Friday, 9 May 2008

Meralco explains power buying

By Abigail L. Ho
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Factors outside of price affect the Lopez-led Manila Electric Co.’s buying decisions from the wholesale electricity spot market (WESM), making its buying strategy more complicated than it looks, according to the distribution utility’s president.

At a power-sector stakeholder meeting at the energy department Thursday, Meralco president and chief operating officer Jesus Francisco said the company has to declare its supply requirements 24 hours before each trading day.

This means that factors such as weather changes -- which could affect demand on a specific time of day -- are almost impossible to factor into the company’s buying strategy for a particular day, he said.

“When it rains, sometimes demand drops 100 megawatts below our forecasts. When you project your requirements, you can end up buying much more than what you actually want,” Francisco explained.

Take the case of the April billing month, for example. Meralco’s average purchase price at the WESM stood at a high P7.48 per kilowatt-hour while the effective settlement price at the market then was just P5.72 per kWh.

This meant that the average price of Meralco was higher than the market.

Lasse Holopainen, president of WESM operator Philippine Electricity Market Corp., earlier noted that over the past two months, there were times when Meralco was buying at the market average price and instances when it was buying at above-average prices.

You can’t choose

“But sometimes you can’t choose when to buy. Unless we’re privy to their contracts, it’s very hard to say,” said Holopainen.

“So how much flexibility they have and whether or not they have to change their trading patterns, I don’t know since we’re not privy to their contracts,” he said.

Francisco said prices at the WESM were not always high. During the early days of the electricity spot market, for instance, prices were much lower even than those offered by state generator National Power Corp. and Meralco’s independent power producers.

From February to April this year, however, prices at the electricity bourse were relatively high, he said.

“Right now, what we need is a clarification of what the (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001) really wants us to do,” Francisco said.

The EPIRA states that no distribution utility can source more than 90 percent of its requirements from bilateral supply contracts. Under the law’s implementing rules and regulations, distribution utilities are required to source at least 10 percent of its requirements from the WESM.

An official of the Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that there was some confusion in the interpretation of the law, and that a clarification should be made.

Arroyo adviser: Don't aim at Meralco, blame IPPs


One of President Arroyo's economic advisers said that critics of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) should cut to the chase and stop blaming the power distributor for the high electricity rates in Luzon.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said that those aiming at Meralco should focus their attention at independent power producers that supply electricity to the Lopez family-controlled firm.

"If you'd ask me, the root cause of why we have high power rates is the IPP that the government contracted from 1992 to 1998, nothing else," Salceda, also a former Malacañang official, told radio dzMM's "Dos Por Dos" morning program.

Salceda said he has asked questions on why critics have kept on picking on Meralco, which is Luzon's largest power distributor.

"Why pick on Meralco? I asked, why not Meralco IPPs?"

The Albay chief executive said that if critics pick on one company, they should scrutinize all the others.

"If you do to one, you should do to all. If you cannot do to all, then don't do it at all," he said.

Salceda said that the government can use the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) to review IPP contracts.

"Supposedly under Epira, we have a review of IPPs so this has happened but if you look at it carefully, we did not negotiate it thoroughly so I said why not do a second review since Epira does not prohibit a second review?"

It's the IPP, dummy

Salceda also that what the President has been saying about high power rates in the country is really about IPPs, nothing else.

"Only, she hasn't been able top give it straight, because it's so sophisticated," he said.

The governor added that besides, discussing the role of IPPs is complicated since these have no "personalities" to speak of.

"Meralco has a personality because it bills us every day,"

He said that if only the IPPs bill each customer for the electricity used per day, then, the issue about high power rates would get clearer.

"If you ask me, its the Meralco's IPP," he said.

The problem with high power rates, Salceda explained, lies not with the distributor but rather, the one that generates electricity.

1990s problem

He said the issue is rooted in the 1990s during the period of rotating brownouts in Luzon.

"The government pressed [Meralco] to enter into generation and Shell said it won't develop Malampaya without a power plant and the power plant didn't want to set up without a supply contract with Meralco," he said.

Salceda also said that this should be the context use to understand the present situation.

But then again, he said, it is easy for people to forget the context of the problem or the decision.

The governor also cited the example of Meralco's P9.40 per kilowatthour charge to Metro Manila customers and said that of this amount, only P1.20 goes to the power distributor.

He also said that it is wrong for critics to advise Mrs. Arroyo to approve a government takeover of Meralco.

"It's bad for the country, it's bad for the poor, bad for the economy, it sends the wrong signal. If that's the case, then the government should run all businesses."

He said that the idea of the government running all the businesses in the country is an insult to regulating bodies such as the Energy Regulatory Commission in the case of Meralco. is the online news department of ABS-CBN Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. ABS-CBN is Meralco's sister company in the Lopez Group of Companies.

Coal bribes driving up electricity rates

By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star

Naghalo ang balat sa tinalupan, they’d say in Tagalog. Everyone every which way is joining the electricity fray. Sen. Miriam Santiago is to lead a joint Senate-House probe of Meralco’s “antitrust breaches.” Co-chair Rep. Mikey Arroyo rushes back from extended American holiday in time to summon the power distributor’s execs for Monday. Ally Sen. Joker Arroyo (not related) cautions Malacañang against seizing Meralco from the Lopez clan. Executive Sec. Ed Ermita and Presidential Counsel Sergio Apostol deny any such takeover. It’s only GSIS boss Winston Garcia with 33-percent shares who’s squeezing transparency out of Meralco, they chorus, and the Palace has nothing to do with it. Yet Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye butts in that the Palace is backing Garcia all the way. Sensing business unease with the admin harassing a private firm, Gov. Joey Salceda as Gloria Arroyo’s economic guru assures that the President intends no Meralco capture. But party mates led by Rep. Danny Suarez sneer that the Lopezes deserve whatever is about to hit them.

Mrs. Arroyo adds to the din with baffling, baseless remarks. First, she incites industrialists to help her force Meralco to match electricity rates in Visayas-Mindanao. Then she orders state-owned Napocor to cut by half its pass-on charge of generated electricity to Meralco. She also wonders aloud why electricity rates are soaring in Luzon, where Meralco is the biggest retailer, when oil comprises only one percent of overall generating costs.

Mrs. Arroyo’s statements only frighten the businessmen she hoped to enlist. A President-led attack on the country’s biggest power firm means it’s open season on all other private enterprises. It also could hurt the bloc held by Garcia, consisting of mutual funds GSIS, SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-IBIG. Cutting Napocor rates would repeat the fiasco of 2002-2004, when Mrs. Arroyo similarly capped its rates. Napocor’s losses then ballooned to P1.2 trillion, a third of which came from the heady years, pulling down the peso and frazzling the fiscal situation. It had to take a hated 12-percent value-added tax to avert crisis. As for oil for generators being only a percent of Luzon costs, industry monitors fret over where the President gets her figures. Before world crude prices breached $100 a barrel, oil already formed four, not one, percent of generating costs.

And that leads to Napocor’s main generator fuel: coal. Luzon’s four coal-fired power plants produce 35 percent of kilowatt-hours. The dirty fuel accounts for 30 percent of generating costs. And since generation forms on average over 60 percent of consumers’ monthly electricity bill, coal is the real cause of high electricity prices.

Yet, not one of the admin pols now ranting against power costs is about to look at the coal mess. It would be too embarrassing for the Palace. For, presidential appointees at Napocor routinely have been buying coal at overprice, for billion-peso kickbacks. Worse, the Napocor crooks appear to be reporting to a lawmaker closely tied to Malacañang.

In 2007 they filched P877.5 million from five 65,000-ton shipments from April to August. The modus operandi employed top-level deceit. Napocor simply declared a coal shortage and the need for emergency imports to avert blackouts. It tripped the Luzon grid to prove its point, and then called for bids on too short notice so no supplier could conform. To repair the bidding failure, Napocor was “forced” to negotiate directly with Australia’s Hunter Valley Coal Corp., thru local agent Glencore Far East Philippines AG. The agreed price was $84 a ton (at P50:$1), when the going rate in Australia then was $30.

Consumerists sued Napocor president Cyril del Callar for graft. Implicated were VP-Bidding Carlos Guadarrama and two other bigwigs.

The Ombudsman had yet to act on the charges when Napocor again invoked coal shortage early this year. It rushed to buy three 65,000-ton shiploads from Indonesia’s PT Marsitero Marloan, thru skeleton company TransPacific Consolidated Resources Inc. in Manila. Guadarrama faxed TCRI an invitation to bid on Feb. 12 to Danarra Hotel Business Center, which the Quezon City hotel staff says had been shut since December. TCRI was formed only five months prior with P1 million capital, P62,500 paid up. Yet Del Callar awarded it a P956-million contract. TCRI’s price was $109.50 per ton (at P40.718:$1), when the going rate in Indonesia was $77. Total overprice: P258 million.

To pull the trick, Napocor always buys coal on emergency instead of storing up as told by the energy department. Notably, private generators Quezon Gas in Luzon and STEAG in Mindanao stockpiled recently for only P60 to P80 a ton. The hearing on Monday predictably will gloss over this. It will focus on Meralco’s electricity purchases from Lopez-owned generators. Napocor sleaze will be exempted from scrutiny, lest the powerful patron be exposed right there and then.

Was the President misled on the power rate situation?

A bigger story
By Jojo Robles

Was the President misled on the power rate situation? Is the controversy on electricity prices being used as a smokescreen for a bid to amend the law on the privatization of power generation, also known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or Epira?

Last Friday, the President came out against high power rates in the Luzon grid and asked businessmen to back petitions before the Energy Regulatory Commission to bring down the cost of electricity. But apparently, the President’s advisers failed to explain to her that aside from oil (which accounted for 4 percent of the grid’s kilowatthours, not 1 percent as she was told), the other fuel used for power generation in the Luzon grid is coal—the same coal that state-owned National Power Corp. imports at around P20 billion for its plants in the grid every year.

The price of coal in the world market has gone through the roof in recent months, like most fuel. Coal in the international spot market now trades at roughly $160 per metric ton. Last year, it averaged only $60-70 per metric ton.

In the Luzon grid, coal-fired power plants account for close to 35 percent of the total kilowatthours and majority of the coal for these plants is procured by Napocor. But for some reason, Napocor has failed to sign up any long-term coal contracts when markets were calmer.

Why is this wrong? Well, for instance, two privately owned independent power producers, US-based Quezon Power which sells electricity to Manila Electric Co. and German-controlled Steag in Mindanao, have both signed long-term deals that even with today’s soaring prices protects consumers with contracted coal priced at $60-80 per metric ton, or less than half the cost NPC has been buying the fuel at.

The other big contributor to the price of electricity in the Luzon grid is natural gas from the Camago-Malampaya plant. Indigenous natural gas from Palawan accounts for nearly another 40 percent of the kilowatthours produced for Luzon.

But gas from Camago-Malampaya is taxed more than 10 times more than imported coal.

Industry sources point out that coal is taxed at P.017 per kilowatthour but the royalty taxes on Camago-Malampaya gas have been set at a whopping 60 percent of the gas price, or roughly P1.70 per kilowatthour. Why are our citizens penalized when they consume their own indigenous natural gas?

Power industry experts have been clamoring for the removal of this levy on Malampaya gas in order to lower power rates and encourage more use of clean, indigenous fuel sources. Doing so would bring down the cost of power by P1.70 per kilowatthour for industry or a reduction of close to P0.50 per kilowatthour for every Meralco consumer.

But why hasn’t the government lowered the royalties on Camago-Malampaya gas if power rates really need to be lowered?

* * *

Even the plan to lower Napocor’s rates again by half should be studied closely, according to industry sources. The last time that happened, on May 1, 2002, the President instructed Napocor to lower rates by 80 centavos and capped the controversial power purchase agreement (PPA) at a fixed rate of 40 centavos.

By capping the rates, the Napocor selling price ceased to reflect the true cost of fuel and the cost of power purchased from the IPPs. With world fuel prices surging in the ensuing years, Napocor’s selling prices soon no longer reflected their true costs. The years 2002, 2003 and 2004 witnessed the largest losses in Napocor’s history, hitting a peak of P110 billion in 2003 alone. That year, the loss of NPC accounted for more than a third of the entire Consolidated Public Sector Deficit.

How were these losses funded? By increasingly higher levels of government guaranteed debt.

Also, government passed the hated Evat law because it needed to raise funds drastically to cover its massive debts—more than 60 percent of which was Napocor’s, primarily due to government-subsidized energy rates. So who gets stuck with the bill, eventually? We, the taxpayers, do.

The irony is that subsidizing the power sector through low Napocor rates results in a de facto subsidy for the rich at the expense of the poor. Why is this so? Because the Family Income and Expenditure Survey data gathered by the government itself shows that 92 percent of the residential kilowatt-hours consumed in the Philippines goes to Class A and B families. Only 8 percent of those kilowatt-hours are consumed by poorer Class C, D and E households.

All these seem to point to a seeming conspiracy to prevent the further privatization of Napocor under Epira—using Meralco as a convenient punching bag to stop the law from running its course. According to the Private Sector Assets and Liabilities Management, the privatizations of Napocor’s IPP contracts may generate an additional $13 billion.

This would be enough to pay down the huge Napocor debt. But further privatization of Napocor’s IPP contracts would apparently cut off the agency’s authority to procure fuel for its plants, particularly the coal plants.

Strange? Well, stranger things have happened over the years to our underdeveloped, often overpriced and definitely inefficient power industry. Let’s just hope that those responsible for apparently conning the President herself will soon be exposed.

Stick around. This promises to be a bigger story than even unconscionably high power rates.

Hanjin cleared of bribery charge

By Roy Pelovello
The Manila Standard

MALACAÑANG yesterday said that the issue of alleged bribery by Hanjin officials to a Misamis Oriental town mayor is a closed book after investigators did not find any proof to substantiate the charges.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita noted that Tagaloan Mayor Paulino Emano denied he accused Hanjin officials of trying to bribe him. “The mayor said in his affidavit that there is really no such thing [bribery attempt] and that he was just misquoted [by media],” Ermita said.

With the bribery issue resolved, Ermita said Hanjin could now proceed with the construction of its $2-billion shipbuilding facility in Misamis Oriental.

Local officials have promised to issue the permits to the Hanjin for as long as it is able to meet the requirements, Ermita said.“The crisis is averted. Things had been cleared up.”

Malacañang declared the case closed since the police did not find anything to press the bribery charges.

Ermita said that what is important, after all the brouhaha caused by the alleged bribery, is that there is no more finger-pointing and the concerned Misamis town mayors have already lifted their order to suspend the issuance of necessary permits to Hanjin.

Ermita said the quick action of President Arroyo has prevented what could have been a “messy” affair if not addressed immediately.

After the issue broke out, the President met with the town mayors of Misamis even as she ordered the Interior and Local Government Department and National Police to dig deep into the charges and countercharges.

Ermita said that with this turn of events, opposition senators no longer have a reason to insist on a legislative investigation into the alleged bribe try.

Earlier the Palace cautioned the senators against pressing for a congressional probe of the issue, noting that Hanjin is one of the so-called “Billion Dollar Club”—foreign companies that invested billions of dollars in the country.

Malacañang said such a probe could scare away other big foreign investors.

The Korean firm is building a $2-billion shipyard that will extend from Tagaloan to Villanueva towns of Misamis Oriental, occupying a 70-hectare property in Tagaloan and another 400- hectare property in Villanueva. Hanjin also operates another shipbuilding facility in Subic.

BPO firm sets P1-B expansion, to take in 2,000 more workers

BusinessWorld Online

BULLISH ON the business process outsourcing (BPO) prospects here, a US BPO firm is expected to employ more workers as it doubles local capacity in the next 12 months.

New York-based Sutherland Global Services said it would be investing over P1 billion in the country for its 12-month expansion, hiking the number of its employees by as much as 2,800.

In a telephone interview, Sutherland Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dilip R. Vellodi said the company is spending a total of P1.5 billion for local expansion despite the peso’s strength.

"The Asia-Pacific region will continue to be an engine of growth for Sutherland and the Philippines is an integral part of that," Mr. Vellodi told BusinessWorld.

"Although we could not be totally exempted from the strengthening of the local currency, the impact has been minimum to none because of the measures we have taken," he said.

To offset the peso’s strength, Mr. Vellodi said Sutherland has been employing currency hedging strategies, improving productivity and adjusting prices.

"We are quite pleased with the productivity level of our operations and employees in the Philippines... We are looking at an annual 40% to 50% growth in employee count and that will go linear with our revenues," he added.

Asked how Sutherland will accommodate the increased employee count, Mr. Vellodi said it was premature to speculate if the additional employees would be housed in a new facility or distributed among the existing ones.

After three years since it started local operations, Sutherland now has four facilities in Manila, Clark, Davao and Camarines Sur, employing 5,600 people. This, Mr. Vellodi said, would increase by a minimum of 2,000 people to 7,600 people during the expansion period.

In an interview last Wednesday, Sutherland Country Manager and Vice-President for Service Delivery Craig Bauwens said the company is eyeing new sites in Iloilo and Tarlac.

"Why not expand out of Manila? What we are considering are the level of language skills and the partnership with the local governments," Mr. Bauwens said.

But before investing in a new call center, Mr. Bauwens said the company is first going to complement the required capacity of newly opened centers in Davao and Camarines Sur.

Sutherland has over 21,000 employees worldwide divided in 22 centers in India, the Philippines, US, Canada, Mexico and Eastern Europe. It offers back office and customer support services to Fortune 1,000 clients in sectors like information and technology, retail, financial service, banking, insurance, health care and telecommunications.

Philippines reports big summer rice harvests

Grain traders, farmers urge gov’t to buy local produce
Summer rice harvest now 5.9-M metric tons

The Manila Bulletin

The Department of Agriculture-Rice Action Center (DARAC) has reported that farmers have now reaped 5.893 million metric tons (MMT) of palay from 1.87 million hectares of land, representing 77 percent of the projected harvest of 7.1 MMT for the cropping season.

Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras, chief of DARAC, said the figures cover the total yield as of May 5.

The summer harvests are expected to last until June.

DA officials expect the balance of the 700,000 MT of rice imports earlier contracted by the National Food Authority (NFA) will arrive next month and would augment stocks for the lean months of July to September.

Paras said farmers in Cagayan Valley have already harvested 87 percent of their palay, representing the highest yield so far of 1.177 million MT, followed by Central Luzon, which already harvested half of the areas planted to palay, yielding 678,107 MT.

Western Visayas also produced 652,282 MT from 90 percent of palay areas.

In Eastern Visayas, 87 percent of palay areas yielded 534,461 MT while Central Mindanao produced 456,220 MT from 90 percent of palay farms.

In the Ilocos, 339,182 MT have already been harvested from 92 percent of areas planted while 333,122 MT were reaped in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In the Zamboanga Region, 261,142 MT were harvested from 98 percent of areas planted while Bicol yielded 252,167 MT from 60 percent of areas planted. In the Caraga Region, 245,119 MT were realized in 90 percent of areas planted.

The Mimaropa provinces of Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan brought in 213,805 MT from 60 percent of areas planted to palay.

In Northern Mindanao, the yield was 190,901 MT from 75 percent of areas planted to palay while Davao Region generated 183,217 MT from 90 percent of areas planted.

For Calabarzon, 161,170 MT were gathered from 68 percent of areas planted while Central Visayas produced 143,879 MT from 70 percent of areas cultivated. The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) netted 70,998 MT from 34 percent of palay farms.

Meanwhile, the leader of the country’s biggest rice traders and the chairman of a peasant organization urged the government to end its importation binge and simply buy all the stocks locally to end this recurrent issue of rice shortage.


Thursday, 8 May 2008

Manila in push for cheaper electricity

By Roel Landingin in Manila
Financial Times

Philippine authorities are pressing the country’s biggest electricity utility to cut prices for the poor.

The unprecedented move is aimed at easing the effects of soaring food and energy costs that have pushed inflation to a three-year high.

Energy regulators began considering a government petition on Tuesday calling for Manila Electric Co (Meralco), which distributes electricity to more than 4m households in the capital and surrounding areas, to increase discounts for low-income customers or to expand the number of households entitled to subsidies.

Meralco is controlled by the wealthy Lopez family, which also owns the country’s biggest private power producer and the biggest television broadcaster.

The petition is considered highly unusual because it was filed at the insistence of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who asked business leaders last week to support the government in what she described as a “tough legal fight”. About 1.8m of Meralco’s residential customers who use 100kwh a month or less already enjoy discounts of 20 to 50 per cent, covered by cross-subsidies collected from commercial and industrial customers.

The government wants the discount raised to 60 per cent, or the subsidy scheme expanded to cover households consuming up to 150kwh a month.

The government also wants Meralco to stop charging customers for systems losses form theft or leakage, which account for about 8 per cent of the company’s costs, and to cut its distribution rates to the levels charged by other large private electricity utilities.

“It’s the first time ever that the Philippine president has instructed a government department to file a petition to compel a private electric utility to cut rates,” said Ivanna de la Pena, Meralco’s chief economist.

Consumer price inflation rose to a three-year high of 8.3 per cent in April, from an average of only 2.8 per cent in 2007, increasing the pressure on Mrs Macapagal to step up measures to help the poor and to avert potential unrest.

The government is rolling out an elaborate scheme to guarantee the supply of cheap rice to slum dwellers in Manila and surrounding areas.

The start of regulatory hearings on the government’s petition for Meralco to cut its rates came as the head of the pension fund for state workers, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), began a public spat with the Lopez family management over the way the company is being run.

Winston Garcia, the president of GSIS, which owns about a quarter of Meralco shares, has complained that the company’s management has refused to divulge details of Meralco power purchase deals with Lopez-owned power companies.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Update videos: Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTex)

20-Apr-2008 (

7-Apr-2008 (

RP ranks first in child health care

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Philippines and Peru are doing the best job of vaccinating children and treating them for critical diseases compared to other developing nations, Save the Children reported on Tuesday.

"The Philippines nearly cut its child death rate in half since 1990. The health ministry, through USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) support, launched a number of health initiatives in 1989, including a push to increase access to oral rehydration therapy to treat diarrhea," David Oot, who heads the group's global health programs, told reporters.

By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star

The Philippines is ranked first among 55 developing countries in terms of providing basic health care to children, according to the United States-based organization Save the Children.

In its annual State of the World’s Mothers report, the organization placed the Philippines on top of its basic health care report card after seeing good progress in the country’s efforts to improve health care for children.

However, while the overall ranking of the country was high, Save the Children noted a wide disparity between rich and poor children as recipients of health care.

Save the Children defines basic health care as a package of lifesaving interventions that includes prenatal care, skilled care at childbirth, immunizations and treatment for diarrhea and pneumonia.

“The Philippines is making good progress in improving health care for children and has achieved a 48 percent reduction in its under-5 death rate since 1990,” the report said.

In terms of newborn mortality rates, the Philippines has one of the lowest in the developing world with an average of 15 out of 1,000 live births.

“Sixty percent of births in the Philippines are assisted by trained personnel, but the disparity between rich and poor is wide, with 92 percent of births among the wealthiest assisted by skilled health professionals, compared to 25 percent among the poorest,” the report stated.

It noted that nearly half or 46 percent of the poorest children under 5 in the Philippines do not get health care when they need it and that a poor child is 3.2 times more likely than a rich child to die before reaching age 5.

“The Philippines could save many more children’s lives by targeting health care to the poor,” according to Save the Children.

The report said that if all children survived at the same rate as the wealthiest children, 35 percent of the Philippines’ under-5 deaths could be averted.

“That means 26,000 Philippine children would be saved each year,” the organization said.

The Philippines was followed by Peru, South Africa and Indonesia/ Turkmenistan (tied).

Ethiopia was at the bottom of the list with 84 percent of its children having these basic health needs unmet. Also at the bottom were Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Yemen, Chad and Somalia.

The report said that more than 200 million under age 5 do not get basic health care when they need it.

The 55 countries included in the report card account for nearly 60 percent of the world’s under-5 population and 83 percent of all child deaths worldwide.

Save the Children also ranked 146 countries for how good they are for mothers and children. Sweden, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark topped the list. Niger was last. The United States placed 27th, one spot below last year’s ranking. - With AP

Toyota hikes investment in RP

By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio
The Philippine Star

The Toyota Group has increased its over P20 billion investment in the country as one of its members, Tokai Rika Philippines Inc.(TRP), expanded its production facility and doubled its investment.

“As we increase our production, our suppliers will naturally follow suit,” TMP vice president Rommel Gutierrez told The STAR in an interview.

According to Gutierrez, TRP’s investment is expected to reach P1.2 billion as the company announced it will expand its production facility at its plant inside the Toyota Industrial Complex in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

TRP’s new investment will require a total of 5,600 square meters of plant facilities expansion. The expected completion date of the new building is by November this year.

“This new investment is part of TRP Inc.’s commitment to contribute to the development of the Philippine automotive industry, as well as the regional economy through parts production and exports,” Gutierrez said.

TRP will hold its groundbreaking today. Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Atty. Lilia de Lima will lead the groundbreaking ceremony for the new plant. Expected to attend are Sta. Rosa City Mayor Arlene Arcillas~Nazareno, TMP president Hiroshi Ito, Tokai Rika Japan director Shoji Ishida, TRP Inc. president Kazuo Ito and Toyo Construction vice president Naoyuki Kiyosue.

Gutierrez explained that the expansion project is needed to meet the growing demand for its core product line of lever combinations and other automotive switches.

In addition to TRP’s main product line of lever combination and other automotive switches, efforts of production of small automotive switches particularly hazard and courtesy switches will also be doubled. This expansion is expected to increase the company’s current production capacity by two fold, needing an additional 500 personnel.

Customer demand for TRP Inc.’s core product line of lever combination and other automotive switches is growing worldwide. Likewise, there is also a rising demand for TRP’s automotive switches in the ASEAN Region, prompting a joint venture to increase production parts with North America.

Majority of TRP’s products are sold overseas with only 10 percent distributed in the domestic market.

For 2007, TRP’s total exports amounted to $50 million. The company sells to Japan ASEAN member countries, Brazil, South Africa and Australia.

Clark expects big increase in number of international flights

By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga — The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) expects the number of international passenger flights which now averages 37 per week, to increase dramatically.

Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) expressed yesterday confidence that the DMIA, which was recently adjudged in Singapore as “airport of the year”, will host at least 10 international flights per day by June.

Recent bilateral talks with Macau have resulted in the CIAC securing 6,300 aircraft seat entitlements, even higher than the 3,500 entitlements granted to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (DMIA).

“This is a welcome development for DMIA, as we attract more flights to our airport. The air talks in Macau were successful with our 6,300 entitlements and this only manifests that our airport is already recognized in the international community,” said CIAC president Jose Victor Luciano said.

Luciano together with CIAC executive vice president Alexander Cauguiran and executive assistant Anna Rivera negotiated for the entitlements during the air talks held in Macau last April 24 and 25. Luciano said that as a result of the successful negotiations, DMIA will have at least 10 international flights daily.

“The Philippines got an overall of 12,800 entitlements, 6,300 seats went to Clark, 3,500 to Manila and 3,000 to other parts of the country,” Luciano noted.

Last year, DMIA serviced 533,613 passengers, majority of which were carried by budget carriers such as Singapore’s Tiger Airways and Malaysia’s Air Asia. Korea’s Asiana Airlines is also one of the biggest haulers of Korean tourists for Clark since starting operations in 2003, CIAC officials said.

China Southern Airlines, Deer Air, Cebu Pacific, and Asian Spirit also have regular flights at the DMIA which also hosts at least 13 domestic flights per week.

Last April 4, President Arroyo led the inauguration of DMIA’s expanded terminal of which further increased the airport’s passenger capacity to two million annually.

Luciano said CIAC is set to construct a modern passenger terminal that can accommodate eight million passengers annually.

Luciano said CIAC has started inviting proposals for the construction and design of the new “terminal 2” project for the airport that was declared by the President as a premiere airport of the country.

Changi Airports International of Singapore and the Al Kharafi group of Kuwait recently expressed their interest to develop the entire civil aviation complex here.

CIAC officials also said that Singapore Airlines Engineering Co. (SAEC) will establish a world-class maintenance repair and overhual (MRO) facility, while the Kuwait Gulf and Links (KGL) of Kuwait will develop the Global Gateway Logistics Park at Clark civil aviation complex where the DMIA is located.

End-April 2008 GIR Level Reaches US$36.7 Billion

Bangko Sentral

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) slightly rose to US$36.7 billion as of end-April 2008 from US$36.6 billion a month ago. Foreign exchange inflows in April 2008 consisted mainly of the National Government’s (NG) deposit of proceeds from the Asian Development Bank’s Local Government Financing and Budget Reform Loan, as well as the Bangko Sentral’s net foreign exchange operations and income from its investments abroad. These inflows were offset, however, by payments of maturing foreign currency-denominated obligations of the NG and the BSP.

The current GIR level can cover 6.2 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was also equivalent to 5.2 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 3.4 times based on residual maturity. [Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months.]

The level of net international reserves (NIR) as of end-April 2008, including revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, was also higher at US$36.7 billion compared to the previous month’s level of US$36.6 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.

April Inflation Climbs to 8.3 Percent

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases
View Table here....

Headline inflation rose to 8.3 percent year-on-year in April from 6.4 percent in March and 2.3 percent a year ago, bringing the year-to-date average to 6.2 percent. All major commodity groups, led by food, beverages and tobacco, posted higher inflation rates relative to the levels in the previous month. Month-on-month, headline inflation also accelerated to 2.0 percent in April from 0.9 percent in March. Core inflation, which measures the underlying trend in inflation by excluding specific food and energy items, also accelerated to 5.9 percent year-on-year in April from 4.8 percent in March.

Food and energy prices pushed inflation higher in April. In particular, local rice prices rose due to the elevated prices of inputs such as fertilizers and fuel and the higher price of imported rice. Other food items which registered significant price increases were meat, corn, and miscellaneous food items. Tight supply, particularly of pork, contributed to higher meat prices. Non-food items that registered higher inflation outturns for the month were transport and communication services (mainly gasoline and diesel products) and electricity. The high global prices of oil were directly reflected in the three rounds of increases in the domestic pump prices of petroleum products in April, while higher power rates reflected the increase in the spot market price of electricity.

Factors driving inflation are coming predominantly from the supply side, but the uptrend in core inflation could indicate more broad-based price pressures. However, as measures to stabilize the supply of specific commodities take root, and as prospects of a moderation in global economic activity temper demand-based pressures, price movements are expected to revert to manageable levels over the policy horizon.

More importantly, the BSP will continue to keenly monitor developments that could affect inflation, particularly the movements of oil and non-oil commodity prices and their direct and second-round effects on domestic prices. Monetary authorities will act decisively as warranted to contain inflationary pressures, mindful that price stability is a necessary condition to maintaining the economy’s growth momentum.


Tetangco: Prices soon to revert to steady levels after three-year high
By Darwin G. Amojelar, with Maricel E. Burgonio
The Manila Times

Prices of goods and services in April rose at their fastest pace in three years on costlier food and electricity, the government reported on Tuesday.

The National Statistics Office said inflation rate rose 8.3 percent in April from 6.4 percent in March.

This was the highest inflation rate since May 2005 at 8.5 percent and above the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas estimates of 6.4 percent and 7 percent. A year ago, it was 2.3 percent.

The Bangko Sentral, however, said price movements are likely to return to manageable levels as a result of expected higher food production.

“The continued uptick was [what had been] projected, although the magnitude was higher than expected. This rise was brought about primarily by increases in all commodity groups in the basket,” central bank Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. told The Manila Times in a text message also on Tuesday.

“As base effects dissipate and as measures to stabilize supply take root, we remain convinced that the price movements will revert to manageable levels over the policy horizon,” Tetangco said.

In the first four months of 2008, inflation, or the increase in prices of goods and services, averaged 6.2 percent, surpassing the Bangko Sentral’s full-year inflation target of 3 percent to 5 percent for this year.

“The elevated prices of oil and non-oil goods continue to pose challenges for policy makers, although for some commodities, supply responses [and] higher production should eventually temper the price spikes,” Tetangco said.

High demand for rice and the rise in prices, he added, will drive farmers to produce more rice for the market. Higher rice prices, Tetangco said, will raise productivity of the farmers.

Despite the high inflation and rate cut by the US Federal Reserve rate, the Bangko Sentral maintained its interest rates at 5 percent for overnight borrowing rates and 5.75 percent for overnight lending rates in the last policy meeting.

Some analysts expect inflation to peak at 9 percent by the end of the second quarter of 2008 and to slow down in the last quarter of the year.

Economic growth is seen to also slacken this year as a result of the high inflation. The Development Budget Coordinating Committee has projected the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to grow between 6.3 percent and 7 percent in 2008 from a three-decade high of 7.3 percent last year. GDP refers to the total value of goods and services produced in a country in a year.

Inflation for the first four months of the year reached 6.2 percent, which is significantly above the 3-percent to 5-percent target range for 2008.

The statistics office said excluding select food and energy items, core inflation went up to 5.9 percent in April from 4.8 percent in March. It added that the overall annual inflation rate for food alone climbed to 12 percent in April from 8.4 percent in March.

Inflation for food, beverages, and tobacco rose to 11.4 percent in April from 8.2 percent in March; clothing, 3.9 percent from 3.6 percent; H&R (housing and repair), 3.8 percent from 3.1 percent; FLW (fuel, light, and water), 8 percent from 6.2 percent; services, 6.9 percent from 6.4 percent; and miscellaneous items, 2.6 percent from 2.4 percent.

“The rising prices of rice nationwide and the general price mark-ups in other food items such as corn, canned fish, select fresh fish species, meat, cooking oil, and select spices and seasonings were responsible for the 2-percent increment in the national month-on-month inflation rate in April from 0.9 percent in March,” the statistics office said.

Costlier rice

Prices of rice rose to 24.6 percent in April from 10.9 percent in March and corn was up 19.3 percent from 8.4 percent.

In Metro Manila, the price of rice rose at 38.4 percent in April from 19.6 percent in March, while outside Metro Manila, the price of rice jumped to 22.7 percent in April from 9.6 percent in March.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said the rising food prices in the international market exerted pressure on local counterparts as prices of rice and corn increased by double-digit rates compared to the previous month.

“For rice alone, 11 out of 17 regions posted double-digit month-on-month inflation rates with the highest coming from Central Visayas at 18.6 percent. Historically, this is the highest nationwide increase in rice prices since the 11.5 percent in uptick from December 1998 to January 1999,” Santos added.

In addition, the price of cereal preparations nationwide soared 13.9 percent; dairy products, 13.2 percent; eggs, 8.4 percent; fish, 8.8 percent; meat, 9.8 percent; and miscellaneous foods, 6.3 percent.

The statistics office said the continued tight supply of pork triggered price increments in all areas.

Prices of beef and chicken were also on the uptrend during the month.

A slower annual price gain, however, was recorded in fruits and vegetables at 7.8 percent from 10.2 percent.

The statistics office said the upward trend can also be attributed to higher electricity rates in Metro Manila and the series of price increases in gasoline and diesel nationwide.

Expensive electricity

“Price add-ons in kerosene and higher electricity rates in NCR [National Capital Region, or Metro Manila] raised the FLW index in the area and in the Philippines by 5 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively, from their corresponding last month’s rates of 2.1 percent and 1.6 percent,” it added.

The NSO said the annual inflation rate in NCR jumped by 2 percentage points, to 7.4 percent in April from 5.4 percent in March due to hikes in the annual price increments posted in all the commodity groups.

Kalibo airport spruced up for tourism drive

Boy Ryan Zabal
The Manila Bulletin

KALIBO, Aklan — Construction of a new terminal building has started at the Kalibo International Airport to accommodate the increasing number of tourists visiting world-famous Boracay Island .

Air Transportation Office (ATO) Kalibo Manager Percy Malonesio said the P80-million airport terminal will attract more tourists and businesses as well as direct flights from China and Taiwan.

"The Kalibo airport needs international standard terminal and security facilities and state-of-theart runways to serve as a primary airport in Central Philippines ," he added.

Malonesio said the modernization of the airport will open new doors to trade and boost the economic potentials of Aklan and neighboring communities.

The new terminal building is one of the significant projects of the Arroyo administration under the Medium-Term Public Investment Program (MTPIP).

Kalibo airport is also one of the busiest airports in the country with an Instrumental Landing System (ILS) and Navigation Aid installed for international flights.

Aklan Rep. Florencio Miraflores said the airport terminal will be operational next year primarily to serve as gateway to the expanding tourism industry of Aklan and the island of Boracay .

The province is famous for its annual Señor Sto. Niño Ati-Atihan festivals, eco-tourism sites of Nabas, Tangalan, Libacao, and the loom-woven abaca and piña products.

Last month, Aklan Gov. Carlito Marquez and Vice Gov. Gabrielle Calizo supported plans to develop a master plan for the Kalibo International Airport for funding by the national government.

The governor said, "the airport should be modernized with a clear-cut master development plan to accommodate passenger growth for the next five years."

Kalibo airport is home to regular flights of major airlines, including Cebu Pacific, and international flights of Asian Spirit from Incheon, South Korea.

Boracay Island registered 596,748 tourist arrivals in 2007 compared to 558,084 in 2006.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Photo update: South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)

Click here for photos by Kevin Mata at
and at

Photo update: Metro Manila Skyway

Click here and scroll down the page....


Trading Markets

MANILA, May 06, 2008 (AsiaPulse via COMTEX) -- -- The value of the Philippine's domestic trade through water rose by some PhP11.02 billion to PhP76.91 billion(US$1.9 billion) in 2007's third quarter from PhP65.89 billion during the second quarter that year.

The latest preliminary data on the matter National Statistics Office (NSO) released this month show hiked value of water-based trade in nine Philippine regions during the third quarter helped push such rise.

These areas are National Capital Region (PhP28.71 billion), Ilocos Region (PhP969 million), Central Luzon (PhP12.58 billion), Western Visayas (PhP7.66 billion), Eastern Visayas (PhP7.09 billion), Davao Region (PhP4.68 billion), SOCCSKSARGEN (PhP2.22 billion), CARAGA (PhP4.93 billion) and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (PhP343 million).

NSO said these regions value of trade through water during the second quarter last year reached only PhP24.29 billion, zero, PhP9.07 billion, PhP4.93 billion, PhP4.63 billion, PhP2.69 billion, PhP1.79 billion, PhP2.46 billion and PhP177 million, respectively.

Central Mindanaos SOCCSKSARGEN covers the provinces of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City.

CARAGA, in northeastern Mindanao, covers the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.

Commodities traded during the reference period included food and live animals; beverages and tobacco; inedible crude materials except fuels; mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials; animal and vegetable oils, fats and waxes; chemical and related products; manufactured goods classified chiefly by material; machinery and transport equipment; miscellaneous manufactured articles.

NSO data also show regions where value of trade through water declined in 2007s third quarter from levels during the second quarter that year are CALABARZON (PhP266 million), MIMAROPA (PhP917 million), Bicol (PhP1.34 billion), Central Visayas (PhP874 million), Zamboanga Peninsula (PhP870 million) and Northern Mindanao (PhP3.47 billion).

Value of water-based trade in these regions during 2007s second quarter was higher at PhP315 million, PhP1.87 billion, PhP1.85 billion, PhP1.21 billion, PhP1.52 billion and PhP9.10 billion, respectively.

Cordillera Administrative Region and Cagayan Valley posted during this period zero water-based trade value, however.

The provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon comprise CALABARZON.

MIMAROPA covers the provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.

NSO data likewise show value of trade through water helped push to PhP77.39 billion total domestic trade value of the country in 2007's third quarter.

For this period, value of domestic trade through air reached PhP484.85 million while NSO reported no transaction for rail-based trade then.

Value of total domestic trade in 2007s third quarter exceeded the PhP65.99 billion value posted in the second quarter of that year.


Foreign chambers press for more sectors as investment priorities next year

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo
BusinessWorld Online

FOREIGN BUSINESS groups want the government to include other viable sectors such as business process outsourcing (BPO) in the investment priorities plan (IPP), which lists project categories eligible for tax perks.

In a letter to Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila, presidents of six foreign chambers and the head of the Philippine Association of Multinational Companies asked the government to consult them in the drafting of the 2009 IPP.

The government last month approved the 2008 IPP, which listed agriculture and agribusiness, infrastructure, tourism, engineered products, research and development, as well as strategic investments as sectors qualified for fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

"Unfortunately, the foreign business community was not invited to consultations [in the drafting of the 2008 IPP]," the letter read.

Sought for comment, Trade Undersecretary and Board of Investments Managing Head Elmer C. Hernandez said the foreign chambers had been invited to public hearings conducted by the government.

"As to the drafting of the framework for the IPP, that’s the task of the government. We had three public hearings, one in Manila, Cebu and General Santos," he said, when asked about the chambers’ concerns.

Foreign businessmen said the six sectors listed under this year’s IPP should have been more specific.

"We also do not see the BPO sector, which still needs a great amount of support if the Philippines is to capture the target of 10% of the world BPO and offshoring market by 2010," they said.

In the area of agriculture and aquaculture, they said emphasis should have been on the development of agro-industrial estates; while in infrastructure, focus should have been on air, sea, land transportation; as well as energy.

In tourism, the foreign chambers said medical and retirement zones should have been included, while strategic investments should have been specifically identified to guide investors to the country’s strategic requirements.

"Although we recognize that the 2008 IPP has been finalized, we would still be interested in meeting with you and Undersecretary Hernandez to obtain more precise guidance regarding how the IPP will be implemented," the groups wrote.

"At the same time, we wish to put on record to be included in the discussions leading to the 2009 IPP."

The letter was signed by presidents of the American, Australian-New Zealand, Canadian, European, Japanese, and Korean Chambers of Commerce. —

Be proud, Noli tells Caloocan City community

The Manila Bulletin

Vice President Noli L. de Castro yesterday challenged families of a resettlement community in Bagong Silang in Caloocan City to be proud of their success stories that will serve as inspiration to others to be a first-class society.

The biggest barangay and a success story in Caloocan, De Castro cited the changes and improvements in the community from the first time he visited it, which he attributed to the Filipinos’ self-discipline.

"Self-discipline creates a big difference in the lives of Filipino people. If we really want to make something happen and we become one in doing it, a lot of things can be done to further build up our lives."

The Vice President expressed dismay on families in other relocation sites, particularly in Northrail and Southrail, whose ways of life are still the same when they were in slum areas.

"It is disappointing to find out that these families do not even make any effort to improve their situation. They would rather complain than create solutions," De Castro said.

De Castro admitted that the government cannot do it alone.

He lauded Barangay Captain Cesar Padilla for the various community projects such as the newly renovated barangay hall.

De Castro commended Gawad Kalinga, headed by Tony Meloto, for being a partner in not only providing resettlement communities such as the Towerville in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan; Southville 2 in Trece Martires, Cavite; and Southville 3 in Sta. Rosa, Laguna with things they lack but also in teaching these communities the value of responsibility.

"Do not depend on the government alone. Be responsible for your own lives by creating practical solutions, by using what God has blessed you so that you can also be a blessing to others," De Castro said.

Hanjin to continue with $ 2-B shipyard in Misamis Oriental

The Manila Bulletin

A major South Korean investor is still inclined to pursue its $ 2 billion shipyard construction in Northern Mindanao despite a bribery and extortion scandal involving the company and a local government unit, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Trade Secretary Peter Favila got the assurance from Hanjin Heavy Industries about likely keeping its investments in Misamis Oriental pending an investigation into the corruption allegations.

"Hanjin has communicated through Secretary Favila that they are still inclined to stay despite these usual problems with the local government," Bunye said in a news conference in the Palace.

Bunye said Hanjin is willing to cooperate with the police investigation into bribery issue hounding the shipbuilding facility in the Misamis Oriental province.

"They said that they will comply with all the requirements (of the investigation)," he said.

Monday, 5 May 2008

DOLE report to PGMA: Settled disputes award P178.5 million to 4,485 workers

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) today reported to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that 4,485 workers received a total of P178.5 million in benefits as disputing labor and management opted to settle their disputes rather than resort to devastating strikes and lockouts.

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque told the President that the settled disputes involved cases on notices of strikes and lockouts filed with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) from January to April 15, 2008.

Citing a report from NCMB, Roque said the Board handled a total of 157 notices of strikes and lockouts representing 98.75% success rate out of the 160 cases that did not materialize into strikes and lockouts.

The total number of notices included those pending at the beginning of the period. Meanwhile, those filed at the start of 2008 totaled 115 covering 95 cases on alleged unfair labor practice and 13 cases on grounds of deadlock in bargaining negotiations.

The DOLE chief said the disputing parties agreed to bring and settle their disputes at the negotiating table with the intervention of the NCMBwhich resulted in the prevention of their disputes from materializing into strikes or lockouts.

He said the settled disputes benefited 4,485 workers, 3,000 of whom received P121 million in collective bargaining agreement (CBA) economic benefits. Another 1,485 workers received P57.5 million as their cases involving unfair labor practice were settled.

Roque said it took the NCMB an average of 40 days to settle a strike or lockout notice adding 51 notices remained the subject of conciliation at the end of the period.

The Board also handled 198 preventive mediation (PM) cases including those pending at the beginning of the period. Those filed beginning January this year totaled 165 involving 38,559 workers. Of the 165 cases, 154 raised the issue on unfair labor practice.

Deadlock in collective bargaining, mostly on economic issues, was raised in 10 cases. One case raised both issues.

Settlement of PM cases was pegged at 64%. Settled cases involving deadlock in collective bargaining benefited 638 workers who received economic benefits totaling P15.9 million. Resolved PM cases involving unfair labor practice, on the other hand, benefited 5,967 workers who were awarded a total of P157 million in monetary benefits.

Meanwhile, 61 workers benefited from the free legal aid and voluntary arbitration services program (FLAVAS).

Roque said the workers received a total of P1.95 million in back wages and other benefits due them with the resolution of their cases under FLAVAS, which continues to be an option for dispute settlement for individual complainants.

Nothing to worry over RP's failed tender for 675,000 tons of Viet rice

Malacanang said today there’s no cause for worry over the Philippines failed tender for 675,000 tons of rice from Vietnam’s state-owned Vinafood II, saying the country’s requirements for the staple food is already “filled up.”

Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio R. Bunye told reporters covering Malacanang that the 670,000 tons of rice from Vietnam were intended to serve as buffer stock.

“Base sa naunang pahayag ni Secretary Art Yap, itong pag bili ngayon ay para sa
buffer stock. Ibig sabihin, yung ating pangunahing pangangailangan ay napuno na,” Bunye said.

“I don’t think this (failed tender) will really affect our rice supply dahil yung ating basic na pangangailangan ay nabili na natin,” he added.

He pointed out that the country is well on its way to being rice-sufficient with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between the DA and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which will lead to “improved rice production” in the country.

Under the agreement, the DA and IRRI will undertake joint efforts to increase rice production in the Philippines starting this rainy season by planting new high-yielding varieties and hybrids.

The two agencies will also jointly assess and increase the output of the current rice growing areas, as well develop new areas using geographic information system, remote sensing, crop and climate modeling and other modern farming techniques.

Aside from the MoA, Bunye said the government will also implement President Arroyo’s intensified food production program aimed at strengthening the country's ability to provide food for its citizens through a series of efficient and budget-friendly food production modules.

Dubbed F.I.E.L.D.S. for fertilizer, irrigation and infrastructure, extension and education, loans, dryers and other post-harvest and post-production facilities, and seeds and other genetic materials), the six assistance packages form the centerpiece of the government's food security efforts.

Ito yung pinapatupad ng ating Pangulo para masiguro at ating produksyon sa mga dadating na planting season ay maging mas mataas at unti-unti nating ma-attain yung ating self-sufficiency in rice,” Bunye said.

PGMA orders ugrading of old Maharlika Hi-way so it can be connected to the 'Ro-Ro' route

After the recent completion of the five-years-in-the-making Strong Republic National Highway (SR-NH), next on the President’s ‘infrastructure-surge’ agenda is the rehabilitation of the old Maharlika Highway that started it all.

In her speech at the last leg of her RO-RO Caravan last week, the President instructed the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), thus:

“… We must not forget the forerunner of this nautical highways, the old Maharlika Road. And we want to fix the old Maharlika Road as well so that we have these three routes in our administration and the old route from the olden times.”

The three SR-NH routes are the Western Nautical Highway (WNH); the Eastern Nautical Highway (ENH); and the Central Nautical Highway (CNH) linking a total of 17 ports nationwide.

The President added to the audience’s applause: “And to make that continue to work (linking the SR-NH with the Maharlika Highway), I instruct the DPWH to fast track the Hinabangan-Catbalogan-Calbayog Road (in Samar) which is in terrible shape.”

“I used to pass that road when I was a senator and had no facility for helicopter or anything like that. It was still pretty good then. But everybody complains to me now about the wear and tear and it is in bad shape. But now we have three nautical highways -- Maharlika, Western, Central. Soon, we will have a fourth – Eastern,” the President related.

She enthused that “soon, we will have the lateral routes to connect all of these and, indeed, even now, we can see that RO-RO operations have changed the way industries do business.”

“Indeed, RO-RO is the fulfillment of our vision based on a strong and growing economy. It is the fulfillment of one of my ten-point program that I announced in 2004 that we would link the whole country by transportation and digital infrastructure,” the President said.

Aside from the Maharlika and the Samar roads’ rehabilitation, the President instructed the DPWH to upgrade the status of two access roads to national roads to improve their upkeep and keep the RO-RO route smooth – the access road to Pilar Port in Sorsogon, and the one leading to the Cawayan Port in Masbate.

Also to be fixed are the roads from “Masbate to Naval in Biliran to Leyte Island and on to Surigao del Sur,” the President committed.

“A lot of these is old routes but the new route is the one that includes Biliran. So just as Masbate is benefiting from the Central Nautical Highway, we want Biliran to benefit from the Eastern Nautical Highway. And to strengthen the link between the Strong Republic Nautical Highway and the GEM Corridor (Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu and Tawi-Tawi RO-RO)… I instruct the DPWH to speed up the Siocon-Dapitan Road.”

The President addressed the Second SR-NH Conference at the Grand Convention Hall of the Xavier Estates in Cagayan de Oro City last April 30 (Wednesday) upon the completion of her four-day RO-RO Caravan that started in Bulan, Sorsogon Sunday (April 27).

Arroyo bans collecting fees from Grades 1 to 4 pupils

Amita Legaspi

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered a no fee collection policy for public school enrollees from Grades 1 to 4, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus reminded Monday, a month before the school year starts.

"Ipinagbabawal na po, iniutos ng Presidente (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo. ‘Yong Grades 1 to 4 kahit na 'yong authorized voluntary deduction ay hindi na kokolektahin (President Arroyo ordered that there will be no authorized voluntary deduction from students of Grades 1 to 4)," Lapus said in an interview on GMA’s Unang Hirit.

"So there will be absolutely no money transaction, whether it is authorized, voluntary or whatever, during the enrollment time," he added.

Lapus said the move was aimed at increasing the number of enrollees.

"Kaya inaasahan natin na lalaki 'yong ating (enrollment) kasi ngayon 83 percent lang ng mga batang dapat nasa eskwelahan ang pumapasok (We expect an increase in the number of enrollees with the President’s no-collection order. At present, only 83 percent of children go to school)," Lapus said.

He said last year, 90 percent of the questions their action center received were on the collection during enrollment.

He said the presence of collection booths and collectors caused misunderstanding among the parents and teachers prompting poor parents not to enroll their children.

"Kasi 'yong ating mga magulang, 'yong iba imbes na magtanong, kapag nakakakita ng mga nangongolekta, akala ay requirement sa enrollment so merong hindi tumutuloy sasabihin nila, ‘Anak wala tayong pera ‘wag ka na lang mag-aral’," Lapus said.

(Some poor parents, instead of asking question, opt not to enroll their children upon seeing that money is being collected by teachers.)

Meanwhile, students from Grades 5 to 6 can be asked to pay authorized and voluntary collections such as fees for Boys and Girls Scouts of the Philippines, Anti-Tubercolosis project and Parents and Teachers’ Association (PTA).

However, these fees can only be collected a month after the enrollment and after these are fully explained to the parents.

Lapus said parents can lodge their complaint to the DepEd’s Balik Eskwela Action Center against schools that will violate the order.

On the other hand, he said Brigada Eskwela, a week of cleaning and preparing the schools, will continue.

"Ginawa nang compulsory ngayon, lahat ng eskwelahan sa buong Pilipinas ay magbi-Brigada Eskwela (Brigada Eskwela is now compulsory in all the public schools in the country)," he said.

He public school teachers are now undergoing intensive re-training in preparation for the coming school year.

In Philippines, Rice Boom Makes Worms Squirm

Holes Dug by Big Pest Are Costly Problem;
Gift From the Sky-God

May 5, 2008
Asian Wall Street Journal

BANAUE, Philippines -- Surging rice prices are causing distress across the globe. But they may provide the Ifugao tribespeople with reinforcements in a long, losing battle against giant, civilization-destroying earthworms.

A slithering, silent invasion of worms -- up to 2 feet long and as thick as thumbs -- has been boring into the rice terraces in this misty, mountainous area of the northern Philippines for 40 years. They destroy irrigation systems, erode the soil and ultimately cause the terraces to collapse. Farmers have abandoned a quarter of the ancient, stepped rice paddies that were built over 2,000 years ago.

"These giant worms are trouble," said Jimmy Cabbigat, a 61-year-old Ifugao farmer. counterattack. But with prices breaching historic highs, the Ifugao elders sense their war against the worms is about to turn.

Read the rest of the story here...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

DOST’s Bayanihan Linux version 5.0 coming soon

The new open source package will have two editions
By Ike Suarez, Correspondent
The Manila Times

Software programmers at the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the Department of Science and Technology are now putting the finishing touches to the latest version of Bayanihan Linux.

By the time of its release later this year, this Open Source package shall have two editions, namely: one tailored for use in government and private offices; another tailored for use in schools by teachers and students. In addition, Wikipedia in an offline form could form part of the package’s latter edition.

The Manila Times learned of this development after ASTI personnel in the Quezon City office, directed us to Emmanuel Balinte, a leading member of the Bayanihan Linux team, following our inquiries.

Balinte said, “Bayanihan Linux version 5 is slated to release by early 4th quarter, possibly on the first or second week of October, with the possbility of an offline edition of Wikipedia bundled with the upcoming academic edition.”

But he admitted a final decision still had to be made on this matter. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia whose contents on its Internet portal can be freely created and/or modified by any users who register themselves to the website.

As with Open Source, Wiki content is a new and alternative intellectual property paradigm emerging in the century of Web 2.0. Already, Wikipedia has cast doubts on the survival of traditional encyclopedias—yes, those big books that used to occupy living room shelves.

ASTI first launched Bayanihan Linux in October 2001 for use primarily in government offices. It formed part of a package of measures by the Philippine government to curb rampant software piracy in the country.

As its name implies, Bayanihan Linux is a suite of programs running on the Linux operating system. Included in the bundle is Open Office, a package of word processor, spreadsheet, database, and presentation tools. Open Office is similar to commercial packages widely available in the market and many times sold as pirated copies.

Because it is Open Source, Bayanihan Linux can be freely copied and modified by anyone. This would be in contrast to the case with proprietary software where doing so would be a crime.

Bayanihan Linux can be freely downloaded online at http://www., at the same time, a CD version can be purchased from ASTI for P 120. Similar commercial packages that are legitimate copies would cost a few thousands of pesos more.

Balinte said the edition for government and private offices of Bayanihan Linux’s forthcoming edition would be made simple once again. It would include only Open Office, an Internet browser, instant messaging, and an e-mail client program. “These are all that are needed for office use, “ Balinte said.

On the other hand, the academic edition would also include games, graphics programs, and multimedia applications added into succeeding versions of Bayanihan Linux. Also to be included are compilers for use in developing new Open Source programs.

Balinte said the issue with Wikipedia inclusion was whether or not this would unduly increase storage requirements in PCs where Bayanihan Linux Version 5 is to be installed.

Later versions of Bayanihan Linux, including Version 4 released last February 2007 have bundled into them WINE, an Open Source program enabling easy interface with Windows applications.

Succeeding versions of Bayanihan Linux have been upgraded to become as user friendly and fun to use as popular commercial software running on Windows. Observers believe this has been done to address perceptions worldwide that Open Source is only for geeks who are very proficient in the use of computers and not for ordinary computer users.

Bayanihan Linux Version 4 can run even on obsolete Pentium 3 PCs. According to Balinte, the same will be the case for Version 5.

PGMA: No more need to import rice!

Just for buffer stocks – and so we can take it or leave it.

Thus stressed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday (May 2, Friday) about the country’s importation of rice, if ever, to fill the present 10-percent “differential” between Philippines’ rice production and Filipino’s rice consumption.

“If we’re to go into the market again, it’s for buffer stocks. So that’s why it’s a ‘take it or leave it’ situation as far as NFA (National Food Authority) is concerned.

“In other words, we can take it or we can leave it (rice from other countries), depending on how the prices are,” the President told the Federation of Philippine Industries during its general assembly and induction of officers in Makati City.

The President was seconded by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap who revealed to reporters covering Malacañang, thus: “The summer harvest is coming in strong!”

“We have enough supply through NFA’s trading activities; and we are focused on increased production in the wet season of 2008,” enthused Yap.

The aggie chief stressed that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is “preparing to go all out for the dry crop of 2009,” adding that the DA had presented to the President a rice-sufficiency plan that it earlier crafted with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice).

The President’s “take-it-or-leave-it” stance came in the wake of reports that Mekong countries led by Thailand – one of the Philippines’ rice sources -- have banded together to form a rice cartel to fix the price of rice that they export to rice-importing countries.

Addressing the business group advocating ‘Buy Pinoy-Buy Local,’ the President allayed fears of a rice shortage in the Philippines, pointing to a report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) itself saying that the Philippines is not among 36 countries gripped by a rice crisis.

The economist-President also revealed that while “… there are global clouds on the horizon that are driving up the price of oil and food, particularly rice… we are now in a vastly improved position to weather this storm than at any other time in recent memory.”

“I’ve seen this coming for some time now, certainly before the world took notice. That is why we were reaching out to Thailand and Vietnam for rice supply long before the headlines. So don’t be alarmed by today’s headlines -- both Thailand and Vietnam and other neighbors elsewhere have already concluded contracts with us of 1.2 million metric tons -- enough to cover the 10 percent differential between our production and our consumption,” the President enthused.

For his part, Yap said it is “difficult to speculate on an Asian rice cartel when there is nothing firm formally announcing its creation.

“Vietnam has not formally announced its inclusion in this formation, if indeed there will be a formation of the OREC (Organization of Rice Exporting Countries),” said Yap.

“It is just timely to make a call to these ASEAN (Association of East Asian Nations) countries that they can use this opportunity to group together and consolidate production volumes to ensure greater trade and inventory flows into the world to make sure that the gains made against poverty and hunger in the last few years will not be lost over reduced inventories, spiraling prices, and speculation,” the DA chief added.