Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Working President (437) -- Infrastructure

PGMA all set to sign Senior Citizens Act of 2010

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is set to sign into law another major social legislation—the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010—that will exempt the country’s estimated 4.6 million senior citizens from paying the 12 percent expanded value added tax (EVAT) and thus enable them to enjoy fully a 20 percent discount on the purchase of essential goods and services.

The original law, Republic Act 7432, gives senior citizens the discount. However, since the elderly are required to pay EVAT like anybody else, the discount has been effectively reduced to only eight percent.

The measure, titled “An Act Granting Additional Benefits and Privileges to Senior Citizens, Further Amending Republic Act No 7432, also known as “An Act to Maximize the Contributions of Senior Citizens to Nation Building, Grant Benefits and Special Privileges, and for Other Purposes,” was passed by both Houses of Congress on Wednesday.

It is this jointly approved measure that President Arroyo intends to sign.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles has described it as “early Valentine's gift to senior citizens.”

The bill exempts senior citizens, or those who are 60 years and above, from paying the 12 percent EVAT on medicines and essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment; fees of attending physicians; medical, dental fees and diagnostic and laboratory fees; fares for buses, jeepneys, taxis, AUVs, shuttle services, public railways, domestic air and sea transport craft.

The tax privilege also applies to services in hotels, restaurants and similar establishments; admission fees in cinemas, theaters and other places of culture, leisure and amusement; and funeral and burial services.

Additionally, the bill provides each senior citizen a monthly stipend of P500, subject to the periodic review of Congress in coordination with the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD).

In case of death of an indigent senior citizen, the amount of P2,000 will also be awarded to his or her nearest kin as benefit assistance.

Under the bill, senior citizens may also enjoy a five percent discount on their water and electric bills on condition that the utilities are in the name of senior citizen, and that the consumption is below 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 30 cubic meters of water a month.

The measure also expands the penalties for those who refuse to grant the benefits. Establishments and their owners, managers and personnel found violating any provision of the law face a penalty of not less than P10,000 but not more than P50,000, or imprisonment of at least one month but not more than six months.

Administration allies in both houses of Congress said the new measure will form part of the legacy President Arroyo is leaving the Filipino people when she steps down in June. It was early in her term, in 2003, when the original law on senior citizens benefits –RA 7432—was passed.

Rep. Reynaldo Uy (Samar), and Rep. Eduardo Zialcita (Parañaque) and Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal sponsors of the bill, hailed the measure as timely and very beneficial to many Filipinos.

Cayetano said approval of the measure would allow the senior citizens to enjoy fully the 20 percent senior citizens discount that was originally envisioned for them under Republic Act 7342.

Cayetano explained that the senior citizen’s discount has been effectively reduced to only eight percent since seniors were also required to pay the 12-percent VAT in their purchase of medicines, good and services. (PND)

The Working President (436)

A grievous loss

The Philippine Star

The pilot radioed that his plane was losing power shortly after it took off from Cotabato City. Minutes later, the Nomad plane carrying eight members of the Philippine Air Force crashed in a residential area. No one survived, and a woman was killed in the residential neighborhood where several houses were destroyed.

As of yesterday, investigators were still retrieving plane debris to determine the cause of the crash. It was one of the worst disasters for the Philippine Air Force, which has lost countless personnel and aircraft in accidents. The latest death toll is one of the worst for the PAF, and the loss of the Nomad further reduces the air capability of one of Asia’s weakest air forces.

Boosting the capability of the PAF and the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines must be among the priorities of the next president and commander-in-chief. After nearly a century of being part of the American security umbrella, the Philippines became dependent on US military aid. When that aid was greatly reduced following the shutdown of the US bases, the AFP was ill prepared for it. Today the Philippines has one of the most poorly equipped armed forces in the region, with limited capability to go after poachers and other intruders or fight enemies of the state.

A modest modernization program has not been enough to give the AFP credible capability to carry out its duties. These include not just national defense and protecting the country’s territorial integrity but also rescue and relief operations in times of disasters. The lack of equipment is felt particularly in the Air Force, which must rely on aging aircraft and limited fuel allocations to carry out its many tasks.

The Air Force is not lacking in competent pilots, who manage to carry out their tasks despite limited PAF capability. The eight fatalities in the latest plane crash are a grievous loss. The competence and dedication of PAF personnel must be rewarded with better tools to carry out their duties.

Investments expected to pour in ’10

By Abigail L. Ho
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--After getting huge investments from large foreign firms last year despite the recession, the Department of Trade and Industry is confident that the country will get more infusions this year as the global economy has already started to recover.

The country last year welcomed the entry of Japanese firm Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Thai company Charoen Pokphand Foods, and Kuwait’s Al Kharafi Group through subsidiary Al-Mal Investment Co.

These committed investments totaled around P119 billion.

“Investor confidence in the Philippines continues to be strong with the recent entry of critical investments poured from several global conglomerates. The decision of these companies to invest is a clear indication that the Philippines remains to be one of Asia’s investment destinations of choice,” Trade Secretary Peter Favila said in a statement.

The biggest among last year’s committed foreign investments was that of Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp., a joint venture between Nickel Asia Corp. and Sumitomo for a P62.7-billion nickel-cobalt mixed sulfides production project.

Thailand’s CP Foods, on the other hand, will set up a P2.4-billion aqua feed mill plant in Capas, Tarlac. The Al Kharafi Group’s Al-Mal had likewise committed to invest $1.2 billion for the development and expansion of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark Field, Pampanga.

Indian BPO opens second facility
Gerard S. de la Peña

Indian business process outsourcing (BPO) firm Hinduja Global Solutions, Ltd. opened another facility in the Philippines on Friday, bringing its total investments to the country to $35 million.

The 3,522-square-meter, 1,000-seat call center at Eastwood Cyberpark in Libis, Quezon City cost $2.5 million.

This complements an existing facility also in Libis, known as HTMT Philippines. Opened in 2004 after the Hinduja Group’s acquisition of Customer Contact Center (C-Cubed), the facility which measures 8,672 square meters and has 2,000 seats is the single largest facility of the group outside India, company officials said.

Hinduja Global Solutions serves 80 clients across the globe and employs over 14,500 across 23 "delivery centers" and offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mauritius, India and the Philippines.

It also has "strategic working relationship arrangements" with partners in Colombia and China which altogether employ over 1,800 people that serve the South American, Chinese and Japanese markets.

The company plans to build another 1,000-seat facility in 2011 possibly in Metro Manila. Company executives said they were also looking at sites in Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, and Dumaguete.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was present at the inauguration of the facility, said the BPO sector remains one of the major drivers of the economy.

"Our BPO industry remains strong. In fact our local industry is planning to corner at least 10% of the global market this year," Mrs. Arroyo said in her speech.

UBS sees Philippines growing 5% this year


... expects monetary tightening to be cautious

Election spending and lagged effects of still-loose fiscal and monetary policy settings are expected to drive a rebound in economic activity in the first half, resulting in a 5% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) this year, UBS Investment Research said in an analysis it released on Friday.

The UBS projection is more optimistic than the cautious 2.6%-3.6% target the government has set for this year.

UBS further cited post-storm rehabilitation and reconstruction that are expected to intensify this year, a recovery in exports and manufacturing, continued strong remittances from Filipinos overseas, and increasing consumer demand, as basis for its optimism this year.

It also noted that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) itself had estimated that election spending would result in a 0.3-0.4 percentage point boost to GDP.

The government reported on Thursday that the economy grew by an 11-year-low 0.9% in 2009, weighed by agriculture damage inflicted by twin, successive storms that struck in September-October.

But risks from resurgent inflation, expected to reach 4.9% from an initial 3.9% estimate -- against the government's own projection of 4.7%, muddles the growth outlook this year.

It also said the expected prolonged dry spell due to El Niño, which "may be harsher than we hope," bears watching.

Moreover, UBS said, "because the Philippine economy decelerated less during the crisis, the rebound has been less sharp."

Such uncertainty, UBS said, led it to cap the expected rate tightening by monetary authorities to 50 basis points (bps) this year, starting in the second quarter.

Its projection is shared by NEDA.

Speaking to reporters in Malacañang on Friday, Dennis M. Arroyo, director of NEDA's National Planning and Policy Staff said, "In my view, the central bank may consider raising its rates after the second quarter because that is when we feel the Fed may decide to tighten its policy. It's a good thing to wait until the end of the second quarter."

While the Monetary Board last Thursday chose to keep the 4% overnight borrowing and 6% overnight lending rates that have been in place after a spate of rate cuts since December 2008 totalling 200 bps, as well as the rates for Special Deposit Account and bank reserve requirement, it did raise the short-term lending rate for banks under a rediscounting scheme to 4% from 3.5%” widely perceived as a token first move to exit the currently loose monetary policy.

UBS said monetary authorities could gradually raise banks' reserve requirement, currently at 19%, after the first rate hike this year. "We expect relatively benign inflation outcomes and growth sustainability concerns will prevent a more aggressive response," the UBS note read.

The government, under a new administration after the May national elections, is expected "to run a sustainable fiscal policy, following a period of fiscal loosening during 2009."

This, in turn, means "less of a growth boost for the economy as 2010 and 2011 unfold, but it should also imply less risk in terms of sharply higher bond yeild or a weaker currency," UBS said.

This, plus expectations that the pace of increase in manufacturing as the economy recovers will level off, means that growth will temper to 4.6% in 2011 from 5.0% this year.

A renewed commitment to improved fiscal management notwithstanding, the National Government is expected to post a P300-billion deficit this year, against the official P293-billion estimate.

"A wider deficit on continued revenue disappointment is possible, but with a return to more normal rates of economic growth, a better-than-expected…recovery in revenue growth is also in the cards."

While the government's increased spending to pump-prime the economy through the slump has been regarded as an expected measure by sovereign credit raters, the projected normalization of the economy is believed to put renewed emphasis on the government's chronically poor revenue collection.

Tax revenues slipped to P977.9 billion last year from P1.049 trillion in 2008 and against a P1.083-trillion target for 2009. Both the Internal Revenue and Customs bureaus had blamed the business slump amid the economic crisis for poor tax collection.

Photo updates: Metro Manila Skyway

Friday, 29 January 2010

GMA Speech: 19th Anniversary of the Philippine National Police

RP seen exporting pork for the first time

Test kits to ensure pork quality to arrive next month

THE TEST KITS for the Ebola Reston virus are expected to arrive starting next month, a development that might allow the country to export pork for the first time, a senior Agriculture official said on Wednesday.

Davino P. Catbagan, director of the Bureau of Animal Indsutry, told BusinessWorld on Wednesday that they are expecting the kits to arrive in the second week of February.
"When the kits arrive, our priority is South Cotabato," Mr. Catbagan said.

The South Cotabato-based Matutum Meat Packing Corp. was set to make its first shipment of 50,000 kilograms of boxed pork on Dec. 10, 2008, the same day when the Agriculture and Health departments issued a voluntary ban on pork exports because of the detection of the non-lethal Ebola Reston virus in local hogs.

Early last year, authorities from the World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tested six people and hogs from the Pandi farm in Bulacan positive of the virus. This incident prompted the government to cull some 6,500 hogs in the infected farm. No Ebola Reston cases have been detected since.

The Ebola Reston, which is only found in the Philippines, had been confined to monkeys and the detection on hogs is the first time it has jumped species.
"We requested for at least 5,000 test kits." Mr. Catbagan said.

The Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention is the only laboratory that produces Ebola Reston test kits.

Sought for comment, Cathy M. Romero, Sales and Marketing manager of Matutum, said "That would be good news so we can already go on with our plan to export pork."
In 2008, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore allowed Matutum to export beef, mutton, and poultry products.

Mindanao was chosen by the government to pioneer pork exports since it is certified free from foot-and-mouth disease since 2001.

Ms. Romero said the government will test hogs from General Santos-based hog farms, which supply Matutum.

"They are," Ms. Romero said, when asked if Singapore is still looking at importing pork from Mindanao.

Mr. Catbagan concurred, saying that "Singapore is still interested in pork imports."
It will be the first time that the Philippines, a net importer, will export pork products.

The country imported 108.739 million kilograms of pork and pork preparations worth $74.449 million, including freight, in the eleven months to November last year, data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics show.

BPI posts double-digit growth in remittance transactions in 2009

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

BANK of the Philippine Islands (BPI) had another banner year for its remittance business, posting a double-digit increase in volume of cash transfers it handled in 2009 and winning a Best Remittances Provider in Southeast Asia award from a Hong Kong-based investment magazine.

“We’re running a very successful remittance business. We had another double-digit growth that was better than the industry’s performance last year,” said Teresita Tan, BPI senior vice president and group head of overseas banking and channel services group.

The 2009 remittance figure has already been presented to the BPI’s board and reported to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), she said.

The BSP is expected to release the 2009 remittance figures reported by banks around the middle of February, and had projected a growth of at least 4 percent over the previous year’s total volume of $16.4 billion. That figure represents money sent home through banks and does not include those that pass through so-called informal channels.

Remittances coursed through banks between January and November last year totaled $15.8 billion, representing a 5.1-percent increase over the same period in 2008. According to the central bank, the increase was driven by higher inflows from both sea-based and land-based workers.

“We saw fantastic growth in remittances, particularly from seafarers, because they were largely unaffected by the global financial crisis,” Tan told reporters. “But the Middle East was really the main source of remittances that we processed last year.”

Tan declined to reveal the total volume of remittances that BPI handled last year, citing an agreement with the BSP. But she said the bank was also able to maintain its market share at more than 20 percent.

Based on unconfirmed reports, BPI’s market share improved to 27 percent in 2009 from 23 percent the previous year. BPI-handled remittance transactions in 2008 reached more than $3.7 billion.

The bank was recently named the Best Remittances Provider in Southeast Asia for 2009 by Alpha South East Asia magazine, an independent institutional investment magazine published monthly and headquartered in Hong Kong.

The magazine caters to institutional investors and management companies all over the world.

Prior to the regional recognition, BPI—the country’s biggest bank by market capitalization—became the first bank to be elevated to the BSP Hall of Fame last year for winning the Top Commercial Bank for Overseas Filipino Remittances award for three years in a row (2005 to 2007).

Tycoon Henry Sy’s Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO), meanwhile, was recognized as the top commercial bank for remittances for 2008 as its ranking improved from being No. 3 in 2007 as a result of the integration of its remittance business with that of Equitable PCI Bank.

BDO became the country’s largest bank in terms of assets after absorbing Equitable PCI in 2007.

BDO-handled remittance transactions in 2008 accounted for nearly 26 percent of the industry-wide volume of $16.4 billion, or about $4.3 billion.

Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co., the second largest by assets, was in fourth place with a market share of 13.5 percent in 2008. Tycoon Lucio Tan’s Philippine National Bank had a bigger market share of 16 percent.

Given the generally upbeat outlook for the global economy this year, Tan said the remittance business should remain buoyant.

The BSP has projected a 6-percent growth in remittance volume this year, but some foreign and local financial institutions have painted a rosier growth outlook. Economists expect remittances to push domestic demand higher and boost economic growth this year.

“We now see a pickup in remittance volumes from the (crisis-hit) US and Europe,” BPI’s Tan said.

To solidify their relationship with the sources and beneficiaries of remittances, the country’s biggest banks are aggressively wooing Filipinos working abroad and their relatives in the Philippines to open deposit accounts with them or invest their hard-earned money in different instruments.

Ayala, Metro Pacific team up for Angat plant auction

Miguel R. Camus
Business Mirror

LISTED firms Ayala Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) have teamed up to bid for the government’s Angat hydropower plant. The move also marks the companies' entry into the power generation business.

In separate filings to the local stock exchange on Thursday, both firms announced that they have submitted a letter of interest to bid to the government-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm) for the 246-megawatt (MW) power plant in Bulacan.

Ayala Corp. and MPIC—which hold water concessions to Metro Manila’s east and west zones, respectively—will bid through Ayala subsidiary Michigan Power Inc. Both companies will share equal ownership over the contract, an MPIC spokesman said.

Ayala Corp. said the move “is in line with Ayala’s desire to participate in the power sector, especially in the realm of clean and renewable energy.”

This will also pit the Ayala-MPIC joint venture against other parties interested in the power plant. Companies that have already expressed interest to join the auction include Lopez-led First Gen Corp., which is the country’s largest power producer, Aboitiz Power Corp. and diversifying San Miguel Corp.

“They are all competing for Angat because it’s a very good project. Hydro energy, in general, is the first to be dispatched….Because it’s cheap, it is what gets bought first,” said BDO Capital and Investment Inc. president Eduardo Francisco.

Francisco explained that hydropower plants are generally more expensive to build. However, power generated in these facilities often cost less due to lower input and maintenance costs relative to coal-fired plants.

“This will provide another source of [energy] for Meralco…and it can bring down the cost of Meralco’s power purchases,” he added.

Commissioned between 1967 and 1968, the Angat hydropower plant consists of four main units, each with a 50-MW capacity. The plant draws from the Angat Dam, which supplies up to 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water supply.

Francisco added the latest move will also lead to synergies, in particular, with MPIC’s power distribution business through Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

At present MPIC owns 14.7 percent of Meralco while affiliate Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.—through unit Pilipino Telephone Corp.—owns another 20 percent.

MPIC is engaged in talks with the Lopez family that may increase the entire group’s stake to 41.4 percent.

“Right now, Meralco has a long-term contract with the Lopezes [through] the Santa Rita and San Lorenzo combined cycle gas turbine plants [in Batangas City],” noted Francisco. He said the acquisition of Angat will be beneficial for Michigan Power as it will have a ready buyer in Meralco which can avail of the lower water rates from Angat.

Michigan Power was formed by the Ayala group to serve as its vehicle to explore opportunities in the power industry.

Market observers said this will eventually give both firms more influence over operations of the dam itself. Ayala Corp., through unit Manila Water Co. Inc., supplies the capital’s east zone, while west zone concessionaire Maynilad Water Services Inc. is controlled by MPIC and DMCI Holdings Inc.

Both Ayala and MPIC said the auction for Angat will be subject to the bidding process of Psalm.

Psalm has set the pre-bid conference for the plant on February 17, while the bid submission deadline has been scheduled on April 28.

Stimulus, remittances help win GDP target

Cai U. Ordinario
Business Mirror

DESPITE typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng and the global economic crisis, the Philippine economy seemed to have beaten the odds by posting a 0.9-percent growth for the full year and a better-than-expected 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported on Thursday that the economic growth in 2009 was supported by its perennial savior, the services sector, which contributed about 1.6 percent to full-year gross domestic product (GDP) and 2 percent to fourth-quarter GDP.

Government spending, in one of those rare instances, also contributed significantly to growth, thanks to the Economic Resiliency Plan (ERP), which forced the government to cough up 60 percent to 80 percent of its budget early on in the year.

The GDP numbers not only met the government’s target for 2009, which is within the range 0.8 percent to 1.8 percent, but also was within the forecast of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

The Neda earlier projected that full-year growth would be within the range of 0.7 percent to 1 percent, and fourth-quarter growth would be between 0.6 percent and 1.6 percent.

“I am pleased with the NSCB’s report that the country’s GDP grew by 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. This continued the trend of positive performance amid the global economic crisis and recent natural calamities,” Neda Acting Director General Augusto Santos said at the press conference on the National Income Accounts (NIA) on Thursday.

“More important, the Philippine economy has never entered into a recession despite the odds,” Santos added.

However, while hitting the target is good news, some economists doubted whether the numbers reflect the actual performance of the economy in the last quarter of the year and the whole of 2009.

Economists like former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno believe that large revisions, similar to the revisions made for the first quarter of 2009, are likely.

With agriculture posting a negative 2.8-percent growth in the fourth quarter, there may be little room for the economy to still post a growth of 1.8 percent in the last quarter of the year, he said.

“Since these numbers are only preliminary, I suspect there would be significant revisions. It is likely that the revisions will be downward [and will result in a figure] that would not meet even the 0.8 percent of the government’s target,” Diokno said in a phone interview.

He noted that the government has been revising its growth figures. One of the major revisions that it made was in the first quarter of 2009.

The NSCB announced that first-quarter GDP was revised upward to 0.6 percent from 0.4 percent; while GNP was revised downward to 3.1 percent from 4.4 percent.

The NSCB explained that the revision in GNP was caused mainly by the downward revision of NFIA to 25.8 percent from 40.8 percent.

Given that the agriculture sector was among the main drags in the fourth quarter, University of the Philippines economist Prof. Ernesto Pernia said it would only be reasonable to expect that the GDP growth of 1.8 percent was not achieved.

“[Given that] agriculture was one of the factors that affected fourth-quarter growth, the fourth quarter [GDP] shouldn’t have reached 1.8 percent,” Pernia said in a phone interview.

Nonetheless, NSCB secretary-general Romulo Virola said that even if the estimates made in the fourth quarter were weaker than other quarters, since the data is still incomplete, revising, if at all, would like be upward.

This, Virola said, would especially be true if the manufacturing numbers in December 2009, which were set to be released in a few weeks, would be positive. Then it is likely that the GDP numbers will be revised upward.

Director Dennis Arroyo of the Neda National Planning and Policy Staff (NPPS) added that many indicators are pointing to increasing trends, such as manufacturing,which has been steadily increasing from negative 7.6 percent in the first quarter to 1.3-percent growth in the fourth quarter.

Arroyo added that export growth is also increasing. It started with a negative 24.6-percent growth in the first quarter to negative 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

“The numbers are fast becoming positive in the fourth quarter,” Arroyo said.

Looking forward to 2010

For this year, Santos said the government is maintaining its 2.6 percent to 3.6-percent growth target. He said there are many reasons the government is confident about this, among them, the election spending that is seen to boost consumption spending.

“We are, thus, optimistic. Our optimism will be matched by measures to address our fiscal challenges, and we trust that our colleagues at the Bangko Sentral will continue with their appropriate monetary policies. We will continue safeguarding the welfare of our overseas workers who faithfully play a very important role in our development. At the same time, we will be developing industries that will create hordes of jobs at home,” Santos said.

Arroyo said the projection already factors in the possible dampening effect of a looming El Niño phenomenon. He said that if the country experienced a severe El Niño, full-year growth for 2010 would be around 2.6 percent.

He added that the forecast already considered the expectations that Dubai crude would be between $70 per barrel and $90 per barrel. Currently, Arroyo said, Dubai crude is at $79 per barrel, deeming the growth target “safe” from possible changes.

For his part, Pernia said that looking forward, in 2010, it would be likely at the low-end of the 2.6-percent to 3.6-percent growth forecast of the government.

He said this would most likely be due to election spending and the improvement in the global economy, which will augur well for the state of Philippine exports.

Daet kite-board tilt slated

Business Mirror

BASGASBAS Beach, the country’s newest kite-boarding hideaway, will host the Second International Kite Boarding Competition from February 3 to 7 at its famed waters in Daet, Camarines Norte.

Presented by the Municipal Government of Daet and the Office of Camarines Norte Rep. Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, the tournament will again gather the best surfboarders in Europe, the United States and the Philippines to enthrall the audience and vie for the breath-taking freestyle, hangtime and bordercross categories.

According to Mayor Tito Sarion, the international sporting event aims to promote the Pacific coastal town of Daet as a sports tourism destination in the Bicol region. Kite-surfing season in Daet starts during the northeast monsoon season from October to early March.

He said the famous mile-long Bagasbas beach is also the site of surfing tournaments, installation art, musical concerts and other special events the whole year-round.

Listed as among the 10 country’s best wave-surfing destinations, Bagasbas Beach has emerged as an alternative site for extreme- sports enthusiasts because of its proximity to Manila, and wide kite-boarding area. Kite boarding is also a unique way to go island- hopping and see the white-sand beaches of Camarines Norte.

Also known as kite surfing, the sport involves using a power kite to pull a rider through the water on a small surfboard or a kite board. The rider uses a board with foot straps or bindings, combined with the power of a large controllable kite to propel himself and the board across the water.

The sporting event is supported by the ABS-CBN Regional Network Group, the Department of Tourism, Mikes-Kites, SVI Corp., Egay TM, Ginebra San Miguel, the Bagasbas Beach Development Council and the Camarines Norte Pineapple Festival Development Foundation, Tai-Chi Therapy Oils and Bicol Harvest.

SM’s no-R-18 movies rule: How a mall changed the movie industry

JEFFREY O. VALISNO, Senior Reporter

The American war drama Inglourious Basterds starring Hollywood hotshot Brad Pitt has received critical acclaim since it debuted during the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in France last year. It went on to collect numerous accolades elsewhere in the world, including its win as Best Ensemble in last week’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.

While cinema audiences around the globe had the chance to watch the movie directed by maverick filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, loyal patrons of SM Cinemas in the country have no choice but to wait for the film’s release on DVD (or, if unwilling to wait for the legal version, look for a pirated DVD) and watch it in their homes instead.

Inglourious Basterds received an R-18 rating from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) for its public screening in the country last December, reportedly for its violent content. An R-18 rating means that the movie is for adults only, and individuals under the legal age will not be allowed admission to cinemas to watch the movie.

Since 2002, it has been the policy of SM Cinemas not to screen movies classified by the MTRCB as R-18. So, despite critical acclaim and the clamor of Mr. Pitt’s local fans, Inglourious Basterds was shut out of all the 210 SM Cinemas nationwide.
The movie was later shown exclusively in Robinsons Movieworld cineplexes.

Sexless and the city

While many religious and women’s groups laud SM Cinema’s efforts to promote wholesome entertainment, there are also those who complain that the policy stifles creativity and artistic freedom in the movie industry.

With the SM Group controlling a third of all the 647 cinema screens nationwide, the movie industry is invariably affected by its policies. More importantly, since SM contributes more than half of the total gross revenues of the entire cinema industry in the country, movie producers will most likely pay attention to the company’s rules.

Edgar C. Tejerero, senior vice-president of West Avenue Theatres Corp. -- operator of SM Cinemas in the country -- said they do not show R-18 movies as part of the business principle of the Sy Family to offer wholesome and family-oriented entertainment.

"We don’t classify whether is its R-18 based on violence, or sexual topic or sexual content content, or even the gory type. It is a blanket statement that we will only feature wholesome movies," Mr. Tejerero told BusinessWorld in an interview.

He said the rule extends to movie trailers as well. He said SM Cinemas do not screen trailers of R-18 movies, especially during the screenings of movies for General Patronage (GP -- a rating which means all ages can be admitted) when children are allowed to watch.

SM Cinema’s decision not to screen R-18 movies has earned them critics who claim the rule impinges on people’s freedom to watch the movies they want.

For instance, many complained when multiple scenes were cut out of the 2008 comedy Sex and The City to enable the film to get an R-13 (only audience members 13 years old and above can watch the movie) rating from the MTRCB. The movie reportedly initially received an R-18 rating from the ratings board. Since the distributors prefered that the film be screened in SM Cinemas, some scenes that were found to be "too sexy" were deleted from the final version for public screening.

Mr. Tejerero said SM Cinemas received numerous complaints from people who said that the cuts eventually diluted the story of the movie. "While I am amazed on how it was connected to us, we never influence the cutting of the scenes," he said.

Mr. Tejerero explained distributors can always chose not to have cuts, and show the movie elsewhere. "We didn’t force the issue of cutting the film, we just simply expressed our principle that we will not show R-18 movies. If by management, or by commercial terms, [film’s producers] will see it fit to have [their movie shown] in SM, then it is voluntary act to do such cuts. We don’t have a hand on those cuts, it is a voluntary act on the part of the [people behind the film’s production]," he said.

Affecting producer’s behavior

Noted scriptwriter Ricky Lee said it is "unfortunate" that SM’s rule is affecting how the movie industry behaves.

"The industry should be able to do what it wants, without external pressure, especially from a corporate giant like SM. It is unfortunate that it seems that we have no choice but to follow their rules, or suffer in the box-office," Mr. Lee told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Mr. Lee said he already personally experienced the effects of the rule against R-18 movies.

"I cannot do a script that I know that producers will just reject knowing that it will get an R-18 rating from the MTRCB," he said. "There are many instances like that as well for other writers. It [the rule] really affects us," he said.

He noted that most of his award-winning scripts made during the 1970s and the 1980s like Himala and Insiang would likely have perished due to weak box-office revenues if they were released under the SM rule. "Imagine, if we had that rule before, producers might not even [have] considered doing those movies," he said.
Veteran producer Lily Y. Monteverde, the brains behind major production studio Regal Films, said producers have no choice but to toe the line, or suffer the consequences.
"No producer, unless he is crazy, will not worry about the box-office," Ms. Monteverde told BusinessWorld in an interview. "If hindi ka maipalabas sa SM, lagot ka na. [If your movie cannot be shown in SM, then your dead-meat]," she added.

Prior to the SM rule against R-18 movies, Regal Films started producing what the industry termed as "pito-pito" movies. The movies were done on a limited budget, and reportedly shot in just seven days or less to cut down costs. Regal Films began doing "pito-pito" movies during the late 1990s when the film industry started suffering from dwindling cinema ticket sales, and rampant film piracy.

Some of the movies, like Jeffrey Jeturian’s Pila Balde (1999) and Tuhog (2001) won multiple awards both here and abroad.

Most of Regal’s "pito-pito" movies were rated R-18.'

"I will not be able to do those movies anymore because it will be difficult [if they can]not to be shown in SM," Ms. Monteverde said.

Movie producer and distributor Wilson Tieng shares the same sentiment. "SM is the top dog. Everybody has no choice but to follow," Mr. Tieng told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Its their right

MTRCB chief legal counsel Attorney Jonathan S. Presquito said SM’s rule against R-18 movies is its "proprietary right."

"SM has all the right to implement the rule within its premises. It does not violate any rule of the MTRCB," Mr. Presquito told BusinessWorld in a telephone interview.
Mr. Presquito noted that since SM implemented the rule in 2002, there has been a steady decline in the number of R-18 movies that have been classified by the MTRCB.
"While I don’t have exact figures now, I can say that all major film producers did not have an R-18 rated movie as of last year," he said.

He said most of the movies that have been classified by the MTRCB as R-18 are independent movies which eventually get public screenings in stand-alone cinemas, the University of the Philippines Film Center, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, various embassies, and in Robinsons Indiesine (a theater located at Robinsons Galleria in the Ortigas Center that is dedicated to independently produced movies.)
Mr. Presquito said when producers apply for rating from the MTRCB, they usually request for a rating below R-18, to enable them to be shown in SM Cinemas.

"As you see, it is really a market matter. Only few can watch R-18 movies. Many people, including the children, can watch a GP movie. That’s why producers pray for that rating," he said.

He explained that if a producer, or a movie distributor insists on getting a GP rating despite some objectionable scenes, the MTRCB recommends cutting out the scenes.

"We do not impose the cuts. We do not want to cut movies. If we can give the rating that the producers prefer, we give it to them. But we have to understand that we have to implement the law. If it is really an R-18 movie, we have to give that rating," he said.

Mr. Presquito said those who complain about MTRCB’s "conservative" stance should lobby in Congress to amend the law mandating the board to classify movies and TV programs. "But at this point, for as long as the law remains, the MTRCB will implement the law as presently worded," he said.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Poll machines tried, tested in Benguet, Taguig, etc.

By Delmar Cariño, Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon

BAKUN, BENGUET—“Kaman di baw” (So, that’s how it works) was all he could say after the voting machine read each long ballot in seconds.

Like his town mates, 40-year-old farmer Wilto Paniki trekked to the Ketagan-Cabatan Elementary School at Sitio Beto in Barangay Dalipey here on a cold Wednesday morning to see how the automated election machine looked.

Paniki and many teachers who watched from the sidelines said they were amazed when the machines read each long ballot in a matter of seconds.

“How I wish I could try voting now,” Paniki said.

In the capital town of La Trinidad, 83 km away, Marilou Madayag and Catalino Tabangin, Smartmatic’s regional coordinators, said the exercise was a success when the capitol received the transmissions from Bakun a split second after receiving a text message alerting them about the delivery at 11:10 a.m.

Two precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) were delivered to this remote town by a team from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and supplier Smartmatic Corp.

Testing in mountainous area

The group wanted to test how altitude, temperature and the enveloping canyons of a mountainous region would affect the machines in this part of the country when these are used for the May elections.

It also wanted to test how fast the results could be transmitted from the precincts to the municipality to the province and finally to the Comelec main office in Manila.

On Wednesday dawn, the temperature had plunged to 11.4 degrees Celsius in Baguio City.

Blind spots

Telephone signals reaching Bakun, 86 kilometers from Baguio, were unstable, making parts of the town “blind spots” for mobile phones, said lawyer Teopisto Elnas Jr. of the Comelec’s election and barangay affairs department.

Barangays Dalipey and Cabutotan were two of several areas in the country that the Comelec selected for Wednesday’s nationwide simultaneous field testing of the PCOS.

Field tests were also conducted in Pateros; Taguig City; Naga City; Cebu; and Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The transmission used mobile and satellite networks.

Two machines were sent to two precincts in these areas for the field tests, which were aimed at simulating the transmission process on Election Day on May 10.

Smartmatic, the firm that was contracted to supply and administer the automated voting for the May elections, set up a municipal election booth here and a data retrieving facility at the provincial capitol in La Trinidad to receive the transmissions.

Ten test ballots were fed into the PCOS, much like how offices feed paper into a fax machine.


But the field test revealed technical glitches which authorities must now review as Comelec proceeds to evaluate the future of automated elections, said Angelo Timoteo de Rivera, director general of the National Computer Center.

A member of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, De Rivera monitored the tests from the provincial capitol.

The transmissions from Bakun arrived later than expected due to a slight miscoordination with the operators of the machines receiving data for municipal board of canvassers (MBOC).

The MBOC was stationed at the town hall in Barangay Ampusongan in Bakun, a two-hour travel from Sitio Beto.

But it took the MBOC more time setting up the computers when the scanners at Dalipey transmitted the simulated results.

The PCOS read the pre-marked 10 ballots at an average of 15 seconds each.

De Rivera said government technicians foresaw problems with transmission, based on the equipment that is available for the May polls.

Smartmatic’s machines were intended to enhance the speed and efficiency of delivering the voters’ information to the canvassing bodies, he said.

He said government was assured that most towns in the Cordillera Administrative Region have access to DSL (digital subscriber line), more commonly known to Internet users as the fiber optic cables that provide access to the web.

“The DSL is the most efficient way for transmitting the data, but there are remote towns which may use wireless Internet modems or even mobile telephones,” he said.

Their operators tried to transmit the results using a wireless modem at around 10:34 a.m. as soon as the MBOC signaled that it was ready to receive the data.

The wireless modem failed so the Bakun team used the satellite web relay called the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN).

The provincial canvassing board in the provincial capitol tried to transmit the data to the Comelec office in Manila at 11:20 a.m. using a wireless modem, but it took the team until 11:35 a.m. to do it, De Rivera said.

Training needed

Aida Paplonot, a teacher of nearby Palidan Elementary School, said the PCOS looked complicated to operate. The teachers must be trained well to avoid confusion on Election Day, she said.

Lawyer Julius Torres, Comelec regional director, said the machine was easy to operate. “Once you learn the system, it’s like operating an ATM,” he said.

He said the Comelec would be deploying 1,788 scanners to the Cordillera.

Despite the delay in the setting up of the machine, the field testing here went smoothly, said Elnas. “We wanted to see our deployment capabilities and the required degree of security,” he said.

He said there would be two kinds of equipment to be used for every clustered precinct in the May elections to ensure that the results in far-flung areas will be relayed without delay to the MBOC.

Wireless modem will be used if the signal from telecommunication companies is clear while BGAN will be used if the signal is unstable, he said.

Those who observed the tests here and in La Trinidad said these things needed to be addressed: Mastery of the protocols for the operation of the PCOS and the readiness of the MBOC’s computers to receive the results.

Snag in Pateros

There was also a glitch at a Pateros public school, according to Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal.

The data from the school was not immediately sent, prompting the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) at the precinct to replace the machine’s subscriber identity module (SIM) cards.

“We changed the SIM card and it was able to transmit data so it means the system works,” Larrazabal said. He declined to identify the mobile networks used.

The card is used to store information in mobile communication devices.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Comelec said it had yet to receive the results from the two precincts in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Nevertheless, the Comelec declared the transmission field tests of the PCOS machines successful.

Comelec officials said 9 of the 10 machines used in the tests were able to send data to the various canvassing centers and servers.

First to transmit

In Cebu, the field test was successful, according to Comelec provincial supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano.

“In fact, we were informed that among the areas involved in the field test, Cebu was the first one to transmit to the national level,” Castillano said.

Cebu was able to transmit to the national level the results at 10:45 a.m., Castillano said. The field tests were conducted in Barangays Bairan and Alfaco in Naga City, about 20 km south of Cebu City.

Castillano said Barangay Bairan, which did not have any signal from mobile phone companies Smart Communications, Globe Telecom and Sun Cellular, was chosen to find out if the result could still be transmitted without the signal of the three firms.

On the other hand, Barangay Alfaco only has the signal from Globe Telecom.

Castillano said the PCOS machines assigned to the two barangays successfully read the results of the test ballots that contained fictitious names of candidates.

Both barangays Bairan and Alfaco, a mountain barangay, successfully transmitted their results to the city board of canvassers via satellite BGAN, he said.

Even if the field test was successful, Castillano said this was not yet a guarantee that will result in a smooth poll automation this May.

Mock elections

“This is why, there will be mock elections to be done,” he disclosed.

In Cebu, the tentative schedule would be on Feb. 6, when Comelec and Smartmatic would hold mock elections in Barangays Bulacao and Mabini, both in Cebu City.

Castillano said the voters of these barangays would go to the precincts to vote although fictitious names of candidates would still be used.

Larrazabal described the results of the transmission tests as “very good.” With reports from Kristine L. Alave in Manila and Jhunnex Napallacan Inquirer Visayas

PNR trains get second life

Manila Bulletin

Fielding new and secured train coaches coupled with cheap fares, the rail system of the Philippine National Railways is fast becoming a favorite alternative mode of transport among Metro Manilans, authorities said.

Ridership on the refurbished PNR, which plies the Tutuban (Manila)-Bicutan (Taguig) route, showed a steady increase from September 2009 to December 2009, according to PNR Operations Manager Estelito Nierva.

He said 202,404 passengers took the PNR trains in September, steadily climbing to 231,339 in October, 277,969 in November, and 282,011 in December.

The PNR’s new air-conditioned coaches travel from Tutuban to Bicutan passing through stations in Laong-Laan, España, Sta. Mesa, Pandacan, Paco, Vito Cruz, Buendia, Pasay Road, EDSA, FTI, and the southernmost terminal in Bicutan.

The old PNR trains used to travel up to Biñan in Laguna in the early 80s.

Much earlier, even during the Spanish colonial period, the PNR route extended as far north as Dagupan in Pangasinan, and later during the American occupation, down south to Tabaco City in Bicol.

However, much of the rail system was damaged during World War II, and never fully recovered until the iron tracks disappeared in many places,
sold to junkshops or recycled.

Nierva said the new trains would travel up to Sucat by next month and up to Bicol by May.

Mark Ivan Roblas a regular commuter, said the fastest way going to his work place in Bicutan is the PNR trains, with travel from Tutuban to Bicutan taking only 45 minutes.

“Mabilis, walang traffic, at malamig,” Roblas said.

Nierva said the PNR is now also being used by many commuters going to Makati via its Buendia station.

“Saka natututo ang mga tao sa oras,” Roblas said, explaining that one has to catch up with the early schedule of the PNR coaches.

PNR has six trips from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. in the morning, with the first train leaving Tutuban at 6 a.m. and Bicutan at 6:40 a.m. Afternoon trips start at 3:30 p.m. from Tutuban and at 4:47 p.m. from Bicutan.

“We started with two round trips in July 2009. Then we had 12 trips in August. We started having 16 trips last December. And we will double the number of trips by next month (February),” Nierva told the Manila Bulletin.

The rehabilitation of the PNR was a result of a deal between the Philippine government and the Korean Export-Import Bank which funded the fleet modernization and rail upgrade of the train agency.

Nierva said more improvements will be made to entice passengers to patronize PNR, which became unpopular in the past owing to incidents of robberies.

Informal settlers who used to live along the system’s tracks also made it their hobby to pel the passing trains with garbage and even human waste, hitting commuters inside the open coaches.

Now, aside from equipping the train windows with grills, security escorts have been fielded to keep passengers safe.

Travel by PNR train from Tutuban to Bicutan and vice versa currently costs P10 to P15 but the rates will soon be adjusted, according to Nierva.

“Our fares are too low compared with the buses and the MRT (Metro Rail Transit). We are on the process of review. We may adjust them but they will still be lower then the bus rates,” he assured.

The best hope for the economy

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Answer a hypothetical question. Would you rather have the potential of you being wealthy in the future held in the hands of Henry Sy and Bill Gates or depend on Barack Obama and Gloria Arroyo?

Nothing particular against Presidents Obama and Arroyo, but they do represent and embody “the government,” whereas Sy and Gates represent and embody “private enterprise.”

In fact, Sy and Gates symbolize more than just the private sector. They are, or at least were, small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs are the heart, soul and economic driver of every capitalist (as opposed to socialist) economy. And SMEs do a fantastic job of wealth creation and raising the standard of living of the people, no matter what the moron leftists and liberals proclaim. In the handful of countries that do everything they can to control if not destroy SMEs, the rich, meaning government officials, get richer and the people stay stuck or fall lower. Even in those countries that proclaim to be socialist, the SMEs are still the economic engines.

When the SMEs do not function properly, even in a free economy, things turn for the worse and stay bad very quickly. Notice the US economy right now.

Even after more than $1 trillion has been pumped into that economy, it is still dead. Public-works projects are not self-sustaining. Nor do they generate enough bang for the buck compared with that money going to SMEs. In one major US city, the government spent a few billions building a state-of-the-art light-rail transportation system. Yet, the government money spent to build and operate it could have literally bought every annual passenger a brand-new car. And spending that money on brand- new cars would have been self-sustaining and created wealth because of all the jobs created building those cars. Further, some smart guys would have taken their new free cars and turned them into taxis, creating more wealth. See how it goes?

The problem in the US, vis-à-vis the SMEs, is that the government there gave the banks billions and the banks acted like they were a government corporation. From CCNMoney:

“The nation’s biggest banks cut their collective small business-lending balance by another $1 billion in November. The 22 banks that got the most help from the Treasury’s bailout programs have cut their small business-loan balances $12.5 billion since April. Small business owners are still reporting difficulty finding banks willing to extend the credit they need to launch, run and grow their ventures.”

Without SMEs, no economy can prosper no matter how much money the government throws into the system. It is like buying P1,000 worth of gasoline and pouring it onto the street. No matter how much you spent, it is not going to run anything.

Banks in the US are starting to act like banks in the Philippines when it comes to SME lending; they do not lend logically and efficiently to the SMEs.

The Philippine economy absolutely depends on SMEs. In fact, as in the US, 90 percent of all businesses in the Philippines are classified as SMEs. And banks hate SMEs or at least act as if they do.

The “small” of the SME is classified as a business with a capitalization of between P3 million and 15 million. Medium is between P15 million and P100 million. Forget the “mediums” for a moment and let’s concentrate on the “smalls” because that is where 90 percent of all businesses begin.

Virtually all of the household business names in the Philippines started small. Jollibee, Max’s Chicken, Shoemart and most of the others you can name started as a “small.” And notice also that most of these household names started many years ago. Granted, walk the corridors of the Mall of Asia and you will find hundreds of companies that made their mark, but most did it with private capital, meaning, money raised not from the banks or the government.

Local banks won’t even consider a loan unless the SME has been profitable for three years and has collateral assets equal to or greater than the value of the loan. It is during the start-up phase that these companies should be supported.

Now here is where the government can play a huge and important role. Instead of dumping P300 billion into the Philippine economy in stimulus money, the government should have set that aside for start-up and SME businesses. From the beginning, the government should write off P30 million or even P100 billion of those funds as worthless loans for those businesses that fail. But I guarantee you that the rest of the money would have created potentially tens of thousands of successful businesses that, in turn, would have created hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect employment, lasting years, not months, as in the case of government infrastructure projects.

Poverty will never be ended through government giveaways. Wealth will never be created through government spending. And how much can a Filipino SME expect from the banking system? The International Finance Corp. says SMEs get between 11 percent and 21 percent of their total funding from the banks, with start-ups receiving much less. By law, banks are required to set aside at least 8 percent of their loan portfolio to SMEs. But through their lending restrictions, the banks fail at reaching that 8 percent.

It is time the government took over properly by establishing a reasonable and generous lending facility to make up for the private-banking sector shortfall of nearly P200 billion per year. Then you would see this economy boom dramatically as Filipino entrepreneurship kicks into high gear.

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.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Moody’s upgrades RP banking industry outlook to ‘stable’

Erik de la Cruz

MOODY’S Investors Service has upgraded the industry outlooks for 12 of the banking systems in Asia-Pacific to stable from negative, including the Philippines, citing improving local economic prospects and stabilizing global conditions.

The global debt watcher announced the rating action on Tuesday, a day after it painted a “generally positive trend” in the region’s sovereign ratings amid expectations of a robust economic expansion this year and with debt levels remaining at manageable levels.

The systems with stable outlooks aside from the Philippines are Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Moody’s said it was maintaining negative outlooks for Cambodia, Japan, Mongolia and Vietnam.

“Improved economic conditions underpin the change in the Philippine banks’ industry outlook from negative to stable,” says a report written by vice president and senior credit officer John Tham, and vice president and senior analyst Youngil Choi.

The Philippines’ gross domestic product is projected to grow 3 percent this year, faster than the estimated expansion of 1 percent in 2009, but below the 2004-2008 average growth of 5.7 percent, they said.

“We expect domestic consumption, helped by robust remittances, a better export outlook and election spending— against a backdrop of stabilizing global conditions—to benefit the banking industry over the next 12 to 18 months,” they said.

“Some ‘political noise’ could emerge in an election year, but is not expected to cause excessive instability.”

The analysts said an expanding economy means loan demand should increase. Interest rates may rise in such an environment, but they said higher rates should benefit banks’ margins as their loans typically reprice faster than deposits.

“These factors should moderate the effects of competition and a potential hike in typhoon-related provisions,” they said, referring to the back-to-back weather disturbances that hit the country in the latter part of 2009.

Barring “significant shocks,” they said Philippine banks’ loan-loss reserves, capital and earnings prospects are expected to offer “reasonable creditor protection” over the next 12 to 18 months.

Basically the same factors underpin the stable outlooks for other banking systems in Asia-Pacific, Moody’s said.

“Three factors underpin the generally better outlooks across most of Asia’s banking systems, and they are improving local economic prospects and stabilizing global conditions; and improving access to international debt and money markets,” said Deborah Schuler, a Moody’s senior vice president.

The third factor, she said, is “a continued adequate level of resilience to cope with remaining macro- and microeconomic risks, with the banking systems having suffered only limited damage during the past 30 months of the financial crisis.”

Schuler, meanwhile, noted that the four Asian banking systems carrying negative industry outlooks were also exhibiting some signs of stability, but they remained “more vulnerable to shocks.”

“Typically, these systems were weaker going into the crisis, may have suffered more during the crisis, and/or operate in economies experiencing slower recoveries,” she said.

Despite the upbeat economic outlook, with growth seen returning to trend rates, Schuler said nonperforming loans will remain “above normal” throughout much of the region for at least the next 12 to 18 months.

Of the region’s advanced economies, only Japan still has a negative outlook on Moody’s list.

Despite continuing improvements in fundamentals over 2009, the agency said the operating environment in Japan “remains characterized by the onset of deflation; very weak credit growth and employment figures; still volatile equities market; and limited growth opportunities inside its domestic markets.”

Convergys to hire 6,000 for expansion

Marites S. Villamor

CEBU CITY -- American customer support service provider Convergys Corp. will further expand its Philippine operations with more clients requesting that their accounts be handled by Philippine sites.

Marife B. Zamora, Convergys vice-president and country manager for the Philippines, said the firm was looking at hiring 6,000 more employees nationwide this year to serve the growing “relationship management” requirements of clients who have specified that their accounts be handled by Philippine sites. Convergys operates 12 sites in the Philippines, employing some 20,000 call center workers.

“The Philippines is the most sought after site of our clients,” Ms. Zamora said in a press conference after the launching of the company’s recruitment fair here.

Stephen Daoust, Convergys vice-president for operations, said there was strong interest in Cebu sites especially after twin storms devastated Metro Manila and disrupted operations there last year.

“Some clients are looking to come into Cebu because it’s outside the typhoon belt,” Mr. Daoust said.

Convergys is adding 377 more seats to its Cebu operations this year.

Mr. Daoust said the firm will occupy three more floors at the i3 building in Asiatown IT Park. Convergys opened its i3 site early last year, its third in Cebu, with over 600 workstations spread across three floors. It also has a recruitment center.

The i3 site was one of five sites opened last year. It was inaugurated simultaneously with sites at the Technohub of the University of the Philippines and Ayala Land, Inc. in Quezon City and the Nuvali project of Ayala Land at Sta. Rosa, Laguna in April 2009. Convergys opened its largest call center at the Glorietta 5 mall in Makati last October.

Convergys’ Cebu operations also include a site at the i2 building, which started operations in April 2007, and Banawa, the firm’s first facility in Cebu that opened in November 2004.

Ms. Zamora said the recruitment fair, which featured a fashion show and concert, was intended to fill around 640 new positions that were made available as a result of additional workload going to Cebu.

Convergys tied up with Bench, a local clothing brand, for the fashion show to attract potential employees in the 21-26 age range.

“This is a new approach that allows us to stay one step ahead of the competition [in terms of recruitment efforts]. The good thing about Cebu is that it’s attracting employees from other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao as well,” Ms. Zamora said.

Aside from fashion shows and concerts, Convergys is also taking advantage of the growing popularity of mobile messaging and social networking sites to boost recruitment activities.

Convergys also has a call center in Bacolod aside from Metro Manila, Cebu and Laguna.

Dancing Inmates - Michael Jackson's This Is It

Filipino, Philippines "Dancing Inmates" from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), a maximum security prison, were treated to a visit by Michael Jacksons long-time choreographer Travis Payne and dancers Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid to learn performances from THIS IS IT.


Dancing Philippine jailbirds in new Jackson Internet hit

A GROUP of dancing prisoners has created a new Internet video hit with a spectacular routine led by Michael Jackson’s choreographer dancing to the title track of his posthumous DVD.

The clip has generated more than 600,000 hits on the video sharing Web site YouTube since it was uploaded Friday by Sony Entertainment ahead of yesterday’s global release of the late superstar’s This is It DVD.

The four-minute, 26-second film shows Jackson choreographer Travis Payne leading 1,200 inmates clad in regulation orange prison trousers and black shirts featuring the DVD’s logo through a well-synchronized jailyard routine.

Sony said Mr. Payne and his crew spent two days this month at the maximum security jail in Cebu City to record the dance as part of the promotion for the launch of Jackson’s DVD.

The King of Pop died on June 25 last year in Los Angeles and an investigation into his death has focused on unlawful prescriptions of the powerful anesthetic propofol.
The Cebu inmates, including murders, rapists and drug traffickers, achieved instant cult fame around the world when a clip of them dancing to Jackson’s "Thriller" hit was posted on YouTube in 2007.

The "Thriller" clip has since generated 37.5 million hits on YouTube, while other dance routines have also been posted and fuelled the prisoners’ cult aura.
Officials at the jail began the dance exercises as a way to ease tensions among the inmates and improve their chances at rehabilitation.

They, and prisoners who have been previously interviewed, say the programme has been a huge success, with fighting among inmates down markedly since the dancing was introduced. -- AFP

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Photo updates of C-5

Stock-market crash?

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

The New York stock market posted its worst performance last week since March 2009. Because all the economic policies of the Obama administration have been total and complete failures, the only thing that the die-hard cult followers of Obama could look to as any measure of success was the nearly year-long rise in the stock market.

People who actually understand how stock markets function have been saying that there was no justification for this year’s long rally and, at best, that the rise in prices was a bull rally in a bear market.

The Dow Jones has gone up for only two reasons, neither related to any business or economic fundamentals. First is that you can borrow money in the US for almost zero-interest rates. With that situation it makes sense to speculate in the stock market, thereby pushing prices higher. Second, foreigners also have been able to borrow dollars for substantially nothing, so here again, a speculative investment in New York stocks makes sense. But the party is over and reality is finally beginning to kick in.

The reason for last week’s decline in US stock prices is supposedly because Obama is going after the evil, greedy banks by forcing them out of the brokerage business and back into loaning money. He is appealing to the US masa who have no understanding of what the game is all about. But the smart money does understand.

US banks have not been making any money loaning funds, their traditional business, because they have not been doing any lending. That is one reason the economy there is sick and dying. There are a few people in the US administration who understand this. Forcing the banks to loan money is not a bad idea. But it is not going to happen.

The bad investments that the US banks are carrying in their books are being valued as if they were worth something. In truth, the US banking system is broke, bankrupt and completely insolvent.

Investors know that the only way for the Obama administration to get the banks to lend is to get them out of the speculative-investment business. But in order to do that, they must clean up their balance sheets by showing the true value of the worthless investments. If they do that though, they go out of business because they will be insolvent. A real rock and a hard spot.

The banks are like movie zombies. The only way to cure them is to kill them. The banks are worthless to the economy the way they are but to make them functional is to, in effect, close them down and put them out of business. There are no successful options at this point. Why? It’s because all the bailout money was used to keep these banks afloat for them to continue their speculative-investment business, not to loan money.

Therefore, the reality of a failed banking system is hitting the stock market since it is only the financial companies that have fueled the rally. Real businesses that make something or sell something are in terrible shape and their stock prices deserve to be 50 percent lower.

For example, in the US, Wal-Mart stores are the economy and a perfect economic indicator. From the Associated Press: “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Sunday it is cutting about 11,200 jobs at its Sam’s Club warehouse division. The terminations represent about 10 percent of the warehouse club operator’s 110,000 staffers across its 600 stores.”

The other problem is that the US has to fund its own debt. It is sort of like borrowing money from your wife and then giving it back to her to pay household expenses. In 2009, the US borrowed some $1 trillion. China bought $62 billion or about 5 percent. Only 40 percent of all borrowings came from foreigners in 2009. The rest was borrowed from US lenders. By comparison, as recently as 2007, foreigners were actually buying 100 percent of all US government debt. The US is going to have to figure out that borrowing money from yourself just does not work.

Maybe yesterday (US markets closed as of this writing), today, tomorrow, next week, there is going to be a severe decline or even a crash in the US stock market. It is inevitable and to be expected. What does that mean to our local market?

There is going to come a time very soon when the emerging stock markets like the Philippines disconnect from the US and European markets. Saying that to a local stock broker is almost blasphemy. Most local brokers could not go to work in the morning without first looking to see what the Dow Jones did the night before. Local brokers are like drug addicts when it comes to the US Dow Jones.

But disconnect from the US is what is going to happen. Our local market needed to fall to 2,950 on the Philippine Stock Exchange index. It may fall further to the 2,800 level. Nothing could be sweeter. We must reduce stock prices first before the move to over 4,000 can begin.

In the meantime, the dead-dollar scenario will continue to be realized. Gold is going to $1,500. The economic situation in the US will become increasingly desperate. There is absolutely no other scenario to the current picture.

On a personal note: If you would like to subscribe to our Weekly Stock Market Update, send me an e-mail. I will furnish you with a recent sample issue along with subscription details.

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Photo updates: Metro Manila Skyway

Honda posts 20% sales hike in 2009

Armin A. Amio
Business Mirror

ON the heels of a 20-percent hike in sales of its flagship models last year, Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (HCPI) is looking at further improving earnings this 2010.

Company president and general manager Hiroshi Shimizu yesterday said 2009 tested their mettle with the continued threat of the global economic crisis. “We were fortunate that the local automotive industry remained resilient [despite] these trying times. Overall HCPI sales reached 17,168 units [for all models] in 2009, a 20-percent improvement from the previous year. This placed HCPI at No. 3 within the industry, accounting for 13 percent of the total market share last year.

“We are very pleased that our industry managed to post 6-percent growth despite steep cutbacks in other countries” said Shimizu. The earnings hike came mostly from sales of the latest models of the Honda City and Honda Civic.

The third-generation Honda City subcompact posted a total of 8,882 unit sales in 2009. This is the City’s highest annual sales ever chronicled since the model was introduced in the Philippine market in 1996. The highest recorded sales reached 5,478 units, which was posted in 1997. Shimizu said, “We are happy to say that it is not only the City but all our models—the Civic Jazz, CR-V and Accord—are the top choices in their respective segments.” Sales of CR-V in 2009 reached 1,955 units.

For this reason, HCPI yesterday launched a refurbished CR-V for model year 2010. The new CR-V features iPod-ready dock within the instrumentation panel, as well as new designs for the bumper and chrome grille, and new alloy wheel designs (from the 2-liter and 2.4-liter variants). Adjustments were also made in the suspension system for better handling and comfort; additional seals and insulators were applied to improve noise, vibrations and harshness levels.

The HCPI executive said ever since news came out in December 2009 that a new CR-V will be unveiled, the company has already received 200 reservations “even if the customers haven’t seen the actual unit yet.”

The 2-liter manual transmission variant is priced at P1.275 million while the automatic transmission costs P1.325 million. The top-of-the-line variant with 2.4-liter engine comes with a price tag of P1.525 million.

Dredging of Pasig River half-finished

Manila Standard

The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission estimates 2 million cubic meters of silt or about half the targeted volume dredged after seven months of work.

Belgian firm Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon will scoop the remaining 1.3 million cubic meters under the contract before year-end.

President Gloria Arroyo issued Executive Order 717 in March 2008, declaring the dredging of Metro Manila’s main waterway a priority of her administration.

The project was deemed urgent because of the frequency of flooding caused by uneven weather patterns brought by climate change, which displaced residents of Metro Manila particularly in last year’s streak of typhoons led by Ondoy.

Dredging expects to deepen the river to 6 meters from its current level of 4 meters.

Baggerwerken has dredged sections at the river’s mouth leading to Manila Bay, the stretch between Sta. Cruz and Del Pan bridges, Nagtahan, upstream to Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasig.

Along with speeding up the water flow, the removal of toxic wastes that go with the sediments will improve water quality of the river.

Under the project specification, the contractor’s technology employs overdepth capping to dispose of contaminated materials dug up from the river.

The technology involves digging a pit on the seabed. Inside the pit are 10 cell blocks where dredged sediments are deposited and sealed to prevent contamination.

According to proponents, Baggerwerken has contracts in Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, China, Argentina and Papua New Guinea.

The commission headed by Secretary Eleazar Quinto is an attached agency of Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Philip Morris builds P1-B Subic warehouse

Manila Bulletin

Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. (PMPMI) broke ground Monday for its P1 billion regional leaf warehouse facility in Subic Bay Freeport, but warned of a drastic reduction in industry sales should the government pushes [sic] with the implementation of stamp tax on every pack of locally made cigarettes.

The company is investing more than P1 billion in Subic. The company has entered into a 50-year long term lease agreement with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

The second phase with P500 million project cost broke ground Monday at the Subic Technopark. The project would start commercial operation in July this year with handling capacity of 14,000 metric tons.

More Taiwanese investors flock to Subic

With China-ASEAN free trade area
Manila Bulletin

More Taiwanese firms are locating in Subic Bay Freeport in light of the implementation of the China-Asean free trade agreement as they use the freeport as staging ground for their exports.

Manila Economic and Cultural Office Managing Director Antonio I. Basilio revealed that 14 firms, 7 of which are Taiwanese, have signed lease agreements with Subic Bay Development and Management Co. (SBDMC) to establish their businesses in the Freeport.

These firms are engaged in manufacturing, trading and warehousing and transshipment with combined investments of $8.9 million.

“This shows the unwavering Taiwanese investor confidence in the Philippines as a prime investment site despite stiff competition offered by other Asian countries for Taiwanese producers seeking cheaper land and labor costs,” Basilio said.

According to Basilio, Taiwanese investor confidence has grown, given the positive experiences of Taiwanese companies successfully operating in the Philippines ' special export processing zones.

Jeff Lin, president of the Taiwanese-owned SBDMC predicted more business for locators in the Philippines with the start this year of China's free trade pact with the Asean.

SBDMC, Inc. is the developer and administrator of the 300-hectare Subic Bay Gateway Park (SBGP) that is located in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, where internationally renowned companies such as Wistron Infocom, Hitachi, Tonglung, Sanyo Denki, Taian Electric, have been successfully operating since Subic began operations.

DFA sets new passport system

Manila Bulletin

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reminded the public on Monday to avail themselves of the appointment system in applying for a passport and avoid fixers at DFA premises.

The DFA will be opening by first quarter of this year its new Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) Bldg. in Aseana Business Park in Parañaque, near Mall of Asia to ensure more efficient and modern consular services.

DFA Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Renato Villapando said that once the new OCA Bldg. will be opened to the public, passport application will be on appointment basis. Walk-in applications will no longer be available except for emergency situations.

The DFA has already issued an appointment system but they receive more walk-in applicants than those on appointment basis. This will not be the case when the new OCA Bldg. opens in a bid to decongest the number of passport applicants as only those with appointment will be entertained.

Once the new OCA Bldg. becomes open to the public, passport applicants would have to enter through Gate 2 on Bradco Ave. for document evaluation and processing. They would have to get a queue stub once inside and wait for their number to be called. There will be 23 windows devoted to processing, according to Villapando.

After data processing, applicants will be asked to proceed to the second floor for enrolment and data capturing.

This means that there will be no need for applicants to have their pictures taken before going to the DFA as photo, signature and finger printing will be done inside the premises.

After which, the applicant would be able to proceed to the cashier for payment.

Regular passport processing is pegged at P950 and can be claimed after 14 working days while overtime or expedited processing amounts to P1,200 for a seven-day period. Replacement of lost valid passport will be charged an additional P200.

Villapando said the new passport application procedure is expected to take 30 minutes or even less as the new facility will be equipped with 60 new data capturing computer stations.

Monday, 25 January 2010

SM moves into working class districts

by Jenniffer B. Austria and Elaine Ramos Alanguilan
Manila Standard

THE SM Group plans to build 20 smaller but standalone supermarkets in the congested but underserved areas of Metro Manila and key cities this year, earmarking P1billion to 2 billion for the new retail focus, SM Hypermarket executive vice president Robert Kwee told reporters Friday.

The planned 20 outlets would be a combination of Savemore supermarket and its bigger sister, the Hypermarket, he said.

“We want our stores to be closer to the shoppers,’’ he said.

“Because of too much traffic, consumers do not want to travel very far and want the retail stores to be just around the corner.”

Measuring 3,000 to 4,500 square meters, a Savemore supermarket is a grocery and wet market combined, with the grocery items featuring competitively priced SM-branded “Bonus” products.

“The strategic intent for Savemore is primarily to bring the SM experience closer to communities and address customers’ day-to-day needs,” Kwee said. Savemore supermarkets may be found in the working-class districts like Laon-laan, P. Tuazon, Araneta Avenue, Nagtahan, Jai Alai Taft Avenue, and Tanay, Rizal.

In addition to building more Savemores, SM Investments Corp. also plans to convert underperforming Makro stores into a Hypermarket, just like what it did to the three Makro branches in Novaliches, Makati and Mandaluyong.

Makro, the joint venture with the Dutch wholesale club of the same name, has seen its sales slump especially with the economy slowing sharply last year, as more and more consumers switched to buying retail.

Makro now has 12 outlets located in Cainta, Imus, Sucat, North Harbor, Cebu City, Davao City, Pampanga, Batangas City, Cagayan de Oro City, Iloilo City, Cubao, and Las Pinas. It has an active membership of about 85,000.

Over at its nationwide department store network, the SM Group is also jazzing up its beauty and personal care section as it targets a bigger share of the P90-billion business.

The first of such makeovers was the SM Makati, where top officials of Procter & Gamble and Watsons on Friday joined SM heiress Teresita Sy-Coson in inaugurating the revamped Beauty section of the flagship department store.

“We are projecting our beauty business to grow by 11 percent this year from a growth of only 8 percent last year,” said Robert Sun, chief operating officer of SM partner Watsons Personal Care Stores (Phils) Inc.

“It helped that despite the crisis, Filipinos are still patronizing beauty products. They may have shifted to more affordable brands or to a smaller packaging, but the demand remained.”

Sales from personal care products accounted for 6 percent of SM’s total revenue last year, with cosmetics remaining the biggest revenue driver, 25 percent, followed by skin care, 15 percent, and hair products, 5 percent.

“Business would probably grow by 6 percent this year,’’ Sun said.

“The Philippines is still a developing market for beauty products. Last year, the industry grew 4 percent, still down from the 10 percent growth in 2007.”

The brighter lit, more streamlined Beauty section of SM Makati now occupies 1,390 square meters on the ground floor.

State agencies drafting national transport plan

J. A. D. Hermosa

A NATIONAL Transportation Plan which will identify network gaps and prescribe priority infrastructure is being drafted by the government, an official last week said, with the scheme due to be completed next month for possible approval of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board.

"We are in the process of preparing a strategic and coherent national transport plan to decide which project should come ahead," NEDA Deputy Director-General Rolando G. Tungpalan told reporters at the sidelines of a competitiveness forum.

The Department of Transportation and Communications and the Department of Public Works and Highways are working with state planning agency on the scheme, Mr. Tungpalan added.

He claimed the plan would be different from previous roadmaps, like the infrastructure chapter of the existing 2004-2010 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for instance, as it will look at strategic "intermodal" links in the country’s transportation network such as connections between a city and a port.

Prioritization, Mr. Tungpalan added, will depend on two criteria: whether the infrastructure project will be located in a "growth area" and how much it will contribute to economic efficiency.

This comes as the Philippines repeatedly scored low in global competitiveness rankings last year, partly due to perceptions of inadequate physical infrastructure.

This year it placed higher in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index at 44th out of 155 economies because of the ease of arranging competitively priced shipments.

It ranked 64th, however, with respect to transport infrastructure.