Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Working President (441)

Rosales orders prayers for rains starting Sunday


After Basilan and Cebu dioceses, the archdiocese of Manila will pray to God starting Sunday for rains to thwart an impending water and power crisis caused by El Niño.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal ordered his flock to recite an Oratio Imperata Ad Petendam Pluviam (Obligatory Prayer to Request for Rain) during Masses.

“Our relief will come from nature. And so we implore the Master of all creation, God, our Father, at whose command the winds and the seas obey, to send us rain and ease drought. Let us together storm heavens with our supplication, that God’s mercy be upon us and send us the rain we need," he said in an article posted Saturday on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines news site.

“February 28, 2010, is the Second Sunday of Lent and we start with these prayers on this day, the day of our intensified journey of Lent," he added.

The Oratio Imperata is to be prayed after Communion before the Post Communion Prayer.

But Rosales also ordered prayers and intentions to be recited during the Prayers of the Faithful during daily and Sunday Masses.

Government authorities have earlier warned that the country is facing drought and shortage of water because of the El Niño phenomenon.

Rosales' obligatory prayer reads as follows:

God our loving Father, creator of our earth and of the universe, and all the wondrous elements of nature that sustain your living creatures, we humbly ask you to send us the rain that our country needs so badly at this time, to irrigate our fields, to stave off a power shortage, to provide water for our bodily health, and to refresh our parched lands. At your command the wind and the seas obey, raise your hand Almighty God to send us so that crisis may be averted.

Merciful and generous God, open our eyes to the richness and beauty of your creation and instill in us a deep love for this earth and all that is in and around it. Teach us to be wise stewards of your creation so that we may always use them responsibly and protect them from abuse and exploitation. At this time of crisis, dear Lord, move us to share more and to love more.

Loving God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you entrusted the Filipino people to the special care of Mary our Mother, listen to the prayers that we bring up to her, our Blessed Mother, to intercede for us, for the protection of our land and our people, whom she loves.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us.
Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, pray for us.

Rosales is the third prelate to issue an Oratio Imperata this year, following Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of the archdiocese of Cebu and the diocese of Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad.

The Manila archdiocese defines Oratio Imperata as a special prayer for a special intention, besides the ones prescribed by rituals, that the Pope or the bishop may require to be recited during Masses.

In May last year, Rosales also issued an Oratio Imperata to end the threat posed by the A(H1N1), or commonly known as the swine-flu virus. — LBG, GMANews.TV

PGMA leaving RP mining sector a ‘legacy of growth’

MANILA, Feb. 26 (PNA) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is leaving the country’s mining industry a legacy of sustainable growth, highlighted last year by a hefty 23 percent growth and $ 640 million investments inflow despite the global financial crisis.

The improved industry outlook will be enough to sustain another double digit growth this year, said Benjamin Philip Romualdez, president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, after industry representatives on Friday joined the President in Malacanang on the awarding of the Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award (PMIEA), given yearly to recognize mining companies with strong environmental protection programs.

In an interview, Romualdez said the President’s decisions and policies have helped in the unprecedented growth and sustainability of the industry.

“The mining industry continues to grow. In fact, it continues to be the star performer in the economy, growing double digit for a few years now. We expect that to continue to grow to 2010 and beyond,” Romualdez said.

In 2004, the President issued Executive Order No. 270/270A, or the National Policy Agenda on Revitalizing Mining in the Philippines, providing for action plans, in partnership with various stakeholders, to ensure environmental protection, equitable distribution of the benefits of mining operations, recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples, transparency in government-private sector action plans, and community participation in decision-making processes.

The revitalization program promoted mining investments and streamlining of the permit process that led to higher investment inflows, bringing the total to $ 2.8 billion since 2004.

More mineral development projects are in the pipeline and investments are expected to reach $ 13.5 billion by 2013.

“We have to thank the President. Many people seem to criticize her for many things but she has made some very difficult decisions and, in many cases, unpopular decisions. Because of those hard decisions, you can see a sector like the mineral sector continuing to grow,” Romualdez said.

With the revitalization program, the mining and quarrying sector increased its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) from P21.6 billion in 2000 to P100.5 billion in 2009, or from 0.6 percent to 1.3 percent of GDP.

“Its impact on GDP has been incredible. We continue to export over $ 3.6-billion worth and we have about $ 3- billion of investments thus far. We expect more investments this year, about $ 1.5-billion for 2010, and additional investments into the sector by 2013 of about $ 10-billion more,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez said the next administration “is going to be very lucky because a lot of the difficult issues, decision making and confidence building have been worked out during the past few years.”

“Now we are seeing a lot of investments coming in and we expect that to continue. And it should be beneficial to the economy and create more jobs and development in the rural areas where there is a lot of poverty,” Romualdez said.

Also present during the awarding rites were Presidential Adviser on Climate Change Secretary Heherson Alvarez, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, and Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Horacio Ramos.

The three PMIEA were Sagittarius Mines, Inc. based in Tampakan, South Cotabato; Silangan Mindanao Mining Co., Inc. located at Tubod, Surigao del Norte; and Holcim Phils. Manufacturing Corp. located at Lugait, Misamis Oriental.

Secretary Ramos said the biggest legacy of the President is the way she balanced environmental protection and economic development, and the advocacy of sustainable development.

“This legacy has been institutionalized in the industry already. Many of our investors have now been proceeding towards not purely profit-oriented but also somehow established a precedent in environmental protection and social responsibility in the various projects particularly in the natural resources sector,” Ramos said.

Ramos said the President signed and issued many environmental regulations, including the Clean Air Act, the Forestry Act, and the Solid Waste Management Act.

Since 2001, Ramos said the country’s forest cover increased from five million to seven million hectares, and the President declared 34 protected areas, an effort that earned the recognition of the environmental watchdog, Conservation International.

In today’s event, the President also awarded the Most Environmentally Compliant Industries to eight companies which excelled in environmental management in their areas of operation. (PNA)

NAIA sees 24.5 M passengers in 2009

Four more airlines may set up shop at Naia 3
By Paolo Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE MANILA INTERNATIONAL Airport Authority (Miaa) is confident that four new international carriers will start flying out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 3 by the end of the year.

According to Miaa Assistant General Manager Tirso G. Serrano, Terminal 3 is currently being used at half capacity and it will be necessary to utilize more of the facility to address the continuing growth in the number of people using Manila’s airports.

About 24.5 million people used Manila’s four airports in 2009. This is an increase of about 11 percent over the 22 million people the previous year. Manila’s airport system is comprised of the three Naia terminals and the Manila Domestic Passenger terminal.

Naia 3 was opened in July 2008. Last year, about 7.5 million people used it—just half of the airport’s capacity of 13 million people a year.

At that time, only three carriers—Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines (PAL) Express and its sister company Air Philippines—started operations at the new terminal.

Also, work still needs to be done in parts of Naia 3.

“Completion works are being stepped up. It should be ready to accommodate new international airlines,” Serrano said in a recent interview. “Within the year, we are confident that we can get two to four international airlines in Naia 3.”

This year, Serrano said, the number of passengers passing through Manila’s four airports would continue to grow at a double-digit rate, due to the tourism-driven increase in domestic air travel.

With the opening of Naia 3, the airport authority succeeded in decongesting Manila’s airport system, which used to serve 20 million passengers a year—well above its capacity of 18 million passengers a year at the time.

But legal issues over Naia 3’s ownership are still unresolved.

A build-operate-transfer contract for the terminal was granted to Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco) and German partner Fraport AG. But the Supreme Court later nullified the contract because of anomalies.

The government then took over the terminal from the original contractor in exchange for an initial compensation of P3 billion, which the government paid Piatco in 2006.

Piatco has sued the government before international arbitration courts for illegally scrapping the contract.

MRT-7 line wins design changes, $200m extra

Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

The Transportation and Communications Department has recommended the approval of the design changes and increase in project cost of the $1.2-billion MRT-7, a 20-kilometer train system running from North Avenue in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.

Transportation chief Leandro Mendoza said the National Economic and Development Authority had yet to approve the changes, which would likely increase the project cost of the train system by more than $200 million.

“We have recommended its approval, although we are still waiting for the Neda Board decision,” Mendoza said.

President Arroyo said the Neda board should make a decision as soon as possible as the project would serve an estimated 2 million commuters.

“Neda should look into that and address the issue immediately. We had to elevate it to the Neda board because if the increase is more than 10 percent, we have to return the project to them,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President on Thursday inaugurated an elevated railway loop that connects the Light Rail Transit Line 1 from Monumento to Balintawak to the MRT Line 3 from Pasay to North Avenue in Quezon City.

“Our concern really is if the passengers will be willing to pay a higher fare to cover the additional costs [of MRT-7]. Because we cannot subsidize this, unlike our other rail systems, because this is an unsolicited project and it was the private sector which proposed this,” she said.

The proponent, Universal LRT Corp., earlier said about $320 million of the project’s total cost would come in the form of equity, while $900 million would come from borrowings from multilateral institutions such as the International Finance Corp., the Asian Development Bank and the Macquarie Bank of Australia.

Construction of MRT-7 was supposed to start last month after ULC bagged the contract.

MRT-7 will have 14 stations traversing North Avenue, Elliptical Road, Commonwealth Avenue, Quirino Avenue, and San Jose del Monte.

Under the original contract, the government would pay the proponent about $108 million a year in capacity fees for the next 20 years.

Investors will also get 70 percent of the net passenger revenue minus operation and maintenance expenses, and 80 percent sharing in advertising and commercial development income.

The government will receive a 30-percent revenue share on net passenger fares, 20 percent on advertising and commercial development fees, and 20 percent on income derived from real-estate development.

Also on Thursday, MRT general manager Reynaldo Berroya said the government would privatize the MRT Line 3 before the end of June, after the Bangko Sentral ordered government banks to divest themselves of their stake in the venture.

Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines both acquired 22 percent in preferred shares and 78 percent in securitized shares of the Metro Rail Transit Corp. last year for more than $900 million.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Business optimism highest in 2 years

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

BUSINESS optimism was at its highest in two years, the confidence index having averaged 39.1 percent under the latest survey conducted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

This was the third quarter in a series when the index turned positive, and comes in the wake of four consecutive quarters when this index stood in negative territory, BSP Assistant Governor Maria Cyd Tuaño-Amador said on Thursday.

The optimism highlights the sector’s view the economy was poised for a rebound this year from a relatively low growth path last year, Amador said.

This optimism should also be sustained in the second quarter where the index stood at 52.6 percent, the second-highest level in two years.

“Moderate inflation, the steady stream of overseas Filipino remittances and election-related spending are some of the factors that buoyed respondents’ expectations of higher spending that will spur business activity. “Furthermore, firms expected that continued foreign investment inflows will help provide funds for economic expansion. This favorable business outlook mirrors the improving business confidence in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Europe and the United States,” Amador said.  With the buoyant outlook sustained in the second quarter, businessmen also have reason to believe foreign investments will continue to pour in the upcoming quarter.

NDC buys $1-Billion MRTC preferred shares

Transfer from Land Bank and DBP
Manila Bulletin

The National Development Co. (NDC) is buying $1.02-billion worth of preferred and securitized bonds held by government financial institutions (GFIs) Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines in Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) this year, of which the first tranche or $300 million will be transacted before March 30.

Land Bank Executive Vice President Cecilia C. Borromeo said NDC, as per an executive order signed last January 18, will purchase $150 million of preferred MRTC bonds from Land Bank in the next few weeks, as well as the other $150 million held by DBP.

“NDC will take the bonds from us after a BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) rule and NDC will sell the shares to the banks,” said Borromeo. Both Land Bank and DBP exceeded a BSP rule imposing a limit on how many “non-allied” shares a bank could own in a corporation when they purchased 22 percent preferred shares in MRTC last year.

Borromeo said the next move is to sell the rest of the 75 percent securitized bonds in MRTC amounting to $360 million within the year, also directed by the same EO. Both Land Bank and DBP has $720 million of combined MRTC bonds to be disposed in the next months.

Land Bank First Vice President Alex Macapagal said one of the arrangements currently discussed is to forge bilateral agreements between Land Bank, DBP and NDC which may involve share swaps and the issuance of promissory notes for the first tranche of sale.

“We’re discussing terms and valuations right now,” said Macapagal.

In an earlier interview, DBP President Reynaldo David said the first to go is the preferred or the unsecuritized interests since the securitized interests, which are the bonds, are the important shares because bonds are investible money.

For the March 30 deadline, the government banks only need to divest the equity holdings since they exceeded the limit imposed by the BSP and not the MRTC bonds.

Once NDC purchased both the preferred and securitized shares, it will dispose of the shares througha re-privatization.

Land Bank and DBP took the center stage in buying out MRTC shares for a majority block. Both banks, acting on a directive from the National Government, paid $500 million after an assurance of an exit plan via the NDC. The NDC had to be named as the exit mechanism of Land Bank and DBP as a requirement of the BSP’s Monetary Board for the investment of the state owned banks in MRTC

Arroyo wants LRT-1 extended to Cavite

By Paolo Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to fast-track the planned extension of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) line 1 to Cavite province.

While checking on the progress of the LRT north extension project, which connects Line 1 with Edsa’s Metro Rail Transit (MRT) system, the President on Thursday revived plans to extend the overhead train line to benefit commuters from the southern outskirts of Metro Manila.

The LRT North Extension project involves the construction of a 5.4-kilometer elevated viaduct to connect the LRT’s northernmost station, Monumento, to the MRT’s North Avenue station on EDSA.

The P7.6-billion project built by DM Consunji Inc. and First Balfour Inc. will add three new stations on the northern end of the LRT line 1 — Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Avenue — all along Edsa. The last station will be shared with the MRT.

By the middle of next month, LRT Authority (LRTA) Administrator Melquiades Robles said the government would open only the Balintawak station, which has been strategically located to benefit commuters coming from the North Luzon Expressway.

While trains can already pass through all stations, more tests would be done to ensure the safety of the Roosevelt and North Avenue stations, Robles said.

Once operational, Robles said the extension could boost the number of people riding the LRT line by as up to 100,000 a day. LRT 1 ferries an average of half a million people daily. The Light Rail Transit Authority expects to have all three new stations operational before the third quarter of this year.

Robles said the North Extension, dubbed as “Closing the Loop,” was one of the cheapest and fastest built infrastructure projects the government commissioned. Even more noteworthy, he said, was that this was completely funded locally, and while most toll roads and train systems are foreign-made, the LRT extension was built by Filipinos.

“The President has told us to open the LRT North Extension as soon as possible. We want to have a partial opening by March 15,” Robles said.

“But what she wants next is the LRT south extension,” he added.

The LRT South Extension, which was earlier shelved by the DOTC, aims to extend Metro Manila’s oldest and most utilized train line to Imus or Bacoor cities in Cavite, from the current southern end in Baclaran, Pasay City.

The South Extension, estimated to cost about $1 billion, will add about 15 kilometers of new tracks to the LRT line 1. The Cavite extension has been on the state’s drawing board for years, but no real plans have been firmed up so far.

The South Extension will in turn add another 200,000 passengers a day to the LRT’s capacity.

Metro rail loop finally finished
By TJ Burgonio, Paolo Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Imagine taking a commuter train around Metro Manila without having to leave the line except at your final destination.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Thursday had that exhilarating experience when she took the media on a train ride from Quezon City through Caloocan and Manila to Pasay City and back.

Ms Arroyo marked the 24th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution by taking the inaugural ride of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 North Extension project from North Avenue in Quezon City to Monumento in Caloocan City.

The P7.6-billion project completes the LRT-Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 loop.

“This is to decongest Metro Manila. By making it convenient because it’s O-shaped, you don’t have to go down and take another transport. You can go anywhere and get off anywhere, and you just take the transport for your final destination,” Ms Arroyo told reporters during the inaugural ride.

After 14 months of work, the project is expected to operate commercially by March 15.

The North Extension project involved the construction of a 5.7-kilometer elevated viaduct to connect the LRT’s northernmost station, Monumento, to the MRT’s North Avenue station on EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue).

Three new stations

The project, built by DM Consunji Inc. and First Balfour Inc., plans to add three new stations on the northern end of the LRT line 1—Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Avenue—all along EDSA. The last station will be shared with the MRT.

By the middle of next month, LRT Authority (LRTA) Administrator Melquiades Robles said the government would open only the Balintawak station, which is strategically located to benefit commuters coming from the North Luzon Expressway.

While trains can already pass through all stations, more tests are needed to ensure the safety of the Roosevelt and North Avenue stations, Robles said.

He said the extension, once operational, could boost the number of people riding the LRT line by up to 100,000 a day. LRT 1 ferries an average of half a million people daily. The LRTA expects to have all three new stations operational before the third quarter of this year.

Robles said the construction of the North Extension, dubbed as “Closing the Loop,” was one of the cheapest and fastest infrastructure projects of the government.

90-minute ride

Ms Arroyo took the train ride from the MRT Santolan station and back in one-and-a-half hours after raising the flag and speaking at the 24th anniversary celebration of EDSA I at the People Power Monument.

She walked for a few meters from the monument to the nearest gate of Camp Aguinaldo, and then took a presidential bus for the Santolan station, with Cabinet officials and reporters in tow.

Faster, cheaper, safer

The President said that closing the LRT-MRT loop “will bind the metropolis as never before, so that the people can travel faster, cheaper and safer from any part of the metropolis to another.”

Ms Arroyo paid tribute to the train commuters, saying that EDSA was “testament to the quiet heroism of the ordinary Filipino, the commuter who travels the MRT or LRT, every day to and from work, to and from school.”

When the MRT train pulled to a stop at its last station on North Avenue, Ms Arroyo and her fellow passengers got off, and transferred to a spanking new LRT train. [The tracks of the LRT and MRT lines have different gauges, so a commuter must transfer from an MRT or LRT train to another LRT or MRT train to take the second leg of the loop.]

The LRT train took Ms Arroyo and the rest of the passengers from North Avenue to Monumento, stopping only at the Balintawak station for an inspection, and then on to the EDSA-Taft station in Pasay City.

From there, the group walked on a connecting bridge to the MRT station, for the train ride back to Santolan.

1.2M passengers

On the LRT train, Ms Arroyo took her seat at the last car, and coaxed Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to tell reporters the capacity of commuter trains before she assumed power in 2001 and at present.

“Before the Arroyo administration, the capacity was only 400,000. Now it’s 1.2 million,” Mendoza told reporters and photographers who crowded around Ms Arroyo.

Ms Arroyo agreed, saying that this was all part of her administration’s 10-point agenda.

Fruits of VAT

The North Extension project interconnects Line 1 (LRT line from Monumento to Baclaran); Line 2 (LRT line from Recto to Marikina-Pasig) and Line 3 (MRT Line from Taft Avenue to North Avenue).

Once completed, the ridership of 1.2 million passengers daily is expected to climb by 100,000, Robles said.

“The spirit behind this is the President. This is the cheapest. This is 100-percent local fund,” he said of the project.

Ms Arroyo agreed: “Yes, correct. There’s no loan … These are the fruits of VAT (value-added tax).”

A few minutes into the train ride, the LRT train’s air conditioning unit suddenly stopped working, prompting questions from reporters.

Transport officials, however, explained that the stretch from North Avenue to the Balintawak station was “not yet electrified.”

After the train left the Balintawak station, the air conditioner switched back on.

“We should expect fewer buses on EDSA,” said Vice President Noli de Castro, who joined Ms Arroyo on the train ride at the Balintawak station.

South Extension

While checking on the progress of the North Extension project, Ms Arroyo revived plans to extend the LRT 1 line to Cavite province.

The South Extension project, which was earlier shelved by the transportation department, aims to extend LRT 1 to Imus or Bacoor cities in Cavite, from Baclaran, Pasay.

The South Extension, estimated to cost about $1 billion, will add about 15 km of new tracks to the LRT line 1. The Cavite extension has been on the state’s drawing board for years.

GMA tests LRT-MRT closing loop

LRT 1, MRT 3
25 February 2010

As part of her BEAT THE ODDS goals of decongesting Metro Manila, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo headed the Closing-the-Loop Ride as she roamed the metro using the Metro Rail Transit 1 (MRT1) and Light Rail Transit 1 (LRT1) Extension and the LRT1.

From the flag raising at the People Power Monument in Edsa, President Arroyo went to MRT1 Santolan-Annapolis Station and rode the train going to North Avenue Station. Upon reaching the area, the President went-off the train and showcased the new LRT1 Extension which is the main element in "closing-the-loop" project. She took the inaugural test drive and went off to the Balintawak Station for a briefing about the new universal rail transit ticketing system to be implemented in June of this year. The President then rode the LRT1 going all the way to Pasay and lastly took the MRT3 Taft Avenue Station going back to Santolan-Annapolis Station, the first station where she came from.

President Arroyo did this ride for the purpose of showing to the public that commuting is made faster, easier and cheaper with the interconnection of the rail transits or what she called the "main artery of the metropolis".


Genalyn Kabiling
Manila Bulletin

People could soon travel around Metro Manila riding its two major railway systems by March 15 without worrying of any fare increases in the near future.

As part of her commemoration of the 24th anniversary of the EDSA People Power revolution, President Arroyo took an hour-long ride Thursday aboard the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) to highlight the “faster, cheaper, and safer transportation” around the metropolis.

President Arroyo, who also led the dry run of the LRT Line 1 North Extension project, said around 1.2 million passengers are expected to benefit once the two railway systems are interconnected next month.

Included in the presidential train ride was the trial run of the MRT-LRT closing the loop project, which involves a 5.7-kilometer elevated line that links Monumento station of LRT Line 1 and the North Avenue Station of MRT Line 3.

The P7.6-billion project, covering four stations – Balintawak, Roosevelt, Common Station in front of SM Annex North EDSA, and Malvar Station in Caloocan City – will start its commercial operations in the middle of March.

The President appeared in a good mood when she started her joy ride aboard the metro railways shortly after attending the anniversary rites of the first People Power revolution at the People Power Monument in EDSA, Quezon City.

Under heavy security, Arroyo, accompanied by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and several government officials, first walked a hundred meters from the People Power Monument and boarded a bus toward the MRT-Santolan Station along EDSA.

Upon arrival at the Santolan station, President Arroyo was greeted by Vice President Noli de Castro, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, and several transport officials and then rode one of the MRT coaches shortly before 9 a.m. when she began to highlight the government’s inroads in the mass transport system.

President Arroyo, speaking to reporters in the packed coach, said the closing the LRT-MRT loop project would decongest traffic in Metro Manila since commuters have an alternative form of transportation.

Commuters should also not worry of higher fare increases in the MRT and LRT networks since the Arroyo government plans to continue to subsidize the mass transport system. The President said it was impractical to impose fare hikes in MRT and LRT since many people, particularly the masses, are benefiting from the railway networks.

Although she looked forward to the operations of the MRT-LRT loop, the President asked transport officials to fast track plans to issue a single ticket for both major railways.

The President was irritated when she learned the unified ticketing system of the MRT-LRT network is being scheduled in June. She told transport authorities to cut red tape and ensure that people could use a single ticket riding the MRT-LRT link when full operations start next month.

During the train ride, Mrs. Arroyo also recalled she used to ride the metro trains when she joined the annual “Alay Lakad” when she was a senator.

The President and her traveling party made three stopovers during the train ride around Metro Manila. The first stop was at the North Avenue station where she boarded a new train of the LRT 1 North Extension project going to Balintawak station.

The new train, still under manual operation, still had no airconditioners, providing little ventilation for the President and her group. Mrs. Arroyo however ignored the heat and instead marveled at the benefits of the closing the loop project during the 15-minute ride to Balintawak station.

At the Balintawak station, the President disembarked from the train and showcased the “contact-less ticket” system that will be used by the MRT and LRT systems. A few minutes later, she rode another LRT train en route to Pasay-Taft area.

The President and her party then switched trains at the MRT EDSA station for a trip back to Santolan station, where her journey started. The presidential train ride ended at past 10 a.m.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Central Philippines Tour -- Roro to Tagbilaran Bohol

Austrian investor keen on P14-B Iloilo dam project

Francis Allan L. Angelo

ILOILO CITY -- An Austrian firm is interested to build a P14-billion dam in Iloilo, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in Western Visayas said.

Edilberto F. Lomigo, NIA-Western Visayas manager, said the company offered to construct the dam at the Jalaur and Ulian Rivers in the towns of Calinog and Lambunao. The project is part of the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project.

“We requested the company to submit their letter of intent to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) central office that they are interested in the project,” Mr. Lomigo added. He did not name the company pending the submission of its letter of intent.

Mr. Lomigo said the 106-meter dam will have two reservoirs with a total holding capacity of 340 million cubic meters of water. Three catching dams will also be constructed at the tributaries of the two rivers.

The dam will provide water for the cropping demands of the existing 22,000 hectares of rice fields in Iloilo and an additional 12,000 hectares.

“Aside from the irrigation system, the dam will also supply potable water to the municipalities of Lambunao and Calinog, and Iloilo City,” Mr. Lomigo said.

The project will also include a 2.5-megawatt power plant that can provide electricity to the two towns.

Mr. Lomigo said the project can be completed in seven to nine years, including detailed engineering works.

“This is a long-term project but we are optimistic that this project will be materialized soon. It has been in the pipeline for some time already but we were not able to finalize it for lack of investors,” Mr. Lomigo said.

Why gold and not paper money?

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Two days ago I wrote that there is a fundamental change coming in the global monetary system as the use of fiat money—currency not convertible by the government to a hard asset—is replaced with currency that is backed and convertible to something of value.

There is no more an emotional debate in economic and financial circles than this topic. You can find a thousand well-researched opinions on both sides of the issue.

For example:

The question if gold works as an inflation hedge always comes up. No, gold is not a hedge against inflation. Sometimes the nominal price of gold lags behind. Had you bought gold at $800 an ounce in 1980, you would have had to wait 20 years to break even. On the other hand, using 2000 as the starting point, crude oil dominated in gold costs exactly the same today whereas it takes 3.5 times as many US dollars to buy the same amount of oil. And why do we even talk about gold at all?

A little history.

The Egyptians traded goods for gold with the Nubians in Ethiopia. In ancient times, virtually every society loved gold for its ornamental and decorative beauty. In other words, there was a demand for gold every place that you might go. No matter what goods were produced in a particular region, you could buy those goods with gold.

A trader could take gold to Persia and buy textiles. Move the textiles to Egypt and exchange them for gold. Buy salt in North Africa with that gold and sell the salt in West Africa again for gold. Gold was and is the universally desired commodity.

The demand for gold has never decreased throughout history. That is why gold has always been a useful way to store wealth. The demand has been constant (or increasing) and as a result, the purchasing power of gold has been relatively constant in comparison to currency in the modern era.

It is an old story, and maybe a bit simplistic, but it is true. In 1900, a man’s suit of clothes cost about $15 and an ounce of gold was priced at $25. 1n 1940, the prices were $25 and $35. In 1980, $450 and $600 while in 2007 a suit cost about $600 and gold traded at $700 an ounce.

However, it must be said that had you put $25 in the bank at 3-percent interest in 1900, by 2007, it would have grown to $620, or enough to buy that same suit of clothes.

Nonetheless, it is also true that the amount of goods that could be purchased with gold has remained fairly constant through almost any time frame, whereas the amount of goods purchased with non-asset-backed currency has decreased over the same time period.

This fact is not noticeable to the average person and seems unimportant, because as prices have risen, so, too, have wages. Wages have risen almost as fast as the price increase for goods, and technological advances through the decades have brought down the nominal price of almost all goods. Food is actually less expensive in comparison to wages than 100 years ago because of more efficient, cost-
effective production. Look at the “high tech” items such as computers and televisions. Thirty years ago, a television cost a month of wages; now it takes less than a week for the average American wage earner to make enough to buy a TV set.

But for purposes of international trade, currency must retain a constant value. Imagine my business is washing cars. You sell chickens. I print my own “money.” Each one “Mangun money” is worth one car wash. I give you my money in return for two chickens. I redeem the money the following week by washing your car. But then I print thousands of “Mangun money” and buy goods all over town. Eventually, there is no way that I can wash all those cars and redeem all my money in a reasonable amount of time.

The next time I come to “buy” your chickens, you charge me two “Mangun money” because you know it will take me several months to get around to washing your car. My money is now devalued and the “price” of your chickens has gone up.

I have devalued the value of my money by printing too much of it.

Those who believe currency does not need to be asset backed would say, “So what?” It really does not matter if the chickens cost one or two “Mangun money” as long as we keep doing business with each other.

But if I keep printing more money, at some point, it will be very hard to
determine the “true value” of my currency. The people that I do business with will not be sure if they should charge me two, three or how many “Mangun money” for the goods they sell me. If the trend of my printing unlimited amounts of currency continues, you will lose confidence and eventually stop accepting my currency.

That is exactly what has happened to the US dollar. The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency, meaning, that like gold of ancient times, every country is supposed to desire dollars and accept the dollar for all trade purposes.

But countries now are creating currency/trade agreements that do not include the dollar. China is signing deals around the world that will allow its trading partners to settle trade obligations in local currencies and not the dollar.

The dollar’s days as the “world’s currency” are over and the next world reserve currency must include a hard asset, like gold, no matter what form that currency may eventually take.

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Road show set for P30-B bond offer to OFWs

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

PREPARATIONS are under way for the Philippine government’s landmark debt sale to overseas Filipinos, with the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) tapping the services of four financial institutions—First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIC), BPI Capital Corp., Philippine National Bank and state-run Land Bank of the Philippines—to drum up interest in the P30-billion offer.

The BTr and the four issue managers had initially agreed to hold a global road show for the deal in the third or fourth week of March, according to LandBank executive vice president Cecilia Borromeo.

The government will offer three-year and five-year bonds denominated in US dollar and euro as investment options to Filipinos abroad, also called OFWs, possibly in early April, Borromeo told reporters on Tuesday night.

The government is seeking to raise $500 million and €100 million from the sale of retail bonds, equivalent to about P30 billion at current exchange rates.

It sold $1.5 billion in dollar bonds to international investors in January and $1.1 billion of yen-denominated bonds this month to finance its budget deficit, which is expected to widen to P293 billion this year.

Borromeo said the initial plan was to hold simultaneous road shows in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

“Initially we identified New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco [for the US road show],” she said. “For the European leg, the initial destinations are London, Milan and Rome.”

The government and issue managers are also planning to reach out to OFWs in Hong Kong and Singapore, and those in the Middle East, particularly in Dubai and Riyadh.

In their latest joint monthly report on the fixed-income market, analysts at FMIC and economists at University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) said the government may sell up to $770 million, or more than P35 billion, in RTBs.

They said a total of P192 billion of foreign currency-denominated bonds may be sold by the government this year, which will cover about two-thirds of the programmed budget deficit.

With OFW remittances growing robustly, reaching more than $17 billion in 2009, the deposits held by banks’ foreign currency deposit units, or FCDUs, have soared to record levels of more than $25 billion, most of which are placements by Filipinos.

The target buyers of retail bonds are clearly awash with liquidity, the FMIC-UA&P report said.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Informal Media Interaction with Motorcade

Along Puerta Princesa City-Sabang Road Concreting Project
From Sitio Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan to Puerto Princesa City
23 February 2010

After presiding the cabinet meeting, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo boarded a bus together with members of the media for an informal media interaction while traversing the Puerto Princesa City-Sabang Road Road Concreting Project.

In the almost two-hour motorcade trip from the Daluyon Beach & Mountain Resort in Sito Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan to the city proper of Puerto Princesa, the President observed the progress of the 3.237 kilometer road project which was started in 29 August 2008 and completed in 26 April 2009.

The project resulted to a better transportation of farm products and services from the different barangays of Puerto Princesa, as well as improved the mobility of people visiting the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or the "Underground River," thus increasing the tourism industry in the province of Palawan. (*NFB)

Central Philippines Tour; Cabinet Meeting SPEECH

Daluyon Beach & Mountain Resort
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
23 February 2010

Citing the province of Palawan as the number one tourism investment destination in the country, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo continued her Central Philippines Tourism Tour with a cabinet meeting at the Daluyon Beach & Mountain Resort in Puerto Princesa.

In a message delivered before the start of the meeting, the President said that "because Palawan has nearly 2,000 islands, we take the tourists to its wonders through the upgraded airports of Puerto Princesa and Busuanga, the newly-built San Vicente Airport, the road backbone from El Nido to Rio Tuba whose gaps we filled, and the road to the number one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Underground River."

President Arroyo stressed that "our nation has been blessed with some of the most scenic beauty in the world. Even more important, our nation has been blessed with the most welcoming, energetic and friendly people on earth."

With the creation of the Central Philippines Tourism Super Region, a total of 38 infrastructure projects composed of airports, ports and connecting roads have been built with five of these found in Palawan -- Balabac Airport in Balabac Island, Puerto Princesa Airport, San Vicente Airport, El Nido-Bataraza Road and Busuanga Airport in Busuanga Island.

Palawan Governor Joel Reyes attributed the surge of tourism in his province to the aforementioned infrastructure projects and expressed his appreciation to President Arroyo for her administration's full support to the local government throughout her nine-year term. (NFB)

PGMA describes her underground river cruise in Palawan

'It’s an awesome experience'

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, PALAWAN (PNA) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made history as the first Philippine president to enter the world-famous underground river in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

“The feeling inside the cave is awesome. I have been entering many caves all my life but my experience in exploring the majestic and grand rock formations inside the underground river is unique. My imagination was tickled by those amazing and interesting centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites shapes,” President Arroyo told the members of Palawan Press Club.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is the Philippine’s lone candidate in the final phase of the global search for the “New Seven Wonders of Nature."

“The President’s visit is a big boost to our campaign to be included in the final seven winners of the worldwide contest," City Mayor Edward Hagedorn said.

Mayor Hagedorn previously expressed dismay over the Department of Tourism’s seemingly cold support in the promotion of the underground river in the effort of gathering global support through online and SMS voting.

But Deputy Presidential Spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the national government has been supporting the local government initiatives in bringing more local and foreign tourists to Puerto Princesa’s main tourist attraction.

President Macapagal-Arroyo outlined her achievements on infrastructure projects to make travel to the underground river easy and comfortable.

“We should not inquire what more has to be provided but what projects have been done by our administration that contributed to make tourism arrival here tripled in number," the Chief Executive explained.

Felisa Torres, president of the City Tourism Council reported that around 1,000 tourists are entering the cave daily compared to 300 visitors before President Macapagal-Arroyo became president.

“My guide said that in the past, his family would travel all day before reaching their house near the area. But today, with all these roads and bridges projects, you can arrive in just an hour,” the President said.

DPWH Sec. Victor Domingo said the Arroyo administration has concreted 400 kilometers of road all over Palawan, an infrastructure feat larger than all road projects done since the Commonwealth government up to Estrada administration combined.

James Albert Mendoza, underground river park manager alerted members of the City Tourism Council and other tourism stakeholders to be ready for a greater and massive influx of visitors after the President's visit in the underground river.

“President Macapagal-Arroyo is our grand campaign manager today. It will definitely create allurement and a different effect and curiousness among the tourists,” Mendoza said.

At the start of the global search, two other Philippine tourist spots— the Tubbataha Reef also in Palawan and the Chocolate Hills in Bohol province—were initially nominated for the worldwide search.

The river is reputed to be the longest navigable underground river in the world and one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas of the country.

Located in the Midwest coast of Palawan, some 80 kilometers northwest of Puerto Princesa, it is a source of pride and key element in the identity of the people of Puerto Princesa in particular and of the Philippines as a whole.

Gov’t raises $1.1B from Japan bond float

By Ronnel Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--The government Tuesday made a successfull return to the Japanese financial market as institutional investors bought 100 billion yen in samurai bonds, or about $1.1 billion at current exchange rate.

Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said the 10-year issue fetched a coupon rate of 2.32 percent a year.

Buyers of the yen notes, called Shibosai bonds to refer to a private placement exclusively for institutional investors, have until March 2 to wrap up the purchase.

The flotation was arranged jointly by Daiwa Securities Capital Markets, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities and Nomura Securities and carried a partial guarantee from Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

An agreement with JBIC that the government signed last week allowed the Philippines to issue up to 100 billion yen, carrying a 95-percent guarantee.

Teves said Japanese bond investors showed strong interest for the placement following an extensive marketing effort, including a series of one-on-one investor meetings in Tokyo earlier this month with a team headed by National Treasurer Roberto B. Tan and Finance Undersecretary Rosalia V. de Leon.

Teves said the amount of funds that investors—including banks, insurance companies, cooperatives and other financial institutions—made available to buy the bonds “far exceeded” the 100 billion yen.

He added that the amount represented the biggest ever bond issue made by a non-Japanese, Asian borrower in Japan.

The last time that the Philippines tapped the Japanese financial market was in 2001 when $414 million or 50 billion yen worth of bonds was sold directly to investors.

“The delegation presented the strong credit story of the [Philippines], which was favorably received by bond investors,” Teves said. “This allowed [us] to set the issue size at the maximum amount under the agreement with the pricing at the tighter end of the marketing range.”

The finance chief said the funds raised “will be helpful in providing for the needs of our people and enabling us to achieve modest economic growth this year.”

In January, the government raised $1.5 billion in dollar bonds through a global issue launched in the United States.

Teves added that the latest bond issue completed the government’s planned foreign commercial borrowings of $2.5 billion for 2010.

He said the placement also represented the first JBIC-guaranteed Samurai bond issue in 2010.

Korean firm investing $71.3m for biomass project in Palawan

by Alena Mae S. Flores
Manila Standard

Phil-Korean Renewable Energy Corp. will invest $71.26 million to build a 30-megawatt biomass project in Palawan that will utilize wood chips for feedstock.

Phil-Korean Renewable chairman Won Gul Lee told reporters the company would use ipil-ipil and coconut as feedstock for the planned biomass plant in Sta. Cruz, Puerto Princesa.

The official said the company planned to start construction of the biomass plant within the year and commission it by 2013.

Lee, the retired president of Kepco Philippines Corp., a unit of Korea Electric Power Corp., said Phil-Korean Renewable would plant more trees to replace those to be used for the biomass plant. He said the company was looking at a plantation of 80,000 hectares in Palawan.

Lee said the power plant and the plantation would generate 3,000 jobs in Palawan.

The biomass plant will supply power to Palawan Electric Cooperative.

Phil-Korean Renewable is a personal investment of Lee and other Korean investors. The project is part of the 26 renewable energy contracts signed by the Energy Department. The 26 are worth a combined $277 million and will generate 466 MW of power.

The company signed last year a memorandum of agreement with Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn for the biomass project.

Energy Assistant Secretary Mario Marasigan said Phil-Korean Renewable was one of the many Korean investors interested in renewable energy projects in the Philippines.

“Other Korean groups are also interested and they are in joint ventures with local companies. Some of these companies are interested in hydro projects,” Marasigan said.

The passage of the Renewable Act of 2008 attracted a significant number of local and foreign investors to the industry.

The Energy Department has already signed around 180 renewable energy projects that will ensure reliable power and cleaner sources of supply to the Philippines.

Remittance seen 9% up

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

Global credit-card brand MasterCard sees remittances from some 8 million overseas Filipino workers growing by 9 percent, or more than twice the pace the government projected this year, to likely hit $18.91 billion.

MasterCard worldwide economic adviser Yuwa Hedrick-Wong told financial journalists on Tuesday the sustained flow of remittances would also help push the gross domestic product (GDP) to 5.1 percent, again higher than official forecast that sees GDP expanding by 3.6 percent at the most.

Wong noted the presidential election in May and the associated spending could lift GDP higher by anywhere from 0.5 percent up to 2 percent from projections.

He urged policymakers to raise the present level of investments as a percentage of GDP to higher than the 12 percent in 2009, which was a big drop from 21 percent in 1995.

Countries that heavily invested in infrastructure such as Japan, China and the United States at various times in history subsequently attained industrial status and posted very high growth rates, he said.

He added this result seems to be validated by countries that have since heavily invested in infrastructure such as Hong Kong, which is seen to grow this year by 5.2 percent, Malaysia by 5.3 percent, and Korea by 6.3 percent.   

Even Indonesia, whose government is perceived weak in combating corruption, invested the equivalent of 28 percent of its GDP last year, although this is down from 31 percent in 1995.

“This is very unhealthy. These low investment rates need to be reversed,” said Wong.

He argued that corruption is not really a deterrent to foreign investors, as shown by experience in Japan where corruption even “worked” to its advantage. “I disagree that investment will not work till the issue of corruption is dealt with.”   

 Indonesia, for example, attracted $8 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) in the final quarter last year alone and $9.3 billion in 2008. This, after $4.6 billion in foreign capital fled in 2000 when its political problems scared the wits out of foreign fund managers.

“Corruption per se is not an issue. Indonesia in 2008 had FDI of $8 billion while the Philippines only had $1.2 billion. Indonesia is not exactly a place where corruption levels are minimal,” said Wong.

He also said investments, whether public or private, should be placed in the countryside where some 70 percent of the Philippine labor force is located.

The government may offer incentives for business to locate there, but in the end what drives the decision to invest in the countryside is “the certainty of return on investment [ROI]. . . .Raise the ROI and business will locate in the countryside.”

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Merienda with the Media in Donsol, Sorsogon

Vitton & Woodland Beach Resorts

Donsol, Sorsogon
22 February 2010

To officially start her Central Philippines Tourism Super Region tour, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Donsol, Sorsogon, which is one of the world-class tourist destinations in the Bicol Region.

In a merienda with the local media and some members of the Malacanang Press Corps held at Vitton Resort, the President said that the whale shark interaction in Donsol has changed the lives of the people in Donsol, which is considered as the Whale Shark Capital of the World.

Allan Amanse, one of the beneficiaries of the eco-tourism development in the municipality, told President Arroyo that he used to earn P100 a day as a fisherman and a tricycle driver. When he started working as a butanding interaction guide, his salary increased to P1,000 per day.

Aside from whale shark watching, the Mayon Volcano in Albay, Mt. Isarog in Camarines Sur, and the Bulusan Lake in Bulusan were also among the key eco-tourism destinations in Bicolandia. To make these more accessible to local and foreign tourists, President Arroyo said that the government plans to build an international airport in Daraga, Albay, so they can fly directly to Albay instead of taking the flight from Manila. (*CTP)

Despite crisis, Manila racks up $6.2b in current account surplus

by Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

THE current account surplus hit $6.2 billion last year on the back of robust remittances and income from business process outsourcing and tourism despite the global financial crisis, the central bank said over the weekend.

The total was 48 percent higher than the $4.2-billion surplus in 2008 and represented 3.8 percent of the gross domestic product last year, Bangko Sentral Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said.

By contrast, the Philippines recorded a $4.9-billion deficit at the start of the Asian currency crisis in 1997 as a result of weak inflows.

A strong current account surplus indicates a country’s ability to live within its income from trade, net factor income (such as interest payments and dividends) and net transfer payments (such as foreign aid).

A current account surplus helps support the peso, which is expected to trade at 46 to 48 against the dollar this year.

The Philippines had a merchandise trade deficit of $4.09 billion in the first 11 months of 2009, but that was offset by revenue from business process outsourcing amounting to $7.3 billion, the central bank said.

The Tourism Department said foreign tourists had been infusing $3 billion to $5 billion in receipts annually.

And the money sent home by Filipinos abroad rose 5.6 percent to $17.348 billion last year despite the economic slowdown in the countries they were working in, the central bank said.

The current account is one of the two major components of the balance of payments, the other being the capital and financial account. The current account includes external merchandise trade, services, remittances (income account) and current transfers.

The total balance of payments resulted in a surplus of $5.295 billion last year compared with $89 million in 2008.

“In 2010 the current account is expected to stabilize at a lower level,” Guinigundo said.

He said the surplus would hit only $4.5 billion or 2.5 percent of GDP because of higher imports and a bigger trade deficit as a result of the global economic recovery.

A double-digit drop in imports actually trimmed the trade deficit to $4.09 billion in the year to November 2009 against $7.042 billion in the same period the year before.

Guinigundo said the current account would be supported by remittances and income from business process outsourcing and tourism. Remittances would increase by 5 or 6 percent this year, he said.

Northrail project: Manila seeks review of $500-m China loan

by Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

The government has initiated the renegotiation of an agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China for a $500-million that will finance the Malolos-to-Clark section of the North rail project to ensure that the project adoptsPhilippine safety and engineering standards.

As this developed, President Gloria Arroyo issued Executive Order 859, transferring jurisdiction of the North Luzon Railways Corp. from the Bases Conversion Development Authority to the Department of Transportation and Communication.

Under the new set-up, Mrs. Arroyo said the department can more effectively administer the implementation of the Northrail project unlike in the past when it only exercised oversight function over the project.

Northrail Corp. president and chief operating officer Zoilo Andin Jr. was caught unaware of EO 859, but he welcomed the decision of the president to place the corporation under the transportation department.

“I have not seen a copy of the executive order but I don’t see any problem with it. The President just wants to harmonize our transportation systems,” Andin said in a phone interview.

Andin also confirmed that Chinese firm Sinomach, formerly China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. Group,” showed “positive” reaction to the government’s move to renegotiate the loan agreement for section 2 of Northrail Phase 1.

“Efforts are ongoing to renegotiate the agreement. We want to make sure that the lessons we have learned during the construction of section 1 are taken into account,” he said.

“We are in the process of design optimization with our Chinese counterparts, and we hope this will result in a more efficient implementation that is also more cost-efficient,” Andin said.

China’s Export-Import Bank has provided a $400 million loan for Northrail Phase 1 that will have stations in Caloocan, Valenzuela, Bocaue, Guiguinto, and Malolos.

Section 2 will run from Malolos to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark.

According to deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar, a renegotiated contract will entail using local safety and engineering standards if these are proved to be more stringent than Chinese laws.

Olivar said the loan amount might also have to be reviewed to see if adjustments have to be made, taking into account any escalation in project cost.

The Northrail Project is expected to reduce travel time from Caloocan to Clark by an hour and 49 minutes while the Northrail-Southrail linkage will make travel from Caloocan to Calamba, Laguna shorter by an hour and 20 minutes.

Comelec: Machines arriving on time

Manila Bulletin

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday assured the delivery of the remaining precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines before the deadline set by the joint venture Smartmatic and Total Information Management (Smartmatic-TIM) on February 28.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the shipment of the 33,200 PCOS machines have been in transit over the weekend and they are expecting their arrival on February 26.

“All the machines have been shipped and they are in transit right they should be here on the 26th, two days before the deadline,” Larrazabal said.

The Smartmatic-TIM initially pledged to deliver 42,200 PCOS machines by the end of November, 2009 but the schedule was moved by late December due to expensive shipping and traffic problems during the holidays.

Asked about the penalty if it will not make good its promise again, he said Smartmatic-TIM may face a P7.1 million fine for failure to deliver the number of PCOS machines that would be used to automate the national elections this coming May.

“We just have to wait if these (PCOS) machines will really arrive on this date. Everything is shipped out of China,” he added.

So far, nearly close to 49,000 PCOS machines are reportedly stored in a warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna. Some 27,300 were already in transit and the remaining 6,000 back-up machines were delivered last Saturday.

He cited the shipping schedule as the primary reason for the delay in the arrival of the PCOS machines.

IMF sees reserves reaching $49.8B

J. Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) anticipates significantly higher gross international reserves (GIR) for the Philippines this year totaling at least $49.8 billion.

The projection, bared with the release of its public-information notice, or PIN, with the conclusion of its latest consultation with the Philippines under Article Four of the IMF covenant, was nearly $5 billion higher than the actual GIR level posted in 2009.

The number highlights the IMF’s confidence that the Philippines, along with most countries in the region, will ride high in economic terms during the year as market conditions normalize and prices return to precrisis levels.

The IMF executive board in Washington, D.C., where the fund is based, noted the Philippines escaped from widespread recession in 2009 and proved its experts wrong when they said Manila will suffer from the global economic downturn just like most everyone else.

The Philippines posted growth averaging 0.9 percent instead, in terms of the gross domestic product.

In reviewing the economy, the IMF observed that the current account, which keeps track of the flow of trade, held up well last year as the decline in exports was cushioned by waning imports and boosted by resilient remittances.

Overseas Filipino worker remittances totaled higher than expected at $17.3 billion, or past the anticipated level of only $17.1 billion last year.

The level of reserves was boosted in part by the return of capital flows not just to the region as a whole, but to the Philippines in particular, as well.

“With the return of risk appetite, the exchange rate has appreciated and capital flows have resumed, although so far primarily into the corporate and government bond market,” the IMF said.

Its experts now said output growth this year will likely average higher to 3.25 percent, driven higher by private consumption as confidence strengthens and also as remittances pick up.Near-term risks to growth should be broadly balanced and tied to global growth outturn, the IMF said.

Tricycle driver’s son tops PMA Class ’10

Marilou Guieb
Business Mirror

FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—The son of a tricycle driver topped this year’s graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

Cadet First Class Eraño Bontilao Belen, who used to be an errand boy in a law office before joining PMA Class 2010, is the top graduate of PMA Masidlak (Mandirigmang Sibol ng Dakilang Lahing Kayumanggi) class.

Belen is the son of Julito and Flor Belen.

“Many times, we experienced how it was to eat only once a day, and if we were able to eat at all, we only had salt for viand,” Belen said.

Poverty, however, did not stop the science high- school graduate from Dumaguete City.

Belen said that everytime he experienced difficulty in school, his father would prod him and say, “if others can do it, so can you.”

The elder Belen, he said, had him memorize the multiplication table after classes during his elementary school days, and this taught him the value of dedication, the secret to his being a consistent honor student which qualified him for a science high school scholarship.

In his second year in high school, he adopted the motto DOPH, or  “Determination against Catastrophe is Pleasure and Honor.”

In college, despite being a city scholar attending night classes, he ran errands during the day for a law office. What he earned also helped put food on the family table.

“This [being a working student] taught me time management which was an efficient tool at the PMA, because here it was not only the academics we had to hurdle but also physical training,” he said.

First Class Cadet Froilan Jick Binlingan Pinay-an, who hails from Hungduan, Ifugao, will graduate second in the class. While happy, he said that he was not “overwhelmed.”

The top 10 cadets were only told of their ranking when they were presented to the media. Pinay-an knew what was coming, saying that as a second class cadet, he was third in his class. Having been consistent in his studies, he knew he was going to retain his ranking. Pleasantly, though, he ended up a notch higher.

Like Belen, Pinay-an grew up in a poor family that was rich in character. His parents were both dedicated farmers, and Pinay-an himself said that he took up farming for two years before entering PMA, and considered those two years as the best moments in his life.

Belen and Pinay-an are the top two of the 226 Masidlak Class graduates, of which 195 are male and 31 are females, making it the batch with the largest number of female graduates.

Cadet First Class Nolito Ebal, 23, of Misamis Oriental, is third in the class. He grew up in Iligan City. Cadet First Class Jhonson Gonzalez, of Pamplona, Camarines Sur, the fourth in the class, is also a farmer’s son.

The graduates who bagged the fifth to 10th places are Cadet First Class Jacob Jorge Avila Kho, 25, of Baguio City; Cadet First Class Joel de los Santos Perante, 22, of Tacloban City; Cadet First Class Erwin Ramos Villanueva, 25 of Dasmariñas City, Cavite; Cadet First Class Alfie Pancho Agarao, 23, of Carles, Iloilo; Cadet First Class Karen Nuevas Padayao, 21, of Ormoc City, lone female on the top 10; and Cadet First Class Ric Ivan Cordero Joven, 22, of Surallah, South Cotobato.

The Presidential Achievement Award for Leadership and the Armed Forces Chief of Staff Saber Award for being brigade commander or class “Baron” were awarded to Cadet First Class Alfonso Magno Irriberri.

The PMA superintendent, Vice Adm. Leonardo Calderon, described the Masidlak Class as the “most cooperative and of high intelligent ranking,” because 31 percent of the class were honor students before entering the academy.

Calderon also said five of the graduates already had college degrees before being accepted to the academy.

A total of 122 members of Masidlak Class will join the Army, 45 will serve in the Air Force and 59 will join the Navy.

The end of funny money

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

BACK when gasoline was P7 a liter, I employed a gardener named Joe. Joe went through his day neither quite sober nor quite drunk, taking occasional sips throughout the day from his bottle of Añejo Rum.

He asked me why when he was young, the peso exchanged for $1, and now it took P20. Joe was of an age that he could remember using pesos that were made from real, valuable silver; not copper, aluminum, nickel and zinc.

We think of paper money in its current form as something that has been around a long time. Not true. Paper money has always been an easy-to-carry substitute for precious metals liker gold and silver. In fact, if you are older than 30 years, when you were born you could still have exchanged your Philippine pesos for silver or gold.

Prior to August 15, 1971, you could exchange your pesos for US dollars and then exchange those dollars for silver; real, valuable, limited-supply silver. Virtually every citizen of every country enjoyed that same silver-conversion privilege of their home currency.

In 1971 the United States, as part of the global Bretton Woods Agreement, ended the ability to convert dollars to silver or gold. The US dollar became the global substitute for gold and, as part of that agreement, countries were supposed to peg or fix their currency’s exchange rate to the dollar.

The dollar became the world’s reserve currency. The dollar took the role as the foundation of all the world’s currencies because the US economy was the largest, most stable and the US government economic/monetary policy was the most reliable.

Who needed gold or silver when you could have US dollars, the safest currency in the world?

But all the nations cheated and took advantage of the system. Since exchange rates were fixed—that is, not supposed to change except within very narrow limits—other countries figured out that they could print all the paper money they wanted to and buy all the dollars they wanted.

Imagine in 1971 that you had P100 that could be exchanged for $14 (and $14 with gold or silver). You walk over to your printing press, crank out another P200 and you now can exchange all those pesos for $42. Good deal, isn’t it?

The United States monetary people were not dumb. They figured out how they were being taken to the cleaners so they, too, started printing dollars. However, the US printers run much faster, and through the 1980s the US also borrowed trillions from the world financial institutions. Those currencies that were supposed to trade in a narrow band did not. The yen appreciated from 300 in 1971 to 120 in 1998, and the Deutsche mark from 3.67 to 1.67 because the dollars were being printed faster than those currencies.

In the last year the US government has printed and borrowed more than $2 trillion. Now, no one can trust the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency because the US economy is not the most stable, and the US government economic/monetary policy is not the most reliable.

One local financial writer said yesterday that the US was quite fortunate to have Ben Bernanke in charge of the US Federal Reserve because he was an expert on the Great Depression. I told you months ago nothing could be farther from the truth. Bernanke is using 1930s weapons against a 21st- century war. He is and will continue to be a failure, and it will only get worse because of Bernanke being an “expert” on the 1930s.

During the Great Depression the US could print money to help solve the economic crisis because it was a creditor-nation, not the largest debtor-nation in the world.

This is the bottom line.

Massive printing of money, dollars, combined with massive debt has destroyed the ability of the US dollar to be the foundation of all world currencies. Bernanke and the Obama administration have destroyed the dollar. And when the dollar finally takes its last gasp—dying as the world’s reserve currency—all other paper money will fail also. The end of funny money.

Nations will be forced to back their currencies with something of intrinsic value. All paper money must ultimately be backed with something of value. For the last 30 years, that backing, that value, has been provided by the dollar. The US dollar will not back global currencies again. For nearly 2,000 years a reliable substitute for carrying gold or silver has been in place. Then came 1971.

The 30-year experiment using valueless currency based on trusting the governments, particularly the US government, is a total failure and is coming to an end.

China has already converted billions of its paper currency (dollars) into hard assets by buying mineral production around the world. The time will come when nations that export to other nations will settle the bill in goods, a return to a form of the barter trade. Other nations will sell goods only for “commodity money,” another form of the barter trade.

And do not worry about the Philippines, either. We have abundant mineral resources, massive human- capital skill, and are not dependent on exporting hard goods for worthless paper.

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Monday, 22 February 2010

GSEC 101 not within contested Spratlys, says energy chief

Paul Anthony A. Isla
Business Mirror

ALLAYING fears that its recent action could stir a diplomatic dispute between the Philippine and Chinese governments over the Spratlys, the Department of Energy (DOE) on Friday defended that the area under Geophysical Seismic Exploration Contract (GSEC) 101 is within the country’s limits and not within the contested island group.

In a press conference, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the GSEC 101 contract area, which was recently converted to Service Contract (SC) 72 and operated by London-based Forum Energy Plc., is within the 200-nautical- mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

“If it’s within the EEZ, then the government [through the DOE] has the authority to engage in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources and enter into any kind of arrangement in areas within its limits or borders,” said Reyes.

He added that Forum Energy has completed its four-year committed work program under the GSEC 101, which was granted to it in July 2002.

Reyes said upon approval and completion of the work program, it was agreed that Forum Energy’s GSEC 101 would be converted into a regular service contract.

And before their four-year work program expired, according to Reyes, Forum Energy had already applied for the conversion of GSEC 101 and even submitted a seven-year work program for exploration under a regular service contract.

“Forum Energy had fulfilled its obligations under the GSEC 101 to the satisfaction of the DOE and even spent about $5 million,” Reyes said.

The energy chief noted that SC 72 will have a contract period of seven years during which Forum Energy has to work and complete the commitments under the work program it has submitted to the DOE.

Based on Forum Energy’s study, the project will entail spending $100 million to set up several drilling wells and around $15 million to $20 million to commission drilling rigs.

In 2007, Forum Energy said it had already raised $20 million from investors, with its parent company publicly listed at the London Stock Exchange.

Forum Energy, a London-based oil-exploration company that finally got the clearance from the DOE to start drilling in the South China Sea, earlier said its exploration contract known as GSEC 101 is not in the Spratlys.

Forum Energy said GSEC 101, recently converted to SC 72, has a coverage of 880,000 hectares and is located in the Reed Bank Basin, at least 150 kilometers east of the Spratlys and is closer to Palawan.

It added that SC 72 is within the 200-nautical-mile EEZ based on Republic Act 9522, or the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law, signed on March 10, 2009.

There had been numerous oil searches in the Reed Bank in the past under the Philippine contractual regime and Presidential Decree 87. The first petroleum contract in the area was awarded by the then-Ministry of Energy in 1975.

The following year, the first of seven wells was drilled. Over 6,000 kilometers of 2D seismic data and some 250 sq km of 3D seismic data have been acquired both by foreign and Filipino companies in these explorations.

Infosys BPO sets for 700 lawyers

Emilia Narni J. David

BUSINESS PROCESS outsourcing (BPO) company Infosys BPO Ltd. said it is planning to expand its business in the Philippines by building another facility and expanding its employee base to 3,000 in the next 18 to 24 months.

In a press briefing, Infosys BPO Chief Operating Officer Ritesh M. Idnani said the company is planning to build a new facility to host expanded operations, by the end of the year or in the first quarter of 2011.

“We are excited about the prospect of growing and the demand is going up. We are planning to open new facilities and we have short-listed three places in Metro Manila with [a capacity of] more than 1,000 seats,” said Mr. Idnani.

The company is considering sites in Quezon City and the Clark free port in Pampanga.

Infosys BPO has 13 delivery centers around the world, with three in the Asia-Pacific region. The company provides customer services and contact center services as well as finance, accounting and legal process outsourcing. Many of its clients are based in the United States.

The Philippine center of Infosys handles about seven companies. The company made $316.2 million in revenues for the fiscal year 2008-2009, of which the Philippines contributed 8% to 10%.

Mr. Idnani said the expansion would mean more employees.

“Currently we have 650 employees but we see based on our delivery we can have 3,000 new employees within 18 to 24 months,” he said.

Once the company reaches its critical mass of 3,000 employees, growth would be much faster, he added.

But Infosys BPO is not just looking for contact center agents, but also for lawyers. Mr. Idnani said “legal process outsourcing is the fastest-growing practice for the company and we are looking for upwards of 700 lawyers.”

The Philippine BPO industry was able to reach revenues of $7.2 billion, employing around 442,000 employees in 2009. This represented a 19% increase over 2008 revenues of $6.06 billion. The industry is expecting around $9 billion in revenues and a growth of 26% for 2010 as more markets become confident in outsourcing to the Philippines.

Ongpin-led Alphaland to spend P4 billion on new Makati mall

Neil Jerome C. Morales

ONGPIN-led property firm Alphaland Corp. will spend P4 billion in the next three years for a mixed-use project in Makati.

The project will allow the listed company to take advantage of the recovery in the real estate sector, the head of the firm said.

“We have [in our lineup] the Alphaland Makati Place. We are starting maybe this month,” Alphaland President Mario A. Oreta said in an interview.

The three-tower Makati Place, which will rise on Ayala Avenue Extension, is a partnership with the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. The one-hectare lot will have a sports club, a mall, and condominium units.

Asked on how much is the capital expenditure, Mr. Oreta said: “Initially it’s P2.2 billion [this year]. It will be around P4 billion overall in three years.”

It will be the second project of the property developer, which joined the stock exchange in December after taking over listed Macondray Plastics, Inc.

Alphaland is owned by RVO Capital Ventures Corp., a company owned and controlled by Roberto V. Ongpin and Eric O. Recto, chairman and president, respectively.

In October, Alphaland opened its first project, the Alphaland Southgate Tower in Makati. The building has a 40,000-square-meter office space atop a mall.

“We are looking at a dramatic [recovery] in the properties sector. You have an economic recovery and with it comes the [rise] of the real estate sector,” Mr. Oreta said.

Alphaland will tap bank loans through lead arranger Development Bank of the Philippines. “The money we will borrow will go directly for the project development. We are not going to borrow to [acquire land],” Mr. Oreta said.

But the firm might also tap the local equity market given a large asset base worth an estimated P15 billion.

Meanwhile, Alphaland Heavy Equipment Corp., which is in partnership with China’s largest heavy equipment manufacturer XCMG, will start operations in March.

“We are ready to start our first shipment of heavy equipment from China to here hopefully next month,” Mr. Oreta said. The firm will start with 100 pieces of heavy equipment that will be sold or rented to property developers.

“We are looking at local government units because during [tropical storm] Ondoy, a lot of roads and bridges were destroyed,” he said.

The heavy equipment might also cater to the mining sector, which is expected to recover given the uptick in demand for minerals.

Shares in Macondray Plastics were unchanged Friday at P54.50 apiece.

Manila Water nets P3.23 Billion in 2009, up 16%

Manila Bulletin

Manila Water Company reported a 16 percent growth in net income to P3.23 billion last year from the P2.79 billion earned in 2008 on the back of a steady rise in billed volume sales and lower corporate income tax rates.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), MWC said billed volume grew by 2 percent to 396 million cubic meters in 2009 from 387.3 mcm in the previous year while operating costs jumped 10.5 percent to P2.8 billion because of expansion activities. Operating revenues rose 6.7 percent to P9.5 billion from P8.9 billion in 2008 while EBITDA increased 5.2 percent to P6.75 billion for an EBITDA margin of 71 percent.

With the implementation of its capex plan for the year, MWC was able to connect an additional 54,000 households to the network, helping minimize the impact of lower consumption brought about by the economic slowdown and the early onset of the rainy season. Investments in the network also resulted in a further reduction in water losses, with non-revenue water level dropping from 19.7 percent in 2008 to 15.8 percent in 2009.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Launching of the Proposed Aeronautical Highway of Northern Luzon
February 19, 2010 11:24 pm

BINALONAN, Pangasinan, Feb. 19 — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo introduced here today the Aeronautical Highway of Northern Luzon project which will link air services from Binalonan Airfield to under-serviced airports in Northern Luzon such as the provinces of Isabela, Cagayan and Batanes.

As planned, the Binalonan airport will be a hub for small aircrafts and for an “aeronautical” highway that will speed up movements of people and products in the region. The 800-meter airport will also be an alternate route for small airplanes in case Baguio City becomes inaccessible to air travel.

In a speech, the President said the Aeronautical Highway of Northern Luzon is part of her “super regions” development strategy to spread development to the countryside.

In partnership with privately-owned WCC Aviation Co., managers of the Binaloan Airfield started six months ago the “Sky Pasada”, routes as Maconacon-Tuguegarao, Maconacon-Cauayan, Cauayan-Palanan, Tuguegarao-Batanes and Laoag-Batanes.

Fare for the 19-seater plane costs P1,800 while going to Batanes costs P4,000.

Binalonan Mayor Ramon Guico Jr. said Sky Pasada air service cuts the travel time between Cauayan and Palanan, which is 16 hours by land, to only some 20 minutes.

Vice Mayor Ramon Guico III, an active pilot and founding chairman of WCC, said the Sky Pasada will also open more tourist destinations in northern Luzon with the planned opening of flights to Bagabag, Baguio, Baler, Casiguran, and even Caticlan. (PNA)


WCC Aviation Commercial

No more humiliation for Filipino travelers—DFA


MANILA, Philippines—The new machine readable passport and the now the ePassport will mean the end of the days of humiliation for Filipino travelers at immigration centers in airports worldwide, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said.

Previously, the manually prepared passports caused Filipino travelers to be taken aside from immigration queues and questioned lengthily about their identities and their passports.

At the recent turnover ceremonies of the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Consular Affairs building, Romulo said: "When we were issuing green passports, other countries were already issuing International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao)-compliant passports. It was like being back in the Middle Ages. Now, we are one of the 60 countries now issuing the Icao-compliant MRP and ePassports."

Romulo said the new consular building completes the fulfillment of his dream for a world-class passport and consular building.

"In this intelligent building, instead of sweltering heat, our consular clients will be greeted with cool air at the moment they enter our doors. Instead of monobloc chairs, they will wait their turn sitting on ergonomically-designed stainless steel benches.

Instead of long queues, they can shorten their wait by accessing our online appointment system. Instead of going from building to building, they only need to move from ground to second floor," he added.

He said that DFA-OCA personnel will also enjoy the convenience of modern work stations, furniture, and equipment.

The new building is part of the ongoing modernization program undertaken by Romulo to further improve the DFA's frontline services which include harnessing new technologies in passport and visa issuances and streamlined procedures in the authentication of documents.

"Now, we have a passport and a consular building that is efficient, progressive and serviceable, and will give every Filipino ease, comfort and pride. With everyone's support, the Filipino can be truly world-class," Romulo added.

Also present during the turnover ceremonies were Development Bank of the Philippines President Patricia Sto. Tomas; John Kenneth Ocampo, owner and contractor of the building; representatives from the diplomatic and consular corps and other government agencies; and DFA officials.

During the event, awards, and citations were also conferred on individuals who contributed to the successful implementation of the MRP, the ePassport, and the construction of the new DFA building.

Conferred with the Gawad Mabini with the rank of Grand Cross (Dakilang Kamanong) was DFA-OCA Executive Director Eleanor Jaucian. Also conferred with Gawad Mabini with the rank of Commander (Dakilang Kasugo) were DFA Office of the Secretary Special Assistant Flerida Ann Camille P. Mayo, former DFA-OCA Passport Director Donna Celeste F. Gatmaitan, and DFA-OCA Principal Assistant Fernando Beup Jr.

The Gawad Mabini is the highest honor given to Filipino diplomats.

Citations were given to the following: Ocampo, DFA-OCA Consular Records Division Director Jocelyn Morales, DFA-OCA Authentication Division Director Luzviminda van Opstal, DFA-Adminstrative Service Unit's Angelita Aguilar, DFA Management and Information Service Division Director Patrick John Hilado, former DFA-OCA Acting Executive Director Lourdes Tabamo, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Director Emmanuel Cuntapay, and DPWH Engineers Bayani G. David, Joselito P. Gonzales, Lamberto Bonifacio, and Louie Molina.

The new facility is located at the corner of Bradco and Macapagal Avenues in Aseana Business Park, Paranaque City, a few minutes away from the Mall of Asia.

The acquisition of the P530-million, 7,000-square meter, and four-story building was realized with the assistance of the DBP.

The new facility will be the home of the ePassport, the electronic authentication system, the electronic visa system, and digitalized consular records system.

An intelligent building, the facility is equipped with fiber-optic lines, CCTV cameras, and other high-tech information and communications infrastructure. Made of tempered glass and steel, the modern OCA office departs from the traditional concrete buildings.

To ensure quick, comfortable service, passport applicants are advised to check the passport requirements and secure an online appointment at (consular tab), or to call the consular help-line number (02-556-0000) or DFA telephone number (02-834-4000). Applications may also be filed with the DFA's 19 Regional Consular and satellite offices.