Saturday, 6 March 2010

PGMA receives boxer Gorres, awards Cebu teachers

CEBU CITY (PND) --- Filipino bantamweight boxer Z “The Dream” Gorres, his wife Dasch and three children called on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Mactan InternationaL Airport here today shortly before she took off for Manila after a daylong visit to Cebu province.

The President was joined by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. in welcoming the Gorres family in one of the airport lounges. Gorres also received financial assistance from the President.

Gorres, one of the country’s top bantamweights, collapsed and was hospitalized last November after scoring a 10-round decision over Colombian Luis Melendez in Las Vegas.

The 27-year-old Gorres suffered a subdural hematoma and underwent emergency brain surgery. He is now undergoing rehabilitation at the Perpetual Succor Hospital here after a throat surgery last week.

Earlier today the President led the awarding of certificates of completion to 97 teachers from Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Cebu in ceremonies who attended the Global Training Program at the Cebu International Convention Center.

They comprise the first batch of teacher-trainees under Globe Telecom, Inc.’s Global Filipino Teachers Program (GFT) in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Coalition for Better Education (CBE), a Cebu-based non-profit organization composed of various education stakeholders from the academe, students, parents, non-government and business organizations.

The Global Training Program is a 54- hour, six- day training program that uses information and communication technology (ICT) tools to create ICT- enabled learning in school.

In Toledo City, the President vowed to continue her hands-on governance and promote the administration’s key initiatives until the end of her term.

Speaking in Cebuano, she told students of the Toledo National Vocational High School that her government will continue to focus on three initiatives, namely; give more power and growth in each region; continue to work on creating sustainable and equitable development on the economy, education and environment, and continue to focus on the youth.

The Working President (442)

Cebu power plant starts operation

Alena Mae S. Flores
Manila Standard

TOLEDO CITY, CEBU—Cebu Energy Development Corp. on Friday switched on the first of three units of a 246-megawatt coal-fired power plant here that will help ease the power shortage in the Visayas.

Visayas had reserves of 53 MW as of Friday morning with available power capacity of 1,253 MW against generating capacity of 1,200 MW.

“With this [switch on of 82 MW], we’re generating 73 MW to the grid, so at least the actual demand in Cebu will be met,” Cebu Energy president Jesus Alcordo told reporters.

The switch-on ceremony, attended by President Gloria Arroyo, comes at a time when Cebu and other parts of Visayas are in the mid of a precarious power situation.

The next two units of Cebu Energy’s coal-fired power plant are expected to be put into operation by the end of May and December this year, respectively.

The $450-million power plant, which is now 79.5 percent complete, has provided base-load plant for Cebu, the first time in over 20 years.

“We decided to put up this power plant with the end-goal of helping improve Cebu’s economy, creating more jobs, and helping Cebu move forward with more reliable, stable, and reasonably priced power,” the Cebu Energy official said.

Alcordo said he expected the power situation in the Visayas to fully stabilize with the commissioning of the 200-MW coal plant of Kepco-SPC Power Corp. by the first quarter of 2011.

“When the Kepco plant comes in... we will have sufficient reserves and a little surplus, approximately 31 MW,” Alcordo said.

The Cebu Energy is owned by Global Business Power Corp. of the Metrobank Group, Aboitiz Power Corp., Vivant Energy Corp. and Formosa Heavy Industries Corp., which acts as the technical partner.

Cebu Energy is using the latest circulating fluidized bed technology that ensures the proper discharge of emissions and wastes at practically negligible level.

Kirin wants to control San Miguel Brewery

by Naoko Fujimura and Shunichi Ozasa

KIRIN Holdings Co. may seek control of San Miguel Brewery after dropping a planned merger with Suntory Holdings that would have created the world’s fifth-biggest food and drinks maker.

“We’d like to take a majority” of San Miguel from the current 48 percent if its parent would be willing to sell, Senji Miyake, who will become Kirin’s president this month, said in Tokyo. “We’re not in hurry,” he said, declining to say whether they’ were in talks.

Japanese beverage makers are accelerating overseas expansion to tap wider margins and offset falling domestic beer sales. The brewer of Kirin Lager and Ichiban Shibori has spent about $7 billion on overseas purchases in the past three years, including taking Lion Nathan private. Kirin on Feb. 8 ended talks to buy Suntory, balking at the $10-billion asking price.

“Kirin may now get going again and begin growing again, and most of the growth will come from outside Japan,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment in Tokyo, which manages about $3 billion in assets. Japan’s largest beverage company would focus expansion in Asian countries with growing populations and rising per-capita incomes, he said.

The beverage maker last year bought its stake in San Miguel Brewery, which controls 95 percent of the Philippines’ beer market. The venture bought the international beer operations from San Miguel Corp. for $300 million in January to gain access to China and other parts of Southeast Asia.

“There is no way we can’t make use of San Miguel’s strong brand in Southeast Asia,” said Miyake, 62. “Our priority is Southeast Asia, as its potential is as big as China.”

Cheaper beer was boosting demand in China, making it hard for Kirin to improve profitability in the world’s fastest-growing major economy, Miyake said.

Miyake joined Kirin in 1970 after graduating from Keio University with an economics degree. He became executive vice president last year after holding various positions including executive vice president of the company’s local venture with Heineken NV and president of Kirin’s beer unit.

San Miguel Brewery, with brands including Lowenbrau and Stella Artois, gained two breweries in China and one each in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam with the January acquisition.

Boosting the stake in San Miguel Brewery would help improve Kirin’s profitability, as the venture has a wider operating profit margin than its rival companies in Southeast Asia as well as Kirin.

San Miguel Brewery’s margin was 32 percent in 2008, compared with Kirin’s 5.6 percent in 2009. Singapore’s Fraser and Neave‘s was 15.1 percent in the year ended September 2009 and Thai Beverage had 14.2 percent in 2009.

San Miguel Corp. is selling food and beverage assets to expand into faster-growing industries such as energy, telecommunication and mining. It has an option to buy a majority stake in oil refiner Petron Corp. It has also bought one power plant and one power supply contract from the government and owns 27 percent of Manila Electric Co.

“It’s natural for Kirin to increase its stake in San Miguel Brewery if San Miguel Corp. sees a need for cash,” said Naomi Takagi, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., who has an “overweight” rating on Kirin.

“Kirin needs more foundation such as a distribution network and brands to cultivate the market in Southeast Asia, because San Miguel, National Foods and Kirin Beverage aren’t enough.”

Kirin acquired National Foods, Australia’s biggest producer of milk and juice, for A$2.8 billion (US$2.5 billion) in 2007.

Kirin planned to keep a distribution venture with Suntory that the two companies formed last year to lower costs, Miyake said.

Suntory bought European drinkmaker Orangina Schweppes last year and Groupe Danone SA’s Australia and New Zealand drinks business Frucor in 2008.

Asahi Breweries, Japan’s second- largest brewer, bought a 19.9-percent stake in China’s Tsingtao Brewery Co. and acquired Cadbury Plc’s Australian drinks unit last year.

End-February 2010 GIR Rises to US$45.7 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) level as of end-February 2010 stood at US$45.7 billion, higher by US$100 million than the end-January 2010 level of US$45.6 billion, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Officer-In-Charge Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. announced today.

The increase in the preliminary GIR level was due mainly to inflows from the foreign exchange operations of the BSP and income from its investments abroad, as well as revaluation gains on the BSP’s gold holdings brought about by the increase in the price of gold in the international market. These receipts were counterbalanced by outflows arising primarily from the payment of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the National Government.

The current GIR level could cover 9.3 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It is also equivalent to 10.2 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 4.5 times based on residual maturity.1

Net international reserves (NIR), which include revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, likewise rose to US$45.7 billion as of end-February 2010, up by US$100 million from the previous month’s level of US$45.6 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.


1 Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months.

No emergency power for GMA

It’s next to impossible — Nograles
With reports from Mike U. Crismundo, Sarah Hilomen, and Hannah L. Torregoza
Manila Bulletin

Giving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency power to address the current energy crisis in the country is next to impossible.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles said this Friday as he suggested instead that the government find remedies to solve the crisis other than the emergency power for the Chief Executive.

At the Senate, Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. urged the national government to use six idle power barges to resolve the power crisis crippling Mindanao without Malacañang being given emergency powers by Congress to deal with the crisis.

Pimentel cited four idle power barges operated by the state-owned National Power Corporation (Napocor) and two other barges owned by Aboitiz, a private firm, whose total power output could be fed to the Mindanao grid.

As this developed, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) stated that the 820 megawatts now available in the Mindanao grid remain insufficient to meet the peak demand of 1,470 mW for the region.

From 498 generation deficiency on Wednesday, the additional power supply increased after STEAG Power, Inc. and Aboitiz Power Corporation increased their respective capability on Thursday, the NGCP advisory said.

In a statement, Nograles said that aside from the difficulty of mustering a quorum for both the House of Representatives and Senate for a special session, most senators are also opposed to the idea of giving the President emergency power.

“Many of our senators are either running for re-election or are seeking other elective posts. This is the same case with our Congressmen so it would not be easy to hold a special session now even if the leaderships of both Houses of Congress are ready and willing to oblige. And even if there would be a quorum, it is very unlikely that Senators would simply agree to cloak the President with emergency powers to address the Mindanao power crisis. Just read the statements of the senators and you will already know that granting the President with emergency powers is close to impossible. There must be some other way to address this problem,” Nograles said.

Nograles said that instead of simply passing the buck on the President, energy officials led by Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes can address the Mindanao power crisis by removing all the red tapes and stringent terms of reference to allow private investors to come in and invest in power generation.

“This is the quickest fix to our power crisis in Mindanao. Let us allow the private sector to come in until after the power situation goes back to normal,” he said.

“My take is that those who want to invest in power have to go through an obstacle course because of so many requirements as if the government does not want them to come in. This is the report given to me by Deputy Speaker Noli Fuentebella who is the House energy expert and the author of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA Law). Energy officials did not follow the energy laws on creating the reserve capacity required by the EPIRA,” he said.

Latest update from the NGCP as of March 5 showed that Luzon has a power deficiency of 641 megawatts and Mindanao with 700 megawatts.

Still, Davao City is experiencing two hours of rotating brownouts since Friday as the Davao Light and Power Company (DLPC) announced Thursday that the power plant in Bajada, this city is undergoing emergency preventive maintenance.

The Visayas grid, meanwhile, has improved after President Arroyo formally put into operation the first of three units of the 246 megawatts (mW) of the coal-fired power plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corporation (CEDC) in Toledo City last Friday.

The switch-on ceremony signals the full operations of the 82-mW first unit of the three-unit power plant and comes at a time when Cebu and other provinces in the region are experiencing rotating brownouts lasting up to two hours a day, causing work stoppages and inadvertent loss of income for businesses and individuals.

“Today the Visayas grid is experiencing shortage of supply. With the launching of the 82 megawatt power plant, the whole Visayas can now meet its present needs,” President Arroyo said after the ceremonial switch on of the P3 billion plant.

CEDC's $450-million, or roughly P3 billion coal-fired power plant, is a joint venture among Global Business Power Corporation (GBPC) of the Metrobank group, Formosa Heavy Industries Corporation, Aboitiz Power Corporation, and Vivant Power Corporation.

The other two units of the 246 MW power plant are expected to go online by end of May and the end of December, respectively.

Once the Toledo plant is fully operational, CEDC President Jesus Alcordo said they hope to install a dependable energy supply of 216 mW for the Visayas grid, reducing the unfilled energy demand and reserve deficit to only 17 mW from the current 233 mW.

“This new power plant signals the end of rotating brownouts in the Visayas and the end of Cebu's importation of power from Luzon," said the President, adding that Cebu can even become an exporter of power to Luzon and Mindanao.

Meanwhile, Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. said President Arroyo should make a public disclosure of the contracts that would be entered into by the government when she addresses the power crisis in Mindanao.

For the sake of transparency, Villar said government contracts with power investors must be open to the public once Mrs. Arroyo pushes through with her plans to declare a power crisis in the South.

The President has agreed to Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes’ proposal to declare a power crisis in Mindanao which would pave a way for the government to forge agreements to set up generation sets that would supply Mindanao with power.

Aside from Mindanao, the power crisis has also worsened in some parts of Luzon and Metro Manila.

Friday, 5 March 2010

PGMA speech during the Courtesy Call of Philippine Women Judges Association Members

Technology firm in automated polls trains 50,000 staff

By Anna Valmero


MANILA, Philippines – The automation partner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started hiring and training about 50,000 technicians and technical personnel for the May elections, a spokesman for the company told Thursday.

Smartmatic-Total Information Management spokesman Gene Gregorio the firm was hiring and training 42,000 technicians and 2,000 supervisors for precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines situated in voting centers nationwide and 4,000 technicians for the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) in municipal, city, provincial, regional and national canvassing levels.

The technicians will assist the Board of Election Inspectors and Board of Canvassers, mostly teachers, in the conduct of the polls on May 10 as stipulated in the P7.1 billion automation agreement with Comelec.

“Overall, we are hiring 48,000 technicians to ensure operations of the PCOS and CCS machines in 76,000 polling centers. Each technician would handle the PCOS units in two clustered precincts situated in one polling place or school. Then we have to hire another 700 agents for our contact solutions office,” said Gregorio.

“Deploying PCOS technicians and supervisors is a standard procedure for Smartmatic in its previous automation contracts to ensure reliability of the operations,” the official added.

He said they would hire another 700 call center agents to man the 24/7 contact operations center it was setting up for the May 10 polls. The office will be operational from the eve of election day until all winners are proclaimed, he said.

The 700 call center agents will guide the field technicians for PCOS and CCS to troubleshoot when, for example, the machine won’t print an election return (ER) due to lack of ink or won’t transmit the ER due to lack of network coverage. In the last scenario, contact solutions agents would arrange for PCOS units to be delivered to the polling precinct.

In case of lack of cellular network coverage, Smartmatic-TIM agreed with Comelec to provide 5,500 mobile satellite units or BGAN terminals and 650 units of VSATs, a satellite terminal which is less portable than the first, said Gregorio.

“We already have 5,000 units of BGAN and we are renting 500 more plus 650 VSATs to allow transmission of ERs to Comelec servers for areas without network signals,” said Gregorio.

On February 27, the remaining 13,500 machines arrived in the country and were turned over to Comelec March 1 for stress, accuracy and security testing at its Laguna warehouse.

This week, Comelec has also started the training of some of the 400,000 teachers who will sit as BEIs on election day. About 500 Comelec personnel were trained by Smartmatic-TIM on the new functions of the BEI, including the operation of the PCOS machines and basic troubleshooting solutions.

PCOS is a technology that scans, captures ballot images and counts the shaded ovals opposite the printed names of the candidates in the ballots for the automated generation and transmission of Election Returns from polling precincts to servers. The CCS is the automated canvassing system that will generate the consolidated votes for a candidate from municipal or city up to national levels.

Comelec expects 50 million registered voters to cast their ballots on May 10.

EEI clinches $141-m Saudi contract

by Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

EEI Corp., a construction company owned by the Yuchengco group, said Thursday that its joint venture company in Saudi Arabia bagged a $140.9-million contract.

EEI said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that Al Rushaid Construction Co. Ltd. clinched a sub-contract package from JGC Arabia Ltd. to provide construction service for the central processing facilities of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. in Manifa, Saudi Arabia.

The Manifa project aims to increase Saudi Arabia’s oil output by 900,000 barrels a day.

“The work that ARCC will undertake is part of the package contract awarded to JGC, which involves the engineering, procurement and construction services for utilities, storage and shipping facilities for central processing facilities,” EEI said.

Site works will start on September.

Al Rushaid Construction has strong relations with JGC Corp. and Saudi Aramco. The company is currently the subcontractor for another JGC Arabia Ltd. project for National Chevron Phillips’ ethylene plant in Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia.

It is also service provider of Saudi Aramco in a project involving the replacement and upgrading of flare tips of several gas oil separation plants in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia.

Other current projects of EEI in Saudi Arabia are the Shuquiq II independent water power plant and the Qurayyah power plant of Saudi Electric Co., both under contracts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

EEI is a member of the Yuchengco group of companies, a leading conglomerate with interests in banking, insurance and financial services, education and property development.

Solons, exporters back extra powers

by Christine Herrera and Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

Two opposition lawmakers—Reps. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro and Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur—joined 120 exporters in expressing support for President Arroyo’s declaration of a power crisis in Mindanao and sought ways to end the daily outages up to 12 hours in some parts.

The 120 traders, all based in Mindanao and members of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, urged Congress to convene a special session to grant Mrs. Arroyo with powers to carry out emergency measures including the lease or purchase of modular power generating sets.

Earlier Mrs. Arroyo said she would declare a power crisis situation in Mindanao as recommended by Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Rodriguez, a member of the opposition Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said chronic brownouts last 10 hours in Zamboanga, 12 hours in Surigao provinces, 24 hours in Davao Oriental and five hours in Cagayan de Oro.

Del Monte Philippines has signed the petition, saying its cannery has been adversely affected. Del Monte exports canned juices— mango, orange, pineapple and tomato, and canned sauce—tomato paste, spaghetti sauce and stewed tomato paste.

Rodriguez said exporters of prawns, meat products, furniture, ores and handicrafts were severely affected by the power crisis.

Plaza for his part backed the garnting of emergency powers for President Arroyo to deal with the power crisis in Mindanao.

Plaza, who is running for senator under the PMP, stressed the need for President Arroyo to come out with a detailed action plan to address the power crisis so that Congress would be properly guided on how she would use her added powers.

“Recognizing that the crisis is worsening, we could give her these powers, but she should brief us in detail on how she would deal with it,” Plaza said, adding that “we have to prevent the repeat of anomalies that happened when the government dealt with the power crisis in the 1990s.”

Among the signatories to the petition were Marilyn Camat, chairman of Philexport in Region 10; Wilson Amad, Philexport president of Region 10, Philexport trustee Nora Lao and Luis Sicat, Philexport national corporate secretary.

Amad is engaged in prawn business.

“The exporters are now suffering and are adversely affected by the power crisis for the past two months,” the exporters said.

Rodriguez and Plaza went against their colleagues, mostly administration lawmakers who opposed the convening of a special session.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles insisted that the President has adequate powers under the law to take action during contingencies such as a power crisis.

MetroPac eyes deal to build new [Clark] airport

Emilia Narni J. David and Neil Jerome C. Morales

LISTED METRO Pacific Investments Corp. has been approached by the state-owned operator of the Clark International Airport in Pampanga to consider bidding for a contract to build a new airport in the former American air base.

Metro Pacific Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan told reporters the Philippines badly needs a new airport that is not congested to improve its international image.

“We’ve been asked to look into international airports at Clark because we really need a new one. It’s still very preliminary actually. There have been no talks yet. It’s something the country needs,” Mr. Pangilinan said at the sidelines of the signing of a cooperation deal between his Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation and the Philippine Contractors Association yesterday.

The plan is to build a new airport in Clark rather than expand the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, he said.

The Clark International Airport Corp. could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Pangilinan said a new international airport should be built “sooner rather than later.”

“It takes a while to build an airport and there are other infrastructure that have to be looked at. Carriers may not want to move to Clark without high-speed trains for passengers,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Pangi-linan said Metro Pacific was also looking to acquire more hospitals and eventually list the business unit on the stock exchange.

“If we buy two or three hospitals this year, we might reach around 3,000 [beds],” Mr. Pangi-linan said, adding that a hospital chain should have about 5,000 beds to achieve “economies of scale.”

Last year, the net income of Metro Pacific’s health care group, which accounted for 5% of total profits, rose by half to P530 million year on year on the back of a 30% revenue growth to P5.52 billion.

Metro Pacific Executive Director Augusto P. Palisoc, Jr. said some P800 million would be spent on existing hospitals this year, but the figure could reach P1 billion-P2 billion “including acquisitions [of two to three hospitals].”

The Metro Pacific health care group includes Makati Medical, Cardinal Santos and Davao Doctors hospitals. As of end-2009, the number of beds reached 957 from 905 in end-2008. Average occupancy rates went up to 70% in 2009 from 68% the previous year.

Metro Pacific is the Philippine unit of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd., part owner of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Co.
Mediaquest Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT’s Beneficial Trust Fund, has a minority stake in BusinessWorld.

Aboitiz group’s earnings double to P8.3B

Neil Jerome C. Morales and J. B. F. Santos

THE LISTED holding firm of the Aboitiz energy and transportation conglomerate more than doubled profits last year despite a slow economy.

“On a full-year basis, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc. ended the period with a consolidated net income of P8.3 billion, recording an increase of 102% year on year,” the firm said in a statement.

In the same statement, Aboitiz Equity Ventures President and Chief Executive Erramon I. Aboitiz said: “2009 was a record year for Aboitiz Equity. It is very gratifying to see that all our businesses performed well last year in spite of the uncertain environment prevailing at the start of the year.”

The group’s power business still accounted for the bulk of the earnings at 56%, followed by the banking group at 23%, the food group at 16%, and the transport group at 5%.

Last year, Aboitiz Equity Ventures had a nonrecurring gain of P961 million, from P775 million in nonrecurring losses in 2008. It also recorded a P380-million foreign exchange gain at the parent and subsidiary levels.

“Accounting for all one-off items, Aboitiz Equity’s core earnings was still strong at P7.3 billion, up 50% year on year,” the company said.

For the power group that contributed P4.3 billion to Aboitiz Equity Ventures, net income grew by over a third to P5.7 billion due to higher revenues from power generation.

Discounting one-off items, Aboitiz Power’s generation business earned P4.3 billion for the year, P1.1 billion more than in 2008.

The company’s Tiwi-Makban geothermal power plants, which were turned over to Aboitiz Power in May 2009, and the Pagbilao coal-fired power plant, the dispatch control of which was given to the company in October 2009, contributed energy sales of 2,653 gigawatt-hours, accounting for 57% of the total sales.

The financial services segment, which contributed net earnings of P1.8 billion, grew by 106% from P880 million in 2008.

The segment includes commercial bank Union Bank of the Philippines and thrift bank City Savings Bank.

Aboitiz Equity Ventures said its transport business recorded a “375% year-on-year increase in income contribution, from P81 million in 2008 to P387 million in 2009.”

The holding company’s Pilmico Foods Corp. recorded a 168% year-on-year rise in income contributions to P1.2 billion given higher volumes in the flour business.

Shares in Aboitiz Equity Ventures were unchanged yesterday at P11.25 apiece.

Four firms submit bids for JUSMAG property

Jennifer A. Ng
Business Mirror

State-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) said four of the five firms declared eligible to bid for the 34.5-hectare prime Jusmag property in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City submitted their bids on Wednesday.

BCDA executive vice president and spokesman Aileen Zosa said the four firms that tendered their bids are Ayala Land Inc., the consortium of Filinvest Land Inc. and Filinvest Alabang Inc., Megaworld Corp. and Robinsons Land Corp. Only Rockwell Land Corp. did not pursue its bid.

Zosa said the bids are being evaluated and announcement of the results of the bidding will be on or before March 17 while the target date for the joint-venture signing is set before the end of April.

“The planned development of the Jusmag property is primarily for residential use, retail will be allowed only as support for the residential development,” she said.

Zosa said the minimum investment commitment of the winning private sector partner is P18.8 billion over a period of 20 years. The minimum value/price for the property has been set at P19,000 per square meter while the minimum up-front cash is P2.2 billion, inclusive of replication fund. The BCDA said it expects to generate much more than the minimum bid price.

“The development will include the widening of Lawton Avenue to six lanes, then to eight lanes,” she said.

Of the 34.5-hectare Jusmag property, 20.76 hectares are buildable while 2.02 hectares are reserved for recreation and open spaces. About 0.62 hectare is reserved for utilities and 11.05 hectares are reserved access lots, including the 0.97-hectare area reserved for the widening of Lawton Avenue.

She noted that the maximum allowable gross floor area for the said property is 1.383 million sq m.

The property, which used to be the headquarters of the Joint US Military Assistance Group in the country, is on Lawton Avenue in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City at the back of posh Forbes Park village.

The privatization of the Jusmag property is in line with the third phase of BCDA’s asset disposition program.

Wind turbines provider to set up IT hub in RP

By Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines – A Danish wind power solutions provider will build its second largest IT hub in the country and hire up to 200 local employees by 2011, an official said Thursday.

The local IT hub, to be inaugurated Thursday night, will house 100 employees by yearend and up to 200 by 2011, from the existing 25. This will make the Philippine IT hub the second largest next to its headquarters in Denmark, said Sean Sutton, president for Vestas Wind Systems Asia-Pacific.

The Vestas Services Philippines Inc. will be the fourth Vestas main IT center in the world, next to Denmark, Singapore, and USA. It will support Vestas' global team with IT operations and back-end support including surveillance, service desk and programming competencies for the operation of 11,500 turbines worldwide in real-time, said Torben Bonde, chief information officer and senior vice president for Vestas Wind Systems.

The Manila hub is part of our value chain and will be groomed to enable us to grow up to 8.5 billion euros in revenues, Bonde said.

Juergen Wirth, managing director of Vestas Services Philippines, said the company was hiring extensively for its Manila hub.

“From seven other countries, we chose Manila, Philippines because of the skilled talent poll here plus the abundant wind energy sources in the country,” said the official.

Wind energy comprises about one percent of global power use and is set to grow by 10 percent in Asia by 2020. The location in the Philippines puts Vestas in a strategic position to gain more inroads in the market while lowering energy generation costs in the country, Sutton said.

Aside from after sales support, the company is also seeking to provide the government's power generation target of 417 megawatts by 2013 from wind energy, said Sutton.

“Currently, we have supplied 20 turbines in the wind farms in Ilocos Norte that generates 33 MW of power, which is capable of supplying energy to households up to tens of thousands. The Philippines being an abundant source of wind energy, we plan to scale up and get a significant slice of that 417 MW energy target,” Sutton told

“If that's the case, it would mean generating more local jobs apart from the IT hub. Per megawatt of wind energy produced, 13 jobs are created so I believe we have a positive consequence to jobs creation if the Philippines goes full blast in achieving its targets for renewable wind energy,” said Sutton.

Harnessing renewable energy sources like the wind is imperative to meet the fast rising energy demands set to double by 2020 amid the diminishing fossil fuel resources, said Sutton.

“Wind power is a renewable, predictable and does not emit greenhouse gases, a clean source of energy and a high viable solution to the world's long-term power demands. Energy demands are expected to double by 2020 and faced with diminishing energy resources, we aim to make wind energy at par with oil and gas as a reliable and competitive energy source,” added Sutton.

Compared to oil and gas, energy generation costs using wind turbines are lowered over time because of total megawatts produced over a 20-year operational life cycle of the turbines, which are recyclable. Moreover, wind energy generation does not emit greenhouse gases unlike fossil fuels that has intensified global warming, he said.

Vestas is a provider of wind turbines that could generate energy up to 3MW capacity, depending on power requirements and the terrain of the target location.

Rival giant telcos agree to help PAGASA

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Setting aside years of intense rivalry, telco giants Smart Communications Inc., Globe Telecom and Sun Cellular have agreed in principle to install rain gauges at their cellular sites, in a joint effort to improve disaster preparedness and save lives across the storm-ravaged archipelago.

Data collected from these strategically located gauges can help the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) forecast floods and issue warnings more accurately and promptly, according to the proponents.

The project also assures the security of the weather-reading instruments and save the weather bureau the cost of installing the apparatus.

A memorandum of agreement among Smart, Globe and Sun to base the PAGASA rain gauges at some of their cell sites is currently being prepared and is expected to be signed as early as next week.

National interest

The initiative is part of the program of the private sector-led Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) to help upgrade the country’s flood forecasting system, which came under heavy criticism especially in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) last year.

Smart chair Manuel V. Pangilinan, who also heads the PDRF, noted that the three mobile phone companies did not normally get together given the intense rivalry for the lucrative mobile communications market.

But the companies easily agreed to set their differences aside and collaborate for the national interest, Pangilinan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday.

“It is a wonderful joint effort. I am glad that all three have agreed to do it because it is very important to have those rain gauges,” Pangilinan said. “They can help avert disaster because the data can be used to warn people of floods and even mudslides.”

PDRF is conducting a survey of the existing early warning system used by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and has so far found that 70 percent of the system is still working.

But the survey also noted that some of the most critical portions of the system need to be upgraded or replaced.

Bayanihan spirit

Pangilinan said he also hoped that collaboration among the three companies would not stop with the rain gauges and also include joint initiatives to speed up weather data transmission to PAGASA.

Globe Telecom chief executive officer Ernest Cu said his company would always be open to collaborations for the common good.

“For us, telcos should really get together for these types of endeavors. This is not a competitive situation. There is no profit involved but the public interest,” Cu said.

“We are willing to help in the spirit of bayanihan,” the Globe top executive stressed.

William Pamintuan, head of the legal department of the Gokongwei-controlled Digital Mobile Philippines Inc. that operates the Sun Cellular network, described the partnership as unprecedented.

The project will benefit all Filipinos, Pamintuan said, adding that it did not take much convincing for Sun Cellular to join in.

Early preparation crucial

Pamintuan said the agreement was also timely since the rain gauges have to be installed before the onset of the rainy season and with experts predicting stronger and more frequent typhoons this year because of climate change.

Susan Espinueva, chief of PAGASA’s hydrometeorological division, said the project could give weather forecasters, local governments and disaster response agencies a “lead time” of six to 12 hours when faced with an impending calamity.

Such early preparations are crucial when mobilizing for mass evacuations or rescue operations, Espinueva said.

“The location of these weather instruments in cell phone sites will increase the lead time for weather forecasts and enhance accuracy,” she said. “More lives can be saved. It’s definitely a big step in weather forecasting in the country.”

“We have been toying with the idea of installing small weather stations on the cell sites. We have difficulty finding the appropriate sites because of security concerns. These instruments are expensive,” Espinueva said.

P.5-million rain gauge

A rain gauge would usually cost around P500,000, she said.

For pilot locations, Espinueva said the project had chosen 20 sites around Metro Manila, including ones in the cities of Pasig and Marikina, which were among the areas most devastated by Ondoy.

Outside the capital, other locations being considered are the Cagayan River basin and the provinces of Ifugao and Quirino, Espinueva said.

“Eventually, we would like to install these instruments in cell sites all over the country,” she said.

Espinueva said the instruments would work in tandem with two radar stations that were being installed in Subic and Tagaytay. With a report from Alcuin Papa

Agri-tourism park in Marinduque

Manila Bulletin

An ambitious project that will showcase how to enhance the environment as well as provide livelihood opportunities for residents in the far-flung community of Brgy. Yook in Buenavista, Marinduque was launched last Tuesday.

The project is called Community-Based Agri-Tourism and Eco Park (CBATEP). It was launched by the Technology and Livelihood Development Committee of the province co-chaired by the provincial governor and retired PNP Director General Recaredo Sarmiento who is also the provincial consultant for Agriculture.

The ceremonial tree planting of narra trees was done during the launching. According to Gen. Sarmiento, most of the trees that will be planted in the 178 hectares of rolling and hilly terrain will be narra and other native species.

What is good about the place is that there is a strong spring that will serve as a source of water for watering the plants that will be grown in the project. In fact, Gen. Sarmiento said the water will be sufficient to enable them to raise Pangasius as a source of additional livelihood for the community residents.

Aside from forest trees, selected high-value fruit trees will be grown, including longkong lanzones, rambutan, pummelo, oranges, cashew, sweet tamarind, durian and many others. Gen. Sarmiento has proven in his own farm that longkong lanzones, durian and rambutan are well adapted to the climatic conditions obtaining in Marinduque.

Gen. Sarmiento added that the narra trees as well as the fruit trees will be the sources of nectar and pollen for the honeybees. A honeybee project is now being launched in the project site handled by Brenda Sarmiento. This particular project is being financed by the Department of Labor and Employment with a grant of P260,000.

The CBATEP launching was attended by no less than 500 people that included government officials as well as farmers from the different barangays of Buenavista. During the launching, Gov. Jose Antonio Carrion and Gen. Sarmiento profusely thanked Dr. Emilio T. Yap, chairman of the Manila Bulletin, for his generous financial contribution of P1 million to the project. Counterpart financing are also being given by the provincial government, the municipality of Buenavista headed by Mayor Ofelia S. Madrigal, the Gold Barrel Sports Resort, and other supporters.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

SMC bags $1.5-B railway project linking QC to Bulacan

By Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--Diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. will take control of the $1.5-B Metro Rail Transit-Line 7 project by acquiring a majority stake in the firm that won the mandate for the deal, the Inquirer learned Wednesday.

According to a source familiar with the transaction, the publicly listed firm was in the “advanced stages of negotiation” to take control of Universal MRT Corp., which is the consortium tasked to build the MRT 7 project.

The deal puts SMC in a position to benefit from the potentially lucrative commuter rail business between Metro Manila and the rapidly growing region to the north of the metropolis.

At present, the MRT 7 project is controlled by businessman Salvador “Buddy” Zamora III who, in turn, acquired majority control of the consortium in 2008 from its original proponent, Israeli businessman Eli Levin.

MRT 7 is a build-“gradual transfer”-operate, maintain and manage project for the development, financing, operation and maintenance of a 22-kilometer light rail transit route that extends from the MRT Line 3’s North Edsa terminal to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

The project also includes an Intermodal Transport Terminal—a transportation hub for buses and other forms of public conveyances—in San Jose del Monte, as well as a 22-km, six-lane feeder highway from the northern end of the line to Bocaue, Bulacan. This highway will link the intermodal terminal to the North Luzon Expressway.

The source said the entry of SMC into the Universal MRT consortium is expected to be sealed “very soon,” but declined to reveal the pricing terms for the deal.

As envisioned by the proponents, the rail component of MRT 7 project will initially operate 108 rail cars in a three-car train configuration. Initial capacity is projected at 448,000 passengers a day, but will eventually be expanded to accommodate as many as 850,000 passengers daily.

The rail line will have 14 stations, namely: North Edsa, Quezon Memorial Circle, University Avenue, Tandang Sora, Don Antonio, Batasan, Manggahan, Doña Carmen, Regalado, Mindanao Avenue, Quirino, Sacred Heart, Tala and Araneta San Jose Del Monte.

The intermodal terminal, on the other hand, will be able to accommodate 60 buses and will also feature passenger facilities and amenities.

The entire $1.5-billion project is expected to be fully completed in 42 months, although parts of it may be made operational in phases.

Once completed, SMC will operate and maintain the rail service, the intermodal terminal and the highway for a period of 25 years. The government will get a 30-percent share of net passenger revenues and a 20-percent share of other earnings.

The Philippine free-market economy

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

For all the glowing history and analysis about Asia and its 4 billion people living on 30 percent of the earth’s land mass, its accomplishments over the centuries are not very impressive in comparison to the West.

It was Western ships that sailed the oceans and colonized Asia; not the other way around. It was the Spanish that made the financial killing on the Manila Galleon trade to Mexico, not China. The West entered the 20th century electing governments by a vote of the people, not Asian countries.

Europe gave the world the Industrial Revolution; China offered the Cultural Revolution 200 years later. Inventions that bought mankind a higher standard of living through the last millennia came from the West, not the East.

From the printing press to the steam engine and the airplane to the computer, all these things that make the modern world modern came from the West. An Italian invented the process for geothermal energy. A German invented the telescope. The Egyptians invented the water clock to measure small increments of time and also created the first daily solar calendar made of up 365 days. A Brazilian Catholic priest built the first hot-air balloon even though the Chinese first flew the kite.

Nonetheless, glass, the mirror, probably the wheel and the plow, paper, ink, soap, the compass and the toothbrush all came from Asian ingenuity. But the scale (also invented by the Egyptians) of practical accomplishment of design must weigh in favor of the West.

The last two generations of Asian accomplishment have not been much different from the previous two thousand years. Post-World War II Asian countries built modern and vibrant economies. But these were built feeding off the advances of the West. While the Japanese did not use electric appliances in their homes, they built factories to manufacture appliances for the West. Asia copied and fabricated and improved upon ideas that came out of the laboratories and industrial facilities of the West. So many of those everyday things we use in the 21st century that are identified as coming from Asia, from the cell-phone to the athletic shoe, started in the West. None of this is meant to denigrate or diminish the originality, creativity, industriousness or competency of Asia and Asians. But all of this is a fact. The question then is why would there be this great disparity of this particular kind of achievement of which I speak, between East and West?

Why even in the last 50 years when information and education were nearly limitless and borderless the trend of limited innovation continued?

One quality that distinguishes the Philippines from its Asian neighbors is that the Philippines embodies the entrepreneur spirit that seems to burn in the West. I believe that at the core of this entrepreneurship that makes for business innovation and greater market flexibility is the spirit of competition. Without vigorous competition, there cannot be the benefits and accomplishments of entrepreneurship, and we have it in the Philippines.

I was caught by an article in one of the local newspapers about San Miguel Corp. embarking to build the North Luzon East Expressway (NLEEx) from Quezon City to as far north as Tuguegarao City in Cagayan. The NLEEx will directly compete with the North Luzon Expressway (Nlex), which is owned and operated by Metro Pacific Investments Corp. The NLEEx project may cost as much as P9.3 billion but may also cut by half the traffic volume on the Nlex.

Two giant local companies in cut-throat business competition, and it is the public, whose travel time to the North will be reduced and who will find more economic opportunities in that part of Luzon, will profit.

Globe and Smart and now others fighting tooth-and-nail for your text-message peso. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, Seair and Zest Airways competing fiercely for your travel peso. Want a wireless landline? Call any of several different companies in the morning and a representative from each will be there with your phone by afternoon.

This is unique to the Philippines. More than half the cell-phone service in Japan is controlled by NTT; seven other companies share the rest of the market.

Traditionally, Asian companies in any one country have divided the economic pie, rarely competing the way companies do in the Philippines. One Korean chaebol controls shipping. Another controls telecoms. In fact the word chaebol means “business family” or “monopoly.” Hong Kong has its taipans and Japan its keiretsu and its zaibatsu, all allowing each other’s firms to operate without business rivalry.

In the Philippines, our property, banking, telecoms, transportation, retail store, food and media tycoons would enjoy every moment of putting the others out of business and taking over the market share.

It is not just on the mega scale where this kind of business struggle among companies in the Philippines exists. Mercury Drug only seems to be a monopoly. Ask Generika Drugstore, The Generics Pharmacy, online My Botika and Watsons what they think.

While in the West, governments now do everything they can through regulation to stifle and kill corporate competition, and in other parts of Asia business “tradition” does the same, the Philippines is still a stronghold of free enterprise and very free markets.

We consumers are the winners when companies fight each other for our business. Of course, there are some sectors that are much less free; cable television and fuel comes to mind. But those are a result of an economy of scale for cable and the fact that the oil companies basically buy at the same price from the same suppliers.

However, overall, Filipino consumers have more choice and better pricing because of the greater number of sources for goods and services. Free-market capitalism isn’t all that bad.

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, 3 March 2010

Tribute to Nonito Donaire

Philippine Economic Briefing

Photo update: SLEX-STAR Connection


1st batch:

2nd batch:

3rd batch:

Video update: LRT-MRT maintenance

San Miguel bags huge NLEE toll road project

By Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--San Miguel Corp. has turned up the heat in the ongoing battle for dominance of the country’s lucrative network of toll road systems by taking control of a little-known but strategically important highway project.

According to Inquirer sources, the publicly listed conglomerate has acquired a majority stake in Ausphil Tollways Corp.—a Filipino-Australian consortium and the main project proponent for the North Luzon East Expressway (NLEE).

Once completed, the NLEE will extend from Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City to as far north as Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province, on Luzon’s eastern seaboard.

More importantly, however, the NLEE is expected to have adverse implications for vehicle traffic that uses the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), which is owned and operated by Metro Pacific Investments Corp.—SMC’s rival for dominance in the toll road business.

At present, the bulk of vehicular traffic between Manila and northern Luzon goes through NLEx. The completion of NLEE will allow vehicles traveling between Manila and central and northeastern Luzon—potentially as much as half of NLEx’s existing volume—to bypass the MPIC-run highway altogether.

The NLEE project is an unsolicited built-transfer-operate project for the development, financing, operation and maintenance of the toll concession corridor. NLEE has been designated as an official toll road project by the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), the government agency in charge of supervising toll highways nationwide.

The cost of San Miguel’s acquisition of Ausphil remains a closely guarded secret, although an industry source familiar with the project said that phase one of the NLEE project would cost as much as P9.3 billion.

According to the source, phase one of NLEE involves the construction of an 18.9-kilometer, four-lane toll road from Commonwealth Ave. in La Mesa, Quezon City, to Norzagaray, Bulacan.

The SMC-led consortium will secure the land for the expressway with the help of the right-of-way privileges of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), which supervises the land around its watersheds.

The source added that phase one of NLEE would take about 16 months to construct, within which the consortium will also secure its concession agreement from the TRB.

Phase two of the NLEE project calls for the construction of a 36.9-kilometer, four-lane toll road from Norzagaray, Bulacan, to Cabanatuan City (in Nueva Ecija) via Angat, San Ildefonso and San Miguel, Bulacan, along the periphery of the Angat watershed.

This phase will take about 24 months to construct and is expected to be put through the Swiss challenge process for unsolicited bids over the next few weeks.

Upon completion, both phases of the NLEE are expected to generate an average daily traffic of about 65,000 vehicles and reduce travel time and transportation costs between cities and municipalities along its route.

PLDT posts net profit of P41.3b, eyes cost-cutting

by Jeremiah F. de Guzman
Manila Standard

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., the country’s biggest telecommunications provider, said Tuesday its 2009 profit rose 15 percent on the back of revenues generated by its phone, Internet and wireless services.

Net profit of P39.8 billion was buoyed by a 2-percent rise in wireless service revenues, including a 17-percent increase in mobile customers, to P41.3 billion, the company said in a statement.

PLDT slightly topped its P41-billion core profit guidance for 2009 but remained cautious in 2010. It said it planned to cut costs to offset higher net financing charges this year.

PLDT chairman and chief executive Manuel Pangilinan said in a press briefing that the company expected a slightly higher core net income this year.

“The improvement in revenues will largely offset by the increase in financing expenses we anticipate in 2010,” Pangilinan told reporters.

Corporate data and home Internet services boosted fixed- line revenue, which increased by 4 percent, PLDT said.

Earnings from the 20-percent equity share that PLDT acquired last June in power distributor Manila Electric Co. amounted to P398 million, the company said. Meralco’s net income in 2009 increased to P6 billion from P2.8 billion in 2008.

Pangilinan said service revenues would grow by 3 percent this year from P150 billion in 2009.

He cited strong competition, tight spending and alternative communications such as social networking that threaten PLDT’s mainstream businesses.

He said net financing charges would increase by P3 billion this year as a result of higher debt and lower levels of cash.

Rain starts pouring in Cebu

With a report from Nonoy E. Lacson
Manila Bulletin

CEBU CITY – After several days of sunny and humid weather, Cebu finally got a taste of rain as heavy downpour hit the city and nearby towns Monday night, with scattered rain showers continuing Tuesday.

The rain was seen by church officials as a divine intervention following the special prayer, dubbed “Oratio Imperata” for rain, earlier called by the Archdiocese of Cebu to be prayed in all churches here to address the effects of drought in the entire region.

The heavy downpour started past 10 p.m. Monday, lasting for a few hours. Scattered rain showers continued until noon Tuesday in Cebu. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) also forecasts isolated rain showers or thunderstorms mostly over the eastern sections of the Visayas and Mindanao Tuesday.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal had earlier decided to seek divine intervention to end the suffering of their flock through special prayers, as the heat and dry spell intensify because of the El Niño phenomenon.

The Oratio Imperata was distributed to all parishes in the Archdiocese as part of the church's efforts to seek divine intervention to address the ill effects of drought in the region.

The rain came after the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) announced that the water level at the Buhisan Dam, one of the city’s major sources of water, has gone down to 24 meters from 27 meters since the start of the dry spell.

The MCWD is supplying water to 128,000 households in four cities and four towns in Metro Cebu, such as the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, and Talisay and the towns of Compostela, Liloan, Consolacion, and Cordova.

Edna Inocando, officer in charge of the public affairs department of MCWD, said the water utility firm used to get 6,000 cubic meters to 7,000 cubic meters from the Buhisan Dam but the water district was getting only 2,000 cubic meters to 3,000 cubic meters in recent weeks, a drop of 60 percent.

“Buhisan Dam is an open dam. It is surface water,” said Inocando. “That’s why it is greatly affected by the El Niño.”

She, however, said there is no need to press the alarm button as the Buhisan Dam only produces five percent of MCWD’s supply. The firm gets the other 95 percent to at least 112 water wells.

But Inocando urged the public to cut back on their water consumption, saying that MCWD might be forced to reduce the amount of water it extracts from wells if the water level of the wells continues to drop.

In the Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9), the Department of Agriculture (DA) will conduct at least 70 flying sorties of cloud seeding operations in Zamboanga City effective Thursday, aimed at inducing rainfall here and alleviate the plight of local farmers affected by the El Niño phenomenon.

The DA cloud seeding activities here and in the Zamboanga Peninsula and other parts of the region were requested by City Mayor Celso Lobregat.

As this developed, a team from the DA’s Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM) led by the Teddy Bersabe together with City Agriculturist Diosdado Palacat told Lobregat that the cloud seeding activities will start on Thursday, March 4.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap allocated some P3 million for the conduct of the 70 flying sorties.

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification whereby salt crystals are released into a cloud with the use of airplanes or helicopters.

The particles – salt crystals – grow until they are large enough to cause precipitation to form.

Aside from boosting rainfall, cloud seeding methods are also expected to help raise the levels of water reservoirs.

Trustworthiness seen in poll automation, survey says

Manila Bulletin

Filipinos find the country's first automated presidential elections more reliable and dependable compared to the manual voting process that they’ve been used to in the past, according to the results of the recently-concluded survey of Manila Bulletin Online.

The said poll conducted in February in light with the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) nationwide testing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, asked netizens “Do you think you can trust the automated elections more than the manual procedure?”

The results showed 66 percent of MB Online’s web visitors saying “Yes,” while the remaining 34 percent expressed doubts on the said method.

“Para sa’kin, mas mabilis ‘yung resulta and lesser ang possibility ng error compared dun sa old process,” said April Bustamante, a medicine student of University of Santo Tomas, during an online interview. “Based on my experience, kapag election laging nawawalan ng kuryente. Since automated na, with or without power, mapapabilis ang process at lesser ang dayaan.”

Interestingly, however, people who have been working thru the Internet said that they find it hard to trust the poll automation process, mainly because of the culture of corruption in the country.

”Hindi siya mapapagkatiwalaan; for sure ‘yang mayayaman na mga politiko ay gagawa ng paraan para makapangdaya pa rin,” says Michael Ferrer, a graphic artist for Cosmic Technologies.

“Although mas matrabaho ang manual elections, I guess candidates will find ways para makapangdaya sila,” explained Ana Terese Junio, an Information, Education and Communications (IEC) Officer from a leading television network. “The good thing about automated voting is less yung ‘mapapahamak as teachers don’t have to bring ballot boxes from one place to another.”

Chamela Caguiat, a nurse from a public hospital in Muntinlupa City, emphasized on the need to deliberately eradicate the notion of political wickedness abound in the country today. “It (automation) will just speed up the counting process, but it will still remain dirty!” she echoed.

The series of power outages in various parts of the country, apparently due to the growing energy crisis, has also been a cause of concern for the voting population, with some getting alarmed on the timing of these power interruptions.

“There’s a lot of loopholes in the system. Idagdag pa ‘yung series of brownouts, for sure this year's election will be chaotic,” says Eros Arbilon, lead vocalist of the band “Away for the Day”.

Some of them also noted the lack of preparations on the part of the concerned authorities with regards to addressing the worries that voters have constantly been raising. “Maraming puwede mangyari, but I think they (Comelec) are not very well-prepared to deal with it pa,” according to Kimberly Go, an audiologist, referring to the lack of effective voters’ education campaign by the poll body.

“Mas madaling ma-alter ‘yung votes or mandaya lalo na kung ang process is aided by technology, “says Rea Ann Santos, a communications officer. “Kung siguro ang goal ay mapabilis ‘yung counting, maganda nga. Pero ang mas importanteng concern is kung mas makakaiwas sa dagdag-bawas.”

The upcoming elections have now painted an interesting scenario as the country braces for the first-ever automated elections in history. Authorities remain confident that everything will be fine and that they have enough plans and resources to get things done and tow the nation towards another colorful chapter.

Meanwhile, a new survey has been posted on MB Online asking web visitors “what specific problem would you like the next Philippine president to address first?” Log in to the Manila Bulletin homepage to view the poll question and share your thoughts on the said topic.

$270-million funding for power project inked

Manila Bulletin

Project sponsors for the 200-megawatt Naga coal-fired power facility have inked $270 million worth of financing deal with lenders to bankroll its completion as targeted next year.

Kepco SPC Power Corporation (KSPC) disclosed the signing of agreements with Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the syndicate of banks and financial institutions led by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation for the power project’s financing.

The project is a joint venture between SPC Power Corporation and Korea Electric Power Corporation.

The operation and maintenance (O&M) component of the facility has been awarded to Korean firm East West Power Co. Ltd.

By the time the expanded Naga plant’s capacity be set on stream this 2011, it is expected that Visayas power supply will stabilize for some time. The grid’s next bid for additional capacity then would be 2014.

Part of the capacity of the plant’s two units will be wheeled into Negros-Panay grid to help improve supply situation in these heavily brownout-stricken areas.

Among those in its roster of off-takers (buyers) are: Cebu I Electric Cooperative, Inc. (CEBECO I); Cebu II Electric Cooperative, Inc. (CEBECO II); Negros Oriental I Electric Cooperative, Inc. (NORECO I); Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative, Inc. (NORECO II); and VMC Rural Electric Service Cooperative, Inc. (VRESCO).

Regulatory approvals pegged the selling rate of KSPC at P4.2511 per kilowatt-hour, but with room for escalation indices relative to foreign exchange rates, fuel prices and international price indices.

The facility, according to project developers, will be equipped with circulating fluidized bed combustion (CFBC) technology to minimize toxic gas emissions and improve efficiency run.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Filipino wins Google Map Maker contest


MANILA, Philippines - A 23-year-old "citizen cartographer" from the University of the Philippines bested 700 other contestants to become the winner of the first Google Map Maker Global Competition.

Wayne Dell Manuel won a US$50,000 donation from UNICEF for the Philippines after adding more than 1,500 qualifying map features and made hundreds of moderations in Google Map Maker. His edits, which were primarily of local public schools, were judged to be the most numerous and accurate entries in the contest.

"I'm so excited to have won this global competition because it represents a win not just for me, but also for the Philippines," said Manuel. "To be frank, I entered the competition to win the US$50,000 for our country, and I hope that my win encourages more Filipinos to contribute to making the online map of our country even better. We Filipinos are known for our spirit of bayanihan, and this is a great way for us to come together in the Internet era to make life better for our fellow kababayans by literally putting their communities on the digital map."

The competition was launched to encourage the use of technology for community development by asking users to map universities, schools, hospitals and medical clinics in their home countries. The goal was to help humanitarian organizations better deliver services, respond to crises, and adapt to change in the countries they operate by enabling access to accurate digital maps.

Manuel, a software developer at the UP National Telehealth Center, started using Google Map Maker in 2008 and initially edited streets, establishments, and municipalities in his hometowns of Tuguegarao and Baguio City. Later, he added most of the roads in Tarlac City, Tarlac; Angeles City, Pampanga and Tacloban City, Leyte. He has been recognized globally as one of the top 10 all-time mappers with nearly 35,000 map edits under his belt.

"Maps have always interested me because they help me get acquainted with places I’ve never seen before. As soon as I heard about Google Map Maker, I immediately joined and found that its interface is very intuitive and user-friendly. I love the feeling of putting together something that would be useful to many people," he said.

Jennifer Mazzon, Community Organizer for Google Maps, said Manuel's contributions are invaluable for people who rely on geographic information, which is import during times of natural disaster.

"Even though the contest period is over, the mapping effort for the Philippines is only beginning. There are still many places that are in need of accurate details and we hope that even more Filipinos will use Google Map Maker to share their knowledge about their hometowns with the world," Mazzon said.

Manuel said he will continue editing in Google Map Maker even after the competition because there are still many unmapped areas in the Philippines.

He also recalled how his contributions helped many people when Typhoon Ondoy hit the country last September. “After Ondoy, a volunteer group used Google Maps to map distress calls and facilitate rescue operations. I was so happy to see that the roads I helped place on Google Map Maker, later pushed to Google Maps, were used to locate fellow Filipinos who needed help," he said.

The reality of the Philippines

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Too often when I pick up the newspaper and read business/economic stories, I feel as though I am reading from a fantasy script, something from an old Joey de Leon-Rene Requiestas movie. By that, I mean something completely outside of reality.

At times, the thinking from some people in the Philippines is so detached from the real world that the Philippines must be on some planet other than Earth. On the other hand, some of the discussions make me believe that these people think the Philippines is right down the highway from Chicago or perhaps is a small US state wedged in between New York and New Jersey.

Yesterday newspapers covered comments from the Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) criticizing government for allowing the peso to further strengthen against the US dollar. Philexport warned “this policy could revert the industry to a negative growth this year.” This falls under “What planet are you on?”

Surely there must be someone at Philexport that can understand or find out how foreign-exchange rates work. For 2009 the US dollar depreciated by 16 percent against a basket of major currencies. By the dollar depreciating, that means that other currencies have to appreciate; like opposite sides of a balance scale. The peso in 2009 appreciated less than 10 percent. Had the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) any sort of a strong-peso policy, the peso would have gone up, at least as much as the dollar went down. But in truth, the BSP has pursued weak-peso policy to the extent that it spent some $7 billion not supporting the peso, but supporting the dollar in the local currency market.

But then again, I am probably wrong. Maybe it is a good idea to adjust the peso rate to help the export sector, the outsourcing companies, and those overseas Filipinos who send money back to the country. The BSP should then make sure that the peso goes to 65 to the dollar. That will certainly make the exporters happy.

Of course, after a month at 65 to a dollar, the transportation sector will go crazy with P100-a-liter fuel price and start complaining. Then the BSP can put the peso at 25 to a dollar. Fuel costs drop to P20 a liter and all our other imports drop in price. The BSP can set a policy of extreme foreign-exchange rate swings and every month at least one part of the economy will be extremely pleased, at least until the following month.

Or perhaps the best strategy is for all the different sectors to adjust to the fact that the BSP is doing a fantastic job of keeping the peso very stable and at an exchange rate that balances the total economic needs of the country and does not give too much favor or too much pain to any particular industry sector. Welcome to planet Earth.

It does not matter if you paint a mango bright red; it is still not an apple. And the Philippines is not like just any other Western economy. Whenever you read economic data being used to make a point, keep in mind that the data are suspect and, therefore, the conclusion is suspect also.

For example: The government budget deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is an area for concern. Or not. Theoretically, our budget deficit stands at 57 percent of our GDP versus 41 in Singapore. Are you sure? I can trust the Singapore numbers. That government has an inventory and historical record of every tree that is growing on publicly owned land.

How much of the Philippine GDP is off the books, not recorded in the government data? If only 25 percent of the GDP is not included in government numbers, then that budget-deficit number is actually slightly higher than Singapore and much less than any European Union country. When was the last time you received an official receipt from a doctor, a sari-sari store, in Divisoria, a taxicab, an auto-parts store, or a hundred other kinds of businesses that we buy from every day? How many people do you know who buy and use purified water? Ever seen a receipt from those purchases? One Australian economic think tank estimates that 40 percent of the Philippines’ GDP is off the books. If true, our budget-deficit problem is better than most of the world and certainly better than any major Western economy.

This is the Republic of the Philippines, not the 51st US state where government and economic bookkeeping are more complete and accurate.

Judging the financial stability and soundness of the Philippines can be done in the real world by looking at two things. When the government goes to the global financial markets to borrow money, what is the response? They love us. We pay a higher interest rate than other countries. We pay on time and in full. You do not loan money to people and countries that are having economic problems. That is the way the real world functions.

We have a tiny little stock exchange that accounts for zero percent of the economy. But foreign money is not stupid. Net foreign inflow to the Philippine Stock Exchange in February was some P3 billion. Read this from The Economic Times: “With a net withdrawal of $754 million in 29 trading sessions [since January], India trails just behind Taiwan [$2,488 million] in terms of foreign outflows. Indonesia and Thailand, with net outflows of $238 million $294 million, respectively, are among the other Asian markets that have seen foreign-capital outflows since the beginning of this year.” But not the Philippines.

That is the reality of the Philippines, and the Philippines is not necessarily what you read about in the newspapers.

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

PGMA studying best options vs power woes - Olivar

MANILA, March 2 (PNA) -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is studying how best to address the country's power supply problem.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said inputs from the Department of Energy (DOE) and other sectors will help the President decide on action to take considering causes of power woes in Mindanao and Luzon differ.

"These are inputs that must be considered beforehand," he said.

Olivar noted that water shortage from the El Nino-driven dry spell is compromising power generation in Mindanao where hydro-power plants are mainly used for such activity.

DOE Secretary Angelo Reyes attributed Luzon's recent brownouts to technical problems in three plants generating power for this area.

Olivar said Reyes already submitted to the President his proposals for addressing the country's power problem.

He declined to identify what Reyes' proposals are.

Other sectors are proposing purchase of generator sets and deployment of idle power barges to Mindanao.

Reyes, Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and others already called for granting President Arroyo an emergency power to address the problem.

But Malacanang is not rushing into accepting this proposal.

"It should be the last resort," deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said earlier.

Likewise, Olivar assured President Arroyo will act on the problem whether or not Congress grants her emergency power.

On Tuesday morning, Reyes said Luzon residents can expect fewer brownouts.

He reported that Sual plant, one of the three Luzon-based power facilities which experienced technical problems, is back online.

"It should be good for about 647 megawatts of power," he said.

Resumption of Sual plant's operation will help reduce brownouts in Luzon from three hours to one hour, he noted.

Reyes added maintenance work on the two other plants is in progress so these can commence operation again as soon as possible.

Earlier, Malacanang recommended that DOE and National Power Corporation (NPC) look into mechanisms for increasing private investments in power production nationwide.

"We should study how to attract more of these investments," deputy presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo said.

He cited enhanced incentives as one possible mechanism which government can consider to further boost private investments in the Philippine power sector.

Authorities must also look into pricing so private investors can still profit from power they produce while making such commodity still affordable to customers, he further said.

Saludo raised need for studying how to increase the private investments, noting power is crucial in further driving socio-economic development nationwide.

He also noted the country needs more private investments since government is already restricted from building power plants.

NPC confirmed this restriction which it said began in 2001 when the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) came into force.

EPIRA aims to develop indigenous power resources to lower electric power cost in the Philippines as well as to encourage private and foreign investments in the power sector.

DOE said EPIRA's passage set into motion deregulation of the country's power industry.

This deregulation opened up opportunities for privatizing state-owned power enterprises nationwide.

The El Nino-driven dry spell now wrecking havoc nationwide highlighted need for identifying power generation technologies that are cost-effective and not dependent on water.

Some areas may have resources for hydro-power plants but the dry spell's onslaught is compromising water availability there, Saludo observed. (PNA)

Visit to FL Vargas College Gymnasium and NLAQ presentation

6.1 quake shakes GMA in Cagayan
Manila Bulletin

Shaken but not stirred.

President Arroyo endured Tuesday a powerful earthquake in Cagayan while visiting the El Niño-hit province on the second day of her North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle tour.

The President was delivering a speech in Florencio Vargas College in Tuguegaro City when a magnitude 6.1 quake suddenly struck the northernmost region shortly before lunch, forcing her to pause for several seconds until the ground stopped shaking.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the epicenter of the quake was located at 130 kms. north of Tuguegarao, Cagayan with a depth of 21 kilometers.

The quake was also felt in the nearby provinces of Ilocos Sur and Isabela but no damage was reported.

Phivolcs Director Renato U. Solidum said the quake was also felt at intensity 4 in Vigan City; intensity 5 in Aparri and Sta. Ana, Cagayan; intensity 3 in Tuguegarao City, Peñablanca, both in Cagayan; and Laoag City and Pasuquin, both in Ilocos Norte; intensity 2 in Palanan, Isabela; and intensity 1 in Santa, Ilocos Sur, Delfin, Isabela, and Manila.

Mrs. Arroyo was in Cagayan province to highlight the government efforts to help farmers improve productivity, including the use of irrigation systems and post-harvest facilities, to combat the threat of the El Niño phenomenon.

“Oops, there’s an earthquake,” she said in the middle of her speech, stopping for five seconds while holding on to the podium.

The President, who appeared calm, then uttered a long “wow” during the tremor and paused for 15 seconds more.

She then heaved a sigh of relief when the quake was over. “Let’s hope it’s not anything like Chile or Haiti,” she said, referring to the powerful earthquakes that recently hit the two countries and left hundreds of people dead.

Afterwards, the President resumed her speech on the government’s achievements in promoting agribusiness development in the super region.

She said the government has invested on roads, bridges, ports, airports, irrigation systems, and other facilities to spur agricultural production in Northern Luzon. The irrigation systems, she added, have helped protect farmlands from the full impact of El Niño.

“I’m glad to hear that the northern part of Cagayan province is not feeling the effects of El Niño and we can still expect a good harvest from the northern part,” she said.

Joy Roque of the Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) who joined the President’s trip in Cagayan, meantime, said Mrs. Arroyo appeared fine after experiencing an earthquake in the province.

“The President paused in the middle of her speech and remained calm when quake rocked the school auditorium,” she said in a phone interview.

Roque said the people in the school auditorium were calm as well during the earthquake, adding they were actually watching the President’s next move. No member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) rushed to the President's side when the tremor rocked the school auditorium, she added.

“When the earthquake was over, the President resumed her speech," Roque, the MARO project officer in Cagayan, said.

After her quake encounter in Tuguegarao City, the President traveled to Isabela province to check government preparations to combat the ill-effects of El Niño.

To help farmers survive the drought, she ordered authorities to provide emergency employment and food assistance. She also imposed a moratorium on loan payments in the Land Bank of the Philippines as well as on irrigation fees for the affected farmers.

Meanwhile, Solidum allayed fears from residents on a possible tsunami, saying the tremor will not cause such a sea disturbance. Some residents of Palanan, Isabela reportedly panicked and hurriedly fled their homes as the quake struck.

Solidum clarified that the quake had no bearing on the magnitude 8.8 quake that hit Chile, saying the aftershocks of that strong quake can only happened in the surroundings of Chile within a 1,000-kilometer radius.

He also clarified that the mild quake is not related to the tsunami warning the Phivolcs released last Sunday afternoon.

To prepare the residents in case of eruption of earthquake, Solidum advised all local government units (LGUs) and the academes to continuously conduct an earthquake drill particularly those living near the shorelines.

“The earthquake drill is very significant this time especially there’s an often occurrence of earthquakes to avoid the local folks from panic instead of doing the precautionary measures for safety and to save lives or properties,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents in Pacific Ocean facing-city of Mati in Davao Oriental were rattled when a 5.0 magnitude tremor struck that southern tip city before noon Monday, it was learned.

However, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) reported that there were no reports of damage or injuries from the undersea quake that occurred 16 kms northwest of Mati, capital city of Davao Oriental.

The 5.0 magnitude earthquake happened at 11:15 a.m., said Phivolcs.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates collide causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity. (With a report from Mike U. Crismundo)

Inspection of the start of civil works for the Tarlac Rosales section of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway Project

Rosales, Pangasinan

ROSALES, Pangasinan (PND) - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will lead the groundbreaking tomorrow (Monday, March 1) of the country's next expressway project: the 88-kilometer, four-lane Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) to be built at a cost of P16.88-billion.

TPLEX will extend modern expressway travel to Northern Luzon and nearer to Baguio City from Tarlac, the farthest point traversed by the merging the SCTEX (Subic, Clark Tarlac Exchange) at Tarlac and the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway).

Rosario, La Union is the main entry point to Baguio City.

To be built by the Department of Public Works and Highways, TPLEX will be transferred soon after completion to the private sector which will manage the new road under the private public partnership program (PPP).

The new expressway is seen to spur economic development in Regions 1, 2, 3 and the Cordillera Autonomous Region.

The TPLEX is one of President Arroyo's strategic projects in the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle Super Region, one of the five growth corridors she laid out in her 2006 Super Region development strategy.

TPLEX is expected to cut travel time from Tarlac to La Union and Baguio City by two hours. Areas to be traversed are the towns of Victoria, Gerona, Paniqui and Moncada, all in Tarlac; Carmen, Urdaneta, Binalonan, Pozzorubio and Sison, all in Pangasinan.

Phase 1 of the TPLEX will be two lanes initially while Phase 2 will be expanded to four lanes when vehicle load target reaches 25,000 per day.

As of Feb. 25, 2010, P438 million has been released by government for right of way acquisitions and detailed engineering plans.


PGMA inaugurates Isabela Bridge, irrigation project

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will visit tomorrow the top corn and rice producing province of Isabela to inaugurate a bridge and water irrigation project in Delfin Albano town as part of her efforts to push the development of the Northern Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (NLAQ).

The P650-million Delfin Albano Bridge along the Delfin Albano-Tumauini Road was completed last December, six months ahead of schedule.

The bridge is expected to facilitate the efficient transport of goods and services particularly agricultural products between the eastern and western municipalities of Isabela to the various commercial centers in the Northern Luzon Quadrangle.

Spanning the Cagayan River, the Delfin Albano Bridge is strategically located more than one kilometer from the Maharlika road in nearby Tumauini town, and connects to the nearby towns of Santo Tomas and Mallig, including other areas in the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao.

After the bridge inauguration, the President will lead the ceremonial switch on of the P101-million Communal Pump Irrigation Project in Barangay San Antonio.

The pumping station project, which sources water from the Cagayan River, will irrigate some 960 hectares in Barangays San Juan, Ragar Sur, San Jose, San Patricio, Rizal, Villaluz and San Antonio.

The President is also scheduled to award 74 units of water pumps and engines for the farmers in the 29 barangays of the first-class municipality.

Expected to welcome and assist the President during her visit are local officials led by Isabela Governor Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca, 1st District Representative Rodito Albano and Delfin Albano Mayor Thomas Pua, Jr.

While in Delfin Albano, the President is scheduled to have a roundtable discussion with the El Nino Task Force which she reactivated last month to address the expected abnormal dry season this year.

Early this month, provincial officials placed Isabela under a state of calamity due to agricultural losses caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Isabela is the second biggest province in the Philippines next only to Palawan, with some one million hectares of land area.

The province is a consistent top producer of corn and next only to Nueva Ecija in rice production.

Located in the Cagayan Valley Region, Isabela’s agricultural production is crucial in the President’s development program to sustain rapid agricultural growth in the NLAQ.

In March last year, the President ordered the release of P2-billion for the repairs, rehabilitation and restoration of neglected irrigation systems in the NLAQ to increase their productivity and boost national food security.

The construction of three major irrigation systems were also rushed to meet their target completion dates. These are the P7.46-billion Casecnan Multi-Purpose Power and Irrigation Project in Nueva Ecija; the P2.46-billion Banaoang Pump Irrigation Project in Bantay, Ilocos Sur; and the P7.46-billion Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project in Pangasinan

Since 2001, a total of 54,506 hectares of farmlands in the region were provided communal irrigation systems that also resulted in the rehabilitation of 669,916 hectares of farmlands.

These projects increased rice production in NLAQ by 39 percent or from 5.21 metric tons in 2000 to 7.23 MT in 2008.(PND)