start borrowing to start spending. As a method to jumpstart the economy, it is doomed to failure. The problem is not that the banks cannot lend, but that borrowers have borrowed too much.

The US economy crashed because Americans had taken on too much debt over the last 10 years. This plan will not help the housing market because 90 percent of those who lost their homes could not afford to handle the debt payments in the first place. They cannot do it now, either. Rising unemployment has moved more people out of being able to borrow more. Even those who are financially sound and secure are unlikely to add more debt in any significant amounts.

One way to reduce the overall debt burden is to create inflation by printing more money. If inflation starts going up, nominal wages will also rise, creating more money to pay off debt. Imagine if your income suddenly increased by 10 percent but all prices increased also. You would have more cash to pay off your credit card because that balance would not go up. With inflation, all wages and prices will rise and the purchasing power will go down, but the debt level will drop. And that is already happening. Oil is up from $35 to $55.

What happens to the world? China is severely damaged, to put it politely. Its $1-trillion plus foreign reserves just lost 5 percent of their value and will lose more. The nominal rise in the price of oil is going to leave Americans with less cash to buy Chinese products. And those products will cost more for Americans.

Global stock markets will benefit much more than the United States. The potential for further depreciation of the dollar will make countries like the Philippines, Brazil and similar others that are not dependent on the US consumer see much higher stock markets.

The Philippines outsourcing business will grow even faster as wage inflation in the United States takes its toll on companies seeking to reduce costs. Further, with anticipated tax increases, companies will look for opportunities to do business in nations that offer tax incentives like the Philippines.

A depreciating dollar will cause the Philippine peso to appreciate, reducing the cost of our imported items such as oil. And because our exports have very small impact on the overall economy, we will not suffer as the major exporting countries.

There will be a gradual and increasing inflow of foreign money into the Philippines for both the stock market and as a place to park funds. Our comparatively high interest rates will attract short-term bank deposits and the purchase of government debt.

Unwittingly, the US plan will have greater benefits for the global economy than for its own. By flooding its economy with inflated currency, the United States has made other currencies more valuable and, therefore, other economies more valuable. As inflation increases in the United States, money will look to non-inflationary economies. As the United States cuts back on its imports, nations like China will be forced to reduce prices on their products.

The United States catches cold and the Philippines only sneezes. Buy pesos, not dollars. Buy Philippine stock-market issues. I guarantee you will be richer by year-end. Oh, and as always, buy local, not imported.

PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by Inc. E-mail comments to

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Philippine travel: Manila and north of Manila

Jim Wheildon on what to expect from Manila plus Laoag in the north - and sidetrips to Baguio and One Hundred Islands National Park
Times Online

I’m Going Back to the Philippines was a hit song for Menudo in the 1980s and this poor but beautiful country of more than 7,000 islands is a great place to keep going back to, especially over Christmas, when the weather is warm but not baking and the Filipinos’ love for a party and still strong adherence to the Catholic Church mean an unending series of parties, celebrations and get-togethers over the festive period.

The Spanish and American influences after centuries of colonial rule are unmissable. There are fantastic beaches and a thriving nightlife.

The sex tourists love this place and it rivals Thailand for attracting them, but you can have a great time here without having to step into the raucous red-light areas.

It is, however, difficult to avoid stepping into Manila. For the vast majority of visitors to the Philippines, this is the first port of call and the capital has an edge. Tread carefully, especially when leaving Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and this is a city with a lot to offer.

Just make sure the airport taxi is bona fide and keep a firm hold on your common sense and the worse thing you are likely to experience, over the Christmas period anyway, is endless renditions of Joy to the World sung by persistent waifs seeking to relieve you of any spare change.

There is plenty to see and do in Manila. But if time is short, do not miss a drink in the Manila Hotel’s wood-panelled bar.

This famous hotel, where General Douglas MacArthur lived for six years until the Japanese invasion, is as evocotive as Hong Kong’s Peninsula or Bangkok’s Oriental. If you strike lucky, the orchestra will be playing in the lobby.

From the hotel, cross the ever-busy Roxas Boulevard that runs parallel to the palm-fringed Manila Bay, and enter Rizal Park. Here sentries maintain a 24-hour-a-day guard of the memorial to the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, executed for spreading ideals of revolution against Spanish rule.

Dotted around the park are various key government buildings and the National National Museum of the Philippines. Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President, is a mile away.

Within walking distance of Rizal Park (also known as Lunetta) is the Intramuros, the old Spanish capital of Manila, with its canonball-riddled walls — some of the damage caused by the British when they captured the city from the Spanish in 1762.

The cathedral, constantly rebuilt after being destroyed by earthquakes, is worth a look and outside you can pick up a kalesa (horse taxi) to see the walls. An hour's tour costs about £7. Today the Intramuros is a favourite place for wedding receptions and the jail cells set into the wall are mini factories, just like at London Bridge.

Two miles south of the park, right between the American Embassy and the weirdly shaped Cultural Centre (it looks like a gigantic blacksmith anvil), take the chance to go on a sunset cruise round Manila Bay. It lasts up to a couple of hours and is an excellent way to see this city, which looks at its best from the water. (Manila’s streets are pot-holed, dirty and crowded.)

The cruise goes to the huge SM Mall of Asia shopping complex, but fortunately doesn’t stop there. The place is a madhouse but no doubt paradise for the shopoholics.

On Fridays and Saturdays, passengers can watch the fireworks set off at the edge of the mall, which is as near I want to get to it, having experienced the place a couple of years ago. (Good to have an ice rink on site though.)

Back on dry land, take a trip to Makati perhaps in one of the flamboyant and usually crowded jeepneys that plough along the streets of every town and city in the Philippines. Makati is Manila’s business district and is noticeably cleaner and smarter than the Bay area and has a less frenetic pace.

It is a good place to stay. There are plenty of excellent hotels in the area and a walk down Makati Avenue brings you past various statues to Filipino resistance heros (and heroine in the case of Melchora Aquino) to yet another huge shopping complex, the Gloriana [sic--"Glorietta"].

There is a superb museum, the Ayala, which is much better than the National Museum. The Ayala, sited in Makati's Greenbelt Park, displays gold discoveries from the pre-Spanish era, finely crafted ship models, Chinese pottery, costumes, superb artwork that gives pride of place to Fernando Amorsolo, heralded as the country’s first national artist, and the women who inspired him, and best of all “the Diorama Experience” - a series of 60 carvings and paintings that display the country’s history from the prehistoric, to trading with the Chinese, the centuries of Spanish rule, to the recognition of Philippine independence by the United States in 1946. (One of the scenes shows the British fighting in Manila).

Outside the capital, there is a bewildering choice of islands and towns to visit.

My choice was decided by my wife, who comes from Laoag in the far north of the country’s main island, Luzon. This Christmas we took the Manila “highway" 250 miles north to Laoag city. (We usually take the easy option of flying, which takes just under an hour.

The coach journey means up to ten hours travelling on the crowded highway, but at least there is a view from the window though there is virtually no countryside to be seen). The long and winding road was lit up with Christmas lights and trees -- the tacky and the gaudy being especially popular.

The Government has tried to tone down the festivities and has told schools not to charge parents for putting up elaborate decorations. Nobody seemed to be taking notice on this highway.

Laoag itself does not have the charm of other cities such as Cebu. The capital of Ilocos Norte province, Laoag is a bustling, crowded city where the jeepneys, tuk-tuk motorbike taxis and kalesas jostle for road space. The key road is Rizal Street and halfway down it is the long established 5 Sisters store, an amazing mix of bargain clothes, toys, electronics, food and drink — Philippine “London” gin at around £2 a bottle.

Near the bridge to the Manila highway are the city’s two principal sights — St William’s Cathedral and its neighbouring sinking Spanish bell tower. Legend has it that a man on a horse could pass through tower’s entrance when it was built in 1612, now you have to duck as you climb up the stairs. At the top is the grand view you would expect, but to get in ask at the cathedral for a guide, who will open up for you.

The 17th century cathedral itself, like so many others, has seen its share of the action — earthquake damage, occupation by rebels against Spanish rule, etc. Today it gives thanks to former President Marcos and his wife Imelda for supplying its chandeliers.

Laoag was Marcos’s power base and the region’s government building is still carries the inscription “Marcos Halls of Justice”. Until recently, the couple’s son, Bong Bong, was the region’s Governor (he is now a national congressman). The old president, who died in 1989 three years after being ousted from power, can be still seen, in frozen glory, lying in state at nearby Batac.

Whether it really his body that I viewed to the booming sound of funeral music is debatable, espcially given the electric powercuts that bedevil the country. Next door is a museum devoted to the dictator’s life and times, and not far away lies the World Heritage protected church of Paoay, part built with coral stone. “Malacañang of the North”, built for the Marcoses to entertain in their home province, is also close by and looks across Lake Paoay.

If you visit this northern part of the Philippines, make some time for Pagudpud, 60km from Laoag. Coral lies strewn across its windy, white sand beaches, though by claiming to be the Boracay of the North is overdoing its act (The tropical island beach resort of Boracay, 350km south of Manila, is a top Southeast Asian tourist attraction.)

One tip, the further you walk from the beaches, the less you pay for much nicer accommodation. On the drive from Laoag, you can see the windfarms set in the South China Sea and climb up the country’s tallest lighthouse, Cape Bojeador at Burgos, built in 1892.

I did manage to see Baguio on this trip, the mountainous city 205km north of Manila on the main island of Luzon that had long been on my list of places to visit. I had pictured beautiful mountain scenery and a welcoming cooler climate. I was expecting Simla; I got Calcutta.

A little cooler than Manila or Laoag admittedly, Baguio was a big disappointment. The Americans laid the city round Burnham Park and I stayed right alongside the park, which was unlit and locked up at night — and this, the city’s centrepiece. The surrounding and very crowded streets buzzed to a constant throb of heavy traffic. The shops were disappointing. The city centre in this university town simply lacks class.

The cathedral has a stunning location in Baguio, or rather it would have if the shanty adjacent buildings and billboards did not obliterate the views of the surrounding mountains.

The nearby former American base, Camp John Hay, offers a welcoming escape. It is the city’s most popular attraction. Open to the public since 1991 when the US troops pulled out, it is a place to play golf, go horse riding, try abseilling, visit a butterfly enclosure — and to sample American ice creams.

Very good, too. Make time to tour the Commander’s House, which boasts a totem pole outside of the carved heads of VIP visitors, Teddy Roosevelt among them. This base, named after a turn of the 20th century Secretary of State, was used by the Japanese as a concentration camp for American and British soldiers during the Second World War.

A two-hour drive from Baguio, crossing over the Manila highway, lies One Hundred Islands National Park. Three are actually more than a hundred islands and they offer a sanctuary from the noise and crowds. Accommodation is available, but it is limited and can be expensive.

However, a day is more than enough time to take a boat out to some of the islands, enjoy a swim and a meal, and explore the odd cave or clamber up to the lookout spots for some wonderful views. We returned to the mainland as the sun set; it was an idyllic journey.

Even with the pound’s fall from grace (today you get less than 70 pesos to the pound; two years ago it was 100), this is an inexpensive country to visit once the long air journey is over (Manila is one and a half hours flying time further than Hong Kong). There are some fine restaurants, but Indian food has yet to establish a presence. Wine can be expensive. Stick to the ubiquitous and excellent San Miguel beer to keep the bills down.

The Foreign Office warns that there is a high threat from terrorism throughout the Philippines. There certainly is in the far south, which has long suffered from terrorist activity.

Last Christmas was my tenth visit to the country and I have always found it safe, providing you do not leave your common sense at home. People are very welcoming. English visitors are still a novelty and there is plenty to see and do. With its warm climate, superb beaches and widespread use of English, Spanish and American influences in the culture and architecture, the Philippines is well worth setting time aside for, especially on any tour of South-East Asia.

Philippines investing P2B more for irrigation in North Luzon

PGMA orders release of P2-billion for NLAQ irrigation projects

STO. TOMAS, Pangasinan (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today ordered the release of P2-billion for the repairs, rehabilitation and restoration of neglected irrigation systems in the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (NLAQ) during a full Cabinet meeting here.

The meeting was held at the rest house of Presidential Anti-smuggling Group (PASG) chief Antonio Villar in Barangay San Antonio of this town.

The President’s order was in response to the presentation of NLAQ Super Region Development champion and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, who said farmers in the region need adequate logistical support to increase their productivity and boost national food security.

The additional allocation, Yap said, will enable the National Irrigation Administration “to rehabilitate irrigation systems servicing about 16,726 hectares and restore similar systems irrigating 34,911 hectares within the NLAQ area."

The amount will also partly fund the ongoing major irrigation projects in NLAQ, including the Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project in Pangasinan and the Balintingon Multi-Purpose Irrigation Project in Nueva Ecija, that will expand irrigated lands in their surrounding areas by 20 per cent.

One of the notable projects already completed in NLAQ is the La Trinidad Minimal Processing Plant which enables farmers to process about five tons of vegetables per day or 2–3 tons of meat products per day.

This facility ensures the sanitation and freshness of the vegetables and meat products and increases their shelf life to one week.

Other completed projects in the super region are the San Fernando Airport in La Union, the 33 megawatt (MW) Bangui Bay Wind Power Project (Phase II), and the Dingalan Port Development Project in Aurora Province.

The Cabinet Meeting here in Pangasinan is the fifth in a series of Super Region meetings.

Out-of-town cabinet meetings have recently been held in various parts of the country including Pampanga, Boracay, and Misamis Oriental where the status and accomplishments of infrastructure projects in the Luzon Urban Beltway, Cyber Philippines, Central Philippines, and the Mindanao Agribusiness region were discussed.

Newly-built port and road in San Juan, Batangas await inauguration by PGMA


SAN JUAN, Batangas (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will visit this town tomorrow to inaugurate the newly-completed Port of San Juan, that would provide better transport facilities and livelihood services for the people and Southern Tagalog through the Roll-On, Roll-Off Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH).

Aside from the inauguration of the Port of San Juan, the President will also lead the ceremonial drive-thru of San Juan Laiya Road project that would further enhance the booming tourism industry in Batangas.

San Juan Mayor Danilo Mindanao said the opening and development of the Port of San Juan in Barangay Subukin, just 10 minutes drive from the popular Laiya Beach Resorts here, is expected to increase the levels of living of the residents and make Laiya as an alternative tourist destination.

“The development of the Port of San Juan is a testament to the successful efforts of the national government to provide better transport facilities and services to my constituents. The Port is envisioned to realize the gains of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway,” Mayor Mindanao said.

He added that this port is very vital to the economy of San Juan because it will bolster the trading partnership of his town with Marinduque, Romblon, Mindoro and Masbate through the use of ro-ro vessels.

Immediately upon her arrival here from Coron, Palawan, the President will lead the ceremonial drive-thru of the newly-constructed Subukin Access road going to the port, to be followed by the unveiling of the port project marker and a project briefing of Transportation and Communication Secretary Leando Mendoza.

On hand to assist the President in the inaugural drive-thru and unveiling rites are: Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, 1st District Rep. Eileen Ermita-Bonoan, 4th District Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza, 3rd District Rep. Victoria Reyes, 2nd District Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, Mayor Mindanao and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) general manager Oscar Sevilla, and among others.

Completed in 2006 with a total project cost of P43,642,242.38, the port covers the construction of rock causeway (9.0m x 378m), Ro-Ro ramp (11m x 9m), access trestle (42m x 9m), breasting dolphin or docking protectors (2 sets), mooring and fendering system, and port lighting system.

Meanwhile, the Subukin Port Access concrete Road, which was completed last December 2008 with at total cost of P40 million, is about a kilometer in length with sidewalks and drainage structures on both sides.

After the inauguration of the port, the President will also lead the ceremonial drive-thru of the San Juan-Laiya road project.

Being an integral part of the Batangas City-Lucena City Coastal Road, the improvement of San Juan Laiya Road is aimed to promote the Batangas-Quezon Eco-Tourism destination.

One of the important sections of the San Juan-Laiya Road is the Aplaya Section, where famous and beautiful beach resorts of international standards are located, such as the Aquatico Resort, Kabayan Resort, Blue Coral Resort, Palm Beach Resort, Sea Escape Resort, Sabangan Resort, Virgin Beach Resort, Porto Laiya Beach Resort.

And to further promote the beach resorts in Batangas, the country’s top land developers like Landco Pacific and Active Group, are putting up residential-resorts community, golf courses and hotels.

Started on March 2008 and completed on Sept. 2008 at a total cost of P60 million, the Laiya Aplaya Road Section features a two-lane carriageway with drainage and shoulders on both sides, with a length of 3.50 km.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Philippine airport project 30% complete

Photo from

Annabelle L. Ricalde

AN OFFICIAL of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said Monday the P7.8 billion Laguindingan Airport is now almost one third complete.

Engineer Della Capicenio, Laguindingan Airport Project Development (LAPD) project manager, said that with the current rate of construction, the multi-billion peso airport project may be completed ahead of the January 17, 2012 target date.

"The scheduled target accomplishment is on January 17, 2012 but currently we have revised the schedule since as of March 15, 2009 the airport is now 29.51 percent complete," Capiceno said over the weekend.

Capicenio said the airport's runway is scheduled to be completed next year and the access road to the airport, now 80 per cent complete, is expected to be finished by June this year.

The airport is a flagship project of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo under the Mindanao Super Regions Program.

With this development, Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar Moreno said he is confident the construction of the Laguindingan Airport, undertaken by Korean contractor Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corporation, is on track.

Moreno said the resolution of the case pending at the Court of Appeals (CA) regarding the remaining contested areas covered by the airport project will not affect the scheduled completion of the project even with a threat from an indigenous people’s (IP) group to declare a tribal war against the Korean contractor.

Hanjin, with the assistance of the military and the police, has been pushing on with the demolition of the remaining structures inside the LAPD site since last week.

Capicenio, however, said the demolitions are being done with the full consent of the owners.

The LAPD is funded partly from a loan secured by the Philippine government from the South Korean government. The breakdown of the total loan package for the project is as follows: from the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF), US$ 22.40 million (original loan); EDCF, US$ 8.2 million; Export Credit, US$ 62.75 million; Nordic Investment Bank (NIB), US$ 13.38 million; and the government of the Philippines, US$ 60.36 million for a total of US$ 167.09 (Php7.853 billion).

The loan is payable in 20 years, with a grace period of 10 years. Repayment of the loan, to be shouldered by the national government, will start in 2010.

15 hotels to open in the Philippines this year

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

FIFTEEN new hotels and resorts offering 2,000 rooms will open this year despite the economic downturn, the Tourism Department says.

The new properties are worth P20 billion, and they will be employing 3,000 workers, the department says.

It says some of these new properties have already opened, and they include 28 cluster villas under the Amanpulo Resorts, which owns Sugihara Villa Resort, Vauban Villa Resort, Salamanca Villa Resort, Almonavides Villa Resort, La Galice Villa Resort, Kapangyarihan Villa Resort, and La Pucelle Villa Resort.

Rates at the Amanpulo properties start at $1,150 a night.

Shangri La’s Boracay Resort & Spa, with 219 rooms, opened to guests on March 2 with daily rates of P20,500.

Discovery Bay Misibis on Cagraray Island, Albay, with 38 villas, also opened early this year with room rates starting at $305 a night.

The 75-room Park Bed and Breakfast Hotel and Restaurant in Pasay City, which is managed by Legend Hotels International Corp., has also opened, and its rates start at P1,500 a night.

The 50-room Microtel Inn and Suites in Puerto Princesa opened early this year, and it offers a daily rate of P3,800.

The largest hotel in Cebu, the 556-room Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort, will open on May 20, although it has yet to announce its room rates, the department says.

It says more hotels and resorts are opening in the second half of the year, including the 232-room Oakwood Premier Manila in Ortigas Center, which opens its doors to guests in the third quarter. The room rates at its sister facility, the Oakwood Makati, start at P10,000 a night.

The 100-room Picasso Serviced Residences in Salcedo Village, Makati, is expected to be completed by Ardent Development Corp. by the second half.

Also opening in the second half are two luxury hotels near the airport in Manila and beside the Villamor Championship Golf Course.

The Newport Marriott Hotel will have 365 guest rooms, and Maxims Hotel 170 suites.

The P500-million Silang Wakeboard Park is rising up on a 12-hectare plot of land in Silang, Cavite, and it’s expected to open by August.

The Manila Ocean Park in Rizal Park is building extra facilities including a boutique hotel.

The Tourism Department is also processing an application from Bella Roca Island Resort and Spa in Marinduque.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano says these new investments in tourism-related facilities and establishments are expected to add more than 2,000 new accommodation rooms and generate 3,000 jobs.

“With this initial list of investments, the country is assured of a vibrant tourism industry with bigger revenue and more jobs,” Durano said.

The new hotels and resorts will pay no taxes for four to six years and may import capital equipment tax-free if they are registered with the Board of Investments, according to Victoria Jasmin, director of the Office of Tourism Standards.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Bill is expected to result in more investment and create more tourism zones once it is signed into law.

The Senate and the House’s bicameral conference committee has approved the bill, which will give the Tourism Department powers beyond its marketing functions.

The greatest financial gamble

John Mangun
Business Mirror

The United States government just took the biggest financial and policy gamble in the history of the civilized world. That is not an exaggeration. And, win or lose, the US Treasury’s move last week will determine the next five years of the US economy, the global financial condition, and will affect you right here in the Philippines.

On Wednesday (Thursday, Manila time) the US Treasury announced it will buy $750 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities from the banks and about $300 billion in outstanding US Treasury debt. This is going to be complicated but, I assure you, it is vital to your personal wealth to understand what is going on.

The US government believes, correctly or incorrectly (and this is the key point), that the problem with the US economy is that people have stopped buying things, and this is because they cannot borrow the money to make those purchases. This seems to completely ignore the fact that reckless borrowing and subsequent spending is what got the United States into the economic problem in the first place.

However, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that point. Sitting here in the Philippines or in China or Europe, the rest of the world is like the bar or brothel owner catering to the American sailor on shore leave. If the sailor sells his shoes or robs a convenience store, no one cares as long as he uses the money to purchase our goods or services.

The $1.15-trillion Treasury move, in effect, dumps that amount of money into the economy in one giant shot. It is designed to immediately lower the most important interest rates, the two- to 10-year tenor, over which the Federal Reserve (Fed) has virtually no control. The way the interest-rate market works is that the Fed can control the shortest-term interest rates based on what they charge the banks to borrow money from the ultimate lending source, the Fed. The assumption is that the banks will then lower the longer-term rates that they charge borrowers.

By buying back the bad mortgages, the Fed will clean up the balance sheets of the banks by replacing bad assets with cold, hard cash, which the banks are now supposed to loan out. By buying existing Treasury debt from the open market, here, too, the Fed is replacing paper assets with cash. But the banks do not put that $1.15 trillion cash in their vaults. They go right back out and buy Treasury debt in the open market. Because the Fed has removed a large amount of existing debt from the market, these huge purchases from the banks drive interest yields and, therefore, rates down. The 10-year note interest rate fell from 2.95 percent to 2.5 percent. That is a huge drop, especially since it took only less than one hour to happen.

The purpose of this Fed move is to lower the interest rates that consumers must pay for house mortgages, car loans and the like. But this policy action is the biggest experiment of monetary policy in history. The Fed has increased the cash in circulation by nearly 50 percent. That is a tremendous amount of monetary inflation. The financial markets responded immediately by dropping the value of the dollar from €1.31 to €1.35. The dollar opened in Asia yesterday at €1.365.

“What no one really knows yet is the exact linkage between the formation of new money, and the formation of new credit. [Fed Chairman Benjamin] Bernanke and his Fed are gambling that a giant pulse of monetary inflation will reignite private lending. For every lender, there’s a borrower. The Fed will succeed if the problem in credit markets is the reluctance of lenders to write new loans. But if the problem turns out to be a lack of demand for credit, then all we’ll get out of this is stagflation”—Commentary Magazine.

Let me tell you a silly story. You car stalls at an intersection, not moving, just like the US economy. The boys run out to sacrifice themselves to push the car. Only, just hard work and sacrifice will not get the car (economy) going. At some point you must release the clutch and jump-start the situation by providing extra credit and cash. But if you release it too soon, not enough sacrifice has been made by the people (the car is not moving fast enough for the clutch to start it) and the car does not start simply with the clutch (extra credit and money). If you wait too long, though, the boys run out of their own energy and you cannot jump-start no matter how much clutch (money and credit) you use.

If this Fed move is premature, all that will happen is a massive depreciation of the dollar and very high US inflation because of too much money in circulation. The oil, gold and strategic metal markets are saying both will occur. If the Fed is wrong on its gamble, we will see $100+ oil and rising prices for other dollar-denominated global commodities.

But do not start panicking. The peso will then be at 20 to a US dollar. More analyses on the local effects on Thursday. Stay tuned. This is very important.

PSE stock-market information and technical-analysis tools were provided by Inc. E-mail comments to

Philippine poll automation budget approved

Emilia Narni J. David, Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo and Bernard U. Allauigan with Reuters

MALACAÑANG yesterday signed into law a supplemental bill allocating P11.3 billion for the lease of 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines to be used in the general elections next year.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the signing of Republic Act No. 9525 gave enough time for the scheduled auction for the PCOS lease contract this April 27, even as one political analyst warned that the resulting timetable leaves no room for error in project implementation.

"The signing is very good news, because our timeline can be followed as scheduled; although the signing has been expected for quite sometime because we have been moving forward with our plans since last week," Comelec Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento said in a phone interview yesterday.

Comelec had been worried over the uncertainty of this funding, saying last January that it needed the law passed before March in order to give it enough time to prepare for the automation of the 2010 polls.

Mr. Sarmiento added that there have been at least five companies that have bought the terms of reference documents, so far, since March 18. Interested parties have until tomorrow to acquire these documents, at P1 million each. The pre-bid conference has been scheduled next Friday.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel S. Claudio told Palace reporters, "We see no more obstacles to the implementation by Comelec of a fully automated election system."

Mr. Sarmiento said that he does not think there would be any hitches in the implementation of poll automation. "It is the belief of the Comelec and of our chairman that there would not be any problems. We have great confidence, but of course, we are prepared for the possibilities," he said.

While Mr. Sarmiento and Comelec chairman Jose A.R. Melo said that the poll body does not foresee any more problems, one political analyst advised the government to be cautious.

Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that time may be a big stumbling block for the full implementation of the automation law.

"There is no leeway in the schedule right now. If there is failure of bidding, it will be difficult to renegotiate. There are many possible hitches like the delivery of machines that are up to specificationsour current scheduleno longer allows for any mistakes," said Mr. Casiple in a separate interview.

He added that the timetable of the poll body must be followed to the letter, so that the Comelec does not revert to manual counting. Mr. Melo had earlier warned that the commission may be forced to go back to manual mode should the machines fail field tests.

Sen. Francis Joseph G. Escudero, Senate panel chairman of the joint congressional oversight committee on automated elections system, said in a mobile "text" message yesterday that a joint hearing will be conducted on March 30 to tackle details on how the oversight panel will monitor budget spending by the Comelec.

"This is the single, biggest contract in government right now. Maybe this is why so many people are pushing for immediate automation without even knowing how it will work," said the lawmaker in a statement.

He said that he voted against the supplementary budget because Comelec failed to provide information on what machines it would buy.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno, President Gloria M. Arroyo’s election strategist, said the automation of elections would mean that candidates would have to file nominations earlier than usual. Previously, nominations were done only four months before elections.

"They will have to file their certificates of candidacy by late November this year to allow the elections commission to print their names on the ballots," Mr. Puno said.

Meanwhile, Comelec also said that it has set aside April 20 next year for probable early voting in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"I am in favor of [holding the elections in ARMM early] so our attention and that of our security forces� will be focused in the ARMM. If that is the case there might be less shenanigans," Mr. Melo said in a media briefing.

But a bill for early elections must first be approved by Congress in order for early voting to be held.

The current 14th Congress reconvenes from its Lenten break this April 13 and will adjourn its second regular session on June 5. It convenes for its third, and last, regular session on July 27.

About 40-million Filipnos will vote for a new set of leaders,including the president, vice-president, 260 legislators and about 17,000 local officials in May next year.

It will be the first time that voting machines will be used in an election, and the results will be known within days of voting, instead of the month or so currently. Manual counting has also been blamed for chronic poll fraud. —

Monday, 23 March 2009

Philippines stands firm amid crisis


Philippine hunger index down


THE NUMBER OF FILIPINOS who experienced having nothing to eat has declined significantly from a record high hit last December, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

The government was quick to claim credit, saying interventions were having the desired effect. An economist agreed, but pointed out that the gains may not be sustained given downbeat expectations for the year.

The SWS survey, the results of which were made exclusive to BusinessWorld, found the proportion of families which experienced hunger at least once in the last three months down to 15.5%, equivalent to some 2.9 million households.

This was eight points better than December’s 23.7% (4.3 million families) and was similar to the level hit in March last year. It was also just three points above a ten-year average of 12.6%, the SWS said.

The independent survey research institution’s hunger measure refers to "involuntary suffering," where the respondents are asked a question which specifies going hungry due to the lack of anything to eat.

For the latest survey, 1,200 household heads — divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao — were asked "Nitong nakaraang tatlong buwan, nangyari po ba kahit minsan na ang inyong pamilya ay nakaranas ng gutom at walang makain? (In the last three months, has your family experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat?)"

Affirmative responses were then followed up with a question on how frequent the incidents were: once or a few times (classified by the SWS as moderate hunger), or often/always (severe hunger).

The decline in overall hunger in this case, the SWS said, can be traced to drops in both moderate (seven points) and severe (one point) hunger.

Moderate hunger eased to 11.1% or about two million families from December’s record high of 18.5% (3.3 million families). This was just two points higher the ten-year average of 9.3%, the SWS said. Those who did not state their frequency of hunger were counted in this category.

Severe hunger, meanwhile, dropped to 4.4% or about 810,000 families from 5.2% (940,000 families). The new figure is one point higher the ten-year average severe hunger rate of 3.4%.

Families in Mindanao and Metro Manila were the least hungry over the last three months, with total hunger the lowest in Mindanao at 11.7% (490,000 families), down 22 points from the record 33.7% in December.

In Metro Manila, the number improved to 17.3% (430,000 families) from 23.3%. Hunger also eased to 15% or about 1.2 million families from 20% in the rest of Luzon and to 19.7% or about 730,000 families from 20.7% in the Visayas.

Moderate hunger also eased substantially in Mindanao and Metro Manila, to 9.7% from a record 27.7% and to 11.7% from 18.3%, respectively. In the Visayas, it eased to 13.3% from 18% and was at 10.7% from 14% in the rest of Luzon.

"The latest moderate hunger rates remain higher than their ten-year averages for all areas except Mindanao, where its latest score of 9.7% is slightly lower than its ten-year average of 10.2%," the SWS said.

Severe hunger eased to 2% from 6% in Mindanao and to 4.3% from 6% in the rest of Luzon but went up in the Visayas, to 6.3% from 2.7%, and in Metro Manila, 5.7% from 5%.

"Except in Mindanao where the latest score of 2% is lower than its ten-year average of 4.5%, the new severe hunger rates remain higher than their ten-year averages," the SWS said.

Asked to comment, Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde said the results of the SWS survey showed the anti-hunger programs of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were "effective".

"It’s inspiring us not only to continue these programs but also to do more," he said in an interview. These include the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Food for School or Malusog na Simula Yaman ng Bansa Program, Healthy Start Feeding Program, and the Food for Work and Cash for Work Program, among others.

Conditional cash transfers (CCT) involved in the programs cover around 300,000 poor households and costs P10 billion a year. Each household must have a maximum of three children aged six to 14 to be entitled to a monthly doleout of P300 a month for 10 months. The money is given to the "most responsible adult" in the household through automated teller machine cards of state-run Land Bank of the Philippines.

"We hope this [hunger] trend continues because putting food on the tables of the poorest Filipino families is the priority of the President," Mr. Remonde said.

University of the Philippines economist Ernesto M. Pernia said CCTs had been proven effective in other countries.

"It’s apparently working here as well," he said.

The government, he added, should pump more money to pro-poor programs amid the global economic recession, noting that "It’s hard to say if this trend will continue because we have not seen the worst of 2009."

Philippines offers haven for crisis-hit executives

Many unemployed expats are shunning a return home for a relaxed and cheap Asian lifestyle
Simon Parry
Sunday Morning Post
Hong Kong, 22 March 2009

A black joke doing the rounds in Hong Kong's financial circles as the global economic crisis casts an ever-longer shadow goes like this: Q: "What's the definition of an optimist?" A: "A banker who has five shirts ironed on a Sunday."

It is a joke that Barry Emmerton--who lost his HK$120,000-a-month job as an interest rates derivatives specialist with its five-month, end-of-year bonus--can afford to smile at, even though the question of how many shirts he should iron is already an irrelevance.

Today, instead of waking up to the prospect of another nerve-shredding week in Hong Kong's money markets, the 34-year-old Briton is instead listening to the sound of the sea in a tropical beach house in the Philippines with his wife, Jo, and four-year-old daughter, Chloe.

On Wednesday, he handed over the keys to his HK$42,000-a-month apartment in Stanley, put most of his furniture and belongings into storage and, with just three small suitcases, a suit bag and a laptop computer, set out with his family for the adventure of a lifetime.

Mr Emmerton is one of a growing number of expatriates who have lost well-paid jobs in Hong Kong's financial sector and, rather than head home, put their worldly possessions in storage and head off to do something they would never otherwise have the opportunity to do.

Two major Hong Kong relocation companies--Crown and Relocasia--told the Sunday Morning Post that they had seen dramatic rises in calls and orders for storage facilities that far outstrip calls and orders from expatriates intent on shipping their things back home.

For Mr Emmerton, putting his goods in storage for HK$1,500 a month means he can swap executive job hunting for life in a thatched bamboo beach home in Bohol in the Philippines, where he calculates that just living off the rental income from his two London properties, his family can live indefinitely without touching their savings.

The Emmertons arrived on Thursday at the Alumbung resort 800km south of Manila, where a two-storey beach home will cost them HK$8,000 a month. "We'll look around and get something for around half the price after the first month, I reckon," says Mr Emmerton, who has given his family a budget of HK$10,000 a month.

It is a remarkable turnaround for Mr Emmerton, who admits he felt "panic and terror" when he first found himself jobless in December and, after a Christmas break in Britain, lined up two interviews upon his return which were both cancelled at short notice as the economic crisis deepened.

Soon after, a friend suggested he should take a six-month career break, planting an idea that slowly grew into a plan. "He told me 'Why don't you just leave your apartment before Chloe is old enough for school? Do it now, because you won't be able to do it for another 10 years'," Mr Emmerton says.

Once the decision was made, Mr Emmerton's anxieties lifted. "Before, there was the uncertainty--the worry over the job interviews, the contract on this apartment," he said two days before flying out to the Philippines. "But since we handed in our notice and booked our flights, I haven't been able to stop smiling about it."

After considering Vietnam and Thailand, the Emmertons opted for Bohol Island because it has WiFi and daily flight connections to Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney. That means Mr Emmerton can be at a job interview, if one comes up, in a matter of hours.

"Some people are a bit taken aback when I tell them what we're doing because it's not the sort of thing you immediately think of at our age," he says. "You think, 'I'm 34, I've got a family, I should be moving on with my career, my potential is increasing and I should be making the most of it'.

"But everyone I know is looking over their shoulder at the moment. It's an insecure world. There are jobs coming up in London but there are 300 people fighting for each one. It's pretty miserable there. While we are still in Asia, I can look out for work in Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, and live this great lifestyle in the meantime. We can live for a fraction of the cost and live on a tropical island by the beach and enjoy ourselves for six months and worry about everything else later.

"Since I left school at 18, I have always worked. For 16 years, I've never had any time away from work apart from two weeks for the summer holidays. Most people do a gap year at university or go travelling. I never did that. Now I can do this before Chloe goes to school. It's quite liberating."

Already, Mr Emmerton says, the experience of losing his job has broadened his horizons. "The last three months have just been fantastic," he says. "People say 'Are you getting bored?' But I've got a four-year-old daughter so there's always something to do. I know my daughter so much better now, already, than when I was working."

It is a lifestyle option that a growing number of expatriates who have fallen victim to the global slump are considering. Sherry Liu, general manager for Crown's Hong Kong relocations division, said there had been a "dramatic" increase in inquiries about storage from expatriates in the past quarter.

"I think people realise there are not necessarily better opportunities back home at the moment and no safe harbours anywhere. That's why there's a tendency to see if they can sit it out in Asia for a bit or at least wait until the school semester is over for their children. Families are considering all these things and hoping there will be a turn-around which will allow them to stay in Asia."

Ben Tyrrell, director of Relocasia, which put Mr Emmerton's household goods into storage, said there had been an "absolutely massive increase" in the number of people taking the storage option and heading out on career breaks.

"We are getting daily phone calls from people doing the same thing. When the downturn first started, we were moving a lot of panicked people back to their parents' homes overseas. In November and December, there was a definite switch.

"People started thinking 'Hang on, let's look at putting our things in storage. It's affordable, it keeps our options open and we can use the money we would be spending on rent to go and enjoy our lives'." Recent clients who put their goods in storage included an Airbus executive who had gone off to ride a motorcycle across Nepal and settle in Kathmandu, and a former Macau casino executive who had left to teach English in Cambodia.

The current trend was in stark contrast to the exodus of expatriates that followed the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, he says.

"During Sars, people thought the world was coming to an end," he says. "They just wanted to get everything out and get out of town as fast as they could.

"I think they all start off with the optimism that they can come back to Hong Kong at the end of it. What will be interesting will be to see their impressions at the end of the six months compared to their impressions at the beginning of the six months.

"I would wager fairly highly that the experience these people have will influence the type of work they want to do and the type of lifestyle they want to lead.

"It may make them question how much they really need to live on. They will ask themselves 'Do I need to live in an HK$80,000-a-month apartment or could I live in a HK$20,000 apartment and spend more time with my family and not work so much?' I think people will ask some really fundamental questions of themselves."

Matthew Gollop, group managing director of executive search recruitment business Connected Group, says that for some people, there was little downside in taking a career break. "In the worst case scenario, you'll get a job offer two weeks after you leave," he says. "In the best case scenario, you'll be sitting on a beach while everyone else is scrambling around looking for work."

Mr Gollop believes expatriates in Hong Kong are more likely to take a career break than former colleagues back home. "There are locations like Thailand and the Philippines you can go to which are very close," he says.

"It's very difficult if you're somewhere like the UK. In Asia, people are a bit more broad-minded because they travel around the region more."

Spending time on a beach rather than hunting for work might actually do candidates good, Mr Gollop insists. "There were a lot of good candidates at the end of the last downturn in Asia who had a career break on their CV and it was easy to explain. If you were here, you understood how difficult it was.

"In fact, some people did more damage to their CVs by taking themselves off in a different career direction or taking too big a salary cut. If you can afford to wait for the right thing to come around, I think it's a good move, certainly over the next six months. So long as you're available to consider opportunities--and with the internet it's easy to keep in touch--you can go somewhere like the Philippines and be back within a day if you need to be."

It is one of many considerations Mr Emmerton mulled over carefully before deciding on his Philippines getaway. "I concluded that no one is going to look at your CV in this day and age and question it," he says. "Why stay in Hong Kong going through all your savings when you can do something like this instead?"

As he prepared for his last night with his family in their Stanley apartment, Mr Emmerton already knew how a typical day might play out in the lazy months ahead.

"I'll have breakfast," he said. "Then I'll run a couple of miles up and down the beach, sit down in the garden for a couple of hours and play with Chloe, go to lunch, go fishing, come home for some dinner, put Chloe to bed--then sit outside with a cold beer and listen to the sound of the sea and the chirruping of the insects."