Saturday, 7 June 2008

Philippines foreign reserves $36.6 bln at end May

Bangko Sentral
Media Release

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) reached US$36.6 billion as of end-May 2008 from the previous month’s level of US$36.4 billion. The increase in reserves was attributed mainly to the deposit by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) of proceeds from the privatization program of the National Power Corporation (NPC), as well as the Bangko Sentral’s income from its investments abroad. These receipts were partly offset, however, by outflows arising mainly from 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-May 2008, including revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, was also higher at US$36.6 billion from US$36.3 billion a month ago. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.


Philippines's Jollibee Expands to Mideast, Indonesia, U.S.

June 6, 2008; Page B2
Wall Street Journal

MANILA, Philippines -- With the global food crisis continuing to chafe, one of Southeast Asia's biggest fast-food chains is pushing to expand overseas to ease the impact of soaring agricultural prices on its profits at home.

Jollibee Foods Corp. is an icon in the Philippines for outselling McDonald's Corp. and Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC in a country obsessed with American-style fast food. It operates some 1,400 stores in the Philippines, compared with 280 run by McDonald's, its next-largest local rival.


Friday, 6 June 2008

Cheaper Medicines Bill now a law

CHEAPER MEDICINES ACT -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shows offs the copy of Republic Act 9502 or otherwise known as "Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicine Act of 2008" after she signed it into law Friday (June 6, 2008) at the Laguna Provincial Hospital grounds in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. With the President in photo are (from left) Senators Pia Cayetano, and Manuel Mar Roxas, Reps. Edcel Lagman, Raul del Mar, Ma Amelita Villarosa, Antonio Alvarez, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other officials. (Edwin Paril/OPS-NIB Photo)

STA. CRUZ, Laguna – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law today the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 giving ordinary Filipinos increased access to affordable but quality medicines.

The President chose the Laguna Provincial Hospital here as the venue for the simple signing ceremony of Republic Act No. 9502, which institutionalizes her half-priced medicines program that she started seven years ago in 2001.

Among those present during the ceremony were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Senators Mar Roxas, Pia Cayetano and Bong Revilla, and several members of the House of Representatives.

Welcoming the President were residents and local officials led by Gov. Teresita Lazaro.

Together with the generic medicines law, the landmark RA 9502 ensure the availability of affordable medicines, including those sourced through parallel importations, thus giving consumers wider choice in their drug requirements, the President pointed out.

“With the Cheaper Medicines and Quality Bill we have completed our legislative reforms in bringing affordable medicines to the people,” she added.

The Department of Health (DOH) said the new law strengthens the generics market by allowing the government to issue compulsory licenses to other manufacturers to produce generic drugs for domestic use, including -- in cases of extreme public health need -- putting price ceilings, if needed.

Private entities like retail chains and private hospitals can help bring in more affordable medicines through bulk orders from the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), or conduct parallel importation with the approval of the DOH.

Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla said the President has instructed the Department of Health (DOH) to immediately come up with the rules and regulations prescribed by law within 120 days.

Padilla said the DOH would also accelerate the expansion of its Botika ng Barangays to 15,000 outlets by 2010 to complement the government’s program to ensure that the people, especially the poor, will have greater access to affordable and quality medicines nationwide.

Asian banks faced with inflation dilemma

By Raphael Minder in Hong Kong
Financial Times
Published: June 5 2008 19:58 | Last updated: June 6 2008 01:57

Soaring food and energy prices are forcing Asian central banks to confront a difficult dilemma: how to restrain inflation while not derailing economic growth.

Until recently, Asian central bankers have shown little inclination to take centre stage in the fight against rising prices, even though core inflation has been drifting higher in most of Asia since early 2003, with the notable exception of Japan.

Central banks in Indonesia and the Philippines raised benchmark interest rates by 25 basis points on Thursday in the latest sign of policymakers’ attempts to counter skyrocketing oil and food prices.

Manila’s move, which took rates up to 5.25 per cent, was the first in three years and came after new data showed year-on-year inflation had hit a nine-year-high of 9.6 per cent.

Jakarta’s rate rise to 8.5 per cent follows a similar increase last month, which marked the first tightening since December 2005, when rates hit 12.75 per cent. Indonesia’s year-on-year inflation in May was 10.38 per cent, the highest since September 2006.

The two countries are facing an increasingly common conundrum for Asian politicians and central bankers.

Taiwan’s new premier, Liu Chao-shiuan, on Thursday told the Financial Times that the government had struck a deal with leading retailers to offer rice and other staples at reduced prices in an effort to tame inflation.

His comments coincided with a jump in the island’s core inflation rate, which excludes food and energy, from 3.1 per cent to 3.23 per cent, its biggest gain in nearly nine years.

India and Malaysia, which both increased petrol prices this week, are expected to raise rates soon while policymakers in China have been waging war against inflation since last year. Chinese inflation hit 8.5 per cent in April, though Beijing is expected next week to announce a modest reduction for the year to May.

In the main, Asian central bankers have appeared content to support governments pushing for strong domestic growth as a buffer against a US-led slowdown that could undermine exports.

The hope was that a slowdown in other parts of the world would reduce demand enough to keep inflation at bay.

But that calculation has been thrown off course by recent inflation figures that have illustrated the massive impact of soaring energy and food prices on a region that is home to two-thirds of the world’s poor.

Even before Thursday’s central bank interventions, calls for action had been growing louder. On Monday, Goldman Sachs said monetary tightening was “especially urgent”, given that nearly all countries in the region had negative real interest rates, “which is clearly not compatible with still solid growth and rising inflationary pressures”.

Real interest rates are now negative by an average 1.7 per cent in Asia (excluding Japan), according to UBS, or far below the level both before and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis a decade ago.

The task of central bankers has already been complicated in some Asian countries by moves to raise retail fuel prices to cut soaring government spending on subsidies. Asia’s oil production is now about a third of the level of oil imports.

On Wednesday, India joined Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia in taking the politically unpopular step of raising prices at the fuel pump. While the retail price increase was relatively modest – between 8 and 17 per cent, with an exclusion for paraffin, an essential product for poorer households – it comes at a time when Indian inflation has already accelerated past the central bank’s comfort zone of 5.5 per cent, even recently breaching the 8 per cent mark.

Discontent over higher food and fuel costs is also exacerbating political tensions in Malaysia and Thailand, where governments are struggling to maintain their grip on power.

In South Korea, Lee Myung-bak’s administration has come under pressure, only 100 days after taking office, amid protests over beef imports. Indonesia and India are both preparing for elections in the coming year that will hinge heavily on impoverished voters and their worries over the cost of food and fuel. Rob Subbaraman, chief economist for Asia (excluding Japan), at Lehman Brothers, notes: “Indian elections have been won and lost on the price of an onion.”

Most economists predict rate rises in a handful of countries, including Taiwan and Thailand. However, the rises are expected to be limited to 25 or 50 basis points – below the expected acceleration in inflation.

Bolder steps by central banks could lead to conflict with governments, especially those that have committed to ambitious growth targets, such as Mr Lee’s administration in South Korea.

Korean inflation rose to a seven-year high of 4.9 per cent in April. Yet, according to the April minutes of the central bank’s board meeting, two members called for a rate cut to boost growth.

Additional reporting by Kathrin Hille in Taipei, John Aglionby in Jakarta, and Roel Landingin in Manila

Clark's Middle East flights to serve OFWs

By Reynaldo G. Navales
Sun.Star Pampanga

CLARK FREEPORT -- Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Central and Northern Luzon are expected to benefit from the chartered flights offered by Transglobal Airways at the sprawling Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here.

Clark International Airport Corporation (Ciac) president and chief executive officer (CEO) Victor Jose Luciano said Transglobal Airways will fly via Clark-Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Transglobal flight will make a technical stop in Dhaka, Bangladesh before proceeding to Fujairah, UAE, which is an hour away from Dubai.

Luciano said Transglobal Airways will be using the 160-seater MD-83 aircraft noting that "the flight to the Middle East will greatly benefit the OFWs from Central and Northern Luzon."

Transglobal Airways launched its inaugural flight at DMIA last Friday morning signaling the start of their two times a week chartered flights at the 2,500 hectare civil aviation complex.

It will fly every Monday and Wednesday at DMIA inside the Clark Freeport Zone. The airways charterer is the Kang Pacific.

"This is a new beginning for DMIA especially in bringing flights to the Middle East where it will serve 1.8 million of OFWs working there," Luciano said.

"This will now be the link, it will not be in Metro Manila it will be in Clark," he stressed, "so our workers in the Middle East coming from Regions 1, 2 and 3 and Cordillera will not have to go to Manila and they can take their flights from DMIA."

"It could also serve Filipino travelers going to Europe," he added.

According to Luciano, Tansglobal is a Clark-based airline owned by a Filipino, Taiwanese and Korean group, which decided to expand their operations at the airport

"This flight would be very accessible to our OFWs working in the Middle East and the flight of Transglobal will make a difference for our countrymen abroad," he added.

"This is a start of our connection to the Middle East because there are so many of our countrymen clamoring for more airlines to fly from the Middle East to the Philippines."

Luciano also said Transglobal will be adding their flights to five times a week in the coming months at DMIA, adding that the aviation firm had already invested more than US$10 million with their aircraft and will increase their investment to another US$10 million.

He said they will add another aircraft Boeing 737 which will arrive by the end of June this year to fly the Bangkok-Clark route.

"This is a very good opportunity to introduce Clark to the Middle East," he said.

Luciano also expressed his gratitude to the members of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) for allowing foreign air carriers to operate at DMIA, which was declared by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the Premier International Gateway of the country.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza had earlier said Clark would become the Port of Entry due to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Open Skies roadmap, which is expected to be signed this December.

DMIA is averaging at least 40 flights per week due to the foreign carriers operating in the airport such as Asiana Airlines, Tiger Airways, Air Asia, China Southern Airlines, Deer Air and the local carriers Cebu Pacific, Asian Spirit, and Southeast Asian Airlines.

Philippine Central Bank hikes rates

Inflation cited; further increases this year possible
BusinessWorld Online

THE BANGKO SENTRAL ng Pilipinas (BSP) yesterday raised key interest rates by a quarter percentage point, the first increase since 2005, to combat inflation that is running at a nine-year high.


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Philippine gov't calls on all sectors to unite as inflation rate soars to 9.6%

Malacanang called on the business and other key sectors to work with the government to help the country get over the hump as the inflation rate, pushed by skyrocketing prices of oil and food, soared to 9.6 percent last month, the fastest acceleration in more than nine years.

In a statement, Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said the 9.6 percent inflation rate “underscores the need for government, business and other key sectors to join hands in boosting production, conserving resources, and sustaining growth and job creation, to protect our living standards and competitiveness against the global escalation of prices.”

He said that the government has taken major steps to help the people and business enterprises cope with the effects of high inflation.

Saludo cited the P4-billion Katas ng VAT [Value Added Tax] launched last Tuesday, access to National Food Authority (NFA)–subsidized rice, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) petition to lower electricity rates charged by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

He assured that the government would continue building or upgrading roads and ports to cut transport costs, expand irrigation and other farm support systems to increase food production.

The government, he added, would further tighten measures against hoarding.

"The government is responding strongly to inflation's challenge," he said.

President Arroyo launches P 1-billion loan program for students

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched today a P1 billion loan-based assistance program for deserving third and fourth year college students to enable them to finish their schooling.

Dubbed as the Student’s Assistance Fund for Education for a Strong Republic (SAFE 4 SR), the program provides interest-free loans which the students can use to cover expenses for their tuition fees, books, course projects, thesis papers, board and lodging bills, graduation fees and other educational expenses.

The President led guests in the launch of the funding program held at the school gym of the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) in Manila this afternoon.

Under the program, the President, through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), will provide 44 pre-qualified institutions composed of 21 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and 23 higher education institutions (HEIs) with P300,000 each for the program.

The 44 institutions will determine who among their students shall receive P8,000 each per semester representing the maximum loanable amount from the program.

Upon graduation, the student will have 10 years to pay the total amount to the school where he or she graduated from.

The President distributed 15 out of the 44 checks earmarked for the educational institutions. These include: Bataan Peninsula State University, Bulacan State University, Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trades, EARIST, Marikina Polytechic College, Pampanga Agricultural College,

Philippine State College of Aeronautics, NYK-TDG Maritime Academy, Technological University of the Philippines, Asian Development Foundation College of Leyte, STI College, University of Manila, AMA Computer University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and New Era University.

In her speech keynoting the launch of the student loan program, the President said the SAFE 4 SR represents “the second of the major components of the fruits to be made available this year by our lower-than-program budget deficit which can be attributed to VAT (Value Added Tax) reforms.”

The President said that P4 billion had been generated from the VAT on oil products from January to April 2008 and thus the government was in a position to allow the “fruits” of VAT to trickle down to the masses.

The President last June 3 (Tuesday) launched the “Katas ng VAT: Pantawid Kuryente” program in Malacañang which will provide a one-time subsidy of P500 to four million “poorest of the poor” who use only up to 100-kilowatt electricity consumption per month for their electricity needs.

She said the Cabinet agreed to allocate P2 billion for the program and now that the new school year is about to start, the Cabinet further agreed to allocate P1 billion for the SAFE 4 SR program.

Aside from launching the program, the President also launched the Development Bank of the Philippines’ (DBP) Endowment for Education Program (DEEP).

DEEP is DBP’s advocacy to provide educational opportunities for underprivileged Filipino youth called “Iskolars ni GMA.”

For its initial batch, DEEP will assist 125 students who wish to become future nurses.

These scholars were pre-chosen for meeting the bank’s program guidelines such as only having an annual family income of not more than P100,000 and ranking in the upper 20 percent of their high school graduating class.

DBP has earmarked P1 billion for a 10-year run of DEEP starting this school year. This amount will support 1,000 students of 10 batches of qualified ad deserving high school students.

Gov’t to offer 15,000 jobs on Independence Day in line with PGMA’s order to “give flesh” to heroes' vision

In line with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s order to her Cabinet for them to “give flesh” to the vision of the country’s heroes in their Independence Day programs, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has scheduled a Jobs Fair offering a total of 15,000 local and overseas jobs.

The President’s order was earlier revealed by Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye in his column ‘View from the Palace’ in mid-May, thus: “With less than a month to go before our 110th Independence Day celebration, the President has asked the members of her Cabinet to match the traditional flag-raising and wreath-laying activities with government programs that will ‘honor the sacrifices of our heroes, not by words alone but through deeds that give flesh to their vision.”

The DOLE’s Mega Jobs and Livelihood Fair shall be held at the Luneta Grandstand from June 10-June 12, the Philippines 110th Independence Day which will have the theme, "Republic Service, Tungo sa Ganap na Kalayaan at Kaunlaran."

For job applicants in the provinces, DOLE Regional Offices shall “simultaneously supervise similar 110th Independence Day local and overseas jobs and livelihood fairs that will provide many thousands of opportunities.”

Earlier last Labor Day, the DOLE had also unveiled some 100,000 local and international jobs in 100 GMA Job Center Kiosks nationwide.

DOLE Secretary Marianito D. Roque enthused: "Indeed, the active unity of our nation's social partners, particularly labor, employers and the government in facilitating opportunities and pushing back poverty, is a fitting way to celebrate our Independence Day."

The 15,000 Independence Day jobs will be offered by some 100 employers and recruitment agencies, according to DOLE Undersecretary for Internal Affairs and Regional Operations Carmelita M. Pineda, chair of the DOLE's 110th Independence Day Executive Committee.

“On top of the employers' booths, the one-day jobs fair under the supervision of the DOLE's National Capital Region (NCR) will also provide on-line employment facilitation services featuring some 10 Phil-Jobnet workstations onsite under the aegis of the DOLE's Bureau of Local Employment (BLE),” according to the DOLE.

To be provided for free during the Jobs Fair are Pre-Employment Documentation (for the issuance of NBI Clearance, birth certificate, tax identification number or TIN, SSS number); and the onsite DOLE Assistance Clinic for legal, welfare and other pertinent assistance courtesy of various DOLE services, bureaus, and attached agencies.

Also to be provided for free are “valuable skills demonstrations, competency assessment to poor but deserving students and graduates, and youth profiling.”

Meanwhile, the DOLE’s BLE “had made available in the Phil-Jobnet website ( the other local/overseas jobs fairs schedules and venues nationwide covering the month of June 2008, for the information and benefit of jobseekers in various regions.”

The DOLE said the nationwide jobs fairs are hosted by local government units and DOLE-supervised Public Employment Service Offices (PESOs) in the following schedules and venues across the country:

• June 1: Covered Court, Daraga, Albay in Region 5 (Bicol);
• June 5 to 6: Zamboanga del Norte Exhibition Sports and Convention Center in Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula);
• June 8: Municipal Gym, Surallah, South Cotabato in Region 12 (SOCCSKSARGEN);
• June 10 to 11: DOLE CARAGA Conference Room (CARAGA);
• June 16: New Municipal Hall, Quezon, Bukidnon in Region 10;
• June 19: Southseas Mall, Cotabato City in Region 12; and Lagawe Central School, Lagawe, Ifugao in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR);
• June 19 to 20: Daet Town Plaza, Daet, Camarines Norte; and
• June 23 to 24, 2008 coinciding with the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the Covered Court in Tabaco City (both in Region 5).

Update photos: South Luzon Expressway and STAR

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Hanjin Heavy’s Subic-made ship clears sea hurdle

By Henry Empeño
The Business Mirror

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—The MV Argolikos, the first oceangoing vessel built by Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp.-Philippines in its shipyard here, has passed the required sea trial—a series of tests to determine the performance and general seaworthiness of a ship prior to its delivery.

Pyeong Jong Yu, outside business department manager of Hanjin Heavy, which is in charge of the firm’s external relations, said in a letter to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman Feliciano Salonga that the Argolikos performed “well beyond expectations” during her sea trial from May 27 to May 29.

Yu did not specify the tests the Argolikos underwent, but the so-called “builders trials” for newly built ships normally measure a vessel’s speed and maneuverability, as well as the working conditions of its equipment, navigation systems and safety features.

Such trials are also conducted in open sea, usually with the builder’s technicians and engineers, certification officials and representatives of the ship’s owner.

According to Yu, the series of tests the Argolikos underwent were witnessed by representatives of Dioryx Maritime Corp.—the Greek shipping firm which is scheduled to receive Hanjin Heavy’s first ship delivery—and Bureau Veritas, a Paris-based conformity assessment, certification, inspection and testing firm.

The tests started at 7 a.m. on May 27 and lasted until 11 a.m. on May 29, Yu added.“It is worthy to note that the required speed as per contract is 24.5 knots, but the ship’s actual speed is 24.6 knots,” Yu said in his letter.

“We are pleased to inform you that the owner’s representative on- board, and Bureau Veritas, remarked that the ship performed well beyond their expectations,” You also told Salonga.

Salonga, who periodically receives updates from Hanjin Heavy about the firm’s first shipbuilding project here, said earlier that MV Argolikos will be used as a container ship. The ship weighs 41,000 tons, is 258.9 meters long and has a width of 32 meters and a height of 19 meters.

These numbers classify Argolikos as a panamax dry-bulk carrier, the second-biggest type of dry-bulk vessels after the capesize, according to the vessel-size groups published by Lloyd’s Register.

Salonga also said the Argolikos—the first of six vessels of the same type reportedly ordered by Dioryx from Hanjin Heavy here—has a market value of $60 million. The price falls with the vicinity of panamax ship prices quoted in 2007 by Clarkson Research, an England-based shipping intelligence provider.

Yu said that prior to the sea trial, the Argolikos had been issued an attestation by Bureau Veritas.

Hanjin has also secured for the container carrier a cargo ship safety equipment certificate, a complete crew list and a certificate of competency of the Korean crew from Korea’s Busan Regional Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Office, Yu added.

Aside from being the first ship to be made in Subic, the Argolikos is also the first container ship to be built in the country, Salonga said.

“Cebu is ahead of us [with the Japanese-owned Tsuneishi shipyard in Balamban having delivered at least 77 vessels, mostly bulk carriers, since 1994], but the largest and first container carrier is from Subic. This is where big ships for exports to other countries will be made,” Salonga said.

“So this is history,” Salonga added, citing Hanjin Heavy for completing the Argolikos six months ahead of schedule.

Hanjin Heavy’s Subic shipyard is also set to build some of world’s largest container ships with gross tonnage of around 100,000 tons.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Foreign businessmen tour NAIA’s Terminal 3

By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Just days after hosting a lawmakers' group, the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) opened its doors Monday afternoon for a tour by foreign businessmen.

A 12-member delegation from the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC), a club of various foreign chambers of commerce in the Philippines, took a trip to the mothballed NAIA-3 with airport officials on Monday, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said.

The visit happened less than a week since members of the House of Representatives committee on transportation dropped by the terminal to check on repairs and completion work on the facility.

“We felt it was an opportune time to invite them. It was in response to a meeting with the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) where we gave updates on infrastructure projects, and they (JFC) asked about NAIA-3,” said airport development and corporate affairs chief Tirso Serrano.

The JFC group, among them officials from the Manila-based foreign chambers of the United States, Japan and Europe, went around the departure and arrival areas and were briefed about repair and completion work being done for a planned partial opening in the coming months.

Unlike previous official visits, however, members of the media were not invited to cover the JFC tour at the group's request, said Serrano.

With MIAA General Manager Alfonso Cusi and other airport executives, the JFC group was also shown systems installations -- including elevators and air-conditioning -- being rushed for yet another planned partial operation starting with a few domestic flights.

Serrano also updated the group on legal cases involving the terminal, including arbitration cases filed against the Philippine government by the NAIA-3 builders, the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. and Germany's Fraport AG.

After the tour, MIAA and JFC held a meeting on the terminal where there was further talk on government's plans for the facility. The engagement ended at 5 p.m.

“We told them that we are definitely committed to our position that we will open the terminal when we have finished the most necessary repairs. We told that using the terminal for domestic flights will not be permanent, that we just want to go through the process of proving Naia-3's operability for commercial use,” said Serrano.

The official said JFC members expressed concern about the terminal's safety problems, among them cracks and other design lapses that engineering consultants had found. But the foreign businessmen, said Serrano, “appreciated MIAA’s openness” about the terminal.

Inflight catering facility up in Clark

By Rendy Isip
The Manila Standard

Miascor-Gate Gourmet, a $1.3-million inflight catering facility, will start operations this month, producing 4,000 meals a day in anticipation of more flights at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

The joint venture will operate and manage the first-ever inflight catering facility inside the sprawling 2,500-hectare civil aviation complex to cater to the needs of air carriers plying the Clark route.

Jorge Macenas, Miascor-Gate Gourmet controller, said the facility located in Civil Aviation Complex would house a preparation kitchen, freezer, dish wash sanitation and food safety control areas.

The catering facility will employ 40 workers, including world-class Filipino chefs who are knowledgeable in the preparation of inflight meals.

Clark International Airport Corp. president Victor Jose Luciano will lead the inauguration of the facility tomorrow.

Other officials expected for the event are Clark International Airport Corp. vice president for operations and general manager Bienvenido Manga, vice president for finance Romeo Dyoco and Gate Gourmet’s Mark Wall, president for Asia-Pacific Region; Peter Andrist, vice president for business development, and Lars Fredrick Larsen, general manager.

The inflight catering service is a vital component for the development of the airport and efforts to attract Middle Eastern airlines to take the route, said Miascor director Jovino Lorenzo Jr. There are thousands of workers in the Middle East who fly home to the Philippines every day.

He said the second phase of the project would cost about $5 million.

Cebu Pacific is world’s no. 1 in passenger growth

BusinessWorld Online

AMONG THE WORLD’S 30 largest low-cost carriers in 2007, Cebu Pacific (CEB) ranked first in terms of passenger carriage growth, according to Airline Business magazine’s May 2008 issue.

CEB was also ranked no. 23 in the world and no. 5 in Asia in total passengers carried in 2007. CEB carried a total of almost 5.5 million passengers in 2007, up 57.4% from 2006.

Lance Y. Gokongwei, CEB president and CEO, said, "This is a testament that our offering — new aircraft and most affordable fares — has caught on and we believe will continue to gain momentum."

This year, CEB expects to fly 7 million passengers as it takes delivery of new planes and expands its service domestically and internationally. It recently offered an unprecedented 500,000 seats for free with the passengers paying only for the surcharges and government tax.

Southwest Airlines (USA) topped the low-cost carrier category with 88.7 million passengers, followed by Ryanair (Ireland), easyJet (UK), Air Berlin (Germany) and AirTran Airways. CEB joins Indonesia’s Lion Air (1) and the now defunct Adam Air (4), Malaysia’s AirAsia (2) and Deccan (3) of India in Asia’s Top 5.

CEB has a fleet of ten A319s, eight A320s and two ATR 72-500 aircraft. The airline flies to 14, soon to be 16, international destinations with the addition of Kaoshiung in June and Kota Kinabalu on July. It will also add Tuguegarao and Naga in its domestic network in June and San Jose, Mindoro in July.

Philippines to start more RO-RO works in 3rd quarter

By Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo
BusinessWorld Online

FURTHER EXPANSION of the country’s nautical highway will start in the third quarter, when the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) starts building the first batch of new roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) facilities under the government’s Greater Maritime Access (GMA) program.

The GMA project involves the construction of 85 ports nationwide over the next four years with a budget of P11.7 billion, financed by a loan from Spain.

PPA Assistant General Manager Claro Maranan said only six ports will be completed this year.

"We have submitted a list of 120 locations to Malacañang. We are just waiting for instructions to know which areas will be prioritized," Mr. Maranan said in a phone interview.

Proposed locations for the new ports include Isabela, Aurora and Pangasinan in North Luzon, as well as Quezon, Romblon, Mindoro and Cavite in Metro Luzon. Areas in Palawan, Masbate, Albay and Eastern Samar are being considered in Central Philippines, while Surigao del Norte, Davao and Cotabato are among the possible RO-RO venues.

Provincial ports have been classified as small, medium and large ports with an allocated budget of P50 million, P100 million, and P150 million, respectively.

The PPA will use prefabricated steel ports and the RO-RO projects will include passenger terminals with solar-powered facilities.

Mr. Maranan said the PPA is in talks with two new suppliers after a Spanish firm initially contracted for the program failed to submit required documents.

Enrico Basilio, director of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Transport and Logistics Institute, said RO-ROs have helped save as much as 30% in cargo handling. "It facilitates regional trade. It has an impact on agriculture and tourism because it provides people mobility," Mr. Basilio said.

The government runs 101 ports nationwide.

Uniforms no longer required in all public schools

with Shianee Mamanglu
The Manila Bulletin

All public school students from elementary to high school are no longer required to wear school uniforms starting this school year.

President Arroyo expanded her directive removing the school uniform requirement in all public elementary and high schools to make it easier for poor Filipino children to go to school, Secretary Jesli Lapus of the Department of Education (DepEd) said yesterday.

The original directive had covered only Grade 1 pupils.

Secretary Lapus said elementary and high school students can now choose to wear civilian clothes or their school uniforms when attending classes. He said the objective is to increase the number of students in school.

The secretary said instead of the uniforms, a reasonable dress code for students in public schools will be imposed.

Lapus said the admission to public schools this year is expected to go up from previous years with the new incentives for students to go to school, like the food-for-school program and the proposed conditional cash transfer of R300 per student.

Lapus said the food-for-school program will continue this year, and the beneficiaries will be determined by the National Nutrition Council and approved by the President.

Lapus said the government does not prohibit the wearing of school uniform if the students have already made the purchase in preparation for the opening of classes next week. "What we are saying is those with uniforms may continue to use them. Others can opt not to wear the school uniforms," he said.

He said the government made the decision lifting the mandatory school uniform following reviews on the prices of school supplies and the impact on Filipino families.

Apart from the no- uniform policy, Lapus reiterated that the government also scrapped the collection of fees in Grades 1 to 4 levels, in line with the thrust of free public education.

Other school fees may be collected in Grade 5 and higher levels one month from the start of classes. But any collection should be made only upon the approval of the parents and on a voluntary basis, Lapus added.

Lapus said the government is prepared for the smooth opening of classes next week.

To ensure security in schools, Lapus said officials of public schools have been directed to issue the necessary identification cards as part of security. School textbooks have also passed the stringent review of education authorities, he added.

Public schools told to provide ID cards at no cost to students

The Department of Education (DepEd) yesterday enjoined public schools nationwide to provide school identification (ID) to Filipino children at no cost.

Education Undersecretary Ramon Bacani said public schools will be handing out IDs to school children in place of the uniforms, which President Arroyo had earlier ordered removed.

He said the school administrators should source funding for this from their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

"This is still part of DepEd’s no collection of fees policy," Bacani said. "This is all aimed at increasing participation rate of school-aged children by removing any obstacle to enrolment, particularly those financial in nature."

He said parents should be made aware that the IDs are free and that they should not pay for it.

According to Bacani, school IDs are vital to avoid confusion and thwart lawless elements from endangering the students.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo also ordered a moratorium on tuition fees in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) and appealed to private schools to do the same.

Antonio Tinio, chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), however, said the government moves are just "token" responses to the problem of declining enrolment in basic education.

"While no longer requiring uniforms is a positive step, it’s not nearly enough considering the magnitude of the problem. In the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of out-of-school children. This has been going on largely unnoticed," Tinio said.

"Since mid-90’s, enrolment would increase by around 2 per cent annually. That’s roughly 300,000 additional students per year, mostly due to population growth. However, from 2004 onwards enrolment has been stagnant. This means that more and more children are staying out of school," he added.

He said DepEd officials should implement "immediate and drastic interventions" to encourage more poor families to enrol and keep their children in school. Among the measures he suggested are the implementation of a genuine school feeding program, establishment of a free public school bus or jeepney service in all schools, and abolition of all school fees.

1-M six-year-olds expected to be left out of school next week
The Manila Bulletin

Some one million six-year-old children will be left out when schools nationwide open next week, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said yesterday.

"Marami tayong suliranin sa mga di pumapasok na bata. That is why we are encouraging parents to let their kids enter school,’’ said Lapus.

"We already instructed public school heads to admit six-year-old children provided their readiness for school has been assessed positively by the school where they are applying for admission. We are doing this to increase participation rate,’’ he added.

Lapus also appealed to the local government units (LGUs) to intensify their efforts to encourage parents in their communities to send their children to school, adding the national government is already doing its part to address the problem.

He said there is a pending legislation in Congress on responsible parenting, which mandates parents to let their kids enter school.

"May binibigay pang pabuya na P300 ang government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) para lang papasok ang mga bata kaya wala nang dahilan para hindi sila mag-aral,’’ he said.

Studies have shown, however, that even with free public education, children could still not attend school due to poverty and malnutrition.

Lapus said the department has been intensifying efforts at improving student participation and addressing malnutrition through its Food for School Program (FSP), which provides rice subsidy to students and their families.

In addition, he said the DepEd has been increasing partnership with various sectors to make public schools more conducive for learning.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) challenged DepEd authorities to immediately address the ballooning number of out-of-school youth aged 6 to 15 now at 3.33 million.

ACT chairperson Antonio Tinio said the figure has increased by 78 percent per cent since 2002.

"There were 1.86 million out of school children in 2002. This grew to 3.33 million in 2007. That’s an additional 1.46 million children forced out of school in just 5 years,’’ Tinio said.

He urged DepEd to implement drastic intervention in order not to double or triple the number of children who are left out of school.

ACT called on the government to adopt the following measures to encourage more poor families to enrol and keep their kids in school: implement a genuine school feeding program to completely reach target recipients, establish a free public school bus or jeepney service in all schools, and abolish all school fees.

P2-B subsidy program launched

Homes with low electricity bills to get P500 each
Aid program to benefit 4-M families

The Manila Bulletin

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday launched a P2-billion electricity subsidy program for low-consumption households, utilizing Value-Added Tax (VAT) revenues for targeted relief to people amid record high oil and food prices.

Under "Katas ng VAT: Pantawid Kuryente," the President said at least four million lifeline users will get a one-time payment of P500 to lessen their power bills next month.

Mrs. Arroyo, speaking at the program’s launch in Malacañang, said the funds for the power subsidies will be sourced from government’s revenues from collecting VAT on oil and petroleum products. She added that the government intends to give back to the poorest families the expanded sales taxes on services mainly paid by the rich.

"We will be providing targeted cash payments to the poorest of our poor to help them cope with their electric bills," she said. "We intend to provide benefits to four million families that consume less than 100 kilowatt-hour or P800 every month. We will start in Metro Manila," she added.

The President acknowledged that the high price of gasoline and everyday commodities hit the Filipino poor the hardest. "While the high price of oil is a global issue, we have nevertheless and we will continue to take actions to reduce the pain on our people of these high prices," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo also defended the government’s imposition of VAT on goods and services amid calls by some lawmakers to suspend the sales tax to alleviate the burden of the people.

If the government did not collect VAT on oil and electricity, the President said there would be no additional R100 billion for pro-poor programs and infrastructure development since 2006. She noted that 80 percent of the VAT proceeds come from rich consumers in the country.

"Due to our increased revenue collections from the implementation of the VAT on oil, we now have billions of pesos to fund programs and projects to uplift the lives of the poor," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the strong appreciation of the peso against the dollar has also helped cushion the impact of the soaring oil prices in the world market. "If it were still P55 to a dollar, the pump prices of gasoline and diesel per liter would have cost R5 more," she added.

At the electricity subsidy program launch, the President distributed P500 each to the first 10 beneficiaries of the electricity subsidy program.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said poor families in Metro Manila should present their electricity bills for next month at Land Bank of the Philippines branches to claim their R500.

Cabral said they have tapped electric cooperatives to credit the P500 to the account of small electricity users in the provinces. "The program of the President is to give back to the people the benefits of fiscal reform," Cabral said.

Apart from the power subsidies, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the government also allotted R1 billion for loans and scholarships for students coming for poor families.

Another P1 billion will be set aside for the conversion of buses to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas.

Andaya noted that the government expects a windfall of P18 billion in VAT collections because of high oil prices and intends to return these excess revenues to the people.

These programs were among the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Energy Contingency led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. The task force was assigned to draft short- and long-term solutions to rising oil and electricity costs.

President Arroyo had earlier earmarked P4 billion to help people cope with soaring energy costs. The amount is what the government has so far collected from the expected tax revenues on oil products.

Last Monday, the President ordered all government agencies to adopt "as soon as possible" fuel and electricity saving measures. She said the fuel and power savings should be converted into additional rice and transportation subsidies to government employees.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

NAIA-3 repair update


MANILA, Philippines- The government is planning to use the controversial Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as a port for domestic flights before it gradually shifts to hosting international flights, a top official of the Manila International Airport Authority said.

In a speech before the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce, Alfonso Cusi, MIAA general manager, said the facility will be opened at the “soonest possible time" but through a "partial or phased opening starting with domestic flight operations."

“We will address all the basic, pressing and most glaring life safety concerns such as the collapsed ceiling through a more comprehensive repair and strengthening program," said Cusi.

“[And then] we shall pursue a deliberate strategy of partial or phased opening, starting with domestic flight operations and subsequently shifting to international flight operations on a selective basis," added Cusi.

Right now, MIAA is drafting strategic policies and is in discussions with local airlines in exhausting all possible options for the realization of actual flight operations at Terminal 3 for a safer, more orderly and more convenient air travel for our passengers.

Cusi said management has been undertaking the necessary research, planning and policy studies that relate to the basic issues of opening new passenger terminals, expanding terminal facilities and reorganizing airline operations within the NAIA complex.

NAIA currently handles 90 percent of international traffic and 75 of all international and domestic traffic combined.

Last April, MIAA published an Invitation to bid for the terminal completion works. The bid was declared a failure because two of the eight interested firms did not pass the required eligibility checks. As a result, MIAA engineers undertook some tests, assessments and inspections preparatory to system testing and commissioning.

Of the 33 equipment systems at Terminal 3 covering basic building systems like the electrical, air-conditioning, people mover and fire protection systems, and airport special systems like the baggage handling system, passenger loading bridges and security screening system, the MIAA engineering group has inspected and assessed 23 systems. Of which, the group found out that there were missing software, system keys, wires and cables; there were obsolete components; worn-out devices; there were also systems designs that were already inappropriate for present requirements, particularly for the structured cabling system.

Cusi said that the MIAA engineering group will work on the following: completion of the inspection of other systems; coordination with manufacturer's representative for cost estimates to complete replacement of system components; procurement of needed components and software; prioritization of systems to be completed for a possible soft opening within the next few months; and identification of viable alternatives in case a permanent solution would take a considerable time to complete.

Arroyo inaugurates Ibajay Bridge

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is briefed by Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr. on the New Ibajay Bridge Approaches project under the UK-assisted DPWH Bridge Replacement Project Phase II with a cost of P138,616,287.72 for civil works (GOP) and P68,751,141.30 for steel bridging materials. The construction of the 246 lm double lane Bridge replacing the existing reinforce concrete Deck Girder bridge that connects Panay Island with Luzon and Mindanao started in June 2006 and completed on May 25, 2008 (Monday, June 2, 2008 ). Also in photo are from left: Secretary Peter Favila, Gov. Carlito Marquez of Aklan, Rep. Florencio Miraflores, British Ambassador Peter Beckingham and Mayor Ibajay Ma.Lourdes "Lulu" Miraflores. The bridge is located in Barangay Polo, Ibajay.Aklan. (Marcelino Pascua/OPS/NIB-Photo)