Saturday, 17 April 2010

San Miguel bags Ilijan power contract on $870M bid

Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

SAN MIGUEL POWER CORP. Friday submitted the highest bid of $870 million for the contract to manage the 1,200-megawatt (MW) Ilijan natural gas power facility in Batangas, according to the state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.

In a bidding held Friday, PSALM vice chair Jose C. Ibazeta announced that San Miguel Power bested the offers of Aboitiz-owned Therma Power Visayas Inc., Trans-Asia Oil and Energy Development Corp. and the Lopez-led First Gen Luzon Power Corp.

Trans-Asia Oil offered the second highest bid of $804 million, while Therma Power’s bid price was $100 million. First Gen Luzon submitted a bid of $534 million.

Ibazeta, who is also acting Energy Secretary, said the highest bid met the government’s reserve price for the management of the Ilijan independent power producer administrator (IPPA) contract.

He added that the sale of the IPPA has brought the privatization level to 68 percent—a mere two percentage points away from the 70-percent privatization level that PSALM has to achieve to allow the government to finally implement open access and retail competition.

As soon as it has verified the accuracy, authenticity and completeness of the bid documents, PSALM said it would issue a notice of award to San Miguel Power, formally declaring it as the winning IPP administrator for the contracted capacities of the natural gas facility.

The Ilijan management deal will be the third to be bagged by the San Miguel group after winning the bidding for the contracts to manage the 1,200-MW Sual coal-fired plant and the 345-MW San Roque multipurpose hydroelectric facility (through subsidiary Strategic Power Development Corp.). Both San Roque and Sual power plants are in Pangasinan.

There were originally five companies that expressed interest in the IPPA contract for Ilijan, but only four showed up during the bidding yesterday.

Completed in 2002, the Ilijan power plant is operated by Kepco through a build-operate-transfer contract that will expire in 2022. It draws natural gas from Shell Exploration BV’s Malampaya deep water gas-to-power project.

The Ilijan facility also has a take-or-pay contract with its gas suppliers.

May 10 poll: Not perfect but RP history’s ‘best’

Kristine L. Alave, TJ Burgonio
With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The May 10 polls will be the Philippines’ “best election” in history, despite warnings and fears that the poll exercise is headed for failure that could plunge the country into instability, the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic-TIM Corp. said Friday.

Cesar Flores, spokesperson for Smartmatic-TIM, the supplier of the automated elections system, said the company is committed to conducting an electronic balloting in the Philippines that promises “fast, accurate and auditable” tallies, a far cry from the old, slow manual system.

“This will be the best election in the history of the Philippines. It won’t be perfect but it will be the best,” he said.

“If you believe the theories, we’re screwed. But it is happening, we’re going to have elections. It will be electronic, it will be accurate, and it will be auditable,” he said.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal deplored the reports that he said were fueling fears of an election failure on May 10.

“We won’t allow failure of elections to happen to favor anyone. We simply won’t allow failure of elections to happen,” Larrazabal told reporters.

Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA), a business risk consultancy specializing in Asian risk, said it had found 14 “danger signs” that the country’s first-ever automated elections could run into problems and even fail completely.

The PSA paper, “Assessing 2010 Elections Automation in the Philippines,” cited “risks and vulnerabilities” in the technology, project management and voting aspects of the May 10 exercise. It said that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stood to benefit from a failure of elections.

Speculative and alarmist

Larrazabal said most of the “danger signs” cited by the PSA have already been answered. Some, especially those concerning the attitude and performance of the voters and the board of elections inspectors, were based on speculations only, he said.

The PSA findings pointing to a failure of elections were too “alarmist,” according to political analyst and election reform advocate Ramon Casiple.

Considering the Comelec’s preparations and responses to the problems that had cropped up early, failure of elections is a remote possibility, Casiple said.

The elections will fail only if peace and order breaks down to a point that it prevents the people from casting their ballots, said Casiple, who chairs the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) electoral watchdog group.

“In elections before, there was failure of elections in some precincts, even in some barangays, or a maximum of one or two towns. But never in the history have we had a failure at the provincial level, more so at the national level,” he said.

The CER, along with the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), represents the NGO sector in the Comelec Advisory Council.

Failure of machines

A failure of elections should be distinguished from a failure of the machines, which could happen, according to Casiple.

But if the machines fail, the people can still fill out the ballots, have the ballots counted manually and the results can still be transmitted manually, although the risks such as cheating would come into play, he said.

“There will be a delay in the counting. And, of course, you will introduce risks like the manipulation of the votes,” he said.

Casiple stressed that the real danger is the possibility that the elections would be compromised.

“If you go manual, we go back to the old rules, which we believe are mastered by the cheating operators,” he said.

Casiple said the PSA’s conclusion that Ms Arroyo would benefit from a malfunction of the machines was too “sweeping.”

“Cheating has its limits. If there is a huge gap between the No. 1 and No. 2, it will be very hard for cheating to close this gap. Theoretically, you can, but it will not be believable ... Cheating is only effective in a close fight,” he said.

Political and financial agenda

Flores, who admitted to getting similar warnings of election failure, said Smartmatic-TIM will not allow the elections to fail because its reputation is on the line.

Reports of disaster on Election Day are based on speculations from people who want to pursue their own “political and financial” agenda, he said.

“There will always be people against it, of course. Some are against it for very honest reasons. Some people are skeptics, some have their political mistrust, some people mistrust technology, those I can respect,” he said.

“But when that meets with political and financial interests, that gets more complicated. You don’t know if someone is expressing an honest concern,” he said.

“But people on the street want automation. They want this to work,” Flores said.


In Malacañang, Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said people should not believe the speculations being made by groups like the PSA about a possible failure of elections.

There were many “backups” to ensure that the automated polls are successful, he said.

“You know, we are doing everything possible to make this election very credible. The last thing we should have is a failure of election. I don’t think that will be good for the country,” he said.

Mendoza also dismissed as probably “part of his strategy” Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III’s warning that the recent bomb attacks in Basilan were a “prelude” to election failure.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said Aquino “should show some evidence behind his inflammatory speculations, or else he will end up with the dubious honor of winning the race to the bottom of civility and common sense.”

Deliveries on track

Flores said that with less than a month to go before the polls, Smartmatic-TIM was on track with its deliveries to the provinces.

As of Friday, the National Printing Office has printed 43.7 million ballots. The NPO has to print 50.8 million ballots, the number of the registered voters.

Flores said the NPO’s five printers were hitting nearly 800,000 to 900,000 ballots per day. At that rate, the NPO can be expected to complete the task a couple of days before the April 25 deadline, he said.

The Smartmatic-TIM warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, had configured 57,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines as of April 12.

According to Larrazabal, the machines will use especially encrypted compact flash cards, which are configured to the specifications of one precinct.

Flores said the company will carefully monitor the delivery of the ballot packs, ballot boxes and PCOS machines to about 76,000 precincts nationwide.

All these materials and equipment will be bar-coded and Smartmatic-TIM personnel in the areas will periodically send reports to Manila about their status, he said.

The voting machines and the ballot box will be arriving in the municipalities from seven to three days before the elections for the testing and sealing.

The schedule will ensure that the precinct centers will have working PCOS machines on May 10.

To be expected

“It’s not as if we’re going to turn on the machines on Election Day. We have delivered more than 300,000 machines in the past and we never had any misdeliveries,” Flores said.

If we have to replace machines, we can replace them, he said.

He said the company expects some machines will not work and will be replaced on Election Day, but this is to be expected in a project of this size.

“Ninety-eight percent plus of the results will be electronic. I don’t think some of the 2 percent of the precincts will go manual,” he said.

He said Smartmatic has trained more than the required number of technicians to help the BEIs in the polling centers and in their call center.

Satellite transmission

The company has also purchased 5,500 Broadband Global Area Network transmission equipment and 680 Very Small Aperture Terminals for precincts where the mobile network connection is unstable. Satellite transmission equipment will be used in case transmission by Global Packet Radio Service (GPRS) fails.

According to the company’s map of the Philippines’ telecommunication system, about 37 percent of the country does not have reliable mobile network signal.

On Election Day, 41,899 PCOS technicians and 4,981 supervisors will be deployed in all polling precincts, while 1, 926 technicians will be sent to the canvassing centers. The company has hired 562 agents and 55 supervisors for their call center in Ortigas.

Seen from afar

Peter Wallace
Manila Standard

My wife and I are celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary by traveling to much of Australia, seeing places we’ve never been to. It’s a wonderful experience. Some interesting insights—about the Philippines—are also coming out of this trip.

The first is: “Where’s the Philippines?” Everywhere we went, there was news on Asia, ads on touring into Asia, travelogues on visiting Asia and reports on countries in Asia. Thailand was understandably high in the news with the riots and political unrest going on there, but still it ranked high in tourist destinations for Aussies to go to. The Philippines was not listed, which is no fault of Secretary Ace Durano who has done an imaginative job at promoting the Philippines. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough budget to effectively compete, and the general image of the Philippines is just too negative to overcome by just a tourism promotions program. The country, unsurprisingly, lags behind its neighbors in terms of foreign tourist arrivals. Only a little over 3 million visited the Philippines in 2008 (assuming that figure isn’t bloated by hordes of returning migrant workers or balikbayans). Thailand got an estimated 14 million that year, Indonesia attracted 6.3 million, Vietnam, 4.3 million.

Next was how clean everything was. It costs next to nothing to put rubbish in bins and sweep streets. Generating a public consciousness and concern for a clean environment can be done. We can keep our homes clean, why not our communities?

Then there was the vibrancy, the air of confidence of success that permeated. It was a country whose people had weathered the world’s economic storm and come out ahead. A principal reason in some of the places we visited, such as Perth and Darwin, was mining.

Some 54 percent of Australia’s exports are mined products. It accounts for 11 percent of GDP and employs 133,200 people directly and about 300,000 more indirectly in support of the mines.

And for the bleeding-heart environmentalists, we toured Kakadu. It covers 200,000 square kilometers of virgin forests, unspoilt rivers and billabongs and fully protected wildlife, which form a unique biodiversity. The aboriginals, whose country it was, are nurtured and supported by a wide range of government services that give them a livelihood whilst fostering retention of their culture.

In this magnificent wilderness, there are two things: smooth and wide roads that provide ease of driving. These roads couldn’t possibly be justified commercially. We would go 10 or even 15 minutes without seeing a single car in the opposite direction. We were alone yet it was a perfectly paved road. The second was that in the middle of this wilderness, there was a mine. It was an open-cut magnetite mine where one pit had been quarried out and was now the tailings dam for the second open pit. It was all fully contained and to be reverted back to its natural environment when mining was completed. It was bringing great wealth to a community that before had nothing.

Tourism was an equal draw card. Resort hotels that nestled into the trees. No high-rise monstrosities here. One delightful one was the Gagudju Crocodile Inn, which was in the shape of a green crocodile when seen from the air. A delightful bit of architectural imagination at work.

Here we were in the middle of nowhere (believe me, the middle of Australia is as bleak as it gets) yet tourism is thriving. It was an overnight trip on a train (but what a train), then a three-hour drive through the desert to get to a rock called Uluru (but what a rock, the world’s second biggest rock).

Organized tours had fully (and I mean fully) educated guides who knew the area, the flora, the fauna and the history. They made it a fascinating, learning experience. They obviously loved their job and were truly dedicated to it.

Cars were for rent and tour buses could be hired. Planes and helicopters provided a magnificent overview. Boats could be taken to almost touch a crocodile and film the over 290 bird species.

The Philippines is not short of attractions. Its exotic resorts are hard to rival. We have magnificent beaches, the Rice Terraces that used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Bohol’s chocolate hills and tarsier, Palawan’s underground river and many others. The country is also listed for its biodiversity, which has yet to be conserved or managed.

The Philippines has the potential to be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable countries in the world. Filipino friendliness and hospitality is legendary.

The Philippines has the potential to be a rich country without any poor from two sectors that provably elsewhere have brought wealth to a nation’s people—tourism and mining. Two sectors that generate wealth, that create jobs where it is needed—in the countryside. About three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas. That’s where we need the jobs.

Mining and tourism can help do it.

Local IT and IT-Enabled Service Industry Remains Resilient in 2007-2008

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

The Philippine IT and IT-enabled service industry remained resilient amidst the global financial crisis, as shown by the results of the 2007-2008 BSP Survey on the industry. The total revenue of the industry was estimated at US$6.3 billion in 2008, higher than the reported US$4.4 billion revenue in 2007. The industry continued to grow at a rapid double-digit rate (44.8 percent), although this was slightly lower than the 50.3 percent growth in 2007. Among the IT-enabled service categories, the “other BPOs” posted the highest growth in revenue in both 2008 (73.2 percent) and 2007 (66.0 percent), indicating that the local outsourcing industry has shifted towards more value-added chain activities.1

IT-enabled services exports rose by 51.5 percent to reach US$5.3 billion in 2008, from the 2007 level of US$3.5 billion. Export earnings comprised about four-fifths of total industry revenues in 2008 and 2007. All sub-sectors reported that more than 70.0 percent of their revenues were sourced from exports, with the animation sub-sector having the highest export-to-revenue ratio of 95.8 percent in 2008.

Total equity investments in the industry amounted to US$2.0 billion as of end-2008, of which US$1.8 billion or 93.3 percent represented foreign equity participation.

Employment in the IT and IT-enabled services industry reached 355,135 persons in 2008, higher by 30.8 percent than the 271,556 employment level in 2007. Total compensation paid by the industry was recorded at US$2.8 billion in 2008, up by 29.7 percent from the level of US$2.1 billion in 2007. Average annual compensation per employee in the industry amounted to US$7,778 (or about P346,000) in 2008, slightly lower by 0.8 percent than the US$7,841 level in 2007.

The survey covered a total of 648 companies in 2008 from 624 in 2007. Survey results were based on an overall response rate of 59.9 percent and 55.0 percent in 2008 and 2007, respectively. Respondents included companies engaged in the operation of call centers, medical and legal transcription, animation, software development and other business process outsourcing (BPO) activities. These companies represented the different IT and IT-enabled Service Industry Associations as well as those registered with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)-attached agencies namely, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the Board of Investments (BOI).

1 The “other BPOs” category includes backroom operations, data processing, data base activities and online distribution of electronic content, and the more value-added chain activities—shared financial and accounting services, hardware consultancy and outsourcing for: (i) research and public opinion polling, (ii) business & management consultancy activities, and (iii) architectural and engineering services.

Comelec will not allow failure of elections

Ana Mae G. Roa and Gerard S. dela Peña

Despite the fears expressed by various groups of a possible failure of the first general automated polls in May, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has made assurances that it will not permit a failure of elections scenario.

"Admittedly, people will be wary. What we do is we’re being open as possible and we’re keeping everybody informed...We simply won’t allow failure of elections to happen to favor anyone," said Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Y. Larrazabal in a briefing yesterday.

In a related development, Executive Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said the Comelec, poll technology provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp., the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP have agreed to coordinate in providing security for the polling machines during the May 10 elections.

"The Comelec has security requirements which cannot be handled by the AFP and the PNP. They do not have those kinds of resources and manpower. So there was an agreement on the utilization of human resources [during their command conference on Thursday]," Mr. Mendoza told reporters on Friday at the sidelines of arrival honors for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after her trip to the United States of America and Spain.

"Smartmatic has ’built-in’ security’ [as per agreement with Comelec] so it’s actually just a matter of coordination," he added.

Security measures being undertaken should allay concerns on the probability that there will be massive cheating during the elections, he said.

"We are doing everything to make the elections very credible. The last thing that we should have is a failure of elections," he said.

Multinational firm Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA) on Thursday released a report detailing 14 risks and vulnerabilites that could pose problems or completely derail the upcoming elections.

The PSA report, titled "Assessing 2010 Elections Automation in the Philippines," said that there is widespread suspicion that President Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo "will somehow capitalize on automated elections problems or failure to advance her and her family’s interests and perpetuate herself in power."

A group of IT professionals earlier asked the Comelec to conduct a parallel full manual count for the positions of president, vice-president and mayor to maintain the credibility of the elections.

Among the risks and vulnerabilities cited by PSA are: a restricted source code review; undetermined plan to secure the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines; PCOS machines, servers, printers, power generators, memory cards and batteries have not been fully tested; only 70% of the polling centers have cellular or broadband signals for transmission of voting results.

Further, it added that the printing of ballots has been drastically delayed and the transportation and housing of machines is unclear.

The PSA also said that the teachers who will serve as the board of election inspectors have not been trained sufficiently, the voters’ list has not been cleansed thoroughly, and voters have not been sufficiently informed of their new precinct assignments.

Mr. Larrazabal, however, said that all the machines have been tested at the warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, and will further be audited during testing and sealing three days prior the elections.

With regard to the source code review, he said that the Comelec has issued guidelines for it but different civic and political parties did not agree with procedure.

"What if on election day, the whole Philippines [would suffer a] black out? The PCOS will work because it has a 16-hour battery...Not all areas in the Philippines have mobile network coverage, [but there’s] satellite transmission to transmit data... There are back-up plans," Mr. Larrabal said.

He added that the teachers have undergone training and were certified by the Department of Science and Technology.

On the voters’ list, Mr. Larrazabal said the full commission has ordered election officers to manually cross out the voters with multiple registrations.

Meanwhile, Comelec spokesperson James Arthur B. Jimenez, said precinct results will be uploaded to the election results website after a polling precinct closes.

However, it will take at least 48 hours after the voting before the consolidated report of votes for presidents, vice-presidents, senators, congressmen and other local positions, however, would be available.

The results will be put on a secured website and its URL (uniform resource locator) address will be announced three days before the elections, he added.

January-February 2010 OF Remittances Reach US$2.8 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks posted a year-on-year growth of 7.1 percent to reach US$1.4 billion in February 2010. As a result, total remittances for the first two months of the year totaled US$2.8 billion, representing a growth of 7.8 percent, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today. Remittances from sea-based and land-based workers for the two-month period registered increases of 13.4 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

The strong remittance flows during the two-month period were shored up mainly by the continued strong demand for professional and skilled Filipino overseas workers as global employment opportunities remained favorable, combined with the wider access to expanded money transfer services by OFs and their beneficiaries. These factors support the optimistic outlook for the sustained growth in remittances throughout the year.

Data obtained from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated that the total number of deployed overseas workers for the full year 2009 posted a year-on-year growth of 15.1 percent to 1,422,586 from 1,236,013 in 2008. Of the total deployed overseas workers in 2009, more than three-fourths were land-based, of which about 68 percent were rehired workers. The number of rehired workers, which aggregated 742,447, rose by 24.3 percent as a result primarily of the government’s job generation and facilitation programs to help displaced overseas workers find alternative jobs in emerging markets and in countries that are not severely affected by the global financial meltdown.

Meanwhile, with the stronger presence of bank and non-bank remittance service providers worldwide, the OF workers and their beneficiaries can expect fast and cost-effective money transfer services as well as other financial products that complement their saving and investment needs.

For the period January-February 2010, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, U.K., Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Italy. Remittances from these countries accounted for the bulk (about 82 percent) of the total inflows reported by local banks.

Ayala Corp. plans record P70-billion expansion

Manila Bulletin

Ayala Corporation, the country’s top conglomerate, is planning to raise its capital expenditures this year by 39 percent to a record P70 billion to fund the expansion of existing businesses as well as explore new growth areas such as power and infrastructure.

In the firm’s annual stockholders’ meeting Friday, Ayala Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said the capex of the group companies is the highest on record for the conglomerate.

The group’s capital expenditure plan spans investments across the real estate, telecommunications, and water utilities sectors. “We see room for growth moving forward as our businesses expand into new markets and geographies,” Zobel said.

“It is part of our long-term growth strategy to find innovative and creative ways of serving the needs of a much larger segment of our population. We are increasingly aligning our business models across the group to be responsive and relevant to our commitment to provide sustainable growth and development to a broader and more diverse community,” said Zobel.

The firm’s huge capex will be funded partly by its P30 billion cash hoard as well as by proceeds from the issuance of bonds and voting preferred shares.

Ayala shareholders approved Friday an amendment to the firm’s Articles of Incorporation creating voting preferred shares which would allow greater foreign ownership of Ayala’s common shares and further enhance liquidity.

The firm explained that its current foreign ownership level is already near the 60 percent cap and it will thus have to sell preferred shares to foreign investors to remain a Filipino corporation and not affect its investments in companies that have to be majority owned by Filipinos.

The amendment included a provision which gives Ayala flexibility to issue shares in exchange for property, such as shares of other companies, and enable the company to act quickly to value-accretive investment opportunities. “We are optimistic about this year as the economy continues to show positive signs of recovery. Ayala continues to explore new investment opportunities and platforms to enhance value creation for our shareholders,” said Ayala president Fernando Zobel de Ayala.

Benpres quadruples 2009 profit to P11.9 billion

Manila Bulletin

Benpres Holdings Corporation reported a net income attributable to parent quadrupled to P11.9 billion in 2009, compared to P2.9 billion in 2008 on the back of huge one-time gains.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, the firm said the increase is due to the recorded P7.5 billion net gain from buying back an aggregate of $287 million in debt from certain creditors of Benpres in 2009.

The buyback led to the reversal of accrued interest and financing charges, and lower debt levels resulted in lower finance costs (-15 percent) year-on-year and higher interest income (+93 percent).

Benpres also recorded P4.2 billion as equity in net earnings of associates, primarily due to the sale by associate First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPHC) of a 20 percent stake in the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) in July 2009.

“The invigorated position of Benpres augurs well for the growth strategies of our major investees. FPHC is focused on the development of clean and renewable energy through its subsidiaries, and ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation will pursue global expansion,” Benpres president Angel S. Ong.
Benpres received a total of P823 million dividends in 2009 from investees ABS-CBN, FPHC and Rockwell Land Corporation (Rockwell Land).

In August 2009, Benpres sold its stake in Rockwell Land and shares of Digitel, which were part of its portfolio in 2008.

While in 2008, it received a total of P945 million dividends from investees ABS-CBN, First Philippine Infrastructure Development Corporation (FPIDC)/First Philippine Infrastructure, Inc. (FPII), and Rockwell Land.

Benpres posted consolidated revenues of P24.85 billion in 2009, 11 percent more than 2008 consolidated revenues of P22.31 billion.

Gain on sale of investments decreased by 15 percent to P277 million on the sale in 2009 of company’s stakes in Rockwell Land and Digitel. This compares with a gain on sale of P3.34 billion from the sale in 2008 of its interests in First Philippine Infrastructure Development Corporation and Professional Services, Inc. (The Medical City).

Arroyo not wicked to spoil automated polls – Planas

Manila Bulletin

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not that wicked to deliberately spoil the highly anticipated national and local elections and deprive Filipinos of their right to vote, according to a Palace official.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Charito Planas on Friday insisted that the government rallies behind clean and credible elections this May as she called on the public to work for its success rather than worry about its supposed collapse.

Planas likewise urged the Filipino nation not to be easily swayed by gloomy scenarios about the upcoming elections raised by some local and foreign groups, saying Filipinos should be “masters in our own country” and take charge of their fate.

“Failure of elections is impossible,” Planas told reporters in the Palace, citing the electoral process has started with the registration of voters and filing of certificate of candidacies for 35,000 positions up for grabs.

Planas said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has also readied contingency measures in case of glitches in the country’s first automated elections, including preparations for standby power for poll machines. The government, she added, supports partial manual counting of votes if some of the poll machines malfunction next month.

“We should not be too negative. Is the President that bad (to derail the elections)? As you can see, she is a working President, an icon of infrastructure. When there is a problem, she finds a solution. So let's change this negative attitude. Let us look forward to successful elections that will take place and a new president will be elected and all new other sets of officers will be elected,” she said.

A former US State Department official, W. Scott Thompson, reportedly claimed the Obama administration is monitoring the upcoming elections in the Philippines amid concerns the democratic exercise may be tainted or disrupted. Another foreign risk assessment firm also reportedly issued a report warning about the signs of imminent failure of elections in the country next month.

Planas said they respect the concerns raised by these foreign groups but asserted that Filipinos know better the situation. “They are free to make a statement but we are our own masters in our country and we determine our own fate while we work as a family of the world nations, we also have our own,” she said.

Planas said the future of Smartmatic Corp, winning bidder of the poll automation project, is at stake if the country’s elections go wrong. ”If the automated elections fail, their business is over. They have to make it good and it has to succeed,” she said.

On concerns raised by Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III that Basilan attacks was part of a government’s plot to cheat in the polls, Planas dismissed such speculation. She said presidential candidates who raise the irresponsible specter of failed elections do not deserve the vote of the people.

Planas also lamented that opposition groups have grown a habit to blame President Arroyo for the country’s problems including those that haven’t happened yet. ”Let’s stop all these. This kind of attacks come from a person who does not use his brain,” he said.

Noli cites RP’s big potential

Roy Mabasa
Manila Bulletin

There is money in retirees who are looking for places where they can stay.

This was stated by Vice President Manuel “Noli” De Castro as he expressly pointed out that there is a big potential in the country especially if we can have retirees of other nations to choose the Philippines as their place of retirement.

De Castro, speaking before delegates to the Real Estate Festival 2010, said that there is an urgent need for the real estate sector to push harder in promoting the real estate and tourism in the country as he cited a global trend that can help sustain the growth of these two sunrise industries.

“A boom in tourism will bring a lot of opportunities for the real estate industry and that is why we have to be prepared,” De Castro noted.

De Casto pointed out that the Philippines has plenty of beautiful places that only need to be supported with the proper facilities such as hotels, serviced apartments, well-developed and well-planned leisure estates, health and wellness enclaves, entertainment hubs and many others.

However, De Castro admitted that while the government has successfully supported the housing sector through the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF) or Pag-IBIG Fund, fund for shelter remains insufficient. (Roy Mabasa)

Friday, 16 April 2010

‘Hot money’ inflow up 602% in 1st quarter

Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

NET INFLOW OF FOREIGN portfolio investments into the Philippines grew by 602 percent in the first quarter, reaching $384.75 million from $54.78 million in the same period last year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported Thursday.

Data from the BSP showed that the latest foreign portfolio investment inflows were a result of $1.66 billion in gross inflows and $1.27 billion in gross outflows.

In March alone, net inflows of “hot money” amounted to $76.04 million, up 138 percent from $32 million in the same month last year. The net inflows were a result of the $580 million in gross inflows and $504 million in gross outflows.

Monetary officials said the steep increase in hot money to the Philippines was an indication of foreign investors’ growing optimism toward the country and other emerging economies.

Capital market players said some of the hot money flowed into the country’s stock market.

The increase in hot money inflows, however, has resulted in the appreciation of the peso.

Monetary officials said that even if the peso were to strengthen, this would not necessarily affect Philippine-made goods.

The impact of the rise of the peso on the cost of Philippine exports is being tempered by low inflation, officials said.

Shipping, tourism industry players hats off to PGMA

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan, April 15 (PNA) – Players in shipping and tourism industries would surely give President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a positive rating should survey firms take time to seek their views, according to Caticlan Port Administrator Niven Maquirang,

"Unknown to many these two considered it a legacy of President Arroyo the establishment of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH). This project boosted the operation of the shipping industry consequently contributing to the growth of the tourism industry," said Maquirang.

The SRNH project was recommended by a Japanese firm after conducting a feasibility study.

Started in early 2000, the SRNH now has become a major and cheaper mode of transport of local tourism and transfer of goods in the country side.

To date, some 12 trips are made to Boracay Island daily. Also notable is the return of the Negros Navigation trip Caticlan-Manila.

Aside from the Negros Navigation, other vessel companies that also operating are the Montenegro Lines, Starlight Ferry and Super Shuttle Ferry.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) also attested that the SRNH has increased the number of domestic tourists visiting this resort island. (PNA)

BIR exceeds 1st quarter collection target

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has exceeded its collection target for the first quarter of the year by P14.6 billion or 9.27 percent.

BIR Commissioner Joel Tan-Torres said that from January to March, BIR’s income tax collection reached P172 billion, higher than its target of P157.7 billion.

“We are off to a good start. We have exceeded the collection target for the past three months of the year,” Tan-Torres said in a news conference in Malacañang this afternoon.

He attributed the feat to the continued support of the taxpayers and the efforts of the BIR in enhancing taxpayers’ service and enforcement and collection strategies.

The last time the BIR exceeded annual collection target was in 2003.

“If we continue this, it will benefit all of us. The deficit will be better managed. We would be able to borrow less. We’ll have more funds for developmental needs,” Tan-Torres said.

With the deadline of filing income tax set today (April 15), he reminded businessmen/entrepreneurs that they still have until midnight to file their income tax in BIR field offices. (PND)

Happy 83rd Birthday to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates his 83rd birthday today. Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger) was born on April 16, 1927 at Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany and was baptized on the same day as it was Holy Saturday and in Catholic tradition, children are baptized on Easter Vigil.

His father, Joseph Ratzinger Sr., was a police officer and belonged to a family of peasants while his mother, according to the Pope’s official biography, was the daughter of artisans from Rimsting on the shore of Lake Chiem, and before marrying she worked as a cook in a number of hotels. Joseph Ratzinger’s brother, Georg Ratzinger is a priest and was director of the Regensburger Domspatzen choir, a famous church choir in Germany, for quite a long time.

Ratzinger spent his youthful years in tumultuous times. In 1941, a few days after his 14th birthday, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth Movement. Because he was only coerced to join the movement, he refused to participate in the meetings and activities of the group. Later on as a seminarian, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps but a subsequent infirmity did not permit him from fulfilling his military duty.

Joseph and Georg Ratzinger were both ordained in Freising on June 29, 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Munich.

Ratzinger joined the academic community of the University of Bonn as a theology professor in 1959. During his stint as faculty, he was appointed advisor of the Archbishop of Munich. It was also during this time when he was summoned to be part of the historic Second Vatican Council. From then on, he has been known the world over as a brilliant theologian.

In 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and in 1981, he was summoned by Pope John Paul II to head the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. After the death of Pope John Paul II, he was elected by the College of Cardinals as the 265th Successor of Peter.

We wish His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI good health and God’s immense blessings on his birthday. May he steadfastly lead the Church worldwide as we face great challenges. Happy 83rd Birthday to our Holy Father!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cement sales grow 16.8% in Jan.-Feb.---14-year high

Highest in 14 years
Manila Bulletin

Sales of cement in the first two months this year soared 16.8 percent, highest in 14 years, and sustained the 15 percent growth in sales in the last quarter of 2009 on back of robust construction activities early this year especially the government’s huge infrastructure spending.

Ernesto M. Ordonez, president of the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CeMAP), said the growth translates to 2.5 million metric tons of cement sold in the January-February period this year.

With the strong performance, Ordonez said the industry has revised its sales growth projection for the entire year to between 3-6 percent from 3-4 percent in the same period last year.

Ordonez, however, said that the entire industry performance for the year would really depend on the outcome of the elections.

“If the elections go smoothly and the results are credible then the construction activities and infrastructure projects are expected to continue sustaining the robust industry growth,” he said.

The 15 percent growth in cement sales in the last quarter of 2009 was fueled by the rehabilitation works following the devastation caused by typhoons Ondoy and Peping.

The industry finished 2009 year with an 11.2 percent growth over 2008 for having sold 14.6 million MT of cement significantly surpassing CeMAP’s growth target of only 3 percent.

Where is the gold?

John Mangun
Outside the Box

Do you like conspiracy theories? Is The Da Vinci Code on your most-read list? Still wonder who killed President Kennedy?

Amid all the turmoil in the global financial markets these last two years, several “conspiracy theories” have come to the front. There is no question now that some major financial institutions in effect plotted to conceal the debt problems of Greece by hiding that country’s obligations through a series of transactions that masked the true extent of the Greek government borrowings.

There is no question that bankers knew the potential worthlessness of the subprime mortgages they packaged as respectable investments. Even the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concealed the extent and purpose of the multibillion-dollar bailout of AIG which protected the interests, not of the public, but of private banking firms that did business in the shadowy investment vehicles that AIG bought and sold.

Yet the longest-running conspiracy theory in the financial world and one that you are probably not aware of is, where is all the gold that banks and governments are supposed to be holding in their vaults?

Although the world’s currencies have not been backed by gold for three decades, all major governments have kept some currency credibility by the fact that they hold a substantial amount of physical gold in reserve. The most famous of these holdings is the United States government gold stored at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

It has been taken as an article of faith that this gold exists in physical form. However, there is little proof that governments and banks actually still have all the gold that they claim to possess.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) claims on its statement of assets that it is holding some $6 billion worth of gold. That may be true in an accounting sense, but it may not be true that the BSP is actually physically holding anywhere near that amount.

The US government says it is holding tens of billions of dollars worth of gold. That is possible but no one really knows. There has not been a physical audit of the gold supposedly stored in Fort Knox for nearly 50 years. It is possible that Fort Knox is not filled with shiny yellow gold, but with pieces of paper, receipts for that physical gold that has been loaned to another government or financial institution.

Institutions and individuals buy and hold physical gold. They often store it at companies called bullion banks vaults. When you store it, you are given a receipt saying you have a certain amount of gold on deposit. It works the same way for money deposited at a bank. The bank does not keep your physical money in their vaults but loans it to a third party that signs a promise to pay. The bank can do this because it is unlikely that all of its depositors would want cash at the same time. But if that ever happens, it is called a bank run and the bank can fail because there is not enough free cash to cover the deposits.

Further, a $100,000 cash deposit may be backed by a collateralized mortgage on a house now worth only $50,000. That is what has caused hundreds of bank failures in the US recently.

Because these bullion banks are not well-regulated, it is probable that they have sold or loaned the gold they are supposed to be holding. The latest potential scandal is with ScotiaMocatta, the only bullion bank in Canada. Witnesses who have seen their vaults report that there is very little physical gold inside. They have sold or loaned their depositors’ gold to someone else, and if all the people who theoretically have gold stored there want delivery, there will be a failure.

Financial giant Morgan Stanley was sued and settled the lawsuit for selling clients gold they did not have. Morgan bought the receipts—which are promises to pay—from others to back the claims for the physical gold that their clients purchased. There was no physical gold.

It is likely that many countries (hopefully not the Philippines) have loaned their gold to companies like Morgan Stanley and that many of those government bank vaults are empty, holding only paper receipts.

I am not saying it has happened, but this could be the reality. Say for a moment that the BSP loaned out its gold when the price was $500 per ounce. The borrower sold the physical gold at that $500 price, hoping they could buy it back at $400 to make a profit and then repay the BSP with physical gold. Now that the price is $1,000, the borrower of gold from the BSP cannot afford to buy back.

So the question that is being asked about and to the world’s central banks is: Do you still have the physical gold in storage or are you holding receipts and promises to pay that are potentially worthless?

I want to think that the BSP is holding physical gold because I sincerely believe that the BSP is well-managed by professional and financially prudent executives. Yet when looking at the BSP financial statement and their press
releases, there is no firm confirmation that physical gold is being held in the government’s vaults. The BSP simply includes “gold” as part of its total gross international reserve assets. But the BSP could be valuing the receipts for the physical gold that it has loaned out, not physical gold holdings.

If that is the case, then that $6 billion of gold is not gold but a paper asset which has unknown value, that the Philippines may or may not get back in the future.

I hope I am wrong about this.

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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Tan property firm, Ayala Land unit in Laguna joint venture

N. J. C. Morales

ETON Properties Philippines, Inc., the listed property firm of the Lucio Tan group of companies and the new low-cost housing arm of Ayala Land Corp. have formed a joint venture for a project in Calamba, Laguna.

Announcing the newfound alliance between the Tan and Ayala conglomerates, Eton Properties said in a disclosure: “A memorandum of understanding has been executed by and between Eton Properties and Amaia Land Corp.”

Under the deal, Eton Properties will allow Amaia Land to develop parcels of land in Calamba, covering four hectares. Affiliate firms of the Lucio Tan group own the land.

“Amaia proposes to develop [the property] under a joint venture arrangement as part of its residential subdivision project called ‘Amaia Scapes Laguna,’” Eton Properties said.

Eton Properties, the real estate unit of airline, tobacco, alcohol and banking magnate Mr. Tan, reported a sharp turnaround in finances in 2009. It posted a net income of P294 million last year from a net loss of P130.7 million the previous year.

Ayala Land’s economic housing unit Amaia Land, launched last month, is being groomed to become the biggest residential brand of the Ayala conglomerate in five years.

Ayala Land will spend P1.08 billion for Amaia Land within three years.

The first Amaia project, the 20-hectare, 1,828-unit Amaia Scapes in the city of Calamba, is expected to generate sales of P1.6 billion in four-and-a-half years.

“Eton Properties will be the development manager of the property representing the land owners,” the Tan-led company said in the disclosure.

The joint venture partners will start implementing the agreement within the next six months, the firm added.

The Amaia Land Web site describes the project’s location, which is approximately 2 kilometers (km.) from the Batino exit of South Luzon Expressway and 3.5 kms. from the city center, as “close ... to a number of major industrial parks.”

House-and-lot units will sell for P600,000 to P1.25 million each, with lot sizes of up to 75 square meters. The target market is families earning up to P50,000 a month.

The Ayala Land unit is planning six more projects in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan and Pampanga to put up a total of 12,000 units, competing head-on with the likes of DMCI Homes, Inc., Vista Land and Lifescapes, Inc., and PHINMA Property Holdings Corp.

The market is huge as there is an estimated shortage of 3.8 million housing units in the Philippines, primarily in the socialized and low-cost categories.

Shares in Eton Properties yesterday dipped to P3.75 each from P3.90 on Monday. Shares in Ayala Land, which recorded a 16% drop in net income to P4 billion last year, shed P0.25 to close at P14.00 apiece yesterday.

Ayala Land is operating under three major brands -- Ayala Land Premier for the high-end segment, Alveo Land for the middle-income segment, and Avida Land for the “affordable” market. Amaia Land is being marketed as a sub-brand of Avida Land.

For this year, the entire Ayala Land group is looking to launch 9,200 residential units in the market, more than triple the 3,000 launched last year.

Eton Properties, meanwhile, will launch eight new projects -- four residential, three commercial and one office project -- this year.

RP export recovery continues

D. A. B. Nepomuceno

PHILIPPINE MERCHANDISE exports surged 42.3% in February from a year ago to record their fourth consecutive month of growth since November 2009, as demand from key foreign markets continued to strengthen, the government reported yesterday.

The data prompted the country’s main exporter chamber and the group of semiconductor and electronics firms to consider upgrading their growth projections for the year.
Some $3.57 billion worth of goods were shipped out of the country, a hefty improvement from the $2.51 billion recorded during the same period last year, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).

Japan remained the largest export market for the second straight month in February, with shipments accounting for 17.6% of total exports and rising 55.4%. The US and Singapore, meanwhile, ranked second and third in terms of being the largest export destinations, while demand from other key markets also got a lift.

On a month-on-month basis, however, exports contracted slightly by 0.4%, leading one private sector economist to caution against euphoria. Industry players and government planners, however, remained upbeat.

"The February figure is reflective of global economic recovery," acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto B. Santos said in a text message.

"It (February figure) is consistent with the uptrend in global market demand," Dennis M. Arroyo, National Economic and Development Authority director for national policy and planning, said in a phone interview.

Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport), said the results topped industry expectations. "That is a happy surprise, I thought we’ll be seeing 30% growth only in February," he said.

Mr. Ortiz-Luis pointed out that the double-digit growth in February, which followed January’s 42.5%, "points to the fact that demand in global market is really back."

Higher projections

The weaker month-on-month numbers were not an indication that exports could still contract, he added.

Electronics, which accounted for 58.1% of total exports in February at $2.07 billion, sustained double-digit gains at 53.4%, a turnaround from the 45% contraction recorded a year ago.

Month on month, electronics rose 1.9%, though slower than January’s monthly gain of 8.1%.

"Demand for electronic products is strongerI think that the sector will have a good year this year," Arthur J. Young, Jr., chairman of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI) said.

Mr. Young added that an upward revision to the industry’s current 15%-20% full-year growth forecast is likely.

The export sector’s sustained growth might also prompt Phil-export to recast its first-quarter and full-year growth projections, Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.

"For the first quarter, we are just looking at 20%-25% growth. However, stronger exports were recorded for the first two months and our forecast for the first quarter could be doubled," the industry official said.

"For the full year, I am now looking at 15%-20% growth in merchandise exports," Mr. Ortiz-Luis added, even as he clarifed that this was his personal view.

But Cid L. Terosa, an economist of the University of Asia and the Pacific, warned that global economic rebound is not yet in full swing. "The export sector needs to be cautious since the world economy has not fully recovered. Also, foreign exchange rate movements or the strengthening of the peso could upset the sustainability of recent gains in exports," he said.

The peso yesterday strengthened even further, closing at P44.675 to the US dollar from P44.740 last Monday, and averaging P44.729 from P44.746.

RP’s language diversity attracts BPO firms

Manila Bulletin

It’s not just mastery of the English language, but language diversity among Filipinos to speak Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, French, and German has prompted Bosch Group, a German-owned global industrial firm, to set up its 500,000-Euro Asia -Pacific communications hub here.

The choice of location for its high-end IT help desk in Bonifacio Global City was narrowed down to three – Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur – from 16 locations, but Manila won hands down because of the linguistic diversity, strong BPO infrastructure and cost friendliness, said Kaycee Crisostomo, communications manager of Robert Bosch Inc. (Philippines), told reporters during a press conference for the newly established Robert Bosch Communications Center Inc. (RBCCI).

The Philippines would be its 16th location worldwide and its fourth IT help desk project globally. RBCCI would serve as the technical support center initially catering for the internal Bosch Group’s needs. Eventually, RBCCI will cater to external clients in the Asia Pacific region.

This global project has already been implemented in the European and American markets by teams in Berlin, Buenos Aires and Timisoara, Romania.

Aside from English-speaking agents, the 200 agents of RBCCI would include Mandarin, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French and German speakers.

“We don’t have a problem hiring agents who can speak other Asian and European languages, except for Mandarin speaking,” said Crisostomo noting that they are importing a few Mandarin agents from China in the meantime. “Most of the Chinese here speak other Chinese dialects and those that speak the Mandarin language are not so keen on having a career in the BPO industry, so it is a challenge,” Cristomo said.

But, the Philippines has also a good pool of Korean, Japanese, French and German-speaking people.

Also as the world’s third largest English-speaking country, there are 10.5 million English-speaking Filipinos in Metro Manila alone compared to 4.5 million in Kuala Lumpur and 1.7 million in Bangkok .

RBCCI is now serving the ASEAN region and Australian and by July would be serving the Japanese market already.

Globe posts 11% rise in profit to P12.6 billion

Manila Bulletin

Despite the weaker economy and intense competition in the telecom industry, Globe netted P12.6 billion earnings, up 11 percent from 2008 from non-recurring gains and lower taxes, the company announced in Tuesday’s annual stockholders” meeting. Consolidated service revenues was at P62.4 billion compared to previous year’s P62.9 billion. Mobile service revenues declined by 4 percent year on year, while broadband and fixed line data revenues grew 74 percent and 23 percent , respectively.

Although the mobile industry slowed down sharply in 2009, with industry revenues rising just one per cent versus almost 6 percent growth in 2008, the broadband industry continued to grow. Broadband subscribers increased threefold at 2.5 million.

Globe’s broadband and corporate data business sustained its rate of double-digit growth, cushioning the impact of the soft performance in the mobile business. Broadband revenues rose 74 percent to close the year at P3.3 billion from P1.9 billion in 2009.

The company’s Return on Equity (ROE) reached a record high of 26 percent, marking the fourth consecutive year the telco achieved ROEs in excess of 20 percent. Globe paid out a total of P15 Billion in cash dividends last year, giving its shareholders a highly competitive dividend yield of 14 percent.

Globe even outperformed the broader MSCI Asia Pacific Telecom Index composed of 32 telecom stocks in the region. It racked up a 30.2 percent Total Shareholder Returns (TSR), ranking fourth in the list, with Taiwan Mobile ranking first, at 43 percent, followed by Japan’s Softbank Corp, with 35.4 percent and Telekomunikasi Indonesia, with 33.9 percent. The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) was 27.3 percent.

For 2010, the company expects competition in the industry will remain intense. Price and earnings pressure will remain as the mobile industry growth slackens and given subscribers increasing preference for value offers.

Meanwhile, Globe expects the broadband market to continue growing at a robust pace with the increasing affordability of PCs and laptops and the wider availability of prepaid broadband services across the country.

Globe declared it will sustain its efforts to gain share of spend and improve its market position its market position in the mobile segment. The company will remain focused on improving customer service, enhancing network quality, introducing game-changing product offers and maintaining a pervasive distributive network.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

‘7 big winners’ to raise $75B investments for RP

By Daxim Lucas, Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--The Philippines stands to reap its biggest investment windfall in recent history should policymakers choose to focus resources on developing over the next decade seven industries where the country is globally competitive.

According to the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC)—a loose umbrella organization of several Philippine-based foreign chambers of commerce—these “seven big winners” are agribusiness; business process outsourcing; creative industries; infrastructure; manufacturing and logistics; mining, and tourism, medical travel and retirement.

Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce president John Casey predicted that as much as $75 billion in foreign direct investments would flow into these industries from the 2010-2020 period should the government and the private sector focus on developing these industries.

A total of ten million jobs would also be created by these investments, Casey said in a briefing in Makati City Monday.

Casey based his estimate on the fact that the Philippines usually received about one percent of the total foreign direct investments that flow into the Asia-Pacific region that averaged $200 billion on any given year, thus the $75-billion estimate for the next decade.

According to the JFC, the Philippines is located in a region of “very high economic growth” that is experiencing the highest growth rate in the world at present, as far as regional economies are concerned.

In fact, thanks largely to China, the Asia-Pacific’s output, exports and employment have mostly returned to levels seen before the global financial crisis, which began almost three years ago.

“Leading the global economy, real gross domestic product growth in developing Asia is poised to rise to 8.7 percent in 2010 after slowing to 8.5 percent in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009,” the JFC said, quoting a recent World Bank report.

It pointed out that in 2008, the World Bank identified 13 economies which had sustained growth rates of 7 percent or more in the post-World War 2 period, of which eight are in Asia.

OFWs can lead in domestic tourism

By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

MANILA, Philippines—Filipino overseas workers could constitute a significant part of the booming domestic tourism that has been given a big boost by improved infrastructures in the Philippine countryside.

There must be a more concerted effort to sell the Philippines as a tourism delight to our very own OFWs. This article is meant to do just that.

Square meter by square meter, there are many more attractions for foreign tourists in the Philippines than in our neighboring countries like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. With more than 7,100 islands, there is an almost infinite number of sites for scuba diving, surfing, beach combing, bird watching, "finding Nemo," cliff hanging, dolphin sighting, jet skiing, etc., etc. Probably Indonesia, with 14,000 islands, is the only archipelago that can surpass the number of these tourist attractions.

Then, why are we so behind countries like Thailand and Malaysia in the number of foreign tourists that we attract every year? The main explanation I can give is the very same for our high poverty rate. We have criminally neglected countryside infrastructures, especially farm-to-market roads. Our beautiful sites have been hidden, except to a few local tourists, from the world because they are totally inaccessible. A glaring proof of this is that even our so-called "jewel," Boracay, is so difficult to reach.

Fortunately, in the last ten years or so, there has been a significant improvement in infrastructures in the countryside, the most notable of which is the so-called Philippine nautical highway. There are more and more destinations that are accessible to both foreign and domestic tourists, e.g. Coron in Palawan, Panglao in Bohol, Camarines Sur, Dumaguete, Siquijor, Camiguin, etc. There was a noticeable increase in domestic tourism in crisis-ridden 2009 that compensated for the smaller number of foreign tourists who visited the country. Domestic tourists are literally blazing the trail in discovering what I call the hidden paradises.

Well, let me tell you about one of them, the town of Bani in Western Pangasinan. I recently visited this small town of 45,000 individuals and could not believe what I saw. Name any tourist attraction found in other places of the Philippines and Bani has it: beaches with fine sand; corals (which can be seen even without goggles); scuba diving sites; dolphins; tuna; migratory and indigenous birds (Bani has been included among the major sites for bird-watching); caves; water falls; mountains for trekking and biking; abundant sea food; lush mangrove forest which is a marine protected area; and a version of Calvary Hill with 1,000-step "Via Crucis" leading to a gigantic Cross. As in all Philippine villages, Bani's most important assets are its ever-smiling and hospitable people.

I venture to predict that this hidden paradise will not remain hidden for too long. Thanks to improved infrastructures, it is being slowly discovered by domestic tourists. In 2008, for example, some 8,000 Catholic devotees trooped to the Pilgrimage Site on Tuesday of Holy Week as an act of penance and to enjoy the serene atmosphere that is very conducive to prayer. Thanks to a very dynamic mayor, who spends all his waking hours thinking of and implementing programs to improve the welfare of his constituents, Bani is surely going to be one of the greenest municipalities in the country. It already was awarded the prestigious Galing Pook prize from the Office of the President for its trailblazing program of coastal resource management. In the next three years, this small municipality will have three sources of sustainable energy: wind power, biomass, and a small dam for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

Part of the vision of Mayor Marcelo Navarro Jr. (a former PNP general) is to transform Bani also into an educational center. It is the first municipality to take advantage of the University of the Philippines' Open University system. There are plans to put up a fisheries version of the Family Farm School system in which the children of small fishermen will be trained in more productive methods of fishing. The fishermen of Bani are especially lucky because, through a housing program of the local government, they are being relocated from their present dwellings which are precariously situated along the shore, to a higher area where a hundred Gawad Kalinga-type houses designed by famous Green Architect Miguel Guerrero III will constitute an Ecology Village that can become another tourist attraction of the municipality.

I do not exaggerate when I dream with Mayor Navarro and the other local leaders that in the next ten years, Bani can be a combination of Boracay, Anilao, and Punta Fuego in the amenities that it can provide to both domestic and foreign tourists. I won't be surprised if some selected foreigners will choose this municipality to spend their retirement years, as is already happening in places like Dumaguete and Camarines Sur. Together with my colleagues at the University of Asia and the Pacific, we will help Mayor Navarro and his community attract more attention from the foreign and domestic investment communities so that private capital can be poured into this hidden paradise. When that happens, Bani will not remain hidden for too long.

I hope that some of the OFWs who read this will decide to bring their families and friends to a hidden paradise like Bani. It is a four-hour car ride from Manila going through NLEX and SCTEX, heading towards Camiling, Tarlac and Alaminos, Pangasinan, where there are lodging and bed-and-breakfast facilities. Filipinos should be the first ones to benefit from the attractions of nature, culture and hospitable people of the Philippines.

For comments, my email address is

PCCI bullish on tax take

Elaine R. Alanguilan
Manila Standard

The business community is optimistic that a stronger economic growth will enable the Bureau of Internal Revenue to meet its full-year collection target of P830 billion, despite the impact of tax-eroding measures and losses from last year’s typhoons.

“We are confident the P830-billion collection target of the BIR for 2010 is achievable. The 20-percent growth in tax revenues in the first two months of the year would be sustained,” said Ambassador Francis Chua, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the sidelines of a dialogue between Internal Revenue and the business sector held Friday in Makati City.

He said PCCI, the largest business organization in the country, had committed to help disseminate the various programs of the tax to its 120 chapters nationwide, which include some of the country’s largest taxpayers.

“We have to support the government. More than just meeting its collection target for the year, the business community is also helping the government in its long-term goal of strengthening the BIR. All the BIR’s programs will be disseminated to our 120 chapters throughout the country,” said Chua, who is Malacañang’s special envoy to China for Trade and Investments.

He said the recovery in economic activity, fueled by the turnaround in global demand for Philippine products and services, should enable the tax agency to meet its collection hurdle for the year.

“For the longest time, government tax take has been growing. I think even with tax-eroding measures, the tax take would continue to improve because the overall improvement in the economy,” said Chua.

He said the exports sector had been doing well with shipments in January surging 42.5 percent year-on-year to $3.578 billion on strong global demand for Philippine electronics. It was the second month of strong double-digit growth and the highest jump since April 1995.

Data from the National Statistics Office showed shipments of electronics, which dominate exports and are largely assembled from imported parts, climbed 51.2 percent in January, the second double-digit jump in two years.

Chua, however, conceded that the manufacturing sector had not yet fully recovered from the crisis, which saw manufacturing output contracting for more than a year as a result of the global financial crisis.

“Some have already recovered although some sectors, like manufacturing, are still in poor condition. But business conditions have, of course, significantly improved from a year ago so we are still very optimistic,” said Chua.

Business Mirror Editorial: The half-empty glass and May 10

THE experience with the PCOS machines used for the weekend’s overseas voting among Filipinos in Hong Kong and Singapore, at first glance, seems to provide ample ammunition to doomsayers who this early have made up their minds that this May’s historic, first-ever nationwide poll automation will not work and that instead, there will be fraud, chaos and political instability.

One major newspaper made the fact of two PCOS machines malfunctioning as its headline, when the story written by its reporter, in fairness, clearly showed it was a problem for which a solution was found. More important, the reasons for the malfunction were found quickly, i.e., exposure to HK’s cold, humid weather temporarily affected two units. That a substitute was brought in for one of the malfunctioning units, and worked well, while the second supposedly faulty one worked after another trial, indicates that—as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has repeatedly asserted—the system has been set up in such a way that a quick response can be made to problems arising (expected in experiments like this) in the course of voting, counting and transmission.

Comelec’s private supplier of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) units, Smartmatic-TIM Corp., had a ready explanation for what happened in Hong Kong. (Though a similar exercise was held in Singapore at the weekend, no such incidents were reported). The room where the units were stored was “a little humid,” while the ballots were placed in an air-conditioned room to protect them from humid weather, and they “expanded” when taken out.

Is there a danger of this single incident happening on a large scale in the Philippines on May 10, when there will be little room for ghastly, massive malfunctions? According to Smarmatic Asia president Cesar Flores, the ballots in the Philippines are vacuum-sealed, to be opened only on May 10, so the risk of moisture getting in are erased. Unlike Hong Kong, the weather here is dry and hot.

Do the two malfunctioning PCOS units in HK presage, therefore, a scenario of—as doomsayers and poll-automation bashers keep repeating—anarchy and failure of elections? If the accounts in the mass media of the weekend voting by overseas Filipinos were any indication, it would be quite a stretch to say that will be the case. Here is a case where, as both Comelec and Smarmatic have kept saying to those who cared to listen, glitches may be expected but the system has been set up so that solutions can be quickly made and problems addressed as they arise. In short, like the proverbial half-empty or half-full glass, which one may describe either way, depending on his attitude.

This is not to say, though, that Comelec or Smartmatic can now relax. Far from it. The HK experience means they have to be ready with contingencies for every conceivable problem, and make sure remedies will work ASAP.

It may be useful to be reminded of the remarks of one of the poll-automation law’s authors and co-chairman of the congressional oversight panel on the May 10 automation, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. He said the country has taken a dramatic, crucial step in pursuing a revolutionary solution to the decades-old problems of cheating in manual elections, which it can’t keep doing at great peril to democracy. Having taken that decisive step, it can’t afford to sabotage this initiative by hypnotizing itself with the mantra that “it won’t work, we’ll never make it.” Problems aren’t being denied, but solutions are available, and only a fool would deliberately ignore them.

It’s great to be in the Philippines

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

There is so much chaos and turmoil in the world right now that again, I must say: It is great to be in the Philippines.

Over the weekend, the head of Poland’s government was chopped off by an airplane crash that killed the president, the head of Poland’s central bank, the top military officials, and scores of other important figures in the government.

Now that might seem like a tragic “natural” disaster. Yet, if Russia did not have a hand in that plane crash, then Russia is the luckiest nation on earth. Vladimir Putin ought to be spending all his money on lottery tickets. In the last few months, several pro-Western governments on Russia’s border have been replaced with leaders more favorable to the Russian Bear than to the American Eagle.

The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has deteriorated so badly and so quickly under Obama that US military deaths in Afghanistan have never been higher. Relations are so bad that Afghan President Karzai is threatening to join the other side, the Taliban.

Thailand continues weeks of fierce and deadly anti-government protests that show no sign of letup. The king has been asked to intervene, which he has not done. The military, although taking a hard-line stance, has been unable to stop the rioting and, for the first time in decades, seems unable to wield the traditional power that it has enjoyed.

The US continues its fall into the economic abyss despite all the propaganda about a recovery. Any news that you read about a recovery is pure nonsense. There is no recovery. It is only getting worse. Consumer and business loans are decreasing on a daily basis. Its biggest retailer Wal-Mart has seen the worst store sales numbers in its history during the last three moths. Any excess cash that Americans have are going to pay down debt. How bad is it in the US? Well, China just reported a trade deficit, the first in six years. China bought $7 billion more than they exported. Of course, this is likely to be a singular event and probably not going to happen too often in the future. However, that’s $7 billion of Chinese goods the Americans are not buying.

Europe has just agreed to give Greece €30 billion to keep that country from financial failure, noting that this is just the beginning of a multiyear bailout, the amount of which no one has any idea. And Europe has yet to address problems in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland.

Newspaper headlines in the Philippines talked about the new voting machines. And the biggest intellectual conversations right now in the Philippines center on the corruption factor of various presidential candidates and fake global warming/climate change.

I am often frustrated that the Philippines seems so insular at times, rarely focusing on what happens outside these 7,000 islands. But maybe that is a good thing. Business confidence is at a 14-year high based on the results of the last survey. I don’t think you could say that about businesspeople in the US, Thailand, Europe, Japan or anywhere else on the planet. Sure, countries like India are showing some confidence, but this is based on readings from a year ago. We are experiencing a 14-year high! It’s great to be in the Philippines.

Even the local gloom-and-doomers are keeping their heads down. The best the pessimists can come up with are worries about a failure, to some extent or other, of the elections. Actually, I like hearing worries about an election failure. We have been hearing the same thing about every Philippine election for the last 20 years and this kind of talk is good because it keeps the people (and the politicians) alert to make sure this does not happen. When you worry hard enough about something bad happening, it usually does not occur.

The most troublesome situation is the power shortage. Once again the government has ignored a problem that has been coming for the last 10 years. All the so-called stimulus money spent in 2009 should have been spent on new power generation. Right now, the greatest threat to the economy is lack of a reliable electricity supply. That better be the new president’s top priority on Day One of the next administration. But you know what? I am not that concerned for the short term. The nation and its businesses are much better equipped to handle a power problem for a year or so than we were 20 years ago. Yes, it will be inconvenient, but we will cope with it.

The best part of the being the Philippines is yet to come. I spend a lot of my time with the local stock market so it is hard for me not to be happy with the country. Since the Lunar New Year, it has been a one way market; up. And for a tiny little stock market like ours, that is a great big deal. By the end of 2010, everyone, especially stock-market investors, will agree with me about this country.

On a personal note, a happy 60th birthday to my friend Boo Chanco of the Philippine Star and the Lopez Group. And Boo, the best part of being 60 is not the discount card for your medicines. It is being able to use the nearly empty “Senior Citizens Only” checkout line at Shopwise. Of course, I wouldn’t know. But I am jealous of those old guys who get to the cashier before I do.

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Vista Land launches low-rise projects


VISTA LAND and Lifescapes, Inc., the listed property holding firm led by presidential candidate Manuel B. Villar, Jr., has launched two low-rise condominium projects worth P1.855 billion.

The two new low-rise condominium units in Quezon City will add to the portfolio of “vertical homes” unit Vista Residences, the property developer said in a statement yesterday.

Higher demand in highly urbanized areas is expected to increase sales and profits of the company, said Benjamarie Therese N. Serrano, president and chief executive of Vista Land.

The P1.5-billion Pine Crest, which is composed of one 10-storey and two five-storey buildings, was launched last February.

It is located on an 8,000-square-meter site at the corner of Aurora Boulevard and Balete Drive in Quezon City’s New Manila district.

A separate building will be allotted for recreational facilities like a swimming pool, a gym, and game and function rooms, Vista Land said.

“Since the projects are low-density, delivery of completed buildings is faster. Unit owners benefit from early turnovers,” Ms. Serrano said.

Furthermore, the eight-storey Madison Place, which is ready for occupancy after its completion last December, has a project value of P355 million. It is located at the Mariposa Loop near Santolan Avenue.

Ms. Serrano said the project is ideal for entrepreneurs due to its proximity to Metro Manila’s business hubs.

Amenities include swimming pools for adults and children, a gym, and a game room.

“There is an upward trend in demand for condominium residences in highly urbanized Mega Manila, where land is scarce and lifestyle needs are changing,” Ms. Serrano said.

“This demand means more potential for revenue and profitability, as sales in the segment continue to grow,” she added.

The Villar-led Vista Land started constructing vertical homes three years ago. Vista Residences handles the marketing and sales of condominium housing projects, which were previously under the Brittany, CrownAsia and Camella brands.

Ms. Serrano boasted of Vista Land’s “decades of home building experience” and its ability to acquire land in strategic locations.

Vista Residences launched four other projects early this year: the Mosaic in Greenbelt, Avant at the Fort, the first tower of Laureano di Trevi on Chino Roces Avenue in Makati, and Crown Tower in Manila.

The WIL Tower and the first tower of Symphony, both in Quezon City, were launched in December and November, respectively.

Vista Land has allotted P10 billion to launch 30 projects this year. The new projects will bring Vista Land’s real estate portfolio to a total of 157 -- covering 19 provinces and 46 cities and municipalities nationwide.

The company had said it might venture into the commercial and retail segments this year.

In October last year, Vista Land acquired the 97% stake of Polar Property Holdings Corp. in subsidiary Polar Mines and Realty Ventures, Inc. and the latter’s accounts receivables for P702 million.

Ayala’s IMI opens sixth factory in China

E. N. J. David

AYALA-LED Integrated Micro-electronics, Inc. (IMI) has opened its sixth factory in China.

In a statement released to the Philippine Stock Exchange, the electronics firm said the new factory at Chengdu, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, aims to “bring IMI’s services closer” to its clients.

The plant at Xindu District’s Muwei Industrial Park was inaugurated last April 9.

“IMI’s expansion to Chengdu is part of our strategy to bring IMI’s services closer to original equipment manufacturers which increasingly require greater capacity in China to supply a large domestic market as well as to manufacture for export markets, said IMI Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala in the statement.

“We believe China will remain at the center of the global electronics manufacturing industry and will be a significant driver of the world economy as it regains its growth momentum. Having this strategic position in the region will allow us to capture a greater share of volume orders as demand turns in step with the economic cycle,” Mr. Zobel said.

Listed IMI manufactures electronics components for equipment manufacturers. It has three plants in Shenzen and one each in Jiaxing and Chongqing.

Arthur R. Tan, IMI president, said in the statement the company took into account the rising costs of manufacturing and labor supply shortages elsewhere in expanding into Chengdu.

“We were invited by one of our key customers to support their new plant in Chengdu. We also have customers based in Chengdu that are currently serviced by our plant in Chongqing, which is also located in southwestern China. With our new plant in Chengdu, we can offer to bring our expertise nearer to them. Southwestern China’s manufacturing costs are more competitive compared to those in the coastal cities. It also has the largest pool of migrant workers,” said Mr. Tan.

The 7,500-square-meter plant will handle printed circuit board assembly and full product assembly.

IMI posted a net income of $10 million last year, a turnaround from 2008’s $17-million loss. Revenues, however, dipped to $400 million in 2009 from $441 million in the previous year.

In February, IMI filed a notice of redundancy with the Department of Labor and Employment to lay off 405 workers after one of its clients has closed shop.

Shares in IMI closed at P12.25 apiece in yesterday’s trading, up by 2.1%.

More than skilled technicians

Manila Bulletin

There are more than 6,000 of them trained over the last 26 years by DUALTECH, the pioneer technical school in the Philippines that adapted the German Dual Training System to local conditions. They have come from some of the poorest families in the Metro Manila area, a good number of them having been out-of-school youth. Their specialized skills are in the electromechanical field and have been some of the most productive workers of such leading companies as Ayala Automotive Holdings Corporation, Lufthansa Technik Philippines, Inc., Nestlé Philippines, Samsung Electromechanics Phils., Ford Motor Company Philippines, Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc., Honda Cars Philippines, Inc., IBM Solutions Delivery Inc., Bayer Crop Science, Inc., Yamaha Motors, Philippines, Kraft Foods Philippines, United Laboratories, Inc., Panasonic Manufacturing Philippines Corporation and Swedish Match Phils.

Among the most impressive graduates of this model technical school (it inspired a law passed by Philippine Congress) are young technicians in their early 20s who work as aircraft mechanics maintaining the fleet of airplanes of some of the leading international airlines in the world. They have passed the most stringent requirements of German, Swiss, Japanese, and other managers famous for their passion for excellence because Dualtech does not only build the technical skills of its students. It also develops values and virtues through a system of mentoring unparalelled among TESDA schools in the country.

Dualtech has two campuses, one in Binondo and the other in Canlubang. In both campuses, Dualtech prepares students to be employed even before the end of the training program through "learning while doing." The Dual Training System, which originated in Germany and transferred to the Philippines with the help of the Hanns Seidel Foundation in the early 1980s, consists of two learning venues: school and industry. The training plan is jointly developed by Dualtech and partner companies. The course runs for 24 months. During the first stage, trainees study the basic of electrical, electronic, and mechanical technology. The second part of the course is the Dual Training System where the students spend five days a week working in a partner factory or company, and one day in Dualtech for continuing personal development. Factory managers in their partner companies literally swear to the effectiveness of the system in producing highly motivated, hardworking and honest workers.

Organized as a not-for-profit organization, Dualtech is making a contribution to eradicating poverty in the National Capital Region by catering to the children of families living in the depressed districts of the metropolitan area. At the same time, it helps to increase the productivity of many manufacturing enterprises, enabling Philippine industry to compete with other Asian countries. Thanks partly to Dualtech, Philippine manufacturing has not been totally wiped out by competition from China, Vietnam and other labor-surplus countries. It cultivates the following skills among Filipino youth: the basic skills of measuring, technical drawing, benchwork skills, basic electronics, basic electricity, materials basics, industrial safety, and computer literacy; the industrial skills of electrical wiring and machining; additional skills of industrial motors, digital electronics, basic automation, pumps and compressors and maintenance practice. But most important of all, in addition to these technical skills, the Dualtech graduate is steeped in virtues and values that make him contribute significantly to the mission of the organization to which he belongs.

The year 2009 was problematic for the school because of the big drop in the production of many of the export-oriented companies that employ its graduates. The Manila campus had to be closed since placement in the first quarter of 2009 dropped from 1,000 to 750. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that by mid-2009, Dualtech proved to be "ahead of the curve." Even before the strong recovery of the US market in the last quarter of 2009, demand for Dualtech graduates already started increasing. As an economist, I use the employment of Dualtech graduates as a leading indicator of economic activity in such major economies as the US and Japan. By the first quarter of 2010, the school is already experiencing a shortage of students that can be provided to the partner companies. The Binondo campus has already been reopened. Additional poor families will now be benefited as their teenage sons get an opportunity to be employed only after two years of the dual training at Dualtech.

Companies who are interested in partnering with Dualtech may contact Mr. Marvin Adolfo at 888-6426 or email Partnering with Dualtech not only addresses the need for highly qualified electromechanical workers but also contributes to addressing the problem of poverty in the Metro Manila area. For comments, my email address is

Manila Water eyeing 6 projects in India

Manila Bulletin

Manila Water Company Inc. (MWCI) is eyeing six water projects in India through a joint venture it recently signed with New Delhi-based steel pipe maker Jindal Water Infrastructure Limited (JWIL).

At the sidelines of MWC’s annual stockholders’ meeting Monday, MWC president Rene Almendras said they are currently in the process of pre-qualification for these prospective projects.

He said these include two concession type projects, two bulk water supply deals as well as two operating and maintenance agreements in three states they are targeting.

MWC said earlier that the firms will engage in water supply, wastewater and other environmental services in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra in India.

They will create a joint venture company which will carry out planning and development of the water projects under a pre-arranged budget.

“Through this partnership, Manila Water and JWIL seek to leverage on their key strengths and core competencies and eventually provide synergies in establishing a regional presence in India,” MWC said.

JWIL is part of the O P Jindal Group, one of India's largest business houses. It was formed as a service company to focus on designing sustainable and innovative solutions in water and wastewater management.

Meanwhile, MWC chairman Jaime Zobel de Ayala said the firm is investing P50 billion for the construction of at least 25 sewerage treatment plants under the “Three River Master Plan” which covers the Marikina, San Juan and Pasig rivers.

SMC takes majority of Caticlan airport

Manila Bulletin

San Miguel Holdings Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC), has executed a share sale purchase agreement to initially acquire a majority interest in Caticlan International Airport Development Corporation (CIADC).

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange Monday, SMC said the agreement was signed with the consortium of George T. Yang, Rafael P. Puno, Lino A. Barte, and RPRP Ventures Management and Development Corporation.

SMC has earlier disclosed that it was in talks with the consortium led by fastfood chain and property developer tycoon George Yang for the acquisition of up to a 51 percent equity interest in CIADC.

CIADC holds the exclusive rights, obligations and privileges to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the Caticlan Airport by virtue of the Concession Agreement with the government through the Department of Transportation and Communications and the Civil Aviation Authority.

SMC said closing of the Agreement is subject to certain conditions and an appropriate disclosure shall be made upon satisfaction of such conditions.

CIADC has a 25-year concession for the P2.5-billion Caticlan project the first privatization of an airport terminal in the Philippines.

The project also has a commercial component that entails the development of a 16-hectare property beside the airport. This peripheral project is estimated to cost P10 billion.

The upgrading involves the construction of a bigger airport passenger terminal, extension of the existing runway from 950 meters to 2,100 meters to accommodate bigger aircraft, improvement of the road network, and upgrading of airport facilities and air traffic control aids.

The proponents have also committed to build other support utilities, install fire-fighting equipment and construct a diversion road.

The project is based on a build-rehabilitate-operate-transfer agreement. CIADC has up to seven years to build and expand the airport and 25 years to operate the facilities.

All revenues will go to CIADC except for earnings from the operation and maintenance of navigation systems, which would go to the DoTC.

Once finished, CIADC expects fares to be more competitive for passengers since airlines can use aircraft with more seating capacity than the turbo-propellers that are mostly being used today.

A modernized Caticlan airport is also targeted to serve as an international gateway not only to Boracay but also to the rest of the Visayas.

Vietnam Pinoys cast their votes

It’s still manual voting for Pinoys in Vietnam
Manila Bulletin

HANOI – Filipinos working in Vietnam are eager to vote for a new set of government leaders in their home country even though they won't be able to sample the new poll machines, according to a Filipino diplomat.

Vice Consul Pamela Durian of the Philippine Embassy here said that manual voting has not dampened the spirit of registered Filipino voters as long as they are able to exercise their democratic right.

Votes of overseas Filipinos in Vietnam and other countries, except those in Hong Kong and Singapore, will be counted the old fashion way, by hand.

Of the 3,000 members of the Filipino “floating community” in Vietnam, around 852 are qualified overseas voters by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Most of these voters have already received their ballots by mail from the poll body and are expected to mail back or drop their accomplished forms at the embassy until May 10, Durian said.

"Most of them are very enthusiastic about voting. Many Filipinos were excited to receive their ballots. It’s good to see they are enthusiastic to exercise their right to vote probably because this is a presidential election," Durian said in an interview at the sidelines of the regional summit last week.

Durian explained that this year’s overseas absentee voting in Vietnam is "postal voting," wherein the completed ballots will be mailed or dropped at consular offices before the manual count on May 10.

In previous elections, she recalled that the embassy carried out the "personal" style of voting in which they had travel to Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) and other key cities to allow Filipino workers to vote.

Majority of Filipinos in Vietnam occupy high-level managerial positions in leading local and international companies, restaurants, hotels, food industry, and special infrastructure projects.

The estimated 3,000 Filipino workers in Vietnam, mostly engineers and construction consultants, bankers, hotel managers, teachers, are classified as temporary migrants.

Most of them are based in Ho Chi Minh City.

Durian said there is a "floating community" of Filipinos in Vietnam since most of them have three-month or six-month contracts subject to renewal of the companies.

She said Filipinos teaching English are also in demand due to the willingness of Vietnamese children to learn the language fluently. "They want to learn from the best, they want to learn from Filipino teachers,” she said.

From January to October 2009, the embassy has helped 70 Filipinos in distress. The cases ranged from detention for investigation related to alleged gambling and drug trafficking, labor concerns, illegal recruitment, and victims of snatching or lost passports.

As this developed, the Comelec expressed confidence on Monday that there will be no failure of elections saying it is even preparing 30 percent of the forms required for a manual count and canvassing.

“We don’t believe in failure of elections. It will not happen and we are preparing 30 percent of the paper requirement for manually conducted counting and canvassing,” James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, said.

He said if ever there will be a failure of elections this won’t be as widespread as some doomsayers are saying.

“We are confident that there will be no widespread failure of elections. If at all, we’ll have a failure of elections in small precincts much less than 5 percent possibly,” said Jimenez.

This, he said, may be due to reasons attributable to other things such as the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) not showing up, precincts being destroyed, imminent flood or fire, insurgent activity in the area…things of that nature,” he added.

Jimenez explained why they are preparing 30 percent of the paper requirement in terms of manually filled up forms. (with a report by Leslie Ann G. Aquino)