Saturday, 27 October 2007

Lufthansa Technik's New Hangar Opens In Manila

By Frank Jackman;%20New%20Hangar%20Opens%20In%20Manila&channel=mro

Lufthansa Technik's revenue for the first nine months of 2007 increased 5.9 percent from the same period last year to 2.69 billion euros on strong third-party sales growth. LHT's operating profit for the period also increased 5.9 percent to 197 million euros from 186 million euros during the first nine months of 2006.

Business with customers outside of the Lufthansa Group grew strongly, with revenues up 7.1 percent for the first nine months to around 1.7 billion euros. Revenue from Lufthansa Group companies increased four percent to 1.0 billion euros, the company said. Third-party revenue comprised 61.5 percent of total revenue for the period, up from 60.8 percent a year earlier.

LHT capital expenditures during the first nine months rose sharply from a year ago to 141 million euros from 81 million euros. According to the company, purchases included spare engines, new machinery and technical equipment. Money also was invested in an A380 maintenance hangar in Frankfurt and a new office building in Hamburg.

Since the beginning of the year, LHT has signed 360 new contracts and added 23 new customers. It now counts 594 customers worldwide.

Lufthansa Technik Philippines alone has 10 international airline customers for long-haul aircraft and opened a second widebody hangar in Manila. The new 8,500 square meter facility will help Lufthansa Technik Philippines accommodate the growing demand for Airbus A330/340 base maintenance, including Philippine Airlines' expanding fleet.

LTP is a joint venture between Lufthansa Technik (51 percent) and Philippine MacroAsia (49 percent).

FCDU assets hit $24.7B in H1, up 14.3% y/y

By Des Ferriols
Original article at The Philippine Star

The total assets of foreign currency deposit units (FCDUs) reached its highest level in 10 years at $24.7 billion as of the first semester of this year.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported yesterday that the total assets of the FCDU system surged by 14.3 percent as of end-June 2007 compared to $21.6 billion over the same period last year.

According to the BSP, this was the highest recorded asset level, outpacing the previous record of $21.6 billion posted in 1997.

The BSP said universal and commercial banks accounted for 95.8 percent of the total FCDU assets equivalent to $23.7 billion. Thrift banks, on the other hand, held the balance of 4.2 percent equivalent to $1 billion.

On the other hand, the BSP said the net income after tax of the FCDU amounted to $410 million for the first semester of the year, higher by 10.3 percent from $372 million in the same period last year.

The BSP said this was mainly due to the robust 33.6-percent growth in non-interest income.

During the period, however, the BSP said the FCDU system generated operating expenses that were 8.4 percent higher than the previous year.

Meanwhile, the BSP said the system’s annualized return on assets ratio went down to 3.5 percent from 3.8 percent as average assets grew faster than the net income after tax.

According to the BSP, deposit liabilities are still the biggest source of funding, accounting for 78.5 percent of total resources. Deposits reached $19.4 billion, higher by 11 percent compared with last year’s $17.5 billion.

On the other hand, the BSP reported that asset preference was kept to marketable securities which accounted for 44.2 percent in the asset mix compared with only 35.6 percent last year.

Year-on-year, the BSP said held-to-maturity (HTM) investments declined by 42.3 percent while marketable securities increased by 41.7 percent. Loans, meanwhile, expanded by 14.2 percent exclusive of interbank loans.

By economic activity, the BSP said the manufacturing industry remained the biggest beneficiary of the FCDU system, accounting for 32 percent of total loans.

The share of the financial intermediation sector, however, surged to 23.1 percent from only 6.4 percent in the previous year. Third was the transport, storage and communication sector which accounted for 11.9 percent of total.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Super Regions infra projects finished by 2010 -- Ebdane

Original article at Gov.Ph News

MANILA (PNA) - Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. assured Thursday that all Super Regions priority infrastructure development projects outlined by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) will be completed before 2010.

Ebdane based his assurance on the fact that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has already accomplished about 50 percent of the Super Regions infrastructure projects.

“We have accomplished about 50 percent (of the infrastructure projects) since we started the projects in 2001,” Ebdane said during “The Cabinet Speaks” program hosted by Press Undersecretary Martin Crisostomo and special guest co-host Rocky Ignacio of the NBN Channel 4.

“Basically, all infrastructure projects will be opened by late 2009 and to be fully completed by early 2010,” he assured.

In her 2006 SONA, President Arroyo ordered the fast tracking of the rehabilitation and construction of infrastructure projects under the Super Regions strategy, a development concept aimed at harnessing the natural competitive advantages of major areas of the country as well as that of knowledge and technology.

Five distinct sub-economic regions of the country have been formed - - the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle, the Luzon Urban Beltway, Central Philippines Super Region, Mindanao Super Region, and the Cyber Corridor.

Through the Super Regions concept, Ebdane said, development is being brought back to the people at a faster rate in terms of physical infrastructure, development of human capital and peaceful communities.

Billions of pesos are being invested in the Super Regions as a result of the country’s improved fiscal situation and macroeconomic condition, Ebdane said.

At the same time, he added, the government, under the leadership of the President, is making headway in the social payback of economic reforms. The social payback of economic reforms is manifested in the government’s mantra to gain eight blessings by the year 2008, or investing in people for “8 by '08.”

The eight blessings are: job creation; stable cost of living: strong peso; more investments; pro-poor education; pro-poor hunger mitigation; housing, and health; green Philippines; and strong anti-terror. (PNA)

Mineral production surges 59% to P39.42B in 1st half

By Katherine G. Andraneda
Original article at The Philippine Star

The country’s metallic minerals production value surged by 59 percent in the first half of the year to P39.42 billion from P24.83 billion in the same period in 2006, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

DENR Secretary Lito Atienza Jr. described the substantial increase as a“stunning performance of the metal sector” as he anticipated that this improvement, coupled with the expected advancement of more mining activities and projects, would further boost government projections of “a significant turnaround” this year in terms of investment inflows and production value of the country’s minerals.

Atienza also said additional projects might come on stream to take advantage of spiraling global metal prices.

“We are making good progress in terms of investments coming in from the priority projects, which as of the first half have already reached $879 million. Production value has likewise been on the uptrend, and this year we expect to see further growth even in terms of volume because of new and expanded projects,” the DENR chief noted.

The government’s initial projection of the country’s metal production value was about $1.35 billion or roughly about P62 billion this year. The government has likewise placed investment inflows target to breach the $1-billion mark by the end of the year.

According to Horacio Ramos, director of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), gold output accounted for P19.3 billion of the total metal production, followed by nickel with P15.46 billion and copper with P3.67 billion. The combined contribution of silver, zinc and chromite producers amounted to P970.38 million

Ramos explained that the continuing increase in metal prices in the world market remained the primary reason for the growth in the country’s metal production value.

He likewise noted that the entry of Berong Nickel Corp. in Quezon, Palawan to the production stream and the resumption in the operation of the government’s flagship project Rapu-Rapu Processing Inc. in Albay also made a great impact on the “sterling performance” of the metallic sector in the first six months of 2007.

DENR data showed the average metal prices in the international market during the first six months of the year remained in the upper scale.

It said that nickel is taking the lead, jumping up to as high as 157.68 percent, from $7.88/lb in 2006 to $20.31/lb. in 2007. Silver, gold and copper prices followed suit with 21.35 percent, 11.61 percent and 10.99 percent increases, respectively.

The DENR noted that the supply and demand patterns of the major metals in the international market “are still too tight for comfort”, resulting in the continuous increase in prices.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

BIR tax take up 15.3% in Q3, outpaces economy's expansion

Original report at GMANews.TV

The Bureau of Internal Revenue on Thursday reported that tax collections jumped 15.3 percent in the third quarter, outpacing the expansion of the country's nominal gross domestic product in the first and second quarters of the year.

“The 15.3 percent growth in tax collection already exceeded even the nominal growth of the economy," BIR Commissioner Lilian Hefti told reporters.

Data from the Bureau of the Treasury showed that BIR collections grew 15.3 percent year-on-year to P187.2 billion from July to September this year.

In the first quarter, Hefti said BIR collections inched up by 6.4 percent to P143.11 billion or slower than the nominal GDP growth of 10.2 percent. In the second quarter, BIR collections grew 4.45 percent to P191.46 billion in the second quarter or slower than the nominal domestic expansion of 9.8 percent.

However, the agency's tax take for the first nine months of the year crawled 8.6 percent to P521.9 billion. The BIR also missed its P566.9 billion collection goal for the period by P45 billion.

The BIR is tasked to collect P765.9 billion this year or about 17.5 percent higher than last year’s P651.9 billion. About P730.47 billion would come from BIR operations while the rest would come from the withholding tax and documentary stamp tax on government securities as well as travel tax.

The national government hopes to trim the budget deficit to P63 billion or 0.9 percent of gross domestic product this year, before it moves to a balanced budget by the end of 2008.

The government narrowed its budget deficit by 20.6 percent to P40 billion from January to September this year, better than the programmed deficit of P54 billion for the period. -

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Philippines: comparative figures

Philippines is not ‘small and weak’
By BRUCE HALL (via email)
Letter to the Editor

An article (“‘Acceptable presence’ new US basing plan,” Inquirer, 10/15/07) stated that the Philippines is “one small and weak country.” This statement is not true. It is a myth. It is a lie.

The Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world. It is larger than any European country. It is larger than any but one country in Africa. It is larger than any but one country in South America. There are over 160 countries in the world smaller than the Philippines, most barely a fraction of its size; over 150 less than half its size. Metro Manila alone is bigger than half of all the countries of the world. The Roman Empire at its height only had 60 percent of the people that the Philippines has.

Neither is the Philippines weak. To put it simply, a country that is twice the size of 90 percent of all the countries in the world is not weak. A country whose largest city is larger than most countries is not weak. Further, the Philippine economy is in the upper quartile as is the size of its military. The Philippines is an English-speaking country, giving us, in this “English-speaking” world, influence much larger than our size. Filipinos also go abroad in disproportional numbers, making many important key industries dependent upon them.

Adding to the Philippines’ importance is that we are in Asia, a far more important corner of the world -- geopolitically that is -- than, say, Africa or Latin America. The Philippines has played important, influential roles in such events as World War II, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. We will be a key player in such continuing issues as the “War on Terror” and Chinese and Indian growth.

The statement that the Philippines is small and weak is only true when the country is compared with the United States. But the United States is a historical anomaly. No country has ever been as big, powerful or dominant as the United States, particularly in the last generation or so. That country is odd. We should not look to the United States for comparison but to countries more like the Philippines, countries like Indonesia or Columbia.

Instead of asking, “Why are we not like the United States?” we should look at countries like Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and ask, “Why are we not like them?”

905 kms farm-to-market roads built

Melody M. Aguiba
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

A total of 905 kilometers of farm-to-market roads have been constructed mainly with the Department of Agriculture's (DA) fund and is paving the way to job creation, a reduction of post harvest loss, and market expansion for farmers.

DA Secretary Arthur C. Yap said in a statement that the newly-constructed farm to market roads (FMR) as of June this year will benefit an estimated 220,000 farmers nationwide.

The FMR completion includes 178.51 kilometers (KM) of FMR in Metro Luzon Urban Beltway. This, however, is just 56 percent of the targetted 315.17 KM as of June 30, 2007.

Up to the end of the year, DA is targetting to construct 139 FMRs all over Central Luzon and MIMAROPA (Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Romblon, Palawan).

A total of 2,335 kilometers of FMR is planned to be built by DA through partnerships with local government units and the Department of Public Works and Highways throughout the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle, Metro Luzon Urban Beltway, Central Philippines, and Agribusiness Mindanao. This is with a budgetary allocation of P3.3 billion.

Within the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (including Ilocos provinces, Cagayan Valley, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya), DA’s accomplishment in the first half was the construction of 187 kilometers of FMR. This is out of a total targeted length of 520 kilometers.

In Central Philippines, a total of 221 KM has been constructed out of a targeted 500 KM.

In Mindanao, 317.91 KM has been built out of a targeted 1,000 KM.

Yap said these programs are under the Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Program (AHMP) of the government. Sources of funds include foreign-assisted aid for 138 KM and DA’s regular budget fo 346 KM.

The AMHP is a multifunctional program aimed at countering hunger. Its members also include the

Department of Health (DoH) and the Departments of Agrarian Reform (DAR), of Budget and Management (DBM), of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), of Education (DepEd), oF Interior and Local Government (DILG), of Labor and Employment (DOLE), of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

"This long-range fivepronged approach comprises the long-term program of the government to eradicate hunger, provide affordable, quality-grade food to ordinary Filipinos, and make agriculture a much more profitable endeavor for small farmers and fisherfolk," Yap said.

Tourism receipts to hit $4B

By Helen Flores
Full report at The Philippine Star

International tourism receipts are expected to hit $4 billion this year with the influx of more long-staying and high-spending travelers in the country, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said.

Speaking with reporters at the Manila Overseas Press Club’s “Tourism Night” at the InterContinental Hotel in Makati City last Monday, Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano expressed optimism that the DOT will achieve its target of 3.1 million foreign arrivals this year despite the recent Glorietta 2 explosion that left 11 people dead and over a hundred injured.

In 2006, international tourism receipts from 2.84 million visitors to the Philippines totaled $2.7 billion or about P135 billion.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

DOTC upgrades Puerto Princesa Airport

Original report at Gov.Ph News

MANILA (PNA) -- The national government, through the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), will rehabilitate and expand the Puerto Princesa Airport.

DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza said the upgrading of the airport has taken off to meet the international standards and increasing demand.

"It is one of the airports lined up for rehabilitation and upgrading and will complement the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) project of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, further strengthening and broadening the country's air, sea and land transportation network," Mendoza said.

The rehabilitation of the city's airport includes the expansion of the terminal, Mendoza said.

The government through the President will initially release some P50 million out of the almost P150 million budget for the city's airport terminal and will be coursed through the DOTC.

On the other hand, Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn expressed gratitude to the President for the impending release of P50 million from Malampaya money.

"The upgrading of the airport into an international airport will further strengthen the role of the city as the commercial center of Palawan," Hagedorn said.

The construction work calls for the upgrading of the airport, while other funds will be utilized for the purchase of baggage conveyors, air-conditioning units and other equipment and materials inside the airport.

The works also includes the five-meter expansion of the frontage, construction of VIP room, the construction of the lengthy ceiling, and runway expansion from 45 meters to 60 meters, among others.

Other airports to be rehabilitated include those of Dipolog, Butuan and Pagadian. (PNA)

PGMA unlikely visitor at Glorietta blast site

Original article at Gov.Ph News

The Glorietta Mall in Makati City had a very unlikely visitor this afternoon, four days after it was rocked by a powerful explosion that left 11 dead and scores of other people injured.

It was no other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who made a surprise inspection of the blast site and did some shopping on the side, her way of saying it’s business as usual at the popular commercial center.

The President toured the second floor of the Glorietta where she smiled and waved at the shoppers and onlookers. She also posed for souvenir photos overlooking the mall of the atrium.

At the ground floor, she proceeded to a coffee shop where she had black coffee with Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Ayala Land President Jim Ayala.

"It's business as usual here. Hayaan na lang muna natin ang mga imbestigador na gawin ang kanilang mga trabaho,” she told media men who followed her surprise inspection.

Cabral said the President felt saddened by the incident which claimed the lives of innocent shoppers and ripped a portion of the mall last Friday

She said the President wants to assure the public that security has been tightened to ensure the safety of the people.

While touring the mall, the President did some shopping and bought some shoes and blouses, according to Cabral.

"Nagkaroon daw siya ng opportunity na makapunta dito dahil matagal na siyang hindi nakapag-shopping,” the DSWD chief said.

Ayala, meantime, said the police had declared the Glorietta mall 1,3 and 4 as safe and secured places for shopping once more.

Latest PNP findings on Glorietta mall blast point to gas explosion

Original report at Gov.Ph News

The Philippine National Police (PNP) told the expanded National Security Council (NSC)-Cabinet Group meeting in Malacanang this morning that based on its latest findings, the Oct. 19 Glorietta blast was a “gas explosion” and not a terrorist bombing as earlier feared.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo convened the high-level meeting among Congress leaders, members of the Cabinet and top military, police and security officials for wide-ranging discussions on the Glorietta incident.

Southern Police District (SPD) Chief Supt. Luizo Ticman, who conducted the power point presentation on the Glorietta blast, told the NSC-Cabinet Group that bomb experts from the United States and Australia have been helping the PNP in the investigation of the explosion.

Ticman heads the multi-agency team investigating the Glorietta explosion in Makati City.

He said the investigators’ theory of a gas explosion was based on their findings that the blast left no crater, there were no signs of tearing effect from bomb explosion, there was no soot or blackening on the concave ceiling, no IED compound (bomb ingredient) was found, and laboratory test results were negative for explosive ingredients.

Ticman explained that PNP investigators were pursuing the gas-explosion theory because of the upward ruptures and damage on the diesel tank, concave concrete slab directly above the diesel tank, presence of septic tanks and waste-water treatment facilities that produce methane.

He added that there was also no functioning ventilation, and no exhaust system, giving rise to increase in temperature, and accumulation of diesel vapor/fumes, the presence of open switches, motor pumps, batteries and other possible igniters, and the vent of explosion clearly showed strong upward push which characterize gas explosion.

But the President pointed out that “even if it was an accident, the event made us more conscious to act on terrorism… and strengthen our counter-terrorism (measures).”

She also asked Ticman to clarify whether “RDX,” a bomb ingredient, is “found in nature” and if it has “non-lethal uses.” The initial report on the cause of the blast said RDX traces were found at the site of the blast.

The RDX finding was attributed to a chemist of the PNP crime laboratory.

But the PNP explained that as an active ingredient in aerosols, RDX can be found even in aerosol deodorants.

The Anti-Terrorism Task Force also reported to the NSC-Cabinet Group that it has drafted a legislative proposal that would make possession of explosives non-bailable, and that the President advised was to “submit it to our legislators.”

Razon said elements of the NCRPO and Special Action Force (SAF) were “still on the ground” intensifying police visibility, strengthening choke points, conducting checkpoints, and intensifying intelligence gathering as part of the security measures in Metro Manila.

Senators asked to drop ZTE probe

By Fel V. Maragay
Full report at The Manila Standard

SENATOR Gregorio Honasan yesterday called on his colleagues in the Senate to discontinue and conclude the inquiry into the national broadband network-ZTE Corp. deal to allow them to focus their attention on law making, their main function.

Honasan, a former Arroyo critic who is now allied with the administration, said the Senate has already gathered sufficient information on the broadband controversy after several hours of hearings to warrant the filing of charges, if any, against personalities responsible for the alleged anomalies and to craft remedial legislation.

“To rake it [the controversy] further through more hearings, I think, will be counterproductive in the sense that we have so much [more] to do,” the former Army colonel-turned-politician told an impromptu press conference at the Senate press room.

Earlier, administration Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Joker Arroyo aired their position that there was no need to prolong the hearing on the issue after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had decided to cancel the $329-million contract granted to ZTE Corp. of China.

But the eight-member Senate minority bloc led by Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. maintained that the Blue Ribbon committee, the committees on trade and commerce and defense, should pursue the probe on the botched NBN-ZTE deal, despite the Glorietta Mall bombing.


But Honasan said the Senate is going overboard in its investigation, reminding his colleagues that “this is not a fiscal’s office, this is not a court of law.”

“So let us go back to our real work. And maybe the Senate can close its ranks on this issue. But it is the majority of the senators who will decide on that,” he told newsmen.

Honasan bewailed that the probe has degenerated into a clash of personalities.

“We are poking our fingers in so many things. And we are assuming even responsibilities that do not belong to us,” he said

When asked if the termination of the probe on the ZTE deal will result in failure to establish culpability of the culprits, Honasan stressed that there are other state agencies tasked with investigating graft cases.

“The Senate is not the only institution that can do this. Our main job is to make or amend laws with the Constitution as the ceiling. The other things are secondary.”

Some senators, like Pimentel Panfilo Lacson and Antonio Trillanes, want the Senate to look into the alleged Palace bribery scandal which is related to the impeachment complaint against the President based on the broadband-ZTE deal.

But Senators Francis Pangilinan and Francis Escudero said they should entrust this job to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Senators urge colleagues: caution on Glorietta declarations

Excerpted from reports at The Philippine Star and The Manila Times

While the minority Senator bloc composed of composed of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senators Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Manuel Roxas II, Rodolfo Biazon, Antonio Trillanes IV, Panfilo Lacson, and Benigno Aquino III have already concluded that the Glorietta explosion was a bombing that has been "planned, funded, and executed", their colleagues in the Senate have urged caution.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Gregorio Honasan cautioned Trillanes and other officials against making accusations while the investigation is not yet complete.

Pangilinan called on all camps to refrain from making accusations on the Glorietta 2 explosion without proof.

“It is very distasteful to hear government officials throw wild accusations at each other as we face this national tragedy. This incident claimed innocent lives and injured many others. The last thing we should be doing now is to throw baseless accusations at one another,” Pangilinan said.

“As national leaders, we should help in enlightening the public. We are expected to provide clarity and direction rather than add to the mayhem and confusion. There are victims to be assisted and public security to be ensured. Let’s stop bickering and just wait for the outcome of the investigation,” Pangilinan said.

Honasan said Trillanes issued serious accusations and must be able to prove them.

He said the Makati incident should be isolated from politics so that authorities could focus on helping the victims and determining who were actually behind the bombing.

Senator Chiz Escudero also said that politics should be removed from the investigation. Otherwise, he said, the police could not do its work and the truth could not be determined.

Hanjin firm hiring 20,000 Pinoys for shipbuilding

By Ding Cervantes
Original report at The Philippine Star

IBA, Zambales – Gov. Amor Deloso’s Task Force Hanjin announced yesterday that Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co., Ltd. (Hanjin) based in Subic in this province is now recruiting at least 20,000 Filipino workers.

Hanjin Task Force chairman and former vice governor Ramon Lacbain II said that Hanjin is filling up job vacancies for its shipbuilding and ship repair projects.

Hanjin is a South Korean firm investing some $2 billion on a ship repair facility in Subic.

“To fill in Hanjin’s labor requirements, we started recruitments last month. This month, we will have more interviews in the provincial capitol in Iba on Oct. 24 and in Barangay Mangan-vaca plaza in Subic the following day,” Lacbain said, as he told applicants to first submit their resumés and other required documents to either Deloso’s office here or at the Task Force Hanjin office in Subic.

The first batch of 700 applicants were already interviewed at the provincial capitol here and 650 of them passed and are now undergoing training at Hanjin at the Subic Bay Industrial Park within the Subic Freeport, Lacbain said. Lacbain said that Hanjin has already reached an agreement with various countries for ship repair services. “This only goes to show that the firm has the respect of various ship owners worldwide,” Lacbain said.

Earlier, Hanjin already firmed up agreements with Germany, France, India and Turkey for eight container carriers and ship building projects costing about $2 billion, Lacbain said.

Task Force Hanjin was created by Deloso to ensure that the South Korean investment would also benefit folk in Zambales.

Flash Gordon to the rescue

By Domini M. Torrevillas
Original report at The Philippine Star

The Glorietta bombing last Friday, October 19, showed us that in times of disaster and crisis, Dick Gordon of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is someone you can rely on to always be there for you.

It was just like Gordon rushing to the scene like the MV Asuncion sinking in 1987, the earthquake in Central Colleges in Cabanatuan in 1990, and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

Dick and PNRC volunteers were the first response teams to arrive at the Glorietta shortly after the blast at 1:20 p.m. Deployed were six ambulances with 20 staff and volunteers of medical and rescue teams from different PNRC chapters to provide search, rescue and medical assistance to the victims. While the law enforcement authorities had to secure and collect evidence from the carnage site, Gordon and the PNRC teams, amidst the ensuing chaos and confusion, immediately addressed the concerns of both the victims and their loved ones by coordinating information bulletins with the hospitals and funeral homes.

Ten of the injured were treated by the PNRC team on-site while Welfare Desks were installed immediately near Ground Zero and at the Makati Medical Center and Ospital ng Makati to assist those trying to locate their loved ones who might have been inside the mall at the time of the explosion. A good number of those missing or unaccounted for were successfully located by the teams.

When the rest gave up hope and called it a day that early evening, Dick Gordon returned and stayed behind to comfort relatives still waiting at the blast site for news about their missing relatives. The scene was like that of the Zambales fishermen in 2005 who were lost at sea for 19 days and given up for dead until Sen. Gordon tapped the US Navy to track via an Orion plane the whereabouts of the men to be picked up the Philippine Navy along the coast of Palawan.

At the Glorietta 4 Friday evening, Norlita Tan, looking distraught, approached the PNRC Welfare Desk to seek help in locating her husband, Renier, who had been with her inside the mall shortly before the explosion. She just had her eyeglasses repaired at an optical shop at Glorietta 4, leaving her husband to pass time by himself strolling around the area. Little did she know that that would be the last time she would see him alive.

Gordon sought clearance from law enforcement agencies and the mall management who had secured the area and were now on clearing operations before he deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back to the site to search for Norlita’s husband.

Utilizing search cameras and an audio probe, the team found a wallet belonging to the reported missing Maureen De Leon among the debris, near where the bodies of her companions, Gee-Ann de Gracia and Carlo Niño Vigamo, were found earlier that afternoon.

Gordon inspected the wallet and found the telephone number of Gerardo De Leon, father of Maureen. On the phone, De Leon told Dick that Maureen was not home. Dick advised him to proceed to the site since Maureen was not on the list of victims taken to hospitals and funeral homes. Dick also tried to track Maureen through her employer, Tots Romualdez, who was his classmate and who also joined in the vigil for news.

At that time Norlita was waiting at the site for word about her husband, with Dick and PNRC people never leaving her side, offering comfort and encouragement in that time of uncertainty. Gerardo and his wife Mercedes also received the same kind of support and comfort while they were at the site for hours on end waiting for their daughter, Maureen, to be found. Both Norlita and the De Leons believed that Renier and Maureen were still inside the building.

Dick once again deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back on site this time, armed with hooligan tools, a portable chain saw, K7 circular cutters and hydraulic rescue rams, a spreader, and cutters to break through piles of concrete and steel at the pinpointed target area.

Barely an hour later, at around 2 a.m., of Saturday, October 20, the PNRC team found the lifeless body of Reinier Tan buried in debris at the foot of the escalator at the atrium of Glorietta 2. With some difficulty, Dick told Norlita that Renier had been found.

Maureen’s body was found at 10:30 that evening — 33 hours after the explosion — by the joint search and rescue teams of PNRC and Makati City. Upon being informed of the discovery, Dick excused himself and returned to the blast scene, leaving his wife Kate with their friends to watch the New Minstrels show.

“Even if we can’t provide relief to the family members by finding their missing relatives alive, at least we provide closure to their search. This is all part of the efforts of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering,” Dick said. “We are relentless in our search. We don’t give up until we find them simply because their respective families do not have plans of giving up themselves.”

Those still seeking missing relatives may contact the Social Services Group of PNRC though 5270000.

The real heroes of Glorietta

Original article at The Philippine Star

Until someone steps up and claims responsibility for the Glorietta bombing last Friday, we will have to wait for the investigators to come up with their laboratory findings and their suspects. In the meantime, all the armchair experts and the usual conspiracy theorists ought to hold their peace.

The 11 people killed in that incident, along with the scores wounded, makes this a tragic event. Let us not magnify the tragedy by poisoning the air and sowing confusion.

Antonio Trillanes typifies the worst that could possibly be done in the wake of a tragic event. From his detention cell, he pretends to have a superior knowledge of the event than the investigators on the ground. Even as policemen were still trying to determine if last Friday’s explosion was more than a gas tank igniting, Trillanes was promptly claiming the incident was a Palace ploy.

Although the claim was without a shred of real evidence, the oppositional media carried it dutifully. The claim was immediately echoed by the mutineer’s gofers and flunkeys.

The only piece of “evidence” Trillanes offers was an operational plan he claims was hatched by his superiors in the military involving the bombing of the Davao airport to justify an offensive against the MNLF. The genesis of the operational plan has never been established. Its existence has been denied by the authorities.

At any rate, that piece of “evidence” involves the weakest form of logical construction: that because something remotely akin to the incident was supposedly done before, therefore the same ones who did it then did it again. That is ridiculous logic.

Just as ridiculous is the claim advanced by aging spokesmen of the political opposition alleging the tragic explosion as a method by the administration to divert public attention from the scandals that have broken out of late. That is a claim that is, of course, without any evidence to offer. It requires a very high degree of cynicism to accept.

I distinctly remember that through the length of Thursday last week, the day before the explosion happened, I received a stream of text messages from my usual sources in the political opposition claiming this or that Cabinet member has resigned. The false messages were obviously being sent out to create a climate of uncertainty and fluidity.

By the same stretch of imagination that Trillanes and his ilk use, should we not also now conclude that the opposition was responsible for the bombing on the grounds that it dovetails their destabilizing propaganda? That would be an irresponsible conclusion, even if we recognize that the text campaign of Thursday last week was irresponsible in itself.

There is so much malice in the air. It is being spewed by those trying to deepen public disillusionment or foment unwarranted agitation.

That is all very unfortunate. Last Friday, when that tragic explosion happened, the stock market was testing record levels and the peso was emerging stronger than anyone was willing to predict.

This is all very unfortunate because it had seemed our economy was well on the way to robust and sustainable growth, with investor confidence returning despite all the quirkiness of our politics. That profound development now seems threatened by the callous behavior of our politicians and our remarkable propensity to shoot ourselves on the foot.

While the politicians, including those in bishops’ garb, scrambled to position for advantage in the wake of a tragedy, no one paid any real attention to the real heroes last Friday.

When the explosion happened, our first responders were almost immediately on the site. The police cordoned off the place immediately. The dead and the wounded were efficiently removed from the area, despite the horrendous traffic jams that enveloped Makati that afternoon.

Bomb squads and scene-of-the-crime specialists were on the scene rapidly, assessing the explosion and swabbing the debris for laboratory specimen that could explain what happened and what sort of explosive was used if this were indeed an attack. The wounded were immediately given medical attention by first-aid personnel and treated in nearby hospitals. There was no panic and no run-ins. Our emergency teams demonstrated remarkable professionalism and good training.

The police authorities immediately put the entire metropolitan force on red alert, setting up strong points and doubling security in the malls. The Army quickly mobilized 2,000 troops to reinforce the police.

The urban population, having experienced this sort of mass casualty events in the past, retained its composure. By Saturday morning, the malls were opened as usual — save for that damaged portion of Glorietta 2.

No one wants tragic incidents like this one to recur. But if they do, there will at least be some comfort that our emergency personnel are better-trained and are led by commendably professional officers.

We ought to commend the bravery and efficiency of our emergency crews. But instead of focusing on their remarkable work — as the US media did in the wake of terrorist attacks on New York — large parts of our media went around interviewing politicians, fishing for the most incredible off-the-rack theories about what happened.

There are lessons for our media professionals in the aftermath of this incident. But the more important lessons are for our politicians to learn.

EDITORIAL — Don’t derail this project

The Philippine Star

Another big-ticket public works project is open for bidding, and the government should know its lesson enough by now to make the process transparent. The Light Rail Transit Authority has announced that it is now accepting bids for the interconnection of the LRT and the Metro Rail Transit — a project that is estimated to cost about P6.3 billion. Three groups have signified interest in the project so far, according to LRTA officials.

Funding for the interconnection, which is projected to start in May next year, will be sourced from the debt paper sale of the National Development Co. worth P4.6 billion, with another P1.67 billion to be allocated through the annual national budget. The feasibility study for the project was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority last month, and the LRTA hopes to finish the project by May 2010.

The project, if implemented properly, will be a boon to commuters in Metro Manila, where the MRT and LRT are popular modes of public transportation. LRTA officials expect the interconnection to increase passenger capacity in the system by more than 66 percent, from 322,309 daily to nearly 535,558. Even well-conceived development projects under this administration, however, tend to be derailed by people who want to line their pockets at public expense. With the continuing furor over the national broadband network deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp., the government should see to it that this interconnection project does not become bogged down in another scandal.

So far the LRTA is making the right noises. LRTA authorities are reportedly planning to invite representatives of the Philippine Contractors Association, Transparency International and even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to witness the bidding process.

The LRTA can take tips from the military procurement reforms instituted by Avelino Cruz when he was the defense secretary. The reforms drastically reduced the number of steps in the bidding process, minimizing opportunities for corruption, and guaranteed transparency at every step. Whether the new system would be sustained remains to be seen. But the model is there, together with other examples of transparent bidding for government projects. The LRTA should study these models closely if it is sincere in its efforts to shield the interconnection project from corruption.

The Philippines' Mobile Phone Revolution

Oxford Analytica
Original report in Forbes

The mobile phone has become the most widely used and diverse piece of technological equipment, surpassing fixed line telephone, radio or television--with 3 billion subscribers worldwide expected by year-end. Having once been viewed as a calling device for high-income consumers, it is now a multipurpose data device used by many people in developing countries.

The adoption of mobile phones and expansion in the functions they are used to perform have created opportunities for telecommunications companies. In particular, the low-cost, secure and widely accessible mobile telephony platform has facilitated the delivery of financial services to people without bank accounts in Asia and Africa.

Developments in the Philippines, where mobile subscribers grew from 10,000 in 1990 to 46.2 million this year, illustrate how companies operating in low per capita income countries have become highly profitable by customizing innovative products and services of use to lower-income groups. Smart Communications and Globe Telecom are market leaders in the Philippines, offering services using short messaging system (SMS) technology ("texting") to make payments, transactions and remittances.

Globe Telecoms introduced SMS in 1994 as a free service to attract customers. The SMS facility, along with the introduction of prepaid methods of subscription, led to a sharp growth in mobile subscribers. By 2005, all mobile phone owners were utilizing SMS, with texting traffic exceeding voice traffic by 10 to one. The preference for SMS use is explained by its relative cost, where an SMS costs two cents compared to nine to 15 cents per minute for a phone call.

As the use of SMS has taken off, Filipinos have started using mobile phones to make financial transactions. By the middle of the year, about 5.5 million Filipinos were using their mobile phones as virtual wallets, making the country a leader among developing nations in mobile transactions.

Smart Communications pioneered prepaid mobile and electronic micro-credit loading (topping up prepaid phone credit in small denominations using SMS) in the Philippines, which in turn led to the development of other innovative products. In 2000, the company introduced Smart Money, which allows subscribers to transfer cash from a bank account to a mobile phone. They can also use the credit to:

--pay for goods and services;
--load airtime into any Smart phone;
--transfer money from one Smart Money card to another;
--pay utility bills; and
--send remittances.

Subscribers have to register their mobile phone, which is then linked to a cash or debit card. The card, which costs 200 pesos, does not require a bank account, but can be used to purchase goods in establishments that accept MasterCard or to withdraw cash from an ATM cash machine. Each time a user makes a transaction, a message is sent via SMS that allows real-time tracking of how funds are used.

In February, Smart Communications launched Smart Remit, a low-cost remittance service using the mobile phone as a financial service platform. The service enables Filipinos in the Middle East and Europe to send remittances home. The pilot project is undertaken in partnership with MasterCard, Bahrain's MTC Vodafone, United Arab Emirates' Etisalat and leading regional banks, and is part of the GSM Association's Global Money Transfer Project.

When using the service, a sender gives cash payment to an agent who then transfers the cash to the designated recipient in the Philippines. The recipient, alerted by an SMS, can immediately withdraw the cash from local ATMs if they have a bank account or at a McDonald's restaurant. As of September, Smart reported 5 million Smart Money and Smart Remit users.

There are several challenges facing efforts to develop the use of mobile transactions. They include:

--financial regulations such as formal barriers to the provision of payment and transaction services by non-banks, formal and informal cross-border trade barriers and anti-money laundering regulations;
--ensuring the safety, security and accessibility of services to increase consumer confidence;
--finding viable commercial models, pricing strategies and distribution channels that work where customers' disposable incomes are low; and
--establishing partnerships between banks, credit associations and telecommunications companies domestically and internationally.

To read an extended version of this article, log on to Oxford Analytica's Web site.

Oxford Analytica is an independent strategic-consulting firm drawing on a network of more than 1,000 scholar experts at Oxford and other leading universities and research institutions around the world. For more information, please visit To find out how to subscribe to the firm's Daily Brief Service, click here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

We decided to stay

By Tony Lopez
Original article at The Manila Times

At the awarding rites for the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) Oct. 18 at Malacañang, ABS-CBN’s news chief Maria Ressa delivered a beautiful response on behalf of the awardees.

The awardees are Dina S. Ocampo, Maria Corazon A. de Ungria, Eva Ma. Cutiongco-de la Paz, Alexandra P. Romualdez, Alyssa M. Peleo-Alampay, Hilly Ann Roa-Quiaoit, Maria A. Ressa, Catherine P. Vistro-Yu, Elizabeth H. Lee and Glecy Cruz Atienza.

Here is Maria’s speech:

For two decades now, my friends and I have had an ongoing debate: why isn’t our country doing better?

First, it was because we didn’t have democracy. Then it was because we had too much democracy. Now it’s because our democracy is too mangled and torn by vested interests—distorting truth and shattering certainty. What can we believe in? Where do we find hope? I’ve only known my co-awardees and the TOWNS women a week, but when I met them, I became very emotional. And I don’t do that. I’ve reported on death, destruction, radical change—but that day I was affected by this gathering of powerful women full of joy and hope for our future. This is an award given by women for women—who through their work—try to give the world back a piece of its lost heart.

Over the past week, we wrote each other about what really matters to find what we have in common. I want to share five traits with you. First, we are fighters. All of us like to beat the odds. If you tell us it’s not possible, we’ll fight even harder to make it happen. We chose our fields and wanted to stretch the limits. We developed our own visions—not of things as they are—but of how we think they should be. We envisioned an ideal, and we worked hard to reach that.

When I joined CNN nearly two decades ago, my goal was to change western media from within. Instead of complaining or how western journalists were reporting on Asian nations, I decided to do something about it. Now with ABS-CBN, I hope to help shape journalism at a pivotal time in our history.

Cora, the head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory at UP, is instrumental in having DNA evidence accepted in court cases today. Eva, one of only five medical geneticists in the Philippines today, is looking at the genetic birth defects, cancer and heart diseases—a pioneer in her field.

Second, we are all teachers. We believe one idea, one person can make a difference and that the key is education. Seven of us have taught at universities here and in the United States. Cathy, a professor at Ateneo, has helped standardize and raise the quality of mathematics teaching. Glecy, a professor at UP, uses theater and arts to push for social change.

A teacher builds for the future. The challenge is to take the vision you have and convince others to come along. That’s how you become a force-multiplier.

Third, we believe deeply in integrity and values—and we are not afraid to stand up for them. Sandy led the Inquirer against an ad boycott by then President Joseph Estrada.

Beth, the first woman president of two all-male groups—CAMPI (Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines) and the Truck Manufacturers Association—campaigned against smuggled vehicles.

Fourth, we are obsessive about what we do.

That word came from Dina, who admitted although she is being asked to guest on ANC for TOWNS, she planned to really talk about her obsession—which is her work teaching children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Hilly discovered a new species of giant clam found only in the Red Sea.

How did she outscoop the other marine biologists who specialize in the Red Sea? Well, seven of the nine known varieties of clams are in Min­danao—which is where she from. We gain strength from being Filipino and use that to compete globally.

Finally, we all decided to stay. All of us—to varying degrees—were trained overseas. It’s human technology transfer. In order to be competitive, you need knowledge. But we all chose to come back and to put that knowledge to work in our society.

Alyssa, a geologist-teacher at UP, gave up her US permanent residence status to come home under the Balik Scientist program of DOST.

So what hope do we have as a nation? It comes from each of us. Hope is not something other people give you. We take responsibility for our patch, our areas of influence. That is our individual commitment and our contribution to nation-building.

The media and the blast

Commentary during emergency
By Dan Mariano
Full report at The Manila Times

Authorities were still sifting through the debris at Glo­rietta 2, trying to determine what caused the blast that killed eight people and injured scores of others Friday afternoon when an AM radio anchorman was already postulating his theory of “diversion.”

The Arroyo administration, besieged by a flurry of controversies, might be sorely tempted to resort to action as extreme as terror bombing to “divert” attention away from itself, said the ra­dioman who sounded supremely pleased with himself for generating such an original idea.

Of course, the radioman’s postulation was neither new nor insightful. History is replete with examples of leaders who aggravate their people’s misery for their selfish ends—usually political survival. Nero’s underlings put Rome to the torch. Hitler’s Nazis burned down the Reichstag. Marcos’s operatives faked bombings and Juan Ponce Enrile’s ambush in order to justify martial law and hold on to power. Politicians who find themselves in desperate straits are all too often tempted to resort to desperate measures.

Could President Arroyo be as cold and calculating as those historical villains? Her implacable adversaries were quick to respond with an emphatic “yes!”

Hours after the Glorietta 2 bombing, Sen. Antonio Trillanes was already trying to sell the idea that Malacañang was somehow responsible for the bloodbath. In a text message that one network attributed to the ex-Navy officer’s “camp,” National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Gen. Hermogenes Esperon were tagged as “possibly behind the incident.”

Without volunteering any proof, the detained mutineer said the Makati bombing reminded him of Oplan Greenbase, purportedly a 2003 conspiracy to blame Moro separatists for a spate of bombings in Mindanao.

Giving full play to Trillanes’ accusations, the network that first reported it—whether out of political bias or plain sloth—made no attempt to verify any of his allegations. Instead, it tried to pass off speculation as information, unsubstantiated accusation as Gospel truth, sentiment as fact.

It is the failure of the media—especially the networks—to differentiate opinion from news that has made the political ground fertile for news manipulation and political intrigue. Even as rescue workers were still looking for possible survivors in the rubble of Glorietta 2, some broadcasters could not help taking partisan potshots in between spot reports.

And they call this journalism?

RP urged to invest more in agriculture

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

The World Bank (WB) has called on the Philippines and developing countries to put more investments in agriculture and warns that the sector must be placed at the center of the development agenda if the goals of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 are to be realized.

"The Philippines is no exception in terms of the agricultural sector’s high potentials for growth and poverty reduction but it may take some adjustments in the overall rural and agricultural development strategy for these potentials to be realized," the WB said in its latest report.

"In the Philippines, we think that the way to increase the benefits of agricultural public investments would be to improve the composition of expenditure, without necessarily increasing its level," said Maryse Gautier, World Bank acting country director for the Philippines.

"The country would be able to seize new opportunities presented by the global markets by shifting expenditures towards supporting dynamic, high-value added products with export potential."

"This will help increase incomes from agriculture, where more than 40 percent of the Philippine labor force is employed, but which presently contributes only about 14 percent of national output," Gautier added.

In the Philippines, the World Bank’s lending program for rural development includes the $ 60 million National Program Support for Diversified Farm Income and Market Development Project (NPS-DFIMDP), the $ 84 million Second Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP2), the $ 50 million Second Agrarian Reform Community Development Project (ARCDP), the $ 150 million Third Rural Finance Project (RF3), the $ 33.6 million ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP), the $ 19 million Second Land Administration and Management Project, and the $ 5 million Laguna de Bay Institutional Strengthening and Community Participation Project (LISCOP), among others.

The World Bank has also been providing technical assistance and analytical work to the Philippine government, some of them in close collaboration with other development partners.

It has recently come up with an "Agriculture Public Expenditure Review" (AgPER), a technical working paper which looked at how much, where, and how well the national government has been investing in agriculture.

Prior to this, the World Bank produced "Rural Growth Revisited," a study which identified and sought to address the various constraints to rural development. More analytical and advisory activities are lined up for the sector.

These include a study on the planned extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); an assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of various rural poverty alleviation approaches; a look into supply chain logistics for optimum agribusiness development; and a study to quantify and model natural hazard risks especially for the agricultural production sector.

Scholar: ‘RP not as important to Japan as Japan is to us’

By Cai U. Ordinario
Original report at The Business Mirror

THE Philippines may be at a greater disadvantage if it fails to ratify the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), according to a recent study from the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P).

UA&P Prof. Ceferino Rodolfo said rejecting the JPEPA will place the country at a competitive disadvantage with other countries like Thailand and Vietnam which also consider Japan an important trade partner; Japan, moreover, will not look at the Philippines as an attractive destination for foreign direct investments (FDIs).

“We are not as important to Japan as Japan is important to us,” Rodolfo said at a press briefing at the UA&P on Friday. “If we reject the Jpepa, Thailand and Vietnam will be very happy. In terms of import value, opposition to the Jpepa is illogical.”

Rodolfo said the country is only ranked 38th among Japan’s top global importers, a market for only 2 percent of its exports, and a source for only 2 percent of its imports.

As for the Philippines, Rodolfo said it considers Japan as the country’s 5th top global importer, its second-largest export market which accounts for 17.5 percent of total exports, and a source of 17 percent of the country’s imports.

Rodolfo also said the country stands to lose out in its chances to get P350 billion worth of investments for the next 10 years, about $720 million worth of local products that will be duty-free when exported to Japan, and $45 million worth of savings in imports from Japan.

The UA&P professor said that while it is not in his expertise to determine whether the Jpepa is constitutional, he stressed that the Philippines’ concessions to Japan under the agreement are very minimal, if at all.

In terms of agriculture, for instance, Japan has a greater reason to protect this sector because 47 percent of its agricultural workers are at least 65 years old and 24 percent are 55 to 64 years old. In a few years, Rodolfo said, these workers will no longer be productive.

“If they open up agriculture in a big way, aging farmers will no longer have jobs or opportunities for work,” he explained.

Furthermore, over 80 percent of local exports to Japan, in terms of both tariff lines and value, face zero duty immediately. Rodolfo 16.5 percent of the value of these exports face phased-out tariff reduction and less than 1 percent of the value of local exports are excluded.

He said with that, about $6.5-billion local exports will have duty-free market access to Japan and $86-million exports will enjoy gradual tariff elimination.

But the real benefit, Rodolfo said, is the $720-million exports that will immediately enjoy zero tariff in Japan. These include fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and other aquatic invertebrates; fruits and nuts as well as the peel of citrus fruit or melons; animal or vegetable fats and other oils; meat preparations; beverages, spirits, and vinegar; mineral fuels, mineral oils and other products of distillation; plastics; wood and articles of wood; straw, basketware, and wickerwork; cotton; knitted and not knitted articles of apparel and clothing; and zinc.

Meanwhile, Rodolfo said products that will be placed at risk are mostly used as inputs to local product exports, and that many of these products are being imported by companies located in export processing zones and industrial estates.

Meanwhile, 7.33 percent, or $536-million Philippine imports, will face gradual tariff elimination. Rodolfo said about 70 percent of this will only experience zero tariff after 10 years.

These include some plastic products; electrical wiring for motor vehicles; internal combustion piston engines; parts of air-conditioning machines; automatic circuit breakers; float glass and surface ground or polished glass; self-adhesive sheets; among others.

“This will give enough time for the country to place safety nets and improve competitiveness,” Rodolfo said.

As for the terms of the services provided by nurses and caregivers, Rodolfo said the conditions are also better than those for medical workers from other countries.

He said all Filipino nurses will get six months’ training, free food and lodging, and a $400-stipend. And while some nurses are only required to undergo two years of experience compared to Filipino nurses who need to undergo more years in the profession, Rodolfo said through additional work experience, Filipino nurses will be making up for the lack of years of study.

He explained that in some countries, education takes longer compared to the country’s requirement of 10 years before going to college and taking up nursing or any medical profession.

Rodolfo stressed that a deep economic integration, which means trading more than goods but services, provided in the Jpepa will boost the country’s economy.

Cagayan airport gets first international flight

By Charlie C. Lagasca
Original report at The Philippine Star

TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan — This city has finally got its first taste of international flight.

Last Friday’s Asian Spirit flight from Macau carrying tourists to the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) in Santa Ana, the first-ever international flight for the city’s 20-year old domestic airport, is set to become a twice-weekly regular flight.

The Tuguegarao airport’s expansion of its operations, CEZA administrator Jose Marie Ponce said, is part of CEZA’s expansion of operations, which will initially cater mostly to Chinese gambling aficionados out to bet in the zone’s online casinos, as well as partaking of the scenic views around the province.

“When the activities within the zone become really full-blast with the putting up of other attractions in addition to the two online casinos, the flights between CEZA and Macau will become more frequent, increasing from two to three times a week,” Ponce said.

Ponce said that with additional investors entering the special economic zone and free port, more flights will be needed to and from the area, either in Tuguegarao City or in the later.

Gov. Alvaro Antonio expressed optimism that following the first international flight to this city more flights from other foreign cities would also come in.

“It is hoped that with this initial flight more tourists will start to enter this province, and with it, more investments as well, not only in the CEZA area but throughout the province,” Antonio said.

CEZA is a free port and economic zone located in the whole of Santa Ana town in northeastern Cagayan and parts of Aparri town. As of now, with the absence of the Lal-lo airport, the Tuguegarao City airport is supplying the zone’s air transport requirements.

With the future expansion, Tuguegarao City airport will not only be feeding tourists to the CEZA area and other parts of the province, but also to nearby provinces like Apayao and Kalinga in the northern Cordillera Administrative Region.

Media and the economy

By Antonio R. Samson
Original article at The Philippine Star

[We hope that people in the Philippine media, and some bishops, will read this piece.--Ed.]

Maybe, the reason news in general broadsheets is dominated by politics and crime is that villains (and sometimes heroes, for the moment) are easier to figure out in these stories. If paper bags are passed out, it’s simple to follow what happens next, and it has nothing to do with recycling.

Stories featuring personalities, especially in entertainment, can grip the Filipino psyche and follow a certain template involving a couple and a third party. Is the scarcity of business news a case of their absence or a matter of avoiding complexity and a lack of appreciation on the dynamics of supply and demand?

Thus is often why the president is upset when economic numbers that should invite a brass band and champagne instead attract cynicism as in the second quarter GDP growth of 7.5 percent which this corner heartily cheered in its piece “We believe”. That article examined the record growth, its component details, and the policy underpinnings of the noteworthy performance.

Economics as a topic seems to require prior knowledge. Are abstract concepts like subprime loans in the US affecting our equity market too much for the reporter to understand and communicate? The average reader may not distinguish between purchasing power parity from the purchasing department or a backward-bending supply curve from stationery usage in the office. Media should read up and learn in order to explain.

What is the effect of confining business news to the business section or the specialized business paper? Is it only businessmen who should communicate and understand the dynamics of the economy? Isn’t this an invitation to drop the business reporting and consider it a topic for specialists?

Economics affects everyone without exception, including the jeepney driver who understands the record increase in oil prices in terms of his daily take home wage. But what is not explained to him is that this is an external factor and blaming government for this trauma does not need to a coping strategy. The peso appreciation which upsets exporters and recipients of OFW remittances happens also to cushion the impact of record oil prices, expressed in depreciated US dollars.

The equity market more than any other segment of the economy requires an appreciation of economics. And media need to go beyond the rise in the PSE index and look at how much is being raised by IPOs and stocks and why this is flooding the banks with liquidity.

In a morning show where news items are inserted between recipes for coconut milk and the joys of Pilates, a business news item may creep in. In one episode, one of the show’s mainstays read the news on a 10-percent one-day increase in the Phisix following the US fed reduction of the discount rate and a local three-day holiday, a phenomenal event which in terms of meteorological news is equivalent to an earthquake scoring nine in the Richter scale. And yet, the news reader merely shrugged and looked at his co-hosts as if to inquire whether his make-up was still on and just laughed and moved on. (What’s it to me?)

Economics is too serious a business to leave to economists. Comprehension of economic laws helps in preventing financial scams, although it seems that greed in this case often trumps knowledge. In his new book, Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan quotes an investor in the thirties who declared that, “Bulls and bears make money. But pigs are always slaughtered.”

The trend of virtual economics (pretending to know what you are talking about) is widespread. It is evident in the late night television news where the vagaries of the local currency exchange rate and the stock composite index are casually illustrated by one OFW spouse getting fewer pesos. (I used to get more. Now look what I have.) No context is given on the lower cost of foreign debt and fuel in light of the higher peso. The favorite line is, “all this prosperity being heralded has no effect on the poor”, without further explanation or statistics.

Handy phrases and world trends provide grist for the economic poseur’s glib tackling of economic theory. He employs buzz words to explain almost any business event. These handy words, never mind what they mean, are easy to remember: globalization, emerging markets, hedge funds, investor confidence, mining and ecological deterioration, and that old stand-by, widespread poverty. The irritation factor rises when the explanation turns into a long monologue as the virtual economist starts to convince even himself that he understands the concepts he is barely pronouncing correctly.

There was a time when radio commentators were more honest and admitted to being puzzled, even overwhelmed, by economic theory (like when they were in school, before they dropped out). They would explain the rising prices of goods as a manifestation of the greed of rich traders manipulating the market by cornering supply and squeezing the farmer. This is often followed by a racial slur. Economic events were hardly covered, and if they were, explanations for their causes were of the barbershop variety, and leaning towards conspiracy theories. It’s those capitalists getting richer every day.

Maybe it is a healthy development that media is turning more and more to economic experts to explain the country’s economic issues. Still, every economist has an ideological baggage and expertise does not always invite the right questions. Economic literacy seems to be the first step, beginning with the study of the science of allocating scarce resources.

Maybe leading broadsheets should endeavor to feature a business news item in the front page everyday. With a wider readership for economic news and a better appreciation of its impact on the lives of people, probably more than mysterious paper bags and incidents in a golf course, there will be a more intelligent context for current events, including what is important and what is trivial. Housewives (a term of deprecation for certain professional investors) can then rely less on hot tips and more on intelligent economic analysis from media on the risks of the equity market, and the possibility of greater rewards which usually go together.

The rise of the middle class leads to owning a part of the economy, and therefore caring more about economic stability. When business news become part of our morning ritual, we will perhaps gauge our politicians more about how they will handle the economy than how they continually investigate scandals and discourage foreign investments.

It’s time to pay attention to economics, rather than unproductive politics.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Philippines’ next business and tourism hub is rising in Bay City

The vision of Henry Sy Jr.
Original article at The Sunday Times

Philippine conglomerate SM Investments Corporation (SMIC), has embarked on a multi-billion peso development project for the construction of a 60-hectare mixed-use complex envisioned to become a premier business and tourism destination in the Philippines.

Dubbed the “Mall of Asia Complex”, the project is located along the coast of Manila Bay and will consist of technologically-advanced infrastructure integrated with office, retail, institutional, residential, and leisure components. The complex is now home to the Philippines’ largest shopping mall, the SM Mall of Asia, and will soon boast of the latest business and IT hub, the country’s largest convention center, a 16,000-seat sports and entertainment arena, and a wide range of facilities with recreational, tourism, and residential uses.

“We envision the Mall of Asia Complex to be a prime business and tourism district in the country and in the region,” says SM Investments Corporation executive vice-president for real property Josefino Lucas. “With its unique location by the side of the famous Manila Bay, the Mall of Asia Complex which features an excellent mix of business and leisure elements is expected to boost Philippine tourism as well as redefine Manila’s place among the new and exciting urban centers of Asia.”

The Mall of Asia Complex’s proximity to the international airport, seaports, hotels, and other commercial districts make it ideal for business, will give rise to world-class business facilities such as the OneE-Com Center which is targeted for completion by year-end.

The OneE-Com Center is a 10-storey building designed for e-commerce, contact centers, BPO companies, and specialized office uses. It will provide leading edge facilities such as multi-telco redundancy and connectivity, 100 percent backup power supply, basketball and badminton courts at deck level and central courtyard amenities, to meet the growing needs of technology-based companies with 24/7 operations.

Recently, SMIC formalized a deal with the leading global fitness company Fitness First Philippines, Inc to house the club’s 16th branch in the country on the ground and second levels of OneE-Com Center. Set to open by last quarter of this year, the fitness center will cater to the health and fitness needs of people specially those who work 24/7 in the call centers.

Also set to rise within the Mall of Asia Complex is the SMX Convention Center, which is envisioned to be the country’s premier destination for both local and international trade and cultural events. The three-storey, 46,647-square meter building will feature open exhibition areas, multi­functional halls, and flexible meeting rooms with modern exposition amenities for major conferences and trade exhibits.

Another major development project is the SM Arena, a sprawling indoor facility for big-time sports and entertainment events that can seat over 16,000 spectators. This expansive arena is expected to be the venue of choice of major gigs of well-known international artists in the music and entertainment industries.

In addition, the Mall of Asia Complex is set to inaugurate the SM Mall of Asia Science and Discovery Center on October 10, 2007—the first of its kind themed-park devoted solely to science and technology. A partnership between SM Prime Holdings and the US-based Leisure Entertainment Consultancy, the center will feature a digital planetarium and a wide range of technology and science-themed presentations and exhibits.

Likewise in the pipeline are the construction of the SM Ferry, which will feature a modern ferry terminal to service guests and tourists who wish to travel to Cavite city and Bataan, or to SMIC’s eco-tourism development estate, the Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu, Batangas; the SM Land Showroom which will showcase the resort and residential features of the Hamilo estate; and a leisure strip area which is set to soft-open this October, where people can converge and unwind after a hard day’s work and look forward to fresh and hip themed-happenings every month with their choice drinks and spirits. The Mall of Asia Complex will also give rise to real property investments such as deluxe hotels, upscale offices and full-serviced apartments.

SMIC just recently forged a memorandum of agreement with the Microtel Inns and Suites hotel group to put up a 150-hotel room strategically located near the SMX Convention Center and the SM Mall of Asia. Also in the pipeline is the rise of the Radisson Hotel in October 2009 near the OneE-Com Center.

These world-class and high-tech infrastructures and facilities perfectly complement the initial major attraction of the complex—the SM Mall of Asia. Dubbed as the Philippines’ largest mall and among the world’s biggest in terms of gross floor size, the SM Mall of Asia is home to flagship stores of premier establishments which features over 700 shops and dining establishments and offers the country’s first IMAX theater and the first Olympic-sized ice skating rink.

Besides the mall, the Shrine of Jesus, The Way, The Truth and The Life Church and the SM Corporate offices are already in place at the sprawling complex. The SM Corporate offices consist of six one-storey structures which house the corporate offices of the SM Group and Teletech, a major international call center.

Business sector view

By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes
Original article at The Philippine Star

Just before the weekend, some of our friends from the Makati Business Club (MBC) wondered whether or not there is a well-planned and well-funded effort to create a volatile political environment that would encourage our soldiers to leave their barracks and violate the chain of command.

Our MBC friends were apparently referring to those well-organized motorcades to the Philippine Marine Headquarters, the farmers’ march, and the vigil at the EDSA shrine – all timed with the supposed call by some clerics for the resignation of the President.

We cannot blame the business sector for reacting with some consternation to these recent developments. The view is that the economy has gained some major headway and is successfully holding off the adverse effects of record-high oil prices in the world market and the interest rates debacle hounding the US economy.

Just two weeks ago, the stock market hit record highs. At the same time, the peso has sustained its run, even appearing to be on the brink of going back to the P43 to $1 range in the last months of this year. The picture was expected to become even rosier with the hoped for influx of billions more in remittances from our overseas workers in time with the Christmas season.

Foreign direct investments were also coming in on unprecedented levels, a positive signal that we are back on the radar screen of the international investor community.

So, this is the nervous question hounding the business sector: are our politicians set to throw these economic gains away?

The nervousness is aggravated by what appears to be an effort to bring in the military sector into the political fray. That motorcade to the Marine headquarters is disconcerting no matter how one looks at it. Some people are definitely trying to get the soldiers to join the political melee.

Is this a short-cut way to the presidency that some parties lusting for the post have adopted?

No one can say for sure, but this is a view that is starting to snowball.

And we hope this is not the case. The strategy of inciting the military sector in order to have the national leadership replaced via unconstitutional means would definitely throw all the hard-earned economic gains away.

The discomfort of the business sector over the current political melee is captured by business leader Donald Dee who, in an interview over DZRH radio last Friday, said the country does not need a change in national leadership, but a “change in the way our politicians think”.

An obviously disappointed Dee pointed out that politicians “have been wasting time in never-ending probes”.

Dee also highlighted the discomfort of many with the way Senate investigations go. Not only are the probes consistently inconclusive. Dee said the mode and system followed by our senators can stand a lot of improvement and reforms.

He cited US legislative hearings which, even on issues as controversial as the war in Iraq, do not involve “grandstanding and humiliation of the guests”.

Dee underscored that he is not against the investigation on allegations, but simply expressed concern that the manner in which the probes are being done could send wrong signals to the investor community.

“We are now the darling of investors,” Dee underscored. This is evidenced by the impressive performance of the stock market and the unprecedented influx of foreign direct investments.

Dee also nixed the call for the replacement of President Arroyo with a care-taker chief executive. Let us learn from history, Dee urged.

Dee said the only way that the President should be replaced is by way of the 2010 elections. The only way, he underscored, is “the normal constitutional process of transition”.

At the end of the day, the business community would go for what would not result in the loss of the economic gains we all worked hard for.