Saturday, 2 January 2010

Northrail update video: Malolos area

By ichuo08

PGMA names members of commission probing private armies

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday ordered the dismantling of private armies to pave the way for peaceful elections next year with the creation of the independent commission to address the alleged existence of private armies in the country under Administrative Order 275.

Initially named as commissioners are Butuan bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, representing the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines; Mahmoud Mala L. Adilao of the Bishops Ulama Conference; Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) president Herman Basbano, representing the media, Ret. Gen Jaime Echivarria, president of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO); Ret DDG Virtus Gil of the Philippine National Police, and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the commission is given broad investigative powers, including the tapping of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and other government agencies such as government-owned and controlled corporations. It's mandated to finish its work prior to the May 2010 elections.

The Commission will prioritize and focus investigation on the existence of private armies. It will be the government's sole voice on the issue of such armies which surfaced in the aftermath of the infamous Maguindanao massacre last Nov. 23.

The independent body will report to the President outlining its action and policy recommendations, including appropriate prosecution and legislative proposals aimed at eliminating the existence of private armies prior to the May 2010 elections.

The Commission has the power to summon witnesses, administrative oaths, take testimony or evidence relevant to the investigation. It also has the power to clear or disapprove all pertinent media statements by any member of the Administration.

Among others, it has the power to engage the services of resource persons, professionals and other personnel which may be necessary to carry out its functions. It also has the power to deputize AFP, NBI, PNP, the Department of Justice, and any other law enforcement agency to assist in the performance of its functions.

The Office of the President is providing the funds for the operation of the Commission which will be supported by a Secretariat composed of technical and administrative personnel. (PND)

Infrastructure development defines PGMA's 9-year tenure

As the year drew to a close, the current administration could look back with a sense of great accomplishment.

When she assumed office nine years ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo set out to create the physical infrastructure to spur and sustain economic development.

She has kept her eyes on the ball, so to speak. And the country has much to thank for such single-mindedness

Under the 2006-2010 Medium-Term Public Development Program (MTPDP), P94.19 billion has been spent for the construction or rehabilitation and improvement of major road arteries.

SCTEX Tops List

The P32 billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), located north of Manila, tops the list of completed new road projects. Now in full operation, the 94-kilometer SCTEX reduces travel time from Manila to Tarlac to one hour and 25 minutes and from Clark to Tarlac to a mere 25 minutes.

And SCTEX, a part of the Luzon Urban Beltway, is just an example of the government's thrust in this direction.

The newly completed Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway is another. The road cuts travel time from Sto. Tomas, Batangas, to Batangas City by 90 to 120 minutes.

In the Visayas, the P2.2 billion Bohol Circumferential Road does the same for the residents. Completed in 2006, travel time from one end of the island to the other has been reduced by half, from eight to four hours.

Soon, construction of the Halsema highway and Bontok-Tabuk-Tugugarao Road will be completed to make up the North Luzon Agricultural Quadrangle.

Similar other construction activities are being carried out in other parts of Central and Southern Philippines.

Under various stages of rehabilitation and improvement are the Nido-Bataraza-Rio Tuba Road, Panay Island Road Package, Maharlika Highway, Dinagat Island Road Network, Surigao-Davao-coastal Road, Zamboanga Coastal Road, and the Awang-Upi-Lebak Maguindanao Road.

Seaports & Airports

Also in the list of completed projects are 22 roll on-roll off facilities and seaports.

These projects, with an aggregate worth of P5.61 billion, are designed to facilitate the movement of people and goods from Luzon to Mindanao, and vice versa.

In an archipelagic country like the Philippines, seaports are a must.

The government has thus refurbished the Subic Bay Port at a cost of P8.04 billion. Similar other projects and their respective costs are Batangas Port, P6 billion; Jagna Port, Ubay Port, And Tubigon Port, all in Bohol, P128.08 million; and Lucena Port, P32.86 million.

The construction of new airports and improvement of old ones have been undertaken at a cost of P40 billion.

The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga and the Poro Point International Airport in La Union fall under this category. So do the Bacolod-Silay Airport and the Iloilo Airport.

Agricultural Facilities

In agriculture, the administration allocated P171 billion for the construction of various agricultural facilities nationwide. About 17,289 kilometers of farm-to-market roads has been completed at a cost of P32.08 billion.

Likewise, 138,763 hectares of farmland has been brought under irrigation. The productivity of 1,463,461 hectares of farmland has been restored with the repair and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities that serve them.

The construction and rehabilitation projects were undertaken to the tune of P87.59 billion.

Social & Environment Projects

For social and environment projects, the government utilized P91.80 billion for power and energy facilities, P6.46 billion for hospital upgrading, P23.40 billion for relocation and housing, and P1.24 billion for sewerage treatment and sanitary landfill.

Altogether, P860.78 billion has been earmarked for the implementation of 149 priority projects.

A total of P242.53 billion has been utilized so far. The remaining P618.25 billion has been programmed for 71 projects now being implemented and 39 projects still in the pre-construction stage. (PND)

Received through e-mail

It is a slow day in a small Iowa town and streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody is living on credit. A rich tourist drives through town, stops at the motel, and lays a $100 bill on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs to pick one for the night.

As soon as he walks upstairs, the motel owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill to his supplier, .the Farmer's Co-op

The guy at the Farmer's Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her "services" on credit.

The hooker rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner.

The hotel proprietor then places the $100 back on the counter so the rich traveler will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, picks up the $100 bill and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and now looks to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government is conducting business today.

Remittances via non-banks still hefty

by Eileen A. Mencias
Manila Standard

Bangko Sentral said it expects remittances coursed through non-bank or informal channels to amount to $600 million in 2009.

Remittances in 2009 are expected to hit $17.7 billion, including those coursed through informal channels.

Informal channels include door-to-door delivery, or those sent to beneficiaries by couriers.

Remittances coursed through informal channels in the past few years accounted for about 5 percent of the total. They are expected to account for about 3 percent of the total as the remittance services of banks expand their reach.

Data from the central bank show that remittances coursed through informal channels amounted to $400 million in the first three quarters of 2009.

The central bank expects banks to account for almost 99 percent of remittances this year when the amount is forecast to hit $18.1 billion.

Remittances in the first 10 months of 2009 rose 4.5 percent to $14.32 billion from $13.71 billion year-on-year. Remittances in October grew 6.7 percent year- on-year, slightly lower than the 8.6-percent growth reported in September when money for school tuition started coming in.

Remittances from Filipinos working abroad reached $1.53 billion in October, the highest monthly level recorded by the central bank, as they sent additional money for rebuilding after the damage wreaked by typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi.

The United States remains the biggest source of remittances, accounting for $6.02 billion in the 10-month period, down by 8.67 percent from $6.59 billion a year ago.

Filipinos in the US sent $663.14 million to their beneficiaries here in October, the most they sent in any given month in 2009.

Citibank waived its fees for wire transfers right after Ondoy while Bank of the Philippine Islands suspended charges on remittances sent through Wells Fargo.

Remittances from the Middle East, meanwhile, totalled $2.21 billion during the period, up 4.86 percent on year.

Remittances from Asia increased 13.08 percent to $1.72 billion, fueled by the 29-percent jump in money sent from Singapore to $551.89 million and the 44.6-percent expansion from Japan to $651 million from $450.14 million.

Remittances from Europe grew 14.06 percent to $2.57 billion from $2.26 billion a year ago.

Zero tariffs for Asean-6 starting January 1

Milestone in free trade in regional bloc

MANILA, Philippines—Starting 1 January 2010, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand can import and export almost all goods across their borders at no tariff as the Common Effective Preferential Tariffs for Asean Free Trade Area (CEPT-Afta) takes effect.

This move which will bring the total tariff lines traded under the agreement to 54,457 or 99.11 percent is a major milestone in efforts to transform Asean into a more integrated regional bloc economically, politically, socially, and culturally.

“The elimination of tariffs by Asean-6 underscores Asean’s commitment to dismantle tariffs and keep intra-Asean trade open. It will also serve as a catalyst for the development of the single market and production base projected by the Asean Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint,” the Jakarta-based Asean Secretariat said in a statement.

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Asean Secretary General, said the landmark agreement could mean savings for the 600 million Asean consumers depending on the market dynamics of the respective Asean-6 countries.

“We sincerely hope that all parties will act to ensure that the man on the street will benefit from these reductions in tariffs,” he said.

The business community, especially the downstream producers, also stands to gain in this new regional setup, Pitsuwan said. “Lower cost of inputs will allow the business community a wider choice of goods, and in the process, they will move towards becoming more competitive globally, as envisaged in the AEC Blueprint,” he added.

Under CEPT-Afta, an additional 7,881 tariff lines will come down to zero tariffs for the so-called Asean-6, the secretariat said.

“Additionally, with the reduction, the average tariff rate for these countries is expected to further decrease from 0.79 percent in 2009 to just 0.05 percent in 2010,” it said.

In 2008, intra-Asean import value of commodities for these 7,881 tariff lines amounted to $22.66 billion, or 11.84 percent of Asean-6 import value within Asean.

The tariff lines include final consumer products such as air conditioners, and chili, fish, and soya sauces, as well as intermediate materials such as motorcycle components and motor car cylinders. Other products include iron and steel, plastics, machinery and mechanical appliances, chemicals, prepared foodstuff, paper, cement, ceramic, and glass.

The CEPT-Afta covers the whole range of products traded by the Asean members-states and provides for the gradual reduction in tariffs of these products starting 1993. It specifies zero-tariff by 2010 for Asean-6 and 2015 for the remaining four countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. In 2010, these four countries will also see tariff reductions to 5 percent, where the average tariff rate will decrease from 3 percent in 2009 to 2.61 percent.

Under the CEPT-Afta, agricultural products such as tobacco, coffee, live animals, and animal products, which come under the Sensitive List (SL), will have their tariffs reduced to 5 percent on 2010 and to zero tariff by 2015. The Highly Sensitive List (HSL), comprising rice, will have their tariffs capped on a specified date. As for the General Exclusion List (GEL), the tariffs will remain based on factors such as national security and morals/health/aesthetic/archaeological grounds (e.g.: weapons and opium). As of today, 487 tariff lines or 0.89 percent of tariff lines for Asean-6 still remain in the SL, HSL, and GEL categories.

To facilitate trade, Asean also seeks to complement tariff reduction by: formulating streamlined and simplified customs procedures for clearance of goods, eliminating non-tariff measures, developing the Asean Single Window and the Asean Trade Repository, improving investment protection, providing for dispute settlement and better Intellectual Property Rights regime, and removing the obstacles hindering the movement of professional and skilled workers.

Asean, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

US gives $100,000 for those displaced by Mayon


MANILA, Philippines—The United States government has provided $100,000 (about P4.7 million) in immediate disaster relief assistance to families displaced by Mayon volcano and are now staying in evacuation centers, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney told reporter Tuesday night.

Released through the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Philippine National Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the funds will support the purchase and distribution of food, shelter, water, and sanitation assistance for up to 47,000 people in Albay

“As a proud adopted daughter of Albay, I am particularly concerned about the well-being and health of the thousands of people in evacuation centers. We want to do all we can to help make sure relief agencies have vital resources to help serve those in need,” Kenney said.

“I have spoken with Governor (Joey) Salceda of Albay and Senator Gordon of the Red Cross, and my embassy team is in constant contact with Philippine officials and NGO representatives to determine how we can help local residents at this difficult time,” she added.

Friday, 1 January 2010

VP Noli de Castro's New Year message

By: Cristina Lee-Pisco

VICE PRESIDENT Noli de Castro yesterday called on Filipinos to participate in the May 2010 presidential election to be able to exercise their right to choose the leader they want.

“I call on our countrymen to take part in this democratic process so that the results will truly reflect our people’s sovereign will,” De Castro said in his New Year’s message.

The Vice President said “let us make a strong stand against poverty, corruption, divisiveness and oppression. Let our united action and prayerful discernment open the path towards the continued development of our nation and sustained dynamism of our economy.”

“Let the hope that we feel today be transformed into concrete steps that we will commit to do in the interest of the common good,” he stressed.

The Vice President said “year 2010 brings us to a critical crossroad in our nation’s political life.”

Once more, Filipinos will exercise their right to choose their leaders at the national and local levels, he said.

“This will give us the opportunity for change in a manner that is peaceful and orderly,” De Castro stressed.

The Philippines was faced with difficult experiences this year because of the global financial crisis which also hit the rest of the world.

This was followed by the onslaught of natural disasters that left many Filipino families homeless and destroyed their sources of livelihood.

“We expressed indignation and rage over the senseless killing of our countrymen. Through all these, we fought back, rebuild our homes and restored our lives.”

He stressed, “today marks another new beginning for our country. Today we greet the coming year with renewed hope despite the challenges and uncertainties around us.”

“Isang maligaya, maunlad at mapayapang taon ang hangad ko para sa lahat. Manigong Bagong Taon!”

Metro Manila Skyway photo updates -- 24 December 2009

By Apiong


Inauguration of Bridges

Philippine National Anthem


Thursday, 31 December 2009

Manila to welcome 2010 with 30-minute fireworks display

Effect of full moon on Mayon being monitored

Ngayong Pasko (Ryan Cayabyab)

The San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra

The repertoire of the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra (SMPO) spans centuries of diverse music. As a young ensemble, its wide selection of works encompassing musical genres attests to its versatility and dynamism. The SMPO also displays its confidence in tackling the entire range of symphonic works in its collaborations with both classical and popular artists.

The San Miguel Master Chorale

The San Miguel Master Chorale (SMMC) is the latest recipient of the Aliw Award for Best Choral Group. As the country's first truly professional choir, it has participated in three international arts festivals: the 27th International Bamboo Organ Festival in Manila, Philippines; the 4th Taipei International Choral Festival in Taipei, Taiwan; and the Jeonju Sound Festival in Jeonju, South Korea. It was one of the few choirs chosen to perform in 2005 in the main concerts of the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto, Japan.

Since its inception in November 2000, the SMMC has premiered various choral works of European, Russian and Filipino masters. The SMMC, along with the SMPO, has also released the double CD The Sacred Works of Ryan Cayabyab. The SMMC is now preparing to record its debut solo album of a cappella arrangements by Ryan Cayabyab and several members of the Chorale.

Ryan Cayabyab (born Raymundo Cipriano Pujante Cayabyab but affectionately known as Mr. C) is a renowned Filipino musician and the current Executive and Artistic Director of the San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts. His works range from commissioned full-length ballets, theater musicals, choral pieces, a Mass set to unaccompanied chorus, and orchestral pieces, to commercial recordings of popular music, film scores and television specials.

Philippine threat assessment 2010

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

There always seems to be two Philippines. One Philippines shows up on the front pages of the newspapers and is a part of the official record. The other Philippines seems to hide in the shadows quietly. Often these two Philippines cannot be reconciled with each other. They do not seem to fit together.

The Maguindanao massacre is a tragic example of this phenomenon. While this terrible and senseless event of historic proportions hits the headlines, the logical conclusion is that it should have some sort of a great economic impact on foreign investment. But it does not. The global slowdown and great recession in the US should have severely impacted overseas Filipino remittances. Remittance rose nicely in 2009. The Philippines through the last two decades should have been a country with significant problems paying its foreign debt. Every creditor has always been paid in full.

Whether continued good fortune, divine intervention or something unfathomable in the Philippine bloodline, this country always remains standing, stumbling at times, but never going down for the full count.

Obviously, the major event for 2010 will be the elections. We always look economically toward these national political contests as if we were expecting a rich uncle from the US to arrive with a large number of balikbayan boxes filled with goodies. In 2010, the country may hit the jackpot.

When you look at the war chests of the several presidential candidates Villar, Teodoro, Aquino and Estrada, the “unofficial” spending amounts could be staggering. We could potentially see P30 billion or more added to the economic system by May. Considering who the candidates are, this is going to be political slugfest, and the money is going to pour out. How significant is campaign spending? In 2007, political spending added an estimated 0.34 percentage point to GDP growth.

So where is the threat? That much money pumped into the economy in such a short time might trigger a jump of inflation as the money will be spent immediately. In the long term this money will be beneficial and well- absorbed in the system. Short-term, there may be some headlines that will create a negative attitude, dampening enthusiasm for investment.

It has been a while since anyone has talked about the Philippines “shooting itself in the foot.” That is where I see the most significant economic threat in 2010.

As I wrote on Tuesday, I believe that 2010 has the potential for bringing us a much deeper and more serious global economic situation than in 2009. Let’s assume for the moment that a large portion of the things I mentioned come to pass; bad dollar, worsening US economy, a major sovereign-debt default or two, a geopolitical crisis.

Perhaps the strongest criticism that one could make about Philippine government policy is that far too often, that policy is reactive rather than proactive. It very often appears that the best and the brightest in government lack the ability to anticipate coming train wrecks and are too often paralyzed by inaction to get out of the way.

Tropical Storm Ondoy is a good example. The system and the people in the system failed terribly. One might accept the excuse that no one correctly predicted beforehand the ferocity of the storm. But at some point, someone in government should have figured out that a disaster was happening before their eyes and more quickly mobilized resources.

The election season may coincide with global economic turmoil/meltdown. With the current government involved in the campaign at so many levels and in so many races, the government’s eye may not be on the ball. That is a real and serious threat.

For example: Assume that a country like Greece suddenly defaults on its debt payments. Venezuela, the Ukraine and Argentina are all 50/50 or worse to default in 2010.

The devastating ripple effects would be enormous, immediate and build daily over time. And you’re worried about fake global warming? This would be a tidal wave sweeping over countries like the Philippines, affecting currencies, stock markets and bond prices.

Iran is a powder keg waiting to explode, and that explosion will rock oil prices. And prices go up much more quickly and they come down after the situation passes.

A major bank failure in the US could trigger a general run on banks all over the West, causing the dollar to collapse and commodity prices to jump 10, 20 and 30 percent.

Confidence in the government to anticipate and be prepared for these types of scenarios and to have the determination and ability to respond quickly is not very high. The tendency of the Philippine government to respond to crisis slowly and often inadequately is real and is serious. Together with the fact that the current government may be focused on the election or a newly installed government still getting adjusted could be a very great threat to Philippine economic stability in 2010.

“Wait and see,” “Play it by ear,” “bahala na”: all of these are dangerous attitudes that will not serve the country well in 2010.

Have you made at least a mental threat assessment for your personal and business finances for 2010? It is important that you consider some of the “what ifs” and the potential impact. Take action before, not just after. Get some money in the stock market, which will suddenly boom if the dollar falls. Budget out the impact, if gasoline jumps to P60 per liter. Forecast your business around both a 10-percent rise and a similar fall in the peso-dollar rate. Be prepared and be ready to act, if necessary, for a variety of potential situations that might occur.

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

SMART ends year with 40-M subscribers

Manila Bulletin

Despite economic slowdown, natural calamities and fierce competition, Smart Communications, Inc. (SMART) ended the year with 40 million cellular phone subscribers and 1 million broadband via subsidiary Smart Broadband, Inc. (SBI).

As of end-2009, SMART has also extended the coverage of its cellular network to all of the country's 1,619 cities and municipalities.

Its broadband service covers the country's major cities, through a network of 3G/HSPA cellular and fixed broadband base stations. The bulk, or ninety-eight of its cell sites, are powered by renewable energy source - wind and/or solar energy - an initiative that won for SMART in February 2009 the Green Mobile Award from the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade group for the mobile industry.

"SMART continued to roll out our 2G, 3G and fixed wireless broadband networks nationwide to reach even those in remote locations," according to President and CEO Napoleon L. Nazareno. Last month, SMART likewise completed testing of the most advanced broadband technologies such as HSPA+, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access or WiMAX, and Long Term Evolution or LTE in various parts of the country.

"Broadband is the key to success in the increasingly converged world of telecom, Internet or data, and media. SMART made wireless broadband Internet more affordable and widely available - whether via mobile phone, the PC, or laptop - anytime, anywhere," according to SMART Chief Wireless Advisor Orlando B. Vea.

New immigration cards on Jan. 1

Recto Mercene
Business Mirror

THE new arrival and departure (A/D) card for international passengers will be issued for full implementation starting tomorrow (January 1, 2010) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) said the Airline Operators Council (AOC) has been given enough time to dispose of their old cards.

“The airlines have until Thursday [December 31] to use the old embarkation and disembarkation cards,” according to Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan, saying that the previous document could not be read by computers in all major airports.

The cards are filled out by airline passengers when they enter or leave a country.

Libanan’s directives are being carried out by Fernando Sampol, airport operations chief for all international airports in the country.

The BI said the new immigration card is machine-readable and in compliant with international standards.

However, the AOC, through its president Ma. Lourdes Reyes at the Naia, said they had an agreement with Libanan that the new departure cards will be used for all departing passengers, while the old departure/arrival cards will remain in use for all arriving passengers until the supply lasts.

“We still have some 20 million copies of the old cards in our warehouse. We are not against the implementation of the new cards, all we want is to work on this together and not question their authority,” Reyes said, adding that during the past years the members of the AOC have shouldered the cost of printing the cards.

“During those times, the BI did not spend a single centavo as their contribution to the printing of the cards,” Reyes said, adding that the airlines distribute a total of 22 million cards each year.

Libanan emphasized that the new immigration card contains vital information on passengers’ demographics and travel characteristics, which are collated and stored.

He added that such information would enable key stakeholders in the tourism industry, including airlines, travel agencies and tour operators, to make better business decisions, formulate policies and plans, and implement programs.

“In addition, it enables the Philippines to maximize data-collection mechanism to generate statistics comparative with the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” the BI chief said.

Launched and implemented in June, the arrival/departure cards aim to have an accurate, timely, efficient, progressive and uniform means of recording and retrieval of the arrival and departure record of passengers.

The bureau, however, opted for partial implementation of the new card after the AOC officials requested Libanan for more time to dispose of their old card.

Patch Arbas, BI technical staff chief, said the project was the result of a memorandum of agreement that Libanan and Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano signed.

Arbas added that the agreement also provides for the joint encoding by the BI and tourism department of all the information travelers write in the cards.

Earlier, BI officials justified the use of the new cards as a valid exercise of the bureau’s function to document the arrival and departure of passengers and as chief regulator of the entry and stay of foreigners in the Philippines.

Also, the BI said the new card helps the bureau exercise its law-enforcement function, particularly in tracing the entry and departure of suspected terrorists, human traffickers, drug lords, arms smugglers and other persons involved in transnational crimes.

We’ll deliver all machines on time, poll supplier vows

Sara Susanne D. Fabunan
Business Mirror

DESPITE being 35,000 short of the original target of 42,000 committed for delivery by the end of 2009, the consortium supplying the hardware for the country’s first nationally automated elections in 2010 stressed on Wednesday all machines will be at the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) doorstep on time.

Smartmatic-TIM president and chief executive officer Juan Villa sought to allay fears among the Comelec officials and other stakeholders that they may not be able to deliver all the 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting machines to be used for the May 2010 polls.

In a press briefing during the presentation of the first batch of PCOS machines in Manila, Smartmatic-TIM’s Villa said the manufacturing of the machines will be completed in China by the first week of February 2010.

“[All of them are] ready for shipment [by then]. We were there about two or three weeks ago. It’s a world-class [manufacturing] facility what we have in Shanghai. We won’t have problems with the production,” Villa told reporters.

And to prove they are capable of producing the machines on time, Villa committed to ship to the country close to 10,000 machines on a weekly basis in time for the February 21 deadline of delivery.

“We will be delivering at the rate of 9,600 PCOS units every week, starting next week, until the end of February. Our target is, we will deliver all the 82,000 machines one week ahead of schedule,” Villa added.

On Wednesday five cargo trucks were parked in front of the Comelec office, containing the 4,000 PCOS machines that were presented to the media and personally inspected by Comelec Chairman Jose Melo, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal and officials of Smartmatic-TIM.

Earlier in the day, an additional 3,200 PCOS machines arrived in Manila following the delivery of the first batch on Monday night.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said earlier a vessel of Maersk Line arrived in Manila on Tuesday carrying with it some 1,727 power generators and 3,200 PCOS units.

On arrival, the machines will be immediately stored at a warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Melo said they will be stored and tested in the warehouse until the time they are shipped to some 40 Comelec regional hubs sometime in April.

“So that they will be nearer the precincts, they will be dispersed all over the country. That is for the facility of deployment on Election Day,” Melo said.

In the memorandum of agreement with Smartmatic-TIM, the poll body leased a total of 82,200 PCOS machines with the second and final batch originally set to arrive by February 2010.

With the arrival of the first batch of PCOS machines, the Comelec’s Melo said their fears about the delays in the machine delivery have been eased somewhat.

“Our level of confidence has gone up. I’ve been telling the Smartmatic-TIM officials ‘I have to see the machines before they get paid anything’,” Melo said.

The Comelec head had earlier said issues of delays in the automated election project were giving him nightmares.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

PGMA's New Year's Message

Philippine Stock market ends 2009 with 63% gain

by Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

THE stock market rebounded from a global financial slowdown to end the year up 63 percent, making it one of the best-performing equities markets in Asia and positioning it for further growth in 2010.

“Almost everyone is expecting a better 2010,” said Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Holdings Inc.

“Companies are already announcing possible investments, capital expenditures, possible mergers and acquisitions, backdoor listings and initial public offerings because of the positive outlook for next year.”

The Philippine Stock Exchange Index closed at 3,052.38 against the previous year’s close of 1,872.85.

The index hit its highest closing level this year on Dec. 2, when it finished at 3,111.96.

“The level it achieved this year was quite remarkable despite economic weakness,” AB Capital Securities said.

“What we can look out for next year are those sectors with high growth levels and stocks with the highest potential to benefit from an economic turn.”

AB Capital expects the market to test the 3,100 level next year.

Del Castillo said the election-related spending next year was likely to benefit consumer-related stocks such as power, telecommunications and food.

Markets will be closed starting today, when dealers go on an extended holiday break. Trading will resume on Jan. 4.

By next year, analysts said, investors would be closely watching the minutes of the Federal Reserve meeting set on Jan. 6, as well as key US economic indicators such as employment and retail spending data.

On the local front, the market would pay attention to policy rates, expected to remain steady until February, and the “political risk premium” of the May elections.

Over the long term, First Metro Investments Corp. said, the prospects for earnings and growth would likely continue to pick up in 2010 because of restructuring and cost-cutting measures carried out in 2009.

First Metro also expects the struggle for control of Manila Electric Co. between San Miguel Corp., led by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., and Metro Pacific Investments Corp., led by Manuel V. Pangilinan, to continue and expand to other areas.

“The tussle over Meralco control between MVP and Cojuangco seems far from over, and it is extending to other firms and projects such as Philex and utilities,” First Metro said.

It said both parties had enough cash to finance future acquisitions.

Among the top gainers for this year were Atok Big Wedge, which closed at P101 a share from only P1.60 in 2008; Philex Mining Corp., which closed at P16 from only P4.90 last year; Aboitiz Power Corp., which ended at P8.60 from P3.80 in 2008; Megaworld Corp., which ended at P1.48 from P0.66 a share last year; and Meralco, which closed at P205 from P59.50.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

SLEX extension to Lucena confirmed

Tollway takeover in 2010
Jeremiah F. de Guzman

Transfer of control over South Luzon Expressway to Manila Toll Expressway Systems Inc. has been moved to February next year, said a top official.

In a phone interview on Monday, MATES president Isaac David told Standard Today after a hearing before the Pasig City Regional Trial Court that the status quo has been extended.

Through a Toll Operation Certificate dated Nov. 27, regulators granted MATES the authority to use the SLEX facilities now owned by the government.

A temporary restraining order against immediate transfer of control was obtained by present operator Philippine National Construction Corp. effective until 1 p.m. Dec. 17.

The court requested that a status quo be maintained to avoid unforeseen violence during the takeover.

David said PNCC expressed willingness to hand over to MATES the control of the tollway.

“They requested for a one-month transition period so that PNCC employees can prepare for the takeover,” he said.

PNCC has more than 500 employees that maintain the SLEX and man its toll stations from Alabang to Sta. Rosa.

David assured PNCC employees that MATES will provide P110 million for the retrenchment of all PNCC employees and added that PNCC employees could still apply for jobs with the new management.

According to him, around 1,000 to 1,500 employees will be hired once control was transferred to MATES. This include 24/7 toll operators and construction workers for the extension of SLEX from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to Lucena.

David also confirmed the extension from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to Lucena this year, with an allocated budget of P10 billion.

“Two lanes, one on each side, will be constructed plus the shoulders on both sides as planned.

“This will be widened depending on the availability of the right of way,” David said, adding that the project would cover 30 months.

MATES is 40-percent owned by PNCC with 60 percent shared equally by local firm Alloy Manila Expressway Inc. and the Malaysian firm subsidiary MTD Manila Expressways Inc.

Majestic Mayon

Fiery attraction. Glowing lava cascades down the slopes of Mayon volcano as seen from Sto. Domingo, Albay, Sunday evening. BULLIT MARQUEZ, AP

Listed RP banks stage strong rebound as profits surge 68% in 2009

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

AFTER being shaken by the global financial crisis in 2008, the Philippines’ eight biggest listed banks staged a major turnaround this year with their combined net income growth averaging 68 percent in the first nine months to P29.8 billion, reviving investor interest in the stocks.

Their share prices surged this year, with Security Banking Corp. leading the pack with an increase of 145 percent as of Monday after several dividend declarations and a P2.5-billion stock-rights offer in October.

It’s been another year of surprises for the banking industry and the economy, according to Bankers Association of the Philippines president Aurelio Montinola III.

“Everybody thought 2008 would be a good year and then it turned out bad. And everyone thought 2009 would be bad but it turned out good,” he said in a recent interview.

The Philippines is now widely expected to post a modest growth of 1 percent in gross domestic product this year, one of a few Asian economies that managed to avoid contraction, thanks to the still-growing remittances of Filipinos abroad that fuel consumer spending.

Pascual Garcia III, president of the Chamber of Thrift Banks,  said the pessimists—particularly foreign analysts who early this year mostly predicted a contraction in remittances and the weakening of the peso beyond the level of 50 per US dollar—have been proven wrong.

“Our economy escaped recession and our banks stood strong and healthy amid the global crisis,” he said.

The Philippine banking system has passed the so-called stress tests conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco Jr.

At a recent forum he hosted for the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Tetangco said local banks were given a clean bill of health after the tests conducted under the IMF/WB’s Financial Sector Assessment Program.

The banking industry’s nonperforming loans (NPL) were found to be at manageable levels while capital adequacy remained above the minimum regulatory requirement of 10 percent.

Latest data showed the banks’ NPL ratio averaging 3.3 percent in October, the 13th month in a series when the incidence of bad loans averaged lower than 4 percent.

The industry’s average capital-adequacy ratio, an indication of capacity to absorb risks associated with lending, stood at 14.81 percent as of end-June.

With a “significant” improvement in bank profits and the P19.4-billion issuances of Tier 1 capital notes and unsecured subordinated debts qualifying as lower Tier 2 capital by several lenders, the qualifying capital position of the banking system as of end-June was 6.18-percent higher compared with the previous quarter, the BSP said.

Tycoon Henry Sy’s Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO) expects to end 2009 with net income hitting its profit guidance of P5.5 billion, representing a 172-percent increase over last year’s bottom line of P2.2 billion.

BDO—the country’s biggest bank in terms of assets, loans and deposits—posted a 31-percent increase in net income for the first nine months to P22.3 billion and also booked higher fee-based income and bigger trading gains.

Shares in BDO jumped 56 percent to P39 apiece on Monday from its opening level of P25 on January 5, the first trading day in 2009.

Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. rallied 84 percent to P45 from P24.50. The country’s second-largest bank in terms of assets reported a 24-percent increase in nine-month net income to P4.6 billion, boosted by a 22-percent rise in net interest income.

Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands, the biggest bank by market value, rose 16 percent to P47.50. It booked a net income of P7.3 billion for the first nine months, up 11 percent over profit of P6.6 billion in the same period last year.

Other top gainers include Philippine National Bank, Union Bank of the Philippines, China Banking Corp. and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.—which all posted improved bottom lines this year.

The best performer, however, was Security Bank with its share price surging 145 percent to P54 from P22.08 on January 5. The lender’s January to September net income jumped 27 percent to P2.2 billion from the same period last year, bringing its annualized return on average equity (ROE)—a measure of profitability—to 21 percent.

Security Bank’s ROE was the industry’s highest.

In its year-end report on the equities market, First Metro Investment Corp. painted a cautious outlook for banks in 2010.

Global threat assessment 2010

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

The year 2009 was not an easy time. Do not expect global conditions to be much better in 2010. In fact, there is a high probability that things economically and politically will become even more problematic.

Focus will be on the US economy and there is very little indication that the situation is going to improve in the months to come. An optimism that you hear about that economy is, at the least, spin; and at the worst, propaganda.

The bright spots that you might see highlighted are nothing more than “cherry-picking,” that is, looking for any specific numbers that could be used to justify a favorable outlook.

The stock market in the US is trading outside the bounds of reality. However, if you could borrow money for almost nothing in order to buy shares, then it would make sense to do so. And if enough people jump on this strategy, prices are going to rise. Listen to words of the CEO of Mohamed El-Erian of the US investment company Pimco which manages $1 trillion in assets, including the world’s largest mutual fund. “We’re on a sugar high. It feels good for a while but is unsustainable.” His point is that the recent burst of economic activity fed by government spending and near-zero interest rates will soon wither away. Mr. El-Erin forecast for the US market: Stocks will drop 10 percent in the space of three or four weeks.

The fact the holiday spending did not collapse entirely is due to Americans having put off purchases for many months and now pulling cash, not credit cards, out of their wallets to buy things at heavily discounted prices. This is not a sign of sustainable economic recovery.

Further, the US government must refinance some $2 trillion of short-term debt in 2010 or default on existing treasury debt. Where exactly is that money going to come from? Foreign governments and investors have reduced their purchases of US government debt by such an extent that the largest buyer of US government debt is the US government itself, through the Federal Reserve. The US Department of Treasury (or Finance in the Philippines) issues the debt and the US Federal Reserve (Bangko Sentral) is the buyer. This is a Ponzi scheme as the Federal Reserve has no assets to buy and is merely using newly printed dollars to give the illusion of that there are buyers of this debt paper.

The dollar will fall and gold will rise; potentially, gold could skyrocket.

The odds of a sovereign government going bankrupt and defaulting on its loans are almost a certainty. Greece and Ireland are on the brink. Iceland already did early in 2009 but the amount was covered by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB cannot afford to bail out a Greece or an Ireland. Oil producer Venezuela is already in default on its government obligations. They owe the oil companies some $5 billion that has little chance of being paid. If the oil companies do not get paid, they will continue to pull operations out of the country, forcing oil-generated revenues to fall further, eliminating the fund necessary to pay the sovereign government obligations. In Europe, the Ukraine is touching on being a failed state, both economically and politically.

The situation it the Middle East is rapidly going from bad to worse as Iran inches closer to nuclear capability and faces massive domestic political unrest and rioting. Can the outside world contain any Iranian political fallout from affecting world oil prices? No one knows for sure.

China could be the biggest story of 2010. Note this carefully: China has used its economic stimulus to keep factory production high in order to keep employment stable. That accounts for its good economic-growth numbers for 2009. But those goods are not being sold either internationally or domestically. World demand for Chinese-produced goods has not returned to the levels of 2007, and Chinese production capacity is well above what it was in 2007. This bubble cannot last forever and may burst toward the middle of 2010, if the US spending pattern stays on the current downward-to-flat track.

The most interesting attribute that will make 2010 will be a further push to new global realignments away from dependence on the US economy and toward more regionalized cooperation. We see this already with Japan moving as quickly and as closely as possible to a stronger alliance with China. Europe also is consolidating rapidly while reaching out to Russia.

The greatest threat to global stability lies in general with a resurgence of Islamic terrorist activities and greater open conflict, as witnessed in recent continuous bombings in Pakistan and military action in Afghanistan. Obama’s disastrous foreign policy has increased global danger from North Korea to South Asia to the heart of Europe.

The one nation that has the greatest potential for economic disaster with an enormous ripple effect is Great Britain. The political scene is chaotic with Prime Minister Gordon Brown teetering on being forced out through new and early parliamentary elections. Its credit rating should have been lowered one quarter ago, but the impact of a G-7 country having its debt a “junk” status is almost too much to consider. And if Britain goes, then the smaller nations in trouble (Greece, etc.) are doomed.

As for the Philippines? Come back here on Thursday.

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

AFP ‘on track’ in resolving insurgency problem by 2010

Manila Bulletin

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Victor Ibrado has said the military remains on track in its goal of resolving the insurgency problem by 2010 despite setbacks in its operations brought about by the series of calamities that hit the country and the now infamous Maguindanao massacre.

In his message during the AFP’s 74th anniversary celebration, Ibrado said, “Despite destructions in our internal security operations (ISO) campaign brought about by the series of natural calamities – from typhoons Ondoy to Pepeng to the threat of eruption of Mt. Mayon – and our recent campaign to end lawlessness in Maguindanao, we have continued to gain headway in fulfilling our deadline in defeating the insurgency menace.”

“Your AFP has successfully constricted the insurgents’ pipeline of support and have significantly reduced their strength and influence,” Ibrado said.

The AFP Chief noted that from a high of 107 New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla fronts in 2005, the military has reduced them to just 51 and have steadily reduced their strength and firearms.

“Whether in Bicol, Samar, or Zamboanga, their numbers are dwindling as a result of our well-strategized campaign. No longer will they threaten our kababayans in Marinduque and Bohol. No longer will they be able to extort from businesses in Romblon, Leyte and Misamis. These once threatened localities are now strongly denouncing their violent ways,” Ibrado said.

He said as a result of the military’s successes in its ISO campaign, the AFP has began to turn over internal security functions in the certain areas to the local government’s Peace and Order Council (POC) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

In an interview, Ibrado said the anti-insurgency operation was definitely affected in the areas where the forces that were re-deployed to calamity-stricken provinces and in Maguindanao following the Nov. 23 massacre were taken.

He said the President’s directive to end the insurgency problem by 2010 remains on track, adding that there has been no change in the instruction.

The AFP Chief further said, “Like in our fight against insurgency, significant operational inroads have also been made against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Surgical strikes and covert intelligence operations have resulted in the neutralization of their leaders, recruiters, and financiers. The public can be sure, we will get them no matter what,” Ibrado stressed.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Working President (433)

25 December 2009

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Series of ash explosions rock Mayon

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