Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Bilib I.T. or not: Prison call center eyed. You've got to "BILIB I.T."

Call centers may soon be run in prisons with inmates as operators, thanks to a program initiated by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano that aims to help convicts get a better chance to resettle and reintegrate back into society.

The program, dubbed "BILIB I.T.," will grant information technology (IT) scholarships to qualified inmates so they can learn productive skills that will help them get back on their feet.

"We'll see if we can try building call centers inside jail facilities to help these detainees utilize their training and gain employment," Cayetano said in a statement released during the program launch at Taguig City Jail.

"I eventually want to get there because it's a step further toward better rehabilitation," he added.

Among the courses to be offered are Basic IT, Adobe Photoshop, computer hardware servicing and a finishing course for call center agents, which would include English proficiency and web design.

Among the inmates who were given scholarships during the launch were: Alvin Alison, 21; Ronnie Omanitu, 24; Belinda Pagulayan, 48, and Jenny Canlas, 28.

Cayetano said the scholarships will be granted to at least 200 inmates, and is expected to double with the help of the Technical and Education Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

Cayetano cited a similar program in the United States where "inmates do call center work for nonsensitive matters."

Who are eligible for the program?

"Those who have served their sentence but prefer to live inside the penal community due to lack of skills necessary to rejoin the work force, detainees who have minimum security and those inmates with sentences not longer than six years," Cayetano said.

"We should give them a chance to make a living and become productive members of society in the future," he added.

Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva, who was present during the launch, added that more than providing livelihood for the inmates after serving their sentences, it was also about removing the stigma associated with being an ex-convict.

The inmates will look better to prospective employers if they have done work in the detention facility, he added.

Cayetano expressed willingness to work with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Department of Justice to create guidelines that will allow inmates to be in a job that would enable them to be in direct commercial contact with the public.

The program was launched in cooperation with Tesda, IT school Informatics, BJMP and Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

PH among top 10 with least gender disparity

By Ana G. Roa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Read more:

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines still leads Asian countries in reducing inequality between men and women, according to the 2012 Global Gender Gap rankings of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The report showed the Philippines remained among the top 10 with the least gender disparity. It had an overall score of 0.7757, to rank eighth out of 135 countries, unchanged from the previous year.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Philippines take lead in biotech crops

Arno Maierbrugger
Inside Investor
Read more:

The Philippines is pushing ahead collaboration with ASEAN member states and the US to share its know-how on biotechnology in farming and developing genetically modified crops, a move that is aimed at helping farmers improve their productivity, the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs said on October 24.

The Philippines is considered a leader in biotechnology in Southeast Asia, being the first country in the region to have a regulatory system for biotech products in place and the first to grow a major biotech crop for food, feed and processing, called Bt corn, that was approved for commercial production in 2002.

Philippines Is Raised by Moody’s as Investment Grade Nears

By Cecilia Yap and Max Estayo - Oct 29, 2012 3:26 PM GMT+0800

The Philippines’ debt rating was raised to the highest level since the start of 2004 by Moody’s Investors Service, bringing the Southeast Asian nation one step away from investment grade. The peso and bonds rose.

The country’s foreign and local currency long-term bond ratings were upgraded to Ba1 from Ba2, Moody’s said in a statement today. That brings the Philippines on par with Turkey and Hungary. The ratings outlook is stable.

“The writing is clearly on the wall,” said Roberto Juanchito Dispo, president of First Metro Investment Corp., one of the arrangers of the government’s record retail bond sale this month. “The Philippines is definitely on its way to becoming investment grade in due course. This will bring numerous tangible economic benefits to the country.”

A Glimpse of the Philippines

What is driving Philippines' economy?

Cielito F Habito
Philippine Daily Inquirer

It is remarkable that the Philippine economy has been showing dynamism this year, bucking the trend of a sluggish world economy. This implies that the energy driving our economic growth is coming from within. Indeed it is internal demand - that is, we Filipinos ourselves purchasing our goods and services - that has provided the current impetus for heightened economic activity, thereby providing increased jobs and incomes for Filipinos. I will explain some of the evidence on this below.

In basic economics, we are taught that the products and services produced in the economy are bought by four major sectors: private consumers for their consumption needs; businesses and firms for investment in structures, equipment and materials, etc; government for public infrastructure and services, and for its own day-to-day requirements; and foreigners who buy our products and services as exports abroad, or buy them here as tourists. Growth in spending by any or all of these propels growth in the economy as a whole, as increased demand stimulates greater production by the economy's producers.

What's more, any rise in spending by any of these four sectors provokes a multiplier effect that leads to even more growth in economic activity, via a chain reaction of new incomes and consequent new spending. If a company spends 100 million Philippine Pesos (Bt74.4 million) on a new factory, this turns into PP100 million in total incomes received by contractors, engineers, construction workers, suppliers of equipment and construction materials and others. But that's not the end of it. Those various people now have more money to spend or save as they choose. If people save PP20 out of every additional PP100 in income they receive, then the original PP100 million of investment spending turns into a new round of PP80 million in spending on various things such as food, clothing and appliances that those construction people normally spend their incomes on. And since anyone's spending turns into someone else's income, that second-round PP80 million in incomes turns into a third round of spending amounting to PP64 million. This becomes yet another round of incomes spurring yet another round of spending, and so on down the line.

Ultimately, the PP100 million originally spent by the investing firm will actually create five times as much (PP500 million) total production and incomes. The mathematically inclined can figure out that if the saving rate is 20 per cent, or 0.2, the multiplier works out to be one divided by that, or five. So if people tend to save less, say 10 per cent, every spending gets multiplied by even more (that is, 10) and generates 10 times more production and income in the economy. And even more so if those savings are kept within the country, so that the banks receiving it can plough it back into our domestic economy, say by lending the savings to a company that will invest it in a new factory - thereby repeating the same story above.

Official data suggest that there is indeed more domestic spending by consumers, investors and government lately, even as foreign purchases of our products (especially in Europe) have slowed. In particular, government spending has dramatically swung around from a 4.6-per-cent drop in the first six months last year to 12.3-per-cent growth in the same period this year. Government construction spending jumped 55.4 per cent after falling 51.1 per cent last year. Stung by criticism that it directly dragged down the economy last year with reduced spending, the government has now come back with a vengeance.

The data show that firms' investment spending on durable equipment, breeding stock and orchard development and on intellectual property products has likewise sped up significantly from last year's pace. Private consumption growth is similarly brisk at 5.7 per cent. Interestingly, among the strongest sources of growth in people's spending are communication (with our continuing fascination for ever more sophisticated smart phones), restaurants and hotels, and recreation and culture. These suggest that domestic tourism has been a particularly important driver of our growth. One only needs to experience the now common flight delays and overcrowded airports to be convinced that Filipinos are travelling a lot more - and perking up the economy in the process.

The good news is that spending by foreigners on our products - ie, our exports - has lately resumed growth after contracting last year. Even then, the latest figures suggest that the export turnaround may be tentative. But I wouldn't lose sleep over this one. After all, our economy is now speeding along on its own steam, through the Filipinos' own spending, multiplier effect and all.

The PH model for learning English


BANGKOK, Thailand - Never in man's history has the demand for the English language been this great. It has become an indispensable commodity around the world. Globalization, of course, has been one of the main catalysts behind this phenomenon.

It is not uncommon nowadays, for instance, for two individuals of different nationalities to troubleshoot technical problems or place orders in an instant despite the geographical differences that divide them.

California-based Mark only needs to dial a toll-free number to get directed to Manila-based call center agent Geoffrey who takes his call for tech support and asks him some preliminary questions. In a few minutes, Mark gets satisfied with Geoffrey's customer support service. Meantime, Geoffrey waits for another call that may come from the UK or any part of the English-speaking countries.

This scenario has become a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week routine, making it a way of life for many Filipinos in major urban centers in the Philippines.

In a recent study involving the Business English Index (BEI), the only tool that measures business proficiency in English in the workplace, the Philippines surfaced as the world's best country in business English proficiency, even besting the US.

The 2012 results demonstrated that out of the 76 countries that participated in the study, the Philippines was the only country that went above 7.0, “a BEI level within range of a high proficiency that indicates an ability to take an active role in business discussions and perform relatively complex tasks.” This came out even as the Philippines has been reported to have overtaken India as the international hub for call centers.


But how did this phenomenon start? What has made the 20-year-old call center industry in the Philippines successful? Can other non-native speaking countries learn from the Philippine experience? A number of reasons have been cited, but the Filipinos’ competence in the English language tops the list.

In GlobalEnglish Corporation's BEI study, skills such as taking participatory roles in business-related conversations or carrying out relatively complex responsibilities are highly prized. GlobalEnglish also implied that other more basic skills such as being able to “understand or communicate basic information during virtual or in-person meetings, read or write professional e-mails in English or deal with complexity and rapid change in a global business environment” were accounted as well.

Tom Kahl, GlobalEnglish president, noted that being able to convey ideas with ease and work with others within a multinational setting help boost an organization’s finances. The study revealed that the 7.11 score of the Philippines, the only country reaching the intermediate level, may help explain why the country’s economic condition has improved, placing it in the Top 5 in the 2011 and 2012 World Bank GDP data.

Aside from those cited by GlobalEnglish, an executive from an American company outsourcing customer service calls to a Philippine-based call center underscored the value of knowing how to use certain phrases and idioms.

The edge

It may seem fairly basic, but it counts as another factor why English-speaking Filipinos are highly preferred over their Indian counterparts. This may be correlated to a person’s vocabulary and grammar being central to his success or failure in every communication.

In Barry Tomalin’s “India Rising: The Need for Two Way Training,” he cited vocabulary and grammar use as a source of pressure for Indian call center agents. They tend to use “long, indirect questions, which prolong the exchange. Done out of politeness, it can actually be counterproductive as it draws out the exchange beyond what is necessary.”

The use of some words, such as “prepone” instead of saying “bring forward,” or “I will bring the needful” instead of saying “I'll do what is needed,” which may not be clear to multinational clients, further causes miscommunication. In short, knowing standard expressions offers a huge pay-off.

To become effective users of any language, one has to understand also the culture within which the language is used. Braj Kachru, a well-known linguist dubbed the “father” of World Englishes, once said that language and culture are intertwined.

To know and understand any language, one has to know and understand its culture as well. In the case of Filipinos, this does not seem to be a daunting task at all. The Philippines has long been prepared for this. With a century-old history of having been exposed to anything American, the Filipinos are more familiar with Western practices than other Asians.

This criterion might be frowned upon by other non-native English-speaking countries for fear of dampening their people’s sense of nationalism. Of course, for a non-native speaker of English to successfully know and understand the target language, he does not necessarily have to embrace the same set-up Filipinos have.

One practical advice Filipinos offer is that the support system to learn any language at the very least should be present. This means having a ready access to the English language inside and outside the classroom anytime.

External support

In the Philippines, most signages and outdoor billboards are in English, there is a proliferation of Hollywood films in cinemas and American sitcoms on TV – without sub-titles in Filipino, official government documents are in English, as are nearly half of the local songs recorded (even as Top 40 songs from the US enjoy extensive airplay).

Parents use the English language with their children even before they go to school. Middle- to upper-class members of society use English when on the phone, when they e-mail, and when they chat. All these, they say, have never threatened their sense of patriotism, as patriotism – they argue – is what lies in one’s heart and soul.

With the ASEAN Economic Community starting in 2015, member-states are now busy preparing for the integration. Inasmuch as people are looking forward to enjoying the opportunities that the community-building will offer, it also brings with it challenges.

One of these is the people’s need to become competent players not only in their own countries, but also within the region. With competence closely tied to a worker’s communication skills, non-native speakers of English are faced with questions propelling them to reflect on whether they are as good or better than their counterparts in neighboring countries.

In the midst of all these, the Philippine experience may not necessarily be a perfect language learning model to the peoples of ASEAN. However, somewhere along the country's journey in making its citizens communicatively competent, perhaps some lessons can be picked up and put to good use. -

Analiza Perez-Amurao teaches research and writing courses at the Humanities and Languages Division of Mahidol University International College in Thailand. A finalist in the SEAMEO-Australia Press Award 2010, she holds a Postgrad Diploma in TESOL from RELC-Singapore and an MA in English Language and Literature Teaching from the Ateneo de Manila University. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Multicultural Studies at Mahidol University. Visit her website at Follow her tweets: @analiza_amurao.