Saturday, 17 October 2009

40 priority infrastructure projects finished — Palace

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo

Over 40 priority infrastructure projects worth P88.48 billion have been completed as of the end of September, Malacanang yesterday said.

Presidential management staff director-general Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. said in a report that these infrastructure projects are among the 154 priority projects committed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Among the big-ticket items that have been completed are the P21-billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway in Zambales, Tarlac; the P8-billion Subic Bay Port Development Project at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Olongapo City; the P8.7-billion New Iloilo Airport Development Project; the P7.4-billion Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation and Power Project project in Nueva Ecija; the P2.5-billion Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) 2, which connects Lipa City to Batangas City; and the P199.5-million EDSA Rehabilitation Project.

Mr. Esperon heads the government’s Pro-Performance Team, which oversees the implementation of SONA projects.

He stressed these projects have also helped pump up the economy through the emergency employment program of the government.

"The Pro-Performance Team’s intensified monitoring, on-site inspection and evaluation have hastened the completion of many of the President’s priority programs and projects and pushed civil works and pre-construction, ensuring and spurring more economic opportunities in many parts of the country," he said.

Of the SONA priority projects, 69 are undergoing civil works and 42 are in the pre-construction stage, Mr. Esperon said.

"We will expedite the construction and implementation of the remaining projects, particularly those with right-of-way-issues, through closer coordination and consensus-building efforts with concerned agencies and project partners," he said.

He added that a round-the-clock working scheme has also been adopted for projects with slow civil works.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Remittances keep growing

OF Remittances Grow 2.8% in August; First Eight Months Level Reaches US$11.3 Billion
Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks amounted to US$1.4 billion in August 2009, posting a year-on-year expansion of 2.8 percent. The steady remittance flows registered during the first eight months summed up to US$11.3 billion, representing a year-on-year growth of 3.7 percent. Remittances from sea-based and land-based workers grew by 4.7 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.

Remittances from Filipino workers overseas continued to underpin the resilience of the economy, remaining a stable source of foreign exchange for the country. Remittance flows were supported by the steady deployment of Filipino workers abroad, combined with the increased access of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to formal remittance channels through the establishment of more remittance centers and tie-ups abroad. "As recent developments point to improving global economic conditions, a more favorable outlook for remittances through end-2009 is anticipated," BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said. Providing optimism for the steady flow of remittances in the months ahead are the employment agreements forged between the Philippines and host countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and the impending major U.S. military base expansion in Guam starting next year. Moreover, in the recently concluded 4th Joint Labor Council conference between the Philippines and Taiwan, labor authorities from the two countries have agreed to extend their memorandum of understanding on the Special Hiring Program for Taiwan (SHPT) beyond March 2010.

Governor Tetangco also pointed out that the commercial banks' continuing aggressive efforts to build up their network of remittance business partners worldwide resulted in the capture of a larger share of the global remittance market. The country's state-owned banks have also started to strengthen their correspondent relationships with remittance companies abroad.

For the period January-August 2009, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany.


AGI, partner commit $1.6B in tourism investments

By Doris Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--Tycoon Andrew Tan’s holding firm, Alliance Global Group Inc., is investing up to $1.6 billion within the next five to six years in two integrated tourism developments—“Newport City” in Pasay and “Bay Shore” at the Manila Bay reclamation area.

“We want to be the largest tourism player in the country,” AGI president Kingson Sian said in a presentation during the company’s stockholders meeting held on Thursday at the newly opened Newport City tourism estate.

“We are very bullish about the tourism industry in Asia and there is no reason why the Philippines cannot be a major player in this industry,” Sian said.

The 25-hectare Newport City is a joint venture between AGI subsidiary Travellers International Hotel Group Inc. and Star Cruises Ltd., the world’s third largest cruise line operator and part of the Genting Berhad group of Malaysia. The joint venture committed to invest P30 billion in this project.

Sian said Newport City would be positioned as the gateway to Philippine tourism owing to its proximity to the NAIA 3 terminal.

The tourism estate in Newport City, named Resorts World Manila (RMW), will feature a full array of entertainment facilities and services designed to attract domestic and international tourists.

Under the plan, RMW will have about 1,500 hotel rooms, including the recently opened Marriott Hotel and two other hotels under construction—Maxims Hotel and Remington Hotel.

There will also be a 1,000-seat Newport Performing Arts theater, four high-end cinemas, luxury shopping arcade and a four-story retail mall, gaming areas, restaurants, spas and dance clubs.

Newport City is expected to generate about 10,000 tourism-related jobs by 2011.

Travellers is embarking on another large-scale tourism development within the 90-hectare Entertainment City Manila, called the “Bay Shore,” which may include a theme park.

Sian said $1.6 billion in investment was the group’s commitment to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

Arroyo approves extreme Metro Manila makeover

By Christian V. Esguerra, Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — Pushed by the great flood brought about by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Thursday gave the go-signal for an urban development project that would rid Metro Manila of tens of thousands of informal settlers and modify its landscape.

At the Legislative and Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting in Malacañang, Sen. Edgardo Angara broached the idea of changing the “topography and geography” of parts of Metro Manila in the wake of Ondoy’s devastation, according to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde.

Remonde said Ms Arroyo was amenable to the proposal and wanted the project to take off from the 1977 Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Project.

He lamented that the project received what he called a “Mona Lisa treatment” from previous administrations that allowed it to “just lay there and die.”

“Why should we start from scratch when there is already something?” Remonde said at a media briefing after the Ledac meeting. “The idea here is to use the master plan as a starting point.”

Ms Arroyo apparently was so interested in the study that she asked architect Felino Palafox Jr., one of its proponents, to present it at a Cabinet meeting.

“The President is very serious in considering it,” Remonde said. “The President will have the political will until the end of her term.”

He said Ms Arroyo had “nothing to lose” in implementing drastic changes in Metro Manila’s urban setup since she was serving the last few months of her term.


BANGON (Unofficial Video) - rico blanco


Countless Filipinos have heroically gone out of their way to help our brothers and sisters in this time of need. This is just my humble contribution as a singer and musician. I hope, in my own little way, I can help raise additional funds for our countrymen affected by the typhoons, and perhaps give a little boost to their morale to help them get back on their feet again.

I am offering a completely new song, 'Bangon' as a free download here -

Hopefully it will also raise some badly needed funds through your donations. Suggestions for how you can help are also on the site posted above.

Thank you for your kindness. God bless. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!


ps. I'd like to thank my friends who swiftly volunteered their services, free of charge, to help me make this song come to life - drummer Robert Dela Cruz, bassist Berns Cuevas, Blue Light studios, Angee Rozul, Tracks studios.

We hastily prepared this video just so we can quickly get the song and message out there, and subsequently the donations. In the process, we lost track of the sources of the pics we randomly grabbed from the internet. I apologize for not getting clearance beforehand. Thank you for understanding, and if your work was used, please send us a message so we can give you proper credit. Special thanks also to friends who contributed photos for this video.

Please feel free to make your own video using the song.


pinaluhod tayo,
sa isang hagupit
niragasa, sinalanta,

humupa ang unos, isang bahaghari!
dala ng bukang liwayway-

pilipinas kong mahal
akay ang pananampalataya sa may kapal
buhay sa yong dugo
ang tibay na tatak ng tunay na Pilipino

at nagising ang bayanihan
milyon milyon naging isa
walang kami
walang kayo
walang sila
tanging ligaya
ay pag alay ng sarili sa iba

pilipinas kong mahal
akay ng pananampalataya sa may kapal
taglay ng yong dugo
ang tibay na tatak ng tunay na Pilipino

hindi ka namin iiwan
hindi tayo susuko!
lulusong tayo't magtatagumpay

pilipinas kong mahal
akay ang pananampalataya sa may kapal
buhay sa yong dugo
ang tibay na tatak ng tunay na Pilipino

lahat nitong mga pagsubok
ay ating kayang lagpasan
lahat nitong mga pagsubok
ay ating kayang lagpasan

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Inspection on the On Going Pasig River Dredging Project

Investments in growth areas seen to remain robust in 2010

Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--Investments in the country’s SO-called growth sectors are expected to remain robust next year, as the Philippines remained “one of only a handful of resilient economies that maintained a sound economic footing during the worst global economic crisis in recent years.”

Growth sectors included IT-business process outsourcing, mining, renewable energy, infrastructure and construction, agribusiness and services which would include tourism, retirement, health and wellness.

In his presentation at the economic briefing on Wednesday, Trade Secretary Peter Favila said the IT-BPO industry for instance, was expected to grow to about $13 billion and employ close to a million workers by 2010.

For 2009, the BPO industry targets to breach the 500,000 direct employee threshold with a projected double digit growth of 25 percent.

Favila also noted that the mining industry was expecting some $1 billion in investments this year, with the view of making the Philippines a major nickel producer by 2010. He added that by 2013, mining investments could even reach $12.6 billion.

According to Favila, the government was banking on the Renewable Energy Law and its implementing regulations to further spur investments in the local renewable energy.

And even with the economic crisis, he said the country saw this year several big ticket projects and major investments.

These included the $1.1-billion expansion program of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines; P300-million ethanol plant in Leyte; Texas Instruments’ $1.5-billion facility; $1.1-billion investment plans in biofuels, and Hanjin’s additional $86-million investment in Subic.

To further boost investments, he said the government was undertaking several initiatives to put in place a stable policy framework.

“Exports and investment strategies [are] designed to best position the country for the global rebound,” Favila said.

These initiatives included improving the business environment and reducing transaction costs.

Philippine banks upbeat on Q3 performance

Doris C. Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--Business and macroeconomic conditions are seen improving in the third quarter despite the damage caused by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng.”

“The third quarter is better than the second and the second was better than the first,” Citibank Philippines country chief executive officer Sanjiv Vohra told reporters at the sidelines of an economic briefing by macroeconomic managers on Wednesday.

“Whatever is lost in production, we will probably make up for in consumption,” Vohra said. “Also, there had been no job loss,” he added.

Citing an initial reading of the situation, he said the recent natural calamities that hit the country were not seen to make a big impact on the economy or on the banking system despite some “technical” delinquency.

In the case of Citibank, it has granted a 30-day debt relief for credit card and personal loan customers residing in areas hardest hit by “Ondoy,” including Metro Manila, Rizal Province, Bulacan and Pampanga.

“We’re committing to extend the same to people hit in (north) Luzon, but we’re still assessing the timing,” Vohra said when asked whether Citibank would agree to a longer reprieve.

“It’s the right thing to do because it will also allow people access to credit as they rebuild their houses,” Vohra said.

Raffy Algarra, treasurer at Security Bank Corp., said the market consensus was that the recent calamities would chip off maybe only 0.5 percent of gross domestic product.

The damage to property arising from these unfortunate events, Algarra said, would likely be offset by additional spending spurred by overseas Filipino remittances and international grants.

He noted that the peso’s recent appreciation was partially due to the front-loading of remittances when a number of banks and cash transfer agencies waived remittance fees as part of post-Ondoy relief efforts.

Algarra said he was sticking to the outlook that the peso could hold up at 46 to the US dollar by the end of the year, at the very least.

One more thing not to worry about

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I guess I was about 6 when it dawned on me that I was going to be part of a special generation that would live to witness a turn of the century. A part of me wondered if I would live long enough to the old age of 50 to see that event happen.

Being a “baby boomer” in the US back then, the world was probably not the best psychological environment for a child. The possibility of a nuclear Armageddon was literally part of everyday life, with bomb-shelter drills as common at school as a fire drill. Of course, living in California, we also had earthquake drills.

But as that little kid grew, I always had year 2000 in the back of my head.

Those times were not easy times to be optimistic about the future. Pollution, pesticides and population were all potential killers of my dream of seeing the 21st century. But with each new disaster that was supposed to happen in the next few years, you finally realized that no matter how persuasive the arguments of doom and gloom were, the world seems to keep moving on just fine.

No matter how bad people told us that it was going to get, the disaster never came.

Ten years ago when the global-warming hoax was invented, my young sons came to me with great concern. Because the data and science supposedly behind global warming was kept secret, the best I could tell them was that I had heard similar dreadful predictions before that had not come to past. I told them to always hold faith that ultimately the world was in God’s hands, serving at His pleasure and will, no matter how hard mortal men try to ruin things rather badly.

Now that last month the famous Al Gore “hockey stick” chart of global warming has been shown to be based on falsified and manipulated data from the famous Yamal tree-ring study, another doomsday scenario has been proven false (See for the facts).

One of the most interesting “end times” economic scenarios revolves around our main energy source, crude oil. No one thought much about oil until the 1973 Middle East oil embargo. Then suddenly people started conserving oil because the higher price had made it truly “black gold.”

In 1956 a geoscientist with Shell named M. King Hubbert came up with the theory that eventually, oil production would peak out and then decline because of oil being a finite resource. Naturally, other “experts” (including Al Gore) jumped on this theory and each had his own year that production would start irreversibly declining to the point where we would all be riding carabaos and using candles. Well, we wouldn’t be using candles since they are made from a crude-oil byproduct also. But you get the point.

During the 1970s, I worked in the oil industry. No, not getting my hands dirty but raising investment funds for oil exploration and drilling. I remember one project off the tip of the peninsula of Baja, California. The geologists assured the investors that everything was right geologically for a major discovery. After a few tens of millions of dollars had been spent, they announced that there was no oil. In spite of “perfect” conditions, they said that a few million years ago, the oil had simply leaked out.

Other industry experts that I came in contact with surprised me with the fact that no one really knew much about oil. That is, no one knows if oil is a finite resource in that all the oil that ever existed is just sitting there under the ground and eventually we will find all of it. This is the “biogenic theory.” Or perhaps oil is produced continuous by some process we know nothing about deep within the earth and is somehow pushed near the surface, the “abiogenic” theory.

Whatever the truth is, 2009 is turning out to be a boom year for discovering new oil. More than 200 new discoveries of oil have been made this year. British Petroleum announced what may be the largest field ever found in the Gulf of Mexico. A potential 2 billion barrels of oil have been found in northern Iraq. Brazil’s recent monster discovery could eventually mean another 100 billion barrels added to world reserves.

Furthermore, newly developed technology to extract natural gas from shale and methane beds will unlock the energy equivalent of 1.2 trillion barrels of oil, a 60-year world supply. The US is using this technology to such an extent that US imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Trinidad and Qatar have almost stopped. Spot prices for some LNG deliveries have dropped to 50 percent of pipeline contracts. From the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph: “The US energy department expects shale to meet half of US gas demand within 20 years, if not earlier. Projects are cranking up in eastern France and Poland. Exploration is under way in Australia, India and China. Texas A&M University said US methods could increase global gas reserves by nine times to 16,000 TCF [trillion cubic feet].”

As I really did not have to worry as a child about seeing the year 2000, I know now that I am not going to have to worry about getting around on horseback or using whale oil to run my computer. I won’t be around when the world runs out of oil in 50 years.

PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by Inc. E-mail comments to mangun@email.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Winds of change

Adam Jones
OBG Editorial Manager
Business Mirror

The Philippines’ current display of courage and resiliency in the wake of devastating typhoons Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) and Pepeng (international name: Parma) bears resemblance to that of the country’s economic performance during the current economic downturn.

The Philippines, in the midst of the current economic crisis, will post positive growth figures in 2009 despite most analysts envisaging a difficult year for the country prior to 2009—based on the assumption that overseas foreign worker (OFW) remittances were doomed to drastically decrease.

Even though growth has not been considerable—first-half GDP growth was quite flat at just 1 percent—the Philippines is somewhat fortunate given the bleak outlook globally. The country’s OFWs, rumored to be sent home in droves prior to January 2009, have been able to continue remitting, keeping the economy buoyant. Remittances in 2008 totalled $16.4 billion and are estimated to grow by as much as 5 percent in 2009. In the first seven months of the year OFW remittances grew 3.8 percent and the additional growth in the remainder of the year is seen to be driven by Filipinos working abroad sending home more money after the ravaging effects of the typhoons.

Unfortunately the two typhoons, which have caused considerable damage to the country’s largest island, Luzon, have been estimated to lower GDP growth by as much 0.5 percent in 2009. This drop is significant considering economic growth for the year is predicted to fall between just 0.8 percent and 1.8 percent. While a 0.5-percent decrease constitutes a 30-percent to 60-percent dip in GDP growth, the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) has not revised down its growth estimates just yet, pointing out the damage caused by the typhoons, while horrendous, will not dramatically reduce the country’s production capability. In fact, Neda National Planning and Policy Staff Director Dennis Arroyo has suggested the two typhoons may even pull up GDP as reconstruction could see production and manufacturing of goods surge toward the end of the year.

Further enabling the Filipino economy to remain sheltered from the current economic storm has been the prudent guidance of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Tight regulation of the banking and finance industry by the BSP has ensured the capital adequacy ratios (CAR) and nonperforming loan (NPL) figures have remained strong. A rigidly structured licensing program the BSP has implemented also ensured limited exposure to the risky financial instruments that infected many of the world’s financial markets.

Headline inflation, which peaked just 14 months ago at 12.3 percent, dropped to a record low of 0.2 percent in July, and averaged 3.4 percent in the first nine months of 2009. The BSP predicts an annual inflation rate between 2.5 percent and 4.5 percent in 2009 and 3.5 percent and 5.5 percent in 2010. The dramatic decrease in inflation over the past year has provided the BSP with adequate room for monetary policy easing. The crucial inter-bank borrowing rate is currently at a low of 4 percent, while the lending rate stands at 6 percent, having been decreased six times since December 2008.

The Philippines’ limited exposure to external influence doesn’t stop with the financial industry. Exports make up a relatively small portion of the Filipino economy compared to some of its regional neighbors, accounting for roughly $50 billion per year. While the country’s fairly limited production of exports has protected the overall economy during the current crisis, the opposite is true during years of significant external growth.

Furthermore, the Philippines relies on rather little foreign direct investment (FDI)—which declined to $1.52 billion in 2008 from $2.92 billion in 2007. While country’s inability to attract significant FDI may have helped shelter the country during the current crisis, it will surely be a burden when the global economy recovers.

The fiscal deficit, which the administration originally aimed to rein in by the end of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term, was forced to take a back seat in 2009 as deficit spending was seen as a key to keeping the country’s economy afloat until the global economic downturn recedes. A $6.9-billion stimulus package, entitled the Economic Resilience Plan (ERP), was the Arroyo administration’s specific response to the global economic crisis.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Philippine resident representative Denis Botman has urged the government to halt stimulus spending in 2010, declaring, “The government has to shift to a neutral fiscal stance next year. There is not much room for fiscal stimulus because the country’s debts are too high,” in a statement to local press.

Fortunately, spending in preparation for the forthcoming elections in June 2010 is predicted to have a “stimulus” effect on the economy in the first half of 2010, hopefully preventing the federal government from spending any additional funds.

The recent spate of typhoons, which has caused massive flooding and landslides, leaves little room for optimism and is predicted to become more frequent in years to come as a result of global warming. However, Filipinos have an innate sense of optimism and there are indeed several reasons to look forward to 2010 as the global economy thaws and a new administration enters Malacañang Palace. The Philippines should once again find itself with an opportunity to address its isolated position in the global market. If the country can continue to grow its service-related industries, such as business-process outsourcing and tourism, while simultaneously increasing its industrial manufacturing and mining prospects, we could very well see a new economic force in the Asean.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Arroyo forms body to run rehab; MVP is chair

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAGUPAN CITY—Faced with the enormous task of having to pump out floodwaters and rebuild roads and bridges, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has formed a body to do a postmortem on Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” and seek aid to rehabilitate the country.

The Special National Public-Private Sector Reconstruction Commission will also undertake a rehabilitation plan for wrecked infrastructure, Ms Arroyo said.

“This is going to be chaired by a business leader and Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) has agreed to chair this commission,” she said at a meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Cabinet at the Dagupan West Central School.

The commission will be co-chaired by Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the President said.

Ms Arroyo announced that she had signed an executive order creating the commission to undertake a study of the causes, costs and actions needed to be taken in the wake of Ondoy, Pepeng and last year’s Typhoon “Frank.”

The commission’s other main task is to seek fresh aid to fund the reconstruction of roads, bridges and expressways damaged by flooding and landslides, she said.

“We want to raise more grants rather than more loans because we still don’t have a good debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio,” she said.

Close to P30 billion

After Ondoy dumped rain that inundated Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Pepeng (international codename: Parma), which first entered the country as a typhoon and exited after making landfall for the third time as a depression, pummeled northern Luzon, triggering massive flooding and landslides.

The two weather disturbances left more than 600 people dead, and damage to infrastructure and agriculture estimated at close to P30 billion, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

The government has come under a storm of criticism over its slow and inadequate response to Ondoy, and has been asked to do a postmortem on the shortcomings of its rescue operations.

Pledging session

The commission is also tasked with prioritizing programs and their implementation, serving as a clearing house for international assistance, and requesting the United Nations and the World Bank to coordinate an international pledging session, according to Ms Arroyo.

The National Economic and Development Authority and Office of Civil Defense will serve as its secretariat, she added.

Salceda proposal

It was Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an economic adviser to Ms Arroyo, who proposed the creation of the commission.

“Given the impact of the global crisis on our fiscal capacity versus the magnitude of calamity impact, the Philippines should seek fresh aid amounting to $1 billion to fund reconstruction,” Salceda said.

He said the special commission would operate like the Coordinating Council for the Philippine Assistance Plan (CCPAP) first headed by businessman Roberto Villanueva of AG&P Inc.

The CCPAP has since evolved into the Coordinating Council for Private Sector Participation, which operates the Build Operate Transfer Center under the Department of Trade and Industry.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto B. Santos agreed that the government should consult with urban planners, and “enforce their advice so that the spillways of Metro Manila and other cities are protected from clogging.”

Exemption from election ban

Teves, for his part, asked the Department of Justice if it were possible to exempt foreign aid meant for rehabilitation projects from the election ban so as to accelerate the completion of the projects.

“Can we kindly check with (Justice Secretary) Agnes Devanadera in the law whether we can allow the fund we receive from the donor community to fund rehabilitation to be exempted from the election ban?” he said at the meeting.

Teves later told reporters that if there was a legal basis for the exemption, at least “we can anticipate if these questions are raised by the potential donors. If not, we can go through the normal process.”

Draining floodwaters

After relief and rehabilitation operations, the next tough task for the government would be draining the weeks-long floodwaters in some areas in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna and other provinces.

“How do we drain all the floods not only in the NCR (National Capital Region) but also in Region 1?” the President asked at the meeting. “I don’t know what’s the solution to the Laguna Lake. It has been drained but the water is still there.”

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. reported that a dike along the Manggahan Floodway, measuring 120 meters long and 5 meters high, had been completed despite an initial opposition from 14 families of informal settlers.

Informal settlers living along the waterway have been blamed for its clogging. The waterway drains into the Laguna Lake.

1977 master plan

Ms Arroyo then recalled that architect Felino “Jun” Palafox had mentioned the 1977 master plan for the metropolis.

“Jun Palafox raised to us that during Marcos’ time there was a master plan for the NCR in 1977. Let’s look at it, and start from there,” she said, stressing that the architect would be invited as a speaker at the next meeting.

Ms Arroyo told Chair Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority that she was counting on him to drain the floodwaters in the metropolis. With a report from Rey M. Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Manila speeds up rice purchases

by Luzi Ann Javier
Manila Standard

THE Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, brought forward planned purchases after storms hurt local crops and global stockpiles were forecast to decline, highlighting potential tightness in worldwide supplies.

The National Food Authority yesterday issued an invitation to suppliers for 250,000 metric tons at an Oct. 30 tender, according to a notice on its Web site. That was the earliest date the agency had set to fill next year’s requirements, about two months ahead of usual practice, spokesman Rex Estoperez said.

The Philippines’ decision may help to drive rice prices higher, curbing a 12-percent decline in Chicago this year. Rice imports by the Philippines last year, coupled with export curbs by some suppliers, helped to send the contract to a record and sparked concern that there may be a global food crisis.

The early tender “sends a strong signal to the market,” said Safder Hussain Mehkri, a member of the Rice Exporters’ Association of Pakistan.

Pakistani shippers would make offers for the order, said Mehkri, vice chairman of the South Group, which accounts for about 95 percent of the nation’s exports.

Rice futures, which gained 0.8 percent to $13.505 per 100 pounds Monday, surged to a record $25.07 on the Chicago Board of Trade in April 2008 as India and Vietnam held back shipments. Rice is the staple food for billions in Asia and Africa.

“It makes sense to do this expeditiously given the forecast contraction in the global grains markets,” said Gary Olivar, deputy spokesman for Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, referring to the tender.

“Any contraction in supply will of course push global prices higher,” Olivar said yesterday by telephone.

Peter McGuire, managing director at CWA Global Markets Pty, said on Oct. 8 that so-called rice riots might reappear next year as prices surged on lower output in India and increased imports.

Protests over high food prices swept the world last year from Haiti to Bangladesh.

The Philippines, which yesterday raised its estimate for damage from the storms to 8.6 percent of fourth-quarter rice output, might boost overseas rice purchases by 13 percent to 2 million tons in 2010, National Food Authority Assistant Administrator Jose Cordero said on Oct. 9.

Tropical storm Ondoy struck the Philippines’ largest rice-growing region on Sept. 26, causing the heaviest rainfall in more than four decades around Manila and surrounding provinces.

Typhoon Pepeng hit parts of Luzon on Oct. 3, including Nueva Ecija, the largest rice-producing province, and Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, and Cagayan. Bloomberg

HSBC’s RP unit eyes 1,000 new corporate clients a year

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

WITH many local companies now seeking to penetrate the offshore markets amid globalization, British banking giant HSBC is offering itself as a prospective partner to enterprises looking for growth opportunities outside the Philippines.

HSBC, which has been operating in the country since 1875, is looking to expand its corporate customer base by at least 1,000 a year from more than 5,000 at present, said senior vice president Junie Veloso.

“We expect the number [of HSBC’s business banking customers] to definitely go up over the next couple of years,” said Veloso, who is also head of the corporate and institutional banking group. “We’re putting in between 1,000 and 1,500 new customers per annum.”

Small businesses account for about 60 percent of HSBC Philippines’ current corporate client base.

“We’re focusing on businessesthat have international requirements or aspirations,” Veloso said.

A panel discussion was organized and conducted on Tuesday by HSBC, with three of the successful entrepreneurs in the country giving insights about business sustainability in the era of globalization and prospects for recovery after the global financial crisis.

Among the panelists were jewelry designer Janina Dizon-Hoschka, Rustan Group of Companies executive vice president Anton Huang, and Hiro Asandas, who moved to the Philippines from Indiain 1954 and established himself as a manufacturer of comforters, bed sheets, pillowcases and towels under the “Canadian” brand.

Veloso said a local company looking to penetrate the offshore markets or doing business with companies abroad should partner with a foreign bank.

“If you have offshore transactions, then our advice is to use an international bank,” he said.

He said HSBC’s corporate banking group has the geographical scale that can help match a multinational company’s worldwide footprint, as the financial-services group has a vast network of some 10,000 offices in 85 countries.

The bank, he said, offers a comprehensive range of business banking services and products to both small and big companies.

Those with offshore transactions, including import-export requirements, can avail themselves of such cash-management products and services as online telegraphic transfers offered at competitive rates, electronic check- writing facility, payroll facilities and business insurance, Veloso said.

According to Veloso, local companies can benefit from the growth opportunities now being offered by the vibrant economies of Asia, particularly China and India.

The HSBC Group is represented in the Philippines through The Hong-kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. Ltd., and its subsidiary, the locally incorporated HSBC Savings Bank (Philippines) Inc.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Call by UN Ambassador John Holmes

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had a meeting with Ambassador John Holmes, the United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

President Arroyo and Ambassador Holmes talked about the emergency assistance that the United Nations will give to the Philippines. Ambassador Holmes said that UN has been continuing their international flash appeal for the $74 million budget to be used for the provision of food, water, sanitation, and emergency rehabilitation for the flood victims. He also said that UN already received $20 million solely for the aid to be given in the affected Filipinos.

Philippines' gold export rises 4.33% to US$ 79.23M

MANILA (PNA) – The Philippines’ free-on-board gold export rose to US$ 79.23 million in the first eight months this year, up 4,33 percent from US$ 76 million a year ago, according to National Statistics Office (NSO).

NSO preliminary data released Tuesday also show that export of chromium ore went up 3.69 percent to US$ 8.83 million from USD8.52 million.

Outbound gold and chromium ore shipments pushed to US$ 950.24 million the country's total receipts from exporting mineral products this year.

This is only nearly half of 2008’s US$ 1.79 billion mineral product export receipts as financial difficulties continued plaguing the international community, however.

NSO data also show that exports of other mineral product slid down during the period.

Shipment of copper concentrates reached US$ 64.66 million in the first eight months this year from US$ 98.11 million; copper metal with US$ 449.58 million from US$ 888.05 million; iron ore agglomerates with US$ 54.37 million from US$ 85.37 million; and other mineral products with US$ 293.51 million from US$ 636.32 million.

NSO reported no export data for nickel.

Total export earnings from mineral products went down 30.33 percent to US$ 24 billion during the first eight months of the year, from US$ 34.45 billion during the same period last year.

Outbound shipments of agro-based products also went down to US$ 1.35 billion from US.91 billion; forest products from US$ 23.35 billion to US$ 22.85 million; petroleum products from US$ 975.88 million to US$ 184.92 million; manufactures from US$ 28.71 billion to US$ 20.61 billion; and special transactions from US$ 1.04 billion to US$ 883.93 million. (PNA)

Philippines creates Reconstruction Commission

DAGUPAN CITY (PND) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday announced the creation a Special National Public-Private Reconstruction Commission to study the causes of the weather abnormalities, what actions to take to prepare the country, and the cost such actions will entail.

The President made the announcement at the West Central Elementary School here, where the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC)-Cabinet meeting was being held to assess the damage wrought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

'' I signed the executive order the other day,'' she said, adding, however, that Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has yet to issue it.

According to the President, there is need for such a special commission because of the increasing severity of typhoons and the magnitude of the devastation.

The commission will also undertake the rehabilitation program and raise the necessary funds for the purpose. Thus, one of its responsibilities is to work closely with the United Nations, the World Bank, and donor countries.

For that reason, somebody from the business community will head the commission. The President, however, did not name who that might be, if indeed she already had someone in mind.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and a religious leader will act as co-chairs, while certain other members of the Cabinet, representatives from business groups, non-government organizations here and abroad making up the board of directors.

She issued the executive order because ... of the magnitude of the impact of the recent calamities that hit the country in the midst of the global financial crunch that also affected fiscal capacity.

The Commission was tasked to undertake a study on the causes, costs and actions to be taken in the wake of the three typhoons that wrecked great damage to the country.

It will also undertake the rehabilitation plan for wrecked infrastructure and other priorities; prioritize programs as well as oversee implementation of these programs.

The special commission that will be headed by a business leader will also raise funds, especially grants, to fund reconstruction.

It will also serve as a clearing house for international assistance implemented by donors themselves using the cluster approach.

Furthermore, the Commission was also tasked to request the United Nations and the World Bank to coordinate an international pledging session.

The Commission will have Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and a church leader as co-chairs with all department heads and business groups, representatives of Philippine and international non-government organizations as members.

Business still optimistic of growth

Despite typhoon damage
Manila Bulletin

Business damage caused by the two typhoons are estimated to have reached P5 billion but the business community does not see this a reason to bring the country’s economic growth to a negative.

Edgardo B. Lacson, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, however, said the business sector is still assessing the extent of the damage on businesses wrought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

“Our estimates point to P5 billion worth of businesses being damaged,” Lacson said. The business damaged by Ondoy was placed at Ondoy but Pepeng was higher at P3 billion.

Lacson said the damages include factories and company operations that have been submerged by flood, lost materials and lost business opportunities.

“Some of our members are affected in the Northern Luzon,” Lacson said.

Lacson, however, said the business damages would have no impact on the local economic growth this year.

In fact, there could be higher growth this year because of increased economic activities for the reconstruction.

On the government calamity fund, Lacson said the government has to realign its budget because it will take time if they have to wait for Congress to act on it.

“The P10 billion calamity fund can be taken from the road users tax,” he said.

In the case of the PCCI, they will be extending financial assistance to the micro and small businesses affected by the typhoons.

For instance, PCCI will be extending financial assistance to some 2,000 shoe manufacturers in Marikina whose factories have been flooded.

“They need some equipment and overhauling of the submerged machines,” he said.

The big economic picture

John Mangun
Outside the Box

It is very difficult sometimes to separate the “spin” from the truth. And it is more difficult when those who are offering an opinion fail to back that opinion with facts that relate the total picture rather than just that information which supports their conclusion.

Having said that, I am sure you could accuse me from time to time of doing the same thing; choosing information that supports my opinion. It may be just a part of our human nature, but it is not right because that sort of analysis is distorted and misleading.

Over the last many weeks, I have expressed my opinion on the state of the world, at least as it applies to the financial markets and the broad economic picture. And judging from some of the email I have received, I have probably confused you more than normal and failed miserably to “enlighten” you. So in the interest of “truth” and clarity, allow me to describe the situation as I see it as precisely and unbiased and objectively as possible.

The US economy: Anyone who says the US is out of a recession is a fool. OK, sorry. I said I was going to be unbiased but, good grief, are these people looking at the numbers or is their analysis based on reading tea leaves at the bottom of the cup? Quarter-to-quarter fluctuations in economic output are the least reliable of all indicators. They are “guestimates” subject to great revision. The year-to-year numbers are more reliable and the US second-quarter annual change was a negative 3.8 percent. The third-quarter numbers will look slightly better only because 2008 was so bad. But on an annual basis, the US gross national and domestic product will shrink. The US is still and will continue to be in a recession.

Another way to effectively measure economic activity in the US is to look at tax revenue and the numbers are frightening. Revenues collected by the states in the third quarter through income-tax payments, sales (value-added tax) tax, and fees are down annually from 5 percent to 10 percent. You cannot have increased economic activity without a comparable increase in tax revenues. It is impossible in an economy like the US.

It is likely that some government programs, like tax breaks for home and car buyers, have created some economic stimulus. But this is a one-time affair and is not enough to pull the economy out of the recession hole.

Gold: The precious metal is trading at $1,050 and will go higher. The “experts” are saying that this is speculation on increased inflation and without inflation, the gold price will fall. Not true. Gold is not an inflation hedge and never has been. It is a hedge against a bad currency and the dollar is a bad, devaluating currency. To the extent that inflation will be a major US economic problem over the next 12 months, then I suppose gold is an inflation hedge. But as the dollar “dies,” gold will go higher. Canadian-based gold dealer Kitco, a major player, launched an index tracking gold in a variety of currencies that allows investors to monitor gold prices independently from the US dollar. This is another step toward the Super Sovereign Currency I spoke of last week.

The dollar: The US government budget deficit for 2009 will be at least $1.5 trillion; that is more than the Bush budget deficits of the last four years combined. How do you fund that deficit? Two ways: print more dollars or borrow more money. Printing more dollars causes devaluation; borrowing requires raising interest rates. Note this: more of the newly issued US government debt is now being bought by the US government than by foreigners for the first time in decades. Over the next several quarters, the US has no choice but to print money, and that will cause devaluation.

The comments that you read that the dollar is falling because it is no longer needed as a safe haven in light of a recovering global economy is totally false. The Australian dollar is at a 14-month high against the dollar. Maybe Australia is the new safe haven. Actually, it is. Why? Because that is a commodity-based economy and smart money is looking for hard assets to buy, not funny money printed by the US.

The US stock market: More and more Americans will sell stocks and more and more foreigners will by US shares (and other assets) as the dollar devalues. This happened in the 1970s when Americans could not buy anything, so the Japanese moved in and bought everything in sight, companies, real estate, because prices were so cheap in currency terms. The US stock market could double in price over the next two years. Short-term weakness flawed by long-term strength.

The local stock market: Undervalued, long-term, in both peso and dollar terms. Price/earnings ratios are below last year when you factor in the appreciation of the peso versus the dollar. That will continue to encourage foreign buying of local shares. Although there are some issues that might currently be considered “overvalued,” that means nothing. Prices are looking to a bright future. The last two months was the opportunity to sell out. Now is the opportunity to buy.

So again, buy local stocks, buy local companies, buy gold, buy local real estate, and sell dollars.

PSE stock-market information and technical-analysis tools were provided by Inc. E-mail comments to mangun@email.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Monday, 12 October 2009

Foreign investments up 34% in Jan-July


MANILA - Foreign direct investments (FDI) to the Philippines posted a 34% increase in the first 7 months of the year, the central bank said on Monday.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said net FDI from January to July reached $1.24 billion, with $347 million registered in July alone.

"Foreign capital continued to pour into the Philippine economy, encouraged by the country's sound macroeconomic strengths amid challenging global economic conditions and strains in foreign financial markets," the BSP said in a statement.

Sectors that enjoyed most of the FDI inflows in the seven month period were the following: manufacturing, real estate, construction, services, financial intermediation, mining, and trade and commerce sector.

Investments came mostly from the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

In the first 7 months, total inflows reached $1.46 billion. Total outflow was at $222 million.

PGMA allows use of Presidential plane, C-130s to carry relief goods to Baguio, Cordilleras

STO. TOMAS, Pampanga (PNA)—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday allowed the use of presidential plane and the C-130 plane of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in delivering more relief goods to Baguio City and other parts of Benguet and Mountain Province severely hit by typhoon Pepeng.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said that President Arroyo was informed that there was a shortage of rice supply in Baguio City, Benguet and Mountain Province and since all roads going to Baguio City were still impassable, Mrs. Arroyo authorized the use of presidential plane and C-130 plane to carry more relief goods to typhoon victims in the Cordillera Region.

Fajardo also said that the government was still studying the possibility of importing vegetables after typhoon Pepeng devastated the vegetable producing farm in Benguet.

Fajardo said that the agricultural sector suffered much damaged due to typhoon Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the public should not panic on the shortage of vegetable supply in Metro Manila coming from the Cordillera region, saying there were many parts of the country that were also vegetable producing provinces.

Yap also said that aside from Baguio City and Benguet, the Department of Agriculture will source now the vegetable supply needed in Metro Manila from Quezon province, Nagcarlan in Laguna, Bulacan, Cebu, Iloilo and Region 10 in Mindanao.

About three tons of vegetables from Davao were transported by air to Manila on Sunday to sustain the demand of vegetables by vatious markets in Metro Manila, Yap said.

Yap also expects 69 tons of assorted vegetables from Nueva Vizcaya agricultural terminal.(PNA)

Strong peso seen taming inflation

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

THE surging peso may be bad news for Filipinos abroad sending home dollars to their beneficiaries, but it should help tame inflation, which may rise further as consumer-price pressures are expected to build up after two deadly storms in the past three weeks.

This was according to some analysts, who expect the peso to strengthen further against the US dollar after hitting its strongest in nine months last week.

“A surprisingly good peso performance means that the cost of imports, especially oil and food products, can counterbalance any such inflationary pressures,” said Marc Bautista, research head at Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. (Metrobank).

“Thus, inflation is still expected to be tame for the coming months moving into 2010,” he added.

The peso rallied to 46.45 per dollar on Thursday, a level that was hit again on Friday, and could have established a new high this year had the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) not intervened to support the dollar, traders said.

The last time the peso hit 46.45—its strongest level so far this year—was on January 7.

“The local currency continued to strengthen, gaining 1.36 percent week-on-week on Friday as the greenback extended its weakness against the major currencies,” said Jonathan Ravales, chief market strategist at Banco de Oro Unibank.

Ravelas said with the expectation that the dollar is to weaken further, “the peso could still strengthen toward the 46 to 46.25 level in the near-term.”

A “minor” correction, however, is also expected given the speed of the appreciation, he said. The peso has gained more than 5 percent since early September, when it hit a low of 49.01.

Data released last week showed inflation picking up to 0.7 percent last month from a 20-year low of 0.1 percent in August. Consumer prices rose an average 3.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2009 from the same period last year, a rate that is well within the government’s full-year forecast of 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

The uptick in inflation, however, did not take into account the impact of recent natural calamities that destroyed billions of pesos worth of properties and agricultural products, analysts said.

Bautista said while inflation is expected to further pick up in the last three months of the year, full-year average will still be tame at about 3 percent.

“While the devastation brought about by the recent typhoons may bring price pressure on agricultural products, the full impact may not be seen until next year,” he said.

He expects inflation to average 4.4 percent in 2010, “still hovering on the low side of the inflation numbers for this decade.”

Given that the global economy is expected to grow rather tepidly next year, he does not foresee strong upward pressure on consumer prices.

Bank of the Philippine Islands, in its weekly market outlook, expects the peso to trade between 46.10 and 46.60 this week.

The BSP, however, is again expected to make its presence felt in the market, tempering any excessive peso gains against the dollar, analysts said.

Bangko Sentral plans to moderate peso rise
Clarissa Batino
Manila Standard

THE Bangko Sentral said it would like to see the local currency strengthen at a more gradual pace and flagged the possibility of intervention.

“A more moderate appreciation would allow the markets and players to have more time to adjust,” Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said in an e-mailed reply to questions yesterday. The central bank will “smoothen fluctuations, as we have always been doing, to achieve more orderly movement of the exchange rate,” he said.

The peso was headed for a sixth straight weekly gain, its best winning streak in two years, and yesterday climbed to a nine-month high.

The unit strengthened this month on speculation overseas Filipinos will repatriate more money to help relatives rebuild homes and replace assets following the capital’s worst flooding in at least 40 years. The government estimates storms in the past two weeks caused P12.5 billion of damage.

“The role of the central bank is to stabilize,” said Marcelo Ayes, senior vice president at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. in Manila. “Too much strength in the peso is not going to help the economic recovery.”

The peso closed yesterday at 46.46 to $1 against 47.64 to $1 on Jan. 5, the first trading day of the year.

The currency would probably trade between 46.45 and 47 for the rest of the year as the central bank intervened, Ayes predicted. Bangko Sentral “guarded” the 46.45 level Thursday by buying dollars, he said.

Peso appreciation has gathered pace of late because of dollar weakness, “big waves” of remittances and surging investment in local assets by overseas investors, Guinigundo said. “The challenge is the magnitude and the pace” of the gains, he said, adding that “fundamentals have improved to a level that would justify a stronger currency.”

The government is sticking to its 0.8-percent to 1.8-percent growth target this year, Economic Planning Director Dennis Arroyo said this week, citing remittances and storm-related spending. Transfers of cash from Filipinos living overseas climbed 9.3 percent from a year earlier in July, the biggest increase this year, official figures show. Bloomberg

Nena's Manila

Christine Wuthrich

When foreigners or even locals think about travelling around the Philippines, Manila isn't usually top of mind.

More often than not, what is shown about our country on most travelogues, brochures, blogs, and magazines are images of landscapes outside the capital: beaches, volcanoes, coral reefs, rice terraces, etc.

And all with good reason, of course. But sometimes I wish more people would give Manila a chance. If you allow yourself to look past the traffic and smog, you'll be rewarded with pleasant surprises only a city as gritty yet as captivating as Manila can offer.

And what I believe makes Manila even more charming is the people. So I've put together something which I hope captures that charm, that seductive appeal Manila has on me, and which keeps me coming back home to her.

Finding love beneath Philippine seas

Syliza Marie Aquino

MANILA, Philiipines -- In 2001, I took up scuba diving and instantly fell in love with the beauty of the Philippine seas.

The surrounding waters reportedly have the highest level of biodiversity in the world, teeming with a wide variety of marine life within 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs. About 500 of the 800 known coral reef species in the world are found in Philippine waters. With more than 7,000 islands of lush tropical greenery, ringed by unspoiled beaches and marine sanctuaries, it's hard not to be enthralled.

In 2003, I received an underwater proposal I will never forget -- a scuba diving expedition to Anilao, Batangas that my fiance proposed to me in the most romantic way I could ever imagine. With a little help from our dive buddies, I received an engagement ring underwater accompanied with a banner that says "Be My Buddy for Life! Will You Marry Me?"

For very obvious reasons, I could not verbally express my answer while I was submerged in water. However, my actions definitely showed how ecstatic I was as I hyperventilated and aborted the dive to say "yYes" to the love of my life on the surface.

The under-the-sea proposal is quite symbolic for my fiance for in the words of William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet….."My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have for both are infinite."

I couldn't have asked for a more romantic setting to receive a marriage proposal as the weather was gorgeous and the Anilao reef and tropical fish who stood as witnesses were as stunningly colorful as they could ever be.

In 2006, international marine scientists have regarded the Philippines as the "Center of Marine Biodiversity" in the world, surpassing the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Environmental protection should be everyone’s concern. It is highly possible that these natural treasures may be lost because we take them for granted. Sadly, we realize the real value of a thing when they’re already gone.

In 2009, let's learn to love and respect the natural Wonders of the Philippine Seas. Who knows? You may be the next one to get engaged in it.

Note: Some of footage in the video above were taken from our dive expeditions at Tubbataha Reef and Anilao courtesy of Roby Formoso.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

US troops help Philippines as storm toll tops 600


MANILA, Philippines — American military helicopters started ferrying tons of aid Sunday to a northern Philippine mountain region facing shortages of food, gasoline and coffins after back-to-back typhoons killed more than 600 in the country.

Four Marine CH-46 helicopters were flying to Baguio city, which along with nearby provinces was devastated by storm-triggered mudslides that have blocked three key access roads to the area, isolating the upland region.

The US military was responding to a request from the Philippines to help them deal with the nationwide aftermath of two major storms since Sept. 26. Tropical Depression Parma blew out of the country's mountainous north late Saturday, allowing US troops to start airlifting food aid to hard-hit Baguio city.

Philippine officials asked US troops, which were in the country for an annual war exercise, to instead help with relief operations. About 700 Marines and sailors were on hand to help out, said Marine Capt. Jorge Escatell, a US military spokesman.

The helicopters flew to northern San Fernando township, where they picked up about 10 tons of food that will be delivered to Baguio, Escatell said.

The floods and landslides killed at least 53 people in Baguio, a summer tourist destination 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Manila known for its cool climate and pine trees. Rescuers continued to dig through a huge mound of mud in Crescencia village in search of more than 10 still-missing residents, Baguio city police chief Agrifino Javier said.

While the weather has cleared, the city of more than 300,000 people faced dwindling food and gasoline supplies. Repair crews scrambled to remove landslides blocking Kennon road to allow fresh supplies in. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo managed to fly in by helicopter Sunday to check the situation, officials said.

"There is nearly zero gasoline supply now, and we're running low on food," Javier told The Associated Press by telephone, adding many foreign tourists were among those stranded in the city.

In nearby Benguet province, police and volunteer gold miners pulled more bodies overnight from houses buried by mudslides late Thursday and early Friday, bringing the province-wide death toll from Parma to 158. At least 20 people remain missing, Benguet police chief Senior Supt. Loreto Espineli said.

Most of the dead were recovered in a mountainside community called Little Kibungan, where tons of mud and floodwaters cascaded down and buried or swept away houses as people slept late Thursday after a week of pounding rain, Espineli said.

Food supply was not a problem in Benguet, regarded as the country's "salad bowl" for its vegetable farms and strawberry fields.

Gasoline, however, was already being rationed and the province has run out of coffins. Volunteers were busy making wooden coffins for six bodies found in Benguet's capital town of La Trinidad, he said.

Aside from delivering packs of sardines, bottled water and rice in Baguio, American and Filipino forces also fanned out in Pangasinan, a rice-producing province to its south, to help provide medical treatment. Nearly all of Pangasinan was inundated by flood and water released from a major dam but some areas struggled back to normalcy Sunday.

"I see people drying up rice crop on the roadside. It's pretty amazing to me and I think that's a good sign," Escatell told The AP.

Troops from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in Okinawa, Japan, had just finished rescue and cleanup work around Manila, which experienced the worst flooding in over 40 years after Tropical Storm Ketsana dumped record rains Sept. 26. That disaster displaced about 1 million people and killed 337 in the capital and surrounding provinces. More than 287,000 remain in evacuation centers.

Then Typhoon Parma struck Oct. 3 and lingered as a tropical depression for about a week, also over the main northern Philippine island of Luzon, before blowing away toward southern China. It has dumped more heavy rains, triggering floods and landslides that have killed at least 276 people. It has displaced about 170,000 people.

With large expanses of land still under water, officials say the natural disaster will have a major impact on agriculture.

Arroyo declared a state of emergency over the entire Luzon region, allowing officials to rapidly draw emergency funds for relief work. The United Nations has also appealed for international assistance to help the impoverished Southeast Asian nation recover from the disaster. - AP