Saturday, 16 January 2010

World responds to Haiti earthquake

The Working President -- 15 January 2010

Govt registers P36-b tourism projects

Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

Investments in the tourism sector hit P36 billion in the first 11 months of 2009, the Tourism Department said Thursday.

The department did not provide year-on-year comparison and specific breakdown of investments, saying the figures reflected the projects registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority and Board of Investments in the January-November period.

It identified 26 tourism investment projects in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. The projects, ranging from hotels, resorts, medical tourism facilities, sports and recreational facilities to agri-tourism facilities, were expected to provide 4,000 additional rooms and generate 15,000 jobs, it added.

“These projects mean strong investor confidence, more jobs and a gainful economy. Tourism is bound to have a positive year,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

The list is led by multi-billion-peso projects such as the Eagle Entertainment City and Bagong Nayong Pilipino Entertainment City in Parañaque.

Six new hotels and an entertainment complex in Metro Manila received fiscal incentives—M Hotel in Binondo, Remington Hotel in Pasay, Big Cedar Hotel in Malate, Microtel Inns and Suites in Pasig, Bayleaf Hotel Manila in Intramuros, Go Hotels-Cybergate in Mandaluyong and Newport Entertainment and Commercial Center in Makati.

Universal Robina’s profit soars to P4.1b

Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

Universal Robina Corp., the biggest maker of snack foods in the country, booked a net profit of P4.1 billion in 2009, up 11 times than P341 million in 2008, on higher sales, lower foreign exchange losses and gain from financial assets.

URC, a unit of JG Summit Holdings Inc. of taipan John Gokongwei, said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that consolidated sales for the year ending in September rose 11 percent to P50.4 billion from P45.4 billion a year ago. Sales of the branded consumer foods segment jumped 14.5 percent to P38.1 billion to boost revenues.

URC attributed the higher revenues of branded consumer food segment to increased net sales in domestic operations. Sales of the snack food division climbed 12.4 percent on year. Beverage sales value went up by 2.4 percent while those of grocery products improved 8.9 percent to P2.9 billion.

International sales surged 24.4 percent to P11.5 billion from P9.26 billion a year ago, lifted by higher revenues from Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Sales of agro-industrial rose 4.9 percent to P5.8 billion while revenues commodity foods segment increased 6.3 percent to P5.4 billion.

Meanwhile, Robinsons Land Corp., the property unit of JG Summit, posted a net income of P3.27 billion in the year ending September.

“Robinsons Land’s various business units managed to outperform because of our deep understanding of the market, commitment to operational efficiencies and a healthy balance sheet,” Frederick Go, Robinsons Land president and chief operating officer, in a statement said.

The commercial centers division accounted for P4.21 billion of real estate revenues for the year against P3.69 billion in 2008.

Robinsons Land attributed the 14-percent increase in revenues to newly-opened malls—Robinsons Place Tacloban, Robinsons Cabanatuan, Robinsons Pulilan and Robinsons Place Davao.

It noted rental growths from Robinsons Place Manila, Robinsons Place Iloilo, Robinsons Sta. Rosa Market and Robinsons Otis.

Robinsons Land opened four new malls from October to December last year—Robinsons Place General Santos, Robinsons Place Dumaguete, Robinsons Ilocos Norte and Robinsons Cybergate Cebu—to end the year with 29 outlets nationwide.

The company’s office buildings division reported gross revenues of P1.1 billion, up 26-percent growth, while the hotels united posted revenues of P1.04 billion, slightly lower from P1.14 billion in 2008.

Revenues of the residential division stood at P4.37 billion while net income before tax hit P1.36 billion in 2009.

The property company earlier lined up three residential condominium projects this year, namely the second tower of the iconic Sonata Private Residences at the Ortigas Business Center, the first tower of The Magnolia Residences in New Manila, Quezon City and Signa Designer Residences in Makati with Security Land Corp.

Domestic Liquidity Growth is Broadly Steady in November

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral

Domestic liquidity or M3 continued to grow steadily in November 2009, albeit at a slightly slower pace of 12.0 percent year-on-year (y-o-y) compared to 12.5 percent in October. On a monthly basis, seasonally-adjusted M3 growth decelerated to 1.1 percent in November from 1.6 percent (revised) in the previous month.

The expansion in liquidity continued to be fueled by the sustained growth in net foreign assets (NFA) at 32.5 percent in November from 29.9 percent in October. This can be traced to the steady growth in the NFA positions of the BSP and of the banks at 21.3 percent and 137.6 percent, respectively. NFA expanded as the BSP continued to build up its international reserves, with strong inflows from OF remittances, while banks settled a significant portion of their foreign liabilities.

Meanwhile, net domestic assets (NDA) contracted further in November by 5.0 percent from 3.2 percent in the previous month. This was due largely to the expansion of the net other items, which impacts negatively on overall domestic liquidity. Net domestic credit remained strong as the growth in credit extended to the private sector slightly increased to 7.3 percent from 5.7 percent in October. In contrast, the growth in credit extended to the public sector eased to 11.8 percent in November, as the credits extended to local governments and other public entities decreased by 3.0 percent in November.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. noted that the sustained growth in domestic liquidity indicates that ample funds are available to support the credit needs of firms and households. Going forward, he said that the BSP will continue to closely monitor monetary conditions to ensure an adequate level of liquidity for the economy's spending and investment needs.

Bank Lending Continues to Expand in November

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral

Bank lending, net of banks' reverse repurchase (RRP) placements with the BSP, grew by 6.6 percent year-on-year. The expansion was faster than the previous month's growth of 4.7 percent. Outstanding loans of commercial banks, including RRPs, grew by 2.6 percent, unchanged from the growth posted in October 2009, to reach P2.3 trillion at end-November 2009. On a month-on-month seasonally-adjusted basis, commercial banks' lending in November increased by 0.6 percent for loans inclusive of RRPs, and by 2.0 percent for loans net of RRPs.

Preliminary data showed that loans for production activities expanded year-on-year by 6.7 percent in November, higher than the 4.2 percent growth reported in the previous month. Growth in consumption loans was broadly unchanged at 3.8 percent this month from 3.9 percent in the previous month, following the sustained growth in auto loans and credit card lending, which was offset by the steeper contraction in other types of consumption loans.

Loans extended to the following productive sectors, which comprised about half (54 percent) of total loans, were the major contributors to lending growth: agriculture, hunting, and forestry (which grew by 18.0 percent); real estate, renting and business services (12.1 percent); transportation, storage & communication (23.7 percent); electricity, gas and water (19.8 percent); financial intermediation (14.9 percent); public administration and defense (34.2 percent); other community, social and personal services (20.6 percent); and hotels and restaurants (29.8 percent). Meanwhile, the rate of contraction in manufacturing loans, which accounted for about 14 percent of total loans, was lower at 16.7 percent relative to that of the previous month, as exports picked up in November 2009. Construction loans also posted their slowest contraction in seven months at 4.5 percent in November.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. noted that with lending activity gaining momentum, prospects for a self-sustainable economic recovery are improving. He said that the BSP remains committed to provide the appropriate monetary conditions to sustain credit expansion, while remaining mindful of its primary mandate of safeguarding price stability.

Renminbi Transactions Growing Rapidly

Media Release
Bangko Sentral

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that the Chinese Renminbi or Chinese Yuan (CNY) transactions of Philippine banks are growing rapidly. The settlement bank for Renminbi banknotes trading in the Philippines posted remarkable expansion of CNY-denominated assets from just CNY0.5 million as of 31 December 2008 to CNY174.6 million as of 31 December 2009. Five local banks launched their renminbi deposit products in the last quarter of 2009, with one bank registering growth of more than ten times from November to December 2009. Other local banks also expressed interest to offer Renminbi-denominated products and services to their clients in the near future.

Renminbi business is expected to grow in 2010 even further as more banks become acquainted with the business opportunities in the Chinese currency. BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. also believes that growth will be largely driven by the Philippines' strengthening partnership with China in the areas of trade, tourism, education, agriculture and other economic sectors.

The Monetary Board approved the inclusion of Chinese renminbi in the list of currencies convertible with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as early as three years ago, in December 2006, the BSP said.

OF Remittances Grow a Record 11.3% in November; Year-to-date Level Reaches US$15.8 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Release

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks reached US$1.5 billion in November 2009, posting the highest year-on-year expansion since October 2008 at 11.3 percent, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today. As a result of sustained remittance flows over the course of the year, cumulative remittances for the eleven-month period increased by 5.1 percent to reach US$15.8 billion. Remittances from sea-based and land-based workers recorded increments of 8.3 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

The continued deployment of skilled Filipino workers abroad has remained the driving force behind the steady stream of remittance flows. At the same time, the slowdown in the displacement of overseas Filipino workers has partly stemmed from the government's job generation programs which have helped displaced overseas workers find alternative jobs in emerging markets, thus supporting remittance flows. The higher transfers of funds recorded in November could also be partly attributed to the strong support of overseas Filipinos to the rebuilding efforts of families and relatives whose properties were affected by the series of typhoons in September and October 2009.

Moreover, the continued expansion of remittance transfer facilities has helped capture a larger share of the global remittance market. The enhancement of commercial banks' operations overseas and the introduction of new products and services have contributed in addressing the banking needs of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries. As of end-September 2009, commercial banks' established tie-ups, remittance centers, correspondent banks and branches/representative offices abroad increased to 4,153 from 3,015 at end-2008.

Going forward, prospects for OFW deployment are sound given work opportunities awaiting qualified Filipino workers in the global economy. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in its year-end report, indicated that in the next 5-10 years, the global labor markets will continue to offer employment opportunities to OFWs particularly in sectors such as healthcare, building and construction, and education.
For the period January-November 2009, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany.

Friday, 15 January 2010

RP zooms in global logistics survey

MANILA, Jan. 15 (PNA) -- The Philippines is among the 10 most significant over performers in trade logistics among developing countries across the world, according to the World Bank.

In its latest Logistics Performance Index (LPI) report released on Friday, the WB ranked the Philippines 44th among 155 countries assessed in the 2010 report. In 2007, when the WB launched the LPI as a benchmark of trade competitiveness, the Philippines was at 65 out of 150 countries.

LPI looks into the quality of the supply chain in a country, specifically in the areas of transport, warehousing, cargo consolidation, border clearance, in-country distribution, and payment systems. It is based on a survey done among logistics professionals — freight forwarders and express carrier companies — outside of the given country and more detailed data from those working in the country.

The current report relies on results of an online survey done last year in which the WB said nearly 1,000 senior industry executives participated.

The Philippines was rated very well in the ease of arranging competitively-priced shipments where it is ranked No. 20 worldwide. Its best score was in timeliness of shipments.

Logistics professionals also gave the country good marks in the ability to track and trace shipments and the overall competence and quality of logistics services. But they gave lower scores for the efficiency of the clearance process and the quality of trade and transport-related infrastructure in the country.

“Streamlining the connections among markets, manufacturers, farmers and consumers offers tremendous growth and investment opportunities and should be a top focus for developing country growth strategies,” the WB said in a statement.

According to the report, LPI results suggest that better logistics performance could raise gross domestic product (GDP) growth by one percent and boost trade by two percent.

The Philippines’ current LPI score is 3.14, placing it squarely among the world’s consistent performers from just a partial performer in 2007 with a score of 2.69. It is No. 3 among its peers of lower middle-income countries.

The highest LPI score is 4.11 attained by Germany, which toppled Singapore from its 2007 top spot. Singapore got a score of 4.09 to place at No. 2 among the global top 10.

All countries with scores of around 3.4 to 5 are logistics friendly. They are considered industry leaders in logistics services with best practices in core customs modernization, and have few trade-related infrastructure bottlenecks, except in rail transport. In Asia, Japan at No. 7, Hong Kong at No. 13, Taiwan at No. 20, South Korea at No. 23, China at No. 27, and Malaysia at No. 29 are also in this class.

At the bottom end of the scale are some African countries, Iraq and Cuba that scored lower than 2.4 and considered logistics unfriendly due mainly to a serious lack of infrastructure, poor logistics services and major constraints in core customs modernization.

In between are the partial performers scoring from around 2.5 to 2.8 and the consistent performers rated up to almost 3.4. While consistent performers have a diversified supply of logistics services, partial performers still suffer from a weak market. Core customs modernization is no longer a constraint among consistent performers but is potentially a major constraint of partial performers.

Trade-related infrastructure is another major constraint among partial performers whereas consistent performers only have problems in supporting trade expansion.

India and Vietnam, like the Philippines, are among the consistent performers and the 10 most significant over performers. But India fell in rank from 39th in 2007 to 47th in the 2010 report. Vietnam is steady at No. 53 in both 2010 and 2007 surveys.

With a score of 2.76, Indonesia is on the brink of losing its consistent performer status. It emerged in the 2010 survey at 75th, falling from No. 43 in 2007.

The best among upper middle-income countries is South Africa, ranked 28th globally, followed by Malaysia. China is No. 1 among lower middle-income countries with its global rank of 27, followed by Thailand at 35. Vietnam leads low-income countries, followed by Senegal at 58.

“Logistics performance is heavily influenced by the quality of public sector institutions and the effective coordination of border clearance processes among all border management agencies,” the WB statement said.

The LPI study also bears out the need for border management reforms as customs units are perceived to be performing better than many other agencies involved in the trade process, it said in the report.

It added that better logistics performance could be attained if countries were to improve transport policies and upgrade infrastructure, as well as increase competition in trade-related services like trucking, freight forwarding and railways. (PNA)

PGMA inaugurates ICT firm, attains 500,000 worker goal

There are now more than 500,000 ICT (information communications technology) workers in the country.

Today, WNS First Global Delivery Center in the Philippines inaugurated its facility at the Eastwood Cyber City in Libis, Quezon City, and announced it had increased the number of its workforce to 1100 employees.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who cut the ceremonial ribbon, had set the 500,000 mark and proceeded to attain the goal by creating the cyber corridor super region that cuts across Baguio to Clark to Metro Manila, to Cebu to Davao.

The firm’s expansion has enabled the current administration to reach that milestone.

''Half a million of nine million new jobs is certainly a substantial result,'' the President remarked during the ceremony.

Prabhakar Bisen, president and CEO of WNS Philippines, said the country is one of the most exciting destinations for BPOs and call centers. He added that all this was the result of the foresight and hard work of the current administration.

In early 2008, WNS formed WNS Philippines as a joint venture with Advanced Contact Solutions, Inc, a pioneer and leader in BPO services and customer care in the Philippines.

The BPO Association of the Philippines had projected the expansion of the BPO industry to a million jobs this year, with the physical infrastructure in place. (PND)

SM Prime to invest P20B in Cebu property

Willy Rodolfo III
Business Mirror

THE Cebu City government on Thursday signed an agreement with SM Prime Holdings Inc. for the outright sale of 30 hectares of the reclaimed South Road Properties (SRP), marking the official start of an estimated P20-billion investment by the company in the property for the next eight years.

SM Prime president Hans Sy said they will build a new mall that should be among the top 10 biggest malls in the world, a convention center and a chain of sky-rise hotels and condominium buildings. He said the whole development will be completed in eight years.

“When I heard that we got the deal, I said ‘this is it.’ This is the start of a whole new ballgame for Cebu. We will make a clear statement that will put us on the map of Cebu,” Sy said. “We will deliver a project that will make all Cebuanos proud.”

Sy turned over to Mayor Tomas Osmeña a check for P406.45 million, completing the total down payment for the whole property at P677 million in a ceremony at the SM City Cebu. The Cebu City council went on a special session Thursday morning to give the mayor the authority to enter into the contract. The councilors were present in the ceremony.

The total purchase price for the 30-hectare land is P3.027 billion payable until 2015.

Although the contract with the city stipulates SM to build within 18 months, Sy said construction work will commence by the middle of 2010 for the 250,000-square-meter mall and the 60,000 square-meter convention center.

“Prices of materials are going up, so it makes perfect sense for us to start building immediately,” he said.

Osmeña immediately ordered the city council to set the prices in the SRP at twice its present value as a show of support for the first two major investors in the project, SM Prime and Filinvest Land Inc. The two developers combine for some 30 percent of the 240-hectare property, with much land still uncommitted.

“SRP is not just another real-estate project. This is a mechanism that will drive Cebu into the future,” he said. “The other developers who did not come fast enough will have to pay double.”

Started in 1995 and completed in 2001, the SRP has been built through a loan obtained by the city government with the Japan Bank of International Cooperation. The pet project of Mayor Osmena since his first few years in office in the early 1990s, the project’s debt servicing caused great controversy, especially when it ballooned to almost a quarter of the city’s annual budget.

The loan amortizations run up to 2020.

Ron Tumao, vice president of SM Prime, said the long-term plan for the SRP includes building a university and a hospital.

“It is a beautiful property facing the sea. All these development projects will make Cebu a part of the destination for all local and foreign tourists,” Tumao said. “What is best for Cebu is you have the best salesman in the world in Mayor Osmena.”

City administrator Francisco Fernandez said that with payments from SRP and the continued installments from FLI on its joint venture with the city government, the city is set to earn more than P1 billion from SRP alone. And not even half of the property has been sold.

Cebu Investments and Promotions Center managing director Joel Mari Yu, who handled the marketing efforts on the SRP, said he hoped the new investments will silence detractors who warned that the property will cause the bankruptcy of the city.

“We could have just divided the SRP into lot plots and sold it,” he said. “But there was a vision behind the property.”

Yu said negotiations with SM lasted three years since it started in January 2007.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

UN: Population ageing is unprecedented, pervasive, profound, enduring

Summary of Findings

1. Population ageing is unprecedented, a process without parallel in the history
of humanity. A population ages when increases in the proportion of older persons
(that is, those aged 60 years or over) are accompanied by reductions in the proportion of children (persons under age 15) and then by declines in the proportions of persons in the working ages (15 to 59). At the world level, the number of older persons is expected to exceed the number of children for the first time in 2045. In the more developed regions, where population ageing is far advanced, the number of children dropped below that of older persons in 1998.

2. Population ageing is pervasive since it is affecting nearly all the countries of
the world. Population ageing results mainly from reductions of fertility that have
become virtually universal. The resulting slowdown in the growth of the number of
children coupled with the steady increase in the number of older persons has a direct
bearing on both the intergenerational and intragenerational equity and solidarity that are the foundations of society.

3. Population ageing is profound, having major consequences and implications
for all facets of human life. In the economic area, population ageing will have an
impact on economic growth, savings, investment, consumption, labour markets,
pensions, taxation and intergenerational transfers. In the social sphere, population
ageing influences family composition and living arrangements, housing demand,
migration trends, epidemiology and the need for healthcare services. In the political
arena, population ageing may shape voting patterns and political representation.

4. Population ageing is enduring. Since 1950, the proportion of older persons
has been rising steadily, passing from 8 per cent in 1950 to 11 per cent in 2009, and
is expected to reach 22 per cent in 2050 (figure I). As long as old-age mortality
continues to decline and fertility remains low, the proportion of older persons will
continue to increase.

Ayala’s Santierra hub tops P1b in lot sales

Jennifer B. Austria
Manila Standard

Property firm Ayala Land Inc. said on Tuesday it has sold at least P1 billion worth of lots over the weekend at its new residential project south of Metro Manila.

Ayala Land senior vice president Rex Mendoza told reporters during the launch of Santierra said Filipino migrant workers were among the buyers who listed their purchase as end-users.

Mendoza said the Santierra hub, which is a 77-hectare project beside the planned central commercial and business district in Nuvali, was well received by the market as buyers are now starting to see the developments in the Ayala venture.

Phase 1 of Santierra covers 125 lots, of which 108 have already been sold as of Saturday.

Rex said the company had offered 100 lots but more were added to meet strong demand.

Ayala Land said buyers paid in cash or opted for the maximum one-year payment period.

Lot sizes ranges from 600 to 1,200 square meters at P12,200 to P15,200 per square meter.

As designed, the master-planned community will be similar to the Dasmarinas and Urdaneta villages in Makati, close to the Central Business District.

Santierra is the third high-end residential project to be launched in Nuvali, following Abrio and Montecito.

Ayala Land president Antonino Aquino said the company will be spending up to P5 billion more on Nuvali.

He said the next stage would be to expand its retail, office building and residential sections on the 1,750 hectare development in Canlubang, Laguna.

According to Aquino, another office building would be rising to enlarge 40,000 square meter office space catering to business process outsourcing companies.

At least 10,000 square meters of rental space would be added to the present 2,000 square meters.

A joint venture project of Ayala Land and the Yulo family, Nuvali, meaning a new way of living, is about eight times the size of Makati central business district.

Besides Makati and Canlubang, Ayala Land is also responsible for the urban planning and development of Alabang, Bonifacio Global City and Cebu Business Park.

Foreign chambers trim wish list of priority bills


FOREIGN CHAMBERS are paring down the list of proposed laws they want passed before Congress turns its attention to the May elections, focusing on three measures that have already hurdled much of the legislative process.

Officials from Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) member groups said they want to concentrate on a few pending measures as the 14th Congress’ term nears its end. From a list of ten priorities the foreign chambers listed back in June 2009, five have not been ratified.

Of the remaining bills, officials said they would be focusing on just two -- the streamlining of investment incentives and the simplified net income taxation scheme (SNITS) -- alongside another bill that was not earlier listed: one creating the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).

"I think that’s realistic," European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Vice-President Henry J. Schumacher said in a telephone interview yesterday, speaking on behalf of the JFC.

John D. Forbes, who heads the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’ legislative committee, said that while they continue to back all their priority bills, "there might not be enough time" for some.

Congress will resume session on Jan. 18 and adjourn on Feb. 5 to allow legislators to focus on their election bids. After the polls, the 14th Congress will return to work one last time from May 31-June 4.

The three bills which the chambers are focusing on have already been passed by the House of Representatives and are merely waiting Senate approval of their counterpart measures.

Congress leaders could not be immediately reached for comment. The list of nine bills legislators said they could pass during this session does not include the foreign chambers’ priorities.

Malacañang, for its part, last week prodded legislators to pass the two revenue measures also cited by the foreign chambers.

For the proposed rationalization of fiscal incentives, the chambers tagged House Bill 5421 as their preferred measure among four similar bills pending in the Senate. The bill proposes, among others, a lower 15% corporate income tax after the income tax holiday granted to a firm lapses.

In contrast, those introduced by senators Loren B. Legarda, Panfilo M. Lacson and Manuel B. Villar, Jr. are either "not as comprehensive" as the House bill or will turn off investors by nixing the income tax holiday, the groups said in a statement presented at a joint Senate committee hearing last week and posted on American chamber’s Web site yesterday.

Another priority measure that will establish the DICT -- Senate Bill 2546 -- must likewise be passed to ensure the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector’s competitiveness, the officials reiterated.

The bill, pending plenary approval, will bring together communications-related offices currently dispersed among the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Office of the President.

"The Philippines should not be the last to have a DICT. It is very important to the growth of the BPO sector," Mr. Forbes said.

Mr. Schumacher further tagged the proposed SNITS measure as another priority bill, which likewise needs Senate approval after already being passed by the House.

Asked why other bills earlier cited as priorities -- those that will overhaul the country’s birth control policy, bolster efforts against smuggling, and improve access to information -- were left out, Mr. Forbes said: "We continue to support them, of course."

The Freedom to Information Act, with just the Senate’s counterpart measure remaining, is already near passage, Mr. Forbes noted.

"But since House has not passed the Reproductive Health Act [for instance], it seems inconceivable. There might not enough time," he said.

Critical Philippine issues

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Stories across Europe center on the incredible snows and cold weather than have killed nearly 200. Great Britain is running low on fuel supplies to heat their homes, and thousands of schools are closed and thousands of homes are without electricity.

Japan’s national airline carrier Japan Airlines, once providing a premier way to travel, is going into bankruptcy and frantic efforts are being made to keep it flying.

In the US, economic recession has turned to economic desperation as real unemployment may be over 20 percent and tens of millions are dependent on government handouts just to survive.

The Middle East continues to boil as Iran moves closer to nuclear capabilities. Pakistan is nearly a failed state as its battle with extremist elements intensifies even as the potential of armed conflict with nuclear India over Kashmir grows.

What is the world coming to? The bad news never stops; it never ends. Look at the Philippines.

From “As many as three out of 10 government employees have mental-health problems. The most common mental disorder found was depression and anxiety disorders, which require professional intervention, said Dr. Edgardo Tolentino Jr. of the Philippine Psychiatric Association.”

If you listen to the radio, you know all about this story. It was pretty much the lead topic of conversation during the drive to work yesterday morning. While almost the rest of the world battles the coldest weather in decades, if not a century, Filipinos have to battle potentially crazed government employees.

If you had been skeptical that one in three government employees you might interact with on a daily basis is nuts, yesterday it seemed that every “expert” interviewed on the radio confirmed this analysis by Dr. Tolentino.

In fact, I heard a couple of government employees, undersecretaries or something like that, agree with Dr. Tolentino. That was really disturbing.

Think about it. Perhaps you went to the Land Transportation Office recently to renew your driver’s license or buy your registration for your car. I think there are six windows you have to visit to transact your business. Envision that two of those six government employees may have mental-health problems like depression.

Want an example of someone who suffered from depression? How about Carlo Gesualdo, an Italian composer, who murdered his wife, her lover and his own son? Or Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who is known as the father of the A-bomb? And can you imagine being helped to get your license by one of the most famous recent depression crazies, Brittney Spears?

But you know what? The last time I went to the LTO, all those people behind the counter seemed and acted perfectly normal. So if one in three government employees has a mental problem as the experts have stated, perhaps it is not the lower-level government people who we come in contact with every day who have the problems. Maybe it is the third of government employees who are much further up the chain of command who are potentially unstable mentally.

That would certainly explain a lot of things that happen in the Philippines.

While the world deliberates monumental issues like health and human rights and peace and poverty, there is a proposal from a women’s party-list group, 1-Babae Astig Aasenso (1-ABAA), that there be a 10-year expiration time on marriage contracts.

Until now, marriage has, at least in theory, operated under the “no exchange, no refund” policy. You buy it, you have to live with it. Of course, after you buy it, you can always sort of put it in the bottom of the closet if you don’t like it and are not going to use it. But for the most part, you cannot return your spouse. 1-ABAA is proposing that marriage, like retail sales, come under the Consumer Act of the Philippines which abolished “no exchange, no refund.” The principle is that you can use your wives or husbands for 10 years and then exchange them if you want to, in case they do not meet your expectations. The retail law says that consumers are entitled to either an exchange or refund, as long as there is a defect in the quality of the goods or imperfection in the service.

I am sure that virtually every wife would agree that her husband is defective in some way or that there is imperfection in the service that he gives her.

The only thing that surprises me about this proposal, coming from a group of women, is that the expiration date is 10 years. Given the choice, I would think that most women would want the right to return their malfunctioning husbands in a much shorter amount of time.

When I saw the headline “Expiration date on marriage contracts?” I knew immediately that it had to be a woman who came up with the idea.

A man would rarely think of returning a wife or practically anything else that gave imperfect service. When was that last time you saw a man exchange a shirt or pair of shoes that he did not like. That is definitely a woman’s thing?

On the other hand, if there ever is a 1-Lalaki Astig Aasenso group formed, I know exactly what that group will propose. Instead of eliminating the “no refund, no exchange” policy for marriage, the men would suggest a “buy one, take one” policy.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Family planning backers threaten to block other bills

by Christine F. Herrera
Manila Standard

THE 132 authors of the Reproductive Health bill have promised to block the passage of tax measures and Constitutional Convention bills being rushed by the House leadership in the last nine days of session, and after the House leadership removed the population control measure from the list of priority bills.

Poll deputies to start training on new technology -- Comelec


THE 30-DAY training of poll deputies would start on March 1, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said yesterday.

In a press briefing, Director Adolfo A. Ibañez, head of the Comelec’s personnel department, said the training of 8,000 Comelec field personnel who will echo the seminar to 160,000 board of election inspectors (BEI) on the operation of voting machines and counting and canvassing system is on Feb. 18 to 28.

Comelec requires at least one BEI member as information technology consultant. The poll body, in Resolution 8739, also ordered the deployment of a maximum of three technology support staff to every clustered precinct.

"BEI members are subject to certification examination to be conducted by the Department of Science and Technology after their training," Mr. Ibañez said.

The Comelec has trimmed down the precincts to at least 75,000 clustered units from over 200,000 in the 2007 midterm polls.

A clustered precinct, which consolidates a maximum of seven precincts, has 1,000 voters.

Sought for comment, Rebecca Malay, secretary-general of poll watchdog Consortium on Electoral Reforms, said: "I’m hoping that [BEI members] will be trained properly."
She recommended the holding of BEI training on weekends to avoid disruption of classes and for the Comelec to conduct a "training needs assessment." Public school teachers mainly compose the BEIs.

Meanwhile, poll technology provider Smartmatic/Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. yesterday said it has surveyed 89% of the country as of Jan. 9 for data transmission capability.

Smartmatic/TIM, the consortium that bagged the P7.2-billion poll automation contract last June, is conducting a site survey of clustered precincts to determine if they are covered by "persistent general packet radio service signals" for the transmission of election results.

The survey also aims to determine availability of power outlets in polling centers and their distance to the nearest logistics hubs.

"As to the specific area of Maguindanao, our election day management platform software has reported that 73% of the province’s polling centers have been surveyed even as more areas are being covered every day," company spokesman Gene Gregorio said in a statement. -- AMP

Foreign direct investments stay positive

D. G. K. Carreon

FOREIGN DIRECT investments (FDI) remain positive given the country’s strong fundamentals, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) yesterday said.

FDI inflows for the ten months to October last year rose by 17.9% to $1.328 billion, the central bank reported.

For October alone, "All FDI components posted net inflows ... reflecting favorable investor sentiment on the country’s underlying macroeconomic fundamentals," BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said in a statement.

Equity capital placements, reinvested earnings and other accounts recorded inflows of $41 million, $11 million and $7 million, respectively, for the month.

FDI, being long term, are considered a better gauge of investor interest than portfolio inflows or hot money which can easily be pulled out of the country.
Net equity capital placements reached $1.36 billion in during the ten-month period, higher than the $1.06 billion recorded in 2008.

The bulk of the investments came from the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

Reinvested earnings hit $125 million, a turnaround from the net outflow of $131 million in the same period in 2008.

But borrowing and lending between foreign firms and their local subsidiaries turned negative, with an outflow of $157 million from 2008’s inflow of $197 million.

FDI are expected to have hit $1.5 billion last year and grow to $1.8 billion this year.

Sought for comments, University of Asia and the Pacific economist Peter Lee U said the challenges to attracting investments remained the same.

"It’s the age-old complaints: red tape, corruption, high labor cost and weak infrastructure reflected in high cost of power," he said.

Investors, he added, could wait for the results of the elections and a recovery in demand before deciding whether or not to commit funds. --

Firm expects to complete link to NLEx before midyear


TRAVERSING Metro Manila could soon become faster and easier with Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. yesterday saying it is on track to finishing a road that will link Mindanao Ave. to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).

Metro Pacific Tollways President Ramoncito S. Fernandez, in an interview, said the firm was "confident ... [the road will be] in place before midyear."

Romeo Momo, undersecretary for Luzon operations of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), said in a separate interview that an April target had been set to make the road -- dubbed Segment 8.1 -- usable by the public.

"Coming from the C5 road [in Quezon City] going to NLEx, it will cut travel time by more than half and [sic] hour," he said.

Segment 8.1 comprises a 2.7-kilometer road with 2x2 lanes, a two-way service road, and a cloverleaf interchange north of the Balintawak toll plaza.

Once completed, the toll-free stretch is expected to help decongest traffic in Metro Manila as this will serve as an alternative to traffic-heavy EDSA for motorists going to the NLEx.

Metro Pacific, said Mr. Fernandez, is not stopping with Segment 8.1. He said the group was hoping to secure the right of way for Segments 9 and 10 which will connect the NLEx to MacArthur Highway in Valenzuela and Manila’s Port Area.

"We are busy looking at our expansion plans for our Segments 9 and 10. We hope to get the right of way for Segment 9 within the year because the internal targets of the company is to start the construction ... this year," Mr. Fernandez said.

The three-kilometer Segment 9 will be a four-lane expressway while the five-kilometer Segment 10 will be a four-lane elevated road.

The DPWH’s Mr. Momo said acquiring the right of way for Segment 9 would cost the government around P1 billion, adding that they are already in the final stages of identifying the affected properties.

Securing the right of way for Segment 10, meanwhile, will cost another P2 billion or more, he added.

"Hopefully, there are no long legal battles for the affected properties so that we can immediately turn over the right of way," he said.

Construction of Segments 9 and 10 will cost Metro Pacific around P10 billion and take some two to two and a half years to complete, Mr. Fernandez said.

Also in the pipeline is a 13-kilometer elevated four-lane expressway that will connect the NLEx to the South Luzon Expressway.

"We will reiterate our masterplan which is we want to be present in the north and the south and connect them," Mr. Fernandez said.

The road projects are estimated to cost the company some P38 billion over a five-year period.

Metro Pacific is currently in talks with Indonesian-led Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp. for construction of the $192-million stage two of the South Metro Manila Skyway.
The Pangilinan-led firm has also initiated talks with state-controlled Philippine National Construction Corp. for the latter’s stake in the South Luzon Tollways Corp.
Metro Pacific Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan is also chairman of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT). Mediaquest Holdings, Inc., a unit of the Beneficiary Trust Fund of PLDT, holds a minority stake in BusinessWorld. -- KJRL

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Common railway ticket pushed

Jeremiah F. de Guzman
Manila Standard

Barring any hitch, train riders will be using a common ticket in Metro Manila starting June, said a Department of Transportation and Communication official.

Undersecretary Guilling Mamondiong said the project was up for approval by the National Economic Development Authority.

The proposal involves one ticketing for Metro rail Transit, Light Rail Transit, and the Philippine National Railways on a build-own-operate scheme.

“The idea is to have private entity managing the project,” Mamondiong said.

He said his department would have just one operator handling the project to be opened to public bidding once a go signal is given Neda.

Mamondiong said under the unified, tickets will be in a form of a chip or barcode that can be embedded to ATM and credit cards.

“It will be contactless, avoiding long queues in ticket booths,” he said, adding that the cost of fare would be tacked on a person’s individual account, eliminating the need for cash transactions at train stations.

Mamondiong said the upgrade would not come with a free lunch noting fare could have “just a slight adjustment and [commuters] will not even notice the increase.”

The common ticketing system is part of the goal of a seamless transportation system in Metro Manila.

The government has allotted P6.3 billion for the 5.7-km. elevated line extension from Monumento Station of LRT Line 1 in Caloocan City to North Avenue Station of MRT Line 3 in Quezon City, completing the Edsa-Taft avenue loop.

PNR has also implemented rehabilitation of its railways to link up Tutuban in Manila and Alabang, Muntinlupa City while rehabilitation of the route to Legazpi, Albay is underway.

MRT Line 7 project, which will extend MRT Line 3 from North Avenue to San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, is in the roadmap.

Gov’t “very good” at promoting OFWs' welfare — SWS survey

MANILA, Jan. 11 (PNA) — A recent non-commissioned face-to-face survey by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) rated the national government “very good,” or +26 percent, at “promoting the welfare of OFWs.”

Government also received a net satisfaction rating of +51 on “helping victims of disasters,” and “moderate” ratings on “being prepared for natural calamities” (+27). It earned +20 percent on “ensuring that medicines are affordable” and +17 percent on “helping the poor.”

However, the December 5 to 10 survey also showed that 41 percent was “satisfied” and 44 percent “dissatisfied,” for a neutral net satisfaction rating of –2 on their opinion of “what the government had done up to that point to resolve the (November 23) Maguindanao massacre case with justice.” The remaining 15 percent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

It showed that the news on the Maguindanao massacre was followed closely by 75 percent of the public. The survey also showed the national administration receiving a net satisfaction rating of –17 on “suppressing politicians with private armies in Mindanao.”

The national administration received neutral -4 percent ratings on “fighting terrorism,” -3 on “campaigning against illegal drugs”, -4 on “reconciliation with Muslim rebels”, -5 on “reconciliation with Communist rebels”, -9 on both “fighting crimes”, and “fighting inflation.” It also rated very poorly on eradicating graft and corruption, at -27 percent. (PNA)

US$ 68M first RP-made oil tanker delivered by Hanjin

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Zambales, Jan. 11 (PNA) -- The shipbuilding industry in this free port recorded another milestone as Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp.-Philippines (HHIC) recently unveiled its first oil tanker during a ceremony inside the Hanjin compound at the Redondo Peninsula here.

The 114,000-deadweight ton tanker was named “Leyla K” by its Turkish owners, the Kaptanoglu Shipping Line.

Hanjin officials said it is the first and biggest oil crude tanker ever built in the Philippines.

Leyla K measures 241.3-meter in length and 44-meter in breadth. The first steel for the ship was cut on November 2008, while its keel was laid on May 2009.

The ship was launched last October.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman Feliciano Salonga, who witnessed the naming ceremony along with SBMA administrator Armand Arreza and Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso, was visibly impressed by the record-setting event by Hanjin, as well as the growing skill of its Filipino employees.

The naming ceremony was also attended by HHIC-Philippines President Seung Chil Lee and staff, representatives of the ship classification society Lloyd Register, and officers of the Turkish shipping line Kaptanoglu, headed by Engin Kaptanoglu, who ordered the vessel from Hanjin.

Salonga said the production of the first oil tanker marks a new era for Subic.

“Subic Bay Freeport is now in the big league of shipbuilding,” Salonga said.

“I won’t be surprised if (Hanjin) will start constructing several oil tankers at the same time. Our Filipino workers are getting the hang of shipbuilding, and it won’t be long before Filipino shipbuilders will be famous in this industry,” he added.

The $ 1.7-billion Hanjin shipyard in the Subic Bay Freeport is now the world’s fourth largest shipbuilding facility and currently employs 17,000 workers.

Salonga said that as of end-2009, Hanjin has produced eight container and bulk vessels.

By 2012, Hanjin is due to deliver 36 more vessels to customers from all over the world.

Hanjin started constructing its Subic shipyard on February 2006 and delivered its first product on July 2008 — the 4,300-TEU container ship “Argolikos.”

Hanjin’s first ship was delivered to the Greek shipping company Dioryx. (PNA)

Armless Fil-Am pilot says Arroyo her idol


MANILA, Philippines - An armless Filipina-American pilot openly showed admiration to President Gloria Arroyo during her visit to Malacañang Palace on Monday.

Jessica Cox, a licensed pilot based in Arizona, could not hide her happiness when she came face-to-face with her role model.

She expressed her admiration of the president, who she hailed as a "strong and independent" woman.

“It’s really an honor to meet her. She is definitely an example of a strong, independent woman...She will remain a role model to me," she told reporters.

According to Cox, she admires Arroyo because she managed to continue her job as President despite the numerous issues hurled at her position.

“The fact that she is a woman, a president, and she is handling all these matters is an encouragement to me. I realize, if she can handle the country as a female and as a strong woman, then I can definitely be a strong, independent woman myself,” Cox shared.

Cox was born without hands but has been involved in activities such as scuba diving with fellow differently-abled persons in the Diveheart Foundation in Illinois under instructor Jim Elliott.

She is also a recognized motivational speaker and is slated to deliver a speech with United States First Lady Michelle Obama on March in celebration of the Women's History month in March.

Smiling wide, Cox even offered to fly President Arroyo if ever the latter visits Arizona.

“If have any opportunity to come to Arizona, I’d love to fly you,” she told the president, who replied with a courteous, "Wonderful.” - report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Italians to invest in 5 provinces in 2010

MANILA, Philippines—Developer ItalPinas Inc. is pouring in hundred millions of investment in five provinces in the country this year by constructing eco-friendly buildings.

Romolo Nati, chief executive officer of ItalPinas, said his company already started the construction of a ten-story condominium in Cagayan De Oro City which is expected to be completed in 14 months or by early 2011.

The more than 1,000-square meter property in Cagayan has a total investment of P180 million and the first Green building to be constructed in Asia and in the entire province of Mindanao.

Nati said his company is also targeting to build the same facility in Palawan, Mindoro, General Santos, and Davao, which shows great potential for property development.

Asked why his company has chosen the provinces instead of Metro Manila, Nati said Metro Manila is already congested.

“We did a market survey [before we started the project] and we like Cagayan de Oro because it has higher middle class market, not to mention its fast-growing economy,” Nati said.

”We are not into Metro Manila because our idea is to focus in the provinces,” he added.

According to Nati, since their units are sold lower than P3 million, more Filipinos are expected to buy condo units whose designs are tailored in Europe. Another plus factor for ItalPinas buildings, he said, is that they can produce they own energy through the use of a special solar panel “to maximize and optimize energy use.”

“Our goal is to reduce energy consumption…. Our building will save around 33 percent of energy,” he said.

Nati said his company targets the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) market and the migrants abroad.

Currently, there are over eight million OFWs employed in 194 countries and majority of them are in the United States, Middle East, Canada, Hong Kong, and in Europe.

ItalPinas is a partnership between an Italian firm and the Constellation Energy Corp. headed by its chairman Jose P. Leviste Jr.

Nati said that for future projects, the company plans to enter into joint venture agreements with other companies in the country.

ItalPinas also plans to tap local banks for their funding requirements should its other survey yield positive results.

”At present we are talking with some private investors,” Nati said adding that with the “market seems to be very good, we may not need bank financing.”

DFA opens new passport building

Veronica Uy

MANILA, Philippines—Instead of queuing through the basketball court, annex, and then the auditorium of the Department of Foreign Affairs, applicants for new passports and those renewing their old passports will soon be able to get their travel documents faster at a new consular P530-million building.

With the soft opening of the DFA consular building at Aseana Business Park on Macapagal Avenue corner Bradco Avenue in Paranaque City, near the SM Mall of Asia, the DFA announced its acquisition of the 7,000-square meter, four-story building made of tempered glass and steel.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Renato Villapando, head of the DFA Office of the Consular Affairs, said the facility is targeted to be open to the public within the first quarter of the year.

When this happens, the new facility will become the home of the e-Passport, the electronic authentication system, the electronic visa system, and digitalized consular records system.

Equipped with fiber-optic lines, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and other high-tech communications infrastructure, the purchase of the new building is part of the department’s modernization program. This follows the launch of the e-Passport last August 11.

Since August 11, the DFA has issued 18,000 e-Passports. And from January to November 2009, it has issued a total of 2,192,177 passports.

DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo said the new facility is intended to make the front-line service of providing passports “easy and convenient” for all Filipinos, and at par with those of developed countries.

DFA Undersecretary for Administration Franklin Ebdalin said the building was purchased at the cost of P530 million amortized in 15 years through a lease-purchase agreement with the help of the Development Bank of the Philippines.

In preparation for the eventual transfer of the consular office, passport applicants are advised to complete their passport requirements and secure an online appointment at the DFA website (the consular tab), or by calling the consular helpline number (02-556-0000) and the DFA telephone number (02-834-4000). Applications may also be filed with the DFA’s 19 regional consular and satellite offices.

US economy: Why it is not working–2

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

IT is amazing that as close as the Philippines is tied to the USA through history and affinity, there is not much effort by the local media to inform the public about the situation there.

Considering that the US is the largest investor in the Philippines, the country’s largest trading partner and that the largest number of overseas Filipinos live there, we should know and follow what is happening there.

The best that the local media can do is read the news reports without any analysis on what it all means for this country. It is as if the Philippines is consciously ignoring the US economy, and that is dangerous and foolish.

Last month 500,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force. These were people who were working and for a variety of reasons are no longer seeking jobs. Nearly 7.2 million jobs have disappeared since the recession started in December 2007. More people are employed by the government than in manufacturing businesses.

Last month personal consumer credit dropped by nearly $18 billion. This was unprecedented. Every month, home foreclosures hit new highs. Apartment vacancy rates are at a 30-year high. US office-vacancy rate hit a 15-year high at 17 percent. One of the largest commercial property developers, Tishman Real Estate, just defaulted on a $5-billion loan, the second-highest in history.

It is impossible to consider that these events will not have an impact on the Philippines. That is not to say the old nonsense about the US sneezing and the Philippines catching a cold. But there will be effects and, more important, the Philippines should be making policies to take advantage of the critical wounded elephant of the US economy.

Local politicians and policymakers too often show the creative thinking of a rock. The only way Philippine economic policy can be formed is by considering the US reality. The alternative is basing the policy on the idea that the Obama administration’s policies are working. They are not and will not. Not even the Obama people think it is working.

A trillion dollars of extra money has been placed in the US economy with no results. As I wrote last week, that money has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared.

Most of the funds were coursed through the banks which went to automobile bailouts and infrastructure projects that might as well have been thrown in a deep hole. All the funds for the auto sector have generated nothing in terms of economic growth. The money for infrastructure provided nothing in terms of long-term and sustainable growth.

The money that went to the banks was supposed to be loaned to businesses and consumers to make the economy grow. But because the major banks are insolvent, the banks know that they cannot take any risk with their lending or they will go out of business. No lending; no economic stimulus.

The trillion dollars did not come from US government reserves. It came from increased borrowing and budget deficits. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is not interested in loaning the US money to bail out its economy.

In 2007 foreigners purchased 100 percent of all new US government debt. In 2009 that percentage dropped to 30 percent. While the US government is desperate for creditors, foreigners are not interested. It is clearly an example of being between a rock and a hard place.

The banks have billions in cash that they will not loan. The government is frantic to borrow money. What the banks have done, therefore, was to take money from the US government and then loan it back to the government. I know that makes absolutely no sense, but that is exactly what has happened.

Further, the banks are depositing a large portion of their excess funds with the US treasury, getting just enough return on investment to be able to show a profit and pay huge executive bonuses, and doing it without the risk of lending to people and businesses. Meanwhile, the economy is sinking faster than before.

Instead of wasting time and resources on the silly global-warming- conference nonsense, we ought to be sending delegations to speak to US-based Filipinos and others, about the advantages and safe havens in the Philippines. We should be once again taking advantage of the global conditions instead of waiting for a return—which will never come—to business as usual.

There is no indication that the US economy is recovering through job creation, economic activity, growth or investment. The US has spent over $1 trillion of money that they do not have, and those funds have accomplished nothing except to push the government closer to a financial meltdown which will reflect in a collapsing dollar, higher nominal commodity prices and high domestic inflation. The government has taken money from one hand and moved it to the other with no benefit.

Meanwhile, the Philippines waits and watches and does little of value.

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‘RP is privileged to be at the epicenter of global growth’

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

THE Philippines should consider itself lucky this year, being at the epicenter of the ongoing global economic growth, according to the top executive of one of the country’s largest and most active investment banks.

“Asia is the emerging growth engine of the world,” Francisco Sebastian, president of First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIC), said on Monday, as company executives made a media presentation of an upbeat 2010 outlook for the Philippine economy and financial markets.

The country is part of the “VIP” group in Asia that is now taking off, he said, referring to Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines—economies, he said, that are benefiting from huge population and strong domestic demand.

FMIC, the investment banking arm of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co., sees the domestic economy expanding by 3.8 percent this year, slightly exceeding the government’s growth target of between 2.6 percent and 3.6 percent.

Growth will accelerate from a projected expansion of between 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent in the gross domestic product last year, Sebastian said.

Expected to underpin this year’s recovery are consumer spending, which will be kept robust by remittances of Filipinos abroad, and increased government spending.

The government will spend more for the conduct of the May national elections and for the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by recent natural calamities. Politicians running for elective office are also expected to pour huge amounts of money into their campaign.

Sebastian said remittances are expected to increase by 5 percent to 6 percent this year, a forecast that is in line with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’s (BSP) projection of a 6-percent increase over last year’s level.

The BSP has projected an increase of at least 4 percent in remittances last year to around $17.1 billion.

Dr. Victor Abola of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) said the growth forecast of 3.8 percent for this year assumes the likelihood of the BSP keeping its headline interest rate at record low of 4.0 percent until around September.

The UA&P economist is assisting FMIC in coming up with macroeconomic forecasts that are presented to the investment bank’s clients.

Abola expects inflation this year to be around 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent, within the BSP’s target range of 3.5 percent and 5.5 percent.

The US dollar, he said, is expected to trade between P44 and P48. The local unit ended 2009 at 46.20 against the dollar, posting a 2.8-percent increase over the previous year.

Abola, however, considers a strong peso as one of the “weaknesses” of the Philippine economy, as it “weakens the stimulus effect of the remittances and exports.”

Other factors that may weaken economic growth this year, he said, are a tight monetary policy, widening budget deficit and political risks prevailing in an election year.

Still, FMIC’s top executives consider 2010 as “a year of steady growth and recovery for the Philippine markets, that is if and when no further mishaps occur in the global economy.”

Eduardo Banaag Jr., FMIC vice president for investment advisory, painted a rosy outlook for the local stock market, predicting that the key index will challenge its highest peak of 3,873 by the second half of this year.

For the whole year, he said, the index is expected to rise by 10 percent over last year, extending its rebound after advancing by 63 percent in 2009.

“The stronger-than-expected recovery and low interest rates will stretch the rallies in stock markets to 2010,” Banaag said. “The current interest-rate environment will support current Philippine equity valuations.”

Among his stock picks are the independent power producers, utilities and broadcasting companies—describing these as “industries that present profitability at reasonable prices.”

However, he said the possible rise in interest rates “will surely stonewall any rally to 3,800, even if recovery in the major economies continues.”

And should economic recovery falters, he said “even low interest rates will not be sufficient to stop stock markets from falling.”

Sebastian said the implementation this year of key market-friendly legislations, such as the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Act and the Personal Equity and Retirement Account law, should also boost the stock market.

“The IPO [initial public offering] market will reopen with the implementation of the REIT law,” he said.

Still, he said investors should, at the same time, be mindful of the political risks.

“As long as the May election is successful, credible and peaceful, we do not see this as a threat to the economy,” Sebastian said.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Beware Population Ageing

The Philippines is on the brink of experiencing a trend that many countries have experienced at some point throughout history: an ageing population.

Low and Slow Ageing in the Philippines

Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective (plain text)

The Graying of the Great Powers

World Population Ageing: 1950-2050

92% reject RH Bill when they are informed of its provisions -- Survey Results

Survey done by Harris Block and Associates and Asian Research Organization (Affiliate of Gallup Poll) from Dec 2-9 in Metro Manila.

- 92 % of Filipinos do not agree for Congress to pass the Reproductive Health Rights Bill.

- 90 % of Filipinos disagree with Sex Education of 10 year olds to to be taught in schools; as these are done on technical terms without values; and it is possible for students to be sexually abused by teachers, as has happened a lot in US and other countries. Instead, parents wish to be taught how to teach their children Human Sexuality.

- 90 % object to contraceptives being classified as Essential Medicines with big budgetary allocations, when more important health concerns such as TB, branchial ailments, cancer elimination by inoculation of infants, etc, do not get enough budgetary support. Also, there are health risks.

- Natural Family Planning is preferred by 75 % of couples, and there is a clamor from parents to be taught these methods.

- 90 % do not agree with RH bill's removal of spousal consent for sterilization of the other spouse; do not agree with removal of parental consent to their children availing of pills, IUD's, condoms; penal provisions on employers, health workers, parents, for refusing to allow availment of Reproductive Health Services (pills, condoms, etc).

- in total, there is an overwhelming rejection of the RH provisions, when these are known to the respondents.

This survey was conducted on 500 respondents in Metro Manila on Dec 2-9, 2009. Respondents represented a good cross-section of Filipinos demographics; by a teamwork of opinion research firm HB&A (Harris Block and Associates; earlier known for the Harris polls), and ARO (Asia Research Organization) which has been operating in the Phils since the 1950's, and is an affiliate of Gallup Poll.

The results are reliable and the HB&A / ARO are prepared to defend the methodology, data, etc.


The false claims by the proponents of the RH Bill, using expensive surveys (costing several millions of pesos per survey, of which there must have been around 4-5 surveys done, to precondition the minds of the legislators and the public) by SWS which concluded that the RH Bill is more than 80% supported by Filipinos are being debunked by this more detailed survey (copy of powerpoint of results attached, as well as one press item which resulted from the presscon on the survey.) which shows that 92+% of Filipinos reject the bill and its provisions.

The apparent reason for the big discrepancy in findings (between those of SWS' vs our findings), is because the SWS surveys merely asked general questions whether the respondents favored RH or not, believed in Sex Education or not, etc. It turns out, however, that since 99.99 % of respondents have not read the bill, they therefore were responding without knowing what provisions the RH bill contains, and their responses were based on the clever wordsmithing of the bill, e.g. using the words Reproductive Health, whereas the bill is not really about health or reproduction; but in fact about death of babies and of , the family, and about contraception.

The main objectionable provisions were on Sex Education, universally required starting age 10; mandatory availability of 'reproductive health services' from employers (even for drivers, housemaids), health workers, corporations, or else jail terms can result; and huge budgets for RH to the detriment of other, more essential health concerns which are not presently being able to be given the correct budgets for.

When respondents were informed of the detailed provisions, and their implications to family, govt budgets, etc; more than 90% of respondents rejected the bill and its provisions. The TRUTH was not earlier being divulged, in other words.

Editorial: Helping the poorest of the poor

Business Mirror

NOT a few balk at the idea of giving alms to beggars on the streets, as they think that this would only encourage mendicancy.

But the idea of extending help to those who are so down and out that they’re likely to literally die on the street because they have nowhere else to go is gaining ground at both the national as well as international levels.

Last week President Arroyo said she would certify as urgent a House bill that seeks to institutionalize her conditional cash transfer (CCT) program known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps.

House Bill 6590, or the Bulsa Pamilya Act of 2009, is patterned after a similar program in Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries that has earned praise from the World Bank and other international aid agencies as an effective propoor program.

What 4Ps does is give conditional cash grants to extremely poor families—those with a total income of not more than P6,000 annually—to improve their health, nutrition and education.

Each household gets P500 per month for health and nutrition expenses, and P3,000 for one school year or P300 per month per child for educational expenses, for a maximum of three children per family.

A qualified family with three children would, therefore, receive a subsidy of P1,400 per month during the school year or P15,000 per year as long as they comply with certain conditions.

The conditions? Pregnant women must get prenatal care, childbirth must be attended by a skilled or trained person, and mothers must get postnatal care. Children zero to 5 years must get regular health checkups and vaccinations. Children 6 to 14 must attend school at least 85 percent of the time.

Last year the 4Ps was expanded to benefit 300,000 more beneficiaries, or from 700,000 to 1 million families in the 20 poorest provinces in the country, as well as qualified families in Metro Manila.

Where the program will get its funds to make it sustainable is the question that’s likely to be asked by skeptics. The program requires funding of P5 billion each year until 2013. The government is using its own funds to finance the program. This is not a big sum considering the number of the poorest of the poor, but late last year the World Bank came to the rescue with financing to the tune of $405 million. That will certainly boost the country’s fight against poverty, but it also raises legitimate concerns about our ability to get out of the debt trap.

The other key question is whether the government can effectively implement the program. The burden of carrying out 4Ps lies with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which sees it as the backbone of the country’ social-protection program. We should give it enough time to fine-tune the program and make sure the money really goes to those who need it.

It is true that the CCT program is a stopgap solution, as it will augment incomes of beneficiary households by only about 20 percent, which is hardly enough to keep their body and soul together. But it nevertheless reduces the vulnerability of poor households to sudden economic difficulties.

The cynics will scoff at the program as a massive dole-out that will only encourage people to depend solely on the government for their survival. But why not? Given the wretched and miserable conditions under which the poorest of the poor in this country now live, the CCT program is heaven-sent. We should give it all the support it needs as a social safety net for the poorest of the poor.

Military ready to dismantle private armies

Rene Acosta
Business Mirror

THE Armed Forces is ready to implement the all-out campaign to dismantle private armed groups and seize loose firearms in order to help ensure the sanctity of the 2010 elections, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said.

Gonzales made the announcement during the meeting of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim religious leaders in Davao City over the weekend. He said the soldiers are ready to launch the campaign as soon as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) issues the order.  

“The Armed Forces does not need to wait for the recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Private Armed Groups before proceeding with the campaign,” he said.

The commission was created by President Arroyo to investigate the existence of private armies and make a recommendation in four months on how to dismantle them.

Saying he was “very disturbed about the future of the nation,” Gonzales appealed to the military and religious leaders to work together in eliminating private armies and loose firearms.  

He said he worked at bringing together the two institutions during the 38th Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) General Assembly because they are the “two most important institutions in the country in protecting democracy and triggering societal change.”

The BUC assembly was convened by Archbishop Fernando Capalla of the See of Davao, Bishop Hilario Gomez Jr. of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Hamid Barra of the Ulama League of the Philippines.

The assembly was also attended by the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Victor Ibrado, who brought with him the commanders of the three major services, area commanders and division commanders.

The National Police chief, Director General Jesus Verzosa, was represented by Chief Supt. Jaime Milla while Elections Commissioner Elias Yusoph represented Comelec Chairman Jose Melo.

Other officials of the defense department also attended the gathering.

Gonzales asked the bishops and the ulamas to help the military in convincing people with loose firearms to surrender them, even as he committed the service of the military in providing security to the religious leaders.    

Gonzales said religious leaders could also use the pulpit in helping raise the consciousness of the people about the urgent need to eliminate private armies and loose firearms so as to generate popular support for the campaign.

The BUC leaders promised to convene their respective groups to come up with concrete ways how they can help in the campaign against loose firearms and private armies.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Working President (434)