Saturday, 30 June 2007

Giving up on NAIA?

Original article at The Philippine Star
The Philippine Star

It is really just a matter of time. NAIA is getting too congested for comfort and even if NAIA 3 eventually opens, it would be hard pressed to handle the requirements of an international airport serving the nation’s capital region. And with the NAIA 3 opening becoming more and more doubtful as new problems surface (e.g. structural defects), it is not surprising that Philippine Airlines is now seriously looking at Clark International to serve its long-term needs.

Philippine Airlines announced early this week its intention to invest up to $50 million to put up strategic facilities at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at Clark “in preparation for the extension of PAL’s Manila operations to Clark and the start of direct PAL service from Clark to foreign destinations.”

The Clark investment will entail the lease of 30 to 50 hectares of land, where PAL will construct its catering, ground handling and aircraft maintenance facilities. PAL also plans to offer these services to other airlines operating at Clark.

In fact, if current negotiations with Clark Development Corp. turn out to be productive, it is possible for PAL to start direct flights before Ate Glue’s term ends in 2010 to international points from Clark. PAL is initially looking at flights to Korea, Japan and China — utilizing PAL’s new Airbus A320/A319 and the recently-ordered Boeing B777-300ER due for delivery starting 2009.

I can understand the urgency behind PAL’s Clark thrust. With its new big jets about to be delivered and the increase in tourist traffic to this country, NAIA’s severe limitations, principally its single runway, promises to be a real headache. For PAL to effectively defend its position as the country’s premier flag carrier, it must have access to Clark. Besides, the distance of Clark to Manila is just about the same distance that most big airports have with the metro areas they serve.

While the Clark airport currently handles approximately one million passengers a year, its master plan envisions two terminals capable of handling 20 to 30 million passengers annually. Clark is set to welcome its one millionth international passenger Friday aboard an Asiana flight from South Korea.

The PAL investment marks a new phase in Clark’s development that makes it necessary for government to fast track the establishment of support infrastructure. If it is to serve as the gateway to Metro Manila, Clark must be connected by a high speed railway system to get passengers into the city in less than an hour, as is the case in regional airports such as Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Luckily for Clark, the North Luzon Tollway is already functional as a world class facility. But the tollway still ends in super congested Balintawak so that it often takes longer to get to Makati from Balintawak than from Clark to Balintawak via the North Luzon Tollway.

The plan to provide an exit through Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City that bypasses Balintawak may see the light of day next year. Right now, government is still trying to secure the right of way so construction can start.

A bus service from Clark exiting at Mindanao Avenue and delivering passengers to Trinoma for transfer to the MRT is a stop gap solution. But even with this Mindanao Ave. exit that will eventually connect to C-5, a fast train service from Clark to Makati, which had always been in the plans, is still essential. C-5 is too congested, even now.

Well, if there is a President who should just love to make the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport the country’s main gateway, it will have to be Gloria Arroyo. And it is timely as well. She told us last Saturday that money is no longer a problem nor valid as an excuse. If she applies that principle to Clark, we should have an international airport we can finally be proud of before she retires in 2010.

PAL to transfer major operations to Clark by 2010

By Cynthia D. Balana and Riza Olchondra
Original report at the Inquirer
Last updated 08:42am (Mla time) 06/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Talks are underway for the expansion of Philippine Airlines operations from Pasay City to Clark in Pampanga in a bid to transform the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) there into a premier airport and accommodate the growing number of air passengers in that part of the country.

In a press briefing in Makati City, PAL president Jaime Bautista said the transfer of major operations to the 30-hectare property formerly occupied by Federal Express [sic] [Fedex was in Subic; the area PAL is taking over was occupied by DHL--Blogger ed.] would take place “within the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”

Bautista said the property could eventually expand to 50 hectares depending on the outcome of the negotiations.

In contrast, the present PAL domestic and international terminal at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City only covers 20 hectares.

Bautista said PAL was in the final phase of negotiations for catering, ground handling and maintenance services for the Clark terminal.

He said construction costs alone could reach as high as $30 million to $50 million while maintenance is expected to cost another $20 million to $30 million a year.

“We’re trying to fast-track it. We’re looking at it in terms of operations. The trend in Asia now is to put airports farther away from the cities. In Kuala Lumpur, the airport near the city was closed and moved farther away. That was also the case in Bangkok,” Bautista said.

“That is what we are going to do at Clark but we will also maintain our operations here (in Pasay City),” he said.

For its part, Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) said it was preparing for the entry of prospective locators by expanding infrastructure and adding services.

“We welcome the announcement of PAL. Clark, which will have its one-millionth international passenger this week, is stepping up its development to respond to a bigger and growing interest in DMIA,” CIAC president Victor Luciano said.

PGMA Forecast: ICT industry to generate $12 B by 2010

Original report at The Philippine Star

The country’s information and communications technology (ICT) industry is expected to generate $12 billion in revenues and create a million jobs by 2010, President Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo made the forecast in her speech read by Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde at the 2nd International Conference and Exhibit on ICT and business process outsourcing (BPO) at the Shangri-La Mactan organized by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Mrs. Arroyo said competition for ICT and BPO investments has gone global with the Philippines as “one of the four most desirable outsourcing destinations in the world. Southeast Asia is in the thick of the fight.”

She noted that just as government and the private sector “are partners in the growth of our economy and the development of our nation, so are we partners in the growth and development of our ICT industry.”

“By the end of my term in 2010, the ICT industry is expected to generate one million jobs and $12 billion in revenue, which are attainable if we will continue to work together for the next three years,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President said the government has created the Cyber Corridor, cutting across all super regions from Baguio to Cebu to Davao, which will boost the country’s telecommunications, technology and education, as well as its competitiveness.

Several science and technology projects have been implemented in the Cyber Corridor through the Department of Science and Technology, she said.

Among the projects Mrs. Arroyo mentioned was the Disaster Mitigation through Enhanced Forecasts Using Numerical Prediction Products and Satellite Data, a cluster computing solution built by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) for a fraction of the price to replace their old supercomputers to provide timely and accurate forecasts based on the newest meteorological models.

Another project is the Open Source and Low Cost Computing Program, which develops and delivers alternative and low cost systems applications to government agencies, schools and small businesses to reduce their dependency on proprietary software.

One of its desktop solutions, Bayanihan Linux version 4.0, was launched this year, she said.

Third is the Philippine Research, Education and Government Information Network, which serves as the country’s only research and education network with links to international research and development networks, such as the Asia Pacific Advanced Network, the Asian Internet Interconnection Initiative and the TransEurasia Information Network 2.

One of its milestones is the launching of the Philippine Open Internet Exchange for IPv4 and IPv6 this year.

Fourth is the PAGASA Interactive Climate and Weather Information Network, which includes the rehabilitation of the radar system to strengthen the weather bureau’s information and communication system, and the acquisition of the required hardware and development of the required software for its field stations.

Fifth is the Test Analysis and Calibration Information System, which refers to the computerization of laboratory operations and management through the use of information systems.

Another is the Electronic Library, which integrates current libraries into a single network system to standardize services and provide wider information databases to be made available and accessible to all individuals and qualified users with Phil e-Lib prepaid cards.

Gov't to centralize printing of diplomas

Gov't moves to put an end to 'diploma mills'
Original report at Gov.Ph News

The government is well on its way to putting an end to the perennial problem of "diploma mills" or fake diplomas often sold in some of Manila’s main streets, particularly Recto.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Dr. Carlito Puno said the antidote to this long-time problem is through the centralization of the printing of diplomas.

"There is much more to be accomplished if government agencies cooperate with one another. In this case, the CHED has linked up with the National Printing Office (NPO) in the production of college diplomas with security features," Puno said.

He said the paper to be used in the printing of diplomas would be the same paper used in printing the Philippine currency. Aside from a serial number, a bar code with the graduate’s photo not visible to the naked eye, would be among the other security features to be included.

Puno said the system to curb diploma mills would be carried out in one or two years.

The CHED chairman said that this system would prevent Filipino professionals from being banned by foreign employers as there have been numerous cases that fake diplomas were detected.

Puno also informed the students that the CHED has expanded its scholarship and loan program for them.

"The President has issued an order that we expand our scholarship and loan programs for students 10 to 20 times," he said.

Puno was the guest Cabinet man at the NBN 4’s TV program, "The Cabinet Speaks." The program is hosted by the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) Undersecretary for Broadcast Martin Antonio Crisostomo.

Promoting RP as center of higher education

Government to promote RP as a world-class tourist destination
Original report at Gov.Ph News

The Arroyo administration is strengthening the country’s collegiate education program to promote the Philippines not only as a world-class tourist destination but also as a topnotch center of higher education.

"We will use higher education as an entry point of tourism," Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair, Dr. Carlito Puno, said on "The Cabinet Speaks," a weekly television program aired over NBN 4 and hosted by Press Undersecretary for Broadcast Martin Antonio Crisostomo.

By upgrading the standard of the college education, the government would be "shooting two birds with one stone," Puno said. More foreign students would be attracted to study in the Philippines, which would also translate into more tourists coming to the country, he added.

He said one of the main reasons foreign students prefer to study in the Philippines is the affordability of education in the country. College education in the Philippines is far cheaper than that of China or Russia where most Korean university students used to study.

Another attraction of the Philippine education system is the Filipino’s fluency in the English language, not to mention the world-renowned Filipino hospitality, he said.

The CHED chief said he has directed state universities and colleges to increase their investments in improving their facilities such as dormitories as well as their curricula.

Only recently, the government signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with China’s Ministry of Education allowing Chinese students, who could not be accommodated in China’s universities, to study in the Philippines.

China’s state universities and colleges can absorb only 30 percent of the country’s high school graduates, and studying in private universities is quite expensive.

A student pays about $2,000 per semester in a Chinese private college or university compared to only $1,000 in the Philippines, Puno said.

He said Koreans top the list of foreign visitors in the country and this could be attributed to the influx of Korean students.

Puno also said that aside from the South Koreans, about 1,600 students from India are arriving in September or October to take up medical courses and aeronautics.

At present, there are some 100,000 Korean students enrolled in private and state-run colleges and universities in the Philippines, he said.

Puno also revealed that Korean universities have been offering post-graduate study scholarships to Filipino faculty members to further strengthen the cooperation between Korean and Filipino teachers and professors.

He expressed confidence that educational tourism is well on its way to contributing to the country’s coffers.

For comparison's sake: how's Vietnam doing?

Vietnam's 1st-half GDP growth highest in 7 years
Agence France-Presse
Original article at the Inquirer

HANOI -- Vietnam's economy grew by an estimated 7.87 percent in the first half of the year, the biggest increase since the same period of 2001, the General Statistics Office (GSO) said Friday.

However, the GSO said there were a number of difficult challenges that had to be overcome to meet growth targets for the year, such as low agricultural production, a high trade deficit and high inflation.

Vietnam expects gross domestic product (GDP) growth to reach 8.2-8.5 percent this year, compared with 8.2 percent last year.

The communist nation joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January and since then has attracted 484 foreign investment projects with capital of $3.9 billion -- a figure the GSO said was a "considerable" increase.

Another $869.9 million has been added over the period to 199 already licensed projects, it said.

Singapore held top position on the list with 27 projects valued at more than $889 million. South Korea and India followed.

Last year, Vietnam’s GDP grew by 7.4 percent in the first six months. Between 2001 and 2005, the figures ranged between 6.5 percent and 7.6 percent.

Peso seen to average 47-48 to $1 this year

By Des Ferriols
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Original report at the Philippine Star

The peso could average between 47 to 48 to the dollar for the year, stronger than the government’s official estimate of 48 to 50 to $1, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said yesterday.

“That (range) is the possible average for 2007,” Tetangco said. “The surplus in the balance of payments would tend to support the peso,” he added.

At the Philippine Dealing System (PDS), the peso closed 11 centavos higher at 46.240 yesterday from Thursday’s close of 46.350 to the dollar. The peso opened strong at 46.250 before hitting a high of 46.205 and a low of 46.300 to $1. Total transactions amounted to only $319.16 million.

“The peso itself is up but the other side of that is the weak dollar against all othe currencies,” Tetangco said.

“Whenever you BOP is in surplus, the tendency is to build up strength in the domestic currency,” he said. “That’s a natural behavior.”

The peso may rise to 45 by year-end and strengthen to between 43 and 44 by the end of 2008, said john Stuermer, head of Asian emerging market at Bear Stearns & Co in Singapore.

“The current account will remain in a large surplus this year and next, while foreign direct investments and portfolio equity continue to arrive in such large amounts that they are creating a serious challenge for the monetary policy,” Stuermer said.

The BSP predicts a current account surplus of $6 billion this year. The balance of payments, the broadest measure of the country’s financial transactions, rose to $2.4 billion in the first five months of this year.

The peso is the second-best performing currency in Asia so far this year, up around six percent due to billions of dollars sent home by Filipinos working overseas and a strong portfolio inflows. It was last at 47 to the dollar in mid-May.

Overseas remittances have stayed above the $1 billion mark for 12 consecutive months in April and are expected to reach a forecast record of $14.7 billion by the end of the year, up nearly 15 percent from $12.8 billion in 2006.

Friday, 29 June 2007

500,000 teachers to be trained through cyberspace

DepEd eyes training of half million public school teachers
Original report at Gov.Ph News

MANILA -- The Department of Education is targetting half a million public school teachers to undergo 'virtual training' through the recently-launched Cyber Education Project.

"Through Cyber Ed, we are bringing our teachers from all over the country closer to quality teacher training activities and materials," DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus said. "We will ensure that all our teachers are provided the much needed training they need to significantly improve teaching and student learning."

Through the Cyber Ed Project, Virtual Training Studios will be created to allow DepEd officials and training experts to interact directly with DepEd's 470,004 public school teachers.

These studios will allow frequent direct professional development sessions for the teachers. At the same time, computer-based training materials and standby Training Support Experts will be available to supplement live training broadcasts.

"We will now be able to provide the same quality of training to all our teachers, no matter where they are," Lapus stressed. "Aside from the live broadcasts, Cyber Ed will ensure access to quality training and professional development materials on-demand."

Lapus said that the department will be able to ease the limitations of the cascading model for teacher training currently being utilized. Through Cyber Ed, teachers will be able to receive training from the best instructors first hand.

"Also, teachers will no longer have to travel long distances to gain access to training since these will now be available at the school level," Lapus said. "This translates to a lot of savings for the government."

"Teacher training requires frequent contact for it to be really effective," Lapus added. "Cyber Ed provides an opportunity to create this condition and this translates to better teacher performance in the field." (PNA)

Hanjin to invest $684 mln more in Philippines

Original report at ABS-CBN News

South Korea's Hanjin Heavy Industries will invest $684 million in its shipbuilding facility in the Philippines, on top of the $1 billion it initially earmarked for the yard, a newspaper reported.

Manila Standard Today, quoting Hanjin director and general manager Shim Jeong Sup, reported on Friday that the company was investing the additional money due to an increasing number of vessel orders.

In May, the group won shipbuilding orders worth a total of $2.2 billion from companies in Germany, France, Turkey and India.

Gov't questions court-appointed NAIA 3 appraiser

NAIA-3 appraisal firm questioned
By Rhodina Villanueva
Original report at the Philippine Star

The government is asking a Pasay judge handling the expropriation case of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport-Terminal 3 to recall the appointment of DG Jones and Partners Philippines Inc. as the appraisal firm tasked to undertake valuation of NAIA-3.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) urged Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 117 Judge Jesus Mupas to instead appoint Gleeds along with Ove Arup and Gensler as a team of appraisers to conduct the valuation of NAIA-3.

The OSG said that even the NAIA-3 Commission declared Gleeds, Ove Arup and Gensler – the government’s nominees – as the most qualified appraisers.

The three firms are reportedly engineering and architectural firms that are well-respected internationally and have the requisite experience and competence necessary to conduct the valuation, design and structural review of any international facility such as NAIA-3.

Solicitor-General Agnes Devanadera said there is no legal basis for the appointment of an appraiser in the person of DG Jones Philippines Inc.

“Both Republic Act 8974 (An Act to Facilitate the Acquisition of Right-Of-Way, Site or Location for National Government Infrastructure Projects and for other purposes) and the Rules of Court do not authorize the court or commissioners to appoint their own appraiser. The functions of such an appraiser would be similar to, and would only be a duplication of the efforts of plaintiff’s (government) existing team of appraisers, in this case, Gleeds, Ove Arup and Gensler,” Devanadera said.

She said the government was neither notified of the pre-qualification proceedings nor furnished the proposals of the short-listed airport-valuation experts.

The OSG also said in its motion that the government “through casual research, learned that the firm DG Jones does not have sufficient expertise in and valuation experience of aviation facilities compared to that of (the government’s) nominees, hence, its qualification to make a quantitative assessment of NAIA-Terminal 3 is doubtful.”

The OSG said the court order directing the government to shoulder all the appraisal fees of DG Jones and Partners Philippines Inc. of $1.9 million (approximately P100 million) is excessive, exorbitant and unjust.

“The role of DG Jones being merely to assist the Board of Commissioners, which is constituted simply to receive and weigh evidence, the payment of P100,000,000 is clearly exorbitant, excessive and unjust,” the OSG said.

It said the plaintiff was not given an opportunity to determine the reasonableness of paying this amount or the chance to scrutinize DG Jones’ proposal.

The OSG said the appointment of DG Jones “is unwarranted and contrary to the provisions of the law and rules on expropriation.” This appointment, the OSG said will prolong the proceedings and waste the time and resources of the court, board of commissioners and the parties involved in the case.

The OSG is also asking the court to allow the parties to contest the qualification, expertise and fees of DG Jones, which must be ordered to furnish the parties with its proposal.

If DG Jones’ appointment is affirmed, however, the OSG asked the court to “direct the parties to equally share in the payment of the appraisal fees.”

Mupas earlier found DG Jones and Partners competent to undertake the requisite appraisal of the NAIA-Terminal 3 facility and declared official its appointment as appraiser.

The appraisal is necessary to determine the final amount to be paid in just compensation to the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Inc. (Piatco) by the government as part of the expropriation of NAIA-3.

RP’s external debt down 2.3% to $54B in first quarter

By Des Ferriols
Full report at the Philippine Star

The country’s outstanding external debt dropped by 2.3 percent to $54 billion in the first quarter of this year compared with $55.3 billion in the same period last year.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said the decline in the total foreign debt stock was due to the prepayment of private and public debt amounting to $2.5 billion.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Data on tourist arrivals, Filipinos in Singapore

2006 arrivals: 2.843 million
2006 target: 3 million
2010 target: 5 million

According to Mrs Arroyo, in Singapore, there are
-13,000 Filipino information technology professionals
-7,000 nurses and other health care providers
-6,000 engineers
-5,000 architects

See article in

Clark to receive its millionth international passenger

Full report at the BusinessWorld Online

The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga expects to receive this Friday its one-millionth international passenger aboard an Asiana flight from South Korea.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Peza investments up 201% this year

By Max V. de Leon
Original article at the Business Mirror

THE Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) is headed for another strong performance for the year as its accredited sites and companies have recorded huge increases in terms of committed investments, exports and employment generation compared to last year.

Peza director general Lilia de Lima reported that investments in Peza economic zones throughout the country hit P69.082 billion as of June 13, which is 201 percent higher than the P22.906 billion approved during the same period last year.

For exports, de Lima said Peza-accredited companies recorded an impressive increase of 20.7 percent from $10.658 billion from January to April last year to $12.865 billion for the same period this year.

Employment in Peza ecozones, meanwhile, registered a 10.45-percent rise from 506,391 direct workers as of April 2006 to 559,302 directly employed as of April this year.

“We are optimistic that the growth in investments, exports and employment will be sustained for the rest of the year, especially because of the opening of new sectors, i.e., the agri-industrial and medical tourism ecozones, in tandem with the buoyancy of the economy,” de Lima said.

She attributed the increase in investments mostly to the continuing expansion of existing companies in Peza, although there are still a lot of foreign-based suppliers of electronics and semiconductor companies that are coming.

This is a result of the Peza’s thrust to attract foreign suppliers of existing Peza companies to put up their own manufacturing facilities in the Philippines to supply not only their existing clients but other electronics and semiconductor enterprises as well.

The new capital being poured in also came from IT-related services, particularly call-center operations.

Peza also accredits IT parks and buildings to allow their locators to enjoy perks like income-tax holidays, duty-free importation of equipment, and an option to pay the lower rate of 5 percent of gross revenues in lieu of all taxes.

Peza ecozones account for about 86 percent of total manufactured goods exports, as most of their locators are electronics and semiconductor firms, which comprise the majority of the country’s shipments abroad.

Buñag on the BIR

By Jonathan Mayuga
Full article at the Business Mirror

“When I accepted the offer to join the government, I wanted to pay back my country for my blessings. I think I paid back my country. I served my fellowmen for four-and-a-half years. Thank you for your kindness,” he said.

Buñag said that although the BIR is the favorite whipping boy of critics both within and outside the government, he would proudly say that the people he worked with in the agency “were [the] most kind and most dedicated government employees I came to know.”

Buñag is confident that during his short stint in the BIR, he has accomplished “lasting reforms,” citing the computerization of the BIR offices all over the country as one of the changes he made.

In an interview, Buñag insisted that the BIR’s first-quarter shortfall was a result of many factors that were beyond his control.

He said the BIR, in fact, was making headway until the first-quarter shortfall that eventually led to his dismissal and prompted Malacañang to study the revenue patterns.

“Our record speaks for itself. In 2005 and 2006, the bureau exceeded its targets,” he said.

Buñag blamed his dismissal as BIR chief to the unrealistic target set up by the Department of Finance (DOF) and the attention the BIR is getting from the DOF and the media as well.

Ngayon lang natutukan ng DOF ang BIR ng ganito. Kayo nga [referring to media men], binabantayan ninyo kaming maigi, hindi ba?” he said.

2 BIR employees dismissed

By Sandy Araneta
Full article at The Philippine Star

Ombudsman Mercedita Gutierrez yesterday ordered the dismissal of two employees of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and approved the filing of criminal charges against another for various offenses involving public funds.

Ordered dismissed from the service was Virgilio Quileste, Revenue Collection Officer of BIR in Dapa, Surigao del Norte. Also dismissed was Nilo Acera Maton, Computer Operator II of the BIR in Davao City, who was found guilty of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and violation of Republic Act 6713 or Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Ordered charged before the Cebu City Regional Trial Court was Dina Neri, Revenue Officer of the BIR Revenue District No. 082, in Cebu City.

Palace asks DOTC chief to explain ZTE deal

By Paolo Romero
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Original article at The Philippine Star

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza must explain to the public details of the $330-million broadband contract between the government and a Chinese telecommunications firm, Malacañang said yesterday.

“I believe that the (Department of Transportation and Communications or DOTC), as well as those who are directly charged with the responsibility with regards to this particular transaction should give the clarification,” said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye in a statement.

Mendoza said the contract with Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp. has been “reconstituted” after the original copy was reportedly “lost” in China while in the custody of commercial attaché to Guangdong Emmanuel Niño Wee Ang.

On the other hand, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said there is “no contract per se to speak of” since what was signed was only a financing agreement.

Based on what he knows, the Chinese government was reluctant to sign the deal since there were still many vague specifications on the project, he added.

The National Bureau of Investigation said Ang, director of the Philippine Trade and Investment Center at the Philippine Consulate General in Guangdong, China, will be charged with “malversation of public property” before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Earlier, Mendoza told The STAR the NBI has recommended the filing of charges of infidelity in the custody of document against Ang.

Both crimes are contained in separate provisions of the Revised Penal Code under the title “Crimes Committed by Public Officers.”

In “malversation of public funds and property,” a public officer will be penalized after conviction if “by reason of the duties of his office, (was) accountable for public funds or property, appropriate(d) the same or (took) or misappropriate(d) or consent(ed), through abandonment or negligence, permit(ted) any other person to take such public funds, or property, wholly or partially, or otherwise be guilty of the misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property.”

In “infidelity in the custody of document,” a public officer is penalized after conviction, if he “remove(d,) destroy(ed ) or conceal(ed) documents or papers officially entrusted to him.”

Investigations showed the 31-year-old Ang, who was accompanied by his staff Allan Liu, also known as Liu Zhe Quiang, a Chinese national, reportedly placed the document inside a cardboard envelope, after it was entrusted to him for safekeeping.

Liu works as a trade assistant and interpreter at the Philippine consulate general in Guangdong.

Appearing before the NBI last May 11, Ang refused to take a polygraph test on grounds that the results might show otherwise, even if he was telling the truth.

During the interview, Ang claimed that he had not made any transaction or met with any representative of ZTE or Hua Wei Co. Ltd.

He also defended Liu, whom he said would not destroy his trust.

ZTE won the National Broadband Network (NBN) project of the DOTC and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology.

The NBN project aims to link all government agencies and offices and cut by half its estimated P4-billion annual communications expense.

The investment deal was signed by Mendoza and ZTE vice president Yu Yong.

In its report, the NBI said at around 2 p.m. on April 21, Mendoza and Yu met at the VIP room of the Haikou Meilan International Airport in China, where they signed five memorandums of agreement.

Later, Ang, accompanied by Liu, collected their luggage and boarded the van that took them to the Meritus Mandarin Hotel located in Hainan.

When they arrived there at 2:50 p.m., their belongings were placed on a cart and delivered to their rooms, where they took a rest. They woke up around midnight to pack their belongings since they had a flight the following day.

Thinking that the contract was with Liu, he called up his staff and asked that the documents be brought to his room.

But he was surprised to learn that the MOA was not in the possession of Liu.

They started a thorough search of their bedrooms, and when they could not find the document, they called the hotel housekeeping and security.

When they contacted the van driver, he assured them that they were the only ones who used the service vehicle. The driver reported that they did not leave any document in the van.

They returned to the airport’s VIP room at 1 a.m. the following day, but found no sign of the envelope.

They returned to the hotel and asked the duty manager, Richard Zhang, if they could view the video taken by their surveillance cameras.

The envelope was last seen in the luggage cart that entered the lobby to their rooms on the 13th floor.

Ang reportedly saw Liu bring the missing document to his room, and that Liu left his room for 30 minutes, from 8 p.m., but that he did not carry any envelope.

There were also no signs that another person entered Liu’s room while he was away.

All the involved hotel staff, including the bellboy, was also questioned.

It was only after they exhausted all means to find the document did Ang and Liu decide to report the incident to the Chinese police.

Liu said he was not aware that the document was in his possession, and that he had no contract [sic?] with rival companies of ZTE.

However, the NBI said a calling card of a certain Jane Lee of Hua Wei Technologies Co. Ltd. was allegedly found in his possession. —with Evelyn Macairan

Mr. Buñag’s exit

Lito U. Gagni
Original article at the Business Mirror

With the unceremonious exit of the well-respected Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) commissioner Jose Mario Buñag, coming right after the mysterious exit of the equally well-respected National Treasurer Omar Cruz, focus has zeroed in on Finance Secretary Margarito Teves with speculations rife on a number of issues.

The issues range from the real reason behind the issuance of an order—that was as hastily recalled—that is said to have the imprint of the finance chief, and the collection-shortfall bogey is meant to provide the pretext for the exit.

Triggering a lot of unanswered questions, the unceremonious axing of Mr. Buñag raised the specter of similarly unanswered questions on the sudden exit of Mr. Cruz, who had been so successful in national debt management that the Treasury can afford to bide its time in the issuance of government debt notes.

One prevailing view being tossed around due to the failed legitimacy of the shortfall scenario is that Mr. Teves, who is an Ateneo high-school classmate of Mr. Buñag, did not like the latter personally. Period.

We can only commiserate with the finance chief for the bungled ax job that is now being viewed as full of venom—in the light of the dangling of an ambassadorial post as consuelo de bobo to Mr. Buñag for having “failed” to collect in the face of the stark reality of over P100 billion in additional revenues that the BIR raised.

Perhaps, Mr. Cruz was similarly offered an ambassadorial post but opted to retire quietly from the bureaucracy?

Mr. Teves’s apparent concern over the BIR’s failure to meet the collection target for the full year, based on the January to May 2007 figures, falls flat on its face when ranged against what Mr. Buñag accomplished in the second half of 2005.

Appointed in June 2005, Mr. Buñag was able to collect more in the second half, overhauling the deficit in the first half of that year. Collections for 2005, rose to 15.92 percent, or to P542.69 billion. In 2006, the former BIR chief recorded a 20.28-percent growth to P652.7 billion.

The other brewing speculation attending the Buñag affair is that Mr. Teves did not like the way the ex-BIR chief objected to the comic executive order (EO) revamping the bureau. That boo-boo of an EO created a super deputy commissioner getting 80 percent of the BIR commissioner’s powers. Mr. Buñag raised a howl of protest as he refused to just be a wall décor in the BIR.

And the rest is history, capped by the DOF tax-audit findings that, when scrutinized, are full of holes.

This tax-audit report pointed to a supposed inefficiency in the BIR when it cited that the bureau did not collect much in capital gains tax despite the growth in the real-estate sector. Here, the DOF team of Mr. Teves apparently erred since real-estate developers, who provided the growth in the sector, do not pay capital gains tax but ordinary income tax. Again, like the bungled ax job, the tax audit seemed another boo-boo.

Monday, 25 June 2007

CBK Power sets $ 500-M expansion

Full report at the Manila Bulletin

CBK Power Company Ltd., a joint venture of Japan’s Electric Power Development Company (JPower) and Sumitomo Corporation, is keen to pour in fresh investment of over $500 million (roughly P22.5 billion) to expand the capacity of the Kalayaan generation facility by another 360 megawatts, according to the company’s top executive.

In an interview with reporters, CBK Power Chief Executive Officer Masahiro Ikezawa noted the expanded facility is targeted for commissioning by 2011.

But he emphasized the project’s implementation schedule will fully hinge on when the company can close deals with the potential off-takers (buyers of generated electricity) of the expanded plant.

Palace freezes all charges imposed by gov’t agencies

Original report at the Manila Bulletin

Malacañang has frozen all fees and other charges imposed by government departments and agencies and they could not longer create new ones. From now on, they will have to get a clearance from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

The order was issued by President Arroyo this week, immediately after most of the national daily newspapers reported a World Bank report that port services and shipping charges in the Philippines are highest compared to the rest of Asia.

The order was embodied in memorandum circular No. 132 signed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on behalf of the chief executive and addressed to all national government agencies, bureaus, commissions and government controlled corporations.

The presidential order does not cover local governments that have their own list of permits, licenses and clearances and different levels of charges attached to granting them.

The reason given by Ermita was that, the new control on slapping new fees or increasing old ones, will improve the ability to compete with other countries.

Too many hurdles in doing business in the Philippines saw the country landing on number 126 out of 175 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe in the 2007 rankings on doing business.

This means the Philippines belongs to the last one fourth of countries that are notorious for being the hardest and most expensive to do business with.

In the case of export transactions, the Export Development Council (EDC) had counted no less than 27 different government agencies and state corporations that issue one type of clearance, permit or license to export.

About half of them, mostly under the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry have lowered or scrapped the attached fees on export clearances.

An earlier presidential order had told the government offices to scrap fees attached to any permits or clearances given to exporters and make it easier to get those documents. Some agencies have not followed the order.

Air pact with S. Korea to bring in $1.8B to RP

Original report at GMANews.TV

The Philippine government on Thursday said that its air pact with South Korea would bring 1.5 million tourists in the country by 2010. This translates to about $1.8 billion potential revenue.

In a statement, Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council chairman Edgardo D. Pamintuan said the new air traffic pact will pave the way for the local tourism industry to hit the 1.5 million South Korean tourist arrivals target by 2010.

Before the two countries signed the agreement, the Philippines could offer only 10,000 seats on a 17 flights per week to the Korean market.

Last May 31, air panels from both countries sealed the Memorandum of Understanding which allows Korean carriers to offer a maximum of 19,000 seats per week to all Philippine gateways while Philippine carriers can offer the same number of seats to all the gateways of South Korea.

“The MOU underscores the fact that there is much to gain for our country if we will relax our air traffic policy. Liberalizing our air space, after all, will benefit our country," Pamintuan said.

“The 1.5 million South Korean tourist arrivals by 2010 is actually our target. We can easily achieve that because of the new agreement. If we can extend the same ‘liberalized’ air policy to other countries, you could imagine the enormous benefit to our country," he added. - GMANews.TV

PAL eyeing Clark lot for $50-M expansion plan

Full report at GMANews.TV

Tobacco-magnate Lucio Tan's Philippine Airlines, on Monday announced that it is negotiating with the Clark International Airport Corporation for the possible lease of 30 to 50 hectares in the area for their operations in the province. The investment will cost the company a maximum of $50 million.

"We are negotiating now for the possible lease of 30 [to 50] hectares where we can cook, cater, do ground handling and maintenance," PAL president and CEO Jaime Bautista told reporters.

Bautista said estimates made by the country's flag carrier show that $20 million to $30 million of the investment will go to maintenance and engineering of the hangar to be built there.

According to Bautista they are targeting the area previously occupied by logistics company DHL which moved its operations to China several years ago.

"The implementation of the project would depend on the implementation of CIAC's master plan," Bautista said. However, the official is optimistic that before 2010 ends operations in the province would have started.

He explained that right now they are in the process of studying the capacity of the airport which was reportedly recording more than 1 million passengers annually. [The latest figures on this is only 500,000, not 1 million.--Blogger Ed.]

Jose Perez de Tagle, assistant vice-president for government affairs said the decision to lease the prime lot in Clark is part of the company's expansion program.

He said PAL is looking at extending its flight[s] from its international origin to Manila to Clark.

Asked what are the possible long-haul flights they are targeting, De Tagle said they would probably start with the regional flights like Japan, China and Korea because of the high number of tourists entering the country.

Bautista, on the other hand, said that their decision to lease property in Clark is because they expect it to be the premier airport in the country in the very near future especially now that the airports [sic] in Manila is "already congested".

"We don't see any growth now (in Manila) because its [sic] congested and very limited because it only have [sic] single runway," Bautista explained.

Unlike Clark, which has 3 runways and the upcoming development of another runway, Bautista said Clark would serve as the international gateway for Luzon in the coming years. [Clark has only two runways, with a third runway in the drawing board. --Blogger Ed.]

"Kapag naging premier airport iyan [Clark] all the other airlines will be coming in," he said. - GMANews.TV

Customs to hit full year collection target, but not in Q1

Original report at the Philippine Star

The Philippine Bureau of Customs is likely to have a shortfall of P8 billion against its targeted first-half collections of P105.28 billion, the head of the agency said on Monday.

Napoleon Morales told Reuters in an interview he was however confident of bridging the gap by the third quarter with the help of a tax audit and new technology. He said the agency would achieve its full year collection target of P228.2 billion. - Reuters

Premature disclosures stalling broadband probe – PAGC

By Paolo Romero
Full article at the Philippine Star

Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) Chairman Constancia de Guzman admitted yesterday that the investigation into the controversial $330-billion contract between the government and ZTE Corp., one of the biggest telecommunications firms in China, is in jeopardy due to the premature disclosure of details of the probe by a relieved investigator.

De Guzman made the admission as the controversy took a surprising twist last week after an official of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) reported that the two signed copies of the original contract were lost in China shortly after the signing.

She, however, stressed the PAGC probe was still in its initial stages to determine whether there was indeed something wrong with the deal, under which ZTE will implement the National Broadband Network (NBN) project that will link all government agencies and offices and cut by half its estimated P4-billion annual communications expense.

“If there is any irregularity in the contract, then those who might have something to do with it are alerted, and therefore could do some clean-up or hide evidence or anything to conceal their wrongdoing,” De Guzman told The STAR.

She also defended her agency’s decision to dismiss PAGC investigator Vida Zora Bocar for actions that led to the public disclosure of the agency’s move to investigate DOTC officials behind the ZTE deal.

Bocar earlier sought the assistance of STAR columnist Jarius Bondoc for any documentary evidence on the contract. She said had Bocar been more discreet, then PAGC would have had an easier time conducting its investigation.

“I guess we will have to find a more creative way of looking into this,” De Guzman said.

She said as per PAGC’s mandate, the agency can look into cases of possible graft and corruption even without a complainant or motu propio.

Crucial in PAGC’s investigations is confidentiality, she said, adding that many of those found guilty of various offenses did not know until the last minute that they were being investigated.

Critics of the ZTE deal said the contract was allegedly overpriced since other companies offered a lower price for the project.

Local firm Amsterdam Holdings Inc. has offered to build a similar network for $242 million, while US company Arescom Inc. is offering $135 million for the same project.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso last week told an incredulous audience of journalists, lawyers and telecommunications experts in a forum that the reason the agency cannot produce copies of the contract was because they disappeared from a hotel room in Boao, Hainan shortly after the signing of the contract which was witnessed by President Arroyo last April.

Transporation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said last week that Emmanuel Ang, the Philippine commercial attaché in Guangzhou who was responsible for keeping the documents, is now under investigation.

Formoso said the contract was being reconstituted but also raised fears that the new copies might be modified.

Unnamed Chinese diplomats earlier said the controversy was being raised by the losing bidders.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney earlier wrote government officials expressing her concern over the undue haste of awarding the multi-million dollar contract to ZTE.

“Considering the significance of this project to the President’s economic agenda, I urge your good office to avoid undue haste and take the time to carefully review and consider the multiple expressions of interest that have been submitted, including those involving American companies,” Kenney said in her letter to Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri several weeks ago.

Last June 11, Kenney reiterated her concern over the deal as senators expressed their intention to conduct an inquiry into the issue.

“That’s (Senate inquiry) a Philippine issue. My job as a US ambassador is merely to urge wherever and whenever possible that all business dealings be conducted in an open and transparent fashion, that all available or interested bidders have a chance to look at it and then, obviously, on the basis of that you select the bidder whose qualifications and experience most meet the needs of the nation, but no comment on particular bidders or on the way things are going. My position has been to be very clearly above that, merely to urge a fair and transparent process,” she told reporters in Malacanang.

World's largest tanker to be built in Subic

By Anthony Bayarong
Original article at The Manila Times

SUBIC BAY Freeport: President Arroyo announced that top Subic investor Hanjin Heavy Industries will be building the world's largest ship worth $150 million and will be investing another $600 million in the free port.

The President made the announcement during the formal opening of the P653-million Subic-Cawag-Balaybay Road leading to the fourth largest shipbuilding company in the world, Heavy Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co.

Mrs. Arroyo also mentioned that the first of 33 container vessels that were preordered from Hanjin, worth $70 million each, is now being manufactured in Subic.

"Today, we'll be going to the industrial park of Subic and witness the start of fabrication of the first of 33 container vessels being manufactured by our great Filipino workers here in Hanjin," she said.

By the end of the year, Han­jin will finish three container ships.

"The shipyard will transform Subic into the fourth largest shipyard in the world," the President added.

She also announced that the Subic port project would be finished at the end of the month.

Hanjin is seen to boost the economic expansion and development of Zambales.

The 16.15 kilometer Subic-Cawag-Balaybay Road, funded by the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), is now finished, linking the $1.6-billion shipyard to the proposed Zam­bales Industrial Park—the provincial port and the Subic Bay Freeport Zone—by land.
Gov. Vicente Magsaysay of Zambales, Director Jeong Sup Shim of Hanjin Heavy Industry, SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, SBMA Chairman Feli­ciano Salonga, SCAD Chairman Eduardo Pamintuan and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of the First District accompanied the President in opening the Subic-Cawag-Balay­bay Road.


By Joyce Pangco Pañares
Original report at the Manila Standard Today

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said yesterday the biggest tanker in the world, a $150-million floating mammoth, is now being built in Subic by the Korean firm Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co.

"They are now building the biggest boat in the world right here in Subic," said Mrs. Arroyo who visited Hanjin's shipyard in the free port zone to check on the first 12 container vessels being built there.

"Indeed, this shipyard of Hanjin will transform Subic into one of the four largest shipbuilding facilities in the whole world," she said.

Hanjin officials declined to give more details on the tanker, but sources said it would be bigger than the 260,851-ton Seawise Giant that was built by the Japan-based Sumitomo Oppama Shipyard and measures 1,604 ft. long and 226 ft. wide.

Hanjin's shipyard in Subic cost $1 billion, and it made South Korea the single biggest source of foreign direct investment in the Philippines last year.

Mrs. Arroyo also opened the P653-million Subic-Cawag-Balaybay access road to the Hanjin Group's shipbuilding facilities, which stretches for 16.15 kms. and is expected to create more jobs for the residents of Subic, Zambales and Olongapo City.

Hanjin is expected to gross $3.6 billion from its shipyard, which can make 60 ships worth $60 million each every [sic] year.

The Korean firm has also opened a $40-million training center for shipyard workers and hired 2,400 Filipinos to build its dry dock. It is expected to hire 30,000 more Filipinos in the next five years. With Elaine Ruzul S. Ramos