Saturday, 4 April 2009

Intermission: Tribute to Pope John Paul II

On the 4th Anniversary of his return to the Father's House
2nd of April 2005

Thank You John Paul II is a Salt + Light Television production that pays tribute to a man who touched the hearts of millions of people. John Paul II will forever be remembered for his courageous bridge-building efforts between nations and religions around the world, and will always hold a special place in the hearts of young people. Additional programming may be found at

Philippines' Ayala investing P49b in ’09

By Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

Ayala Corp., the country’s oldest and largest conglomerate, is spending P49 billion in capital expenditures this year, slightly lower than P55 billion it spent in 2008.

Ayala chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala told reporters following an annual stockholders’ meeting that the investments would enable the company to position itself when economic recovery starts.

“We expect 2009 to be a challenging year as the full impact of the global financial crisis on the real economy continues to unfold. We remain cautiously optimistic that the Philippines will remain partly insulated from the worse effect of this economic upheaval,” Zobel said.

The company is earmarking about 35 percent of capital expenditure for real estate development projects, 33 percent for telecommunications expansion and 23 percent for its water distribution system.

Property unit Ayala Land Inc. earlier said it would spend P17.4 billion in capital expenditure this year while Globe Telecom was allotting P16 billion for capital outlay.

Banking subsidiary Bank of the Philippine Islands said it would spend P2 billion in capital spending while Manila Water Services Co. Inc. earmarked P10 billion.

Ayala Corp. said funding for capital expenditures would primarily come from internal funds and borrowings.

Ayala Corp. at the end of 2008 had cash of P25 billion after raising P23 billion from the tight credit market. The company raised the amount for possible acquisition opportunities.

“All of us across the group are on the lookout for any opportunity. There will be opportunities and we are in good position to take advantage of that and we are on the lookout but that doesn’t stop us from continuously expanding across our group,” Zobel said.

Zobel did not specify the new sectors that the company is interested.

Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan, meanwhile, said it was interested in increasing its stake in Ayala-owned Integrated Microelectronics Inc. to 10 percent.

IMI president Arthur Tan said the company was in talks with Mitsubishi Corp. over the possible equity infusion in exchange for additional shares in the company.

Mitsubishi Corp. owns 1 percent of IMI, which is the electronics manufacturing subsidiary of the Ayala group.

“We want to expand our relationship with Mitsubishi Corp. They are a currently a shareholder of IMI and we are discussing the possibility of increasing their stake and help us penetrate Japan,” Tan said.

IMI is 68 percent owned by Ayala Corp. and 17 percent held by Resins Inc. The remaining shares are owned by other investors and employees of the company.

Philippines' Galoc field to ship another 300,000 barrels to Japan

Alena Mae S. Flores
Manila Standard

Galoc Production Co. will ship another 300,000 barrels of Palawan Light crude to Japan next week, a company source said.

Galoc Production, a consortium of local and foreign oil and gas companies, operates the Galoc oil field in offshore northwest Palawan.

Galoc Production earlier sold 400,000 barrels of Palawan Light to South Korea, 300,000 barrels to Thailand, an undetermined volume to Japan and 300,000 barrels to local refiner Petron Corp.

“We got an advice that the target date of delivery to Japan is late next week. There is also the possibility that shipment to Japan will be increased,” the source said.

Last month, Galoc Production announced that it reached a milestone after producing 1 million barrels of oil from the field since October last year.

The Galoc field has been producing steadily, even exceeding pre-shut-in levels of over 16,000 barrels per day.

Production at the field is expected to gradually go down to 13,000 to 14,000 barrels a day.

The Galoc field is located in service contract 14-C in 290 meters of water, approximately 65 kilometers northwest of Palawan.

The field is estimated to contain 10 million barrels of recoverable oil reserves. Singapore’s Gaffney and Cline Associates, which conducted its own assessment, however, said the field could contain up to 49 million barrels.

Philippine rail project to relocate 18,000 families

Tonette Orejas

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO – By June, all 18,455 families living along the old tracks of the Philippine National Railways in the City of Malolos in Bulacan down to Mabalacat in Pampanga will be relocated to pave the way for the construction of the 50-km segment, or Section 2, of the NorthRail.

“We will relocate as soon as the housing units are completed and by the middle of this year, we should have cleared the entire stretch,” Federico Laxa, general manager of the National Housing Authority, told the Inquirer (parent company of in a phone interview on Friday.

The need to obtain full right-of-way (ROW) for the modern mass transit project connecting Metro Manila and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in the Clark Freeport became certain after the board of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda), chaired by President Macapagal-Arroyo, approved on Tuesday a $317-million increase in project cost after five years of delay.

This brought the budget of NorthRail to $1.317 billion. The $1 billion had been obtained through a loan from the Chinese government. The additional budget will be taken from local funds, North Luzon Railways Corp. (NLRC) chair Edgardo Pamintuan said.

The Neda board also approved the immediate construction of Section 2, making it important for the NHA to go full-scale in its relocation work, Pamintuan said.

Like in the 32-km Section 1 that stretches from Caloocan City to Malolos, the NHA continued to adopt an in-town relocation policy. The houses are being built simultaneously in at least nine local resettlements where residents will be transferred, Laxa said.

Local officials and Vice President Noli de Castro, who is also chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, have been helping facilitate the transfer of the families to give the project ample ROW.

Laxa said the national government has appropriated P1.68 billion from out of NHA’s P3.5-billion budget in 2009 to cover the costs of constructing the houses, school buildings and community facilities, buying the relocation sites and providing food allowances to residents who would be relocated.

The NHA, until 2007, had moved out 23,386 families from Section 1, transferring them to at least 12 resettlement sites, Laxa said.

With nearly 41,000 families affected, the NorthRail is so far the single biggest government project that has caused massive displacement in Malabon, Caloocan and Valenzuela cities in Metro Manila; Meycauayan, Marilao, Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiguinto and Malolos in Bulacan; and Apalit, San Simon, San Luis, City of San Fernando, Angeles City and Mabalacat in Pampanga, an Inquirer review of flagship projects showed.

1,000 jobs opened in Cebu call center

Irene Sino Cruz
Inquirer Visayas

CEBU CITY – Convergys Corp., a business process outsourcing company, has opened its third facility at the Asiatown IT Park here and is now looking for people.

Jose Manuel T. Castillo, Convergys Corp. sourcing manager, said the firm’s new contact center at i3 building will accommodate 1,000 employees.

Castillo said the company decided to open another facility in Cebu, which is considered the outsourcing hub in the Visayas, because of the presence of talented and skilled manpower base in the city.

He noted that the presence of good universities here has also helped ensure there would be enough manpower to meet the growing demand from the BPO industry.

Castillo stressed that Cebu has the workers with qualifications, including English skills, intelligence and patience, needed by the BPOs.

He also explained that the global economic slowdown has minimal impact on the company’s operations.

“Convergys is still on track with our growth plan and proof of that is our expansion,” Castillo explained.

He said the company could not see any slowdown this year. “For us, the demand is still there,” Castillo said, adding that the growth has come from both new and existing clients.

Convergys dedicated its newest integrated contact center facility in Cebu City on Wednesday, simultaneous with two others, the UP-Ayala Land TechnoHub facility in Metro Manila and the Nuvali TechnoHub facility in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

In a press statement, Convergys chief information officer Jim Goetz said the Philippines was a key contributor to the success of the firm’s customer management business.

“Our three newest facilities will allow us to build upon our success utilizing the skills and talents of our people in the Philippines,” Goetz said.

Marife Zamora, Convergys vice president and country manager, also said that with the addition of a third facility in Cebu, the company has become the largest BPO provider in Cebu City.

Zamora also lauded the company’s Filipino workers who had helped the company maintain its clientele.

“The tremendous dedication and support that our employees bring to work everyday is reflected in the continued business demand from our US-based clients wanting to house their customer support operations in the Philippines,” Zamora said.

Five years after it started operations in the Philippines, Convergys has put up 12 contact centers in the Philippines, seven in Metro Manila, three in Cebu City, one in Bacolod City and one in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

Castillo said their clients include those engaged in banking, retail and telecommunications.

He prayed ‘Hail Marys’ in engineering test

By Jhunnex Napallacan
Inquirer Visayas

CEBU CITY – An altar boy who recited the “Hail Mary” every time he shaded his answer in the box became the only topnotcher from a Cebu university in the recent Electronics and Communication Engineer (ECE) licensure examinations.

Kevin Joseph Torres, 23, a resident of Punta Princesa, Cebu City, is the 9th placer in results of the ECE board exams released on Thursday.

“I’m overwhelmed especially that I’m the only one who came from Cebu in the top 10, the rest came from La Salle in Manila,” Torres said Friday.

Torres, an honor student since his elementary years, graduated cum laude at the University of San Jose Recoletos in March 2008.

Torres is the only boy and fourth of seven siblings who were raised by a single parent, Floredeliza.

Poverty became his motivation to strive hard and finish his studies.

While in Grade 3 at the age of 10 in 1995, he started serving as one of the altar boys in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the southern Cebu town of Minglanilla, his mother’s hometown where he and his siblings grew up.

He thought of entering the seminary after high school but he opted for an engineering course in electronics.

Torres said the former parish priest of Minglanilla, Msgr. Esteban Binghay, one of the respected Church leaders in the Archdiocese of Cebu, helped him finish his college studies.

Torres later relocated to Cebu City, 15.4 km south of Minglanilla but he would return to the town on Sundays, to continue serving as altar boy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

Torres did that even after he graduated from college.

He studied hard not only because he wanted to ensure a better future for him and his family but also because he did not want to disappoint Monsignor Binghay who paid for his studies.

Torres recalled clutching a rosary on the day of the ECE licensure examinations.

Torres said he took time making computations in every item of the exams, but every time he shaded his answer into the box, he recited the Hail Mary.

To Torres, it was the “grace of Mama Mary” that made him land in the top 10.

He said faith has made him strong.

Torres learned about his passing the ECE board through the Internet.

Torres said he initially thought he did not make it when he did not see his name in the list and when he noted the low passing percentage.

Two hours later, Torres said he checked again in the Internet and jumped for joy when he saw his name in the top 10 list.

Torres said he would always be grateful to Monsignor Binghay and his mother and siblings for always believing in him.

Philippines allots more funds for classrooms

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday set aside P35 million for the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) to help fund its school-buildings projects.

The fresh capital will be sourced from the Presidential Social Fund. "You have to put the money into building more elementary classrooms to reduce the current student to classroom ratio of 100 to one classroom in one shift to 50 to one in two shifts," the President told incoming FFCCCII officers at the group’s 27th biennial convention at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay.

FFCCCII Chairman Emeritus Francis Chua, in a separate interview, said Mrs. Arroyo early this year signed Executive Order 784 granting tax exemptions to all individuals or companies who would support, contribute and donate to the "Operation: Barrio Schools" project.

The EO, signed in February, also authorized a one-year fundraising activity organized by the FFCCCII for the barrio schools program, an offshoot of the "Adopt-a-School Program" joint public-private venture. "When you donate money for a school building, the donor’s tax is waived," Mr. Chua said.

Under the EO, contributions or donations will be classified as exempt from all forms of taxes and allowed as deductible in full for income tax purposes in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations.

The tax perks will be effective for one year. Citing FFCCCII data, the group’s outgoing president Dr. John K. Tan said the federation has helped construct 4,000 schoolbuildings and 8,000 classrooms since 1960. "We hope to build 11,000 classrooms to help improve the learning conditions of the schoolchildren," Dr. Tan said.

Skills training for displaced OFWs offered


CEBU CITY — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has urged overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have lost their jobs to avail of free business and skills training seminars.

Minerva Yap, director of the National Economic Research and Business Assistance Center (NERBAC) in Cebu, said they have been holding free seminars on the business permit and licensing system every Wednesday afternoon.

Displaced OFWs who want to become entrepreneurs will find the seminars useful. Entrepreneurs who equip themselves with sufficient knowledge on the intricacies of business will have a better chance at success, especially in difficult times, Ms. Yap said.

During the seminar, participants can interact with speakers from the DTI, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Corp. (PhilHealth), Pag-ibig Fund and the Cebu city government.

Another free seminar, this time on enterprise development, is being conducted together with a skills training session every Tuesday (except in the fourth week of the month) from March to June this year in all DTI provincial offices in Central Visayas.

NERBAC, which was launched in Cebu in November 2006, was put up to assist start-up and expanding businesses in licensing and registration, knowledge and information management and proactive investment marketing. It is aimed at reducing red tape and improving efficiency in government services.

The center is supported by the Private Sector Promotion Program (SMEDSEP), a development cooperation project between the Philippine and German governments.

5,000 job opportunities available for Filipinos in Singapore

Provincial emergency employment programs kick in

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced yesterday that Filipinos stand to benefit from about 5,000 job opportunities in Sentosa Island, Singapore.

Philippine Overseas Employment Agency Administrator Jennifer Manalili confirmed that Singapore will be needing more workers, adding she had visited Singapore last month with Labor Secretary Marianito Roque to discuss job opportunities for Filipino workers at Resorts World in Sentosa.

This as emergency employment programs in the provinces start to kick in. Over 500 nurses in Eastern Visayas have been hired under the government’s emergency employment program that is designed to stimulate the economy amid the global downturn. This as the Agriculture department has employed some 9,000 workers in the Cagayan Valley under the same plan.

Meanwhile, the Social Welfare department also reported that it has employed 376 individuals under its Cash and Food for Work Program to date; the Trade department has hired 127 workers; and the Public Works department has employed 255 workers for its roadside maintenance project in the Cagayan Valley region.

The Environment department is expected to hire 4,452 out-of-school youths and 3,572 forest guards for its reforestation projects.

Early this year, the government announced its P330-billion Economic Resiliency Program that includes the short-term emergency employment program.

Sentosa Island

"They are expanding and there will be openings for workers for hotels, casinos and performers," said Ms. Manalili. Universal Studios, for one, is building a theme park and is asking for Filipino talents and performers.

"They noted that Filipinos are good in music and in dance so they might come here to conduct auditions either next month or in June," she added.

The government, she said, is set to deploy a team to Sentosa next month to finalize discussions and requirements for Filipino workers.

Resorts World plans to open four of its six hotels by the first quarter of 2010 and expects to fill up some 10,000 job vacancies.

Of these available positions, 3,000 will be for the casino, 3,000 for theme park operations and about 4,000 for hotel and other entertainment facilities.

Government data showed 46,000 Filipinos were left unemployed by the global financial crisis while 5,700 overseas Filipino workers lost their jobs.

The government earlier said more than 100,000 jobs are also available in Qatar while other emirates within the United Arab Emirates are also prepared to absorb Filipino construction workers who were laid off in Dubai.

Close to one million domestic jobs, 700,000 of which will come from the government and 120,000 from the business process outsourcing sector, are also available for jobless Filipinos.

Investors committed to Philippines' gaming and hotel project

Manila Bulletin

Representatives of investors participating in the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City Manila of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Friday reiterated their commitment to the multi-billion dollar project, and vowed to do their part to make it the next biggest tourism development in Asia.

They were among the panel of speakers at the Global Leaders Forum held during the Gaming, Tourism and Investments Congress of the Asia’s Gaming and Entertainment + Leisure Expo (Asia’s GEM) 2009.

Composed of key players in tourism, gaming and entertainment, the Forum participants included PAGCOR President and COO RafaelFrancisco, Austrian Gaming Industries Director David Orrick, Alliance Global Group, Inc. President Kingson Sian; ARUZE Corporation of America president Mikio Tanji, SM Hotel Corporation president Merrill F. Yu, and Dreamgate Corp. Bhd group executive director Mazlan Ismail.

During their engaging discussions, Orrick cited the Entertainment City project for its potential in providing wider entertainment options in the region while supplying jobs, and tourism enhancement opportunities. “This project will capture the imagination not only of the Filipino people but visitors from the outside. It supports the enterprise of gaming and tourism,” he said.

Francisco, meanwhile said that the first phase of the project is expected to be completed by year 2010, with major investors already on line to begin construction of their project concepts.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Philippines enhancing chances for growth despite crisis


Manila (PND) -- Having put in place safety nets for the vulnerable sectors of the economy, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is simultaneously enhancing the chances of the Philippines to grow despite the current global financial crisis.

This, by promoting investments in agriculture, tourism and information & communication technology sectors, which have been identified as the growth drivers in the Philippines through the years, said Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde.

Her thrust for agriculture is aimed at meeting the 98% self sufficiency goal by 2010, making it easier for the country to meet 100 percent sufficiency by 2013 through her FIELDS program (fertilizer, irrigation and other infrastructure facilities, extension and education, loans for inputs and drivers and other post harvest facilities and seeds), Remonde said.

The Department of Agriculture extended 3.2 million fertilizer discount coupons to farmers under the Fertilizer Subsidy Program. It also provided: a) 13,635.52 MT of organic fertilizer and soil ameliorants; b) 2.615 million bio-agents; c) location-specific interventions like Bio-N, Vital-N, Zinc Sulfate and Bio-con and d) soil and plant testing kits to minimize wastage of fertilizer and soil ameliorants.

A total of 74,259 hectares of irrigated farmlands were rehabilitated while irrigation service was restored in another 45,252 hectares. A total of 217,669 farmer-households benefited from 3,220 kilometers of farm-to-market roads that were constructed or rehabilitated which in turn generated 35,351 jobs.

Also built were 16 agricultural tramlines which now facilitate the transport of commodities from highlands to markets (seven in Benguet, three in Mountain Province, two in Nueva Vizcaya, two in Luzon, one in Pampanga and one in Negros Occidental) and 15 mariculture parks were established.

On extension and education, a total of 5,783 training activities were held aside from 212 research and development undertakings to generate production-enhancing and cost reducing technologies, Remonde said.

The government also released P3.18 billion to 108,760 farmers/fisherfolk under various lending programs of the Agro Industry Modernization Credit and Financing Program apart from the P6.32 billion released by Land Bank to 221,110 palay farmer-beneficiaries.

To reduce post harvest (PH) losses and maintain grain quality, 596 flatbed driers were distributed and installed; four corn post harvest processing and trading centers were established each serving 2,000 hectares of corn land to produce quality corn and improve farmers’ incomes through reduced PH losses, Remonde added.

As of December 2008, the government distributed 55,189.12 MT of certified seeds and 2,850.72 MT of hybrid seeds to farmers. Another 8.2 million pieces of planting materials (sugarcane, mango, coconut, cashew, citrus, lanzones, durian, cassava, mushroom and forage cuttings) 28,279 heads of various animals and 122.3 million pieces of fingerlings and broodstock were distributed.

On tourism, 23 tourism projects, including new hotels, tourist facilities, enterprise zones and modernization of accommodations worth P15.9 billion were endorsed by the Department of Tourism. Despite the global slowdown, tourist arrivals as of October 2008 reached 2.6 million, 4% percent more than the 1.87 million recorded in 2007.

With the government’s keen support for ICT, particularly the business process outsourcing, the industry was able to generate 410,000 jobs and revenues of $6.2 billion since end-2008, Remonde said.

Philippine President unveils P38-billion Metro Manila road network project that will generate 107,000 jobs


BRGY. UGONG, Valenzuela City (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unveiled today (Thursday, April 2) the ambitious P38-billion road network project of the Metro Manila Tollways Corporation “designed to significantly boost the government’s national development project and create an estimated 107,000 jobs during the five-year construction period.”

The President was briefed on the construction package through a power-point presentation by MPTC chair Manuel Pangilinan during the groundbreaking rites for a portion of project at Brgy. Ugong in Valenzuela City this morning.

The President congratulated the people involved in the road package, especially the MPTC, pointing out that projects such as these will ensure a “fiscally-strong economy and a financially-strong company.”

The road plan “will dramatically change the metropolitan landscape,” assured the MPTC which enumerated the following projects in the pipeline: Segment 8.1 whose capsule-laying ceremony was led by the President here; Segments 9 and 10 that will connect MacArthur Highway in this city to Port Area in Manila; the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road Expressway; and the Skyway Stage 2.

The P38-billion package is broken down as follows: P2.9 billion for Segment 8.1; P10 billion for Segments 9 & 10; P16 billion for the NLEX-SLEX connector highway; and P10 billion plus for the Skyway Stage 2.

The planned connector road that will link the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) is an “elevated, 13-kilometer, four-way expressway linking the NLEX to the SLEX and Skyway through Road C-3 in Caloocan and Buendia Avenue in Makati City,” according to the MPTC.

It added that the connector road shall reduce travel time from NLEX to SLEX to only 15-20 minutes, down from the present travel time of more than an hour.

On the other hand, the planned Skyway Stage 2 “will extend the existing Skyway from Bicutan to Alabang in Muntinlupa City, while facilitating the needed rehabilitation works on the existing expressway including toll collection systems and the toll plazas.”

Aside from the 100,000-plus workers who will be hired for its roads package, the MPTC has a total of 880 employees in its present workforce.

President pushes Manila road projects

PGMA lowers time capsule for P2.1B NLEX-C5 road link

VALENZUELA CITY (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today lowered at Brgy. Ugong here the time capsule for the P2.1-billion NLEX-C5 North Link Project that would enable northbound motorists from the eastern part of Metro Manila to have seamless entry into the main North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).

Set to be completed by April 2010, the 2.7-kilometer Segment 8.1 is part of the ambitious P38-billion road network project of Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation (MPTC), the mother company of the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC) which will construct the road segment that will link NLEX to the Circumferential Road 5.

Welcoming the President to the capsule-laying ceremonies were top officials of MPTC led by Manuel Pangilinan; National Housing Authority (NHA) general manager Federico Laxa; Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane; Subic-Clark Alliance for Development (SCAD) chair Edgardo Pamintuan; Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) chair Narciso Abaya; and Presidential Management Staff (PMS) head Hermogenes Esperon, among others.

Also in the ceremonies for the link road that will traverse three cities in Metro Manila were Quezon City officials led by Mayor Feliciano Belmonte; Caloocan City officials led by Mayor Recom Echiverri; and Valenzuela City officials led by Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian.

With the above-named officials, the President laid the time capsule containing, among others, the plans for the road segment.

The President -- who also interviewed three people who have been benefiting from the upgraded NLEX and a worker hired for Segment 8 -- was then shown maps of the ambitious P38-billion road network that would connect the NLEX to the Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX) within the next five years.

The MNTC said Segment 8.1 shall “bypass the high-density areas approaching the Balintawak toll plaza in Caloocan City. It starts at Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City and ends south of the Valenzuela Interchange, and is the first step toward completing the entire NLEX Phase 2 Project.

NLEX Phase 2 consists of four satellite road projects with an aggregate length of 22.486 kilometers. It is designed to provide easy, hassle-free and speedy access to the 84-km. main NLEX from all four directions – north, east, west and south of Metro Manila.

The highway expansion is in line with President Arroyo’s policy to link roadways and seaways to hasten travel and the delivery of goods and services towards economic growth.

“This expansion is attuned to the policy enunciated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to decongest Metro Manila – thus greatly enhancing mobility of people, goods and services and, at the same time, dramatically improving quality of life in the metropolis.

“It also augurs well for the realization of the President’s larger vision of setting up a Luzon Urban Beltway traversing the growth corridors of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) and Central Luzon,” the MNTC said.

With Segment 8.1 in place, motorists from South Luzon Expressway can expediently reach the NLEX via C-5, Katipunan and Mindanao Avenues, and Segment 8.1, thereby avoiding the costly and time-consuming traffic jams along EDSA and other choke points within the metropolis.

A total of 3,347 households of informal settlers affected by the expansion project have been relocated by the National Housing Authority (NHA) which was allocated a P600-million budget at P180,000 cost/entitlement per household.

The NHA says it has relocated all affected families as of Feb. 28. this year.

Some 2,667 households (80 percent) were relocated to the following areas: 801 households in Brgy. Punturin here; 110 in Marilao, Bulacan; 56 in Caysio, Marilao, Bulacan; 186 in Minuyan, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; and 112 in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Some 272 households went back to their own provinces under the ‘Balik-Probinsiya’ program; while the rest were either disqualified or were informal settlers on private properties.

The relocated households were each housed in 20-22.5-sq.m. “starter” houses at P200 amortization per month during the first five years.

The houses on 32-40 sq.m. individual services lots are payable over 30 years at six-percent interest.

Philippines' SM group keeps banking on OFWs; expects to grow 12-14% in 2009

Rosemarie Francisco

Mall-to-banking group SM Investments Corp. expects its net income to grow 12 to 14 percent this year, ahead of market forecasts, as consumption and remittance income from Filipinos working overseas hold up despite a global financial crisis.

The group, owned by the country's richest man, Henry Sy, said it is not slowing its expansion plans even as forecasts point to braking growth in the local economy this year.

"Just like a chariot, all horses forward -- banking, retail, malls, property -- all competing with each other," group Chief Finance Officer Jose Sio told Reuters on Thursday in an interview at the company's headquarters overlooking Manila Bay. "All the four horses are pulling ahead."

"This year will be double digit," Sio said when asked about growth in the 2009 bottomline. "Our budget is 12-14 percent."

Analysts expect SM Investments' net income to be largely flat this year, according to Reuters Estimates. Net profit climbed 15.6 percent in 2008 to 14 billion pesos ($291 million) on revenue growth of 20 percent.

The company, which has grown from a small Manila shoe store that Sy built up in the 1950s, has set aside P25 billion in capital spending this year, up 25 percent from in 2008.

SM Investments would spend heavily in coming years on hotels and leisure developments in the Philippines, said investor relations chief Corazon Guidote, creating a fifth core business.

Group executive director Gregory Domingo said SM, which opened its first mall in 1985 with the country in the middle of a political crisis, was undaunted by the current downturn.

"Restaurants are still full, people are still shopping, malls are still full, so you don't yet feel it, unless there's a very long lag," he said.

The central bank expects remittances from more than 8 million overseas workers to hold steady at $16.4 billion -- more than a tenth of GDP -- this year, but analysts forecast a 6 percent decline, the first drop since 2001.

Mall developer SM Prime Holdings expects its revenues to grow 11 percent, just ahead of last year's levels, as it opens three new malls and spends 11 billion pesos to open and expand malls at home and in China.

Revenues from property development, which includes SM Development Corp., would likely increase 50 percent this year after 57 percent growth in 2008, as residential apartment developments come onstream, Domingo said.

The retail business, which includes the SM Department Store and supermarkets, is expected to post 10-12 percent revenue growth, half last year's growth, as consumers focus their spending on essentials such as food and clothing.

The retail segment posted 14-15 percent revenue growth in January-February, Guidote said.

Banco de Oro Unibank Inc., the country's largest lender by assets, expects its loan portfolio to grow 15 percent this year, higher than the expected industry average of 5 to 10 percent, but half last year's increase.

SM Investments is eyeing acquisitions, and Sio said the group had a P47 billion ($977 million) cash balance at end-2008.

Convergys assures Philippine President: Jobs generation to total 20,000 by year-end


STA. ROSA CITY, Laguna (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was assured today by Convergys that it shall have generated a total of 20,000 jobs in the Philippines by year-end.

The assurance was made by Convergys president and CEO Dave Dougherty during the simultaneous dedication of the latest contact sites of the company whose headquarters are based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Convergys head thanked the President for her support, and committed to her that his company – which had generated a total of 16,000 jobs so far – shall be hiring a total of 20,000 “by the end of the year.”

“That’s wonderful,” the President said about the company’s contribution to the government’s efforts to hurdle the world-wide economic crisis. Later, she announced the good news as reported to her by Trade Secretary Peter Favila who accompanied her to the event: “The companies that laid off (their workers) are now calling back the employees (they earlier laid off).”

The President led the dedication ceremony at past 4 p.m. for this 12th contact site of Convergys in the Philippines, which located in the country five years ago.

Assisting the President in the ribbon-cutting and globe-tossing ceremonies were Convergys officers led by Dougherty and Andrea Ayers, president of the Customer Management line of business of Convergys; Marife Zamora, vice president and Philippines country manager; and government officials, including Lilia de Lima, director-general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA); Mon Ibrahim, commissioner of the Commission on Information and Technology (CICT); Laguna Gov. Teresita Lazaro, Laguna Rep. Dan Fernandez and Sta. Rosa Mayor Arlene Nazareno, among others.

The dedication rites for the contact site at the Ayala Land’s Nuvali Techno-Hub here coincides with the dedication of the 10th and 11th contact centers in Cebu City and UP Diliman, respectively.

The Nuvali TechnoHub contact center here – its first in Santa Rosa, Laguna -- “boasts an open floor plan of 66,000 square feet and the ability to hold approximately 900 employees.”

As it announced in May last year, Convergys is building two other sites – in San Lazaro and in Glorietta – to total five new sites.

Within five years since it located in the Philippines, the 30-plus-year-old relationship-management company has “established 12 contact centers in the Philippines -- seven located in Metro Manila, three in Cebu City, one in Bacolod City, and one in Santa Rosa, Laguna.”

“These facilities include the new sites Convergys is adding to the country, as announced in May 2008. The new sites announced included Cebu Asiatown i3, UP Science Park, Nuvali, San Lazaro, and Glorietta,” according to Convergys.

Dougherty expressed his appreciation of the Philippines as a business-process outsourcing (BPO) location: “Over the past few years, the Philippines market has established itself as a leader in the BPO industry. As such, Convergys continues to see growth in the Philippines.”

“Within five years, we have grown from zero to more than 16,000 employees in the Philippines and expect to see continued growth in the area.”

“From Convergys’ announcement in May 2008 in which we said that five new facilities will be built in the Philippines, three of which we are dedicating today, two more centers are currently still under construction in Metro Manila,” added Dougherty.

He assured that “at the conclusion of the construction, there will be many positions that will need to be filled,” pointing out that “despite the economic climate, Convergys continues to see growth and development.”

"Convergys strives to meet the needs of our current and future clients wherever that may take us in the world. Convergys' vision of being the voice and the technology behind all superior service experiences, recognized as the leading relationship management company in the markets we serve worldwide, is made possible by harnessing the individual strengths of peoples and cultures around the world.

“With these new facilities, we continue to tap the tremendous pool of resources available in the Philippines," said Dougherty.

Dougherty continued about the advantages of doing business in the Philippines: “The biggest advantage continues to be the availability and high quality of the potential employee pool found in the Philippines -- employees who are well-educated, English proficient and have a strong understanding of U.S. culture are the key to Convergys’ success in the Philippines.”

Thus, the Convergys CEO is upbeat on the Philippines as a BPO location: “We continue to see a strong demand from our clients to have their customer management services housed in the Philippines.”

“To meet this demand, we continue to work with the local government to ensure that the Philippines remains a rich source of talent and growth. Providing top quality service to our clients and their customers ensures that Convergys continues to retain established business and win new business for all the regions in which we operate,” Doughterty added.

Convergys said “for more than 30 years, our unique combination of domain expertise, operational excellence, and innovative technologies has delivered process improvement and actionable business insight to clients that now span more than 70 countries and 35 languages.”

A member of the S&P 500 and voted a Fortune “Most Admired Company” for nine consecutive years, Convergys has “approximately 75,000 employees in 84 customer contact centers and other facilities in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and our global headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

MoneyGram expands in Philippines


MoneyGram International Inc. has added 1,200 money-transfer locations throughout the Philippines through a partnership with M. Lhuillier Financial Services Inc., one of the country’s leading financial services firms.

Adding the M. Lhuillier locations expands MoneyGram’s network in the Philippines to more than 6,000 locations. MoneyGram plans to continue growing its presence there throughout 2009, including the addition of nearly 900 bank branches that will roll out money-transfer services this year.

“The Philippines is a strategic country where we see strong growth potential,” MoneyGram President and CEO Tony Ryan said in a statement. “Remittances are an essential part of the economy in the Philippines and we believe that our convenient and reliable global money-transfer service will provide more control and choice for Filipinos working abroad to send money to their families back home.”

St. Louis Park-based MoneyGram (NYSE: MGI) now has 176,000 agent locations in 190 countries and territories.

Law gives job opportunities to poor students in the Philippines


PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday signed into law a bill that expands employment opportunities for poor students.

In a statement, Malacañang said the law amends a current program for the employment of students.

Republic Act 9547, which seeks to strengthen and expand the coverage of the Special Program for Employment of Students, allows students between 15 and 25 years old to receive a salary not lower than the minimum wage set for other private employees.

Companies employing at least 10 workers may opt to hire students.

The law provides that high school students should only be employed during summer and Christmas vacation for not more than 15 days.

Students in tertiary, vocational or technical schools may be employed at any time of the year provided their work period would be limited to 20 to 52 days.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to come up with a socially sensitive tuition payment plan for state colleges and universities.

In a speech before the national convention of the Sangguniang Kabataan (youth council) in Sta. Rosa, Laguna yesterday, the President also ordered a review of the no payment-no examination policy.

Mrs. Arroyo also raised the possibility of providing transportation, laboratory and research stipends should also be studied.

"CHEd has to reform the no payment-no periodic examination policy... [which] is one of the main reasons young students from poor families drop out from state universities and colleges," she said.

100,000 jobs open for Filipinos in Qatar

Palace allows OFWs into Lebanon, Jordan
Bernice Camille V. Bauzon, Angelo S. Samonte And Llanesca T. Panti
Manila Times

Despite the global crisis, more than 100,000 jobs in Qatar are available for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the Labor department announced Wednesday after attending a meeting with Qatari labor officials last week.

In a separate announcement on Wednesday, the government also said it would lift the ban on sending Filipino workers to Lebanon and Jordan. The move is also expected to create new placement opportunities for Filipinos.

The Qatar government approved 296,787 work visas for OFWs between October 2008 and March 2009, said Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, adding that 190,000 positions have been filled up. That leaves more than 100,000 work visas still available for Filipino workers.

The openings were discussed in a meeting between Roque and his Qatari counterparts. The secretary said the primary purpose of the meeting was to strengthen bilateral labor relations, specifically the opening of more job opportunities in Qatar for Filipino workers.

“About 85 percent of the available jobs for OFWs in Qatar required technical and highly skilled workers in the construction sector,” he said in statement.

Agreements discussed

He added that the two countries also discussed the ratification of the Additional Protocol to the RP-Qatar Agreement Concerning Filipino Manpower Employment in Qatar that the Philippine government entered into in 1997 for the protection of the rights of Filipino workers in Qatar.

The two delegations also aim to address illegal recruitment agencies and excessive placement fees, mainly by sharing information between Manila and Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Roque also said the Labor department was looking at cooperating with the Qatari government in conducting training programs for OFWs in order to ensure “adequate supply of skilled workers for manpower requirements of employers in the [Arab] country.”

Part of the agreement is the Sponsorship Law in Qatar that would allow Filipino workers to transfer jobs if their employers physically abuse them or fail to pay them.

The law also says that OFWs who file a complaint in a Qatari labor court would not be sent back to the Philippines by his or her employer before claims are settled.

Lebanon and Jordan

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said also Wednesday that Malaca­ñang gave the green light to the Department of Foreign Affairs to lift the ban on deploying Filipino workers to Lebanon and Jordan.

But he added that the deployment ban on Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan remains in effect, because of unstable security situations in those countries.

The government stopped sending Filipino workers to Lebanon in 2006 when fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants escalated.

When the ban was imposed, about 6,000 Filipino workers, most of them undocumented, were repatriated to the Philippines. But some 26,000 remained in Lebanon.

Many of those who remained were restrained by their employers from leaving, while others feared losing their jobs. There were also Filipinos married to Lebanese who opted to stay with their families.

The Philippines had also prevented OFWs from working in Lebanon because of poor labor conditions there.

“Our government wants to make sure the protection and welfare of the OFWs will be assured before we lift the deployment ban,” Secretary Roque said in an interview last week.

Last month, the presidential envoy to the Middle East, Roy Cima tu, was sent to Lebanon to assess the security situation there. He reported that it was safe again for Filipino to go there.

OFWs in France

Thierry Borja de Mozota, France’s ambassador to Manila, said late Tuesday that the estimated 40,000 OFWs in his country have so far been spared from layoffs resulting from the global financial turmoil.

Filipinos in France are mainly woman caregivers working for families, and those jobs are not at risk, he said. “At the moment, there is no sign of reduction of workers of families in France. They are not working for companies, so there is no reason for them to lose their jobs.”

He added that the Filipino community in France was appreciated for helping his country’s economy stay afloat.

Illegals a concern

The ambassador, however, was concerned about the growing number of undocumented Filipino workers in France—estimated at 33,000.

He called on the Philippine government to come up with a labor agreement with France that would allow Filipino workers in his country to obtain work permits.

“This agreement would give undocumented Filipino workers in France a chance to legalize their stay,” he explained. “This will ensure that Filipinos already in France will be provided an avenue to get working permit as soon as they ask for it.”

The European Parliament has adopted a program in June 2008 to allow its member-states to repatriate all undocumented workers. The European Union estimates that there are more than 90,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Europe, mostly working as household workers in Paris, Nice, Milan, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona.

Two years ago, the French government started negotiating a labor agreement with the Philippines that would allow healthcare professionals—like nurses and doctors—and those in the arts and fashion businesses to work in France. But the envoy added that they want a “return policy,” a provision compelling the Filipino workers to return to the Philippines after two to three years working in France so that they could bring home their knowledge and experience here.

But the program is not attracting much attention, because Filipinos do not speak French, and those who go often prefer to stay there, the envoy added.

Philippines' North Railways assured of $317m extra budget

Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

The National Economic and Development Authority board yesterday approved a supplemental budget of $317 million for the North Luzon Railways Corp., $17 million more than what the company had requested.

Northrail would use the extra budget to pay the Chinese contractor building the rail project and end a year-long halt in operations.

“This will answer for foreign exchange rate adjustments, inflation, and necessary variation orders required by project site conditions,” Northrail president Edgardo Pamintuan said in a statement.

Pamintuan said the Northrail project could either tap funds from local sources or borrow from the China Export-Import Bank or other favorable partners.

“If China is willing to lend at 3 percent [interest], it’s still manageable so it’s okay,” Pamintuan said in a separate interview.

Northrail contractor Sinomach (previously known as China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. Group) has already been informed of the budget approval, Pamintuan said.

Pamintuan said the fresh funds would also allow Northrail to immediately begin building the Malolos-to-Clark portion of the railway.

The company will attempt to complete all of the civil and track works from Caloocan to Clark on or before June 2010.

It will come as the single biggest pump-priming project given the host of industries that will benefit from it, Pamintuan said. “Instead of going on work slowdowns or temporary shutdowns, the Philippine steel, cement, and quarry industries will be loaded with work and will be hard-pressed to meet the demands of the entire Northrail project. This is the type of economic pump-priming that the President is implementing to beat the odds presented by the global recession.”

The amount approved by the Neda board is about 5 percent more than the $299 million being demanded by Sinomach.

In February last year, Sinomach unilaterally suspended work on the Northrail project that will connect Caloocan City to Malolos City in Bulacan and demanded an additional $299 million in the contract price.

Of the additional $299 million, almost two-thirds or $211 million was to cover foreign exchange losses, inflation and costs of the delay in construction while the remaining $88.63 million was due to variations in the original scope of work.

Sinomach also blamed the government for the construction delays, citing the slow relocation of the illegal settlers whose houses will be covered by the project.

12 firms eye $1.1-B biofuels investments in the Philippines

Manila Bulletin

About $1.1 billion in new investments will be made by more than 12 firms that have signified interest in the biofuels industry even as the government is eyeing to increase the mandated blends to further boost growth.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said during the Asia Biofuel Investment Summit 2009 that incentives provided by the Biofuels Act spurred the strong investor interest in the sunshine biofuels industry.

"The Biofuels Act provided attractive incentives for investors who develop and produce biofuels. As a result, from two plants in 2004, there are now 11 biofuel plants operating in the country. There are now more than a dozen companies who have signified their intention to enter the industry," he said.

Reyes added that, in the past four years, the industry witnessed an increase in biodiesel investments that has resulted in a staggering 623 percent jump in aggregate domestic production capacity to the current 383 million liters from 53 million liters in 2005.

He noted that the two percent biodiesel mandate, which took effect last February, will increase biodiesel requirement to 160 million liters by 2014 from 133 million lites this year.

For bioethanol, Reyes said the five percent mandated blend (which will be increased to 10 percent in 2011) will increase the ethanol requirement to 536 million liters in 2014 from 208 million liters this year.

He also said that, two years into the implementation of the National Biofuels Program, the Energy Department is still improving the "rules of engagement" in order to fast-track investments in the biofuels industry.

"The department is currently studying even further increases in the blend percentages, giving careful consideration to the availability of feedstock and the resulting final prices," Reyes said.

He added that they are holding consultations with stakeholders in order to establish the rules governing the operations of the one-stop-shop under the National Biofuels Board.

Among the existing biodiesel producers to date are market leader Chemrez Technologies as well as Senbel Fine Chemicals, Mt. Holy Coco,. and Pure Essence. Biodiesel companies that are undergoing accreditation include Atson Coco Inc, Lion Chemical Corp. and Freyvonne Milling Services.

There are currently only two bioethanol producers in the country, namely Leyte Agri Corp. and. San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. Other companies are in the process of putting up their ethanol facilities such as Cavite Biofuels Producers, Inc.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

HK Magazine apologises for offensive article

"The publisher and editors of HK Magazine wish to apologize unreservedly
for any offense that may have been caused by Chip Tsao's column date
March 27. HK Magazine has long championed the rights of Filipinos working
in Hong Kong. We note that Filipinos have often been unfairly treated in
Hong Kong, and that they make an important contribution to this community.
As a magazine, we would never want to say anything that would negate that belief."

(This apology was issued 31st of March by Asia City Publishing Group (ACPG), publisher
of the HK Magazine's print and online editions.

The Hong Kong Standard reported:

"Tsao said he did not intend to upset Filipinos but to mock "arrogant employers." Readers had different views on the article and he apologized to anyone who was offended. But he has no plans to explain himself to the Philippine authorities.

"HK Magazine publisher Asia City Publishing and its editors issued an apology and said the column was meant to be satirical."

Chip Tsao is known for his satires of the Mainland and Hong Kong governments.


Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Pope appeals to Abu Sayyaf to release ICRC hostages

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

MANILA, Philippines - All the three Red Cross workers abducted by the Abu Sayyaf remain safe, hours after the expiration of the deadline set by the al Qaeda-linked bandits, Sulu Gov. Abdusakar Tan told GMANews' 24 Oras at about 7 p.m., Tuesday.

The deadline ended at 2 p.m., Tuesday, and was reportedly extended to 3 p.m. The Abu Sayyaf gave an ultimatum to the government to pull out all its troops from 14 villages in four Sulu towns or the bandits would behead one of the hostages.

Tan confirmed to GMA News that another group was communicating with the abductors for the release of the Red Cross workers, and that his team had stopped negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf after he declared a state of emergency in Sulu.

"Yun po ang usapan namin na hindi muna po ako makikipag-usap sa kanila dahil nagdeclare na ako ng state of emergency, [That was our agreement, that I would not talk to them for the mean time because I have declared state of emergency], said Tan.

He said he made the declaration for the protection of Sulu residents who could be affected by the Abu Sayyaf operations in the area.

In the declaration, Tan ordered the police with the assistance of the military to set up checkpoints and choke points in the province, impose curfew in the whole of Sulu, and conduct general search and seizure, including arrest in the pursuit of the kidnappers and their supporters.

Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss Andreas Notter, and Italian Eugenio Vagni, all working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, were abducted last January 15 by a faction of the Abu Sayyaf led by Albader Parad. - GMANews.TV

Two international airports to service Boracay

Boracay tourism will further flourish with completion of Kalibo and Caticlan international airports, says PGMA

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan (PND) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said here today that the tourism industry in the Philippines would further flourish with the completion of two vital infrastructure projects in this province – the soon-to-be-completed Kalibo International Airport (KIA) and the soon-to-be-constructed Caticlan International Airport (CIA).

In a one-on-one interview with Gus Tolentino, Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster (KBP) regional president and station manager of DYRG-AM at the Shangri-la Resort here this morning, President Arroyo said these two airports, once completed, would provide the necessary support needed to further strengthen Boracay Island and the rest of Aklan province as the country’s premiere tourist destination. Both airports would provide tourists and locals alike a more convenient and closer venue to enter and exit Boracay Island.

For the KIA, President Arroyo said upgrades, such as the installation of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) on the runway and in the control tower, have allowed local and international flights to land at KIA even at night.

She added that the KIA passenger terminal, which is currently undergoing expansion procedures with the construction of a new passenger terminal building, will provide incoming and departing passengers a more comfortable travel experience with its state-of-the-art facilities not to mention easier access to their luggage.

“So, yang Kalibo (International) Airport, matatapos yan sa November (2009) (and with its ILS working to capacity), international flights can now take off and land at night,” the President said.

For CIA, on the other hand, President Arroyo expressed confidence that construction and upgrading procedures would commence immediately since four local and international developers have individually expressed their intent to develop the airport.

“Yang sa Caticlan (International Airport) naman, tiyak na yan kasi may apat o limang bidders na. Pipiliin na lang kung sino,” the President said.

The existing Caticlan airport, officially named Godofredo P. Ramos Airport after the late congressman from Malay town in Aklan, is classified as a feeder airport, one of the two gateways to the world-famous Boracay.

Despite its status, Caticlan is the third busiest airport in the Philippines, with the fifth highest number of passengers and the second highest number of aircraft movement, according to aviation authorities.

Philippine President backing probe of extrajudicial killings in Davao

Palace backs CHR probe
Reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang Monday vowed full support for the Commission on Human Rights in its effort to end the vigilante-style killings in Davao City, and prosecute those behind them.

It said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had instructed both the military and the police in the province to support the CHR investigation.

“We’re totally committed that we will be supporting the CHR in its pursuit of identifying those behind some 800 killings in Davao,” Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a media briefing.

In a radio interview, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Ms Arroyo had ordered the Armed Forces to “cooperate with any or all investigations to be conducted by the Commission on Human Rights.”

Remonde said the commission could also expect the government’s cooperation in its investigation into the killing of Rebelyn Pitao, daughter of communist New People’s Army commander Leoncio Pitao.

Whether a Davao Death Squad really exists, there is no denying that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been remiss in his duties, Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

Nograles, who also hails from Davao City and known to be an archrival of the mayor, said the reported existence of such a group was “an indication of lawlessness and of (the mayor’s) insensitivity to the call of the people.”


CHR chief slams Davao City gov’t
Hits failure of city to stop vigilante killings
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Leila de Lima hit hard against the Davao City local government for its failure to stop the vigilante-style executions in the city.

De Lima said this "brand of criminality" was no different from the extrajudicial killings that gripped the country under the Arroyo administration.

"How different... is vigilantism from extralegal killings? It isn't," De Lima said in her opening remarks at the opening of the two-day public inquiry into the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) by the CHR en banc at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City.

In attendance was Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, known for his hard-line stance and provocative statements against criminals.

De Lima's speech was emailed by the CHR office to Manila-based reporters.

De Lima pointed out that extra-judicial killings have been defined by the Supreme Court as killings done "outside of regular judicial proceedings."

She said that since the death penalty has been abolished, there was no way that there could be any state-sanctioned executions.

"Finer definitions include the element of governmental policy at any level aimed at eliminating certain individuals as opposed to arresting them, and commission of killings by the state or unit of the state or condoning the same, with the act being deliberate," De Lima said.

She added: "You have watched how the various segments of society have banded together to find a way to solve activist and media killings... You have all seen the consensus of the Filipino people against extralegal killings, against executions."

De Lima said the CHR might have been branded as a "toothless tiger," but it was ready to use all its persuasive powers to find answers as to why the killings went unabated and the culture of impunity persisted.

Its commitment, she said, would be the same as its efforts in looking into the killings of activists and journalists.

"More than the statistics, and more than putting an end to vigilante killings, this probe seeks to save the psyche of the Davaoeños – to remove this terrible stigma over their city, to lift the fear for their own rights and for their own lives. We seek to instill the assurance that when you commit a wrong, you will be deprived of your liberty by a court of law, not deprived of your life by gun-toting scalawags," she said.

De Lima scored the Davao City local government for taking pride in the city's peace and order when killings occurred almost on a daily basis.

"If it were so peaceful and orderly, had it not occurred to anyone how paradoxical it is to make such a claim while killings remain rampant? It is completely incongruous to say it is peaceful and orderly when vigilantism is so commonplace, so pedestrian, it is almost a way of life around here," de Lima said.

She added: "I dare say, and warn everyone who wishes to visit this city, that peace and order is not a quality of Davao City."

De Lima also said that the police, prosecutors, and local government officials in Davao City could not admit ineptitude "since all of them openly announce how peaceful and orderly the city is."

"So if it is not ineptitude, what then accounts for the predominantly unsolved vigilante-style killings in this city? We need to know. We must know. You must tell us," she added.

The CHR's investigation into the DDS was the first conducted by any government agency since the first mysterious deaths attributed to the vigilante group in 1998.

She also urged Davaoenos who oppose the summary executions to speak out against "the dreadful specter of the Davao Death Squad... and be part of the solution of human rights protection."


CHR probes 800 kills by Davao death squad
De Lima airs concern over public acceptance
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Inquirer Mindanao and Inquirer Research

MANILA, Philippines—The killings have gone on for too long and it’s time to hold those responsible to account.

With this message, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima is set to open on Monday a public inquiry into a wave of unexplained killings of more than 800 people in Davao City since 1998.

Many of the victims were people purportedly with criminal records, giving rise to suspicions that the killings were the work of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), a shadowy vigilante group.

For De Lima, what is “most alarming … is the growing culture or mentality of public acceptance of the executions.”

“This is worse than apathy and indifference,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview before she left for Davao City, noting that the killings had been justified as one way of making the place crime-free.

De Lima said she had also received several e-mail letters from abroad raising concern about the unabated killings in the country’s largest city.

“Local authorities have the duty to protect society from killings like that. They should find out who the perpetrators are, prosecute and punish them,” De Lima said.

Inexplicable killings

A total of 814 deaths have been attributed to vigilante strikes since 1998. The victims included 73 children.

In February alone, 33 killings occurred. A month before that, on Jan. 20, seven people were inexplicably shot, stabbed or found dead in different parts of the city.

Among the Jan. 20 victims was a tricycle driver allegedly involved in a money scam and in illegal drugs. He was shot dead by two men on a motorbike.

That same day, a carpenter and another tricycle driver were found stabbed dead in a cemetery, a matchbox of dried marijuana leaves found on the carpenter’s body and sticks of marijuana leaves on the other body.

A few days later, De Lima spoke in Davao and mentioned the DDS.

“I noticed the audience were looking at each other. During lunch break, two judges approached me and said there were hardly any cases filed with them because there were no witnesses and the investigations did not progress. They are also worried that people seem to accept or like the situation,” she said.

Hired killers

De Lima said the CHR inquiry would attempt to find out the truth about the existence of the death squad and the possible liability of local officials for failing to stop the killings.

“There is still a factual issue if the DDS really exists. Some say it’s a media creation. Others say it’s real, that there is such a group of hired killers. I am inclined to believe that there is such a group because how can we have cases of mysterious, almost serial, killings,” she said.

The CHR regional office has listed more than 300 summary killings from 2005 to January 2009, but De Lima said it was being “validated” if they were indeed carried out by the death squad.

De Lima said Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had pledged to cooperate in the inquiry.

She said Duterte, once President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s consultant on peace and order, and the local government as a whole might be asked why the killings had gone unabated for 11 years.

Disturbing statements

De Lima noted that Duterte himself was known to have issued “disturbing statements” that appeared to tolerate, if not entirely sanction, the killings.

In a multisectoral meeting in Davao City last February, Duterte said he would not be involved in any extrajudicial killings but stressed that when he was voted mayor, his promise to the people was to restore peace and order in the city.

In that meeting, Duterte also said: “What I want is to instill fear … If it will send the wrong signals, then I am sorry. But what wrong did I commit?”

He went on: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”

At the slightest show of resistance, Duterte also said he would order the police to “shoot you and aim for your head to make sure that you are dead.”

Gang wars blamed

Duterte has denied that the government was behind the group and denied its existence, blaming the killings on gang wars, rivalries in the illegal drugs trade and personal grudges.

In a letter to the Inquirer earlier this month, De Lima said the aims of the inquiry were to determine the extent of human rights violations, examine the causes of the killings and study measures to address them, and seek the support of government agencies and civil society groups in order to expedite an investigation.

On Tuesday, the CHR is expected to conduct consultations with nongovernment organizations (NGOs), the Church, the academe, and the local media.

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa is expected to attend the inquiry. For the CHR and local human rights groups, it remains a big question why the local PNP has failed to stop the killings.

Local and international human rights organizations have raised concern that some of the victims were not only minors but without any criminal record as well. Others were victims of mistaken identity, it is claimed.

Copycat executions

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is among the organizations that have prodded the CHR to investigate the killings—said to be the first by any governmental institution or agency since the killings started in 1998.

The AHRC has expressed fear the vigilante-style killings have spilled over to Davao’s neighboring cities.

Danilo Reyes, head of the group’s Philippine desk, told the Inquirer by phone that murders similar to the Davao executions were recently recorded in the cities of Tagum and General Santos and that the “targets” had not been limited to criminals.

An Inquirer source said the DDS was composed mostly of former communist rebels. A DDS assassin, in an interview several years ago, refused to say who was behind the group.

When it started operating in the 1990s, the DDS used motorcycles as mode of transport and firearms in killing their victims. In the past few years, the killings were done by stabbing, apparently to prevent innocents from getting hit by stray bullets.

There were cases in which the victims, previously arrested for petty crimes, were killed minutes after their release from jail. There were also cases when the killings were done days after a gruesome crime had occurred in the city.

Philippines eyeing modest surplus by year-end


MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is eyeing a “modest" surplus during the last quarter of the year, Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said on Monday.

Manila hopes to be in positive territory with a P182 million surplus in the fourth quarter after it expects a P110.1 billion fiscal gap in the first quarter, P33.7 billion in the second quarter, and P33.5 billion in the third quarter.

“We expect a combination of slightly more favorable external developments aside from the action plans of Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BoC)," Teves said. “We will have already provided the bulk of our economic resiliency plan during the first six months."

On Thursday, the interagency Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) will review macroeconomic assumptions “to determine whether adjustment will still be needed," Teves said.

The government earlier programmed P102 billion in deficit this year but decided to increase it to P177.2 billion to spend more for critical infrastructure and social services, helping the country achieve a respectable level of economic growth.

This will also prepare for the upturn after the financial storm has passed, Teves said earlier.

For the first two months this year, the Philippines’ budget deficit more than doubled as it spent more and collected less taxes.

The national government’s deficit reached P67 billion during the January to February period, more than twice the P32.9 billion shortfall posted during the same period last year, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

Besides allotting more money for the government’s economic resiliency plan, the country’s revenue agencies collected lesser funds as the slowdown cut businesses’ bottomlines, thereby prompting them to remit lower taxes.

However, despite the deficit, Manila still remains “on track to meet its preliminary programmed deficit of P110.1 billion for the first quarter," said a statement that quoted Teves. - GMANews.TV

Convergys opening three more contact centers in the Philippines, to hire 3,100

Jose Bimbo F. Santos

NASDAQ-LISTED Convergys Corp. will open three new contact centers tomorrow, creating a total of 3,100 new jobs in the burgeoning outsourcing industry that is expected to continue steady growth despite the global economic downturn.

Two more Convergys sites are expected to open by June, an official said.

Through a live video feed, Convergys will launch contact centers at Cebu Asiatown i3 in Cebu City; the Technohub of the University of the Philippines and Ayala Land, Inc. in Quezon City; and the Nuvali TechnoHub in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

The Laguna contact center has 460 seats, which translates to about 1,100 jobs, while the Cebu and Quezon City sites have 420 seats each, equivalent to around 2,000 jobs.

It will be the first time for Convergys to open three new sites simultaneously through a live video feed, said Jomari P. Mercado, business development director of Convergys Philippines.

"We want to send the message that in this time of a global economic crisis, here is Convergys opening three new sites, which shows our confidence in the growth of the business process outsourcing industry," Mr. Mercado said.

The Laguna facility will use "green" technology, including solar panels and dual pipes for water recycling. There are also ramps to encourage employees to use bicycles in going to work.

The Cebu facility is Convergys’ third in Cebu, while the Quezon City hub is the company’s seventh contact center in Metro Manila.

Half of the positions created by the three new contact centers have been filled, Mr. Mercado said, and the rest would be filled up "within the year."

Convergys is planning to open a new facility at the Glorietta 5 mall in Makati by June. It will have 2,041 seats which can employ 3,000 workers.

There will be another site at the former San Lazaro racetrack in Manila, with 460 seats that could give jobs to 1,000 workers.

Convergys bared expansion plans last year, expecting to create 7,000 new jobs. The company said yesterday it was "on track" with the expansion project.

But the opening of new sites in Glorietta 5 and San Lazaro will depend on demand from customers.

"The way we build sites is opportunistic, meaning it depends on our client’s demand. Definitely there is demand right now; a lot of demand actually. But until we have closed the contracts, we cannot divulge the details," Mr. Mercado said.

"We are studying additional sites. But nothing is final," the Convergys official added.

The Business Processing Association of the Philippines is projecting around 30% growth this year for the $6-billion local outsourcing sector. The industry is expecting an additional 110,000 new jobs to the existing 400,000.

Manila Skyway extension project on

DMCI unit bags contract to extend Skyway to Alabang from Bicutan

THE CONSTRUCTION subsidiary of DMCI Holdings, Inc. has won the P8-billion contract to extend the Metro Manila Skyway to Alabang, Muntinlupa from Bicutan in Taguig.

In a disclosure yesterday, DMCI said it had signed an agreement with Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp. for the design and construction of nearly seven-kilometer (km.) Stage 2 of the South Metro Manila Skyway.

Citra Metro Manila Tollways is the proponent of the elevated expressway, with the exclusive privilege of financing, designing and constructing Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the South Metro Manila Skyway.

Stage 1 of the Skyway system, which consists of a 9.5-km. elevated tollway from. Sen Gil Puyat Avenue in Makati to Bicutan, has been in operation since December 1998.

Citra Metro Manila Tollways has started the construction of the Skyway Stage 2, which will span 6.88 km.

The company, a joint venture between Indonesia’s Citra group of companies and state-led Philippine National Construction Corp., is installing pierheads on 13 advance columns under Stage 2.

Aside from the Skyway construction, DMCI also bagged a P3.48-billion contract with property company Yeeloofa Development Corp. to build the 168 Residences in Binondo, Manila over a three-year period.

168 Residences will be a 42-storey two-tower residential and commercial complex for the mid-range market. It will cover an area of more than 7,400 square meters and will have three basement levels for parking, seven levels for a shopping mall, and a recreation area at the eighth floor. The remaining floors will be occupied by residential units.

Yeeloofa Development plans to connect the building to the existing 168 Shopping Mall in Manila, making it the biggest residential and commercial project in Manila’s Chinatown.

Shares of DMCI Holdings yesterday surged by 13% or P50 centavos to close at P4.25 apiece. — K.J.R. Liu

Philippine gov’t takes majority stake in MRT operator


THE GOVERNMENT has acquired a majority stake in the company which runs the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line on EDSA, a development officials said would generate savings and allow for improvements to the railway.

State-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank of the Philippines last month bought 56% of Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) — which operates the MRT-3 line — and is seeking to raise this to 76%, DBP president and CEO Reynaldo G. David told a briefing yesterday.

"The two GFIs (government financial institutions), DBP and Landbank, acquired a portion last December. We ... [initially] bought 26% and then a group came to us and offered us their stake last month, and so we were able to acquire 56%," he said.

"We have signed agreements and by the third week of April, the two GFIs will have 76% of MRT," he added.

Mr. David declined to elaborate on the cost and other details, saying the sale is covered by a nondisclosure agreement.

"We are under a confidentiality arrangement. We can’t divulge it (the details) or major complications will arise," he declared.

Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves, however, said a government takeover of MRTC would allow for state savings that can be rechanneled to upgrade the railway.

"There will be savings to the tune of $235 million [which] will enable the government to expand the facility of MRT-3, and plans are being formulated to optimize revenues derived from collateral businesses in the rail system," he said.

Mr. David, for his part, said the government plans to increase the number of coaches and to reduce headway — the time interval between two following trains — to ensure the rider convenience.

"Before, we (the government) couldn’t increase coaches and reduce the headway because we did not own it (MRT)," he said.

"[Now] It’s incumbent for to us to make it efficient."

MRT-3 takeover plans were first raised some four years ago, with the government reasoning that doing so would be better than continuing to subsidize the railway while at the same time paying dues to MRTC under a build-operate-transfer agreement. The move was also spurred by the state’s being behind in payments, would have activated default provisions.

Officials considered a bond float of some $900 million to fund a buyout but this was scrapped in the wake of the global downturn. Earlier this year, officials said the government was looking at just taking a majority stake in MRTC.

MRTC is the Sobrepeña-led consortium that built the MRT-3 line, the busiest of Metro Manila’s three light railways and which runs 17 kilometers from North Ave. in Quezon City to Taft Ave. in Pasay City. The firm’s contract expires in 2025.

MRTC officials were not immediately available for comment.

Mr. Teves said the deal was not against privatization policy since the government was looking to divest "as soon as possible".

"We cannot call this a reverse privatization. It is only temporary. We just want to generate savings and expand the facilities. We will privatize this as quickly as possible," he said.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Philippines eyeing $300M additional funds for railway project

North Railways needs $300m to get moving
Joyce Pangco Pañares

The National Economic and Development Authority is looking at increasing by $300 million the funding for the North Luzon Railways Corp. to pay the Chinese contractor that is building the rail project and end a year-long halt in operations.

Northrail president Edgardo Pamintuan said the approval of the Neda Board is “crucial” as the contractor, the China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. Group (CNMEG), has put on hold the resumption of the construction pending an increase in the project ceiling.

“Northrail will be happy if the Neda Board approves its application for an increased project ceiling because the project can now be implemented and completed at realistic current day prices. We were informed that the Neda Board will discuss it on Tuesday and that it is for their approval already,” Pamintuan said.

“The Chinese contractor and its Filipino contractors are waiting for the approval before they fully deploy their resources on the project. That is how important the Neda Board approval is,” he added.

Pamintuan said the fresh funding, which will complete the $503-million first phase of the project, will cover inflationary costs, foreign exchange differences, and variations in the original scope of work.

The amount being asked by Northrail Corp. is almost the same as the $299 million being demanded by CNMEG but Pamintuan insisted that the figure was reached after the agency did due diligence on the cost adjustments.

In February last year, CNMEG unilaterally suspended work on the Northrail project that will connect Caloocan City to Malolos City in Bulacan and demanded an additional $299 million in the contract price.

Of the additional $299 million, almost two-thirds or $211 million was to cover foreign exchange losses, inflation and costs of the delay in construction while the remaining $88.63 million was due to variations in the original scope of work.

Previously, CNMEG also blamed the government for the construction delays, citing the slow relocation of the illegal settlers whose houses will be covered by the project.

Pamintuan said at least 18,000 families are still living along the Caloocan-Malolos-Clark route who have yet to be relocated.

Hop-on, hop-off transport launched in Subic

Henry Empeño / Correspondent
Business Mirror

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—Travel in the 55,100-hectare free port will now be a breeze this summer with the introduction of a “hop-on, hop-off” bus transportation system.

The first of its kind in the country, the hop-on, hop-off (Hoho) transport system uses a prepaid one-day pass that tourists could buy at designated kiosks for one whole day of unlimited rides aboard any of the “Wow Subic” tourist buses.

The tourist transport system was launched recently by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in cooperation with WoWCard, a business locator engaged in tourism promotion and marketing, to help local tourists visit more attractions here in one day.

“Like eat-all-you-can, Subic’s hop-on, hop-off transportation system is ride-all-you-can,” said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza. “And it also comes at a minimal price of P200.”

He said two double-deck buses are now plying regular routes that take visitors around Subic’s central business district, stopping at shopping centers along the way, then moving on to various nature theme parks at the free port’s naval magazine area.

In April, two more buses are expected to complete the fleet, Arreza said.

Arreza said the Hoho transport system here took after Metro Manila’s Wow Sakay Na! vans that ferry tourists to various attractions around the metropolis.

“But here, we have commissioned double-decker buses so that visitors can see the area better and thus make their visit worthwhile,” he added.

“With this system, visitors can just leave their cars at their hotels, and then hop on for a day of hassle-free sightseeing,” Arreza also said.

SBMA deputy administrator for tourism Raul Marcelo said the idea of Hoho is for tourists who usually find themselves at a loss about how to visit all the attractions in Subic in just one or two days.

“This is the most efficient solution,” Marcelo said, adding it would also be the ideal scheme for families and big tourist groups, since they could stay together in one vehicle while touring the area.

“If a tourist wakes up at 9 in the morning and decides to go shopping at the Royal Duty Free Store, for instance, he can take a Hoho bus and return to his hotel using another one later.

Then, if he decides after lunch to go to Zoobic Safari, he can also take that trip with his one-day pass, then ride back to his hotel,” Marcelo explained.

Marcelo added the Hoho buses would provide the usual discounts to senior citizens and students.

Philippine medical tourism lures visitors with its less-expensive services

Estrella Torres
Business Mirror

THE Philippines is taking advantage of the global financial crisis by offering less-expensive medical treatments and wellness facilities to rich aging citizens in the US and Europe, as well as rich Arab and African states, as their economies suffer huge cuts in state funding for health and social services.

Hadi Malaeb, chairman of the World Health Tourism Congress, said the biggest market for health tourism are the rich Arab economies and African countries that allocate huge state budgets for medical treatment of their nationals.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism, which hosted the Fourth World Health Tourism Congress in Manila over the weekend, said the country is targeting a $3.5-billion market for medical and wellness tourism by 2012.

“Our biggest market includes the corporate buyers… these are the health ministries of Arab and African countries with dedicated budget for their nationals who need [medical] treatment abroad. They constitute the largest category,” said Malaeb in his speech at the opening of the forum held on Friday at the Hotel Sofitel in Pasay City.

He cited that two private hospitals in the Philippines won $5-million-worth service contract with an Arab state last year. The contracts constitute medical treatments for 80 patients to be sent to the country.

Three other market categories for medical and health tourism include international insurance companies, medical facilitators and the general public.

The departments of health and tourism, as well as the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), have agreed that the Philippines is now in the best position to take advantage of the global financial crisis to attract Arab and African countries and international insurance companies to avail themselves of the less-expensive medical and wellness treatments.

“The global financial crisis is affecting us in a favorable way,” said Samie Lim, PCCI vice chairman and head of the tourism committee, in an interview at the sidelines of the forum.

He said the crisis is prompting both rich economies and international insurance companies to “cut cost” in providing medical expenses for their nationals and clients, respectively.

“The Philippines offers reasonably priced medical care and facilities… half the price of those in the US and Europe and even 80 percent lesser for dental services,” said Lim.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said, “The global financial crisis is opening a window of opportunity for both general tourism and medical tourism as international insurance companies look for greater value but same service for their clients at lower costs.”

He said more business opportunities in medical tourism will also translate to creation of thousands of jobs for Filipinos, specifically those in the health and services sectors. These include doctors, nurses and caregivers, as well as hotel staff.

At the same time, Lim said the biggest market for the Philippines are the oil-rich member-countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that include Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

He said, for instance, the government of Bahrain is now subcontracting its social services to private hospitals in the Philippines, including St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Another market for the Philippine medical and health tourism sector are rich Russian tourists and retirees, who are now looking for tropical destinations due to the harsh effects of global warming that bring them longer and more severe winters.

“Cebu hotel and resort operators are now targeting Russian tourists as they are known to be big spenders,” said Lim.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Philippines tops global Earth Hour participation


MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has registered the highest participation in Earth Hour 2009, a global campaign to highlight the threat of climate change.

An article posted on the Earth Hour’s website said more than 650 communities switched off their lights off from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

"The event started with the darkening of the Rizal Shrine, a major Manila landmark honouring Filipino national hero Dr. José Rizal. The massive Mall of Asia in Pasay City, the world’s fourth largest mall, also went dark in a ceremony that drew several hundred people," the article said.

An Associated Press report earlier reported that nearly 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries planned to join in the World Wildlife Fund-sponsored event, a time zone-by-time zone plan to dim non-essential lights between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on March 28.

In the Philippines, the WWF for Nature, the Department of Energy, and other cause-oriented groups like Green Army and SWITCH greeted the event at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

“We will continue to adopt energy efficiency, energy conservation measures to conserve planet Earth," Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes was quoted as saying in GMA News’ Weekend Report. - GMANews.TV


Philippines had the most cities going dark
Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:24:00 03/29/2009

MANILA, Philippines — It was lights out at exactly 8:30 Saturday night in Makati City, as well as in most parts of the Philippines, as the city switched off electricity power for one hour in solidarity with 2,397 cities and towns in 83 countries all over the world to observe Earth Hour, a global activity to raise awareness of climate change and global warming.

Yeb Sano of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the Philippines (WWF) said the Philippines had the most number of cities and towns participating in the event. Hours before the countdown, he told Inquirer that a total of 647 cities and municipalities around the country had pledged to sign up for Earth Hour.

Ranked a distant second was Greece, with 484 cities and towns, followed by Australia with 309, Canada with 273 and the United States with 270.

As Earth Hour’s Official Flagship City in the Philippines, Makati led the country in observing the event, with the designated Earth Hour ambassador, Mayor Jejomar Binay, representatives of WWF and other environmental groups leading the countdown to the ceremonial switch-off at Tower One on Ayala Avenue, the heart of the country’s financial district.

“The city’s observance of Earth Hour is another testament to Makati’s wholehearted commitment to the global crusade to save our environment,” Binay said before the switch-off.

“The sight of various stakeholders — from the city’s ‘barangay’ [neighborhood districts], schools, civic-oriented and religious groups, the business community, led by the Ayala conglomerate, the diplomatic corps — gathered here for a singular purpose, clearly shows how seriously committed we all are. What we will do might seem a simple act. But this act done simultaneously in households and establishments in cities all over the nation and the world, when taken altogether, can make a tangible impact on global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

As sirens from fire trucks and police cars wailed and church bells rang on cue, street lights in the city’s principal roads and electricity in all public buildings were turned off. Business establishments like restaurants and fun venues dimmed their lights to express their support.

Launched in Australia in 2007, Earth Hour is a global event involving the voluntary shut-off of electricity in homes, offices, public places and commercial establishments for one hour from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in all time zones to express support for environmental issues.

“The local response was astonishing,” said WWF’s Sano. Provinces from Cagayan in the north to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the south expressed their intention to participate, making it the largest environment-themed event in the country, he said, adding that their target was to save 500 megawatts [of electricity], or the equivalent of shutting down 10 coal-fired power plants, for one hour.”

After Earth Hour, what next?

“When the lights are back, we should think about switching onto a more sustainable future,” Sano said.

“Earth Hour is really a symbolic act,” he said. “We should be practicing energy conservation and environmental consciousness every day, and in any way we can. In our own simple way, each of us can contribute to being more conscious about our impact on the environment, and how much we could save on electricity and water.”

With the hoopla over, Sano said he hoped citizens would have “a brand new relationship with the true entity that gives us true light, and that is Mother Nature.”