Saturday, 12 January 2008

Filipino is grand champion in Austria's 'Musical! Die Show'

ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
Click here for full article with Youtube clips:

Filipino singer Vincent Bueno triumphed in his bid to become the grand winner of the "Musical! Die Show" on Friday, reported ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau.

A full-blooded Filipino born in Vienna to Pinoy parents, Bueno shouted "Philippines! Philippines!" after he was declared the winner of "Musical! Die Show" (Musical! The Show), an Austrian singing competition with all the pizazz and campy glamour of "American Idol" but much tougher: instead of simply singing pop tunes, contestants are required to choose from Broadway musical theater repertoire, and give a performance that involves singing, dancing, acting and theatrical effects.

Friday, 11 January 2008


National Economic Development Authority

A technical demonstration of the Unified Multipurpose Identification (UM-ID) system, from registration and data capture to card production, as well as its application as a Health Insurance card, was held recently at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Pasig City.

Acting NEDA Director-General Augusto B. Santos said the UM-ID System established through Executive Order No. 420 aims to streamline and harmonize the various government ID systems, as well as to facilitate transactions with government and access to health and other public services. The UM-ID system is now being implemented on a pilot basis in three agencies: the NEDA, National Statistics Office (NSO) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Sample UM-ID cards were produced during the demonstration for some officials and employees of the three pilot agencies. The process, from data and biometrics capture, to the personalization and printing of the UM-ID cards, took 5-10 minutes per person.

During the inter-agency Technical Working Group meeting that followed, which was chaired by Assistant Director-General Daniel F. Pabellon, NSO reported that the Central Verification and Enrolment Agency (CVEA) system, which it will operate and administer, has already been installed. The CVEA will house the UM-ID computer servers, an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), birth certificate checking and common reference numbers (CRN) generating system, and card printers. Registration and data capture will be distributed among the different participating and cooperating government agencies or CVEA-designated registration centers.

Pabellon said that so far, 1,200 NEDA and NSO Central Office (CO) personnel and 4,000 PhilHealth CO and regional office employees had their data captured already. However, only 900 CRNs have been generated and included in the CRN Registry.

The CRN is an individual’s unique identifier during his lifetime. This is generated by the CRN Registry or database of individuals with CRN comprising personal information, which are limited only to the 14 data items (name, sex, home address, picture, signature, birthplace, birth date, marital status, name of parents, height, weight, two index fingerprints, two thumb marks, any prominent distinguishing feature, tax identification number) as specified in E.O. 420. This registry will be maintained by the Central Verification and Enrollment Agency (CVEA) under the NSO.

Concerns cited during the TWG meeting in the implementation of the UM- ID pilot program include insufficient photo and fingerprint quality and birth certificate issues. The TWG noted that discrepancies between the user-supplied data and their birth certificates or the failure to present one pose major bottlenecks in the registration of applicants and the generation of their CRNs. The TWG agreed to further look at the procedures and processes to speed up the registration of applicants and the generation of their CRNs and printing of UM-ID cards.

The TWG expressed confidence in achieving the production of the targeted five million UM-ID cards for 2008. A soft launch for the PhiliHealth-UM-ID card for PhilHealth members has been set on February 14, 2008 to coincide with PhilHealth’s anniversary.

Aside from its use as a PhilHealth card, the UM-ID card could also be used as a time-and-attendance card, ATM card, debit card, and stored value pass card for public transport systems.

With regard to the National ID System being proposed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, Santos said the UM-ID system could be expanded to cover all citizens. However, he said that Congress will first have to pass a law to allow this to happen, citing a Supreme Court decision which states that only Congress can establish a national ID system. The SC decision also declared that E.O. No. 420 establishing the UM-ID system is constitutional and that it provides enough safeguards to protect the human rights and the privacy of citizens. At the same time, he said, the use of a unified ID card will provide greater convenience to citizens, while enhancing the integrity and reliability of government-issued ID cards through the adoption of a biometrics system, and preventing fraudulent claims due to identity theft and use of false names and identities.

Agriculture boosts Philippine economy

By Dan Mariano
Original article at The Manila Times

MULTILATERAL financial institutions and the biggest international banks were recently busy revising their growth targets for the Philippines. No, they were not reviewing figures to downgrade the country’s ratings.

Thanks to the better than expected performance of our economy last year, the Asian Development Bank and Citigroup—to name just two—felt compelled to raise significantly their growth forecasts for the Philippines. ADB adjusted its 2007 growth estimate for the Philippines from 5.8 to 7 percent. Private banking giant Citigroup had projected a higher expansion of 7.1 percent.

Earlier, the International Monetary Fund had raised its projections from 6.34 percent to 6.7 percent, citing the economy’s strong performance in the first three quarters, expanding by as much as 7.1 percent, according to the IMF’s independent assessment.

Even the World Bank had predicted 6.7 percent growth for the Philippines, its highest projection among the four largest economies in Southeast Asia that include Indonesia (6.3 percent), Malaysia (5.7 percent) and Thailand (4.3 percent).

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) had expected gross domestic product (GDP) growth to reach 7.3 percent in 2007, especially with the agriculture sector’s strong performance despite the onslaught of a dry spell and a couple of strong typhoons in the last quarter of 2007.

As the new year started NEDA reported that Malacañang had finally hit its full-year target of creating a million jobs in 2007 owing to the dynamic performance of the services sector, particularly the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and agriculture.

One indicator of the better-than-expected expansion of the farm sector last year was the latest tracking poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showing a sizable drop in the number of families suffering from hunger from the nine-year high of 21.5 percent in July-September 2007 to 16.2 percent in the last quarter.

Agriculture’s resilience

Official growth projections were downgraded midway through 2007 amid fears then that the dry spell forecast by weather experts would turn into a drought and wreak havoc on farms and fisheries in the second semester.

Last year’s robust performance of the farming sector, under the stewardship of the Department of Agriculture, appears more remarkable in view of the prolonged dry spell, which was feared to devastate farms and pull down the growth rate for agriculture and fisheries.

DA officials credit the resilience of agriculture in 2007 to Malacañang, which poured an unprecedented amount of public investments into this critical sector last year.

The Arroyo administration’s spending for rural infrastructure, post-harvest facilities and seed technology, along with the swift intervention measures put in place by DA Secretary Arthur Yap, shored up Philippine agriculture in the face of climate changes and other woes.

Result: even the dry spell in Luzon’s major rice-producing areas had failed to stop agriculture from growing 4.3 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the fisheries subsector posting the biggest expansion at 7.92 percent, arising from a production volume worth P134.6 billion. Palay output had reached 9.87 million metric tons for a 3.45-percent increase, while that of corn expanded 9.5 percent, as harvests totalled 5.29 million MT for the third quarter.

As for the other subsectors, livestock production increased by 2.06 percent during the third-quarter period, making up 13.08 percent of the total agricultural production for the first nine months of 2007. The livestock subsector had grossed P117.9 billion at current prices, or 4.39 percent more than the 2006 record.

Agriculture’s impressive performance in the first three quarters of 2007 buoyed the DA’s hopes last month for maintaining its overall growth target for the sector, which was originally pegged at 4.5 to 5 percent in 2007.

The way industry leaders see it, the Arroyo administration’s spending for the farm sector—which accounts for more than a third of the jobs generated by the economy—was complemented by Yap ’s skilful management of the DA’s resources and stake­holders. Yap had mobilized his department to focus on the right priorities and channeled much-needed funds to where they were most needed.

On top of that, they believe Yap effectively harnessed the private sector and local government units that partnered with the DA in sustaining the high-growth path of Philippine agriculture in 2007 despite the various challenges that had confronted it.

Clearly, the President picked the right man for the job.

Orient Aviation on PAL's Jaime Bautista

Original article at Orient Aviation¤tSection=coverstory¤tArticle=A20071203151224-94Wa1&


Orient Aviation’s 2007 Person of the Year, Philippine Airlines (PAL) president, Jaime Bautista, has been the key player in formulating and implementing the airline’s 10-year rehabilitation plan, designed to appease creditors and rebuild the airline.

Formerly chief financial officer when PAL went into receivership with US$2.3 billion of debt in 1998 he became president in 2004. He has relentlessly driven down costs and improved systems and productivity, while at the same time coping with intense market pressures, including soaring fuel prices and severe competition. Perhaps most importantly, Bautista devoted a great deal of time improving staff morale, which was rock bottom in the late 1990s.

In its last financial year, PAL posted its largest profit in its 66-year history and Bautista was, in October, finally able to lead the carrier out of rehabilitation, two years ahead of schedule. Now, with a fleet modernization plan in place, he is consolidating the gains that have been made to ensure PAL returns to its place as one of the region’s premier airlines.



Philippine Airlines (PAL) president, Jaime Bautista wears his heart on his sleeve.
Tom Ballantyne

Philippine Airlines (PAL) president, Jaime Bautista, wears his heart on his sleeve. As chief financial officer at the time, he took many of the airline’s financial troubles in the late 1990s personally.

Indeed life was tough for Bautista and PAL even before the carrier went into receivership in June 1998 and closed its doors for two weeks in September the same year.

And it’s been far from easy ever since. Few carriers have endured such a traumatic decade of restructure and reform as PAL has as it battled to recover from bankruptcy with debts of US$2.3 billion under a strict rehabilitation plan approved by the government.

Bautista, more than anyone else, has been central to the cause. And now, only weeks after officially throwing off the shackles of rehabilitation, the president has achieved his dream.

“I had a vision and that vision was very simple: for the airline to get out of rehabilitation, grow and become profitable. We have now made it official [getting out of rehab],” said Bautista.

“I was very much involved in formulating that vision so when we came out of rehab it was like a dream come true for me. I was the person who pushed for the plan. It has been a long eight years.”

The effort has paid off. In June, PAL reported net income of US$140.3 million for its financial year ending March 31, the largest profit in its 66-year history and confirmation it has returned to robust financial health eight years into its 10-year restructuring programme.

It was PAL’s third straight year of profit and a six-fold increase on the previous year’s $22.8 million. The profit came as PAL hit its highest load factors in 15 years – 76.8% – carrying 6.9 million passengers and raising revenue 12.8% to $1.39 billion.

“These gains sparked us to petition the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC], the Philippines corporate regulator] to allow PAL to exit receivership by the end of 2007, two years earlier than envisioned by the rehabilitation plan. They have granted our wish a little earlier than we expected,” said Bautista.

“We are proud to say we have a solid platform on which to grow and build
our future.”

One of the most trusted lieutenants of PAL owner, billionaire businessman, Lucio Tan, Bautista is a man for all seasons; modest, unassuming, but determined and steely strong.

Reflecting on those dark days of the late 1990s Bautista said: “PAL was in a steep nose dive and there was nothing anyone could do to arrest this crisis. But just before hitting the ground PAL pulled out of its tailspin.”

The rescue strategy for PAL was outlined in its rehabilitation plan, which was hammered out over months of tough negotiations with creditors, shareholders, unions and the government. It was approved by the SEC in June 1999.

One sticking point in the negotiations was a demand by creditors that their approval of the plan would be conditional on a guarantee of long-term industrial peace, which would involve suspension of the collective bargaining agreement between management and unions.

PAL had been hit hard by pilot and cabin crew strikes in 1998. “In effect our employees were being asked to give up their right to strike for 10 years,” said Bautista. “What if management turned its back on them? How would they counter the abuse of workers’ rights if that happened?

“To break the impasse our chairman, Dr Lucio Tan, made them an extraordinary gesture of sacrifice. He offered 60,000 of his own shares free to every employee. In return he challenged employees to match his commitment to the company by agreeing to suspend the collective bargaining agreement for 10 years while the rehab plan was being implemented.

“His message was: here is an opportunity to take charge of your destiny. You are now co-owners of this company. Go ahead and make it great.”

The unions agreed and PAL has not looked back since.

“Since then the rehab plan has been the blueprint for how we operate,” said Bautista.

Once the rehabilitation plan was underway a new management team was appointed. Tan called on 35-year PAL veteran, Avelino Zapanta, from retirement to take charge.

The now former CFO was out of sight, but far from out of the game. “I was with the office of the chairman [Lucio Tan]. The chairman told me I could not leave PAL, but had to operate from his office. I liaised between the office of the chairman and all the other departments. I was there making sure everything was going in the right direction and everybody was communicating,” said Bautista.

But he did much more than that, not only keeping in personal touch with sometimes nervous, often angry, creditors to keep them onside, but also formulating his “vision” for PAL’s future.

A year before PAL’s demise the airline refleeted. “I was the CFO when we borrowed all the money to finance new aircraft. The creditors were calling us names, saying we had promised everything and then defaulted,” he told Orient Aviation.

“I was still part of PAL so I continued to communicate with them. Not in an official capacity... but I called them and gave them updates because personally I had very good relationships with them. Officially, there were some problems between them and the airline, but when we started paying on time and we even started to pay our obligations ahead of schedule they started to relax.”

To date, PAL has paid off more than half of its massive debt. Repayments should be complete by 2012.

The rehabilitation plan was based on four cornerstones: market, product, finance and people.

Bautista said the people plan emerged as the most crucial element of the recovery.

PAL’s ownership in more than six decades had swung back and forth between government and the private sector. By the late 1990s staff morale was at rock bottom as employees realised the company was in crisis and feared for their jobs.

“Employees were learning of the company’s fate through the media. Nobody trusted anybody. It was every man for himself. We in senior management readily recognized that changing the negative culture in PAL was our top priority,” said Bautista.

A programme of regular dialogue with employees was instituted immediately, with senior management meeting staff wherever they felt comfortable; at airports, ticket offices, hangars and canteens.

“We talked about the company’s performance and planning and everything in between. Equally important, we also listened to what our employees had to say, their concerns, requests and suggestions. We levelled with them,” said the president.

“We never promised anything that we could not deliver, thereby gaining their trust. Our employees are now highly motivated and working in a milieu of industrial harmony. They are able to concentrate on their jobs, resulting in increased productivity and this has led to cost saving and improved revenue.”

To meet the requirements of the rehabilitation plan, PAL slashed its fleet from nearly 60 aircraft to 26. It retired, disposed of or returned to lessors many old aircraft types. Ten different models have been reduced to five today and this will be reduced to four next year. PAL cut its route network from 70 destinations to 34. And it trimmed staff from 13,500 to a little over 7,000.

In eight consecutive years from 2000-2007, PAL registered an operating profit every year and a net profit in six of those years. The only exceptions were in 2002 and 2004 when 9/11 and the Sars health crisis hit aviation worldwide.

And these were not the only external factors PAL had to deal with. Soaring fuel costs and, not least, competitors who were gaining unprecedented access to the Philippines under liberal aviation policies were also major hurdles it had to overcome.

Today, PAL is entering a new phase. “Looking ahead we foresee a strong environment for the industry, particularly in the Asia-Pacific,” said Bautista.

“Growth in regional air traffic is expected to remain robust, especially in China and India, averaging 5% to 6% annually over the next 20 years. This favourable outlook demands a new approach for PAL.

“For the past eight years our growth was controlled, careful and cautious under rehabilitation. But the new more competitive environment requires a bolder course of action and that is what we are doing.”

The most important among several initiatives is the modernization of the fleet. Late last year PAL began to acquire 20 A320 family aircraft. “Eight jets are in service and eight more are expected through to December 2008. We intend to exercise options on a further five A320s for delivery starting 2009,” said the PAL president.

“These aircraft are utilized mainly on our domestic network and on some Asian regional services.

“We have ordered six B777-300ERs to augment our long-haul operations to North America and other destinations. Deliveries will start in 2009 and continue until 2011.”

Within five years, PAL’s fleet will grow to 43 aircraft, seven planes more than today, but much younger than the current average age of eight years. The existing widebody fleet of B747-400s will undergo a $50 million refurbishment. “Compared to the massive fleet renewal programmes of other carriers ours is extremely modest. But looking at where PAL came from these last 10 years it is an audacious step, something unthinkable until recently,” said Bautista.

Only the lack of aircraft is holding PAL back from performing even better than its current record-breaking efforts. Bautista said PAL was also investing heavily in raising safety and security standards and upgrading technology, infrastructure and human resource assets.

“The objective of all those initiatives is, simply, to reshape PAL into a stronger, nimbler and even more efficient flag carrier for the Filippino nation and international passengers,” said Bautista.

He refutes his airline is being protected by its government and stresses that he is not against liberalisation. “Let me state very clearly that PAL welcomes responsible and equitable liberalization. In fact, we are knocking on the doors of many governments to secure more access to certain restricted markets. We want more flights to Canada. We want additional slots at Narita. We want access to every Japanese point. We want the removal of barriers that prevent us from flying to more places in the U.S.,” said Bautista.

But he insists liberalization must be equitable and Philippine carriers must receive the same privileges as their foreign competitors. “We are not asking to be pampered or sheltered. Equal opportunity and equal access to markets is what we ask from aviation authorities.”

Bautista pointed out that airlines in other ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries are state-owned airlines enjoying government support. “Unlike us, those carriers are protected from business failure. PAL has no room for error,” he said.

“Such an uneven situation does not make for a genuine liberalized aviation regime. It is therefore imperative that ASEAN require member nations to relinquish subsidies of all forms of state assistance to their flag carriers before the implementation of open skies within the group starting in December 2008.”

However, Bautista said PAL now has the strength to compete with all comers, whether legacy operators, global alliance members, subsidized and protected carriers or low-cost carriers.

“PAL’s road to success has been a long and winding one,” he said. “We have survived wars, revolutions and innumerable crises, including bankruptcy, over 66 years. As we move out of receivership we now enter a new phase of our history, that of sustained growth and profitability,” he said.

“PAL is now ready to emerge from its shell and rejoin the ranks of Asia’s leading carriers.”

Edsa MRT breakthrough

By Alvin Capino
Original article at The Manila Standard

Finance Secretary Gary Teves had some good news to share when we talked to him over our daily radio program “Karambola sa dwIZ” last Wednesday.

The main reason for the interview was for him to shed light on the government’s moves to lower tariffs on oil imports in the wake of skyrocketing prices of petroleum in the world market. Teves clarified that contrary to expectations, the price reduction from the one percent reduction in tariff would take effect not immediately but at the end of the month.

I also took advantage of the interview to ask the finance chief for an update on the planned refinancing of the Edsa MRT project which I wrote about in this column that same day.

“Karambola” scored a scoop of sorts. We learned firsthand that the government, i.e., the finance and transportation departments, is close to signing a memorandum of agreement with the Metro Rail Transit Corp., the private consortium that built the Edsa-MRT line during the Ramos administration.

If things go well, Secretary Teves believes the signing should be taking place today, Friday, if it had not already been done yesterday.

And when that MoA is finally signed, that would be a major breakthrough.

It will be good news to the close to one million Filipinos who commute along Edsa daily, many of them using the MRT line that is already loading beyond its passenger capacity.

When that MoA is signed, the Arroyo administration—through the finance department—would have taken an important move to save the country hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments. This is more than enough to fund the improvement of the present line and extend it to Caloocan, where it can be interconnected with the LRT Line 1.

By the last estimate, the projected savings could reach $485 million, or P19.78 billion based on current exchange rate.

The projected savings will come from an early pre-payment of the dollar-denominated obligation of the government to MRTC which was inked at about 15 to 16 percent per annum at the time the system was built.

The obligation can then be refinanced using a peso-denominated loan at the much-cheaper rate of about 5 to 6 percent per annum.

When that MoA is finally signed, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would be underscoring the major gains of her administration—the strength of our economic fundamentals. The refinancing of the Edsa-MRT project is among the several dollar-denominated obligations that the Arroyo administration is pre-paying, generating huge savings for our coffers in the process.

This can only be done at a time when the peso is strong, when the balance of payments is tilted in our favor, and the vaults of the Bangko Sentral are teeming with greenbacks from confident foreign investors and overseas workers’ remittances.

When that MoA is finally signed, Secretary Teves will be giving Filipino taxpayers a major respite from paying the fare subsidy for those who ride the MRT. The move will also save the credit standing of the government and avert a major dent in our reputation in the international investor community. It is a known fact that the government is already in arrears in that obligation. The MoA should save the day for the Philippine government.

When that MoA is finally signed, Secretary Teves and Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza would have given Edsa commuters an important gift —the chance to dream again for a much-improved service along the busiest corridor in the metropolis. The $485 million that will be generated by the refinancing scheme sparks hope that money would be available to fund an extension of the line to complete the Edsa-Rizal Avenue-Taft Avenue loop and the purchase of new and better trains.

At the end of the day, President Arroyo will have the chance to establish an important legacy in the transportation sector. This could be a much-improved MRT line that is interconnected with Line 1.

This would be one of the best gifts that the Arroyo administration can give to the close to one million metro commuters who ride that system daily. That means close to one million Filipinos can experience the positive impact of that transportation sector legacy first hand.

And if that legacy ever materializes, the improved Edsa MRT shall be a constant and concrete reminder to all of us of a time when the economic fundamentals of the country had actually been good. And that the Arroyo administration was quick to tap the opportunities which the sound economic fundamentals brought about.

Quezon, Cebu, Davao cities in top 10 Asian cities

By Wilfredo Rodolfo III
Original report at The Business Mirror

THREE Philippine cities were included in the top 10 Asian Cities of the Future Award 2007 by Singapore-based consulting firm AsiaBIZ Strategy Pte. Ltd.

Quezon City placed seventh, Cebu City, eighth and Davao City 10th on the top 10 which was topped by perennial powerhouses Hong Kong (1st), Singapore (2nd) Taipei (3rd) and Melbourne (4th).

Rounding up the top 10 are Chinese cities Dalian (5th), Shijiazhuang (6th) and Guangzhou (9th).

The awards were based on the results of survey among businessmen, who were asked to rate over 200 Asian “big” and “small” cities according to their standing in terms of business and investments opportunities.

AsiaBIZ Strategy Pte. Ltd. is a Singapore-based strategy and investment promotion consultancy company which has interests in Asia’s 20 biggest countries. The company said its consulting services has resulted in an overall Fortune 500 client investment portfolio in excess of $2 billion in Asia, excluding small- and medium-enterprises clients.

Quezon City also placed eighth on the top 10 list of Asian cities with the best economic potential while placing third in the most cost-efficient city in terms of doing business together with Cebu (4th) and Davao (6th).

Davao City is fifth in terms of quality of human resources, followed by Quezon City. Cebu is seventh in terms of best quality of life while Quezon City is tenth. None of the Philippine cities barged into the top ten with the best infrastructure and business-friendliness.

Cebu placed second in terms of quality of development and promotion, next only to Singapore.

No Philippine city entered the rankings in the small cities category, which was won by Alor Star in Malaysia and Newcastle, Australia.

Joel Mari Yu of the Cebu Investments and Promotions Center (CIPC) said Cebu City’s promotional efforts abroad and its concrete program for investments and business is paying off and getting its deserved recognition.

“We just don’t act when investors have already arrived. We have a year-round program to market Cebu and to improve the business climate here,” Yu said.

He said CIPC was part of the organizations “tested” by AsiaBiZ in terms of how they handle investment inquiries and how efficient their international marketing promotions are.

Yu, however, lamented Cebu’s infrastructure which he said is keeping Cebu backwards compared with its Philippine counterparts.

“Maybe we are better off, compared to other cities in the Philippines, but when we are put side-by-side Singapore and Hong Kong, we are down there at the bottom,” he said.

He also said Cebu should be on top in terms of quality of life for bringing a good balance of business and economic opportunities with a very livable environment.

“We have all the amenities of Manila but with one-tenth the traffic and the pollution,” he said.



AsiaBIZ Strategy conducted an Asia-wide survey in 2007 to rank both big and small Asian cities involving 200 over cities. Below are the results:


1, Hong Kong, China

2, Singapore, Singapore

3, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

4, Melbourne, Australia

5, Dalian, China

6, Shijiazhuang, China

7, Quezon City, Philippines

8, Cebu City, Philippines

9, Guangzhou, China

10, Davao City, Philippines


1, Hong Kong, China

2, Singapore, Singapore

3, Dalian, China

4, Guangzhou, China

5, Quezon City, Philippines

6, Melbourne, Australia

7, Fukuoka, Japan

8, Macau, China

9, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

10, Tokyo, Japan


1, Shijiazhuang, China

2, Dalian, China

3, Quezon City, Philippines

4, Cebu City, Philippines

5, Guangzhou, China

6, Davao City, Philippines

7, Colombo, Sri Lanka

8, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

9, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

10, Taichung, Taiwan (Republic of China)


1, Singapore, Singapore

2, Melbourne, Australia

3, Hong Kong, China

4, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

5, Davao City, Philippines

6, Quezon City, Philippines

7, Seoul, South Korea

8, Chongqing, China

9, Shijiazhuang, China

10, Guangzhou, China


1, Melbourne, Australia

2, Hong Kong, China

3, Singapore, Singapore

4, Tokyo, Japan

5, Macau, China

6, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

7, Cebu City, Philippines

8, Sakai, Japan

9, Hiroshima, Japan

10, Quezon City, Philippines


1, Tokyo, Japan

2, Singapore, Singapore

3, Hong Kong, China

4, Yokohama, Japan

5, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

6, Fukuoka, Japan

7, Osaka, Japan

8, Kobe, Japan

9, Seoul, South Korea

10, Hiroshima, Japan


1, Singapore, Singapore

2, Hong Kong, China

3, Macau, China

4, Melbourne, Australia

5, Shijiazhuang, China

6, Nanjing, China

7, Colombo, Sri Lanka

8, Brisbane, Australia

9, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

10, Tokyo, Japan


1, Singapore, Singapore

2, Cebu City, Philippines

3, Hong Kong, China

4, Taipei City, Taiwan (Republic of China)

5, Melbourne, Australia

6, Dalian, China

7, Nanjing, China

8, Brisbane, Australia

9, Guangzhou, China

10, Lucknow, India


1 Alor Star, Malaysia

2 Newcastle, Australia

3 Jeju , South Korea

4 Taoyuan City, Taiwan

5 Gifu, Japan

6 Ipswich, Australia

US officials inaugurate road in Basilan battleground

By Bong Garcia Jr.
Original article at The Business Mirror

ZAMBOANGA CITY—US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Democrat Rep. Adam Smith of Washington inaugurated on Thursday a road in the former battleground between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Basilan.

The road project that stretches 13.4 kilometers links barangay Campo Uno in Lamitan City to the town of Tuburan, where fierce fighting took place at the height of MNLF uprising in the ’70s.

Twenty-one troops from the 2nd Marine Brigade were also killed in an ambush in Tuburan late last year.

Kenney dubbed the project as “a road to prosperity” saying that it will provide easy access to farmers in bringing down their farm products and to children in going to school, as well as contribute to the overall peace and order in the area.

Barangay Campo Uno also links the town of Akbar, Albarka, Ungkaya Pukan, Mohammad Adjul, Tipo-Tipo and Sumisip to Lamitan City aside from Tuburan.

The crops grown in Basilan include coffee, black pepper, coconuts, bananas and rubber.

The road project was realized with a P46-million assistance from the United States Assistance for International Development (USAID).

The road provides a primary connecting route for local residents from their municipalities to the Basilan circumferential road that reaches the rest of the province.

Prior to USAID’s involvement, Tuburan and Akbar towns were quite isolated from the other cities and towns of Basilan.

Kenney hopes that Basilan will be developed, citing the great economic and development potentials of the province.

Smith serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Warfare and Capabilities.

Smith also serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He visited the Philippines to meet with senior officials and review US assistance programs.

During his visit he will also meet with President Arroyo and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, visit US businesses and lay a wreath at the American Cemetery to pay respects to the American soldiers who died fighting in the country.

On Friday Kenney will lead officials in the inauguration of a halfway house run by the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) in this city.

The VFF is a nonprofit and nongovernment organization that was established in 1991 and receives numerous grants from the US government.

The VFF provides services to victims of human traffickers by managing halfway houses constructed by the Philippine Ports Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority.

The VFF halfway house that will be inaugurated by Kenney will be the latest in the country.

Currently the VFF operates half-way houses in Manila, Batangas, Davao and Sorsogon.

Victims typically stay at the half-way houses for two to three days before they return home or are transferred to a safe house or a long-term government shelter.

Tourism posts 40% growth, arrivals top 3M in 2007

By Paul Atienza
Original report at The Business Mirror

TOURISM Secretary Ace Durano reported Thursday tourist arrivals breached 3 million, thus showing a 40- percent growth for 2007 from 2006 tourist expenditures.

“Tourist expenditures posted a hefty growth of 40.09 percent to reach $4.885 billion, surpassing the $3.782-billion target,” said Durano.

“The Department of Tourism’s ultimate goal is to attract not only more tourists, but also higher-value visitors who stay longer and spend more, generating more opportunities for the country.”

In the entire 2007, Durano said the Philippines position in core markets such as China and South Korea was solidified and efforts to build up newer areas such as India and European countries have started to bear fruit.

“Fiercer competition in Southeast Asia, changes in tourist behavior, international concerns such as global warming and terrorism, and the rise of the Chinese and Indian economies, among others, have all contributed to an industry that is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate,” he said.

He worries the mostly sorry state of infrastructure, if not properly addressed, would hinder the growth of Philippine tourism. He cited as an example the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as “already beyond nominal maximum capacity.”

But he noted there were already other significant investments in infrastructure with domestic and foreign investors’ new projects in key tourist destinations such as Cebu, Boracay, Negros Oriental, Bicol and Palawan.

The provincial airports in Kalibo, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Bacolod are being upgraded to receive international flights. “As a result, several global airlines have opened new regular and charter flights not only to Manila but also directly to key tourist destinations.”

Durano said, “China Eastern Airlines mounted direct flights to Cebu. Russia’s Fregot Aero, Valdavia and Vladivostok Air likewise have landed in Cebu.”

Durano said arrivals from Russia grew by 128 percent. Those from Scandinavia posted between 16-percent to 24-percent growth. India continuously showed double-digit gains, making it one of the fastest- growing markets after China.

“Today, the Philippines is well recognized as one of the world’s top destinations for specific activities such as relaxation, wellness and diving.”

The DOT plans to strengthen the Philippine position as one of the best water sports destinations, by more assertive marketing and, in cooperation with other stakeholders, to address accessibility issues.

For 2008, the department targets $5.8 billion in tourist spending. “The department is confident it will continue to perform well and contribute positively to the welfare of the Filipino people.”

DFA, BSP in final stages of e-passport project

Original article at The Manila Bulletin

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) are now in the final stages in the bidding of the P1.4-billion electronic passport (e-passport) project and are expected to award the contract to the winning bidder by March.

The e-passport project is expected to be implemented by the third quarter of this year.

"The bidding is ongoing and they are now on the final stages of the bidding," a DFA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Majority of the bidders are European companies, which include Alma Viva, the supplier of Italian passports; GND Co., FCO Co. of Belgium, and Bundesdruckerei, a supplier of passports to the German government since 1987.

"We expect the award in the next two months. We hope to have the award by March," the official said.

The actual implementation of the project will take place within six to nine months after the awarding of the contract, the DFA said.

Last year, DFA and BSP officials checked on the readiness of the four Europe-based private firms to implement the e-passport project.

Last September, the DFA issued machine-readable passports to all regular applicants, particularly to first-time holders of a Philippine passport.

It cited the implementation of the electronic passport project as a "major landmark" after the Philippine government launched two years ahead of the April 1, 2010 deadline imposed by the International Civil Aviation Office (ICAO) to upgrade the passport system among all its member-countries.

Last June 18, machine-readable passports were issued to 450 government officials and 200 diplomats, a month after the DFA started accepting applications from the elderly, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), and their dependents.

The DFA forged an interim agreement with French company Hologram Industries (HI) that "provides the necessary hardware, software, technical training, and support for the issuance of these passports at no cost to the Philippine government."

The DFA sought a relief from the Supreme Court (SC) after a Pasig City Regional Trial Court issued a preliminary injunction that barred the department from awarding the new contract to the BSP which supplies the passport booklets.

There is still an ongoing arbitration after a Philippine-Thai private firm, BCA International, filed a case against the DFA for terminating the project.

The DFA terminated the project in December 2005, citing the financial incapability of the firm to implement the e-passport project.

Last March, the High Court issued an injunction that allowed the DFA to pursue the machine-readable passport project.

PEZA targets 15% increase in new investments this year

After posting 60% growth at P133 B in 2007
Original report at The Manila Bulletin

Encouraged by its whopping 60 percent increase in investments in 2007, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) is setting a 15 percent increase in project registration for 2008 or P153 billion from P133 billion last year.

PEZA director-general Lilia B. De Lima said that this year’s investments inflow would be driven by shipping and electronics sectors.

De Lima, however, said that they are only setting a 15 percent increase in investments this year because they are coming from an already higher base at P133 billion.

Majority of the investments would be driven by the expansion of existing ecozone locators.

PEZA has been experiencing a huge number of existing locators on expansion binge for the past four to five years.

Most locators have already expansion programs in the pipeline, she added.

Export-oriented enterprises have been locating in PEZA-run economic zones because it offers a better incentive package such as income tax holiday, five percent tax on gross income in lieu of all taxes except real estate tax, duty-free importation of capital equipment, tax credits on the use of local materials for exports, among others.

For the period 1995 to 2005, cumulative PEZA investments by locators reached P955.7 billion. Under the old Export Processing Authority covering the period 1984 –1994, it registered P24.5-billion worth of investments.

Already, the biggest investments in PEZA this year would the Korean shipping giant Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. and American chipmaker Texas Instruments.

Hanjin is investing a $ 2 billion shipbuilding complex at the Phividec Industrial Authority in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.

Once operational, the complex will be bigger than Hanjin’s $ 1 billion Subic facility. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed next year.

Hanjin is expected to spend P4.6 billion annually to pay the 20,000 employes for the facility.

Initial capacity of the facility is placed at 80,000 tons annually building up to a maximum of 830,000 tons in the next 15 years when it starts producing cargo and container vessels.

Hanjin was expected to sign yesterday the agreement with Phivedec, a state-run agency.

The huge Hanjin project was clinched after the government declared the 441.8-hectare project site into an economic zone, which is part of the 3,000hectare industrial estate managed by Phivedec.

With the proclamation of the site an economic zone will allow Hanjin to enjoy PEZA incentives such as income tax holiday, duty-free importation of capital equipment, among others.

Another big electronics firm that is expected to come into PEZA is the second phase of the $ 1 billion project of American chipmaker Texas Instruments.

Of the total P133.732 billion actual investments registered by PEZA in 2007, new locators accounted for the bulk of P103.844 billion while investments by economic zone developers reached P29.888 billion.

Out of the P103.844 billion locator investments, 79 percent or P82.174 billion are expansion investments of existing PEZA companies particularly from expansions of existing export and I.T. enterprises.

In terms of sectors, De Lima said that semiconductors and electronics manufacturing take the bulk of the investments followed by motor vehicles, parts and accessories.

I.T. Investments grew by 52.45 percent from P9.614 billion in 2006 to P14.657 billion in 2007.

Of the P14.657 billion I.T. Investments in 2007, 80 percent or P11.772 billion come from expansion investments of existing PEZA I.T. companies.

American investments led the inflows with P34.225 billion, slightly higher than the P33.539 billion investments of the Japanese.

PEZA’s single biggest investor is the P20 billion investments from American chipmaker, Texas Instruments.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Philippines vows to protect mines from attacks

Full report at Reuters

MANILA, Jan 10 (Reuters) - An inter-agency panel of the Philippine government vowed on Thursday to prevent attacks on mining projects but rejected a proposal to set up a special military unit to protect mines.

The meeting of 12 government agencies was held after armed men attacked the base camp of what could become the largest mining project in the country, a copper and gold mine being developed by Xstrata plc XA.L.

No-one was injured in the New Year's Day attack but seven buildings of the camp were burned down. The attack was later claimed by the communist New People's Army (NPA).

"We can't allow a repeat of such attacks and we agreed to work closely with the mining industry to address local issues and prevent further violence," Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Jose Atienza told Reuters.

He said the meeting was not in favour of a proposal to organise, train and deploy a special military team to protect mining projects getting threats from the NPA rebels.

"We don't need special units," he said. "But we instructed the military and police to work closely with other agencies and the mining companies to address local issues that could affect the security of these projects.

"We should be more aggressive in helping mining companies deal with the local community, anticipating social, environment and other concerns and issues that could affect the security of the mining projects."

The Philippines allows 100 percent foreign ownership of mining projects in the country in an effort to bring much needed investment into the sector. The archipelago is believed to have about $1 trillion in unexplored mineral wealth.

The Xstrata mine, in the Tampakan area on the southern island of Mindanao, has been earmarked as one of the government's priority projects.

Philippines 2007 net foreign portfolio investments 3.52 billion usd, up 35 pct

Full article at

MANILA (Thomson Financial) - The Philippines recorded a net inflow of 3.52 billion US dollars in foreign portfolio investments in 2007, up 35 percent compared to the previous year's figure, aided by the country's sound economic fundamentals, the central bank said Thursday.

'Optimism on the country's economy prevailed during the year due to sustained strong economic fundamentals, such as acceleration in GDP growth to its best record in three decades alongside a sharp slowdown in inflation,' central bank governor Amando Tetangco Jr said in a statement.

The central bank expects growth of 7 percent in the country's gross domestic product in 2007, driven by robust consumer spending, and increased investments and government spending. The actual growth figure may be released before the end of this month.

PGMA witnesses signing of accord on $2-billion shipbuilding project


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Misamis Oriental – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo witnessed today the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Korean firm Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co., Ltd. (HHICC) and Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) on the construction of a US$2-billion shipbuilding complex here.

Signing for HHICC was the company's president Park Kyu Woon while Administrator Nimfa de Ocampo signed for PIA. Phividec is the acronym of Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corporation.

The President lauded the "billion-peso plus" investment, saying it would provide jobs and livelihood to some 40,000 Filipinos, especially those living near the shipbuilding facility.

She also said that the new investment clearly reflects the favorable outlook of the country in the international community.

"Foreign investment (in the country) has grown five-fold from 2003 to 2006 alone. It has continued to rise at double-digit rate in 2007," the President said.

"This surge of investments has been anchored by billion-dollar plus investments by several major international companies, not only Hanjin but also Texas Instruments in Clark, Marubeni and AES in the power sector and Mittal Global's upcoming integrated steel mill in Iligan City, among others," she added.

"The world is taking notice of the new Philippines that we are working hard to create. That is why Hanjin is bringing US$2-billion to Misamis Oriental," the President said.

Under the MOU, HHICC will establish a shipbuilding complex inside the 3,000-hectare Phividec Industrial Estate in Misamis Oriental (PIE-MO).

The Misamis Oriental Shipbuilding Complex is the second shipyard to be built by Hanjin in the Philippines. The Korean firm’s first shipyard in the country is at Subic Bay in Zambales.

To be constructed in Park V of PIE-MO, the complex covers an area of approximately 440 hectares.

Phividec is a government-owned and controlled corporation established under Presidential Decree 538 as amended by PD 1491. PIA was established to develop and professionally administer the 3,000-hectare Phividec Industrial Estate (PIE-MO) located in the municipalities of Tagoloan and Villanueva in Misamis Oriental.

PGMA assures completion of Misamis Oriental Airport before she bows out of office in 2010

Original report at Gov.Ph News

LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pledged today that the P7.853-billion Laguindingan Airport Development Project (LADP) here will be completed before she bows out of office in 2010.

The President made the assurance during the briefing conducted by Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza on the status of the government’s flagship project.

The airport complex, which straddles the boundary of Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City, will serve as the main access point for trade and industry between northern Mindanao and the rest of the country.

The LADP envisages the development of a major trunkline airport of international standard to meet the increasing air transport demand and lead to the accelerated development of the region.

As of last month, the project management had already acquired 98 percent of the lots from private individuals affected by the airport’s right-of-way.

In addition to the 88.44 hectares donated by the Ayala Corporation for the project, the Makati-based firm is donating 94.04 hectares more to the LADP, subject to the approval of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

The DAR will decide on the conversion of the Ayala industrial property in the area from agricultural to industrial use.

The President was informed that the relocation of settlers in the area was going apace, with 54.46 percent of the residents affected by the project already resettled.

The construction of the airport’s perimeter fence is already 90 percent complete, the airport access road 18.76 percent.

The contractor of the main airport civil works is Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co., Ltd of South Korea.

The contract for the project was signed on Dec. 28, 2007, while the notice to proceed with the construction of the facility was issued last week.

The President thanked Ayala Corp. for donating the land needed for the airport complex. She added that when completed, the project would "attract industrial estates adjacent to the airport."

Jobs for 10K Pinoy seamen up in Japan until 2010

Original report at GMANews.TV

Japanese shipping companies plan to hire 10,000 seamen from the Philippines between now and 2010.

Eduardo Menese, president of the Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council, said Japan will increase its merchant fleet of 2, 223 as of the end of 2006 to 3, 000 ships by the end of 2010, and further to 4,000 by 2015.

Out of the 12,000 seamen Japan needs in the next three years, manning companies are looking at the Philippines as a source for 10,000 seafarers, according to a Philippine News Agency report.

At present, 30,000 Filipino seamen are manning Japanese vessels, making them the single biggest nationality hired by Japanese shipping companies.

About 80 percent of newly-built Japanese vessels are manned by Filipino crew, Manese noted.
NYK Lines, one of the biggest shipping companies in Japan, plans to increase its fleet from the current 787 vessels to 938 by 2010.

Mitsui OSK Lines will also add 400 ships to its current fleet of 803 by 2013, while K-Line will increase its 468 fleet to 700.

PJMCC has been conducting an assessment exam among second year students of BS Maritime Transportation and BS Maritime Engineering as an initiative to strengthen maritime education standards.

"We have already started it last year. And hopefully, we can continue it in the coming years," Manese said.

Japan has been suffering from a scarcity of seafarers for ocean-going vessels as a result of its aging population.

From a peak of 56,833 in 1974, it reached an all-time low of 2,625 Japanese seamen in 2005, or just the same figure that the world's most populous countries, China and India can provide.

Clark airport passengers up 9.18% in ’07

By J. Cunanan
Original report at The Business Mirror

CLARK FREEPORT—The passenger volume at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here increased by 9.18 percent or by nearly 45,000 in 2007 over the 2006 figures, a development that further brightens the prospects of the Clark airport eventually becoming the country’s premier international gateway.

Records from the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) Operations Department showed an increase to 533,619 in passenger volume from both international and domestic flights in 2007, surpassing the 2006 figures of 488,867, or an increase of 44,863 last year.

CIAC president Victor Jose Luciano expressed optimism that the state-run firm will achieve its objective of developing the 2,500-hectare civil-aviation complex in accordance with President Arroyo’s vision of making the site of an international airport and a mega logistics and services hub in the Asia-Pacific region.

Luciano attributed the increase in passenger volume to the operation of several airlines, especially low-cost carriers that significantly boosted the airline industry in Central Luzon.

International airlines operating at DMIA include Asiana Airlines, Tiger Airways, Air Asia, Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong Express, Deer Air and Shanghai Airlines, while domestic flights are provided by Southeast Asian Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Asian Spirit.

At the same time, Luciano revealed plans by Federal Express to transfer operations to Clark this year, which will add to cargo operations at the DMIA. United Parcel Service operates its intra-Asia hub at the DMIA.

As this developed, terminal-fee collections at the DMIA also increased by 39 percent in 2007 with revenues amounting to P112.61 million, compared with P81.09 million in 2006.

Luciano said several development projects for the entire civil-aviation complex have been lined up for this year, including the $2-million technical grant for a feasibility study to be conducted by the Korea International Cooperation Agency, which will include studies on Phase I of the DMIA master plan; logistics facilities; runway extension; ground transport center; and the international gateway terminal.

He said the existing terminal is currently being expanded, the construction of which is expected to be completed by March that would increase its passenger capacity from the current 500,000 to 1 million to 2 million passengers annually.

The CIAC chief also said the country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines plans to operate at the DMIA this year, a move that would beef up international and domestic flights at the airport. He added a Singaporean firm will set up a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at the airport.

In November last year CIAC officials inaugurated a $3-million in-flight catering facility at the airport that would produce around 4,000 meals per day to cater to the needs of airlines operating at DMIA. The firm Gate Gourmet Philippines will provide meals for air carriers.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Philippines to sign Asia-wide ‘open skies’ deal by December

By Riza T. Olchondra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines will sign an Asia-wide open skies agreement by December, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza said Tuesday.

“ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] member-countries agreed in 2004 to adopt open skies in the region beginning with unlimited flights between capital cities by December 2008,” Mendoza said in an interview.

“Japan, Korea and China are also expected to sign,” he said. “The next step for the Philippines after the signing is the ratification of the agreement by the Senate.”

The Philippine negotiating panel may also take up a call of Philippine Airlines (PAL) -- the only private-sector flag carrier in the ASEAN region -- for the Philippines to push for abolition of subsidies and favors to state-owned carriers before region-wide liberalization.

“But what would really allow the Philippines to take advantage of the expected influx in tourists due to open skies is having a good airline hub and the expansion activities of airlines,” Mendoza said. “Good thing that PAL is expanding, Cebu Pacific is expanding, also Air Philippines and SEAir.”

He said China alone could be a source of 100 million tourists a year.

A big increase in passengers could be accommodated by a new airline hub being developed in the Clark Special Economic Zone, north of Manila, Mendoza said.

The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark is being expanded at a cost of P130 million, entirely with internal cash of the government’s Clark International Airport Corp., he said

The first phase will be finished this month and increase Clark’s capacity to two million passengers a year, and the second phase will increase capacity to five million passengers, he added.

Other airports are also being developed in tourist areas to allow the entry of A320s and other commercial planes,” Mendoza said. “These airports are expected to be finished around 2010 so we will be prepared for the full implementation of open sky in 2015.”

Hanjin Heavy to Invest $1.9 Billion in Philippines (Update 1)

By Luzi Ann Javier and Kyunghee Park
Original report at Bloomberg

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co., the first South Korean company to export ships, plans to invest $1.9 billion in the southern Philippines, said Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

The complex, to be built in Misamis Oriental province, will be Busan-based Hanjin's second investment in the nation, Arroyo said in a broadcast speech from Mindanao, without elaborating. Phividec Industrial Authority, a government arm, will invest in a ship-parts facility with Hanjin, according to a statement submitted to the Presidential Management Staff yesterday.

South Korean shipyards including Samsung Heavy Industries Co. and STX Shipbuilding Co. are expanding overseas as global economic growth raises the need for vessels. About 90 percent of trade worldwide is carried by sea. Hanjin Heavy in March started construction of vessels at a 720 billion won ($768 million) dockyard at a former U.S. naval base in Subic, west of Manila.

Hanjin Heavy's president of shipbuilding Park Kyu Won, who flew to Misamis Oriental province this morning, didn't immediately return a phone call to his hotel seeking comment.

The 440-hectare (1,087-acre) Hanjin Mindanao Shipbuilding Complex will make ship parts and is expected to hire 20,000 workers when completed by 2017, according to the document.

The first phase of the complex will be built by next year and will have an annual capacity of 80,000 tons of ship parts including outfitting and pipes, according to the document.

Phividec is a state-run agency tasked to develop industrial sites to help boost the economy in the countryside.

Philippine Government Drafts Constitutional Amendment to Create Muslim Homeland

By Douglas Bakshian
Original report at the Voice of America

The Philippine government is drafting a constitutional amendment that would authorize the establishment of a federal homeland for Muslims in the south of the country. The proposed amendment is part of a complex peace process between the government and a major Muslim rebel group. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

Last November, an important agreement was reached between the Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The two sides agreed on the size of a proposed homeland for the country's Muslims in the south of the country.

This definition of what is called "the territory" is part of larger peace negotiations between the government the MILF, and was due to be formalized on December 15.

But the MILF objected to what it called "extraneous" material in a government draft of the agreement. This included a provision for congressional approval of any peace deal.

The MILF says it fears Congress may weaken any peace deal reached by the negotiators, as happened to a 1996 peace agreement with another rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front.

Jesus Dureza, President Gloria Arroyo's adviser on the peace process, says the government has concluded that establishing a Muslim homeland requires an amendment to the constitution.

"The cabinet, with the president, had agreed that if it even takes amending the constitution to establish a federal Muslim governance unit in the southern Philippines, then we should push through that track. That is where we are today," he said.

Dureza says he hopes a definitive draft will be ready by the end of the month. He says the Arroyo administration believes it can generate bipartisan support in Congress for the amendment.

Despite the Muslims' distrust of Congress, chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal says there is still room for maneuver.

Iqbal says the group might be able to live with congressional approval of an amendment specifically establishing a Muslim homeland. But he says Congress cannot be given authority to alter the terms of a broad peace agreement between the rebels and the government.

"It has to be something that whatever is done through constitutional processes would not derogate any of the prior agreements between us and the government," Iqbal said. " If it can be worded like that, I think it's worth examining. "

The latest round of peace talks has gone on for three years, and the November agreement on territory was hailed as a breakthrough. Both sides say they do not want to lose the momentum of the talks.

A separatist insurgency by the concentration of Muslims in the south of this predominately Catholic country has been running for 40 years, and has claimed more than 120,000 lives.


MANILA (AFP) — President Gloria Arroyo is to call for changes to the Philippines constitution to resolve a major obstacle that has threatened to derail peace talks with Muslim separatists, a senior aide said Wednesday.

The Filipino leader is to ask Congress and the electorate to approve a shift from a centralised form of government in favour of a "federal" system to accommodate Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) calls for a regional government in parts of the south, Jesus Dureza said.

President wants construction of Panglao Int'l Airport to start by July

Original report at Gov.Ph News

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered government agencies concerned to pave the way for the start of construction works on the P4.7-billion Panglao International Airport at Panglao Island in Bohol in a move to tap a segment of the growing regional travel market in Asia, thereby spurring economic development in that province and neighboring areas.

The President issued the order during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting in Malacanang that tackled more programs and projects for rural development, among which was the approval of the Panglao Airport Development Project by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board.

The President, who chairs the NEDA Board, said the “bid must be out by April this year and work must start by July.”

It was made clear during the meeting that the project would be funded by internal government funds as ordered by the President in July 2005.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) would shoulder 90 percent of the P4.7-billion project cost while the remaining 10 percent would be funded by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

The construction of an airport in Panglao Island is economically viable, according to a feasibility study on the project, as air passenger arrivals in Bohol have been “phenomenal,” brought about by Panglao’s secluded white-sand beaches that have always been a favorite among foreign tourists.

Arrivals in Bohol, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT), have experienced a phenomenal growth in the last five years, thus spurring a high-level growth of the low-cost carrier market and that is what exactly Panglao is about to experience.

The Panglao Airport Development Project, covering 100 hectares, would have a 2.5-kilometer long runway that could accommodate the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 series, the core fleet of most regional and budget airlines in Asia.

It could also accommodate bigger aircraft but only as an alternative airport for nearby Mactan Cebu International Airport in Cebu.

The project site, near Barangays Bolod, Danao and Tawala in Panglao town, edged out another possible site in Barangays Tabalong, Tinago and Bingag in the nearby town of Dauis, also in Panglao Island.

Air passenger arrivals in Bohol jumped from 31,641 in 2001 to 198,605 in 2005 and 241,484 in 2006.

ID system can lead to widening of tax base — Finance chief

By Alexis Douglas B. Romero and Bernard U. Allauigan
Original article at BusinessWorld Online

FINANCE SECRETARY Margarito B. Teves yesterday said the national identification system being revived by the military and the police will lead to the widening of the government’s tax base.

"It helps [because it would enable] taxpayers to check their identification. In that respect, we support it to broaden the tax base. There are 3.8 to four million taxpayers. The rule of thumb is 10% of population, which is 84 to 85 million. There should have been more than eight million tax payers already," Mr. Teves told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang after a briefing on the oil tariff reduction order by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila, who was at the same briefing, said he will consult with the business sector about their views on the proposal.

Mr. Favila said the businessmen will support measures that will promote their security.

In Monday’s command conference led by Mrs. Arroyo at the Armed Forces’ headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, the military and police brass revived the ID system to promote national security and make services accessible to the public.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno said the government is merely implementing some provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991, which provides that barangays should maintain a registry of all their residents.

Militant groups said such proposal could violate human rights, especially the right to privacy but Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Avelino I. Razon, Jr. assured the system will just ensure easy access for public services.

Lawmakers’ reactions

Meanwhile, senators and party-list representatives claimed the proposal will violate the rights of citizens.

Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero told reporters that the system will place a "dog tag" on every Filipino, and will not solve efforts to eradicate the communist insurgency.

Senate Majority Leader Francis N. Pangilinan said the government "has been found to have consistently acted in a manner contrary to the rule of law and the Constitution."

The Philippines may end up into a "repressive garrison state with no respect for human rights" under such a system, Senator Loren B. Legarda said in a statement.

Bayan Muna Rep. Saturnino C. Ocampo said since the proposal came from military and police, they have "reason to oppose [it] given the record of massive human rights violations by state security forces, as documented by the Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations."

Akbayan Rep. Riza H. Baraquel said the ID scheme should not be used as a measure for counterinsurgency and "violation of human rights that accompanies it."

Former Akbayan Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales said: "It is good for citizens’ needs but not for citizen control."

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro A. Casiño, Jr. claimed the ID system "will be used" by Mrs. Arroyo and the Armed Forces "to monitor and harass their critics."

Asked if those in leftist groups and activists will be affected by the scheme, Mr. Casiño said: "Those working within the legal arena will be affected because they will be the most vulnerable to harassment and monitoring."

He said that members of the New People’s Army "work outside the law and can very well use fake IDs or identities while activists who work openly are easy targets of the [military] and government agents."

Meanwhile, Parañaque City Rep. Roilo Golez (2nd district) said he supports the national ID system, but said it should focus on "highlighting its role as an economic development instrument by facilitating commercial, business and official transactions which require need for proper identification of persons."

He said system should be used in "negotiating and signing business and commercial agreements, applying for permits from municipal and city halls and other government agencies, in public order matters such as proper identification in police matters when person is subject of complaint and registration as voter."

Mr. Golez also said that the lead agencies to handle this should be jointly implemented under the Departments of Trade and Industry and of Interior and Local Government "to alleviate fear that it is a threat to human rights."

Reference card system

The proposal is already embodied in a bill known as the National Reference Card System filed by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson at the start of the 14th Congress.

Mr. Lacson said that by providing one single code to each and every citizen at birth and a reference card carrying their number, among other information at an age when a person may begin to actively participate in society, "we simplify any transaction that the person may have with the various agencies of the government as well as with private entities."

Under the bill, all citizens are assigned a reference number upon birth and issued a National Reference Card free of charge at age 18, he said.

The bill also seeks to create a National Registration Coordinating Commission that would handle issued IDs. The card will contain the bearer’s name, address, blood type and next-of-kin which can be used in applying for driver’s license, passport, marriage license, death certificate and business permits.

Penalties of up to six years await those who submit fake data, while a penalty of P20,000 for those who refuse to accept, acknowledge or recognize the card. A penalty of P50,000 will be imposed to those involved in the unauthorized disclosure of data.

BSP on the economy

By Lito U. Gagni
Original article at The Business Mirror

Bangko Sentral Gov. Amando M. Tetangco Jr. has every reason to grin from ear to ear these days as in his own words, “there is an ideal convergence of high growth and inflation” in the economy.

At the Tuesday Club at Edsa Shangri-La yesterday, he could not hide his elation over the positive outlook of the economy, with the banking system as sound as ever, insulated as it is from the subprime mess that has engulfed big names in the US banking industry, like Citibank.

Governor Tetangco revealed that the local banking industry’s total exposure to CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) is not even half-percent. He said the CDO exposure (where the subprime mess that hit the US banking system emanated) in the local banking industry is just 0.02 percent of its total assets, clearly something to crow about, although in hindsight it could have been due to the lack of sophistication in the banking industry, insofar as esoteric debt notes are concerned.

“We achieved the ideal convergence of high growth and low inflation: GDP growth rate of 7.1 percent in the first three quarters last year, the highest in 30 years, while inflation rate remained at low levels [3.2 percent as of November 2007], comparable to those in developed economies. The Philippine peso continued to rise against the US dollar, thereby shielding the economy from the inflationary impact of record-high oil prices and generating significant savings for government in terms of debt service,” Mr. Tetangco said.

The country had a healthy external position with GIR (gross international reserves) at an unprecedented high level of $33.7 billion as of December 2007, as well as the highest recorded BOP (balance of payments) surplus at $7.8 billion for the January to November 2007 period. Interest rates remained on a generally downward trend, with the 91-day T-bill full-year average rate at its lowest ever. Equally important, the banking system continued to be sound with record-high resources and deposits.

For this year, the BSP is looking at manageable risks. Being watched are the ongoing subprime-related financial- market turbulence; the continued surge in foreign-capital inflows; and the surge in the prices of world crude oil, which flirted with the $100/barrel mark, and other noncommodities. According to the BSP governor, the subprime mess could affect emerging countries such as the Philippines by way of the flight of money from debt notes of these emerging economies. But in a way, the fact that the Philippines did not have the sophistication in its financial markets proved to be a blessing in disguise as the country’s banking system did not have the kind of exposure that affected in a big way other banks such as Northrock of the United Kingdom.

The full impact of the US subprime mortgage market woes on the real-estate sector has yet to be felt. This could affect the country in two ways: 1) on the trade side: as the US economy, which still accounts for about 18 percent of total foreign trade, slows down; and 2) on movements in economic prices, e.g., exchange and interest rates, as the response of the US and other major central banks to the expected global economic slowdown unfolds. The latter could result in further risk aversion against emerging markets, including the Philippines.

For the governor, the second challenge emanates from continued strong capital inflows to the country as a result of an important pull factor: the Philippines’s favorable macroeconomic performance. You may have heard me refer to this as the problem of plenty. I would like to emphasize that while these inflows provide an opportunity to boost long-term growth, they also pose substantial short-term macroeconomic challenges. It is the lag between the inflow of foreign exchange and corresponding domestic liquidity infusion and its eventual utilization that is critical. How that lag is managed could spell the difference between an inflationary situation and a manageable one. A further challenge is finding the appropriate mix of measures so this liquidity is channeled to more productive investments, particularly into infrastructure, Mr. Tetangco said.

But what is still worrisome for the BSP head is the high and volatile international prices of oil, particularly if they remain high for a longer period. The Opec has said the oil supply would remain tight and with the problems in Nigeria and Iran, higher oil prices could mean economic problems for the country. Thus the challenge for the Bangko Sentral to craft sound macroeconomic policies to further strength the domestic economy.

“Managing risks to inflation and inflation expectations remains a key policy priority of the BSP. On the external front, our policies will be geared toward: (1) ensuring sustainability of the country’s external debt; 2) maintaining an essentially market-determined exchange rate with scope for occasional official action to smoothen sharp movements in the rate; 3) maintaining a comfortable level of reserves; and 4) further improving the foreign-exchange environment through forex deregulation.”

“Reforms in the financial sector will be geared toward maintaining a strong banking system and a vibrant capital market. The BSP remains committed to strengthening the banking system through continued structural reforms and speedier disposition of nonperforming assets. The asset cleanup of banks should help spur credit and investments, and contribute in providing the basis for more sustainable economic activity in the medium term,” Governor Tetangco said.

Cebu to push ahead with Transaxial Development Project

By Rosa Marichu Echica
Original report at The Business Mirror

THE Cebu provincial government is hoping to attract as many international investors as it can for its most ambitious project so far—the Cebu Transaxial Development Project (CTDP).

The CTDP would provide improved access to water, power and land resources in the province.

It includes a 300-km concrete paved, four-lane highway that would link municipalities and cities from the southernmost tip of Cebu in Santander to the northernmost tip in Daanbantayan along the mountain ridges of the island.

Currently pegging the project cost at P13 billion, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez, who’s an engineer and tasked by Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia to take charge of the project, said it was all right if there would be more than one investor to the project.

The investors could form a consortium and all the project components would all be covered.

In a powerpoint presentation before the press and a potential Texan investor with his Philippine partners, the vice governor showed why the project is going to be undertaken and what it would mean for Cebu in economic terms.

Showing the land, water and wind resources of the province, the investor has several income-generating possibilities so he can recover his investment, including the plan to make the highway a toll expressway.

The investor will be given leeway in the operation and management of these income-generating facilities, with 85 percent of the net income accruing to him for a period of 25 years while 15 percent will go to the province.

Countries that have expressed interest, so far, in the project are Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the US.

The Cebu provincial government hopes to start the project by the second quarter of this year.