SUCCESS BRINGS JOY TO ONE AND ALL!!!
By Carla Gomez
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines—Teachers and watchers of political parties in Bacolod City were jubilant Saturday when the testing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines in their precincts turned out a success.
The testing of PCOS machines in almost all areas in Negros Occidental Saturday was also successful, said Provincial Election Supervisor Jessie Suarez.
Bacolod Election Officer Ryan Castro said he only received some minor complaints such as missing plugs for some machines or lack of materials, which were easily resolved.
Teachers and watchers in polling areas in Bacolod City heaved a collective sigh of relief when, after manually tallying test votes on about 10 ballots per precinct, the results matched with the PCOS results.
During the testing of the PCOS machines at the precincts, watchers of all political parties were asked to cast test votes on ballots that were then fed into the machines. After the machine results of all ballots cast were printed, the ballots were removed from the ballot box and the votes were counted manually and compared to the machine results.
Basilisa Kho, chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors of Cluster Precinct 42 at the Mabini Elementary School, said they hoped that, if the machines work as well as they did during the testing on election day, they would have the results out by 8 p.m. and ready for transmission to the City BEI for citywide tally.
In the past manual counts, she said, their work lasted until 6 a.m. the next day.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
SUCCESS BRINGS JOY TO ONE AND ALL!!!
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo inaugurated today the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) Training Center, the first and only training school for the Philippine judiciary, in Silang Crossing, Tagaytay City.
Construction of the PHILJA training center was funded by a P300- million grant from the Japanese government.
“We wanted a place conducive to study with adequate lodging and facilities for members of the Philippine judiciary,” said former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa.
“We are now seeing the realization of a dream of adequate facilities for the Philippine judicial academy. The inauguration of the training center symbolizes the modernization of the judiciary,” said PHILJA Chancellor Adolfo Azcuna, a retired Supreme Court justice.
Previously, PHILJA used to hold its training programs in the Ridge Convention Center situated in Barangay Silang, Cavite.
The inaugural event was one of the rare occasions the President was seen with former and incumbent members of the judiciary, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and former Chief Justices Narvasa and Artemio Panganiban.
Ambassador of Japan Makoto Katsura, Azcuna, founding Chancellor Justice Ameurfina Milencio Herrera, and Tagaytay City Mayor Abraham Tolentino were also on hand to welcome the President. (PND)
Ferdie G. Domingo
Aurora province has built an airport, seaport, roads and bridges valued at P5 billion over the past five years, according to Senator Edgardo Angara.
With these infrastructure projects in place, Aurora has become more accessible to investors and traders as the movement of people and cargo is made faster, Angara said.
Angara told a news briefing that the single-largest project consisted of 11 bridges along the P2.2-billion Baler-Casiguran Road. The quake-resistant bridges, built in record time by F.F. Cruz, has opened up northern Aurora where the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone is being developed.
Angara also cited the building of the P63-million, 212-meter seaport and the P157-million Casiguran airport. The seaport is equipped with facilities to handle roll-on, roll-off (Roro) vessels for shipside loading of goods to and from Kaoshiung, Taiwan.
The airport will house a 480-square meter apron, a taxiway, terminal building, administration building and related facilities. It can accommodate 80-seater planes, nearly double the 50 passengers projected by the Air transportation Office.
Cavacon Inc. said that the airport will connect the capital town of Casiguran to Manila via the Baler airport, to Isabela through the Cauayan and Palanan airports and to Cagayan Valley through the Tuguegarao airport.
Angara said that starting in July, another Ro-ro port will open to serve vessels plying the route from Dingalan.
Angara said the Ro-ro port plying the Dingalan-Casiguran route will spur inter-island agricultural trade and open up new investment opportunities for farm and fishery-based enterprises, trade and tourism and create new and bigger markets for these commodities.
VIEW TABLE HERE
Demand for money remained strong in March, with domestic liquidity posting a double-digit growth of 10.3 percent year-on-year compared to 9.9 percent in the previous month. On a monthly basis, the growth of seasonally-adjusted M3 at 1.0 percent in March was relatively steady from the 0.9 percent posted in February.
The sustained expansion of domestic liquidity was due mainly to the strong growth in net foreign assets (NFA). In particular, NFA increased by 18.0 percent with the rise in the NFAs of both the BSP and the banking system. The BSP’s NFA continued to expand, recording a 14.0 percent growth, while banks posted a markedly faster NFA growth of 39.8 percent due to the combined acceleration in the growth of foreign assets and the slowdown in the expansion of foreign liabilities.
Net domestic assets (NDA) also expanded in March, albeit at a slower rate of 2.4 percent from 5.9 percent in February, as the growth in credits extended to the public and private sectors moderated. The growth in credits extended to the public sector decelerated to 9.1 percent in March from 13.8 percent a month ago, reflecting the slower expansion of credits extended to the National Government, even as lending to local government units (LGUs) and other public entities rose. The growth in credits extended to the private sector also slowed down to 8.3 percent from 10.1 percent in the preceding month, pulled down mainly by the contraction in lending to the manufacturing sector.
Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. noted that the continued strong growth of domestic liquidity reflects, to some extent, the impact of the flow of global liquidity to liquidity-receiving countries like the Philippines. Governor Tetangco stressed that the BSP will continue to monitor closely domestic liquidity conditions, particularly in light of the potential for accelerating cross-border capital flows, to ensure their consistency with the BSP’s price and financial stability objectives.
VIEW TABLE HERE
The country’s preliminary gross international reserves (GIR) level as of end-April 2010 climbed to US$47.0 billion, higher by US$1.4 billion than the end-March 2010 level of US$45.6 billion, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today.
The build-up in reserves stemmed primarily from foreign exchange inflows arising from the deposits by the National Government (NG) of proceeds from the domestic issuance of multicurrency retail treasury bonds (RTBs) for overseas Filipinos, foreign exchange operations of the BSP and income from its investments abroad as well as revaluation gains on the BSP’s gold holdings brought about by the continued increase in the price of gold in the international market. These receipts were partly offset, however, by the payments of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the NG.
The current GIR level could cover 9.3 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It is also equivalent to 11.8 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 5.3 times based on residual maturity.1
Net international reserves (NIR), which include revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, likewise rose to US$47.0 billion as of end-April 2010, higher by US$1.4 billion from the previous month’s level of US$45.6 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.
1 Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months.
By MALOU M. MOZO
CEBU CITY — Filipino nurses and engineers will have more chances of finding job opportunities in New Zealand and Australia, as these countries vow to increase their demand for healthcare and skilled workers following the enforcement of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) in January this year.
Last week, the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to raise awareness on the benefits of the agreement to the Cebu business community through a seminar held here.
According to the agreement, New Zealand will allow up to 100 Philippine nurses to work there as registered nurses at any one time for a period of three years.
Nurses will be given working visas even while they are undergoing the required bridging courses and exam.
New Zealand will also allow up to 20 Philippine farm managers and 20 Philippine engineering professionals to enter the country at any one time for a period of three years.
New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines Andrew Matheson disclosed that the New Zealand government has also agreed to work with the Philippines to help develop the local dairy industry, an industry that currently supplies only about one percent of this country’s demand.
New Zealand and the Philippines may also enter into negotiations for a reciprocal working holiday scheme open to up to 100 citizens of each country. This will allow young people to stay for up to a year and work to support their extended vacation.
The Ambassador also announced that New Zealand, subject to certain conditions, would allow the entry of independent professional service suppliers for up to one year, and entry of business visitors, installers or servicers for up to three months in any calendar year.
“The trade negotiators have done their jobs and it is now up to businesses to take advantage of this agreement and let the benefits of the AANZFTA flow through to businesses and consumers,” said Matheson.
PGMA inaugurates 2nd busiest footbridge
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formally inaugurated today one of the country’s busiest pedestrian footbridges in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.
The President led the ribbon cutting ceremony this morning marking the official public opening of the Alabang-Montillano steel footbridge traversing the major streets of Montillano, Alabang-Zapote Road, and Radial Road 3 which crosses the busy intersection under the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) in Alabang.
The President congratulated the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) personnel led by its Chairman Oscar Inocentes and Muntinlupa City Mayor Aldrin San Pedro for the early completion of the project which now caters to almost half a million pedestrians per day.
Inocentes told the President that the steel footbridge is 2.4-meter wide with nine stairs that could serve some 449,848 pedestrians per day.
Inocentes thanked the President for infusing funds for the footbridge project which greatly reduced accidents among pedestrians and the estimated 72,000 vehicles plying the busy intersection in Alabang.
Works on the P59.32-million footbridge started last year and was completed last March. The 403-meter footbridge is the second longest footbridge constructed by the MMDA next only to that in Bicutan.
Inocentes said the Alabang-Montillano footbridge is the 60th steel footbridge put up by the MMDA since 2001 in strategic intersections all over Metro Manila. These footbridges now cater to an estimated 2.2 pedestrians per day.
Thanking the President was Modesto Dimacuha, a stall owner at the adjacent Alabang public market, who said accidents and snatching incidents were greatly reduced with the establishment of the project.
Jonard Ocampo, a daily user of the footbridge who arrived jobless from Capiz last year, also thanked the President for landing a job as erector of Steel Center Company which helped put up the footbridge.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the President also witnessed the ongoing AH1N1 influenza vaccination of 20 barangay health workers at the Alabang health center.
Health Undersecretary David Lozada told the President the Department of Health (DOH) started the anti-AH1N1 flu vaccination for health responders last April 26 in Zamboanga City.
To date, Lozada said the DOH has undertaken 48,556 similar vaccinations in a bid to reach their target of 1.9 million vaccinations to protect health workers including social workers, police and military personnel nationwide.
Lozada said included in their target objective is to inoculate children six months to five years old; 60 years old and above; and children five years old and above with chronic medical condition. (PND)
Friday, 7 May 2010
By Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
GOLDMAN SACHS is bullish on the peso, saying the currency may hit as high as 42:$1 within the short term on the back of the sustained rise in overseas Filipino workers’ remittances and inflows from export of information technology services.
In a paper entitled “Philippine: Two Engines of Flows Power the Economy as it Steers Through Elections,” Goldman Sachs said that despite the usual election-related concerns, dollars flowing into the economy would remain robust because of strong demand for Filipino workers by companies offshore, and the steady rise in revenue of the business process outsourcing sector.
The international investment bank said the peso could hit 43.6 within three months and 42.5 to $1 within six months. In the next 12 months, Goldman Sachs said, the peso could hit 42.
“’We expect remittances to remain strong and supportive of growth and the peso. Our long-held view on the drivers of stable remittances remain intact,” it said in the paper.
Goldman Sachs said it expected remittances to the Philippines to rise by 10 percent from $17.3 billion last year. This is higher than the central bank’s projection of a 6-percent remittances growth this year.
It said the likelihood of the central bank raising policy rates starting July would also put upward pressure on the peso.
Goldman Sachs said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas might raise key rates by a total of 75 basis points this year. Currently, policy rates stand at 4 percent and 6 percent for overnight borrowing and lending, respectively.
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—“It seems that our prayers have been answered.”
And Comelec Chair Jose Melo is smiling again.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) Thursday announced that the testing and sealing of voting machines had resumed two days after the process was halted and that the results were “perfect.”
Melo told a news conference that field reports showed that the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the country’s first automated elections on Monday were giving a 100-percent accurate reading of the ballots.
On Monday, tests were halted because of the wrong configuration of the compact flash (CF) cards that caused the PCOS to incorrectly read the ballots, raising concerns that the historic balloting will not happen.
The glitch prompted the recall of 76,300 CF cards and the Comelec is now scrambling to replace them in time for the elections.
“Now I am again smiling,” Melo said. “Elections will go through in all levels, in all precincts. What will happen here is Smartmatic will distribute all the flash cards.”
Flanked by six poll commissioners, Melo said that prayers at an ecumenical service for clean and orderly elections led by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales on Wednesday may have been effective.
Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the testing and sealing of PCOS machines in three clustered precincts in Makati City, one of the areas where the votes were miscounted during Monday’s trial, went smoothly Thursday.
Cesar Flores, president for Comelec’s automation partner Smartmatic-TIM, said the company hoped to complete the delivery of the reconfigured flash cards to the municipalities by Saturday.
Better than expected
“We’re very happy to announce that plans are moving. It’s even better than expected. We have more than 35,000 cards configured and we just received that confirmation that testing and sealing started,” Flores said.
New memory cards have already been dispatched to provinces like Antique, Bohol, Cavite, Guimaras Island, Abra, Batanes and Quirino, he noted, and the deliveries are expected to be completed by Saturday and Sunday.
Testing and sealing can be done after the cards are in the hands of the board of election inspectors (BEI) in time for Monday’s balloting beginning at 7 a.m., Flores said.
With the machines working properly, Melo said there was no reason to postpone the national and local elections. Politicians who want to reschedule the polls only want to have more time to campaign, he said.
There would be no need for manual count too as the ballots were read accurately.
“Manual count is out of the question definitely,” Melo said. The manual appreciation of ballots would only happen in the case of machine breakdown, which he said is a “remote possibility.”
Voting delays likely
Melo said the Comelec was preparing for a “worst-case scenario” where elections would be delayed by a few hours in 5 percent of the 76,300 precincts, around 3,800 in all. He said this translated to around 3.3 million voters.
The delay in the delivery of the flash cards does not mean that the elections would be rescheduled, he said.
According to the Comelec’s plan, voters may cast their ballots in areas where the machines do not have flash cards.
These ballots would be deposited in the locked ballot boxes. Upon the arrival of the memory cards and after they have been tested and sealed the BEIs will retrieve the ballots and feed these to the PCOS.
“All will be able to vote and their votes will be counted,” Melo said.
According to Melo, Smartmatic-TIM could not commit to deliver the compact flash cards before balloting begins at 7 a.m. on Monday in some municipalities in 14 provinces because of security and logistical concerns.
Included in the list is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, considered to be the country’s cheating capital.
Smartmatic-TIM said it could not reach the municipal treasurers of Negros Occidental, Isabela, Basilan, Cagayan, Maguindanao, Palawan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Misamis Occidental, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
“In this case, we will need the support of the Armed Forces to ship those boxes from the provincial capitol up to the respective municipalities. We can deliver this in the provincial capitol on May 7th and 8th,” Smartmatic-TIM said in its letter to the Comelec.
The Comelec said it had been coordinating with the police and the military for the safe passage of election paraphernalia in these provinces.
According to Flores, the reconfiguration of each card takes only about 10 minutes. It then undergoes testing with the ballots. There are 80 machines at the testing area in Cabuyao, Laguna. Each station can process 40 cards per hour. The operation is round-the-clock.
With 18,000 backup cards left at its warehouse, Smartmatic is now expecting the 14,000 cards from Taiwan and 30,000 from China to arrive in Cabuyao Saturday.
Customs Commissioner Napoleon L. Morales said it was facilitating the release of the shipments.
The rest of the cards needed to fill up the 76,000 PCOS machines would come as the recycled cards.
Flores said about 60,000 remaining cards that would be left unused would be turned over to the Comelec for quarantine.
In Cebu City, the Comelec regional offices in Eastern and Central Visayas Thursday resumed the deployment of the PCOS machines under tight guarding by the police and military personnel.
Director Jose Nick Mendros said the machines were being deployed in Samar, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Biliran and Leyte.
A truckload of soldiers on their way to secure the transfer of counting machines in a town in Masbate was hit by a roadside bomb Thursday but no injuries were reported among the 12 men aboard the truck, military officials said.
AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said the blast at Pawikan village in Palanas town was the first recorded in relation to the delivery of the machines. With reports from Ronnel W. Domingo, Jocelyn R. Uy, Miko Morelos, Beverly Natividad and Tina G. Santos; Maricar Cinco and Rey Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Nestor Burgos Jr., Jhunnex Napallacan, Carla Gomez, Joey Gabieta, Jani Arnaiz and Rachel Arnaiz, Inquirer Visayas
Threat from enemies of state confirmed; power supply assured
Teachers may be able to vote after all
Ana Mae G. Roa, Gerard S. dela Peña and Jose Bimbo F. Santos
PREPARATIONS FOR the country’s first automated national elections may reach until the polling day itself as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday said automated counting of votes may be delayed in some areas but casting of votes would proceed as scheduled.
As this developed, Executive Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza told reporters at the sidelines of a forum on transport sector yesterday in Port Area, Manila that Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been placed on red alert as early as a week ahead of Monday’s polls due to threats to disrupt the elections.
At the Department of Energy, Secretary Jose C. Ibazeta, ensuring a brownout-free election period, said in a press conference: "We have enough [power], and we’re also confident, based on their (National Grid Corporation of the Philippines) forecasts and planning, it will cover any eventualities."
At the Comelec, meanwhile, Chairman Jose A. R. Melo said in a briefing that poll technology provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM) would have tested 95% of the 76,340 new compact flash (CF) cards by Saturday and, in a worst-case, the remaining 5% may be dispatched to some polling precincts only on election day itself or a day after due to security and logistics issues.
This worst-case scenario, he added, would mean delayed counting in 5% of the total polling centers covering around 3.2 million votes.
Mr. Melo identified precincts in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte as among those that could experience delay in the arrival of the new CF cards. The two Mindanao provinces are being monitored by security authorities due to the presence of Moro rebels. The election controversy in 2004 involving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a poll official mainly involved votes coming from nearby Maguindanao provinces.
"We are trying to get [the help of the military] to these places for more security. They are not that remote areas but there’s danger along the way," Mr. Melo said.
Asked if this could affect canvassing results, he added: "Probably not."
An error in the configuration of the CF card was detected during Monday’s testing and sealing of over 10,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. The CF card contains instructions on how to read the ballots and stores voting data.
"This [loading and testing of CF cards] may be done on the day of the elections itself just in case there will still be precincts, remote areas, without the CF cards having been tested and not arriving on time," Mr. Melo said.
The 7 a.m.-6 p.m. polling time would proceed in precincts with PCOS units having no CF cards, with the ballots cast to be temporarily secured in the official ballot box. When the new CF cards have arrived and have been tested, the board of election inspectors would then feed the ballots into the machine.
In the same briefing, Cesar Flores, Smartmatic-TIM president for Southeast Asia, said 35,000 CF cards have been configured as of yesterday, with those designated for the provinces of Antique, Bohol, Capiz, Guimaras, Abra, Batanes and Quirino and the cities of Makati, Parañaque and Marikina have been dispatched.
The Comelec and board of election inspectors yesterday successfully tested PCOS machines in schools in Metro Manila, especially in Makati and Parañaque cities from where the problems were first discovered.
The glitch was traced to the wrong configuration of the machines that failed to correctly read the names of local candidates.
As this developed, aspiring president Eduardo C. Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas yesterday asked the Comelec to postpone the polls if a random testing of 500 PCOS machines would not be conducted by today.
"We are asking Comelec to assure the public that it [can] assure the integrity, smooth performance and legal requisites of the automated elections by doing more random tests. If after the tests, it still encounters problems, then we are asking Comelec to consider the postponement of Monday’s elections to May 24," Mr. Villanueva said in a statement.
Another candidate, Nicanor Jesus P. Perlas, an independent, last month also asked Comelec to postpone the elections until technical and legal issued have been settled.
Sought for comment, Mr. Melo said: "Probably, they want more time to campaign."
The Constitution has set the second Monday of May as the date of the general elections.
Threat to elections
In Malacañang, security officials have confirmed that so-called enemies of the state composed of separatist and rebel groups are plotting to disrupt the elections.
This prompted President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to convene the National Security Council’s (NSC) Cabinet cluster in an emergency meeting yesterday.
A similar meeting was also held on Wednesday afternoon, with the goal of creating measures to ensure clean and honest elections amid threats from the New People’s Army (NPA) and rogue elements of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"[The NSC met on Wednesday to discuss] the preparations of the institutions for the coming elections. We discussed threats that the government is facing coming from the enemies of the state -- NPA, MILF and MNLF," said Mr. Mendoza.
"These groups have plans that the AFP and PNP are currently addressing," he said, without giving details.
In detailing the power situation during the election period, Jesusito H. Sulit, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) senior adviser to the president, said in a briefing that their reserve forecasts on election day is 1,200 megawatts (MW) for Luzon, 300 MW for Visayas and 100 MW for Mindanao.
Mr. Ibazeta admitted in the same briefing that the reserve level in Mindanao "is pretty tight."
Carlito C. Claudio, NGCP deputy assistant and chief technical officer, said the reserve levels in Luzon and Visayas are enough to cover a breakdown of each of the grid’s single largest generating unit -- 647 MW for Luzon and 72 MW for Visayas, but not for Mindanao, which is 105 MW with the grid on "yellow alert" as of last Monday.
Mindanao, which has been experiencing brownouts due to insufficient generating capacity brought about by low elevation at the grid’s hydroelectric plants, will have reserves on Monday due to de-loading and additional capacity in the grid.
From 1,200 MW in average demand, Mr. Claudio said this is expected to go down to 1,100 MW on Monday being a holiday and the de-loading of large commercial users in the grid.
From 800 MW in average generating capacity, this is expected to increase to 1,200 MW through additional capacity from 727-MW Agus plant, which has been building up water supply recently, and 7 MW from Crystal Sugar Co. Inc., 40 MW from Iligan Diesel Power Plant, and 5 MW from Salcon Power.
"The industries will be cut off, any commercial establishment will be de-loaded and priority will be given to the polling centers," Mr. Ibazeta said.
He said they have also coordinated with the AFP and PNP for the security of energy installations.
As this developed, the Department of Education said it would ask the Comelec’s confirmation to allow over 100,000 teachers to vote in their assigned polling places.
Acting Education Secretary Mona D. Valisno told Palace reporters that the names of teachers -- almost half of the 229,000 who will act as board of election inspectors on May 10 -- were deactivated for failing to vote for two consecutive elections.
"These teachers should not be punished for doing their jobs," she said.
Ms. Valisno said Comelec officials have favorably responded to the department’s request, adding she would ask for confirmation from the Comelec today.
President Arroyo has fired her election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, the Palace said on Wednesday.
Macalintal has taken a position in favor of postponing the elections, which comes in conflict with the President’s line, the Palace said. Mrs. Arroyo has not authorized anyone to suggest any change in the election date, it said. The Palace said it respects the independence of the Commission on Elections and defers to its judgment on all matters regarding the conduct of election.
By JAMES A. LOYOLA
Chemrez Technologies Inc., the country’s top biodiesel, resins and oleochemical producer, reported that its consolidated net income surged 22 percent to P160 million in the first quarter of 2010 from P131.7 million in the same period last year. The firm said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that higher profits were the result of strong growth for all of the firm’s product segments: Biodiesel, oleochemicals, resins and powder coating.
Biodiesel remains the biggest revenue driver, contributing about half of sales. This was due to higher sales volume, primarily brought about by the approval of the 2 percent biodiesel (B2) mandate, effective February 2009.
The green technology company reported that its consolidated revenues are back to pre-crisis (2008) levels. It reported that consolidated revenues rose to P1.4 billion in the first quarter this year from P1.15 billion in the first quarter of 2009.
By MYRNA M. VELASCO
Financial prospects for publicly-listed Energy Development Corporation (EDC) is on the upswing having logged 68 percent income jump in the first quarter to P3.80 billion from last year’s P2.27 billion in the same period.
The Lopez-controlled firm’s core net income is similarly in upbeat form with 103 percent rise to P3.2 billion from the year-ago level of P1.6 billion. It added that earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) has also been perked up, posting 82 percent climb to P4.94 billion; with P1.22 billion contributed by two subsidiaries.
The company qualified that the major profitability driver for the period were income from subsidiaries – mainly Green Core Geothermal Inc. which is the operating vehicle for its acquired 192.5-megawatt Palinpinon and 112.5-MW Tongonan I geothermal plants; and the First Gen Hydro Power Corporation for the 112-MW Pantabangan-Masiway hydro plants.
EDC president and chief operating officer Richard B. Tantoco enthused that the company is “off to a good start in 2010;” chiefly citing the balance sheet outcome from the two subsidiaries for the acquired assets.
The Lopez firm’s renewable energy arm, which has also been carving its niche in offering clean energy to off-takers and patrons, sees value in going for the green energy option. Tantoco further intimated “we are sensitive to their preference for clean, reliable, sustainable and affordable energy sources. The pricing of the indigenous renewable energy resource that we offer our customers is independent of any indexation to movements in global energy indices. This was validated by the long-term contracts that we have already secured for the Palinpinon and Tongonan geothermal power plants.”
The “green energy race” is evidently brewing in the deregulated power industry; and market competition is even seen moving ahead in that pathway.
Having proven beneficial investment return from asset acquisitions, Tantoco bared that their next step would be to pursue the rehabilitation of the 150-megawatt Bacon-Manito (BacMan) geothermal facilities once turned over to them. Another company subsidiary, BacMan Geothermal Inc., submitted the highest offer in an auction concluded May 5.
“We are programming the rehabilitation of the Bacman power plants and bring them back to their full capacity within 18 to 24 months,” the EDC executive stressed. The geothermal facilities have not been in operation for the past three years; and the challenge for the new owner would be to bring them back into their rated operating level. EDC is also the steam supplier for the two plants.
But many not able to vote
By GENALYN KABILING
Around 229,000 teachers are ready to serve and ensure the integrity of the elections but more than half of them are pleading to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow them to vote in the polls, according to Department of Education.
Education undersecretary Franklin Sunga Thursday appealed anew to Comelec Chairman Jose Melo not to deprive more than 100,000 teachers of their right to vote even as they fulfill their electoral duties.
Sunga, in a news conference in the Palace, bewailed that Comelec made a “mistake” when it removed teachers from list of registered voters supposedly after for failing to vote for two consecutive elections.
“Many of our teachers cannot vote because Comelec had deactivated without any factual basis for doing so. We have asked Comelec time and time again, several communications, up to now there is a resounding silence from Comelec,” he said in a news conference in the Palace.
“We are asking the Comelec to support our teachers. We hope they will listen to the plight of the teachers and not to punish the teachers for doing their job,” he added.
Sunga acknowledged that Comelec is swamped with other problems related to the elections but expressed hope it would heed the appeal of the public school teachers. "The right to vote is a sacred right that should be observed by Comelec first and foremost.”
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Who will be next Philippine president
by Liu Peng
Editor: Deng Shasha
MANILA, May 5 (Xinhua) -- The 2010 General Elections of the Philippines are scheduled to be held on May 10, in which a new president, vice president, 12 senators, 287 members of the House of Representatives as well as some 17,000 local officials will be elected by some 50 million voters.
As the upcoming elections will bring major changes to official posts throughout this southeast Asian country, the 2010 General Elections are attracting attention from both inside the Philippines and the international community.
ANTI-CORRUPTION, ELIMINATION OF POVERTY
Major presidential candidates include Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Cojuangco Aquino III from the Liberal Party, Manuel "Manny" Bamba Villar Jr. from the Nacionalista Party, ex-president Joseph "ERAP" Estrada from the Force of the Filipino Masses party, as well as other candidates from various political parties.
Born in 1960, Aquino III is the only son of the late senator Benigno Servillano "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and late ex-president Maria Corazon "Cory" Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino. Graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1981, Aquino III was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, and was elected to the Senate in 2007. Within the Liberal Party, Aquino III has been holding the Vice-Chairman position since March 2006.
Aquino III believes that corruption and poverty are the main reasons for the Filipino people to lack in trust with their government, and pledges that if elected, he will be committed to fighting corruption, eliminating poverty, promoting economy and employment, improving education and healthcare standards and so on.
Villar was born in 1949 to a government employee father and a seafood dealer mother. In his early years as a working student, he graduated from the University of the Philippines with a master of business administration degree. After graduation, he experienced several job changes, later becoming a housing tycoon.
Villar was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, later becoming Speaker there. He has been a senator since 2001 and served as Senate President from 2006 to 2008. Villar has been president for the Nacionalista Party since 2004.
He believes that extensively existing poverty and social injustice are the main problem the Philippines is faced with, and he pledged that once elected, he will be committed to eliminating poverty, cracking down on corruption, promoting social justice, realizing the economy's self-sufficiency through land reforms, developing local industry, containing environmental damages, improving basic social services such as education, healthcare, housing, etc.
Estrada was elected to the presidency in 1998, and was ousted in 2001 with corruption allegations. His post was assumed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who became vice-president in 1998. Estrada was sentenced to life imprisonment for plunder in September 2007 but was pardoned by president Arroyo in October. In the 2004 General Elections, Arroyo was permitted to run for presidency and succeeded, and her presidential term ends on June 30, 2010.
Because Estrada's presidency from 1998 to 2004 was terminated in the middle, he was permitted to run for president again in the 2010 elections. In his opinion, the reason causing poverty and starvation in the Philippines is corruption. He pledges that if elected, he will be committed to cracking down on corruption, addressing secessionist problems in the south and creating safe social environment in order to realize stable growth of the economy, improving agricultural conditions, expanding investment in education, promoting employment, etc.
Under the Philippine Constitution, a presidential term lasts for 6 years and upon completion of that term, the president shall not be eligible for any reelection.
In the Philippines, elections have always been haunted by violence. According to police statistics, 229 election-related violence incidents occurred during the congressional mid-term election in 2007, killing 121 people and injuring 176; 249 election-related violence incidents occurred in the 2004 General Elections, leaving 148 people dead and 261 injured.
Before the 2010 General Elections, election-related violence were still rampant, as the political massacre, in which 57 people were slain, happened in Philippines' southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009. Suspects of the massacre were arrested and are undergoing legal procedures.
In order to crack down on election-related violence, military and police have been imposing an firearm ban throughout the country since Jan. 10, 2010 and have set up some 3,500 checkpoints. Furthermore, since April 15, military and police have been put on a Blue Alert, increasing the number of checkpoints throughout the country and patrolling fully armed in automobiles and motorcycles. On April 30, the Blue Alert was upgraded to the Red Alert, the highest security level, with all military and police personnel on constant stand-by and all passes and leaves cancelled.
However, election-related violence continued repeatedly. Police figures released on April 26 showed that 27 people, including city councilors, village councilors, village leaders and common people, were killed and 37 people were injured between Jan. 10, when election campaigns started, and April 25.
About two weeks ahead of the General Elections this year, a group of protesters tried to stage a rally in front of the presidential palace, the Malacanang, calling for "democracy space". They were met by the police on their way and clashes ensued.
The Philippines became a United States colony in the early 20th century. After gaining independence in the wake of the second World War, the Philippines adopted U.S.-style democracy. However, the country is still infested by clan-politics and election- related violence.
FINANCIAL BASIS FOR CAMPAIGN
In the Philippines, running for president without sufficient financial support will go nowhere. To extensively showcase candidates' bright side to voters, they usually open campaign websites, broadcast their campaign advertisements through TV and radio stations, hire motorcades decorated with campaign-related materials to roam streets, ask supporters to post posters along streets and hand out flyers and publicity items such as rubber bracelets and caps with candidates' names or images.
Before the 2010 General Elections, streets in Manila were filled with campaigning advertisements, and even some trees became publicity platforms--yellow ribbons tied to the branches represent Aguino III, and orange ribbons represent Villar.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who initially claimed that he would run for president, scrapped his idea last year, saying he was "bowing" to the reality that his "extremely limited resources" were not enough to run a campaign.
In a statement, Lacson said that while "well-meaning friends" had pledged financial support, "the time has come to face the reality that the intent to lead in this land in order to do good, has become an enterprise only for those who have access to unlimited funds."
He said that "poverty, the lack of health services, education and security will not be solved through dole-outs from politicians during election season, which is given away easily because it came from corruption."
WHO'S IN THE LEAD
The Philippines practises direct voting in general elections, and the candidate who secured the biggest amount of votes wins.
Several surveys showed that Aquino III was in the lead, followed by Villar and Estrada, with the latter two candidates having similar support rates.
According to a survey conducted nationwide by Pulse Asia from April 23 to 25, Aquino III enjoyed a support rate of 39 percent, while Villar and Estrada were respectively supported by 20 percent of the respondents, and the fourth candidate, former Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr. from Lakas Kampi CMD, the ruling party, got 7 percent. None of the other candidates got a support rate higher than 3 percent.
39 percent was the highest that Aquino III secured since the campaign started on Feb. 9.
In another survey conducted by Social Weather Stations from April 16 to 19, Aquino III enjoyed a support rate of 38 percent, 12 percent higher than Villar. The third was Estrada, with 17 percent support rate, followed by Teodoro with a support rate of 9 percent. None of the other candidates had a support rate higher than 2 percent.
Based on this survey, local newspaper the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that assuming a voter turnout of 77 percent, the turnout in the 2004 presidential election, Aquino III would have won by some 4.7 million votes over Villar had the presidential election been held in the third week of April.
In a news briefing on April 30, the Liberal Party proclaimed that without massive frauds in the upcoming presidential election, Aquino III will be the winner.
More than one million poor families have been amortizing their own homes instead of renting since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed office.
Vice President Noli de Castro, concurrent chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), said the President made housing a priority program since 2001 which now provided more decent homes to urban poor communities and the low- and middle income families.
At the Retrospective Seminar on the Housing Sector at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City, De Castro said the President has allocated the biggest funding for housing; approved the biggest amount for loans to informal settlers; implemented the lowest interest rates and a more efficient process in the granting of housing loans; and declared more government lands as housing sites.
“For the past nine years, the President has transformed housing into one of the dynamic sectors of our economy,” De Castro said.
For the formal sector, De Castro said the Home Development Mutual (PAG-IBIG) Fund provided higher loanable amounts, lower interest rates, longer repayment terms, and faster processing of loan applications, resulting in the surge in home acquisition among low- and middle-income families since 2001.
For a P400,000 housing loan, De Castro said the affordable monthly amortization is now only six percent or P2,400 per month, more than 50 percent lower that the P5,400 monthly amortization in 2001.
De Castro said amortization for a P600,000 loan for low-income families stood at seven percent, while loans for middle income families worth P3 million stood at 11.5 percent.
For the informal sector, De Castro said the Asset Reform Program has improved security of tenure, particularly for the relocation of 105,000 families under the Rail Relocation and Resettlement Program, the biggest and most successful undertaking of its kind by the national government in recent history.
De Castro said the strengthened Community Mortgage Program (CMP) also released P5.3 billion, which funded 963 projects focused solely on shelter programs for the informal sector.
Another unprecedented achievement, De Castro said, is the President’s issuance of 113 proclamations declaring about 27,000 hectares of government lands all over the country as socialized housing sites, benefiting an estimated 280,000 families.
Expressing their gratitude to the President were housing beneficiaries such as Teodora Santos of San Pedro, Laguna who used to pay P6,000 in rent but now pays a P2,400 monthly amortization on her PAG-IBIG loan.
Adelo Flores, president of the relocation site, NorthVille I in Valenzuela City, also thanked the President for the housing project with enough public facilities, after being a reluctant leader of rail dwellers some five years ago.
CMP beneficiary Carmela Inson, president of the Andrea Paz Homeowners Association in Calamba, Laguna, told the President they have now individual titles and have become true home owners under the government housing program.
Manny Crisostomo, national president of the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, praised the President’s housing program which greatly reduced red tape in the processing of documents, permits, and licenses with the creation of one-stop shops.
Crisostomo added the President’s directive to fully computerize the Land Registration Authority (LRA) will soon provide a faster and less costly land titling system.
Marissa del Mar, president of the National Real Estate Association, said the President’s housing program helped established over 1.1 million housing units since 2001 which contributed trillions of peso to the national economy.
In partnership with the private sector, Taguig City Mayor Sigfrido Tinga said his city garnered the Galing Pook Award last year through the government’s housing program for rail dwellers.
Gawad Kalinga chairman and founder Antonio Meloto, thanked the President for believing in the capability of the “ordinary Filipino” when they met while he was establishing a model community in Dumaguete City in 2002.
To date, Meloto said Gawad Kalinga has established more than 2,000 model communities in partnership with the national government, private donors and the beneficiaries themselves, with their work at the Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Corp. (Baseco) Tondo community-cited by Boston’s Massachussetts Institute of Technology as one of the best model community in Asia. (PND)
Charlie Señase, Dennis Jay Santos and Orlando Dinoy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
COTABATO CITY—MILITARY AND POLICE AUTHORITIES IN MAguindanao are bent on ensuring that elections are held in the province despite the wave of violence that is threatening the exercise there.
“We are all set for the holding of the elections,” said Senior Supt. Alex Lineses, Maguindanao police chief.
The cases of violence that wracked the province in recent days, he said, were “isolated cases.”
Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police director, admitted that Maguindanao, like the other ARMM provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Lanao del Sur, was a “major area of concern” for government security forces.
But Latag said the security of polling precincts, voters and election workers had been tightened with the deployment of more forces.
Col. Herbert Yambing, of the military-led Joint Security Coordinating Center in Maguindanao, said authorities were hoping the “mutual understanding” entered into by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would further ensure the success of elections in the province.
During the peace and order council meeting held here on Tuesday, Maguindanao acting governor Gani Biruar said town mayors and other local government officials had also pledged their all out commitment for peaceful and orderly elections.
Call to unite
“The success or failure of the coming political exercise lies in everyone’s hand. We have to unite, strong enough, to come up with the true sentiment of the electorate,” said Isa Romancap, provincial local government operations officer.
The military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom)—which covers southern and portions of northern Mindanao and the ARMM—also said security measures had been put in place even in remotest villages against efforts to disrupt the elections.
“We can assure and I can personally say there will be no failure of elections,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Eastmincom spokesperson.
MILF no threat
Cabangbang said the MILF was not a cause for concern now because of the agreement on mutual cooperation the rebel group had signed with the government.
“There is no perceived security threat in MILF-controlled areas,” he said.
But Cabangbang said the military was not letting its guard down in the case of the New People’s Army.
Elsewhere, however, political murders continue.
Calixto Cariaga, 52, a supporter of Don Marcelino town mayoral candidate John Johnson, was shot dead while on his way home from a rally around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Senior Supt. Ronald Dela Rosa, Davao del Sur police director, said the unidentified suspects fled on motorcycles after killing the victim, who was also the father of a candidate for councilor.
Neil Jerome C. Morales
HOMEGROWN FASTFOOD giant Jollibee Foods Corp. has signed a partnership with a local entrepreneur to mark the food service firm’s entry into the coffee and gelato business.
“The joint venture will become the master franchisee in the Philippines of Caffe Ti-Amo, a Korean restaurant brand offering coffee and gelato in a casual dining format,” the company told the local bourse on Wednesday.
Under the deal, Jollibee Foods and partner Pamela Tan and siblings, which are not related to controlling stakeholders in the fastfood firm, will equally own the brand and invest P10 million as initial capital.
Ms. Tan is the master franchisee of Caffe Ti-Amo Korea Co., Ltd. in the Philippines.
Caffe Ti-Amo was put up in Korea in 2006, expanding to 269 stores after four years in operation.
“The joint venture plans to open in the Philippines, mostly franchised stores and a few joint venture-owned stores. The first store is in The Annex at SM North Edsa,” Jollibee Foods said. Additional stores will be put up in other major malls, it added.
The announcement came less than a week after Jollibee Foods, through its wholly owned subsidiary Jollibee Worldwide Pte. Ltd., signed an agreement to buy a 55% stake in China-based noodle chain San Pin Wang from Guangxi Zong Kai Food and Beverage Investment Co., Ltd. for $4.3 million.
Jollibee Foods and Guangxi Zong Kai will also spend 20 million renminbi (about $2.93 million) to expand the current 34 stores in China, which are expected to earn 100 million renminbi (about $14.653 million) this year.
The Jollibee group operates the largest quick-service restaurant network in the Philippines with a total of 1,569 stores in the country as of end-March. That month, Jollibee also opened its fifth store in Saudi Arabia.
There are 692 Jollibee stores nationwide, 401 Chowking Chinese restaurants, 227 Greenwich pizza houses, 211 Red Ribbon bakeries, 24 Delifrance outlets and 14 Manong Pepe restaurants.
Jollibee also has 334 stores abroad: 165 Yonghe King outlets in China; 55 Jollibee stores, mostly in the United States, Vietnam and Brunei; 35 Red Ribbon branches in the US; 33 Chowking outlets in Dubai and the US; and 46 Hong Zhuang Yuan branches.
The firm said it had 1,903 stores worldwide.
Shares in Jollibee Foods, which recorded a 14.6% rise in net income to P2.66 billion last year, were unchanged yesterday at P57.50 each.
Joel San Juan
THE Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a final ruling keeping suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, Akmad Ampatuan, on the multiple-murder charge sheet relating to the Ampatuan Massacre, on the strength of more evidence presented by lawyers of the victims’ families pointing to the existence of probable cause to indict them for conspiracy in the killings.
This developed as the DOJ announced a government-private sector aid package worth P55 million for the families of the 57 people who were waylaid and then executed on November 23 in Maguindanao by a group of more than 100 armed men that prosecutors said was led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
This aid package is meant for academic scholarships, health and medical assistance, and livelihood projects for the victims’ families.
The DOJ sourced P5 million of the aid package from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. The P50-million balance will come from the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), which will sign with the DOJ on Friday a declaration of commitment covering this donation.
Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said the victims’ families and their lawyers will be invited to attend the signing at the DOJ office of the declaration covering FPI’s P15-million donation.
In a new resolution signed on Wednesday by Agra, the DOJ reconsidered its April 16 resolution striking the two Ampatuans out of the charge sheet after lawyer Nena Santos last week presented a new witness who testified that he saw the two of them present at the November 22 meeting at the Shariff Aguak mansion of former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. when the massacre was allegedly plotted by the Ampatuans.
In addition, Agra denied Santos’s motion for him to recuset from the Ampatuan case, and then cited National Prosecution Service rules to parry the charge by other private prosecution lawyers that he did not observe due process in issuing his first resolution last month.
Agra noted that the surfacing of a new witness who pinned down Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan was apparently a result in part of the measures taken by the DOJ to protect witnesses and strengthen the case of multiple murder, abduction, robbery and damage to property against the Ampatuans and over a hundred of their followers.
He recalled that the DOJ worked on the immediate transfer last month of the Ampatuans to a special detention center in Camp Bagong Diwa—a facility designed for high-risk prisoners like them—after the Supreme Court had granted the request by the National Bureau of Investigation for such a move.
During the DOJ flag-raising rites on April 26, Agra announced that he would issue a new resolution this week on the Ampatuan case.
But he eventually moved back his deadline to this week in deference to the then-plan by Santos and the other private prosecution lawyers to file supplemental motions on the case by April 30.
Agra said the additional and supporting evidence presented last week by Santos, plus new arguments raised by lawyer Michael Mella, indicated there was “sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that probable cause exists” against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.
One witness—Kenny Dalandag—had previously tagged Zaldy Ampatuan as among those present at his father’s mansion when the crime was plotted on the eve of the mass slaughter, but his testimony was not given much weight after the suspended governor had managed to present Philippine Airlines travel records and his Smart cellular phone logs showing he was not in Maguindanao when the crime was planned or committed.
“There was dearth of evidence then to establish conspiracy against Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Akmad Ampatuan,” Agra said in recalling the findings of the April 16 resolution.
However, he said, the May 5 resolution took into account Santos’s presentation of “a witness who confirmed that he saw Datu Zaldy Ampatuan arrive at Shariff Aguak, to attend a meeting in the house of Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., at around 11 p.m. on November 22. The meeting adjourned at around 1 a.m. on November 23, and Datu Zaldy Ampatuan left Shariff Aguak.”
Mella argued, meanwhile, in his separation motion that Davao del Sur would only be a four-hour drive from Shariff Aguak, and vice versa. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan’s Smart Infinity statement of account showed that he was in Davao del Sur on November 22 at around 7 p.m., and the next entries showed he was in Davao del Sur on November 23 at around 5:00 a.m.
As for Akmad Ampatuan, the resolution noted that “Santos was able to present a Sinumpaang Salaysay of a witness identifying him to have participated in the killings. More telling is the witness presented by Santos in her supplemental motion for reconsideration because this second witness was able to put him on the planning that transpired on November 22 at the residence of Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.”
Max V. de Leon
BUSINESS organizations have offered help to the Commission on Elections come election day, including the provision of standby car batteries to buffer the energy requirements in some areas.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) took the initiative of getting other business groups and civil-society organizations to help ensure the smooth flow of elections, especially in critical areas like Mindanao.
Earlier on Wednesday, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal revealed the poll body received offers of help in the rushed deployment of reconfigured compact flash cards for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) units now in Comelec hubs nationwide. He singled out an offer from San Miguel Corp. for the use of its choppers.
“While we recognize the Commission on Elections’ capability to carry out its mandate, we believe that it will need strong support from non-partisan private sector groups to facilitate the smooth operation and flow of election,” said PCCI chairman emeritus Miguel Varela.
He said the business sector deems the success of this particular election, which is also the first nationwide automated election, as very vital in ensuring the stability of the country and its economy.
In Mindanao, the PCCI and the other business groups talked to three big factories to close their facilities for maintenance and repair on May 9 to 11. These companies have the highest consumption in the area and by temporarily shutting down, the PCCI hopes there will be enough power supply.
There will also be standby car batteries to buffer the energy requirements during election procedures in case of power interruptions.
Helicopters will also be provided in key voting areas as determined by the private sector and Comelec to serve as standby transport in case of computer malfunction.
Satellite communications in 4,000 to 5,000 precincts will also be provided to ensure continuous and uninterrupted online transmission of election results.
The other groups that committed to support these initiatives are the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Management Association of the Philippines, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries Inc.
DESPITE assurances by supplier Smartmatic that it can deploy all the corrected compact flash (CF) drives for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) units in time to do test runs before the May 10 polls, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo on Wednesday held out the possibility of special elections in some far-flung areas that may not get these on time.
Melo estimated that, at worst, special elections may have to be done in 5 percent of the voting areas should the Comelec be forced to declare a failure of elections there.
Melo said the plan to conduct special elections is part of the poll body’s contingency should some of the CF cards—the wrong configuration of which was blamed for PCOS glitches in Monday’s legally mandated testing-and-sealing exercise—fail to reach certain remote areas despite the best efforts of the Comelec and Smartmatic.
The Comelec, however, has ruled out a postponement of elections by a few days, as suggested on Tuesday by elections lawyer Romulo Macalintal.
In a separate press briefing on Wednesday, Elections Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal and Smartmatic Asia-Pacific head Cesar Flores had outlined the steps taken to retrieve from the field the wrongly configured CF cards, to source new CF cards and “burn” the right instructions, and then send them out to the field so teachers serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) can get them for use in the PCOS testing and sealing before May 10.
“We are preparing for some areas that might not be reached [in time] by the CF cards, [and] special elections in far-flung places” are part of the plan, Melo said after the en banc meeting with Smartmatic late Wednesday.
Despite assurances by the technical provider, Smartmatic and Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM), that it can deliver all reconfigured CF cards nationwide, Melo said he still wants to ensure there are other options if the shipment of CF cards is delayed.
“I’m hoping for the best. We are preparing just in case,” Melo said, adding that they do not consider a manual election yet as a second option.
Under the Omnibus Election Code, special elections can only be held once the poll body declares a failure of elections in a particular area.
The special elections must be conducted at the “earliest possible time” or within 30 days after the scheduled date of elections.
However, Melo said he is still hoping there will be no need to hold a special election and that all of the more than 50 million registered voters can all cast their votes in the historic first automated national polls on May 10.
The poll body is set to decide on the matter on Sunday, a day before the May 10 elections.
Last Monday, the PCOS machines malfunctioned in polling precincts in Batangas, Makati, Manila, Mandaluyong, Mindoro, Pateros and Quezon City during the testing and sealing procedures.
Smartmatic’s Flores said the problem is a simple “configuration error” of the CF cards inside the PCOS units, where the instructions for reading the shaded ovals representing the votes are embedded. The different printing format between pages 1 and 2 of the official ballot was blamed for the confusion, since the CF cards could only correctly read page 1 containing the national level slots, and not page 2 for the locals.
Comelec and Smartmatic then postponed the testing and sealing procedures and recalled all 76,000 CF cards nationwide.
So far, Flores said they have retrieved 13,500 compact flash cards from the pullout late Tuesday, and invited reporters to witness the “burning” of the CF cards in the reconfiguration at the Comelec warehouse in Laguna.
Flores said they expected to receive Thursday some 43,000 newly procured CF cards from Taiwan and Hong Kong; and they have 18,000 spare CF cards from the warehouse.
“We will have 61,000 brand-new cards. The rest we need to recycle from the ones we’re pulling out,” Flores said. Comelec and Smartmatic officials thanked Customs chief Napoleon Morales for helping them expedite the procurement of the CF cards from abroad.
“Since the election is just five days away, Customs would be in full force to immediately release the compact flash cards to avoid any delay,” said Morales.
The cargo has been classified as “express cargo” or a “priority.”
Unlike other air shipments that usually take three hours to process, Morales said it would only take them less than an hour to release the shipment to the Comelec.
They were reconfiguring 25,000 cards and as soon as they finish some, they will start shipping by batches to the more remote areas.
“We are preparing 25,000 cards so we start shipping tonight (Wednesday). By Friday (around noon) we can finish 76,000 cards,” he added.
On Friday morning, they will start shipping the CF cards to the National Capital Region (NCR) except for the cities in Makati, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Parañaque, Pateros and Quezon City.
As soon as the CF cards arrive, the Comelec can coordinate with election officers so the BEIs can resume the testing and sealing procedure.
Recapturing public trust
“We have to recapture the trust of the people in the machine and the candidates. That’s why tomorrow there will be testing all over Makati, Parañaque, Marikina, etc.,” Melo said.
Flores assured the public: “We are committed to pull this through, this is a feasible plan. There will be elections on May 10. We are designating all resources to this. We are not leaving the country. We will see this through until people of the Philippines can enjoy clean and accurate and fast elections on May 10.”
Earlier, Commissioner Larrazabal appealed to the public to “stop bickering and stop [sending] text brigades]” that aim to spread unfounded rumors that there will be a postponement of elections.
AT least 24 compact flash (CF) cards an hour, or 576 cards in 24 hours, can be reconfigured, according to technology industry experts. For the two days that Smartmatic is seeking to do the reconfiguration for 76,000 CFs, at least 50 computers will be needed.
Smartmatic’s Cesar Flores had said the company had 75 stations set up (to be increased to 120 Wednesday night); and each station configures 40 CF cards per hour—meaning 3,000 can be reconfigured in an hour. The trick, therefore, is also to make sure the supply of CF cards keeps coming, to beat the deadline. Only 18,000 spare units were in the warehouse; 13,500 had been retrieved from the field as of Wednesday; 43,000 newly procured ones were due Thursday morning from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — Former Elections Chairman Christian Monsod on Wednesday tried to douse the fears of a jittery public that glitches in last Monday's election trial runs in various parts of the country would lead to a massive election failure.
"The good news is that this is not part of a conspiracy to manipulate the polls, nor an attempt to cheat. This is a problem of incompetence, and it's solvable," he said by phone.
Even with such glitches cropping up close to the May 10 elections, Monsod stood by the capability of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, to mount the automated elections.
"I have no doubt that the elections will go through. If there will be some areas that there will be some postponement, there might even be a delay in the proclamation. But we should allow the election to take its course,'' he said.
He added: “In any case, there's always a back-up manual. I would not jump to conclusions, ‘Oh, this is a crisis.’ I don't think it's in the cards.”
Technical glitches surfaced anew in Monday's testing of the vote-counting scanners, called precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
In one instance, the machines produced a tally sheet of votes different from the inputs. In another, they only read portions of the sample ballots across the names of national candidates.
Smartmatic blamed this on the machines' memory cards, which contained the wrong "instruction'' concerning the local ballot face, prompting the Commission on Elections to recall the memory cards of 76,000 machines already deployed to regional hubs for field distribution.
Even so, Monsod said he was confident the Comelec and Smartmatic could deliver the machines, with the reconfigured cards, in most parts of the country before election day.
"Most of the machines will be delivered on time and tested. If the tests are positive, then they can proceed with the elections in most precincts. I'm not worried about a massive failure of elections. I don't think that will happen,'' he said.
If at all, given the logistics problem, the machines might not arrive on time in far-flung areas, and in this case, the Comelec would have to defer the elections here for two days, he said.
"They may be able to do it in 48 hours. I don't think you have to postpone it in 15 days. Let them do it with much less than that,'' he said. "Postponing it might raise all kinds of suspicion. The people are very edgy.''
A massive failure of elections was far-fetched because there are “back-up systems, including manual (vote-counting),” he added.
“It's very important for all of us to learn patience. We must be patient. This is a totally new system. There's little time for preparation. But we made a national decision to do this. And we must do our best to make it succeed,” Monsod said.
“These elections,” he added, “are not about President Arroyo. It's about us as a country carrying out this project despite the odds and difficulties. We should avoid knee-jerk reaction about conspiracies and cheating.”
The foul-ups, Monsod pointed out, might just prove to be a “blessing in disguise” for Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.
“Smartmatic has been properly chastised by this experience and should be less arrogant. And if it had any thought to cheat, it will think a hundred times about doing it given the mood of the people. That would be a big mistake,” he said.
The Comelec, for its part, might now realize the “need for a more inclusive rather than exclusive approach to managing the process.”
“It needs everybody's help to overcome this huge logistical and credibility problem, and we should help,” he said.
Monsod also said that the proposal by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal to postpone the elections for 15 days was “unnecessary,” but he did not rule out a manual count.
“I think even in densely populated areas, the machines will get there with the reconfigured cards,” he said, adding, “There may be instances when we have to use manual. Comelec knows how to do manual elections.”
Macalintal, President Macapagal-Arroyo's election lawyer, sought the postponement of elections for 15 days to prevent a failure of elections and give election officials ample time to prepare for manual elections.
He argued that the Omnibus Election Code allows the Comelec en banc to reset the balloting for serious reasons such as the “apparent failure” of the PCOS machines to function.
CRITICS of the government’s poll automation efforts had reason to rejoice this week, after testing showed that the vote-counting machines did not work as advertised.
In fact, major malfunctions were reported during test runs in Makati, Taguig, Muntinlupa and Pateros as well as the provinces of Batangas and Mindoro.
The problem, it turns out, is that the software in the vote-tallying programs were flawed and need to be replaced. The solution – to retrieve the memory cards from 76,300 voting machines, reconfigure them, and send them back – is a huge logistical challenge, with only five days remaining to Election Day.
The government’s technology partner, Smartmatic International Corp., acknowledges this, but says it can still be done in time for May 10.
In the meantime, critics of the automation project are clucking their tongues and saying “We told you so” and demanding a return to manual counting.
Worse, the President’s election lawyer is urging the Commission on Elections to postpone the elections, a suggestion that is bound to trigger another round of paranoid speculation about how this is all a plot to keep the President in power after her term expires on June 30, and how the people would rise up in revolt if their will is thwarted.
We say enough is enough. Now is not the time for doomsday scenarios and conspiracy theories.
If there is a technical problem, let us all work to make sure it is solved before May 10. Vigilance is key in exposing these glitches, and keeping the elections honest and credible, but there is nothing to be gained from returning to a manual system.
The suggestion that the elections be postponed is even more ludicrous, and we were relieved that the Palace has disavowed that view.
The best option, despite the current difficulties, is to stay the course and hold the elections as scheduled, and to have the votes counted in a fast and credible way that only a well-audited automated system can do.
THE glitches uncovered in Monday’s test run of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines represent the biggest logistical challenge so far to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and private contractor Smartmatic since the country took the decisive step to automate, for the first time, nationwide polls. Yet beyond the logistical challenge, the bigger problem is restoring public confidence, and that’s the one where all concerned Filipinos—from the government and the state workers who will play a role in the polls, to the political parties and candidates, civil society and the voters—must keep their wits and think this through clearly.
There is such a thing as being alert and prepared to reckon with problems as they arise; quite another to go around like headless chickens, spouting doomsday scenarios long before they happen and then shouting, in seeming glee, that every misstep is proving them right.
This isn’t to say the Comelec or its supplier Smartmatic should not be made accountable for this mess. But in a lengthy press briefing at the Comelec on Tuesday, they—together with the cochairman of the congressional oversight panel on poll automation, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr.—tried to make sense of what happened and led the public through the process of identifying what can be done to ensure as smooth a process as possible on May 10.
According to Smartmatic’s Asia-Pacific office head Cesar Flores, the problem is not with the PCOS units per se, but with the configuration of the memory flash cards which provide each unit its identity and instructions. Later, they said the glitch turned out to have been the result of a simple—but costly—adjustment in the formatting of the ballots. The ballots were originally formatted in single space—both the front page where the national candidates are listed, and the second, for the local. But, someone thought of using double space for local while retaining the single-space format in the front page. The consequence: the flash cards, configured to the national-level page, read wrongly the local slots on the back page.
The explanation seems simple enough, but it has frightened all sectors, especially those in areas like Manila where fears of fraud were already running high as it is, owing to earlier incidents like the discovery of alleged “prefabricated” results from operations right out of City Hall.
Comelec, as a result of what happened to the testing-and-sealing exercise on Monday, has suspended the legally mandated exercise until May 7. This, to give Smartmatic time to replace all the flash cards and make sure they are all properly configured.
To a certain extent, Smartmatic’s Flores has a point: The incident shows the system is verifiable, “auditable” and, therefore, allows responsible officials to remedy problems as they arise. That’s also how they explained the problems that arose with the PCOS and the ballots in the absentee voting in Hong Kong, when the machines and the paper both reacted to the cold and the humidity.
Fine. But the Comelec, which has ruled out proposals for a nationwide manual parallel count on the ground it would defeat the purpose of automation and might be ground for confusion, now finds its options narrowing. People may be willing to give it and its supplier a chance to correct the memory- cards problem, but their patience may be wearing thin. One hopes the irresponsible elements that kept dangling the threat of people power against fraud would not use this case to inflame people’s emotions even more. It’s just as well that volunteer groups like the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting are providing people a measure of hope that if enough people will it, this historic election can yet pull through and yield credible results, by the grace of God.
For better or for worse, Marinduque, Phu Quoc, Hainan and the Ho Tram Strip are being touted by developers and local governments as Asia's next major tourist destinations. Here's why.
by Jeremiah F. de Guzman
SOME 2.27 million foreign and local tourists visited the Philippines’ top destinations in the quarter to March, up 7 percent from 2.1 million a year ago, the Tourism Department said Tuesday.
Local tourists numbered 1.54 million and comprised 69 percent of the total, with Metro Manila topping all destinations after the number of tourists visiting it rose 37 percent to 437,170, the department said.
The number of foreign and domestic tourists increased as companies and groups organized more international and local meetings, congresses and conventions in Metro Manila, the department said.
More cruise ships visited the area in the quarter, with the Newport Entertainment City and Manila Oceanarium adding to its attractions.
Cebu was the second most visited destination in the quarter, when the number of tourists visiting it grew 3 percent to 435,987, the department said. Cebu’s top markets were Korea, which contributed 28 percent to the total number of foreign tourists. It was followed by Japan (23 percent), the United States (10 percent) and China (6 percent).
Third-ranked Camarines Sur welcomed 348,139 tourists, with the United States contributing 17.96 percent to the foreign visitor count. It was followed by the United Kingdom, Korea, Germany, Australia and Canada.
Boracay welcomed 20 percent more tourists, who totaled 190,178, with Korea contributing 28 percent to the total foreign visitor traffic.
And more Chinese charter flights were mounted from Chengdu and Hangzhou in China to Kalibo, a gateway to the island, for the Lunar New Year, while the visitors from Taipei rose 123 percent to 4,524 as a result of an increase in chartered flights to the island, the department said.
The other top tourist destinations were Davao City (157,248), Cagayan Valley (157,248), Baguio City (134,574), Zambales (90,015), Bohol (76,898), Puerto Princesa City (73,986), Negros Oriental (60,490), Camiguin Island (45,233), and Ilocos Norte (44,555).
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Some 5,000 heavily-armed soldiers on Monday gathered at the Armed Forces’ main camp at Camp Aguinaldo to seek “divine intervention” in fulfilling their election duties on May 10.
Dubbed as “A Day of Prayer for Hope and Healing,” leaders of various religious congregations joined the military and police personnel in calling for an orderly and peaceful election.
AFP chief General Delfin Bangit said the event was not meant to conduct loyalty check among the military, but a way to “seek divine intervention” in ensuring the success of the country’s first automated balloting.
“We have done everything we can as humans. Now after the human efforts, let us turn to Him for more strength and more guidance,” Bangit said in his speech at the interfaith gathering.
The two-hour prayer assembly also served as a send-off ceremony for soldiers who will be assigned in different parts of the country to maintain peace and order in voting centers.
Aside from the commanders of all AFP services and units, Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa and key police officials also joined the event.
Both Bangit and Verzosa maintained that soldiers and policemen will eschew any offer for them to commit election fraud, contrasting the claim of Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales that some AFP and PNP officials were offered with bribe money to rig the elections.
“We are all loyal to the Constitution, government, and the people,” Verzosa told reporters.
“I share the confidence of General Verzosa. Let us tell everyone that there will be elections on May 10,” Bangit said.
For its part, Verzosa said the PNP will sponsor a Mass to be celebrated by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio at the Shrine of St. Therese in Pasay City later in the day for the same purpose.
THE MASBATE Gold Project of Australian miner CGA Mining Ltd. reported an 11% increase in gold production for the first quarter.
In a report to the Australian Securities Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange, CGA Mining said total gold production for first quarter reached 40,535 ounces (oz.) of gold, 4,070 oz. more than last quarter’s 36,465 oz.
Mining operations also posted a 54% increase in the first quarter.
The company said a total of 1.2 million metric tons (MT) of ore were mined during the period, a big improvement from the 791,329 MT of ore mined from the last quarter of 2009.
The volume of ore milled went up by 3% to 1.17 million MT in the first quarter from 1.13 million MT in the last quarter of 2009.
CGA Mining is conducting a $10-million exploration program at the Masbate Gold Project, with drilling and trenching to be carried out over the next 12 months.
The miner said it repaid $38.5 million in debt during the first quarter, but still had $75.3 million in available cash on hand as of March 31.
The Masbate tenement is being held by Filminera Resources Corp., where CGA Mining unit Philippine Gold Ltd. owns 40%. The rest is owned by Zoom Mineral Holdings, Inc., where CGA also has a 40% interest.
The processing plant, meanwhile, is owned by Philippine Gold Processing and Refining Corp., a wholly owned unit of Philippine Gold.
CGA Mining’s Masbate project has a total indicated resource base of 4.55 million ounces, total inferred resource base of 3.22 million ounces, and probable reserve of 3.03 million ounces of gold.
Neil Jerome C. Morales
HOMEGROWN FASTFOOD giant Jollibee Foods Corp. has bought a majority stake into a Chinese-based restaurant chain for about $43 million, the firm told the stock exchange on Tuesday.
"Jollibee Foods, through its wholly owned subsidiary Jollibee Worldwide Pte. Ltd. signed an agreement to enter into a joint venture with Guangxi Zong Kai Food and Beverage Investment Co., Ltd.," the fastfood service firm said in a statement.
Under the deal signed on April 30, Jollibee will spend 30 million renminbi (about $4.395 million) to take a 55% stake in Chinese restaurant chain San Ping Wang. Jollibee Foods and Guangxi Zong Kai will also spend 20 million renminbi (about $2.93 million) to expand the restaurant business.
"Together with the people from Jollibee Group of Companies, I believe that we will be able to grow San Pin Wang to a very large and successful fastfood chain in China," Jollibee Foods Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Tan Caktiong said in the statement.
San Ping Wang has 34 stores in China that are expected to record 100 million renminbi (about $14.653 million) in revenues this year.
The Jollibee group operates the largest quick-service restaurant network in the Philippines with a total of 1,557 stores in the country.
There are 686 Jollibee stores nationwide, 399 Chowking Chinese restaurants, 226 Greenwich pizza houses, 207 Red Ribbon bakeries, and 24 Delifrance outlets. There are also 15 Manong Pepe restaurants.
Jollibee Foods also has 325 stores abroad, including the United States, Vietnam, and China.
Shares in Jollibee Foods, which recorded a 14.6% rise in net income to P2.66 billion last year, closed at P58.50 each on Friday.
Neil Jerome C. Morales
A UNIT of listed conglomerate DMCI Holdings, Inc., has entered into a partnership with a Japanese construction giant and a local firm for the construction and commissioning of a portion of the MRT-7 project.
"D.M. Consunji, Inc., together with Marubeni Corp., has signed a contract for the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of the Metro Rail Transit System of the MRT-7 project with Universal LRT Corp. (BVI), Ltd. for approximately $1.12 billion," the company told the local bourse on Tuesday.
Under the deal, the Marubeni-DMCI consortium will build the 22-kilometer rail system within 42 months.
The MRT-7 will extend from North EDSA or Epifanio de los Santos Avenue at the end of the MRT Line 3 in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan with 14 stations: North EDSA, Quezon Memorial Circle, University Avenue near the University of the Philippines, Tandang Sora, Don Antonio, Batasan, Manggahan, Doña Carmen, Regalado, Mindanao Avenue, Quirino, Sacred Heart, Tala, and San Jose del Monte.
Shares in DMCI Holdings, whose profits almost tripled last year to P4.683 billion on the back of huge earnings from mining, real estate and water distribution, closed at P17.00 each on Friday.
Max V. de Leon
AFTER business-process outsourcing (BPO), franchising is now seen as the next biggest employment generator and catalyst for real-estate development as more foreign brands locate to the country and make the Philippines their franchising hub for Asia.
Samie Lim, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA), said the mature franchising industry in the country, as shown by the huge number of franchisers and certified franchise executives (CFEs) here, has made foreign brands recognize the Philippines as the most logical base for their operations in Asia.
Proof of this, Lim said, is the expected attendance of some 30,000 visitors and about 350 exhibitors in the 18th edition of the Philippine International Franchise Conference and Expo (Pifce) from July 14 to 18 at the SMX Convention Center.
“The US Franchise Show this year in Washington, D.C., which used to be the biggest in the world, only had 175 exhibitors. We will have 350 exhibitors this year, so this means our Franchise Show will be the biggest in the world,” Lim told the BusinessMirror.
Boosting Manila’s positioning as the franchise haven in Asia, Lim said, is Manila’s hosting of the World Franchise Congress and the Asia-Pacific Franchise Confederation meeting next year.
Lim disclosed to the BusinessMirror the new wave of foreign franchisers that will be putting up operations in the country.
The list includes International House of Pancake of Canada, Denny’s of the United States, Sarku Japan, Value Place Franchise Services, The Learning Experience, Yogen Fruz, Fast-Fix Jewellery and Watch Repairs, Fastruckids, House of Tutors, Integrated Water Systems, Kayway Enterprise LLC, Magic Food USA Inc., Planet Smoothie, Reva Slim Weight Loss Center, Stratus Building Solutions, The Lite Choice Co. Inc., Tropical Smoothie Café’, and Zips America’s One Price Dry Cleaners.
Lim said these companies will be looking for Filipino partners to serve as their master franchisees.
Aside from putting up franchise networks in the Philippines , the Filipino master franchisees will also represent the brands in other countries in the region, Lim said.
For the Asian brands, the Filipino partners will also be the link to US and Europe.
Lim asserted the strong program for CFEs in the country is a major contributor to the strong growth of franchising in the country.
“We have the highest number of CFEs in Asia . Currently, we already have 30 graduates and more are taking the program,” Lim said.
The franchising sector accounts for 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and contributed 25 percent to the retail sector in 2008.
Last year, Max’s president Robert Trota, also the current president of PFA, said the industry grew by 20 percent, and is expected to grow by another 20 percent to 30 percent this year.
Lim said the entry of more brands to the Philippines will trigger a strong upsurge in retail space demand and employment.
“Each franchisee hires an average of 12 people directly, and indirectly provides jobs to another 22,” Lim said.
The expected boom in the sector, according to him, also considerably increase the tax base, as franchisers maintain good accounting practices because of the payment of royalties. The American and European brands, on the other hand, will further modernize the technology and know-how of the local entrepreneurs.
The Philippines currently has the second highest number of franchisors globally at 775, and franchisees at 100,000. They collectively employ about 600,000 individuals. The US has the highest number of franchisors at 1,400, and franchisees at 350,000, with total employees at 9 million.