Saturday, 23 February 2008

Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project Update

By Wheel of Steel
(Sorry, you cannot find this in your regular news providers.)

I have a good feeling that based on the current pace of the works being done at the Linkage Project, the PNR can possibly complete the line from Tayuman to Bicutan Area by July and operate it by September. That's approximately 20kms. in length.

Status of the Stations:

  1. Tayuman - Under heavy rehabilitation
  2. Blumentritt - Construction of the Station by March
  3. Laong-Laan - Might be postponed due to the remaining elite squatters. Once cleared, they will replaced the Station with the new one.
  4. Espanya - Repair of the Station soon
  5. Sta. Mesa - Repair of the Station soon plus parking area.
  6. Pandacan Bridge - Currently under rehabilitation
  7. Pandacan - Construction of New Station underway
  8. Paco - Construction of New Station soon
  9. Vito Cruz - Repair of the Station soon
  10. Buendia - Repair of the station underway
  11. Pasay - Repair of the station underway
  12. Magallanes - Minor repair of the station soon
  13. Bicutan - Construction of the New Station soon..
  14. Caloocan to Blumentritt - Relocation underway...
  15. Bicutan to Calamba - Relocation is underway...

AFP: Do not ask us to intervene!


The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday issued a challenge to civil society groups to help make democracy work rather than asking the military to intervene in the current political crisis that the Arroyo administration is now facing.

AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said the military’s role is to protect the democratic institutions stating that "the more that the military intervenes, the more these democratic institutions become weak. We do not want that. That is not the spirit of EDSA I."

"So ito challenge namin sa (So this is our challenge to) civil society, make people power work, make people power strengthen the democratic institutions, do not ask us to intervene, but ask us to protect the democratic process and the democratic institution," Esperon said in an interview at Libingan ng Mga Bayani where a wreath-laying ceremony for the four-day celebration for the People Power 1 anniversary was held.

Esperon believed that the spirit of EDSA must live on citing that when democracy was gained in 1986 the people were supposed to make the democratic institutions stronger.

"Kaya nga mayroon tayo dapat isang malakas na Senado, malakas na House of Representatives, or isang malakas na Kongreso, isang malakas na bureaucracy. Senate hearings ok iyan, democratic process, Ombudsman hearings ok iyan, democratic process, DOJ investigations ok iyan democratic process," said Esperon.

(That’s why we should have a strong Senate, strong House of Representatives or a strong Congress, a strong bureaucracy. The Senate hearings are okay with me, democratic process, Ombudsman hearings that’s okay, democratic process, DOJ investigations that’s okay, democratic process.)

Esperon maintained that the military’s concern is to address armed threats and those that endanger the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the public.

"Because we believe that it should be civil society and the democratic processes themselves that should solve problems. Iyong (Those) democratic institutions kailangan i-safeguard natin iyon (we need to safeguard those) so do not ask us to intervene because we will not," he said.

Yano: No shortcut

Meanwhile, Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano believed that it is improper for some groups to encourage the military to intervene.

"There should be no shortcut, no extra-constitutional means. We can't interfere every time there is a political problem," said Yano.

Yano also supported Esperon’s statements on allowing the democratic process to work.

"Let's allow the democratic process to go on unhampered. It is the job of the military to see to it that this process goes on. It is a way of strengthening our democratic institutions. Let's let the institutions function, otherwise, we will not be strengthening our democratic institutions, we will be weakening it," he said.


Earlier this week, the AFP chief dismissed as "disinformation" the circulating text messages about a supposed withdrawal of support of the military from the president.

In one version, a message read that the commanding generals of the PAF and Army and Philippine Marines and even the Philippine National Police are purportedly set to declare their "withdrawal of support" by Monday.

He maintained that the military will remain apolitical and is focused on their work in protecting the country’s citizens, sovereignty, and territory.

The Army chief on Friday also belied rumors that he went on leave. He said is very much running the affairs of the Philippine Army and busy attending and presiding conferences as well as visiting units.

The military’s role in the current political crisis is being closely watched by political observers as protest actions grow and intensify. Its actions are further scrutinized as the military played key roles in previous successful people power uprisings as in EDSA I which ousted President Marcos and EDSA II which ousted President Estrada and installed Mrs. Arroyo to power.

President Arroyo visits victims of floods, landlides in E. Samar

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

PGMA breaks ground for construction of P220-M Roxas High School building in Paco


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led the groundbreaking rites today for the construction of the proposed P220-million school building of the Manuel A. Roxas High School in Paco, Manila.

The President lowered the time capsule containing the school building’s master plan, lucky coins and a copy of a newspaper.

She was assisted by Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim, Manila 6th District Rep. Benny Abante and 5th District Rep. Amado Bagatsing, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, and Manuel A. Roxas High School Principal Elena Batusan.

The proposed four-storey, 64-classroom school building is part of the 10,000 new classrooms targeted for construction under the President’s education program.

A joint undertaking of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Education (DepEd) and Local Government Unit (LGU) using parts of their funds, it will benefit the school’s 4,125 students

The first high school to be named after Philippine President Manuel A. Roxas, it was established in 1948. Today, it has 4,125 students and 185 teaching and non-teaching personnel.

The event was followed by the distribution of grocery packs containing rice, sardines and noodles to the residents of Barangays 821 and 826 residing within the vicinity of the school.

The President, after exchanging pleasantries with students and teachers of the school, had photo opportunities with them.

“Thank you very much for your warm reception. Salamat muli!,” she told them.

President opens $11-million modern seafarers’ training center in Pasay


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formally opened today the $11-million training center of Japan’s leading shipping firm in Pasay City as part of the company’s business expansion program in the Philippines and its commitment to educate and hire more Filipino seafarers.

The President motored to the Bay Central business district in Pasay from Tondo, Manila, where she earlier led the groundbreaking of Radial Road 10 or the Manila-Navotas-Malabon road project, to inaugurate the seven-storey K-Line Maritime Academy (KLMA), the state-of-the-art training academy of Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. or K-Line.

Upon her arrival at the Pasay City KLMA site, the President cut the ceremonial ribbon and unveiled the marker of the academy at the main entrance of the building.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Pasay City Mayor Wenceslao “Pewee” Trinidad, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura, and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. (K-Line) president Hiroyuki Maekawa assisted the President in the ribbon-cutting and unveiling rites of the newly constructed KLMA building.

After the ribbon-cutting and unveiling rites, the President toured the building, spending time on the training facilities at the third floor.

In his welcome remarks, K-Line CEO and president Hiroyuki Maekawa said the K-Line training academy boasts of $4 million worth of simulation equipment, and could accommodate up to 10,000 trainees a year.

Maekawa said the K-Line shipping group would need more than 2,000 Filipino officers and 6,000 crew members to man its 300 in-house vessels by 2015.

He added that the KLMA building along the corner of President Diosdado Macapagal Blvd. and Coral Drive at the Central Business Park 1, Bay City in Pasay, can train more than 10,000 Filipino seafarers annually.

Graduates of the center will serve onboard “K” Line’s expanding fleet and arrest the shortage of vessel officers which is expected to run until 2015.

Maekawa stated that KLMA is a major step being taken by the company to fulfill its commitment to come up with a global academy to create more talented and qualified Filipino seafarers to serve international demand for seafarers.

The academy is also the affirmation of “K” Line’s faith in the skill of Filipinos and confidence in the future of the shipping industry.

The first one-of-its-kind in the Philippines, KLMA can accommodate 110 trainees at any one time in its dormitories.

According to “K” Line senior managing executive officer Katsue Yoshida, KLMA is offering a continuing training exclusively to its people to enable them to work within K-Line global standards and build lasting careers.

The shipping company’s training program includes operational skills, understanding culture and mental training.

The 3,380-square-meter training facility has a full-mission Polaris ship- bridge simulator with six desktop version bridges, full-mission engine-room simulator, GMDSS simulator, main engine maneuvering control, electronic chart display and information system.

It uses actual training equipment on automatic identification system, boiler combustion control, marine electricity and electronics, air-conditioning and refrigeration, liquefied natural gas-carrier cargo handling, ship stability, marine auxiliary machineries, lathe machine operation, gas and electric welding, as well as culinary courses.

Established in 1993, the K-Line Maritime Training Corporation, KLMA’s forerunner, also has other academies in Mumbai, India and Sofia, Bulgaria, for its international work force.

However, the Manila facility is conceded to be the best in terms of trainings offered and equipment. The KLMA headquarters and policy center is in Tokyo, Japan.

KLMA is ISO 9001:2000-certified with its Quality Management System registered and accredited with the Nippon Kaiji Kyokai Quality Assurance and the Japanese Accreditation Board.

PGMA signals start of construction of 12-lane road linking Manila to CAMANAVA


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo witnessed today the start of the construction of a 12-lane road project that is part of the strategic Radial Road 10 linking Manila's busy port to the CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) area and the northern cities and towns of Luzon.

The road project, which will have six lanes per direction, is part of the 3,000 kilometers of national roads and bridges that the national government is constructing this year to raise the competitiveness of the country’s super regions.

The President arrived at 10:30 a.m. at Radial Road 10 corner Pacheco Street in Tondo, Manila where she was welcomed by residents and local officials led by Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim, Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., DPWH Undersecretary Ramon Aquino, Malabon-Navotas Lone District Rep. Alvin Sandoval, Malabon Councilor Len Oreta, Barangay 116 Chairman Edgar Solis, and Barangay 118 Chairman Rufo Ventura.

The President led the capsule laying rites and was briefed by Aquino on the P411-million concreting and widening of the 4.8-kilometer strategic port road from Zaragosa Street in Manila to Lapu-Lapu Avenue in Malabon City.

Aquino told the President that the project development includes gradual construction works from the Manila side from Zaragoza Street to Marala Bridge spanning some 3.6 kilometers, and the 1.2-kilometer Navotas side from Marala Bridge to Lapu-Lapu Avenue.

The President said the project is scheduled to be completed in June, making the Radial Road 10 a 12-lane road which would greatly improve the heavy traffic flow in Manila's port operations.

Earlier in the morning, Mayor Lim and Vice President Noli de Castro awarded 105 housing units in three buildings in Gagalangin, Tondo for teachers, police personnel, and those affected by the road project.

Lim said another three buildings would be jointly constructed by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the city of Manila for the benefit of the same beneficiaries.

DA chief insists Arroyo must stay to sustain economic growth

Marvyn N. Benaning
Manila Bulletin

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has come to the defense of President Arroyo, saying she must step down only in 2010 so that the "upward trajectory of the domestic economy" can be sustained.

"The continued high growth not only of the farm sector but of the domestic economy in general is contingent on the sustained implementation of President Arroyo’s reform and public-investment agenda," Yap said.

This is Yap’s first reaction on the mounting calls for Arroyo to resign following the flurry of scandals typified by the ZTE-National Broadband Network (ZTE-NBN) deal, the alleged theft of election returns at the House of Representatives, and the resurrection of the investigation into the "Hello, Garci" tapes.

Yap, a former student of Arroyo at the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU), firmly believes that there is no need for the President to step down as demanded by Catholic prelates and even Jesuit priests from AdMU.

She must remain in office until her constitutional term ends in 2010, he added.


"It is unfortunate that the current political noise is drowning out the dramatic turnaround of the economy, as underlined by, among others, the stronger-than-expected performance of agriculture and fisheries despite last year’s dry spell," said Yap on the sidelines of Thursday night’s "Leaders’ Briefing" by the Department of Agriculture (DA) at the Century Park Hotel in Manila.


Yap noted that the record investments in agricultural modernization will be replicated this year given the President’s recent directive for a surge in public spending on infrastructure and social services as a way to spur higher economic growth and insulate the Philippines from the looming recession in the United States.

He said Arroyo had instructed him to "focus on the work ahead by frontloading funds intended for projects meant to raise production and expand consumers’ access to quality and affordable foodstuff."

The country has been largely dependent on food imports and globalization has not helped any in supporting the demand of farmers for higher farmgate prices of their produce and an end to recurrent rice importations by the National Food Authority (NFA).

"Sa DA tuloy ang trabaho (Our work at the DA continues). The weather, along with the shifting global trend in food supply and prices, will not wait for us if we put our programs on hold," he said.

Agriculture and fisheries grew last year by 4.68 percent despite the dry spell.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Arroyo suspends CyberEd, Southrail projects

Sun.Star Manila

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday ordered the official development assistance (ODA) funding for the Cyber-Education, Southrail Phase 1, and nine other projects to be put "on hold," saying government now prefers them to be funded locally.

The 11 projects amount to around P104.07 billion.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the order, which came after a review of ODA loans and infrastructure projects during the Cabinet meeting, was not an offshoot of the ZTE controversy but "a matter of managing our resources" in line with government's "social payback" program.

Bunye, who is also the Presidential spokesman, said government has enough funds due to strong peso and the fiscal reforms.

"Unless the project has been consummated, meaning if a project has already been approved, the general rule is we will fund these projects with locally generated funds," he said.

He identified the 11 projects as the following:

* New Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management Systems Development Project (P2.647 billion);

* Regionalization of Mental Health Services (P1.32 billion);

* Redevelopment of the Tacloban Airport Development Project-Phase II (P1.122 billion);

* Construction of Elementary and Secondary Classrooms in Acute Shortage (P45.67 million);

* Cyber Education Project (P26.48 billion);

* LRT Line 1 South Extension (Pasay-Bacoor) Phase 1 and 2 (US$683 million);

* Mainline South Railway Project Phase 1A Laguna-Quezon (P15.306 billion);

* LRT Line 2 Phase 2 from Santolan LRT 2 to Masinag in Antipolo (P10.335 billion);

* Bataan-Manila Pipeline Project (US$180 million);

* LRT Line 1 North Extension Project (P5.98 billion); and

* Angat Water Utilization and Aqueduct improvement Project Phase 2 Metro Manila (P5.751 billion).

Bunye said President Arroyo also ordered Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to talk to the representatives of multilateral agencies to come up with a "common reference point" or "standardized loan conditionalities" so that there would be only one set of conditions for borrowings.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the President met with the Procurement Transparency Group (PTG) and reviewed 25 projects to ensure that "the process is followed and there will be no complaints whatsoever."

Ermita said Arroyo also wanted to be sure that the private sector representation in the PTG is fulfilling its mandate. He said the President wanted some interested priests to be included in the private sector representatives during the bidding process.

Andaya also said "trained" civil society organizations such as the Makati Business Club, Ateneo School of Government, Transparency and Accountability Network, and Procurement Watch have identified 24 "big-ticket" items that they would monitor.

He said the so-called big-ticket items included the Southrail, Cyber Education, and some roads and irrigation projects.

President visits flood-damaged Eastern Samar Saturday


TACLOBAN CITY -- In spite of the latest political noise hounding her administration, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remains focused on her task of growing the economy and uplifting the lives of more people, both in the metropolis and the provinces.

In fact, she is scheduled to fly on Saturday morning to flood-ravaged Eastern Samar to bring relief goods and to order the immediate implementation of appropriate government intervention in the rehabilitation of the province.

The President is scheduled to arrive in Tacloban City at 10 a.m. and will take a chopper to have an aerial view of the extent of damage wrought by incessant rains since Feb. 13 that caused massive flooding in 20 of the 23 municipalities of the province.

The Presidential chopper will land in Dolores town, where she will be given a briefing by disaster coordinating council officials on the wide swathe of damage in Eastern Samar.

The President is expected to give P20,000 to the family of each person confirmed dead as a result of the floods and landslides. In addition, the Chief Executive is bringing some 25,000 meals to be served to the displaced families.

Earlier, upon learning of the floods in Eastern Samar, the President immediately ordered Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral to visit the damaged areas and make an assessment as well as bring relief goods.

More grocery packs, aside from those earlier delivered by Teodoro and Cabral, will be distributed to the flood victims during the President’s visit.

The President is also expected to order concerned agencies to immediately implement rehabilitation work so as to normalize the lives of the people in Eastern Samar the soonest possible time.

Initial assessment reports show that 350 of 597 barangays of the province have been severely affected by massive flooding, while 32,642 families or 163,604 individuals were displaced.

The towns of Maslog and Jipapad remain isolated and underwater.

Damage to agriculture was initially placed at P64 million.

PGMA orders TESDA to include Tahanang Walang Hagdanan in P4-billion scholarship grants


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered today the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to include the Tahanang Walang Hagdanan (TWH) among institutions enjoying scholarship grants so that the TWH’s physically-disabled students could avail themselves of the Arroyo administration’s P4-billion fund for vocational trainings.

Gracing the TWH’s 35th anniversary celebration at a hotel along Roxas Blvd. in Manila, President Arroyo also called on businesses engaged in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to hire more persons with disabilities (PWDs).

The President congratulated the TWH’s “Great Pillars” -- Sr. Valeriana Baertz (founder) and Engr. Felix Gonzales (TWH president for 19 years) -- for the institution’s “35 years of fruitful service” as a “a home that gives shelter, comfort and care.”

“That’s a long time… despite the rough times… within its walls,” enthused the President who pointed out that the TWH is celebrating its significant milestone in the middle of the Philippine Decade for Persons with Disabilities – 2003-2012.

President Arroyo also lauded the TWH’s outstanding graduates, most of whom are women. She related that she had PWDs among her staff when she was still Vice President, and that she later brought them along with her to Malacanang when she became President.

The President – who cited Republic Act No. 9442 which calls on Philippine society to regard PWDs with due respect – also relayed her happiness at seeing more PWDs enjoying more discounts in drugstores and public transports, with ramps built for them along sidewalks, and seats reserved for them together with the elderly.

The President also advised the TWH to explore with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the TESDA more scholarship and vocational training grants that it could avail of via the two government agencies.

Of the P4-billion vocational training fund, some P350 million has been allotted for skills training for call centers and business processing and outsourcing (BPO) enterprises and locators.

The President concluded her speech by committing that “government shall continue to invest in the Filipino, with close to P200 billion so far invested in human capital development so that every Filipino could “live a purposeful life.”

TWH president Manuel Agcaoili, himself a PWD, thanked the President for gracing the “very significant occasion” where the TWH regaled the President with a power-point presentation about TWH’s achievements in its mandate to shelter disabled persons and make them productive members of society.

The President, together with Lovely Romulo, chair of the National Commission for the Welfare of Disabled Persons (NCWDP), witnessed the awarding of the TWH’s Great Pillars and the following successful graduates: Hilaria Pasno, Amado Dulnuan, Irene Angiwan, Carmen Zubiaga and Nelia Ponce.

Comelec automates autonomous region polls

By Bong Garcia
Sun.Star Zamboanga

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is implementing a fully automated election this year in one of the six provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

Lawyer Vidzfar Juli, the provincial election supervisor of Sulu, said on Thursday that the election in Maguindanao would be automated--from the voting to the counting of votes.

Aside from Maguindanao, Armm is made up of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, the newly created Sharrif Kabunsuan province, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and Marawi City.

The 1,504,024 registered voters--based in figures as of April 20, 2007--will troop to the polling precincts to elect a regional governor, vice governor, and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) on August 11, 2008.

Those who will be elected will serve in office for three years.

Juli said the counting of votes in the rest of the Armm provinces, except for Sharrif Kabunsuan, would also be automated.

"We are preparing for the conduct of this year's election," Juli said.

The Comelec central office has scheduled on March 10, 2008 the bidding for the purchase of machines needed to automate the Armm election.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has issued last week the Special Allocation Release Order (SARO) in the amount of P867,329 million to modernize the August 11, 2008 Armm polls.

The automation of election in Armm is in line with the order of the Commission en banc dated February 6, 2008 to implement automated elections in the region.

The Comelec said two different kinds of technology would be used. These are: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) and the Optical Mark Reader (OMR).

The DRE technology will allow voters in Maguindanao to vote through a touch-screen or touch-pad while the OMR requires voters in other parts of the region to fill up paper ballots that are then counted with specially designated machines.

The use of two different technologies would serve as preparation for designing an automated election system nationwide to be used in the 2010 presidential elections, according to the Comelec.

Juli said they have started reviewing the list of registered voters to remove the names of multiple and double registrants.

The deadline for the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) will be 30 days before the August 11, 2008 elections.

The campaign period will last for 15 days like in the previous Armm elections, according to Juli.

Zero tariff set on 80% of farm, industrial goods

By Jennifer A. Ng
Business Mirror

THE Philippines has reduced the tariffs on 80 percent of farm and industrial goods traded under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) Scheme of the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta).

President Arroyo recently issued Executive Order (EO) 703 reducing the tariffs on 80 percent of farm and industrial goods traded among countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Malacañang noted that Asean economic ministers agreed during their meeting in September 2002 that the CEPT rates on at least 80 percent of the products on the individual inclusion lists of the six original Asean members, including the Philippines, would be reduced to zero by 2007.

The reduction of tariffs to zero was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority board during its meeting on December 18, 2007.

Tariffs for the rest of farm and industrial goods that are in the “sensitive” and “highly sensitive” are expected to be reduced in 2010.

Products on the sensitive list are allowed a longer time frame for implementing reduced tariffs ranging from zero percent to 5 percent.

Sugar and rice are among the commodities considered by the Philippines as highly sensitive products.

Sugar producers have earlier called on the government to negotiate for the retention of existing tariffs on sugar products, ranging from 28 percent to 38 percent, beyond 2010.

Under Afta, “obstacles” to freer trade among member-states, such as high tariffs or taxes on traded goods and the scrapping of quantitative restrictions and other nontariff barriers that limit the entry of imports, will be removed.

The ultimate objective of Afya is to increase Asean’s competitive edge as a production base geared for the world market.

Pro-PGMA meetings start today

Manila Bulletin

Local officials start today a nationwide, multisectoral demonstration of support for President Arroyo.

They will hold consultative dialogue and rallies in their areas.

Misamis Occidental Gov. Leo Ocampos, president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP), said that the simultaneous events nationwide are just the start of a series of pro-administration activities to highlight the achievements of the Arroyo government.

He said local officials and their constituents are coming out to support President Arroyo because they believe that she has "done a lot of good things for the benefit of our people and the promotion of local autonomy."

Fourteen governors will conduct consultative dialogues in their provincial capitols with participants coming from the local government units (LGUs), business, academe, and the religious sector, among others.

These provinces are Ilocos Norte, Bataan, Laguna, Mountain Province, Davao del Norte, Romblon, Nueva Ecija, Kalinga, Southern Leyte, Antique, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Officials of Iloilo City and Ormoc City will also conduct consultative dialogues today. Some provinces, cities, and municipalities will hold theirs next week.

Mayor Ramon N. Guico Jr. of Binalonan, Pangasinan, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), said that LMP provincial chapter presidents have agreed to replicate the demonstration of support in their towns.

In a meeting yesterday in Manila, LMP provincial presidents agreed to mobilize their own people to show their continued support for President Arroyo and thank her for a slew of anti-poverty programs that benefited their people.

Guico cited the steady increase in the share of the LGUs from Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and the implementation of nationally funded infrastructure projects and the various community-based peace initiatives that brought about stability in the countryside.

He said that municipal mayors would oppose any moves to destabilize the government to force President Arroyo to step down through extra-legal means, saying the big headway gained by the government in the economy has already filtered down to their people.

P5 B up for retiring gov’t employees

Manila Bulletin

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the government has P5 billion as budget for retiring state employees this year.

"We have approved of that (P5 billion) it’s in the budget (form 2008)," Andaya said.

This year’s budget for retiring government workers is higher than 2007’s P1 billion. The DBM had originally proposed P10 billion for 2007 but the Senate approved only P1 billion.

The government has committed to fully rationalize its bureaucracy this year by reducing the number of state employees through an early retirement scheme. Currently there are 1.2 million personnel in various departments and agencies under the executive branch.

DBM sources said earlier that the government’s employee downsizing program is a budget drain but pushing for an early retirement now is still cheaper than retaining unnecessary positions, which would only continue to siphon-off much needed cash from the state.

In the last three years, 110 government agencies and commissions have been abolished. There are 20 more agencies, which will soon face the axe.

With the downsizing, government provision for personal services will also decreased.

The expected completion of government streamlining will just be in time for the implementation of the P10.3-billion Salary Standardization Law or SSL3.

Government employees, especially those belonging to the higher-ranging salary groups, will have pay adjustments this year when the budget for the new salary is disbursed.

The last time the SSL was amended (or as SSL2) was in 1996. The last SSL2 adjusted the pay of the lower-salaried government workers but left the uppertiers. SSL3 will re-adjust the salary scales because right now, salaries received by messengers and secretaries/clerks are almost the same level.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Business Sentiment Remains Favorable in Q1 2008

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

Business sentiment remains positive

Respondent firms with a positive outlook continued to outnumber those with a negative outlook as the overall confidence index (CI) or diffusion index remained positive at 29.9 percent. This index, however, was lower compared to the levels in the previous quarter and a year ago by 18.1 index points and 15.0 index points, respectively. The lower index, indicating expectations of a slowdown in business activity, was attributed to the weakening in the outlook particularly of exporter firms. It is instructive to note that respondents engaged in export and/or export-related business comprised about 26 percent of total respondents. Expectations of weaker demand after the holiday season also contributed to the weaker business optimism.

Firms cited the following factors for their cautious outlook: 1) production slack in the first quarter due to seasonality; 2) concerns over a possible recession in the US economy; 3) reduced competitiveness of exports due to the peso appreciation; 4) unabated increase in crude oil prices; and 5) local political noise.

Respondents believed that business activity would be upbeat in Q2 2008 as the survey registered a higher confidence index of 41.0 percent, as consumer expenditures usually pick-up during the summer season and the opening of the school year.

More respondents from the NCR (National Capital Region) were optimistic on the economy than their counterparts from the AONCR (Areas Outside the NCR). The overall CI of NCR was higher than AONCR for Q1 2008 and Q2 2008 by 12.6 index points and 4.6 index points, respectively.

By type of respondent firms (i.e., importer, exporter or engaged in dual roles), results indicated that importing firms were the most optimistic on the economy. Expectations of lower import costs in peso terms due to the stronger peso may have buoyed the importers’ outlook. On the other hand, respondent firms engaged in the sale of commodities overseas— either solely as an exporter or both as importer and exporter— observed that they have been adversely affected by the appreciation of the peso.

By employment size, survey results showed that large-sized firms (with 500 and more employees) were the most upbeat about the economy, with the index at 30.9 percent in Q1 2008 and 46.0 percent in the next quarter.

The economic outlook of all sectors is positive

All sectors continued to post positive indices, indicating that the number of firms that are confident about business conditions in the first quarter outnumber those that have a negative view. The construction and services sectors posted the highest indices at 42.4 percent and 42.1 percent, respectively. The positive outlook in construction reflected in part the continuing property boom in the market. In the case of the services sector, finance, hotel, real estate, and community and social services sub-sectors posted the highest confidence levels. However, despite the relatively high CI (compared to other sectors), the services sector recorded the highest year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter decline.

The business outlook of the wholesale and retail trade sector as well as the industry sector remained positive at 28.3 percent and 17.7 percent but the downswing in sentiment may be due in large part to the seasonal decline in consumer spending in the first quarter of the year.

By Q2 2008, the sectoral outlook improved with all indices on the uptrend.

Respondents anticipate improvement in operations

Respondents who anticipated an improvement in their first quarter operations outnumbered those who indicated otherwise as the indices remained positive.

Average capacity utilization index during the quarter at 83.1 percent improved by 6.8 index points compared to last quarter’s level while remaining steady relative to its year-ago level.

Access to credit remains favorable but financial condition index declines

The access to credit index remained positive at 6.6 percent indicating an improvement in the availability of lending facilities as perceived by respondents. This is the seventh consecutive quarter of positive index for the measure on credit access. This trend was consistent with data on outstanding loans granted by banks, which has been on the uptrend since July 2006.

The financial condition index, which is an indicator of the internal liquidity situation of firms, has continued to be negative at 11.6 percent from -7.8 percent in Q4 2007 and -8.8 percent in Q1 2007. The index indicated that there are more respondents with unfavorable cash/liquidity positions from last quarter and a year-ago.

Employment and expansion plans are up

The employment index was recorded at 21.7 percent, suggesting that firms expected to increase hiring in Q2 2008.The employment outlook was particularly strong for the construction and services sectors (such as, the hotels and restaurants, transportation, and renting and business activities, transportation and financial intermediation sub-sectors), reflecting the positive outlook of these sectors in the next quarter (booming property market for the construction sector and upcoming summer vacation for the services sector). Meanwhile, the number of industrial firms with expansion plans posted 37.8 percent indicating that more industrial firms would expand operations in the next quarter.

Business constraints

Although business outlook was seen to be generally improving, respondents cited competition, particularly emanating from local firms, and insufficient demand leading to low volume of sales as major risks to their business operations.

Expectations on selected economic indicators

Respondents anticipated that the peso would remain strong in Q1 2008 and Q2 2008. They expected inflation to accelerate in Q1 2008 and onto Q2 2008. Meanwhile, interest rates are expected to decline during the first semester of 2008.

Response rate

The Q1 2008 BES was conducted from 7 January to 6 February 2008. A total of 1,258 firms nationwide were surveyed. Respondents were drawn from the Securities and Exchange Commission 2006 Top 7,000 Corporations as follows: 514 companies in NCR and 744 firms in AONCR, covering all 17 regions nationwide. The overall survey response rate for this quarter was 68.4 percent compared to 73.7 percent last quarter. For NCR, the response rate was 70.4 percent (80.3 percent last quarter); and for AONCR, the response rate was 66.9 percent (from 68.2 percent). A breakdown of responses received by type of business showed that 14.5 percent are importers, 16.2 percent are those with dual roles (both importer and exporter), and 9.8 percent are exporters.

Read Full Report (PDF file).

GMANews vs ABS-CBN: Southrail is not overpriced–-PNR

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Govt seeks extension of deadline to buy out MRT-3

By Eileen A. Mencias
Full report at The Manila Standard

the government will seek an extension of its Feb. 27 deadline to refinance the $865-million Metro Railway Transit loan.

“We are inclined to seek an extension,” Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said when asked for an update on the credit.

Teves said the government was seeking a new loan to buy out the existing mortgage of the MRT-3 in order to save money since the credit was availed when interest rates were high. With interest rates having gone down, getting a new loan to pay off the mortgage should help government save money.

Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Metrobank Group and Banco de Oro have expressed interest in lending the government a new loan.

Banking sources said foreign groups had also expressed interest in joining the deal.

An extension is being sought as government is still ironing out issues on the buyout, refinancing and re-negotiation of terms. The transportation and communication department is also threshing out issues related to the build-lease-transfer agreement.

Read more ...

RP derivatives market up

By Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard

The Philippine Dealing System Holdings Group and the Philippine Stock Exchange have signed an agreement to jointly establish an organized derivatives market for fixed income, equity securities and foreign exchange.

PDS president and chief executive Vicente Castillo Jr. said the planned derivative exchange would be organized with the two existing exchanges.

“We believe that the PSE and ourselves are obligated to provide hedge instruments for our domestic and foreign instrument so that they don’t have to come in and out of the market,” Castillo said.

The PDS and the PSE will agree on the structure and the technology to be used within 90 days. The two will also work with regulators on the framework.

“We’re both committed to come up with something definitive in 90 days,” Castillo said. “After that, they can discuss the execution within 90 to 180 days.”

Castillo said the derivatives market would provide foreign investors opportunities.

“This elevates the country compared with other emerging markets because in entering the Philippines, you don’t have to exit via the spot side but you can also exit through the hedge side... we’re giving them more opportunities to come in and out of the market.”

The PDS Group has received criticisms, with some bankers branding it as a monopoly that endangers the financial system.

The Chamber of Thrift Banks has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to defer the implementation of a rule requiring its members to trade under the Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp. and sought an alternative platform for them to trade. PDEx is a subsidiary of the PDS group.

The chamber estimated that PDEx was earning some P300,000 a day from fees imposed on P13 billion worth of transactions that pass through its platform.

The Securities and Exchange Commission granted PDEx a self-regulatory organization status earlier this month to facilitate over-the-counter transactions.

Under the rules, brokers and dealers that continue to trade in the over-the-counter market and who are not members of a registered SRO will be considered in violation of rules relating to over-the-counter transactions.

“We’re looking at other platforms where CTB members can apply as an SRO,” CTB executive director Suzanne Felix said.

Philippine Savings Bank president Pascual Garcia III said the cost of trading government securities for thrift banks through PDEx was discouraging for small banks and costly for small investors.

Garcia said government securities trading was not the main livelihood of thrift banks. If the transactions costs become prohibitive, some may opt not to trade government securities.

Banks and other institutions need to get a terminal from PDEx per branch that costs $500 monthly when trading in government securities. Aside from the cost of the PDEx terminals, the CTB said the shift to an ad valorem charging would increase their transaction costs by 300 percent.

Public Works says it can build own infrastructure

By Joel E. Zurbano and Fel V. Maragay
The Manila Standard

PUBLIC works can build critical infrastructure projects on its own using local financing instead of foreign loans, an official said yesterday.

Public Works Undersecretary Rafael Yabut said his department had already advised Malacañang on the merits of using local funds instead of foreign loans to finance those projects, taking the strong peso into consideration.

He made the statement after President Arroyo on Tuesday said she had shelved 11 infrastructure projects worth P103.48 billion to be financed by official development assistance, saying she preferred local financing to build them.

The projects put on hold include the P5.98-billion north extension of the Light Rail Transit Line-1 that will close the loop with the Metro Rail Transit; the P27.32-billion LRT Line-1 extension to Bacoor, Cavite; and the P10.33-billion LRT Line-2 that will extend the railway to Masinag, Antipolo, from Santolan in Pasig.

“We have our own budget and we can support a majority of these infrastructure projects. We do not want to generalize, but for selected projects [like school buildings, flood control and farm-to-market roads], we can manage on our own,” Yabut said.

He made the statement even as two Senators called to convene a congressional panel to review and monitor the implementation of foreign-assisted projects to make sure they are free of anomalies.

Senator Francis Escudero said Malacañang should submit to the oversight committee all ODA-supported projects, saying the committee was tasked to review all ODA agreements under the law.

Senate President Manuel Villar supported him.

Yabut said Mrs. Arroyo’s instruction to Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. was to speed up the completion of critical infrastructure projects like roads and school buildings so the people could use them.

He agreed with Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye that the government had only to manage its resources well to complete those projects.

Manila Water one of the best run Asian companies

Thomson Financial
First Posted 18:28:00 02/21/2008

"Manila Water is arguably one of the best-run water companies in Asia, with strong earnings growth visibility .... Our earnings estimates are above consensus -- by 5.0 percent for 2008 and by 17 percent for 2008 -- on higher billed volume and tariff expectations," a Morgan Stanley Research report said.

Manila Water, controlled by Philippine conglomerate Ayala Corp. and partly owned by Japan's Mitsubishi Corp., won in 1997 a 25-year water supply concession from the government.

Vested interests delay passage of cheap medicine bill

The Business Mirror

After four hours of deliberations late Tuesday, the conference committee tasked with consolidating two bills for the cheap and quality medicines bill was still in a deadlock.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II, who co-chairs the bicameral body, tried to put a positive spin to the impasse. “Almost 90 percent are agreed on or are similar or are very close to agreement.”

The senators and congressmen may indeed be more than halfway through consolidating Senate Bill 1658, the Affordable and Quality Medicine Bill, and House Bill 2844, the Cheaper Medicine Bill. However, the congressmen’s insistence on their “generics-only” provision could yet cause the measure to be shelved indefinitely.

As far as the congressmen are concerned, their bill is superior to the Senate version. They are adamant in their position that obliging doctors—and dentists, for that matter—to prescribe only generic drugs would best safeguard the health of Filipinos who are too poor to buy branded medicines.

Of course, much has already been said about the fact that the main author of the House bill is linked to companies that manufacture generics. Then there is the populist posturing of a party-list lawmaker who seems convinced that all multinational drug companies are greedy and heartless.

The problem is, while the lawmakers claim to have only the welfare of impoverished patients at heart, it is not they who will ultimately be held responsible if a prescribed medication fails to deliver on its promise of efficacy. Politicians are not bound by the Hippocratic Oath—unless they are physicians, too, which most of them are not.

Remarkably, the congressmen continue to turn a deaf ear to the loud protestations to the generics-only provision from the medical community. Do these would-be liberators of poor patients really believe that those medical professionals are all puppets of multinational drug companies?

The University of the Philippines is one of the places where complaints against the abuses of drug MNCs were first exposed and opposed. Yet, members of the Chancellor’s Advisory Council (CAC) of UP Manila—where the Philippine General Hospital is situated—have aired their misgivings about the generics-only provision.

In a position paper, the members of the CAC of UP Manila have pointed out that not all medicine formulations with the same generic name are the same.

The CAC members pointed out: “The medical and/or dental practitioner has to look at the following attributes: mg content of active drug; dissolution; physical attributes due to binders, excipients and additives, including color and taste; absorption if oral and/or binding to blood proteins if intravenous; and, the bottom line, bioequivalence of the drug in the blood and/or tissue where it is supposed to act.”

According to the CAC members, doctors and dentists must choose the most appropriate medicines for their patients based on a combination of the following: information of the pharmacologic properties of medicines, based on drug literature from regulatory bodies—such as the US Federal Drug Agency and the Philippine Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD)—as well as from drug literature; published clinical trials, mostly evidence-based from randomized controlled trials; actual clinical experience in terms of responses of patients to previous prescriptions, as well as palatability or acceptability, such as if the size of a tablet makes it easier to swallow; in pediatric patients’ taste; and continuing medical education.

Doctors and dentists have the moral and ethical responsibility to their patients to prescribe the best medicine preparation that they know would treat a patient’s disease, which may or may not be the cheapest medicine, regardless of whether it is branded or generic, they said.

The CAC members said they believe in making drugs more accessible to the poor through cheaper medicines, but it “is a crime to let [them] buy cheap medicines which may be of poor quality and, therefore, ineffective.” They added: “While there are existing ethical guidelines from pharmaceutical companies and professional organizations, there is a need for reforms in the professional conduct of all stakeholders for the rational use of medicines.”

The CAC members acknowledged that many generics-drug formulations are of acceptable quality. “There are, however, formulations—both generic and branded—that are substandard, may contain impurities, or worse, fake,” they added. “The only assurance that the doctors and dentists will have in prescribing generics is that they are assured that the medicines, both branded and generics formulations, undergo thorough physical and bioequivalence and/or assay testing based on established pharmaceutical standards, not only during the registration process but also with continuous monitoring of random samples of batches of medicines in sentinel areas all over the country.”

What the two bills fail to address is the need for stricter regulation for quality control of medicines, whether branded or generic.

“The BFAD, therefore, has to be strengthened, and an increase in budget and personnel of BFAD should be part of the cheaper-medicine bill rather than a separate bill which is now also being proposed in Congress,” the CAC members said.

If the BFAD is not immediately able to conduct drug-quality monitoring, the CAC members propose that academic institutions with pharmacology and/or pharmacy units be deputized to assist the agency in baseline testing and monitoring quality of medicines sold in pharmacies.

The position paper of the CAC members contains several other proposals, which could help guide the conference committee in its deliberations, and thus assure the passage of a measure that responds to the need for cheaper medicines—without risking quality.

Now, if only some lawmakers could get off their ideological high horse and heed the sage advice of medical professionals. . . .

Bicol to spend P4.2B in infra projects to boost local economy

By Danny O. Calleja
The Business Mirror

LEGAZPI CITY—Bicol will invest some P4.2 billion in several infrastructure projects next year to boost the region’s economy by 2010, the Regional Development Council (RDC) announced Tuesday.

Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda, RDC chairman, said the council has endorsed to the National Economic and Development Authority in Manila the P 4.2-billion infrastructure development program consisting of construction, repair and rehabilitation of various roads, bridges and flood-control structures across the region.

It would be part of the program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in accordance with the 2009 Annual Investment Plan.

Salceda said the DPWH-proposed projects are supportive of the thrust and priorities of the Medium-Term Development Program (2004-2010) and the Regional Development Investment Program.

At a recent RDC meeting held in Daet, Camarines Norte, Orlando Roces, DPWH regional director, presented the P4.2-billion infrastructure projects consisting of local funding of P3.2 billion and P972 million in foreign assistance.

For several highway projects worth P2.6 billion, the breakdown includes locally funded projects amounting to P1.9 billion and foreign-assisted projects worth P770 million.

For construction and maintenance of bridges, P252 million is earmarked and of this, P202 million would come from foreign assistance. The rest of P50 million would be locally sourced.

For flood control projects, some P600 million will be spent. The Bicol River Basin and Watershed Management Project will get P300 million, Yawa River system in this city with P100 million, and other flood-control projects worth P200 million.

Some P560-million infra projects will be spent under the Congressional Project Development Assistance Fund from the 14 Bicol congressmen.

An amount of P80 million, on the other hand, would be spent for the construction, repair, improvement of national government buildings and P15 million for preliminary and detailed engineering activities.

Mindanao bank’s growth reflects pattern of agricultural expansion in region

By Manuel T. Cayon
The Business Mirror

DAVAO CITY—The growth of the One Network Bank (ONB), the largest rural bank network in Mindanao, could become the mirror of the growth path of rural Mindanao, now brimming with trade and export activities for its agriculture sector.

Alex Buenaventura, president of ONB, which prides itself in being a bank from and for Mindanao, said the growth of the bank to what is now 70 branches in mostly rural Mindanao would show where the growth centers of agriculture were.

“We go where developments in agricultural production are being reported, where the big food and agricultural companies are also expanding,” he told a regular business forum here at the MediSpa Clinic at the SM City Mall.

Most of ONB branches and automated teller machine sites are spread across most of the Davao and Cotabato regions, where the ONB started out as a consolidation of three Mindanao rural banks in 2004.

Other branches are located in the rest of Mindanao, though, with expansion to five more branches in the Northern and Western Mindanao coastal cities and provincial capitals this year.

The ONB has a preaudit net worth of P1.1 billion as of the end 2007, which Buenaventura said was bigger than some development and thrift banks.

It consolidated from the Rural Bank of Panabo, Network Rural Bank and Provident Rural Bank of Cotabato with an initial income in 2004 of P104 million to P119 million the following year, jumping to P202 million in 2006 and P205 million last year.

“We are looking at earning P335 million this year, indeed a large increase from P205 million last year,” he said, citing the huge expectation from agriculture loans from growers of banana, rice and cassava.

Its income growth made the ONB the widest rural banking network in the country and the second largest rural bank in the country in terms of resources at P6.492 billion.

He said the growth of Mindanao also reflects the kind and speed of growth, and its big target for the year would be largely dictated by the expectation of loans from farmers, with its exposure of P4.488 billion as of last year, and growing to P5.1 billion by the end of this year.

ONB has the largest exposure to banana, with P531 million in total loan volume, with an average loan account of P527,267. It has provided loans to 1,007 farmers occupying or owning a total of 1,180.72 hectares.

“You will notice the small landholdings of our accounts,” he said. “This is because we really serve the farmers and the rural folks in Mindanao. We want to help Mindanao.”

He said that Mindanao agriculture, especially in banana, was beginning to see the shift of ownership and tillage, and how they impact into the economy of the island. “Some 20 years ago, they are the lessors of the land, and until about five years ago, many have become growers, increasing incomes and liquidity,” he said.

“When once they earned P12,000 to P15,000 yearly as tillers of banana, now they are earning the same amount but on a monthly basis after they became growers,” he said.

The ONB lends P459,000 to small banana growers for each hectare, of up to three hectares per farmer. “We lend up to P1.35 million to a farmer, and providing them with farm technician to ensure productivity and good farm practice.”

He said a similar program was being done to rice farmers and cassava, and new loan programs for growers of pineapple and oil palm.

Attrition comes in the form of a takeover program once a farmer performs below a standard-productivity level, but Buenaventura said the fallout rate was so low as to confirm “the dedication and desire of small farmers to really earn.”

In rice, the bank only had eight instances of takeover of small farms, from 338 farmer-borrowers, and only two farmers from the 1,007 banana farmers. “In the case of rice farmers, we also terminated the services of the farm technician because their work is all about helping farmers to be productive,” said Buenaventura.

“Our work is all about productivity of the farmer and our collection is but a natural consequence of that production,” he said.

“Overall, the farmers really show their industriousness and patience,” he said. “And we can see more of this transformation of farmers in the next several years, from lessors to growers.”

“We also look at where the big agricultural companies expand, because we know that more people would be employed, more would be productive, and there would be liquidity,” he said.

“In all of these developments in Mindanao, we are there to provide them with modern banking where once it was strange to them to even see an ATM service,” he said.

Political noise won’t affect foreign investors’ interest in RP – BPO exec

By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio
The Philippine Star

Foreign businessmen who visited the country recently said the political noise which has plagued the country had minimal effect on the appetite for investments.

Chris Sullivan, managing director of Deutsche Knowledge Services described the political noise as “high frequency but low impact.”

Sullivan, together with other business process outsourcing (BPO) executives, visited the country last week for the 8th eServices Global Sourcing Conference.

According to Sullivan, the coup attempt in November staged by Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim had no effect on the operations of their local office.

Sullivan said the government was able to manage the risks well.

Despite the political turmoil, Sullivan said their business has been thriving. Deutsche Knowledge Services has in fact increased its profitability by 20 percent in the past three years.

For his part, Alexis Sukharev, president of Auriga announced he was impressed with the way the Philippine government has supported the local industry.

His statement was supported by Marc Granic, president of Mera Networks.

“You are lucky to have the support of your President that is real and sincere,” Granic said referring to the P350 million government support for talent development in the outsourcing industry.

The two-day eServices conference brought together suppliers and buyers in the industry which highlighted the country’s openness to looking at the outsourcing industry from a global perspective.

Feb 14 Interview with PGMA

Excerpts from the interview by Tony Lopez
The Manila Times

Economic situation

Of course, you are much better at analyzing the economy than I am. The economy has reached a level of maturity and stability with some of the strongest macro economic fundamentals in three decades. Moody’s upgraded our credit rating to positive, and for a very good reason. Our 7.3 percent growth is the highest in 31 years. Our peso is the highest (against the dollar) in many years. Our stock market is one of the best performing in Asia. Investments are pouring in. We created seven million jobs in seven years.

The rate of poverty is down, both the objective measure and the self-rated poverty (to 46 percent from 66 percent in July 2001). Of course, we are conscious about the global economic situation. And because the more interconnected we become, the more we have to manage the ups and downs of other nations’ bubbles, and the volatility in the US economy. The good news about the Philippines is that because of macro economic fundamentals, we have reached a level of maturity and diversification to make us resilient to the external shocks.

For instance, we have developed our markets. Trade with China is $31 billion, growing by leaps and bounds and the balance of trade is in our favor. The US is now 18 percent of our markets vs. 28 percent several years ago. We have diversified our economy and our markets very much. For instance, in Dubai almost all the bananas come from the Philippines.

Income inequality

Like all nations, whether rich or poor, we still have the challenge to close the gap in income inequality. But only a strong economy can do that. To that extent, we have turned the economy around. If you want to reduce income inequality, the most important thing to do is create jobs and by increasing our expenditures in social services in quantities we haven’t done in many, many years.

On possible downside

On the economy front, we do have to be alert about the global economic situation. As regards the US, recession is a very technical term. It’s two quarters of negative economic growth which has not happened. We believe that any US recession will be short and sharp. We believe, as far as the Philippines is concerned, it will be manageable because of our diversification, our maturity, our capability to frontload our spending and have a construction surge to pump-prime the economy during this short and sharp period. This refers to infra, especially on roads and school buildings.

We are spending hundreds of millions on infra. I don’t think we ever had an education budget of P160 billion plus and an infrastructure budget of P200 billion, including that of government corporations and local governments. The infra with the biggest multiplier is housing. We are doing farm-to-market roads and irrigation because the multiplier effect is greater in the rural areas. For irrigation, we are spending P500 million a month or P6 billion a year. It’s P200 million a month for North Luzon, P200 million a month for Mindanao and P100 a month for other regions which are less agricultural. The biggest irrigation item is the downstream irrigation of the San Roque Dam which was mainly a flood control project.

Agriculture has been doing quite well. We have been spending at least P20 billion a year on agriculture, which is also an unprecedented amount.

The remaining years

Make the reforms permanent. We have achieved all of these things. The pain of raising taxes must now be followed by the gain of investing in human and physical infrastructure. That’s the way to make the gains permanent. We are spending on infrastructure to have a good business environment to create jobs. We are spending on social services, health and antihunger programs, education, cutting down on red tape and corruption, peace in Mindanao, and fighting terrorism.

Chacha and Mindanao

That’s one of the reasons. In fact, it is an imperative. Many of the wishes of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) will have to do with constitutional change.

On federalism

It is still hard at this point to define what it will be. I think it is better for us to wait for the final peace agreement and let the MILF have what will be the specifics. Ancestral domain is where we are now. I believe that we are overcoming the final difficulties on ancestral domain. Any negotiation has its difficulties. I am optimistic we can overcome the difficulties.

Growth could exceed official target — Habito

By BS Sto Domingo
BusinessWorld Online

ECONOMISTS EXPECT the country to grow between 6.2% and 7.2% this year, slightly higher than the government target, but falling exports, high oil prices and weak tax revenues are seen as limiting factors.

Cielito F. Habito, director of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Center for Economic Research and Development or ACERD, said a repeat of last year’s 7.3% gross domestic product (GDP) growth was "unlikely" largely due to a global economic slowdown and dwindling revenue performance.

The government has set a GDP growth target of 6.3-7% and expects inflation to hit 3-5% for 2008.

The economy, however, is expected to get a boost from surging overseas Filipino worker remittances, lower inflation as well as higher consumption and government infrastructure spending, Mr. Habito told a briefing yesterday.

Read more.

Political woes arising from a corruption issue raised by former Philippine Forest Corp. President Rodolfo Noel I. Lozada, Jr., he added, are not likely to disrupt economic growth.

"By and large, our economy is insulated from political disturbances. These were not factored in our projections but we don’t expect much disruption unless there are dramatic differences such as a sudden change in leadership," he said at the sidelines of the Eagle Watch forum in Makati.

The economy will likely to grow by 6.1-7.1% for the first quarter, 6.4-7.4% for the second and third quarters, and 6-7% from October to December this year.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

PGMA orders relief and rehabilitation operations in flood-devastated E. Samar


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered today immediate relief and rehabilitation operations in Eastern Samar after it was hit by destructive floods that left 11 people dead, displaced some 9,000 families, and caused P50 million damage to agricultural products and other properties.

Update on Northrail-Southrail

By Lala Rimando
Excerpts and graphic from ABS-CBN

(Caveat: Reading the whole article gives the impression that the writer is not in favour of this project which will bring much-needed development to Luzon from North to South. One just wonders why... --Ed.)

[C]onstruction of the Northrail's 32.3-kilometer phase 1 is quietly [!] pushing through. In a telephone interview, Northrail Corporation's president Arsenio Bartolome III said design and civil works started in October 2007.

Bartolome also said they have already drawn about $50 million from the $503-million loan with the Chinese Export and Import Bank.

At the site, existing utilities, like water pipes, electrical posts and telephone lines have been diverted. He confirmed that relocation of the residents is "100 percent complete."


The Northrail project refers to the rehabilitation of the old Philippine National Railway's north line: an estimated 80.2-kilometer rail road project from Caloocan City in Metro Manila to Clark in Pampanga.


With the construction underway, Bartolome said they hope to complete the rail connection to Malolos by 2010. President Arroyo completes her term that year.

Tourism and aviation industry players are particularly keen on the second section of the 80-kilometer railway—from Malolos to Clark in Pampanga—since there are plans to make Clark an alternative hub for international flights. The railway will cut traveling time between Manila and Clark from one hour to just about 30 minutes.

Bartolome said they expect to begin construction of this section by end of 2008, and complete it also by 2010, or at the latest, early 2011.

The second phase of the Northrail project is to connect San Fernando City in La Union to Clark. The entire railway stretch from Caloocan to La Union has been abandoned for more than 30 years.


Southrail On Track

Meantime, the southern regions are not to be left behind.[!] A planned 542-kilometer stretch from Calamba to Matnog in Sorsogon is due for rehabilitation and new construction. Called the Southrail project, it will be implemented in two phases: Phase 1 would cover the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the existing 423-kilometer railway line from Calamba to Legazpi City, while Phase 3 would involve the construction of a new 135-kilometer railway from Legazpi to Sorsogon.

Like Northrail, the Southrail project is also a government project, which the Chinese government will be funding. National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and China's Ministry of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding for the Southrail project in July 2007.

Construction for phase 1a, which costs $314-million and covers 74 kilometers Caloocan to Alabang (see graphics), is underway.

Building the rail project in phases is a way to deliberately build up traffic and economic activity, says Ruben Reinoso, deputy director general at Neda. "We have traffic projections for the entire stretch. But we wanted to spur economic activity in the succeeding phases as we start the first one. That way, we let the things build up first so we have higher potential to achieve our projections for traffic, economic activity, and movement of goods and people."

Linking Northrail, which starts in Caloocan, and the Southrail, which commences at Calamba station, is the 70-kilometer Commuter rail (see graphics). Koreans are financing it.

Already heavily traveled, the reconstruction of the existing railway has been a priority. It will service commuters from the Southern outskirts of Metro Manila who prefer to take a one-hour train ride to go home everyday instead of renting a place in the metropolis.

"The train can carry more passengers than a bus. So given that the South Luzon expressway is already congested, there was a need to build a high capacity transport," Reinoso explained.


Domestic air travel in RP grows 22% in 2007


Philippine domestic air travel expanded 22.7 percent in 2007 owing to local airlines' cheaper promo fares, data from the Civil Aeronautics Board showed.

The CAB data showed that 10.38 million people traveled by air in 2007, up from 8.46 million passengers in 2006.

Read more.

Development of Cebu’s SRP on track, says mayor

By Willy Rodolfo
Business Mirror

CEBU CITY—The Cebu City government is hoping to settle development plans with interested locators at the 240-hectare reclaimed South Road Properties (SRP) in the next three months, City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said.

The mayor said development plans are being shuffled back and forth between interested developers and the city, which he admitted is being “choosy” in the development it wants on the property.

“I am the problem. I am very strict in the development in the area. If I don’t want their plants and their structures, I send back the plans to them [developers],” Osmeña told BusinessMirror.

He said, however, that discussions are going into the right direction, and agreements on the development plans and structures could be accomplished before the end of the first half of 2008.

“The SRP will come into full bloom in the next three months. The mango that we planted is not only flowering but is already bearing fruit,” he said.

The SRP, completed in 2001, was built through a 25-year loan package obtained by the city government from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC). The deal was the first major overseas-loan package obtained and being paid for by a local government unit to a foreign funding institution.

“Our critics said the city will go bankrupt because of this loan. We are not bankrupt and this project will make us less dependent on financial help from the national government,” the mayor said.

After the agreement on the development, however, the developers and the city would have to undergo bidding on the property after the Commission on Audit (COA) ruled that the city could not enter into negotiated sale or lease for the property.

“COA required us to go through bidding, but I don’t see any problem in that,” the mayor said.

At least three realty development giants are positioning to get huge parcels of land at the SRP for various projects, the mayor announced earlier. The developers are eyeing leisure, residential and business-process outsourcing areas.

A separate area is also being set aside for industrial locators.

Privatization begins to bear fruit

Business Mirror

GOVERNMENT has no business going into business—much less remaining in it. In this era of globalization and economic liberalization, there seems to be little argument about that proposition.

This is why, save for a couple of nitpicking lawmakers and old-fashioned leftists who still embrace the obsolete notion of central planning, the government’s privatization thrust has been universally welcomed. For the most part, privatization has lifted from government the burden of managing and sustaining enterprises that for decades it could not make a go of—and, worse, had to subsidize with the hard-earned money of taxpayers.

Moreover, releasing state assets to the private sector has had the additional benefit of enriching the entire economy.

For instance, hectare upon hectare of land in the capital region had once been under the control of the military. Now, the AFP is critical for national defense—although occasionally its wayward elements and unscrupulous officers give the citizenry reason to doubt its trustworthiness. Whatever—the fact remains that the military has none of the resources, talent and inclination to put its sprawling real estate in Metro Manila to productive use.

The sale of a huge swath of Fort Bonifacio and its transformation into a spanking-new business district reaffirmed the wisdom behind the effort to privatize nonperforming state assets. The government was able to raise much-needed funds to cover its persistent budgetary deficits. In exchange, the private sector was given the opportunity to generate new wealth out of what once was idle scrubland.

Sometimes, however, the state is needed to pioneer in economic projects where there was none before.

This was certainly true in the case of geothermal power. When the new energy project was first launched in the 1970s, the private sector would not touch the proposal to generate electricity from underground steam with the proverbial ten-foot pole. The country was fortunate that there were visionaries in state agencies such as the then-Ministry of Energy and Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) who were bold enough to pursue the geothermal-energy program.

The PNOC subsidiary, Energy Development Corp. (EDC), was given the task of exploring and developing several geothermal sites. With this mandate, PNOC-EDC harnessed steam fields and helped build power plants in Bicol, Leyte, Negros and Maguindanao.

Along with the National Power Corp. (Napocor), another state entity, and Philippine Geothermal Inc., now Chevron, PNOC-EDC helped gain a significant measure of energy independence for the country. According to the latest data, nearly 20 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from underground steam—a resource that is renewable, environment-friendly and indigenous.

PNOC-EDC was able to show profits that were the envy of other government-owned and -controlled corporations. It was able to declare earnings that put it on the list of the country’s top corporations. However, its regular declaration of profits and remittances to the National Treasury left the impression that it was a goose that lay golden eggs, which the government would be foolish to dispose of.

What was largely misunderstood is the nature of PNOC-EDC’s operations, which requires the regular infusion of capital in order to finance the expansion it needs to undertake. As any business, it has to march forward; simply marking time would prove fatal. In stagnation, it could not have remained the government’s “crown jewels” for long.

For the company’s expansion, the government was hard-pressed to supply the additional wherewithal that PNOC-EDC required if it is to maintain its status as the country’s leading geothermal power producer.

Thanks to the commitment of the Arroyo administration and collaboration of its government-appointed directors, the company’s three-phased privatization was accomplished in the record time of just one year. The final sale of the government’s 60-percent stake in EDC earned for the Republic P58.5 billion—P11.5 billion above the target price of P47 billion—from its new majority owner, the Lopez-controlled Red Vulcan. Privatizing EDC helped the government plug its P63-billion deficit last year.

Meanwhile, EDC is now showing signs that it is in good hands since the core business of the Lopezes is power generation. From their Meralco franchise, which covers the capital region and nearby provinces, the Lopez energy group has been able to expand its operations nationwide—from Luzon through the Visayas, all the way down to Mindanao.

Confidence in the wisdom behind the privatization of EDC is evident in the stock market. The ongoing political noise and uncertainty over the long-term health of the US economy as well as high oil prices have caused the share prices of many issues in the local bourse to retreat—but not EDC.

Even more significant are the benefits that EDC’s privatization has begun to create for electricity consumers.

The other day, our man in Legazpi City reported that consumers in Albay province have been assured of stable power supply at a cost lower than the national rate. The benefactor: a new P6.6-billion geothermal project that is due to commence commercial operations.

Thanks to a long-term agreement between EDC and the provincial government, the entire 40 megawatts (MW) to be produced by the new power source in Mount Kabayon will be dedicated to Albay at P2.80 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—or 30-percent lower than the national rate of P4.11 per kWh.

Albay hosts a Chevron geothermal project in Tiwi town where Napocor draws 75 MW. The province shares with Sorsogon EDC’s Bacon-Manito geothermal production field, which generates 110 MW. For decades, however, Albay’s benefits from its geothermal resources have been limited by Napocor’s standard “one-grid, one-rate” policy. Instead of getting preferential rates for electricity generated from their own resource, Albay consumers have had to pay the same rate as other Luzon Grid customers.

EDC’s new Mount Kayabon Geothermal Energy Project in the mountainous terrain of Manito, Albay, rectifies this historical injustice and responds to the clamor of Albay residents for lower electricity bills. Meanwhile, the assurance of an even larger supply of reliable power can only serve as incentive for investors to set up stake and/or expand their businesses in the province.

EDC is set to start by September the Kayabon exploration project on a 200-hectare geothermal-rich field in two barangays covering the Mount Kayabon forest reservation. EDC has earmarked a P6.6-billion fund for the project.

Had EDC remained in state hands, the Kabayon project—and many others like it—would probably still be on the drawing board, with little or no chance of seeing implementation.

Foreign debt prepaid by $2.75B on peso rally

Gerard S. dela Peña

THE COUNTRY has prepaid a total of $2.75 billion in foreign debt from January to November, as both the public and private sectors took advantage of the rally of the peso.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) revealed that the public sector paid $1.12 billion. Pre-terminated foreign debts consisted of the central bank’s $810 million worth of external borrowings that it retired ahead of maturity.

The national government, on the other hand, was able to make debt prepayments worth $130 million for the period.

The private sector, on the other hand, prepaid a total of $1.63 billion.

The country’s ability to pay its debts foreign exchange obligations ahead of schedule was attributed to its robust foreign reserves. Recent data from the BSP indicated that the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) hit an all-time high of $34.4 billion as of January, owing to the central bank’s dollar-buying operations, strong income from investments abroad, and the continued gold price rally.

The current GIR level could cover six months of imports of goods and payments of services and income, the central bank said.

Meanwhile, data from the Department of Finance indicated that the government is aiming to pay P624.1 billion for its debts this year. This is higher than P612.8 billion that it programmed for 2007. This will bring principal payments to P328.3 billion, an increase from last year’s P309.5 billion.

Prepayment of debts is expected to drive down interest expense to P295.8 billion from last year’s P303.3 billion, the data indicated.

HSBC to open 7 new branches, call center

By Czeriza Shennille S. Valencia
BusinessWorld Online

BRITISH LENDER HSBC is expanding its branch network as well as call center operations in the Philippines, taking advantage of growth in the domestic economy.

Mark Watkinson, HSBC Philippines president and chief executive officer, said the bank will open seven more branches to bring the total to 30 by yearend. The new branches will be in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

HSBC’s business process outsourcing operations will also expand to over 8,000 seats this year with the opening of a new call center in Quezon City in two weeks. The new call center will have around 2,500 to 3,500 seats, adding to 5,500 seats in existing operations in Alabang, Muntinlupa and Makati.

The new call center in Quezon City may be assigned to the company’s global production services which receives orders for business presentations, video production, and non-linear editing, officials said.

HSBC has a positive outlook on the country despite political noise from revived corruption allegations against the Arroyo administration. "I think the economy is good and we have wonderful language skills in the Philippines," Mr. Watkinson said.

Early last year, the bank opened an 11,900-square-meter operations and processing office in Taguig.

Manila halts fresh ODA loans from China

By Roel Landingin in Manila
Full report at The Financial Times

Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered a halt to fresh borrowings from China and other lenders for big infrastructure projects as she struggles to ease rising political tensions triggered by a kickbacks scandal surrounding an aborted $330m deal with a Chinese telecommunications company.

Her spokesman on Tuesday said the president had issued a directive to put on hold official development assistance (ODA) loans for 11 major projects that have not yet been formally signed with creditors so the government can explore other sources of funding.

“We are putting on hold all ODA loans which are not yet finalised. If these projects are really important, we will source funding locally,” said Ignacio Bunye, the spokesman. He said the government had enough money of its own because of new and higher taxes put in place in 2005 and 2006.

The surprise move is widely seen as part of the government’s efforts to address public wariness over allegations of widespread corruption that go with foreign-assisted projects, particularly those funded by China which nominates suppliers and contractors without competitive bidding.


About half of the $2.6bn total worth of the 11 projects were meant to be funded by China. These included a $660m project to build video links to more than 26,000 public schools throughout the Philippines and a $380m project to upgrade rail services to towns and cities south of Manila.

Mr Diokno cast doubt on the government spokesman’s claim that it has enough money to fund infrastructure projects, pointing out that government had been failing to meet tax collection targets.

The Philippines, which used to be Asia’s second-largest issuer of sovereign bonds after Japan, had planned to borrow $1.6bn in official development assistance and $500m in sovereign bonds to meet its $2.1bn external financing requirement this year.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Tourist arrivals to Philippines rise 7.8% in Jan

Full report at GMANews.TV

Foreign tourists arrivals to the Philippines grew 7.8 percent to 293,803 in January, the Department of Tourism said Tuesday.

The DOT said these foreign tourists spent some $394.04 million in the country, which is 24.23 percent more than the $317.19 million that was spent in the same month in 2007.

In 2007, the country was able to attract 3.1 million foreign visitors.

Senator Villar: show the Senate report card

Madness at the Senate
By Alito L. Malinao

Will Villar please give us a break and report what laws the Senate has passed as a result of the numerous investigations it has conducted, if they were really done in aid of legislation.

The Senate is like a speeding runaway train; it does not know when to stop in its orgy of investigations.

The testimony of the new darling of the media and the anti-Arroyo groups, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, has spawned a lot of new issues that the Senate wants to investigate all at the same time.

When Lozada mentioned that the South Rail project is also overpriced by $70 million, the senators overdid each other in calling for a separate inquiry. It was Sen. Mar Roxas who first said that the project should be investigated. But being a former policeman, Sen. Panfilo Lacson was faster to the draw; he was the first to file a formal resolution calling for such an inquiry.

From the comic to the absurd

The investigation of the aborted National Broadband Network (NBN) contract by the Senate blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has turned from the comic to the absurd. It also has made some senators paranoiac.

At one time, Lozada was asked to don a bulletproof vest because he might be shot while in the Senate hall. We thought all along that the Senate is fully secured. How come that they are still afraid that Lozada would be shot? Administration officials would be not stupid enough to kill Lozada now that he is spewing all the venom against the Arroyo administration. The administration should protect Lozada at all costs because anti-administration groups might kill him and lay the blame on the government.

At first I also laughed off reports that the senators would go to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for a reenactment of the supposed abduction of Lozada. I thought this was going too far. But four senators, led by Senate President Manny Villar himself, did go to the “scene of the crime” Thursday. He was accompanied by Senators Cayetano, Rodolfo Biazon and Gregorio Honasan. Of course, the visit was fully covered by the media.

This is the first time in Philippine history that the honorable members of the Senate are playing their role as investigators to the hilt.

Villar is not content with the airing of his campaign jingle “Sipag at Tiaga” in major radio stations, two years before 2010; he is trying to grab the free media mileage that Lacson and Cayetano are getting from this charade in the Senate. For how else could you explain his presence in the NAIA reenactment, which was a pure and simple media gimmick?

But the funniest thing is that from investigating an aborted deal, the Senate is now going to investigate a deal that is still in the drawing board.

According to Philippine National Railways General Manager Jose Ma. Sarasola, Jr., the $1 billion South Rail project has not even started because there is still no funding. He said Lozada has attended only one meeting on the project. So, where did he get the $70 million figure?

In the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, Lozada claimed that there was a $130- million overprice supposedly asked by former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos. But the deal was canceled (and this I would give credit to the Senate inquiry, without which, they deal would have pushed through), so there was actually no overprice. If at all, it was an attempt to jack up the contract price.

Now the Senate is going to investigate an imaginary overprice.

To be credible in this new case, Jun Lozada should first substantiate all his present accusations against the administration with solid evidence. He owes this to the Filipino people. He could not just cry every time his integrity is questioned or when alleged anomalies at the Philippine Forest Corp. that he used to head are being brought up, including the contracts that he entered into with firms controlled by his kin.

Or has he forgotten the old adage that when you live in a glass house, you should not throw bricks at your neighbors?

No closure

If he really wants to become president, Villar should act like a statesman and just let his Katzenjammer Kids, Lacson and Cayetano, do the sleuthing. He should restore the lost luster of the Senate by putting a closure to a number of inquiries it has started, such as the construction of the NAIA Terminal 3, the Megapacific contract for computerized elections, the highly anomalous Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard project, the North Rail project, the “Hello Garci” tape controversy, the protracted hearings on jueteng and the alleged media persecution in the Manila Peninsula siege, to name only a few.

Will Villar please give us a break and report what laws the Senate has passed as a result of the numerous investigations it has conducted, if they were really done in aid of legislation.

ZTE and jesters in the Senate

By Dan Mariano
The Manila Times

On paper, lawmakers are paid a fraction of what even mid-level managers in the private sector get. What is rarely disclosed is the fact that congressmen and senators have access to much bigger amounts.

Apart from their pork barrel, lawmakers get multimillion-peso allocations for their staff, be they actual warm bodies or “ghost” employees. If the lawmakers happen to be members of a committee or chairs of a subcommittee or heads of a full-blown panel, they are given even more money, not only for the salaries of gofers, but also for actual operations and intelligence.

The idea behind giving legislators access to such funds is to ensure that in the formulation of laws and/or conduct of inquiries, lawmakers have the wherewithal to carry out their tasks. “Lack of funds” is one excuse lawmakers cannot offer when they fail to perform their duties properly.

This brings us to the current blue-ribbon probe of the canceled National Broadband Network project.

As chairman of the committee leading the NBN inquiry, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano can tap formidable resources that could help him and his colleagues carry out an orderly investigation. However, “orderly” cannot describe the senators’ ongoing NBN probe. Ask anyone who has witnessed—or worse, has been forced to attend—the marathon blue-ribbon hearings.

The issue at hand involves multimillion-dollar bribes to several administration figures allegedly offered or actually paid by ZTE. Wouldn’t it have been better if the senators and their staffs had first done their homework on the Chinese telecommunications giant beyond the usual cursory background check?

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was on the right track when he suggested summoning ZTE president Yu Yong to the blue-ribbon probe. “It is not good for our people to see we run only after crooks in government, not those who are corrupting them,” the opposition leader said. “ZTE will be given all the chance to show the contract is aboveboard.”

Cayetano has offered his own staff’s excuse that ZTE officials and even the commercial attaché at the Chinese embassy in Manila have already left the country. In fact, there were options available to the blue-ribbon panel for getting the Chinese officials’ testimony.

Again, it had to take Pimentel to point out that a mutual legal assistance treaty exists between the Philippines and Hong Kong, where ZTE is listed in the HK stock exchange. On so grave an accusation as bribery, it stands to reason that Hong Kong securities regulators would also like to find out the truth.

After all, if ZTE executives had really handed millions of dollars to influence-peddlers in the Philippines, the money could only have come from the Chinese company’s stockholders—whose interests Hong Kong regulators are duty-bound to protect.

Instead, the Cayetano panel has preferred to go by the word of self-styled whistle-blowers Jose de Venecia 3rd and Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., both of whom are not exactly disinterested parties to the abortive transaction. Fortunately for the senators, their star witnesses have the histrionic ability to grab the nation’s attention. But what if they were not so talented?

The quest for truth ought to be based on indisputable facts and, where possible, documentary evidence. Classic is the advice of veteran detectives when faced with a difficult case: Follow the money.

So far, the only cash that has turned up are the P50,000 baon from ex-presidential aide Mike Defensor and P500,000 travel allowance from Deputy Executive Secretary Manuel Gaite, which amounts Lozada has returned, as expected, in dramatic fashion.

ZTE is not exactly a fly-by-night operation. It has been operating, not just in China, but in many other countries including the United States for the past 20 years. As a listed company, its finances are constantly monitored by stock-market regulators in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. As elsewhere, regulations in the two bourses require the immediate disclosure of significant disbursements.

Both Lozada and de Venecia have mentioned $130 million as the amount of bribes ZTE earmarked for its Philippine contacts. Such a figure would have triggered alarm bells to go off in the Hong Kong stock market. It has not.

With global sales running to almost $10 billion, ZTE has an international reputation to protect. If the Cayetano panel had sought the company’s help even before it launched its much-publicized probe, the senators might have stood a better chance of securing the ZTE executives’ cooperation.

But the way the inquiry has been going, even casual observers can’t help but conclude that the senators are already sure that Lozada and de Venecia have told them nothing but the truth and that ZTE had indeed bribed ex-Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos and Jose Miguel Arroyo, the President’s husband.

What then is the real objective of the NBN-ZTE inquiry?

If it is simply to convince the public that corruption, again, marred the deal, then the senators might think they are close to hitting their target. The turnout at last week’s protest rally and survey results highlighting the President’s worsening unpopularity give proof of the senators’ seeming political victory.

But if the goal is to gather solid evidence of wrongdoing then the senators have fallen short. This should become apparent to all when popular passions subside—that is, if they subside at all.