Saturday, 16 February 2008

New Bacolod Silay Airport

Rally post-mortem

By Manny Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Thousands of people rallied in Manila on Friday calling for the resignation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over a corruption scandal.
more stories like this

Police said around 10,000 people, including left-wing activists, students, religious groups and lawyers, had taken to the streets.

The protests, sparked by a Senate inquiry into government kickbacks in a telecom deal, were the biggest since tens of thousands of people demonstrated against Arroyo in 2005 amid allegations she cheated in elections the previous year.

"We are outraged by the reports of corruption and greed in government," said Maita Gomez, an activist who said she was wearing red because it was the color of anger.

Nuns, priests, artists and office workers danced as a local group belted out tunes, including Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand up" from a makeshift stage. People waved flags and posters with the words "Out Gloria," one large banner read "Gangster Regime."

"This is a good starting point for future mass actions. By that time, the numbers would have grown significantly," said Renato Reyes, the secretary general of Bayan, a left-wing group.

But analysts said it would be difficult to get more people to join the protests because after three impeachment bids and at least three coup plots against Arroyo, the electorate craves stability and the opposition lacks unity.

"She's still on the safe side," said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

"It's a challenge to the political opposition to fan the emotions, I have not seen the spontaneity as in past popular uprisings."

In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, Arroyo said she would complete her final term and in a briefing with investors on Friday, she assured them that the latest allegations were part of the typical political rough-and-tumble.

"These types of charges have regularly emerged even in previous administrations, as part of our less than impressive political culture," said the former economist, whose final term runs out in 2010.

The Senate inquiry has heard renewed allegations that the country's former election chief demanded $130 million to broker a $329 million deal with China's ZTE to build a broadband network for government agencies.

The election official denied the charge, but the deal was scrapped last year.


But political analysts say the president's position appears safe due to support from the military and the lower house of Congress and the apathy of many Filipinos, who are sick of the political merry-go-round in Manila.

Arroyo herself took over after former President Joseph Estrada was ousted following street protests seven years ago. He was later convicted of plunder, but Arroyo granted him a pardon last year.

The latest scandal has, however, unsettled some investors. The Philippine stock index bucked the regional uptrend on Thursday and continued to fall on Friday, finishing down 0.9 percent.

The Philippines is currently on an economic roll, with growth at a 31-year high and the budget deficit at a 10-year low, and Arroyo said the momentum would be sustained despite a slowdown in the United States through accelerated infrastructure spending.

(Writing by Carmel Crimmins; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Sanjeev Miglani)

Philippines: The islands less travelled

The secret to the Philippines is far beyond the headlines - it's in what lies beneath.

Michelle Jana Chan
The Telegraph

Active volcanoes and tales of political corruption have put many tourists off the Philipppine archipelago. Michelle Jana Chan finds out what they're missing.

There are more than 7,000 tropical islands in the archipelago of the Philippines, with idyllic palm-fringed beaches and coral reefs teeming with fascinating wildlife - as well as classically beautiful rice-terraces, crumbling colonial towns and lively fiestas throughout the year.

Yet almost all have managed to slip off the tourism radar over the past few years. Why?

Active volcanoes, tales of political corruption and isolated terrorist activity have all helped darken the image of the country as a safe holiday destination. Yet the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advisory for the Philippines is no more cautious than that for many other more popular destinations - and that is as it should be.

When I visited, the military called an informal ceasefire with Marxist and Muslim rebels because of - wait for it - a boxing match. During the fight, shown live on television from Las Vegas and starring the Filipino golden boy Manny Pacquiao, not a shot was fired. That gave me a sense of the country's priorities.

Remnants of past Filipino battles are plentiful. I landed in the capital, Manila, which is littered with the megalomaniacal mistakes of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos - gigantic, dysfunctional buildings that stand empty and are little more than talking pieces for tourists, of which there are admittedly few.

The city also has 400-year-old churches, courtesy of the Spanish occupation; a baroque Spanish fort with cannons pointing towards the sea; and a Chinese cemetery, whose mausoleums are as big as houses - air-conditioned and with full-time maids.

I was advised that, if I wanted to behave less like a tourist and more like a local, I should go "malling" in one of the dozens of shopping complexes. Sitting at a noodle bar in the Glorietta Mall, I watched women meeting to have manicures at cheap nail bars, then drinking mango smoothies together before window-shopping until the doors shut.

On Saturday nights, Catholic masses are held in the malls so that shoppers need not interrupt their purchasing to attend church.

Shopping malls are just one legacy of the Americans, who governed the Philippines for nearly half of the 20th century. Another is the fleet of old American army Jeeps, now brightly painted and operating as sturdy public buses.

And what better illustration of the indomitable Filipino spirit: take a relic of war, paint it a rainbow of colours, add some shiny chrome fixtures, hang a crucifix to the rear-view mirror - and away you go.


I drove north out of Manila, away from the malls and burger joints, towards the mountainous Cordillera. Fields of papaya, sweet potato and sugarcane filled the landscape, growing twice as high as any I had seen elsewhere.

My guide told me that since the massive eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 farmers have benefited from fertile ash in the soil, giving rise to record-breaking harvests.

We climbed slowly into the lush, terraced hills. Grains of rice had been arranged to dry on the tarmac road after a vicious typhoon had swept through the area the week before, drenching the crops.

Local people were clearing rockfalls with shovels and pickaxes, and a shrine of flowers had been laid to a family of 10 whose roadside home had been swept away in a landslide just a few days earlier. It was a rather sombre start to my trip.

The next day, with the sun shining brightly, the lime-green mountains rose out of the mist. The dramatic rice terraces at Banaue are 2,000 years old and the crowning achievement of the indigenous Ifugao people, known for their beguiling chanting (called hudhud) of ancient epic tales, and the engineering feat of hand-cutting tiers into the steep mountains.

Both their oral tradition and the iconic landscape are on the Unesco World Heritage List.

But the strongest reason to journey here is the unaffected warmth of the people; this is South-East Asia as you rarely see it. I set off on foot for the village of Banga-an, walking along the ridges of the rice terraces, banked by dry-stone walls.

Along the trails I met children of all ages: young girls carrying baby brothers; others with baskets of pumpkins and peppers to sell at the market; some in school uniform, shyly casting their eyes down. Maricelle, a teacher who walked six miles a day to work, accompanied me for a while. When I passed her school later that afternoon, she had her class recite the 12-times tables in English to me.

At Banga-an, women were winnowing bundles of rice, flipping up flat baskets to dispose of the chaff, while others milled the grain in giant, stone pestles. Tiny children played tiddlywinks with flattened 7 Up bottle tops, stopping to wave and practise their English - another legacy of the Americans. I spent an hour chatting to the young mothers as they went about their chores, before they spontaneously invited me to lunch.

We shared black and white glutinous rice, flavoured with ginger and calamansi (a small lime), followed by the fruit of a rattan tree, which looks like a pine cone and tastes like a bitter lychee. When I thanked them, they shook their heads in embarrassment. One of them, called Marites, told me: "This meal is a gift from God."

Afterwards, she showed me inside her home, a thatched hut on stilts. Her family of 11 lived together in this tiny space, with a cubby hole above to store the stooks of rice. I peered inside, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the windowless darkness before I could make out the shine of the polished wood, the tidy arrangement of chicken eggs and the row of five carved bul-ol statues, or rice-gods, which guard their harvest. Marites smiled at me. "Next time, you must stay," she said.


As we flew south from Manila I was mesmerised by the view of Palawan, known for its karstic island outcrops and rich marine life. It was as though someone had plucked the florets from a giant broccoli and thrust them stem-first into the Sulu Sea. As we came into land, I made out craggy limestone cliffs, clad in spindly trees, with flying buttress-like rock formations.

I was staying at El Nido on the northern tip of the island, with resorts so exclusive they have their own airstrip. The Lagen Resort has villas in the forest, on the beach or on stilts over water, but it is all rather manicured and I preferred the simple wood-and-thatch rooms at the lesser, four-star Miniloc.

It is the perfect place to choose your Desert Island Discs - or to sit at the bar watching swiftlets swooping over sunbeds, catching flies on the wing while emitting their soft pipsqueak call. It is for these tiny creatures that this area is named. Their nests (nidos in Spanish) are the key ingredient in bird's nest soup, and can fetch £1,500 per kg (2.2lb).

Jacques Cousteau said that Palawan was the most beautiful place he had ever explored, so it is hardly surprising that tourists spend most of their time underwater. For divers, there are spectacular drop-offs, limestone caves and whole fleets of wrecks to seek out.

Even snorkellers are spoilt. In the shallow, coral gardens of the house reef can be found large schools of jacks, each as big as a placemat, with ballooning shoals of ox-eyed scad and startlingly oversized Napoleon wrasse.

In the lagoons, reached by swimming underwater through tiny channels, I came across baby reef sharks patrolling in the dark shadows and almost bumped into needlefish hovering at the surface.


Probably the Philippines' best-known destination - worshipped by backpackers, diving students and, more recently, South Korean honeymooners - Boracay's White Beach regularly features among the world's top 10. Two and a half miles of fine white sand, which looks more like icing sugar and feels more like cotton wool, is fringed by a mere ripple of turquoise.

Mind you, Boracay is no desert island.

It has five-star establishments such as the luxurious Discovery Shores, and a Shangri-La due to open in the early autumn.

Set back from the waterfront are dozens of low-rise restaurants, bars and cafés serving every cuisine, from Greek to Mexican, Italian to Chinese. Favourites along this stretch include Calypso - a dive centre by day, buzzing sports bar by night; Summer Place, which draws the bright young things for sundowners; and Fridays hotel at the northern end of the beach, with the softest sand and the best views of the Panay hills.

Strong winds on the other side of the island have made Boracay a hub for kitesurfing, with excellent conditions for sailing, parasailing and windsurfing too. There is an 18-hole golf course as well as well-regarded dive centres offering boat trips to nearby reefs and advanced-level certification.

Throughout the day, massage therapists wander along the beach, offering hilot treatments, the ancient Filipino massage. For all its unchecked development, Boracay still reminds me of Thailand before The Beach was even conceived.


I flew into Cebu, smack in the middle of the Philippines, to travel by boat to Bohol, a sleepy, tropical island across the Camotes Sea. It was almost midnight when I boarded the ferry, which looked more like a motorised banana boat than a hydrofoil.

As we chugged out into the inky darkness, The Lord's Prayer flashed on to the television screens, followed immediately by brief emergency instructions. I instinctively looked for the nearest lifejacket and then joined in as the entire cabin sang along to two hours of karaoke. The journey captured perfectly the Filipino joie de vivre - and fatalism.

My taxi-driver enthusiastically explained his island to me. "We are the religious heartbeat of the Philippines," he said, smiling in his rear-view mirror. "My wife goes to church six times a week, so we are definitely going to Heaven." "How about you?" I asked.

"She goes for me," he said, laughing.

He went on to tell me that all taxi-drivers must have religious texts painted upon their vehicles. As we overtook on a bend, I read the message in his: "Prepare to meet thy God." I went to church the next day to discover that my taxi-driver was right about wives going for their husbands.

The congregation was mostly women, wearing white veils over their heads and muttering quietly as they ran their fingers over rosary beads. It was standing room only and nobody seemed restless as they sang their way fluently through the liturgy without a hymn book in sight.

As well as Catholicism, the Spanish left behind some inspired religious architecture: the churches are built with pitted bricks, made of coral, and plastered with a mixture of lime, sand and egg white. Shells are pressed into the walls for decoration.

Yet for all its godliness, Bohol moves to a typically relaxed island beat: fishermen seemed to spend more time fixing their nets than out at sea; the museums were all closed during advertised opening hours; and at every restaurant, someone invariably pulled out a guitar.

I took in the island's highlights, driving to the oddly shaped Chocolate Hills, so named because they resemble Hershey's Kisses candy. I visited a butterfly conservation centre and saw cages of sad, slothful tarsier monkeys, the world's tiniest primate.

But as with most of the islands in the Philippines, what tourists really come here for is the underwater treasures. The reefs are charged with some of nature's most humbling creatures, from fearsome hammerheads to giant, but gentle, whale sharks.

The secret to the Philippines is far beyond the headlines - it's in what lies beneath.

- Audley (01993 838155, will tailor a 14-day itinerary to the Philippines to include any combination of Manila, Banaue, Boracay, Bohol and Palawan, from £3,045 per person, based on two sharing. This includes return international flight from London Heathrow, domestic flights, airport transfers and taxes, b & b (full board at El Nido Resorts) and the services of an English-speaking guide throughout.
- Background information: Rough Guide to The Philippines (£15.99).

Fiat to liberalize Clark, Subic airports out soon — Arroyo

Full report at BusinessWorld Online

The Executive is finalizing a fiat that will liberalize passenger transport by foreign carriers in two major airports north of Metro Manila.

In yesterday’s Philippine Economic Forum in Makati City, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said government officials have met with stakeholders on the details of Executive Order (EO) 500-B, which will allow foreign airlines to exercise fifth freedom rights at the airports in Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga and neighboring Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Olongapo City.

Fifth freedom allows foreign carriers to shuttle passengers outside their host country.

"We [the government] had a discussion already with the Clark stakeholders here and I have asked [Chief Presidential Legal Counsel] Sergio [F.] Apostol to draft an EO [that will contain the things] we have agreed on," said Mrs. Arroyo during the open forum.

"The liberalization will, as agreed by the Clark stakeholders, will consist in allowing airlines that are not necessarily the ones nominated by the countries with which we have an air service agreement."

Mrs. Arroyo said the EO will make it easier for foreign airlines to enter even if they are not designated by countries with existing air deals with the Philippines.


In the same event, Mrs. Arroyo claimed the private sector is interested in developing the DMIA.

"I’d like to reiterate my instructions to the Clark international airport authorities and to [Trade] Secretary Peter B. Favila, to accept unsolicited proposals for build-operate-transfer and let us see which one will be the best. We have enough private sector interest in Clark and that it need not be the government who will [improve] it," she said.

Last Monday, Mrs. Arroyo said officials of Singapore’s Changi Airport have expressed interest to upgrade DMIA.

OFW remittances reach record $ 14.4 billion in 2007

Lee C. Chipongian
Full report at the Manila Bulletin

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said overseas Filipinos sent home a record $ 14.449 billion in 2007, up 13.23 percent compared to 2006’s full-year of $ 12.761 billion.

Total remittances account for 10 percent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) last year.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said in December, remittances went up 5.87 percent to $ 1.396 billion from $ 1.319 billion. This is the highest monthly level on record.

"Monthly remittances have been surpassing the billion-dollar level since May 2006," said Tetangco. "Sustained strong inflows (sustained) remittances … it was also higher than the forecast level of $ 14.3 billion."

DoJ, Ombudsman to start ZTE probe; officials summoned

Gabriel S. Mabutas and Jun Ramirez
Manila Bulletin

The Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Office of the Ombudsman will start next week their parallel investigations into the controversial national broadband network project.

The Office of the Ombudsman will open its probe on Monday while the justice department will start its own investigation on Tuesday.

This developed as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) conducted yesterday its own re-enactment of the arrival of Senate witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr. at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in another probe ordered by President Arroyo.

Justice Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda said that the DoJ fact-finding hearing will start with Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro B. Mendoza and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Romulo Neri.

Pineda clarified his department’s investigation will not look into the graft case which, he said, would be tackled by the Ombudsman.

Pineda said Mendoza and Neri have been summoned for the DoJ investigation on Feb. 19.

The DoJ undersecretary, who was assigned to head the investigating panel, said the two would be debriefed separately to enable the panel to thoroughly extract information from them.

Mendoza, he said, would be questioned by the panel from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Neri, on the other hand, would be grilled starting 2 p.m.

Pineda said the panel has asked Mendoza to bring the ZTE broadband contract and the bidding documents on the projects, which, he said, the panel would use to validate the claims of former Philippine Forest Coro. (PhilForest) president Rodolfo Lozada, Jr., that the deal was hugely overpriced.

"Pinakukuha namin yung kontrata kasi sabi ni Lozada overpriced. But we have yet to see the contract to make a comparison," Pineda said.

He said the DoJ panel would no longer touch the graft aspect of the case since the Office of the Ombudsman has already stepped into the issue.

* * * *

Ombudsman summons complainants, others in NBN probe

The Office of the Ombudsman will start on Monday its public hearings on the ZTE-National Broadband Network (NB) controversy.

Ombudsman Merceditas N. Gutierrez said subpoena have been sent to more than 10 people and complainants in the case to give them the opportunity to air their side before appropriate charges could be filed against those involved.

Gutierrez said a panel headed by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro has already consolidated the seven cases submitted separately by complainants to facilitate the swift resolution of the cases.

Among those invited to the hearings are former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., former House Speaker Jose de Venecia and his son Jose III, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, and CHED chairman Romulo Neri.

Star witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr. will be invited later, Gutierrez said.

The Ombudsman, however, refused to comment on the request of Sen. Jamby Madrigal that the former inhibit herself from the investigation due to her alleged closeness to the First Gentleman.

Madrigal personally went to the Office of Ombudsman in Quezon City to file charges of obstruction of justuice charges against officials who allegedly attempted to prevent Lozada from testifying in the Senate.

"I will let the investigating panel decide on the senator’s request,’’ said Gutierrez, who denied she is a puppet of the Palace.

As this developed, the Office of the Solicitor General concluded that "No abduction took place" at the airport when Lozada arrived from Hong Kong on Feb. 5.

This was the initial finding of the representatives of the Office of the Solicitor General who visited the airport yesterday morning to make their own re-enactment of Lozada’s arrival from Hong Kong.

Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera ,together with 17 other lawyers from the OSG, visited the airport yesterday and retraced the path taken by Lozada when he was reportedly abducted at the airport upon his arrival.

The government’s legal team was toured inside the terminal by airport assistant general manager for Security and Emergency Services Angel Atutubo and Terminal Manager Octavio Lina.

Atutubo led the lawyers through the same route taken by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee members who retraced Lozada’s route last Thursday. (with reports by Jun Ramirez and Anjo Perez)

Governors troop to Manila to air warning on crisis
Ben R. Rosario

Provincial governors and other local officials allied with President Arroyo yesterday trooped to Metro Manila to warn her critics against "impeding on progress being felt" in the regions by staging unconstitutional moves to oust her.

Governors, mayors and congressmen, mostly belonging to Arroyo’s political party Lakas-CMD, gathered at the Forest Grill restaurant in Quezon City where they took turns in appearing live over the government television network PTV-4 where they assailed leaders of the political opposition for instigating protest actions in Manila "as a means of cutting short" Arroyo’s term of office.

The gathering came a few hours before anti-Arroyo groups staged a massive protest rally against Malacanang’s alleged involvement in the NBN contract.

Led by Davao del Sur Gov. Douglas Cagas, governors asked the Senate to end the ongoing legislative inquiry into the botched $ 329 million National Broadband Network deal, saying that the blue ribbon hearings have been turned into a staging forum for presidential wannabes.

Cagas, together with Governors Rogelio Espina (Biliran); Jun Akbar (Basilan); Efren Pinol (North Cotabato) and Jojo Beltran (Romblon), said they strongly believe that there is truth to reports of an alleged plot to assassinate Arroyo, as a means of cutting short her term which is scheduled to end 2010.

Asked what prompted them to come to Manila, Cagas said governors have agreed that "whenever it is necessary, we should be physically present and be with her whenever she is endangered or at risk."

Lakas-CMD executive director Ray Roquero said the local government leaders decided to make their presence felt in Metro Manila to reiterate their loyalty to the Arroyo government and encourage the President not to succumb to calls that she resign her post.

The congressmen included Reps. Roger Mercado (Kampi, Southern Leyte); Roque Ablan (KBL, Ilocos Norte); Raul Gonzales Jr. (Lakas, Iloilo City) and Herminia Roman (Lakas, Bataan).

Friday, 15 February 2008

Joint statement of Northern Luzon Bishops Re: Communal Action


To Guide Our Feet Into The Way Of Peace...

Peace Be Upon You All:

In solidarity with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, we raise our voices in a call to communal action. Above all the action to which we invite all our people must be on the way of peace!

We call our people:

  • To prayer, because it is only when we turn back to the Lord, in prayer, fasting and good works, that our land can be healed. No matter how deep the wounds may be that afflict our nation now, there is nothing that the Lord cannot make well. He who cleansed lepers, raised paralytics and restored life to those who were dead can certainly heal our land.
  • To self-examination in the light of the summons of the Lord Jesus to perfection. We are quick to condemn corruption when perpetrated by others. It is more difficult to acknowledge that the seeds of corruption lie in all our hearts.
  • To earnestly seek out the truth, and to distinguish between the truth and insinuation and suspicion. It is important to remember that it is easy to accuse, but it is competent proof that establishes truth. The truth must be relentlessly sought, and no attempt should be made to suppress it. One way the truth is suppressed is when inquiries and investigations become instruments of propagandizing and vendetta. To be credible, investigations must be conducted by persons who are honestly in search of the truth, for the welfare of the nation and not in furtherance of their own political ambitions. We also exhort all to make the crucial distinction between opinion and certainty. It is a fundamental moral precept that resolute action is justified only when one is sure.
We call on politicians to serve in the likeness of HIM who came among us as one who serves, seeking neither self-aggrandizement nor privilege but the welfare of those they swore to serve.

We call on the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman to commence the investigations that may lead to the truth. We believe that any investigation, to be credible and fruitful must be carried out before those forums tasked by law to investigate and to prosecute.

We call on media to be fair. In many respects, media reportage only fuel the flames of discontent, often by unwanted and unwarranted commentary and innuendo. We must all be instruments of justice - its fundamental demand being fairness!

In solidarity with His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, we call on all to seek not confrontation, certainly not revolution or violence, but a communal action for deep reflection, discernment, sobriety and for the way of peace!

Bishop of Bayombong

Apostolic Vicar of Bontoc-Lagawe

D.D.Archbishop of Tuguegarao

13 February 2008

We take the NBN-ZTE issue very seriously -- PGMA


For the first time since the controversy on the cancelled national broadband network (NBN-ZTE) project was revived recently, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo broke her silence today and said she was taking the ZTE issue "very seriously."

At the same time, the President called for an end to "partisan wrangling," especially among hopefuls in the 2010 presidential elections.

"We take the ZTE issue very seriously. I moved quickly to cancel the project as soon as I could, after proper consultation with the government of China, which is after all, our largest export market," the President said in her message at the Philippine Economic Forum held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City this morning.

“We call on our political leaders of all parties and preferences to look to our future and ensure stability for the sake of the nation. Let us put aside partisan wrangling as candidates jockey for the presidency,” the President said.

The President also called on the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice to ensure "transparency" in their investigations on the alleged scandal involving the $329 million contract forged between the government and China’s ZTE Corp.

The Chief Executive cancelled the contract last year amid allegations of overpricing.

"We want to fight corruption," she said as she scored those with political ambition for putting "easy rhetoric over lazy charges" and placing personal ambition ahead of national progress.

"This type of charges emerged even in previous administrations as part of our less than impressive political culture. I hope this set of charges will not be a political football," she stressed.

RP to grow 7% in Q1, buck US slump via spending


Despite the anticipated slump in the United States economy, a Philippine official on Friday predicted that the local economy could grow about 7 percent in the first quarter of the year due to accelerated government spending.

Acting National Economic and Development Authority director Augusto Santos told reporters that the government will spend more for infrastructure to boost the country’s competitiveness and to boost the economy.

“I think (a) 7-percent growth in Q1 (first quarter) is possible. The government is planning to release more funds for spending particularly in infrastructure. We want to spend more to boost the economy," he said at the sidelines of the Philippine Economic Briefing in Makati City.

Santos also cited the strong growth in the exports in December to indicate that the Philippines will be able to sustain the record growth it had in 2007--7.3-percent expansion of the gross domestic product.

“Strong domestic demand, boosted by public investments in infrastructure, will enforce expectations of high growth and offer long-run returns to investments even during a slowdown in global growth," Santos said.

For this year, the inter-agency Development and Budget Coordination Committee is projecting a 6.3 percent to 7 percent GDP growth.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said that the plan to accelerate spending would be carried out parallel to the government's goal to balance the budget this year.

“Infrastructure and social services are priority sectors for accelerated spending," he said.

Congress has already approved the P1.2 trillion national budget proposal for 2008, of which P113 billion will be spent for roads and bridges, airports and sea ports, land transportation, irrigation, farm-to-market roads, post harvest facilities and school buildings.

Bumrungrad set to invest in Philippines

Bangkok Post

Bumrungrad International Limited, the international arm of SET-listed Bumrungrad Hospital Plc (BH), plans to invest 318 million pesos, or around 255 million baht, in Manila's Asian Hospital.

''We think the time is right to invest in the future growth of Asian Hospital and to make it a centre of medical excellence and innovation in the Philippines and the region,'' said the company's CEO, Dennis Brown.

Bumrungrad acquired a 43.25% stake in Manila-based Asian Hospital (AHI) for US$9.2 million in 2004, and assumed management control in February 2005 as part of long-term restructuring programme.

It has since turned the hospital around by implementing new management systems, cost control measures and new clinical programmes. The 258-bed Asian Hospital now operates nearly at full capacity. Expansion would allow the facility to keep pace with market demand.

The phased expansion programme would include the construction of a new 14-storey tower to accommodate more clinics, therapeutic services and inpatient rooms.

The infusion of new capital is seen as a vote of confidence by Bumrungrad International Limited, said Mr Brown.

Bumrungrad International Limited is bullish on the Philippines and Asian Hospital for several reasons, he added. First, the overall economic outlook for the country is improving and the mid-term forecast is positive. Second, strong population growth in the hospital's primary service area is creating more demand for health-care services. Third, Asian Hospital is strategically located in one of the fastest-growing economic zones in the Philippines.

Erik Fox, Asian Hospital's CEO, said the hospital is strategically positioned to serve emerging markets in south Manila and the southern Luzon corridor. ''Asian Hospital is the only private, tertiary-care medical centre serving this vital economic zone, and expansion will allow us to better serve this key market,'' he said.

According to Mr Brown, Asian Hospital's expansion is just one of several projects undertaken by Bumrungrad International Limited to build and expand its portfolio. The company is actively exploring new opportunities to meet the growing demand for private medicine in Asia and the Middle East.

In 2005, Bumrungrad formed a joint venture with Istithmar, a large investment holding firm based in the United Arab Emirates, to build a hospital in Dubai. Bumrungrad invested US$9.7 million for a 49% stake.

The company also owns a piece of Asian Hospital in Singapore; BH's 31.5%-owned associate company BIL invested in a 43% stake.

In addition, the firm owns all of Asia Renal Care Limited in Singapore, which provides chronic kidney disease treatment.

Shares of BH closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 40 baht, up 0.63%, in trade worth 29 million.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

2008 plans: $1.5bn for Ayala, 610M for PLDT

The Ayala group, the country's third most valuable firm with a market cap of $4.5 billion, said it had allocated nearly 56 billion pesos ($1.4 billion) to expand its businesses, which include outsourcing, property, telecoms, banking and a water utility. Read the full article at Reuters (

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT), the country's biggest company by market value, said Thursday its capital expenditure in 2008 is estimated to reach 25 billion pesos or about 600 million US dollars.

The amount, which is as big as last year's capex budget, will include investments in providing additional wireless, broadband and international bandwidth capacity and upgrading the fixed-line network, and investments in the booming business process outsourcing industry. Read the full article at Forbes (

US gives $381,000 grant to modernize Pagasa


US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney on Wednesday signed a grant agreement providing $381,000 to strengthen the Philippines' early-warning system and natural disaster risk management resources.

Secretary Estrella F. Alabastro, of the Department of Science Technology, signed the agreement for the Philippines during a ceremony witnessed by Henry Steingass, US Trade and Development Agency Regional Director for South and Southeast Asia; and Prisco Nilo, director of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

The grant will support Pagasa's efforts to improve its capacity to monitor potential weather hazards, including typhoons, monsoons, and landslides, and inform the public about them.

Pagasa will use the fund for a study to identify upgrades needed for the meteorological and hydrological telecommunications system network.

The study will include the implementation and financing plans for the identified technologies, corresponding system specifications, and bidding documents.

The contract to conduct the USTDA-funded study for Pagasa will be competed on the US Federal Business Opportunities website at

Pagasa will select the US contractor that will complete the study.

USTDA funds various forms of technical assistance, early investment analysis, training, orientation visits, and business workshops that support the development of a modern infrastructure and a fair and open trading environment.

Progress in Southrail Project

Sorry, you can't find it in the newspapers. They are busy covering the Senate Circus. But you will find regular updates at Click here (

CebuPac to expand Manila domestic terminal

Manila Standard

THE 60-year-old Manila Domestic Airport in Pasay City will be expanded this year to accommodate the rising number of airline passengers, an airliner said yesterday.

Cebu Pacific, the Gokongwei family’s budget carrier, said it had teamed up with the Manila International Airport Authority to upgrade and expand the airport’s passenger terminal and improve its facilities.

It did not give details, but it said the project would start on Feb. 15 and should be completed on April 15.

“We have definitely outgrown the Manila domestic terminal, and we are looking forward to its expansion,” Cebu Pacific spokesman Candice Iyog said.

“We recognize how important the airport experience is to our guests, and that’s why we are happy about this joint effort with the [airport authority].”

The airport has recorded double-digit growth over the past three years, and it continues to host all domestic flights except those of Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines, which were granted exclusive rights to use the modern Terminal-2.

The airport has no jet bridges that passengers may walk through from the terminal. By comparison, the domestic and international airports in Davao, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod have better facilities.

Last year, the airport’s terminal accommodated about 120,000 arriving and departing passengers each week, causing long queues outside its roofed area each morning.

Iyog said the improvements would include a new arrival area with five baggage conveyors instead of the current three. That would expand the seating capacity in the pre-departure area by 66 percent with the addition of over 500 seats.

The check-in lobby and security check areas are also to be expanded. Extra boarding gates, holding areas, and restrooms will be added to double their capacity, and a covered walkway will be built to connect to the aircraft parking bays.

Cebu Pacific will relocate its cargo receiving section to pave the way for the new arrival area.

The airport authority will upgrade the arrival area, pre-departure lounge and departure areas.

The airport’s expansion is expected to benefit Cebu Pacific, which aims to carry more than seven million passengers this year and of whom 70 percent would be domestic travelers.

The airline carried more than five million passengers last year. Roderick T. dela Cruz

Exports jump 21.4%, thanks to increasing China demand

Bloomberg and Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

PHILIPPINE exports grew at their fastest pace in 16 months in December as shipments to China increased, bringing the total receipts to over $50 billion for the first time on record last year.

Shipments abroad gained 21.4 percent in December 2007 from a year earlier to $4.48 billion, according to preliminary figures released by the National Statistics Office.

That’s the fastest pace since August 2006 and exceeded the 8.4-percent median estimate of seven economists in a Bloomberg survey.

Exports fell 2.1 percent in November.

The total export receipts actually hit $50.276 billion last year—a 6.1-percent increase—but they “fell short of the 11-percent target and were significantly lower than the 2006 growth of 15 percent,” Acting Economic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said.

“China’s economic growth, which is still driven by consumers, is supporting our exports as demand for commodities and electronics grows,” said Jonathan Ravelas, an economist at BDO Unibank in Manila.

Demand from China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, is supporting the Philippines and other Asian-exporting nations as shipments to the US wane.

Exports account for about half of the Philippines’ $117-billion economy, which expanded at its fastest annual pace in 31 years in 2007.

Shipments to China gained 12.8 percent in December from a year earlier to $515.15 million. They dropped 12.4 percent a month earlier.

Exports to Hong Kong rose 65 percent to $488 million, accelerating from a 28-percent gain in November.

Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. project the US, Asia’s biggest export market, will suffer its first recession since 2001 this year.

Malaysia’s shipments to the US in November fell 16.5 percent compared with a 26-percent surge in exports to China.

Exports to the US, the Philippines’ biggest market, advanced 7.7 percent to $725.4 million in December from a year earlier. Shipments to Japan, the no. 2 destination, added 19.9 percent to $641.1 million.

Shipments of electronics, which make up two-thirds of the Philippines’ total exports, climbed 12.3 percent from a year earlier to $2.54 billion.

“The year-end demand effect may have boosted exports but this could be just temporary,” said Vishnu Varathan, an economist with Forecast Singapore Pte.

“The tech sector is particularly vulnerable to a global slowdown and this is where [the] Philippines’ exports exposure really is.”

Exports of clothes made for fashion houses, such as Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and Gap Inc., declined 7.8 percent from a year earlier.

But garment exports fell 13 percent to $2.3 billion from $2.646 billion in 2006.

Refined petroleum product sales rose 20.7 percent to $1.109 billion.

Copper, gold and other mineral shipments increased 64 percent in December. Woodcraft and furniture rose 25 percent.

The other top export items last year were ignition wiring sets ($890.752 million), coconut oil ($733.813 million), bananas ($396.279 million), metal components ($481.318 million), and pineapple products ($246.277 million).

By commodity group, agricultural exports grew 12.9 percent to $2.3 billion, while mineral exports rose 21.2 percent to $2.548 billion.

Sales of manufactured exports grew 5.26 percent to $42.804 billion.

The Philippines’ top buyers last year were the United States, Japan, China, The Netherlands, Singapore, Germany, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand.

JPEPA ratification will attract more foreign investments — Favila

Manila Bulletin

Ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) will add to the attraction of the Philippines as an investment destination, attract more Japanese investments to the country, and transform the Philippines into a base of Japanese offshore manufacturing entities, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said yesterday.

"The JPEPA will provide the framework under which trade between the two countries will flourish. There will be stability, which will push foreign investors other than Japan to also increase their existing investments," Favila said. "The increased flow of business locators will be a certainty once the JPEPA is ratified."

Favila said that what JPEPA will bring to the trade relations between Japan and the Philippines are more transparent rules for doing business and enhanced facilitation measures. Tariff and non-tariff trade barriers will be lifted under the JPEPA, most of them on Day One of the implementation of the agreement and the rest within 10 years from date of effectivity.

On the other hand, non-ratification of the JPEPA will convey a strong negative message to Japanese investors and the foreign investment community, the secretary said. "Non-ratification telegraphs our unwillingness to engage in cooperative ventures with a longtime trade and investment partner," he said.

Favila said that countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have forged or are hammering out economic agreements with Japan to enhance their trade competitiveness. "This is one reason we can't put on hold the ratification of the JPEPA," he said.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand have economic agreements with Japan while the rest are now about to finalize similar agreements, according to Favila. "The waiting time for the ratification has also put on hold major Japanese projects that are intended for the Philippines," he added.

Conservative estimates say that the ratification of the JPEPA will bring unprecedented economic windfall on several fronts. A P53-billion addition to the Gross Domestic Product is expected plus a more than P300-billion surge in foreign direct investments within the first four years of the agreement’s implementation.

Farming group said that 95 percent of all agricultural exports to Japan will be zero tariff right after JPEPA takes effect and agri exports make up a sizable portion of the close to $ 8 billion worth of yearly exports to Japan.

The labor sector is anticipating the opening up of the restricted Japanese labor market under the JPEPA. Japan has committed to accept Filipino nurses and caregivers under the JPEPA, plus engineers, accountants, legal experts, and business management practitioners.

Tech News

RP to have robust ICT market in 2008
Melvin G. Calimag

ICT analyst firm IDC has painted a rosy picture for the country’s booming ICT industry, saying "expansion, optimization, and consumer dynamism" will define the local ICT market in 2008.

RP software firm goes global; 3 brands set for int’l markets

A Manila-based Filipino software and internet consulting firm is going global, with its three brands of customized services now up and ready for the international corporate market.

These service brands, boasting unique and advance features, will be showcased by iVant Technologies & Business Solutions Inc. during the 8th Global Sourcing Conference & Exhibition at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City on February 11-12.

The brands are iVant, Scriberite and WebToGo, all to be presented to the local and foreign visitors dropping by the company’s exhibit booth during the expo’s two-day run.

Outsourcing, Linux to continue expansion in Asia-Pacific, says research firm XMG
Melvin G. Calimag

As part of its 2008 predictions for Asia-Pacific, ICT research and advisory firm XMG said outsourcing and Linux adoption will continue to gain momentum in the region, citing the prevailing business conditions in the Philippines and other countries.

In a hurry to dominate, Samsung powering up for final push in RP
Melvin G. Calimag

Like a conquering emperor, South Korean technology conglomerate Samsung is getting extra aggressive this year as it to tries to dominate the local market with its products, particularly its IT line-up.

To implement its battle plans, Samsung Electronics Philippines has signed up Jino Alvarez, a former top executive at Epson Philippines, to serve as general manager for IT, with responsibility over three product segments: monitors (LCD), printers, and components (hard drives and optical drives).

In a recent press conference, Alvarez said Samsung has set a growth target of 84 percent for its IT division in 2008. Individually, its growth forecast is 114 percent for printers, 60 percent for monitors, and 58 percent for components.

RP is one of Accenture’s assets in latest tech wave
Melvin G. Calimag

The world is currently in the midst of the fourth technology wave, known to IT people as SOA or service-oriented architecture, and outsourcing giant Accenture is deftly riding on top of it with the Philippines as one of its platforms.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Provincial governors vow full support for PGMA amid renewed destab moves


PILI, Camarines Sur - The League of Provinces/Governors of the Philippines expressed today their full support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo amid renewed moves to destabilize the government.

In a Manifesto of Support for the Chief Executive, the provincial chief executives also called for an end to the agitations by her detractors to unseat the President through unconstitutional means and to stop political bickerings for the sake of the country.

The manifesto was issued at the end of the 2nd General Assembly of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) held at the Villa Del Rey Convention Center in Cadlan, Pili, Camarines Sur.

LPP President and Misamis Occidental Governor Loreto Leo Ocampos said the manifesto expressed the governors’ unwavering and wholehearted support to the Arroyo administration.

Camarines Sur Governor and LPP national chairman Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. echoed the statement of Ocampos’ expressing in no uncertain terms their full support to the President and her administration.

"We are happy to be working with you and we are humbled to see a hardworking President who come here to be with us. Again, we would like to express in no uncertain terms that you have our collective commitment. Our unilateral support and our unquestionable loyalty," Villafuerte said in his welcome remarks.

Villafuerte also thanked the President for her consistent, unrelenting determination to put the Philippines in the tourism and investment map of the world.

“You are pushing the image of our region so that we maybe at par with the world's best,” Villafuerte told the President.

The President had lunch with the about 50 provincial governors at the Villa del Rey.

Thanking them for their support, the President said that together, the national and local governments are “making real progress in alleviating poverty.”

“The rate of poverty is down, employment is up. Our education and health care services to the poor are vastly improved. We have a long way to go, but only through a strong economy can we improve the plight of the poor together,” she said.

The President added that “we have turned the corner on our economy. This allows us to invest together in job creation, better health care and more educational opportunities. These are the keys in lifting up the poor.”

The League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP), which has 80 members, aims to ventilate, articulate and crystallize issues affecting provincial and metropolitan government administration. It likewise serves to secure, through proper and legal means, solutions to problems confronting the localities.

Teachers go 'home' shopping


MANILA, Feb. 13 (PNA)-- The Department of Education (DepEd) stays committed to improving the living conditions of its 517,515 employees; 471,837 of whom are teachers through a housing fair.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus noted that many teaching and non-teaching personnel do not have their own homes.

"Giving our teachers the benefit they deserve, such as a house they can call their own remains our paramount concern," Lapus said.

DepEd partnered with the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and staged the first Housing Fair in its central offices at Meralco Avenue, Pasig City plays venue for the event on February 13-15.

The DepEd Housing Fair will enable teachers and other DepEd personnel to have access to some of the most affordable housing units in the market today.

The first Housing Fair eyed DepEd personnel from National Capital Region, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna.

In NCR alone, more than 10,000 employees expressed interest in such a program.

Evangeline David a teacher from Dr. Arcadio Santos National High School Parañaque City said that they were happy for this move of the DepEd and HUDCC to provide a housing loan.

“I have been teaching for 21 years but I'm still renting a house.I wish I have a house of my own that's not too costly to pay," David said.

“If I have to compute my house rental, it will become expensive in the years to come and I won't be able to send my children to school," she added.

In 1999 a study by SEAMEO INNOTECH revealed that 22 per cent or 90,400 of the 405,973 teachers did not own a house.

In a related development, DepEd signed recently a memorandum of agreement with Gawad Kalinga, Pag-IBIG Fund, and some pioneering local government units to undertake an affordable housing program for teachers who do not have a home of their own.

GK offers low cost housing where the homeowners themselves are involved in the construction of their future homes in a five hectare land provided by the partner LGU.

One hectare will serve as academic, recreation, and productivity areas while the remaining 4 hectares will be used for the more than 200 lots at 150 sq. m. per lot.

A typical house will have a 46 sq. m. floor area with high ceiling and a 26 sq. m. loft. Each house will have finished walls and tiled kitchen and toilet when they are turned over.

Beyond the construction, GK also implements projects that help enhance community living like livelihood programs and sports activities.

A building for pre-school education is also part of the community package of GK for teachers.

Recipients will only need to pay a monthly amortization of P1,300 for 25 years through Pag-IBIG. (PNA)

Turboprops and jets in the Philippines

By Leithen Francis

The Philippines' airline market is expanding but some operators are finding that increasing services is proving a challenge

Small Filipino carriers are branching out and trying to compete against the big players on international routes, while the big players in turn are muscling in on the smaller carriers' more profitable domestic routes. But it seems politics will determine the outcome.

The small, well-established airlines are Asian Spirit and Seair and their big rivals are Philippine Airlines/Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific. While Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines operate as separate businesses, they can be considered as one because both are ultimately owned by Lucio Tan, one of the Philippines' wealthiest businessmen.

The other big player, Cebu Pacific Air, is controlled by another Filipino-Chinese magnate, Lance Gokongwei.

Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific have ordered three Bombardier Q300s and 10 ATR 72-500s respectively. They plan to use these smaller turboprop aircraft to compete head-on against Asian Spirit and Seair. The first route is Manila-Caticlan. Asian Spirit operates mostly de Havilland Canada Dash 7s and BAe 146s, while Seair operates Dornier 328s and Let 410s.

The Manila-Caticlan route has traditionally been a cash cow for Asian Spirit and Seair because the larger airlines' jet aircraft are unable to land at Caticlan's runway which is only 950m (3,100ft) long. The route generates good revenue from wealthy western tourists that go to Caticlan as the gateway to the Philippines' famous Boracay beach strip.

The jet operators have to operate to an airport at Kalibo, which is less convenient for travellers, being at least one and a half hours' drive from Caticlan, where passengers then catch a ferry to Boracay, says Seair director, Nick Gitsis.

While Manila-Caticlan is by far the biggest domestic regional or secondary route in the Philippines "it is not the biggest compared to the trunk routes", says Gitsis. He says Seair operates 20 flights a day to Caticlan from five points in the Philippines including Manila. Asian Spirit executive vice president Joaquin Ernesto Po says his carrier has "at least 15 flights a day" to Caticlan from two points.


Gitsis says all passengers on the Manila-Caticlan route are foreign tourists whereas on the Manila-Kalibo route it is "about 75% or more".

Air Philippines put its first Q300 into service on 15 December, and operates the aircraft on four flights a day, says the airline's president chief executive, Edilberto Medina.

The second Q300 will be delivered in March and dedicated to the Manila-Caticlan route, says Medina, while the third aircraft will arrive in April, and will be used to increase the frequency on that route to 11 a day while also used to launch services on the Cebu-Caticlan route.

Air Philippines' Manila-Caticlan service is already fully booked until March, says Medina, adding that some international tourists travelling to the Philippines with PAL have onward bookings to Caticlan with Air Philippines. As a result Air Philippines has refrained from trying to undercut the incumbents, says Medina.

He declines to comment on whether he thinks there will be a price war in future but says Cebu Pacific has a habit of offering discount fares whenever it enters a new market.

Cebu Pacific says it plans to launch services on the route on 29 February with a five-times daily flight using its first ATR 72 and on 28 March it plans to launch services on the Cebu-Caticlan route, also using ATR 72s. Services on the two routes will increase as its takes delivery of other ATR 72s on order, it adds.

Medina at Air Philippines says his carrier might have to compete more aggressively on price if Cebu Pacific sparks a price war.

Medina says the turboprop operation has been so successful it has spurred Air Philippines to try and lease or purchase second-hand Bombardier Q400s and it hopes to get the first in April. It plans to have a total of six Q400s and this could later increase to 10, says Medina, adding that it prefers secondhand aircraft because new Q400s cannot be delivered until last quarter 2009.

Secondary routes

Air Philippines will use these aircraft to operate on many of the domestic regional routes that PAL once served. PAL used to operate on secondary routes in the Philippines but abandoned this market when it phased out its Fokker 50s in the late 1990s. Medina says some of the cities Air Philippines is considering operating to using the Q400s include: Basco, Busuanga, Pagadian, Surigao and Ozamis.

While Air Philippines is preparing for a major expansion on secondary routes, Cebu Pacific and Asian Spirit are working to shore up their competitiveness on the Manila-Caticlan route. The two together are spending 30-40 million Philippine pesos ($680,000- $910,000) to lengthen the runway by 100m (300ft) so that Asian Spirit's 83-seat BAe 146s and Cebu Pacific's 70-seat ATR 72s can land fully loaded, says Asian Spirit' s Po.

Asian Spirit's Dash 7s can land on the old runway fully loaded but Asian Spirit wants to only use the BAe 146s there because jet powered aircraft are faster than turboprops. Po says the airline has received in-principle approval for the runway extension and hopes to receive the official approval documents in time to complete the runway extension by the end of May.

Asian Spirit leases a Boeing MD-83 from United Aircraft Leasing in Singapore and operates it from Kalibo and Laoag in the Philippines to Seoul Incheon. South Korea was the first major international market Asian Spirit targeted because South Koreans form the largest group of foreign visitors to the Philippines.

Po says the carrier is seeking to lease one more MD-83 and plans to launch more services to South Korea from other points in the Philippines such as Cebu and Manila. But he is unable to give more details because "it depends on approval from the Civil Aeronautics Board" in the Philippines.

Philippines start-up Pacific Pearl Airways, which launched late last year and has two Boeing 737-200s, also wants traffic rights to South Korea.

And Seair wants to operate internationally but its efforts so far have been bogged down in red tape. In September 2006, Seair and Singapore low-cost carrier Tiger Airways announced a deal in which Tiger would lease Airbus A320s to Seair. Seair would license the Tiger brand name and use Tiger's sales channels to sell tickets on Philippine domestic trunk routes as well as international routes mostly out of Manila's secondary airport, the former Clark airbase, now called Diosdado Macapagal international.

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is from the province where the airport is located and renamed it after her father, former Philippine president Disodado Macapagal. Her close affinity with the area and desire to see the airport develop has meant Tiger's chief executive, Tony Davis, has had several meetings with the president.

But despite having the apparent goodwill of the president, and Seair's good reputation for safety, Tiger's attempt to have a Philippine carrier operating by February last year were thwarted following objections from quarters such as PAL.

The objections led the country's CAB to hold hearings to determine whether Seair should be allowed to operate A320s. The carrier has never had a fatal crash but despite its unblemished safety record it is up against competitors that have a lot more political clout. "We are coming up to the one year anniversary since we applied on 22 January" 2007 to have A320s included on Seair's air operator's certificate (AOC), says Gitsis.

The airline is still waiting for a decision from the CAB but it "keeps getting delayed and deferred", he says. "We believe there has to be a breakthrough soon because this is the longestapplication process" that any airline in the Philippines has had to go through with regards to an aircraft lease, he adds.

Financial issues

"One issue they [the CAB] have with us is that we are partly foreign owned," says Gitsis, who is US-born and established the airline in 1995 with long-time friend Iren Dornier, who is the airline's chairman and the grandson of Claude Dornier, the famous German aircraft designer who founded the Dornier aircraft company.

The other issue the CAB has focused on is whether Seair is strong enough financially to take on A320s because operating an A320 is a big step up from Dornier 328s and Let 410s.

At a CAB hearing in early January the airline was asked to provide updated financial figures, says Gitsis, adding that the CAB normally holds a hearing once a month although they are are often cancelled two or three times in a row.

While Tiger and Seair have been tied up in hearings, competitors such as PAL and Cebu Pacific have been working furiously to build up their presence at Diosdado Macapagal. Cebu Pacific announced in August that it planned to make Diosdado Macapagal its third international hub - after Manila and Cebu - but two months later disclosed that several foreign governments had rejected its application to operate scheduled passenger services from the former military base.

The disclosure by Cebu Pacific highlighted an apparent discrepancy.

The government issued an executive order in January 2006 - rescinded in August the same year - granting foreign carriers unlimited traffic rights to Clark but failed to ensure Philippine carriers operating from the airport enjoyed the same air traffic rights from the relevant foreign governments.

PAL, meanwhile, has taken a sudden interest in Clark and worked hard to generate awareness for its new efforts to invest there.

In June 2006, PAL issued a statement quoting the airline's president Jaime Bautista as saying "our chairman Lucio Tan is excited at our plan to join in the development of Clark.

"The Clark investment will entail at least 30-50ha of property, over 25 years, where PAL will construct its catering, ground handling and aircraft maintenance facilities," says Bautista, adding that the investment will create at lease 2,000 jobs.

Bautista says PAL also plans to launch international services from Clark but it "hinges on the results of ongoing negotiations with the Clark Development Corp".

Philippines funds have global appeal

By Roel Landingin
Financial Times

ING Bank and Crédit Agricole are seeking more global investment mandates from pension, retirement and trust funds in the Philippines following last month's signing of an agreement to invest at least $1bn (£512m, €683m) on behalf of the state-run Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

GSIS, the state-run pension fund for 1.4m government workers, is the country's largest nonbank financial institution, with total long-term assets of 400bn pesos (£5bn, €6.7bn, $9.8bn).

Its decision to invest at least one-tenth of its assets abroad is expected to encourage other domestic financial institutions to consider placements in foreign equities, bonds and other assets amid declining domestic interest rates and thin liquidity in Manila's stock market.

Read the rest of the article.

Working foreigners in Philippines surge in 2007

Ed. by Bi Mingxin

MANILA, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines saw a rising influx of foreigners eyeing a working visa in 2007, the government said Tuesday.

Bureau of Immigration records showed that 11,290 foreigners of different nationalities were issued pre-arranged employment visas last year, almost twice the number of those who applied in 2006.

About 4,000 applications were filed by new comers to the Philippines, while the rest were renewals, said Philippine Daily Inquirer in an online report.

"A good number of the working visa applicants are foreign executives employed by the country's top 1,000 corporations and Philippine-based multinational firms," it said.

The country's immigration laws prohibit a foreigner from working without a proper work permit from the labor department and an employment visa from the immigration office.

PGMA at CamSur Watersports Complex; to inaugurate infra projects

PGMA addresses prov’l governors league meeting; Inaugurates infra projects in C. Sur tomorrow

PILI, Camarines Sur—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will keynote on Wednesday (Feb. 13) the opening of the 2nd General Assembly of the country’s provincial governors and lead the groundbreaking and inauguration of various government school buildings and infrastructure projects in this province.

The President is expected to arrive at 10 a.m. at the Naga Airport in San Jose, Pili, Camarines Sur, where she will be briefed at the VIP Lounge by Armed Forces and Philippine National Police officials and local government executives on the peace and order situation in Camarines Sur and the rest of Region V.

She will motor later to the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) for a brief declaration rites of the six-hectare complex to be the next cable skiing Mecca of Asia, with a six-point cable ski system. In July this year, the CWC will host the World Wakeboarding Championship, the first of its kind in the country.

From the CWC, the President will proceed to the Provincial Capitol Compound in Cadlan to address the 2nd General Assembly of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) at the Villa del Rey.

Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund Villafuerte will host a lunch for the President and the more than 80 governors and other government officials, including Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya and Congressman Dato Arroyo.

At Barangay Pandan, Cabusao, this province, the President will preside over the groundbreaking rites for the P60-million Sipocot-Cabusao road construction and improvement project.

She is also scheduled to launch two school buildings and groundbreak the construction of a UNICEF-funded school building at the Castillo Elementary School in Barangay Castillo, Cabusao.

Subic eyes $7.5-B yearly investment until 2010

By Henry Empeño
Business Mirror

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—No other way to go but up. This was how the chief executive officer of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) described the agency’s investment projection for the next three years.

Administrator Armand Arreza said Monday that having exceeded their original 2010 investment target of $5 billion last year, they are now raising the ante to $7.5 billion for up to 2010.

He said they had concluded an agreement with Dubai-based Jafza International FZE for the development of four adjoining logistics and services areas in Subic.

Jafza, the global economic zone-operations arm of the Dubai government’s Economic Zones World, will invest $200 million to $250 million in the next three years for a master-planned development and marketing of the Subic airport, Boton wharf, Subic Techno Park and the Crown Peak hotel complex at Cubi Point.

He said these investments, provided for in a memorandum of understanding that Arreza signed with Jafza CEO Salma Hareb last month, will also facilitate the entry of more businesses into Subic, and thus help the SBMA realize its $7.5-billion 2010 target.

Arreza said the agency’s confidence in realizing its 2010 goal is anchored on a series of investor-friendly policies and “antidotal measures” that the SBMA had set in place in the past two years.

They include, among others, standardized terms and reduced processing period, streamlined port processing procedures, automatic renewal of certificates of registration and tax exemption for locators, and the reorganization of the SBMA business group into industry-focused units.

Arreza added the SBMA has made Subic even more investor-friendly by reducing power rates, stabilizing water charges, reestablishing fiber-optic links, reaffirming VAT exemption for free-port enterprises and intensifying the antismuggling drive.

The combination of these measures, he added, resulted in greater economic activity that was highlighted by a 16.85-percent growth in the number of workers employed, a 40.60-percent increase in exports, and a 19.59- percent rise in revenues.

The same success formula will be strengthened by two “enablers”—the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Executive Order 675, which extends Subic’s tax- and duty-free regime to surrounding communities. “These will help bring in bigger investment opportunities to Subic and the rest of Central Luzon.”

The SCTEX will hasten the flow of goods and services along the Subic-Clark growth corridor, while EO 675 will build a strong economic base in areas around the two free ports.

Figures from the SBMA Market Research and Planning Department show that prior to 2006, the agency’s investment-promotion program suffered from a relatively flat performance.

From a total of $2.12 billion in 2001, annual new investments declined to $82 million in 2002, $41 million in 2003, $64 million in 2004, and $28 million in 2005, the worst dip in four years.

The same trend was noted in the number of new companies that are located in Subic in the same period, with 80 new entrants in 2002, 91 in 2003, 82 in 2004, and only 67 in 2005.

But a huge turnaround happened early in 2006 when SBMA signed in Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp.-Phils., which initially committed $1 billion for its shipyard project at Subic’s Redondo Peninsula.

As the SBMA turned in 129 new projects worth $1.42 billion in 2006, it gained the distinction of being the country’s top investment-promotion agency—a first for the agency since it was formed in 1992.

The next year, the SBMA followed through its record-breaking performance in 2006 by signing in 164 new investment projects worth a total of $1.67 billion. This brought Subic’s cumulative investment total to $5.4 billion in 2007.

De Castro is top pick for 2010

BusinessWorld Online

THREE OUT OF 10 Filipinos want Vice-President Manuel "Noli" L. de Castro to succeed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when her term expires in 2010, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

Read the rest of the article (

Remittances spent wisely by families of migrant workers

By Darwin G. Amojelar
The Manila Times

Families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) show that they value the remittances sent home by their kin by not spending them on vices and useless purchases, a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies says.

Aubrey Tabuga, the author of the study, “How Do Filipino Families Use the OFW Remittances?” says the money remitted by the OFWs to the country does not tend to induce households to spend more on vices, such as smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.

Tabuga added that the families, however, also allocate less for food, particularly the kind that they have to buy outside.

Instead, she said, the families receiving remittances set aside more of the money for basic goods and for education, health care, and housing.

“Among households where the remittances supplement total income, the remittances are mostly used for food, household operations, utilities and education,” Tabuga added.

She said other allocations are reserved for fiestas, special occasions and savings.

An Asian Development Bank study found that Filipino workers abroad regularly remitted an average of $340 a month through bank channels in 2003.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that money sent home by OFWs through banks reached $13.1 billion from January to November 2007.

OFW deployment to more than 190 host destinations worldwide reached 1.01 million from January to December 9, 2007, according to the Department of Labor and Employment.

Tabuga urged the OFW families to invest their money in productive enterprises that will cause bigger impact on the local economy.

“If remittance income induces people to consume more and produce or work less, it is preventing its potential to spur local development and may even produce dependency among migrant workers’ families, thereby disrupting local production,” she explained.

Tabuga said expenditure patterns and investment behavior of remittance-receiving families reflect the general condition of the country, specifically its investment climate.

“Since remittance-receiving families have tendencies to work more on self-employment activities and enter into enterprises, the government should enhance its role in providing necessary support mechanisms such as sound credit facilities and trainings on entrepreneurship for them to stay in business and expand their enterprises,” she added.

The country’s remittance receipts have been rising at phenomenal rates since 2002. From 2001 to 2006, remittances have been growing at an average rate of over 16 percent annually.

In 2006, it constituted about 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of the goods and services produced by a country during a specific period.

At the household level, remittance income constituted, on the average, about 5.8 percent of total family income in 2003.

Despite airport downgrade, PAL boosts passenger traffic in January

By Zinnia B. Dela Peña
Philippine Star

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) noted an increase in its passenger traffic by about five percent in January compared with the same period last year despite the downgrade of the country’s air safety rating by the US Federal Aviation Administration, a top company official said.

“We carried more passengers last month, mostly Filipinos residing in the US We’re happy that the Filipino community in the US is very supportive of us,” said PAL president Jaime Bautista.

He said PAL’s load factor in the US is almost 85 percent.

The airline company is due to report its financial results for the period April to December 2007 tomorrow.

Bautista hinted that the company posted better than expected financial results although net earnings slightly dropped due to higher fuel prices.

As the only Philippine carrier to fly to the US, PAL is committed to maintaining its US operations despite of the downgrade of the Philippines air safety ratings to Category 2 from Category 1.

A Category 2 rating means Philippine carriers can not expand services to the US PAL is the only Filipino airline that flies to the US which accounts for 30 percent of total revenues.

Bautista said PAL is increasing its routes in China and is planning on adding more flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Canada.

PAL earlier said it will spend P3.5 billion to refurbish its long-range wide-body fleet which comprises five Boeing 747-400 and four Airbus A340-300 aircraft. The project will be implemented in phases with the first aircraft sporting the new interiors in June 2008.

The entire program is due to be completed by the last quarter of 2009.

PAL said it plans to add state-of-the-art inflight entertainment systems new business class and economy class seats to the planes. It also wants to adopt a new, modern look emulating the Philippines’ tropical feel.

“The move is intended to address the growing popularity of business class service and the competitive pressures to upgrade the service,” PAL said.

PAL, which emerged from eight years of receivership last year, will complete this year its purchase of a fleet of 21 A320s, costing around $1.2 billion.

Tourism 2007 earns close to $5B, aims for $8B in 2008

Landmark year for tourism
Manila Bulletin

A RECENT report from the Department of Tourism (DoT) said tourist arrivals reached the 3-million mark last year. Tourist expenditures reached $4.885 billion in 2007, surpassing the $ 3.782-billion target. The year 2007 will be known in history as the year the country made a breakthrough in tourism. The largest group of foreigners coming to the Philippines were Koreans followed by the Americans, Japanese, Chinese, and Australians.

The Department of Tourism’s ultimate goal is to attract more tourists and more visitors who spend more. As part of this strategy, the Tourism Department has been pushing projects to improve existing infrastructure and resources catering to tourists.

The observation of the DoT is that tourists come to the country for varied reasons and not merely for recreation. A number of tourists come to visit their relatives and friends, attend English-language classes, and undergo medical treatment.

The DoT has worked with several domestic and foreign investors on various business projects in key tourist destinations such as Cebu, Boracay, Negros Occidental, Bicol, and Palawan. Provincial airports, such as those in Kalibo, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, and Bacolod are being upgraded to receive international flights. Projects are also underway to improve and develop more tourism destinations such as Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Bohol, and Bicol.

For 2008, the Department of Tourism headed by Secretary Joseph Ace H. Durano, other Officials and Employees, is targeting $5 to $8 billion in tourist spending. With the sustained effort at marketing the sites and services available in the country, the target for this year in terms of tourist expenditures and arrivals is expected to be met, especially with the record set in the last three years.

Action ordered on corruption issue

Palace panels to link up with Church & business sector
Excerpted from Manila Bulletin

In the wake of growing concerns arising from the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) project, President Arroyo yesterday ordered two anti-graft government groups to team up with the Church, business, and academe in eliminating corruption in the bureaucracy.

At the opening of a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang, the President directed the Anti-Red Tape Task Force led by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and the Procurement Transparency Group led by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to accelerate reforms to curb corruption in government, particularly in the procurement system.

The Anti-Red Tape Task Force, created in 2006, strives to reduce transaction costs in government while the Procurement Transparency Group monitors procurement for public projects and report irregularities to agency heads concerned.

"We will push for reforms to speed up government transactions and to reduce corruption and red tape often complained by the public and investors," the President said.

"I instruct the Anti-Red Tape Task Force headed by Secretary Peter Favila and the Procurement Transparency Group of Secretary Nonoy Andaya to link up with the business sector, academe, and the Church to draft reforms in government systems," she said.

The President sought to ensure transparency and good governance in massive private and public investments after the Catholic bishops and other groups denounced alleged large-scale corruption in government in relation to the scrapped telecoms contract.

Out of order, Palace says about call for GMA to quit

Malacanang yesterday said calls for President Arroyo to resign are "out of order," as it belittled planned mass protests to denounce her involvement in alleged corruption and bribery in the 9-million national broadband network (NBN) project.

Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said a reported call by an official of the Makati Business Club (MBC) for Mrs. Arroyo to resign is not supported by all of its members, and that some members have expressed "disgust" over claims by their officials that they speak for the whole group.

"It’s clear that the President has a mandate up to 2010 and if that’s their call then I think that’s out of order. It’s premature because it’s only 2008. I know for a fact that many members of the MBC do not agree with the pronouncements of their so-called officials," Bunye said.

"They’re not united and some of them resent the fact that some officers claim to speak for all the members. They have made previous calls for the resignation of the President and some members have opposed or expressed their disgust that these officers claim to speak for all the members," he added.

Bunye said some of the disgruntled MBC members are stockbroker Vivian Yuchengco and businessman Archie Bartolome.

MBC Executive Director Alberto Lim had reportedly also called for the resignation of Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri, who was Socio-economic Planning Secretary when the NBN project was approved in 2007, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza, who is accused of involvement in the kidnapping of the Senate’s key witness in the investigation on the project.

Earlier, the MBC has been reported as supporting planned mass action against Mrs. Arroyo for her involvement in the approval of the NBN project.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

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Permanent resident visa for South Koreans OKd

By Arlie Calalo
Manila Standard

South Koreans can now avail themselves of a permanent resident visa to the Philippines, the Bureau of Immigration said yesterday.

Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan told reporters that granting such a privilege was only a recognition of the similar favor that Filipinos enjoy in South Korea, which becomes the second Asian country to obtain that privilege after China.

The privilege applies only to South Koreans as the Philippines does not have any diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Quoting records furnished by Korean Ambassador Hong Jong-Ki to his office, Libanan said that 4,197 Filipinos have been granted Korean citizenship.

“In the interest of reciprocity, a South Korean national who is married to a Filipino citizen or to a permanent resident alien or who is the son or daughter of a permanent resident alien parent shall henceforth be granted permanent resident visa,” Libanan said.

Libanan said that last Feb. 1, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez approved Memorandum Order MCL-8-003 allowing the granting of permanent visa to South Koreans. The same memorandum also stated that a Korean who has an investment in the Philippines will be granted permanent resident visa upon proper application, qualification and payment of immigration fees.

Earlier, the immigration bureau had granted permanent resident visa status to qualified Chinese nationals particularly those who intend to invest in the country.

Defending the granting of such privilege to the Chinese and now Koreans, Libanan said it was only proper for the Philippine government to reciprocate as the two countries have been granting such visas for qualified Filipinos in the past and up to the present.

At the same time, Libanan said the granting of permanent resident visas was in line with the government’s thrust to attract more investments into the country.

“We cannot allow our country to be left behind in a highly competitive international investment market,” Libanan said. “We have to keep up, in real time, with the pace of the global investment market.”

Libanan said he instructed Associate Commissioner Roy Almoro to prepare the implementing guidelines within 30 days.

“We will make the procedures in granting permanent resident visas to Koreans as simple as possible, without prejudice, of course, to national security,” Almoro said.

PGMA bares 40% growth target for BPO sector as RP bcomes 2nd top BPO destination in Asia-Pacific Region


Just three months after the Philippines was named as the “Offshoring Destination of the Year” by the United Kingdom’s National Outsourcing Association last October, Manila has been named the second top Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) destination in the Asia-Pacific Region by the International Data Corporation (IDC).

Thus enthused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as she announced Monday that her administration has targeted a 40-percent growth rate in the country’s offshoring and outsourcing (O&O) sector for this year.

“For 2008, we have targeted to grow our O&O workforce by 40 percent in order to cope with the industry demands, and also achieve a 40-percent growth rate in the O&O sector,” the President said in her speech before the CEO Forum of the 8th e-Services Global Sourcing Conference and Exhibition at the SMX Convention Center of the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

The President also said that three Philippine cities have been included by the London Financial Times in its survey of “Top Ten Asian Cities of the Future,” thus validating the country’s position as a major player in the global O&O market.

“In International Data Corporation’s Top 10 list of BPO destinations in the Asia-Pacific region, Manila was ranked number 2, second only to Bangalore (India).

“In a survey commissioned by the London Financial Times, Quezon City, Cebu and Davao were included in the top 10 Asian Cities of the Future, with Quezon City ranked 7th, Cebu 8th and Davao 10th, comparable with cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei which were the top three,” the President said.

She also announced that Cebu -- apart from the above-mentioned distinction from the London Financial Times – has been ranked Number 4 in the study of Top 50 Emerging Cities conducted by Tholons, Inc.

“These distinctions from the global ICT (Information and Communications Technology) firms and experts in the O&O sector provide our investor friends who have come to e-Services Philippines with objective third-party assessments of our O&O capabilities,” the President stressed.

“They validate our position as a major player in the global O&O market. The Philippines is ranked among the most attractive offshoring destinations in the world because of cost competitiveness and, more importantly, the country’s highly trainable, English-proficient, I.T.-enabled quality manpower,” the President said.

According to her, the runaway growth of the O&O industry has echoed throughout the entire system, spawning impressive growth in other sectors like real estate, telecommunications, food and retail, among others.

“The demand for prime real estate for BPO operations has spawned feverish construction for office space and campuses that can house the current demand for expansion sites,” the President said, noting that such a trend is expected to grow by more than 30 percent in the next few years.

“The up-and-coming O&O destinations in the Philippines are of course outside Metro Manila. And in support of this, our public-private sector partnership has been assessing various cities… to delineate what we will now call or, well, we have been calling but now we will delineate the area more specifically -- the Philippine cyber corridor -- which are positioned as viable alternatives for O&O locators,” added President Arroyo.

PGMA stresses need for RP to gird for slowdown of global economy


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the government must act immediately to blunt the harsh effects of the threatening slowdown of the global economy, and sustain the country’s economic growth.

In her opening statement in the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Cabinet Group meeting held at the Aguinaldo State Dining Room in Malacañang this morning, the President said it was imperative that “we are fully focused on thwarting the threat of a slowdown of the world economy” on the local economy.

She pointed out that the economic ministers of the world’s leading industrial countries, in their recent meeting in Tokyo, had warned of the threat facing the world’s major economies.

''Our tasks are clear,'' the President said, as she cited three action plans that the government must implement immediately to ride out the storm of the expected global economic slowdown

First, the government must accelerate spending on infrastructure and pro-poor projects to fuel the engine of economic growth, create an investor-attractive environment and enhance agricultural production, she said.

Second, the government will increase investments on people by boosting support for education and training, especially skills urgently demanded by industries here and abroad in such sectors as construction and the business process outsourcing (BPO).

The concerns of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) must also be addressed to ensure that they enjoy the full protection of their welfare.

Third, the President cited the imperative need to address the problems posed by red tape and corruption.

She pointed out that she has ordered Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya to take immediate steps to address the twin evils of red tape and corruption in the bureaucracy.

Favila heads the Anti-Red Tape Task Force, while Andaya leads the Procurement Transparency Group.

She directed Favila and Andaya to ''coordinate with the private sector, business community, academe and the religious group to implement reforms in the bureaucracy.”

Citing the need for peace and stability to sustain economic prosperity, the President said that in the “midst of external threats, let us make the Philippines a strong and stable economy. Let us work together to attain this goal, for our family and community.”

Senate has identity crisis

The Senate at the crossroad
By Alito L. Malinao

The Senate has an identity crisis. Senators believe they are investigators instead of lawmakers.”

These are not my words. These are the words of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who obviously was exasperated over the way the Senate investigation of the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract is going.

The Senate blue ribbon committee, chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, would have ended its inquiry after President Arroyo canceled the contract with the ZTE Corp. of China and after Benjamin Abalos resigned as chairman of the Commission on Elections.

The Cayetano committee would already have achieved its purpose. It could have drafted measures that would correct the flaws in the government’s procurement system and could have recommended the filing of criminal charges against those involved in the aborted anomaly.

But it did not. Senators allied with Cayetano decided to prolong the investigation in their not not-so-veiled attempt to pin down first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo as the brains behind the anomalous transaction.

So now the NBN inquiry is back in the headlines. The newest superstar is Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, until recently the president of Philippine Forest Corp., a subsidiary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Lozada now joins the gallery of dubious personalities who became instant celebrities—Ador Mawanay, Udong Mahusay, Michaelangelo Zuce, Sandra Cam, Sgt. Vidal Doble and many others—who, in their testimonies in the Senate, have regaled the nation with fantastic tales that are the stuff of soap operas.

Last Friday, Lozada testified in the Cayetano committee. He said it was a big sacrifice for him and his family to divulge what he knew about the ZTE contract but he has to do this, according to him, to preserve what little self-respect he has left and as part of his “payback” to the country that had served him so well.

Although Lozada appeared sincere, he did not say anything new in his testimony. He merely corroborated the earlier testimony of Joey de Venecia that Abalos tried to jack up the contract price with the ZTE Corp. by $130 million.

The bomb that Lozada was supposed to drop about the first gentleman turned out to be a dud. He merely said that he overheard Abalos talking to someone but could not categorically say that the person on the other line was the FG.

Dead horse

The Senate is beating the proverbial dead horse after the cancellation of the NBN contract. If there was indeed a payoff in millions of dollar to corrupt administration bigwigs, the money came from the Chinese and not from the Arroyo government. So, it is a problem between the Chinese bribe-givers and the Filipino corrupt officials to settle.

And granting that Abalos indeed tried to jack up the ZTE contract by $130 million, simple logic would tell us that this was merely an attempt and not a done deal because the contract has been canceled. So, what overprice are they talking about?

But the senators won’t hear of it. They still wanted to summon former Director General Romulo Neri of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and even issued a warrant for his arrest. They wanted to extract the last drop of blood from the poor and harassed official.

After having testified in the Senate for 12 hours, Neri has said that there is nothing more he can say about the contract. It was in his marathon testimony that Neri mentioned Abalos’ alleged attempt to bribe him and the phrase “Sec., may 200 ka dito” became part of the Filipino’s lexicon of cynical remarks like the late Senate President Jose Avelino’s “What are we in power for.”

Senate: the bully

In September 2006, the Senate, giving way to the tantrums of Sen. Richard Gordon, arrested and detained Chairman Camilo Sabio of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) after he refused to testify about the alleged anomalies at the Philippine Communications Satellite Corp. (Philcomsat).

The old man, who had held various top government posts, had to suffer the worst humiliation in his life in the hands of some arrogant senators.

Now, we are seeing this all over again in the ongoing Senate investigation on the NBN deal.

Paul Kennedy, an American political analyst based at Yale University, said in one of his articles that “talking too much and acting too often, simply reduces the credibility of what you wish to achieve.”

Perhaps, it is time for our honorable senators to listen to this admonition.

The senators have two choices: to reinvent themselves and do what they are mandated to do, which is to legislate, or self-destruct by continuing their open-ended investigations on almost anything.