Saturday, 29 January 2011

This Frenchman loves the Mangyans -and everything else about the Philippines

By Lito Gutierrez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

‘This country conquered me,’ says wandering blueblood and now Mindoro resident Hubert d’Aboville, who’s organizing an arts festival to benefit tribal communities

ONE OF the first things Frenchman Hubert d’Aboville (pronounced “uber daboveel”) did when he settled in the Philippines in 1981 was to acquire a sprawling piece of land at the foot of Mount Malasimbo, a few kilometers from the then-unsullied seaside resort town of Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. He would develop close kinship with his neighbors, the seven Mangyan tribes who lived in the mountains of the island.

He would imbibe the natives’ customs and traditions, appreciating their craft and learning their dialect, when he was not attending to his business in Makati.

He had come to the Philippines in the early 1980s to head the office of the French global timber company Becob. Later he would put up his own Paris-Manila Technology Corp. (Pamatec), a social enterprise that seeks to bring power-generation technology to the country’s poorest communities. “I wanted to go into high-impact, eco-cultural projects,” he said.

The Mangyan, however, were not the first beneficiaries of d’Aboville’s endeavors; the Masbateños were.

Revolutionary tax

In 1999, Pamatec broke ground for a project that would bring electricity to about 120,000 residents of the poverty-stricken island. Masbate was a hotbed of communist insurgency, and the rebels did not just harass project workers, but also destroyed equipment and supplies worth hundreds of thousands of euros.

They wanted the Frenchman to pay “revolutionary tax.” In a letter, “Luz del Mar, communications officer, Jose Rapsing Command, CPP-NPA Masbate,” after citing what “she” knew of the project’s multi-million euro financing, asked d’Aboville to send as a negotiator “not technical or security personnel)... but (a) finance officer or management personnel who (can) commit to decisions.”

D’Aboville could have just thrown in the towel and pulled out. But instead, he flew to Europe to talk with Luis Jalandoni, one of the rebels’ top leaders in exile.

The Masbate insurgents backed off, and the project was finished in 2009. He would write a book, “Management of an International Project against Poverty,” about the Masbate project, an excellent guide for private sector poverty-alleviation programs.

Now d’Aboville has trained his sights and his unrelenting drive on his “native” Puerto Galera, hoping to transform the island into a top-tier “eco-cultural” travel destination.

200 feet above sea level

On Feb. 18-19, in his Villa Malasimbo, d’Aboville, now 55, is hosting a music and arts festival. The estate, 7 km from the town, is about 200 feet above sea level, overlooking the bay.

Artists will display their works, and musicians from all over the country will perform, but the centerpiece would be Mangyan art and their way of life.

With tickets at P3,900 each, he hopes that the crowd he attracts would be the sophisticated, high-end kind that would make Puerto Galera a favored destination. He shudders at the thought of Puerto Galera becoming another Boracay.

He is so devoted to the place that in the mid-1990s, he went on a personal crusade to get Puerto Galera a membership to the highly exclusive Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World. The club was founded in Berlin, Germany, in March 1997 as a movement to protect the environment and the development and enhancement of marine resources worldwide. It has the blessings of the Unesco.

D’Aboville’s projects in Masbate and now Puerto Galera are just two indications of his deep affection for this country and his commitment to its progress.

Slept at Luneta Park

With nary a clue about the Philippines, he first came to Manila as a backpacker, fresh from college with a business degree in 1977.

With just a few euros in his pocket, he scrounged for the cheapest fares, washed dishes and slept in parks. In Maui, he slept in a hollowed-out bush which he sometimes shared with vagrants. In Manila, the first thing he asked upon landing was where the park was.

In Luneta, he would be accosted by young hooligans, whom he must have charmed because not only did the boys stop harassing him, one of them even invited him to his shack in Tondo, which he accepted.

“I woke up the following morning with my arm as big as my leg,” he said, referring to the mosquito bites he got.

But he was astounded with the generosity and kindness.

From Manila, his meager cash and abundant sagacity would take him to such ultimate destinations as the sun-soaked beaches of Bali and the freezing, treacherous reaches of Afghanistan’s Khyber Pass.

At that time, the Afghans, led by the Taliban, were trying to kick out the Russians, and when d’Aboville reached the capital Kabul, Russian MIGs had just bombed the presidential palace. D’Aboville took pictures of the corpses and sold them, along with his story, to a journalist covering the war.

Cattle class

Once, he discovered that the ticket he bought for a boat trip was literally in cattle class; it was the cargo hold for livestock. “At the last minute, as the boat was about to set off,” he recalled, “I slipped out and went up to the captain’s lounge, where the captain was playing chess. I asked if I could play, and that’s where I was for the rest of the voyage.”

Fact is, d’Aboville could have traveled under more pleasant circumstances, instead of knocking around among the unwashed.

D’Aboville comes from French nobility. In his office at the Pamatec building in Makati hangs a photo of a palace in his native Brittany, in front of which posed a big, elegantly dressed crowd. “That is where we lived,” he said, “and those people are my family.”

But the blue blood that runs in the clan must also be streaked with a sense of high adventure. In 1980, one of his kuyas, Gerard, the fourth child of six brothers and three sisters, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, from Cape Cod in northeast US to their native Brittany. Eleven years later, he would make a similar journey across the Pacific, from Washinton state in the US to Japan.

D’Aboville said Gerard has been to the Philippines a few times. (Their youngest brother Guillaume and a cousin Guy would also marry Filipinas and settle in the Philippines.)

In fact, he, who is eighth in the brood, and some of his brothers once got on a motorcycle to join the ultimate off-road motor sports event, the 10,000-km Paris-Dakar rally.

D’Aboville says his “personal journey... has taken me to many exotic places on this planet. I came, I saw, but I was not conquered. But the Philippines conquered me.”

He would fall under the spell of Ara Valenzuela, then working in hotel public relations and who, according to d’Aboville, “was as fascinated by France as I was fascinated with the Philippines.”

Ara, a progeny of the illustrious Dr. Pio Valenzuela, would study and work in France, and D’Aboville would plead with her to return to the Philippines to get married. They have four children.

For more information about the Malasimbo arts and music festival, check or call tel. no. 0917-818-1418.

PH poised for sustained 7% growth

Economist cites improved governance, infra project
By Riza T. Olchondra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE PHILIPPINES is poised to grow 7 percent or better in the next six to 10 years—the same feat that India and Vietnam had accomplished in the last decade, according to economist Bernardo M. Villegas, who co-founded the University of Asia and the Pacific (formerly known as the Center for Research and Communication).

He said the Philippines could even sustain an average gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7-9 percent in the next six years, given significant improvements in governance and infrastructure as well as strong remittance inflows.

In a briefing, Villegas said that such high level of sustained growth was crucial in curbing the poverty level for the next 10 years to 15 percent from the current 30 percent of the population.

He said inflation could be in the 4-5 percent range. “I would say 4.3 percent. This is nothing to worry about,” Villegas said, adding that he expected interest rates to remain low.

This means investors with good projects will have no problem getting financing.

Villegas said agribusiness and water infrastructure projects would be crucial moving forward as demand for high-value crops was expected to surge in increasingly affluent markets like China.

Another good sign for the Philippines was that there existed a lot of room for investments here, he added.

Villegas said the savings rate was at an all-time high of 30 percent of GDP while the investment rate was only 17 percent, leaving room for big-ticket projects in the high-growth sectors to be funded by local money.

An investment-led growth was getting strong support from the foreign investment community, Villegas said, citing the Joint For eign Chambers’ roadmap dubbed “Arangkada Philippines.”

The roadmap describes how a 7- to 9-percent growth in GDP can be achieved in the next five to six years through investments in seven key industries.

These are agribusiness, business process outsourcing, creative industries, infrastructure, manufacturing and logistics, mining and tourism, medical travel and retirement.

What was encouraging was that these were the same “sunrise industries” in which the local taipans and conglomerates were investing heavily, Villegas said.

He said the likes of San Miguel Corp., the SM group, the Metro Pacific group, the Ayalas, First Philippine Holdings and the Phinma group, among others, were leading the way to an investment-led recovery.

However, foreign investments must complement local investments if the Philippines was to sustain its target growth rates, Villegas pointed out.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sy Group requested to make bigger arena

Sy group requested to make bigger sports arena
by Eileen A. Mencias
Manila Standard

SENATOR Juan Miguel Zubiri yesterday told reporters that the government is talking to the Sy Group of Companies to enlarge the closed indoor stadium it is planning to construct near the Mall of Asia grounds in Pasay City in preparation for the country’s hosting of the Suzuki Cup in 2012.

The Suzuki Cup is a biennial football competition organized by the Asean Football Federation.

Last year, the Philippine team, known as the Azkals, made a good showing in the tournament, increasing interest in the sport in the country.

Zubiri said they are asking the Sy group to increase the size of its planned indoor stadium so that it can accommodate a football field and 30,000 to 40,000 spectators.

The senator said the country needs to spend at least P400 million to improve the Panaad stadium in Negros Occidental and the Rizal stadium to meet international standards and allow the country to host the Suzuki Cup.

He said they are already talking to a businessman who he declined to identify to sponsor the repairs for the Panaad stadium but the sponsorship rests on changing the name of the stadium to the name of the corporate sponsor.

Citi bullish, sees PH sustaining economic growth

by Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

American financial giant Citi expects the Philippines to sustain its strong economic growth this year, with political stability in place following the election last year.

“We have strong conviction that Philippine prospects will be as good as any in Emerging Market Asia,” Citibank country head for the Philippines Sanjiv Vohra said in an e-mail to reporters.

Vohra said the election of the new president with his strong mandate affirmed the return of trust and confidence in government that might pave the way for strong partnership with the business sector.

“The favorable domestic political environment together with the government’s reform objectives create an environment conducive to sustainable growth and more importantly, investments over the medium term,” Vohra said.

Citibank said “banks will benefit from the investment-led growth path that the Philippine economy is expected to track in the medium term.”

“Sustained domestic demand and improved business confidence support a revival of capital spending among the corporates in 2011. In our view, Philippine banks’ low loan to deposit ratio of below 70 percent and strong capital position put them in a favorable position to support corporate re-leveraging,” the bank said.

It said a more broad-based expansion in the manufacturing and industrial sectors could fuel credit demand from the mid-sized corporates, which could offset the muted demand from the top tier companies which prefer to tap the capital markets.

The expansion in lending to the manufacturing sector is also encouraging given that this segment has contracted the most since the Asian financial crisis, it said.

Citibank said the regulatory environment for banking was conducive to credit growth, evident in the recent lifting of the single borrowers’ limit for infrastructure and development projects under the public private sector partnership initiative, which could spur big-ticket loans.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Philippines prepared to handle inflation -- Fitch

Inflation prospects favorable

SINGAPORE -- The Philippines is better prepared to deal with inflation than some of the Southeast Asian nation’s neighbors that are also suffering from sudden capital outflows, Fitch Ratings said in an interview yesterday.

Fears that some policy makers in Asia are falling behind in a fight against higher prices have accelerated a shift in allocations of foreign investors’ portfolios, so far benefiting Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan and hurting India, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Philippines has been also swept up with the countries being sold off. A T-bill auction on Monday failed because Manila thought the rates demanded by investors were too high, despite surging secondary market yields.

Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia Pacific sovereigns at Fitch, is positive on the country, citing some favorable trends at play that will help it weather price pressures.

"Inflation dynamics remain pretty favorable and I think the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) is one of those with a better track record of delivering appropriate policy," he told the Dealing Room, a Reuters chat room, when asked about inflationary concerns in Asia.

Mr. Colquhoun said in an interview that improved tax collection, relatively strong economic growth and robust remittances from overseas Filipinos were all helping the country’s profile.

Fitch has a BB rating on the Philippines long-term foreign currency debt with a stable outlook.
"It is not a requirement for a watch positive to be issued before an upgrade," Mr. Colquhoun said.

Moody’s rates the country’s debt a notch lower at Ba3, and earlier this month changed its outlook on the Philippines to positive from stable. Standard & Poor’s has the country at BB.

The Philippine peso is the second-worst performing currency in emerging Asia so far this month, just after the Indian rupee. The peso has slid 1.4% against the dollar. The main stock index has lost nearly 6%.

Among the countries that Mr. Colquhoun flagged as vulnerable to sharp policy changes are Indonesia and to some extent India, whose monetary tightening to date has seen little success in pushing back inflation.

The Reserve Bank of India was to meet to set policy on Tuesday, and is widely expected to lift key rates by a quarter percentage point, its seventh increase in the past year.

"Any sign that Indian authorities were acquiescing in double-digit inflation coupled with signs of that spilling over into wages would be negative for that assessment, although not necessarily enough to trigger rating action," he said. -- Reuters