Saturday, 21 June 2008

President Arroyo to use NAIA 3 on return from US visit

The Philippine Star


When the President returns to the country on June 30, she will lead the ceremonial opening to passenger use of the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 in the former Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

The President’s chartered PAL flight back to Manila will touch down at the NAIA-3 Terminal where arrival honors will be held.

NAIA 3 update video: after dry run

Gov't expects 1.1 million MT increase in palay production


MANILA, Philippines - If planting and harvesting of crops will not be affected by typhoons and other calamities, palay production will increase by 1.1 million metric tons in the second half of 2008, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

In a press conference on Saturday at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City, Dr Frisco Malabanan, program director of the Ginintuang Masagana Ani program, said palay production in the next six months would increase to 10.6 million MT from 9.5 million MT from July to December 2007, bringing to 17.3 million MT the total production of palay in 2008.

Malabanan primarily attributed the improved projection to the increase in the areas planted to palay.

Remittances to the Philippines hit $16.45b

By Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. said remittances from Filipinos working abroad are expected to reach $16.452 billion this year, up 10 percent from last year’s, despite an economic slowdown in the United States.

Remittances from Filipinos abroad are crucial to the economy because they fuel growth in consumer spending. About eight million Filipinos work overseas and at least one in 10 families here rely on remittances for part of their expenses.

Remittances from banks and non-banking channels totaled $14.956 billion in 2007, according to a presentation to a Monetary Board meeting in Tuguegarao Tuesday. Remittances sent through banks account for $14.45 billion while those coursed through other channels such as door-to-door delivery services amount to roughly $500 million.

The central bank expects banking channels to account for $15.895 billion of remittances this year.

Remittances from Filipinos abroad coursed through the banking system hit $5.3 billion in the first four months of the year, up 14.51 percent year-on-year. Remittances in April stood at $1.41 billion, up 18 percent.

Remittances are usually higher around April to June as Filipinos abroad send money home for tuition expenses and in December for the holiday season.

Some analysts have expressed concerns that remittances could slow down this year because of declining demand for Filipino workers in the United States as a result of an economic slowdown. Authorities, however, said demand for Filipino workers remained strong, especially in the healthcare sector.

Remittances have contributed to a surplus in the country’s current account and have shored up the value of the peso.

Moody’s Investors Service estimated that Philippine banks earned between $185 million and $380 million in gross revenues from remittances last year. It warned, however, that competition, changing migration patterns and improvements in technology would erode the profits generated by banks from remittances.

Banks earnings from remittances come mainly from delivery charges and the spread charged on foreign exchange rates. Bank’s gross revenue from remittances last year represent between 8 and 17 percent of their total operating income.

Allied Banking Corp., Banco de Oro Unibank, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Land Bank of the Philippines, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., Philippine National Bank and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. are the main Philippine banks that handle workers’ remittances.

NAIA 3 to open to domestic flights ‘in two weeks’

BusinessWorld Online

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA3) is scheduled to open to accommodate domestic flights "in two weeks," the country’s transportation chief told reporters yesterday, following an international arrival simulation at the facility yesterday.

Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said domestic operations will start at the airport next month and international flights will be accommodated in six months to one year.

"It’s all systems go. The facilities — all the items needed for domestic operations — are already ready for the eventual opening of the airport very soon," Mr. Mendoza said.

But the Transport chief said that only the main hall of NAIA3 will be opened for domestic operations to initially process about 3.5 million passengers. The whole terminal has a 13-million passenger capacity.

Airlines which will be operating in NAIA3 are Philippine Airline’s PAL Express and Air Philippines, as well as Cebu Pacific. Contracts with Philippine carriers for their transfer to NAIA 3 were scheduled to be finalized yesterday.

PAL officials were not available to comment, while Cebu Pacific Vice-President for Marketing and Product Candice A. Iyog said that the Gokongwei-led airline has yet to see a copy of the contract. "We will review this as soon as it is received," Ms. Iyog said.

Mr. Mendoza said tranferring the operations of international carriers will take more time. "The request of the international [airlines] is at least four months to six months to transfer," he explained.

Mr. Mendoza clarified that even if NAIA 3 operates domestic and international flights in full swing, the Philippines will still need to use the older terminals for local and overseas flights.

"From our statistics, kahit open na for international [flights], we cannot accommodate lahat [all of them]," he said.

"The capacity of our airports is only 18 million, but we are handling 23 million passengers. And this grows at about 18% annually," he explained.

While NAIA 3 may be technically ready in two weeks, Mr. Mendoza said government lawyers still need to address legal issues hounding the controversial airport.


Megaworld lines up 17 new projects

By Zinnia B. Dela Peña
The Philippine Star

Upscale property firm Megaworld Corp. has lined up 17 new residential projects this year with total projected revenues of around P26 billion.

Real estate tycoon Andrew Tan, chairman of Megaworld, said the company remains bullish on the prospects of the real estate sector despite of the economic slowdown.

“Real estate remains a preferred asset class to hedge against inflation,” he said.

To cope with rising construction costs, the company will raise prices by 10-20 percent effective Aug. 1, Tan said.

Megaworld senior vice-president Kingson Sian said the company normally increases its prices every year albeit at a minimal rate.

But Tan said he is confident Megaworld will continue to register strong sales for the remainder of the year despite the plan to raise prices.

“Sales this year remain strong with both the domestic and overseas markets continuing to drive growth,” Tan said.

$2B available for micro loans

‘Go Negosyo’ conference held in Cebu City
Malou M. Mozo
Manila Bulletin

CEBU CITY – Students and start-up entrepreneurs who attended yesterday the Go Negosyo sa Cebu conference were encouraged to avail themselves of the P80-billion microfinance program launched by the Arroyo administration for this year.

This was announced by Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Cerge Remonde during the conference held at the Cebu International Convention Center here, which was participated in by more than 2,000 high school and college students as well as owners of small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs).

"The government has more than enough money for our people if they want to expand or start their business," said Remonde, who is also Malacañang’s oversight official for microfinance.

He said this was the administration’s commitment to provide three million entrepreneurs with sufficient credit so they can contribute to the generation of six to 10 million jobs by 2010.

Students and start-up businessmen can avail themselves of the microfinance loans through local organizations and rural banks, where some microfinance institutions (MFIs) offer collateral-free loans of between P5,000 and P10,000 in the initial application.

"But they need to organize themselves through a cooperative of 20 to 30 members so the group can support each other," Remonde said.

"We are generating jobs and creating products that are globally competitive. In due time, we hope to export more of these products instead of our people," Remonde also said.

Jay Aledguer, Go Negosyo sa Cebu committee chairman, said the event is a perfect venue to create linkages for both the MFIs and potential entrepreneurs, especially students who want to engage in small-scale businesses but are finding it hard to look for capital.

"We want to change the entrepreneurship culture of this country. There’s no better place to start than in schools," Aldeguer told a press conference following the event.

He admitted that either the lack of awareness of accessibility of MFIs or the "intimidation factor" in the concept of borrowing has hindered students and even SMEs to capitalize on microfinancing.

"The infrastructure is there," assured Joey Concepcion, Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship founding trustee.

NEDA puts cost of Cagayan River dev’t project at P114 B

Manila Bulletin

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has estimated an initial cost of P114 billion needed to implement urgent projects outlined in the Cagayan River Development Framework Plan (CDFP) for 2005 to 2030.

Of this amount, about P1.68 billion each is allocated for bank protection projects which include resettlement of affected families and for the construction of dams.

NEDA said the two projects have the biggest share in the total funding requirement followed by the conduct of feasibility studies for priority dams, dikes, bank protection and cut-off channels in Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, and Ifugao worth P390.5 million.

Last March, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed by the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya, the cities of Santiago, Cauayan and Tuguegarao, the Regional Development Council 2 (RDC 2), Regional Development Coordinating Council (RDCC) and the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC). The MOA provides for the synchronization of activities in the plan.

The CDFP prescribes policies and strategies to address issues related to the quality, character, and aesthetic value of the Cagayan Riverine Zone (CRZ) that include mitigating the destructive effects of flooding, improving water quality in the CRZ, optimizing its development potentials and ensuring availability of adequate water supply during dry season for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses.

"The plan is very useful for planners and policy makers in coming up with these policies and strategies. At the same time, the efforts of program and project implementers will be synchronized and guided on how land and water management be sustainably carried out within the riverine zone," said Regional Land Use Committee (RLUC) Chair and NEDA Regional Office 2 Director Milagros A. Rimando.

Friday, 20 June 2008

NAIA 3 update videos: after the dry run

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

PGMA instructs Sec. Teodoro to forewarn provinces located along the path of typhoon Frank

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has instructed the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Chairman and National Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro to forewarn all provinces located along the path of typhoon “Frank.”

Secretary Teodoro has called on all concerned Regional Disaster Coordinating Councils (RDCCs) and Provincial Disaster Coordinating Councils (PDCCS) to convene and discuss preparedness measures to make sure communities will be safe. He also directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to be on stand by alert in order to support evacuation activities of local government units (LGUs) if needed.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is beefing up their stockpiles to be ready to augment the supplies of Local Government Units (LGUs).

The Department of Pubic Works and Highways (DPWH) is now ready to move its heavy equipment to make sure that roads will be cleared for the smooth flow of traffic.

The NDCC OPCEN is now in full activation to monitor events.

SBMA finally suspends Hanjin after another tragic accident at shipyard


SUBIC, Philippines — Government regulators here have ordered the South Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries Corporation (Phils) to stop all construction activities after another Filipino worker was killed and four others were injured in what regulators described as a freak accident Friday afternoon.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza issued the cease and desist order minutes after he learned about the accident from a Korean official of Hanjin.

“The (safety) situation at the shipyard has become alarming," Arreza said.

Initial reports from the SBMA investigation unit identified the fatality as Mario Atrero, a 52-year-old employee of HHCL from Candelaria, Zambales.

A formwork at a dry-dock construction site collapsed due to strong winds, killing Atrero.

Atrero and several other workers reportedly took shelter under the metal structure during a sudden downpour around 4 p.m.

Four other workers were injured: Joel Alido of Palauig, Zambales; Darvin Silva of San Antonio, Zambales; David Alcayaga of Castillejos, Zambales; and Leody Abad also of Palauig.

SBMA records showed that the recent fatality brought to 12 the number of deaths recorded at the shipyard since Hanjin began its operations in 2006, with most of the accidents involving workers hired by Hanjin subcontractors.

“We’re doing a thorough investigation of each accident, and while it may take time before actions are made because we go through the whole process, we’d like to assure the public that the SBMA will do all that’s necessary to ensure the safety of workers in Subic," he added.

Prior to the recent incident, two other workers died.

Only last week, Arreza said, the SBMA has recommended the termination of contracts of three subcontractors who were found to have been remiss in implementing safety requirements at the shipyard.

Arreza identified the firms as Trigon/Bodahh Inc., whose worker fell from the roof of a building on March 11; Globe Distribution Services, whose two workers were pinned to death by collapsing metal beam on March 10; and DMK/Philnorkor, whose worker fell from a
moving truck in December last year.

SBMA said that unless Hanjin can improve its safety situation, regulators might be force to stop not just the construction activities, but "also its shipbuilding activities." - GMANews.TV

Despite hitches in dry run, ‘all systems go’ for NAIA 3

By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Despite Some hitches that marred Friday’s dry-run at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA 3), Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said "it’s all systems go" for the facility’s partial opening for domestic operations next month.

A fuse of the aerobridge burst, air-conditioning was out, and the conveyor system was not running when airport and transportation officials led a simulation of arrival and departure procedures at the terminal early Friday morning.

“Today, we saw what will happen several days from now, when we open Terminal 3 for domestic operations. So far, so good, except for the air-conditioning system...but it's all systems go,” said Mendoza during a media briefing after the arrival simulation.

“These are hitches we want to make sure that we correct before we open the terminal,” said Alfonso Cusi, General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

Cusi refused to give an opening date as the terminal's systems continue undergoing tests and repairs, but he said a maiden flight may happen “in two weeks.”

Airport insiders said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would use the terminal when she arrives from her United States visit at the end of the month, but Cusi said this has yet to be finalized.

Aviation officials said NAIA 3 operations would start with domestic operations of Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines’ budget brand PAL Express, and its sister company Air Philippines.

Cusi said the phased operation would eventually accommodate all of the airlines' local flights, accounting for some 3.5 million passengers in a year.

The setup would continue for “between six months to a year” said Cusi as MIAA continues to prepare the terminal for international operations.

Mendoza and Cusi said the current international terminals, the aged NAIA 1 and PAL's NAIA 2, will remain operational.

“Even if NAIA 3 opens, it would still not be able to accommodate all international flights [because of the growing passenger traffic],” said Mendoza of the terminal built to handle 13 million passengers annually.

For Friday’s test, PAL lent an Airbus A-340 from its international fleet for the simulation of a 350-passenger arrival and departure through NAIA 3's main hall, the part of the terminal set for July's trial opening for domestic carriage.

The hitches began early in the simulation, starting when the PAL jet completed its taxi to the terminal and slowly hooked with the aerobridge to convey passengers out of the plane.

Two aerobridges, one for the first class door and another for economy, were supposed to be latched said Cusi, but only one worked.

“We tested the nose guides, we wanted to check if the aerobridge systems are in place -- and you didn't notice but the bridge for economy class didn't work because a fuse burst,” said the official.

The passengers, all MIAA employees placed on special detail Friday, got off the plane and proceeded through the quarantine, immigration and customs checks. All counters, however, remained without computer systems for their respective screening procedure.

Air-conditioning was out, filling the terminal with stuffy air warmer than outside temperatures.

A test of the baggage conveyor system was skipped; it was later learned that none of the seven carousels at the terminal's arrival level was in running condition. Cusi said workers were still fixing the conveyors but that the system would be fixed in the coming days, along with the ventilation system.

The scheduled opening comes six years after the terminal was deemed more than 90 percent complete and then mothballed because of legal cases in local and international courts because of the controversial contract between the government and the Philippine International Air Terminal's Corp. consortium, which built the terminal with Germany’s Frankfurt Airport Services Worldwide (Fraport) as its principal investor.

The Supreme court voided the contract in 2003, but claims for the terminal's construction cost continue in international arbitration courts.

Repairs and completion also push on after MIAA's private engineering consultants noted engineering defects in the terminal, findings which deferred last year's planned opening.

Govt conducts trials for NAIA 3 'soft opening'

Atom Araullo, ABS-CBN News

Two weeks ahead of its opening, government and airport officials conducted a dry run Friday at the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City.

The dry run, which officials called a tabletop exercise, simulated the departure and arrival of passengers.

The new facility has a capacity of 13 million passengers per year.

Officials said 20 percent of the terminal will be operational for its soft opening. They hope that the other terminals will be decongested with the opening of the new one.

The structural problems in the facility have also been fixed ahead of its opening next month, officials said.

In 2006, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) was about to hold a soft opening of NAIA 3 when a portion of its ceiling collapsed, delaying anew its operations.

MIAA general manager Alfonso Cusi has said NAIA 3 would initially cater to domestic flights before it serves international flights. The Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines will initially use the terminal.

The opening of the NAIA 3, which is built on a 63.5-hectare lot, has been delayed several times due to legal impediments caused by the filing of charges of German-based firm Fraport AG against the Philippine government.

The charges were filed after the Supreme Court and Malacañang nullified the build-operate-transfer deal awarded to Fraport.

The German firm filed cases against the government before international courts, including the Washington and Singapore arbitration courts.

In December 2005, the supreme Court made a ruling in favor of the government. It ordered the government to pay Fraport and its partner, the Philippine International Air Terminals Company (PIATCO), P3.002 billion before issuing a writ of possesion to NAIA-3.

The government completed the payment in 2006.

NAIA 3 update video: actual first public dry-run

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

NAIA 3 update video: first public dry-run

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

Buyout talks for MRT 3 resume

By Lenie Lectura
The Business Mirror

TALKS for the government to buy out MRT 3 (Metro Rail Transit) from the private-sector consortium led by Fil-Estate Corp. resumed early this week. This, after earlier negotiations early this year collapsed due to pricing differences.

MRT 3 general manager Roberto Lastimoso said MRT 3 lawyers informed him on Tuesday that “negotiations for the buyout were revived” and that it was the Metro Rail Transit that Corp. (MRTC) consortium that initiated the move for a second round of talks with the government representatives.

“They [MRTC] initiated it. It was just last Tuesday when I found out from the lawyers that [the buyout] was being revived. We are going back to the negotiating table. They are now talking with the people from the Department of Finance,” he told reporters.

A deal was supposed to be completed in March this year but the negotiations failed, with both parties citing irreconcilable pricing differences.

“Their offer would total to $902 million but we can only settle at $600 million,” said Lastimoso.

The government wants to acquire the assets and equity of MRT 3 from MRTC to reduce the subsidy cost. Buying out the railway system will give the government about $500 million in savings for the remainder of the 25-year contract expected to end in 2025, said Lastimoso, although an earlier study showed savings can run to $1 billion. He added savings from the subsidy will be used to bankroll the operational expenses of the railway system.

Under the build-operate-transfer contract between the government and the MRTC, the latter is given an assured rate of return on investment of 15 percent a year, but the government wants to bring it down to about 9 percent.

The contract also states the government must pay the private-sector group a total of $2.4 billion over the 25-year period. That means for every month, the government that has to pay MRT 3 owners an estimated $3.3 million to meet the 15-percent rate of return. It also shells out $1.43 million for monthly maintenance expenses to Japanese operator Tespi Corp., a subcontractor of Sumimoto Corp.

“Before, we would only shell out $800,000 a month. That was in 2000. But it has now gone up to $3.3 million every month because the amount increases periodically based on the contract. Also, we are paying the loans in dollars,” he said.

MRT 3 was built with a $655-million funding. Of this, MRTC infused $190 million (P4.49 billion) as equity for the project and, in 1997, the company also obtained loans worth $465 million (P12.32 billion) from the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Japan Export-Import Bank, the Postal Bank of the Czech Republic and Czech Export Credit Agency and a group of local banks. These loans are being repaid by the government through a sovereign guarantee to cushion risks to investors and creditors, effectively assuring them of a steady income flow.

Lastimoso said the railway system’s estimated P5.5-million daily revenues, or P165 million a month, fall short of the railway system’s funding requirement because of its inability to raise fares.

The government is also subsidizing the fares at about P48 per passenger. The transportation department had proposed that MRT fares be increased to P16 from a minimum of P10 per ride, while the full-length fare would go up to P25 from P15, which is much lower than the P45 air-conditioned buses charge passengers traveling from North Avenue to Taft Avenue line.

The fare-hike plan had been shelved due to President Arroyo’s request.

Lastimoso said there will be no changes in managing the railway system even if the buyout plan is carried out. “There is no need to form a new group because we are managing the system,” he said.

The official also said there is an urgent need to more railway coaches because the entire transit system might break down anytime. He said a proposal was submitted to the National Economic and Development Authority three months ago.

“We presented two options: buy all brand-new coaches or a combination of brand-new and second-hand units. But the first batch of coaches should be delivered before 2010 and another batch up to 2013,” he said.

A train’s brand new car cost $2 to $3 million each. An additional car train can transport 30,000 passenger per direction, added Lastimoso.

SM Group to spend P3 billion on Mall of Asia residential project

By Lovely Nica P. Lee
BusinessWorld Online

SM DEVELOPMENT Corp. (SMDC), the real estate unit of the SM Group, will spend at least P3 billion for its new residential condominium project within the Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay.

Sea Residences is SM Development’s sixth residential project in Metro Manila and the first of planned residential developments that will rise at the Mall of Asia.

SM Development President Rogelio R. Cabuñag said Sea Residences will be in the midst of a busy area close to the SM Mall of Asia and the planned entertainment city of state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., which makes it "a good market for residential units."

To rise on a 1.8-hectare lot on Diokno Boulevard, Sea Residences will consist of six 15-story towers with 2,580 units in "modern tropical Australian architecture."

Of the total number of units, 2,188 are one-bedroom while 392 are two-bedroom with a balcony.

SM Development Assistant Vice-President Adelaida Cobres, project director of Sea Residences, said the company expects sales to reach P800 million this year from the first of the planned three phases of the project.

Up for completion by 2011, the first phase represents 30% of approximately 1,100 units available in Towers A and B and podium level areas.

The average price per square meter at Sea Residences is pegged at P83,000.

This year, SMDC plans to launch Field Residences on a seven-hectare property behind SM City Sucat in Parañaque. It will be composed of six clusters of 15-story condominium units with combined available units of 1,700.

Meanwhile the design for the planned Wind Residences in Tagaytay City is expected to be completed this year. "We hope to start work on it by next year," Mr. Cabuñag said.

Other projects of SM Development include Berkeley Residences on Katipunan Avenue, Grass Residences beside SM North EDSA, Mezza Residences across SM Sta. Mesa and Chateau Elysee in Parañaque.

Jollibee Foods buys 70% stake in Taiwanese restaurant chain

By Kristine Jane R. Liu
BusinessWorld Online

JOLLIBEE FOODS Corp. has added a Taipei restaurant in its growing portfolio of restaurant chains offering Chinese cuisine, clinching a deal to buy 70% of the small food chain and invest more to open additional outlets in Taiwan and mainland China.

In a disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the listed company said its wholly owned subsidiary, Jollibee Worldwide Pte. Ltd., had entered into a P92-million deal with Taiwan’s Lao Dong restaurant.

Under the deal, Jollibee Worldwide will buy 70% of Lao Dong for P61.1 million and will spend another P30.6 million to expand the business. The beef noodle restaurant, meanwhile, will be investing P13.1 million into the business.

"This venture is part of our strategy to strengthen our presence in terms of geographical and market reach," a Jollibee official said.

The official said the strong performance of Chowking, the food giant’s Chinese fastfood chain, encouraged Jollibee to further penetrate the Chinese market.

The joint venture will expand the Lao Dong restaurant chain in Taiwan and in China and at the same time assist the Jollibee group in "developing food products and preparation techniques for its business units in China, the Philippines and other countries."

Liu Cheng Hsiung, said to be a well-known chef and one of Lao Dong’s owners, will share techniques to the Jollibee group, the disclosure said.

Jollibee has so far acquired three Chinese restaurants to gain a foothold in the huge consumer market. It bought Chun Shui Tang tea house in 2006 and 33 Hong Zhuang Yuan stores for $50.5 million in 2007. In 2004, Jollibee bought Chinese fastfood chain Yonghe King for $22.5 million, and bought out its partner last year for $6 million.

Lao Dong has eight stores operating in Taiwan and has an annual revenue of 121.6 million Taiwan dollars.

As of April, the country’s largest food service network had a total of 1,469 stores locally — 628 Jollibee stores, 376 Chowking stores, 236 Greenwich stores, 28 Delifrance stores, 198 Red Ribbon stores and 3 Mang Pepe’s stores.

The group also has 194 stores abroad — 108 Yonghe King stores in China; 15 Jollibee stores, 22 Red Ribbon stores and 12 Chowking stores in the United States; nine and five Chowking stores in Dubai and Indonesia, respectively; 22 Jollibee stores in other countries, and the sole Chun Shui Tang tea house in China.

After acquiring pizza chain Greenwich in 1994, Jollibee set out in an ambitious expansion plan, buying Chowking in 2000 and Red Ribbon in 2005. In 2006, it acquired the Delifrance franchise.

Jollibee stocks closed P0.50 lower at P36.50 yesterday.

MRT 3 needs 30 more cars

By A. B. L. Lorenzo
BusinessWorld Online

METRO RAIL TRANSIT LINE 3 (MRT3) needs 30 more cars by 2010 to accommodate the growing number of commuters taking the train along EDSA everyday.

MRT3 General Manager Roberto T. Lastimoso said this is a "measure of emergency" before the government acquires new coaches to augment the existing trains.

"After 2010, the system might not function anymore because of overcapacity. We are now carrying 450,000 passengers a day. The system is designed to take only 350,000," Mr. Lastimoso told reporters yesterday.

The government needs at least $90 million for the 30 additional cars.


"We have given NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] two options. It can be offered as a BOT [build-operate-transfer financing] or as a loan. They are now conducting due diligence exercise," said Mr. Lastimoso.

NEDA Executive Director Augusto B. Santos was not available to comment yesterday.

Mr. Lastimoso said the government has the option to choose from various train suppliers such as China, Belgium, Spain and even the Czech Republic, where the existing MRT trains were sourced.

With the additional cars, the MRT will have trains of four coaches from the current three, and will carry an additional capacity of 30,000 passengers per direction daily. It will also reduce the waiting time to 2.5 minutes from the current three minutes.

Aside from the 30 additional cars by 2010, Mr. Lastimoso said 43 new coaches should come in by 2013 as the number of train-riders is expected to expand further.

Vietnam ups rice export to the Philippines

ABC Radio Australia

Vietnam has agreed to sell 600,000 tonnes of rice to the Philippines, bring the country's rice import volume so far this year to 2.3 million tonnes and exceeding its import quota.

The Philippines agriculture secretary, Arthur Yap, did not give any details on the contract price.

In April, Vietnam had committed to supply up to 1.5 million tonnes of rice to the Philippines.

Mr Yap earlier said a rice deal with Vietnam would serve to fill buffer stocks for the last quarter of the year.

The Philippines, the biggest rice importer in the world, legislated against rice hoarding in April as the country struggled to cope with rising prices.

A professor from the University of the Philippines, Ernesto Pernia, told Australia Network television that a lack of investment in agriculture has let the country down.

"I think what has happened is what observers call the urban bias of development," he said.

"Policy makers have given more attention to urban development rather than rural development.

"The problem would have been far smaller, or probably a non-issue, if we had addressed the population issue in the same manner as Thailand."

[Comment: what population issue?]

Thursday, 19 June 2008

President Arroyo sets 10-day visit to U.S.


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leaves Saturday evening for a 10-day visit to the United States to further strengthen the historic Philippines-US relations.

The President, accompanied by First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo, will take a commercial flight to San Francisco, California, the first stop of her US visit.

Also with the presidential party are some Cabinet officials, lawmakers and top Filipino business leaders.

The Chief Executive’s US engagements include meetings with Filipino communities, Filipino World War II veterans and American business groups.

She will also hold a series of meetings on a wide range of issues including the environment, security, human rights, and other global concerns.

From San Francisco, the President will proceed to Fresno, California, a four-hour drive from San Francisco, to hear mass and interact with the Filipino community before proceeding to Washington D.C.

Meeting members of Filipino communities in the countries that she visits is a standard feature of the President’s trips abroad in an effort to keep them posted on developments back home and to encourage them to invest in the country, as well as thank them for their remittances that had helped improve the economy.

The President’s second stop is Washington D.C. where she will meet with President George W. Bush at the Oval Office.

The White House meeting, the highlight of her US trip, will focus on outstanding global issues of common concern to the two countries, notably terrorism, food security, non-proliferation of nuclear arms and human rights.

The President is expected to thank Bush for his support to Filipino World War II veterans through the US Veterans Office in Manila and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, and express her hope for a favorable resolution of the remaining issues relating to Filipino veterans.

The President will also personally thank the US Senate for its historic 96-1 vote in favor of the Veterans Benefits Bill calling for additional benefits to Filipino WWII veterans.

At the Pentagon, the President will discuss with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates the Philippines’ defense reform program.

The President will also take the opportunity to meet with the Philippines-US Friendship Caucus, a group composed of members of the US House of Representatives who have openly supported moves to strengthen relations between the Philippines and the United States.

The President will also meet with officials of the Washington-based the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Last March, the MCC granted the Philippines Compact Eligible status, opening the door for the Philippines to avail itself of up to $700 million in grants to help boost the country’s economic growth.

The Philippines has gained compact eligible status after passing objective indicators in the areas of governing justly, investing in its citizens, and encouraging economic freedom.

Also in Washington, the President will meet with stakeholders of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) a multi-nation effort to push the CTI project spanning across Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

The Triangle holds the richest concentration of iridescent corals, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and marine plants in the world.

The ASEAN-US Business Council (USBC) and the United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) will co-host a dinner in honor of the President in Washington.

In New York, the last leg of her US trip, the President will be meeting with a number of business leaders and investment groups, including Libby’s Fruits, Target Sourcing, ROTEC Technology and APAC Customer Services.

She will also host a reception for the permanent representatives to the United Nations in connection with the candidature of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Photo update of Northrail depot



Labor posts 99% strike prevention in 5 months

By Arlie Calalo
The Manila Standard

THE Labor Department said that 99 percent of potential labor strikes were resolved by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board during the first five months this year.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said that of the 211 cases handled by the NCMB, 208 did not materialize into actual strikes.

The NCMB facilitated P146 million in collective bargaining agreement packages during the period benefiting 3,327 workers.

Separation benefits amounting to P63 million had also been provided for 1,914 workers, the Labor chief said.

The disposition rate of these notices also went up to 77 percent from last year’s 70 percent. Settlement rate was also higher at 67 percent as against 62 percent last year, Roque said.

He noted that the NCMB took an average of 39 days to settle a strike or lockout notice this year.

Roque has vowed to strengthen the agency’s Free Legal Aid and Voluntary Arbitration Services program which continues to be the preferred option for dispute settlement by individual complainants.

Since January this year, requests for assistance from Flavas totaled 181 cases involving 703 workers. A total of 199 Flavas cases have been handled, including 18 from the previous year. Of these, 182 were resolved, leaving 17 cases pending, Roque added.

He said total economic package from the settlement of Flavas cases since January amounted to P17,878,022 benefiting 218 workers.

Clark to house $1-B Samsung Electronics plant


MANILA, Philippines- A strategic area inside the Clark Special Economic Zone will be home to the planned $1-billion production plant of top chip maker Samsung Electronics.

A top government official privy to the negotiations said that the government gave Samsung a choice between Clark and Subic Ecozone, but Samsung Electronics preferred the latter instead due to the lack of available land inside the Subic Bay.

"In fact, there is already an area reserved for Samsung inside Clark," he said.

Samsung Electronics is one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world and South Korea's top electronics company. It makes various types of consumer devices including DVD players, big-screen television sets, and digital still cameras, computers, color monitors, LCD panels and printers.

It also manufactures semiconductors such as flash memory and communications devices ranging from wireless phones to networking switches. The company which is the flagship member of Samsung Group, also makes microwave ovens, refrigerators, air conditioners, and washing machines.

The official further confirmed that it took the government over a year to finally close the deal with Samsung who wants to engage in chips production for exports to other major countries worldwide. The delay was caused by the tax evasion issue against its company president in South Korea.

The official said Samsung's operations in Clark would be similar to what Texas Instruments is presently into.

Clark was the same zone where United Parcel Service housed its services, until recently, when the firm decided to downsize its business in the Philippines and relocate elsewhere. -

NAIA 3 opening in July depends on thumbs up of experts


Recent reports on the possibility of opening Manila's newest but long mothballed airport terminal in July is based on a hope that construction and engineering experts will soon issue reports that the building is structurally safe.

If the soft opening will push through next month, portions of the terminal will be used for the domestic flights of local carriers, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

"We want to be transparent to the public about what is happening to the terminal," said Tirso Serrano, the airport authority's spokesperson. "People are anxious already when this terminal can be productive. It's been closed for too long."

The terminal, also known as NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) 3, was estimated to be 98 percent complete when construction was halted one month before it was supposed to open in December 2002. It was mired in legal battles after the circumstances surrounding its franchise award and construction was peppered with corruption and graft charges in courts here and abroad.

The government has expropriated the terminal, which was previously awarded to a Filipino and German consortium, in September 2006. The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) now has possession of it.

The airport's opening has been long delayed because the MIAA had to ensure that the building is safe before letting passengers in. In March 2006, days before one of many promised soft openings in the past, a portion of the ceiling near the entrance area fell.

Concerns about the structure's safety and integrity have put MIAA on a love-hate relationship with the terminal's original general contractor, Japanese firm Takenaka Corporation. The two had to ink an agreement on the extent and cost of both the completion of the unfinished portions and the repair works on the building defects discovered by a MIAA-hired engineering firm.

The MIAA tasked local firm TCGI Engineers to check the building's structural integrity. It was a necessary procedure to prevent future accidents that could result in liability claims against MIAA. In December 2007, TCGI and general contractor Takenaka had a deadlock on certain engineering and structural standards that should be employed.

Serrano said that because of the deadlock, administration-allied representatives in Congress have assured MIAA that a third party, who remains unnamed at the moment, will be in charge of coming up with a structural report out in a few weeks time. This third party will replace TCGI.

Serrano said the support of Congress is important in fast-tracking the opening of the terminal, since if the Congress-hired third party could iron out an agreement that includes additional works that Takenaka would consent to guarantee and finish, then the remaining repair and completion tasks could proceed.

On top of the third party's soon-to-be-released report, Serrano said they are pinning their hopes also on an upcoming report by British engineering firm, Ove Arup & Partners HK Ltd..

Previously, Ove Arup was tasked to review TCGI's methodology and to assess "life safety" issues, such as cracks in walls and floor and substandard electric and mechanical materials in the 182,500-squaremeter structure.

While Ove Arup then agreed on most of TCGI's findings, Serrano said the British firm may soon come up with an updated report where the general tenor is that the issues previously raised "may not be as bad."

"We have a high degree of confidence [that MIAA will complete Naia 3] because of the reports of Ove Arup and the third party," Serrano said.

Serrano added that if and when the soft launch will proceed in July, only the portions of the terminal where there are no structural and safety issues will be used. These include about 48 check-in counters, a portion of the departure and boarding areas, and some gates.

The trial run will only include the domestic operations of Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific since these do not require the use of the immigration area, thus, are less complicated.

The NAIA 3 was originally planned for international flights, thus replacing NAIA 1, which already breached its capacity way back in the late nineties.

The NAIA 2, currently leased to Philippine Airlines for its domestic and international flights, was supposed to replace the Manila domestic airport which is now dilapidating and bursting at the seams, especially with the increase in requirements of budget flights to various destinations.

The NAIA 3, which was designed to accommodate about 13 million passengers a year, has long been expected to ease traffic and pave the way for better airport service at Manila's premier gateways.

Philippines okays LRT-7 project

By Rainier Allan Ronda
The Philippine Star

Seven years after submitting their proposal to build a mass rail transport system from Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, the Universal LRT Corporation (ULC) finally signed yesterday a concession agreement for the construction and operation of the proposed $1.23 billion Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 7.

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) officials led by Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Eli Levin, managing director of the ULC consortium, signed a 25-year concession agreement for the LRT Line 7 project, which will run from SM City North Edsa in Quezon City and extend through Commonwealth Avenue straight through San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also attended the signing ceremonies held at the Ruby Room of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City.

Mendoza said the agreement will pave the way for a mass transport project that will provide a more efficient and convenient means of travel for residents of Bulacan and the people along Commonwealth Avenue from Novaliches, Fairview up to EDSA.

Mendoza said Bulacan will become more accessible to Metro Manila and San Jose del Monte will become a residential area for workers in the metropolis.

Levin expressed relief over the signing of the agreement for the project.

After submitting their unsolicited proposal to build an LRT Line 7 in 2001, DOTC and ULC signed a memorandum of understanding to work together and design the rail line that will be most beneficial to the public.

“I believe that it will be completed and operational by the end of 2012,” Levin said.

GMA appoints Mike Defensor as NAIA-3 task force head

By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

President Arroyo has appointed former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor as the head of the new powerful task force that would work on the immediate opening of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport International Passenger Terminal 3 (NAIA-3).

Mrs. Arroyo signed last June 9, Executive Order No. 732 creating the Presidential Task Force on the NAIA-3 that was “mandated to ensure the immediate opening and operation of Terminal III.”

In her EO, she said the NAIA-3 was a major infrastructure project initiated in 1997 to service heavy passenger traffic.

“Since its construction in 1998, Terminal III has not been operational due to several legal, technical and other controversies,” she said in her order. “The immediate opening and operation of Terminal III is of paramount national importance.”

The government in 2004 took expropriated and took physical control of the facility after the Supreme Court ruled that the contract to build it with the Philippine International Air Terminal Co. (Piatco) and its German partner, Fraport AG, was onerous.

Since then, the NAIA-3 remained closed amid ongoing arbitration cases in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Singapore and in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington D.C.

ICSID last year however dismissed the case filed by Fraport saying it had no jurisdiction over the case. Since then, there have been mounting calls for the privatization of the NAIA-3.

The task force, the order said, would open the NAIA-3 based on decisions of the Supreme Court and applicable laws.

It would also provide policy directions and executive guidance on all matters relating to the opening of the terminal, as well as “control, supervise, construct, maintain and provide such facilities or services as shall be necessary for the immediate opening and functioning of the Terminal III,” the EO said.

The task force may direct any of the officials of the Manila International Airport Authority or any other office or agency to perform duties related to the opening of the NAIA-3.

It would also represent the President on matters relating to the opening of the NAIA-3.

When contacted by The STAR, Defensor confirmed his appointment.

“This terminal is urgently needed by the country,” he said. “When it is opened and operated, that’s the only time we can talk about others operating it.”

Business groups raised alarm over the possibility that the government would be forced to pay billions in dollars in compensation to Piatco because of the SC’s ruling last April that could weaken the Philippines’ case in the arbitration case.

Analysts said the separate opinion in the SC decision placed the blame on the government for the fiasco that led the nullification of the Piatco contract.

They said that in effect, Piatco was also a victim of the government’s incompetence in handling the contract and thus, the government can no longer present evidence of alleged fraud in the expropriation court in connection with the determination of just compensation for the consortium.

Reports said the government has paid at least $20 million in legal fees abroad, and P3 billion in initial compensation to Piatco because of the expropriation of the NAIA-3. Business groups said it would be better for the government to let the private sector run the terminal so as not waste more of the taxpayers’ money.

Central Bank chief chides MFIs for conflicting assessments of RP economy

By Des Ferriols
The Philippine Star

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. chided the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral financial institutions (MFIs) for conflicting assessments of the economy and ruled out the possibility of tapping the fund again for assistance.

The IMF earlier singled out the Philippines along with Vietnam and Indonesia for being “behind the curve” in their monetary policy adjustments at a time that inflation rate was the paramount concern.

According to Tetangco, however, the timing of the policy adjustments made by the BSP was appropriate and pre-emptive of building inflationary pressures.

“If they want to be helpful, international organizations have to be consistent with the assessment they provide their member countries,” Tetangco said.

According to Tetangco, the IMF’s most recent assessment expressed agreement with the country’s monetary policy as appropriate. “In fact, they even said there was room to ease,” he said.

“Now the IMF is saying we are behind the curve,” Tetangco said. “Their assessment should be consistent because it causes crossed signals.”

Asian Development Bank (ADB) president Haruhiko Kuroda earlier said rising inflation coupled with slowing economies puts many Asian countries in a policy dilemma that, unless dealt with properly, could lift the risk of hard landings.

“Many countries face a growing dilemma on monetary policy: how to gauge the right mix to control rising inflation without excessively slowing economic growth,” Kuroda said during the Asia-Europe finance ministers’ meeting in South Korea.

On the other hand, IMF deputy chief Takatoshi Kato also said that Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia may be behind the curve in interest rate policy.

“In most emerging economies, growing inflation risks are an immediate concern. In fact, real interest rates are low or have become fairly negative in several of these countries,” Kato said. “Countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia appear to have fallen behind the curve in terms of their interest rate policy.”

But Tetangco said the increase in the BSP’s key policy rates last week was still pr-emptive since inflationary pressures were just starting to build up on the demand side.

Initially, the BSP raised its key policy rates by 25 basis points and monetary officials are widely expected to keep raising these rates towards the end of the year.

Tetangco, however, brushed aside that the BSP was not moving fast enough. “The Board is ready to undertake further action as necessary to ensure the achievement of the BSP’s price stability objective,” he said. Moreover, Tetangco said the conditions continue to evolve.

“This is the dilemma faced by all practitioners of monetary policy, specifically those who are on the ground and making the hard decisions every day,” Tetangco said. “Hence consistency in environmental assessment and policy advice from international organizations like the IMF would be crucial.”

Tetangco also brushed aside speculations that the Philippines was approaching the IMF for any kind of financial assistance. “We’re not going back,” he said.

Last year, the country exited the IMF for the first time in four and a half decades, ending the post-program monitoring (PPM) arrangement from the IMF which was originally scheduled to end in April this year.

Philippines has enough rice supply beyond 2008 – Agriculture Secretary Yap

By Edith Regalado
The Philippine Star

DAVAO CITY – Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap assured the people yesterday that there is sufficient rice supply to last even beyond the end of the year.

“We have more than enough supply of rice that would last us for the next six months, to the end of 2008 and even beyond that,” said Yap, who arrived here to join the party of President Arroyo for a provincial sortie in Southern Mindanao.

Yap said the Philippines continues to buy rice from foreign sources while there has also been an increase in domestic rice production.

“So that is why we can sustain our rice supply even during such periods,” Yap said.

He said the Philippines is not among the 36 countries in the world that were identified as areas with food security problems.

“We are not even among the nine countries in Asia that were said to be in deep trouble with their food security,” Yap added.

He also stressed that rice prices in the Philippines are lower compared to Thailand and Vietnam where the National Food Authority (NFA) buys most of its rice.

Yap was reportedly fuming mad when he saw the long queues of people buying NFA rice at a public market yesterday morning.

“That should not be the case. There is no reason that people have to line up because there is enough supply of rice,” he said.

Yap said he instructed NFA officials here to double if not triple the rice allocations for poor consumers.

“It is really a matter of management. People do not have to move from one place to another just to look for affordable rice,” he added.

Yap likewise said higher rice prices have started to soften up following NFA’s recent release of quality rice at a much lower cost.

“There is no reason that retailers and traders will bring their prices higher because there is already enough supply even of quality rice,” he said.

Yap said he would meet with local government officials, rice traders and NFA representatives to improve the rice situation in the country.

“We have to talk this out with these people and make them understand the situation so as to avoid fluctuations in rice prices,” Yap added.

US to build $3-M airport in Sulu

The Philippine Star

The US government is building airports in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi costing $3 million each to encourage commerce and development in the two provinces.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney told The STAR the other night that construction would start this year as scheduled despite the kidnapping of ABS-CBN news anchor Ces Drilon, her two cameramen and a Mindanao professor.

Jon Lindborg, mission director of the US Agency for International Development, also said the USAID is not suspending any of its programs in Sulu or other parts of Mindanao in the wake of the kidnapping.

Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Veneracion and professor Octavio Dinampo of the Mindanao State University-Sulu were freed at past 11 p.m. Tuesday by their Abu Sayyaf captors. Another cameraman, Angelo Valderama, was freed days earlier.

Washington has poured development aid into conflict areas in Mindanao and has stationed troops in Zamboanga City, most of them belonging to the Special Forces. The troops conduct regular civic and medical missions in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. They also provide training and intelligence assistance to Philippine troops.

Abu Sayyaf (“Bearer of the Sword”) is believed to have linked up with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terror network loosely linked to al-Qaeda. Two JI bomb makers, Dulmatin and Umar Patek, are being hunted down in Mindanao for the deadly nightclub attacks that killed 202 people in Bali, Indonesia in 2002.

The Bush administration considers Mindanao as one of the fronts in the global war on terror.

Kenney is a regular visitor to Sulu, where US troops and USAID personnel have installed artesian wells and helped build roads, bridges and school buildings equipped with Internet-ready computers.

A joint military operation of Philippine and US troops in Basilan in 2002 drove away the Abu Sayyaf from its jungle strongholds. But the group once again made its presence felt in the province last year when it ambushed and decapitated Philippine Marines looking for a kidnapped Italian priest.

Zamora group boosts MRT 7 project

By Lenie Lectura
The Business Mirror

THE entry of the group of mining magnate Salvador Zamora II into the consortium building the MRT 7—a 23-kilometer rail-transit system from the MRT 3 North Avenue station in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan—has boosted the certainty the line will be up and running in mid- 2013 as planned.

Zamora’s group, called La Costa Development Co., which includes foreign partners, formally joined the Universal LRT Corp. (ULC) consortium two days ago, and with its investment, is now the controlling interest in the $1.23-billon railway project.

“I am glad to announce that the group of Zamora [La Costa Development Co.], headed by Mr. Salvador Zamora II, with their foreign partners, have agreed to join the project as major investors and undertook to bring it to completion at the earliest possible time,” said ULC managing director Eli Levin at Wednesday’s contract signing.

Levin and his partners used to own 60 percent of ULC. “The project required additional funding. When we set up the consortium, we thought we could finish the project in two to three years. We hired many consultants. A big project like this requires big financing,” he said.

“Zamora’s group is now the controlling investor in the project. In six months, we will increase the capital to $320 million from the current paid-up of $32 million,” said Levin. Levin’s interest in the group has been reduced to 8 percent. The SM Group and the Velasco group each has about 20 percent.

Two days ago, ULC posted a $123.5-million performance bond, or 10 percent on the rail and road system investment. The group will have to post another bond amounting to $250 million for the real-estate and commercial development component of the project, which is estimated to cost $2.5 billion.

The railway project will be financed by a combination of equity and borrowings. Equity in the total project cost will amount to $309 million, export credit agency loans at $800 million and other loans, $126 million.

“We have received letters of intent from Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Macquarie Bank of Australia, and many more. They are all willing to participate in the financing of the project. We now expect talks with them to be more serious now that there is already a contract,” said Levin.

The railway with 14 stations will pass through Commonwealth Avenue, Regalado Avenue, Qurino Avenue extension up to its end at San Jose del Monte. A 22-kilometer access road is planned into the project. The start of construction is set in January 2010 and targetted for completion in July 2013.

When asked if Zamora’s group has expressed any intention to shoulder by itself the $309-million equity investment, Levin said, “It is their responsibility now. But I think they will not be alone.” ULC agreed to make the construction and operation “deficit-neutral” to ensure that the government will not bear the brunt of the risks in the project.

As part of the deficit-neutral clause, ULC agreed to cut its internal rate of return to 11.9 percent from 16.9 percent. The reduced rate of return means ULC will bear the financial losses if passenger volume and consequently revenues drop.

Based on ULC’s business plan, the firm will have a development that includes 7,300 residential units, 900 office units and a 90,000-square-meter gross mall area in a 195-hectare estate in Bulacan.

Creating task force on Naia 3 signals early use

By L. Lectura, M. Gonzalez, VG Cabuag
The Business Mirror

PRESIDENT Arroyo has created the Presidential Task Force on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 3 (Task Force Terminal 3), signaling a determination to open the long-awaited facility, amid conflicting progress reports by government and airline officials.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in his weekly news briefing that Task Force Terminal 3 represents a “light” at the end of the tunnel because the body, as provided by Executive Order 732 dated June 9, 2008, is “mandated to ensure the immediate opening and operation of Terminal 3.”

“The fact that there’s now a task force created means that there is light on the other side of the tunnel; that Terminal 3 is about to be opened, that’s why the President created a task force,” said Ermita, who led the policy group created by the President [to] resolve Naia 3 issues on expropriation, ownership and operation.

He said the head of the task force will be announced “soon enough,” but did not identify the candidates.

The Naia 3 opens next month for domestic flights and three air-services companies—PAL Express, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines—have committed to use it at that time. And, toward the year-end, officials see it hosting international flights, as well. Some airline officials, however, are disputing such categorical assurances.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza Wednesday said, “We will use Naia 3 for domestic flights on a dry-run basis. We will see if all the computers and systems are working. In fact, Cebu Pacific has informed us and has started to transfer there already. PAL Express, likewise, confirmed, and Air Philippines, as well. They will set up their phone lines, ticketing booths and baggage counters there.”

But Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and product Candice Iyog said in a text message they have yet to transfer their domestic operations there. “As of the moment nothing is formally confirmed and we have not made any moves to transfer.”

Mendoza declined to give the exact date of the opening but said the terminal will be inspected before its commercial opening.

The existing domestic airport, said Mendoza, will be occupied by other carriers after its rehabilitation. “We are renovating the old domestic airport and even Terminal 1. The Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) reported to us that we are averaging 23 million domestic and international passengers a year but the actual capacity of the airports is only 18 million.”

From latest reports available, the Naia handled nearly 10 million international passengers in 2006 and 2.8 million in the first quarter of 2007, a 12-percent increase over the same period in 2006.

Earlier, Miaa general manager Alfonso Cusi said of Terminal 3, “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.”

Mendoza had said the upgrade to international servicing could be done in less than a year after its run as a domestic terminal. “I think it’s just easy to open [for international airlines] after we have made the dry run.”

There were attempts to open the terminal in 2007 but these were aborted after a ceiling collapsed and Miaa engineers found structural problems.

The Palace task force head is tasked, meanwhile, to exercise control and supervision over the opening of Naia 3, act directly on any matter involving the opening of the international airport and provide policy directions and executive guidance on all matters related to the Naia 3 opening.

The head of the task force, “subject to law,” is authorized to “review and approve, reverse or modify acts and decisions of the governing board, officials or units over matters relating to the opening of Naia 3” and will “formulate and adopt the necessary and most appropriate course of action to ensure that Naia 3 is opened and operated immediately, based on the decisions of the Supreme Court and applicable laws.”

The task force will be assisted by a general counsel, secretariat and technical staff, and may hire confidential staff and tap the existing staff complement of any government department, office, agency or bureau.

The Miaa will provide administrative support and technical assistance to the task force.

Under EO 732, the budget secretary is to release an “initial budget” from the Office of the President “in the amount he deems appropriate to enable the task force to discharge its functions.”

The Miaa had earlier announced a trial run of the Naia 3 in July, but will only initially involve domestic carriers.

The facility was originally scheduled to have a soft opening in 2006, then later in 2007, but plans were scrapped each time because of structural defects.


Arroyo creates task force to oversee NAIA 3 opening
Terminal to go int’l if dry run succeeds--Mendoza

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has created a task force to exercise administrative supervision and control over the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA 3), which is scheduled for trial domestic operations next month.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said NAIA 3 would serve international flights “within the year” if the dry run “goes well.”

The task force, created through Executive Order732 signed by Arroyo on June 9, will “solely and exclusively address all concerns, handle and coordinate all matters relating to the immediate opening and operation of the NAIA Terminal 3.”

The Manila International Airport Authority currently has supervision and control over all international airports in the country.

The directive noted, however, that since its construction in 1998, the NAIA 3 has not been operational due to “several legal, technical and other controversies” even as it stressed that “the immediate opening and operation of Terminal 3 is of paramount national importance.”

Aside from overseeing the opening of NAIA 3 and ensuring its continued operation “based on the decisions of the Supreme Court and applicable laws,” the task force will also “represent the President in all discussions with concerned parties and stakeholders to resolve issues relating to the completion and opening of the Terminal 3.”

The MIAA will provide administrative support and technical assistance to the task force.

Transportation Assistant Secretary for Planning Elmer Soneja said the remaining "one percent plus" of structural works on the NAIA 3 are now nearing completion and would "hopefully" be finished by July.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the head of the task force will be announced soon.

MRT 7 Project Map

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Construction of 14-station Metro Rail Transit-7 to start in late 2009

By Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo
BusinessWorld Online

METRO RAIL Transit Line 7 (MRT-7) may be up and running by the end of 2012, about six months earlier than programed, as the consortium developing the 23-kilometer rail project hopes to raise enough funds to start construction next year in a bid to ease Metro Manila’s traffic problem.

Universal LRT Corp. Ltd., the main proponent of the MRT-7 project, submitted a $123.5-million performance bond to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) early this week to guarantee that it would finish the project on time.

Once completed, the MRT-7 will have 14 stations running from San Jose del Monte in Bulacan to the North Avenue station of MRT-3 in Quezon City.

Eight of the stations will be elevated, three are at street-level and the rest [three] will be underground.

The new rail facility can carry between 500,000 and 800,000 commuters daily.

"It will decongest traffic in Metro Manila," DoTC Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said.

He said the existing rail lines — Light Rail Transit 1 and 2 and MRT-3 — can carry only about one million of Metro Manila’s 2.8 million commuters.

"The extension of the LRT from Monumento to North Avenue will add another 700,000, so maybe we can have full capacity," he added.

Eli Levin, director and chief executive officer of Universal LRT Managing, said the consortium is also paying $250 million as performance bond for the 193-hectare real estate project that goes with the railway development.

Out of the total $1.235 billion project cost, $320 million will be financed by equity and the rest by loans, Mr. Levin said.

"Around $900 million to $1 billion... will be through export credit loans and other financial institutions," he told reporters at yesterday’s signing of the deal between the government and Universal LRT.

He said they were in talks with the International Finance Corp., McQuarrie Bank of Australia and several other creditors.

More funds will come with the entry of nickel mining magnate Salvador Zamora II, who took over the reigns of the MRT-7 development on June 16. Mr. Zamora’s La Costa Development Co. now owns 52% of the consortium.

With his entry, the paid-up capital of Universal LRT will be raised to $320 million within the next six months from an initial capital of $32 million.

Mr. Levin’s ownership has dropped to 8% from 60% when he first proposed the MRT-7 project to the government in 2002. Other members of the consortium are Sy-led SM Investment Corp. and the Velasco Group.

The Metro Rail Transit system, popularly known as the MRT, is part of Metro Manila’s metropolitan rail system. It has a single line, MRT-3 or the Blue Line.

Although it has characteristics of a light rail, such as the type of rolling stock used, it is more akin to a rapid transit system. It is not related to the Manila Light Rail Transit System, a separate but linked system.

One of its original purposes was to decongest Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), one of Metro Manila’s main thoroughfares and home to the MRT.

The MRT is operated by the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), a private company operating in partnership with the DOTC under a build-operate-transfer scheme.

Meanwhile, the Light Rail Transit system, popularly known as the LRT, has two lines: LRT-1, called the Yellow Line, and LRT-2, called the Purple Line.

The LRT, operated by the Light Rail Transit Authority, a government-owned and -controlled corporation, is the first metro system in Southeast Asia, built earlier than Singapore’s MRT by three years.

Many commuters who ride the LRT and MRT also take road-based public transport, such as buses, to reach their destinations from a station. Both the MRT and LRT have been only partially successful in decongesting Metro Manila’s main roads, and traffic is further aggravated by the rising number of motor vehicles.

Philippine gov’t,, proponent sign contract to build $ 1.24-B MRT 7 project

The Manila Bulletin

The government and the consortium of Universal LRT Corporation (BVI) Limited yesterday signed the concession agreement for the construction of the $ 1.235-billion MRT 7 project, a 23-kilometer mass rail transit project that will connect the existing MRT Line in SM North in Quezon City to San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

The contract-signing was led by Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and ULC president and CEO Eli Levin. The project proponent has also posted $ 123.5-million non-refundable bond, a government requirement to ensure the project’s implementation.

The contract-signing came 7 years after the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the MRT 7 project by the DoTC and ULC in 2002.

Levin noted the MRT 7 is the first private sector undertaking that assumes full responsibility for the ridership and the operation and maintenance cost.

Under its timetable, the project which would be implemented by ULC Hong Kong, would be implemented in 12 to 15 months from now and is expected to be completed in 3 and half years or by 2013.

The $ 1.235 billion rail project would be funded through 75 percent loans and 25 percent equity from its shareholders.

ULC Hong Kong will raise the $ 309 million equity investments from different investors including the Zamora Group and the La Costa Development Co. headed by businessman Salvador Zamora II with their foreign partners as major investors.

The bulk of the project cost of $ 926 million would be sourced through loans from export credit agencies from various countries and suppliers credits.

A financial closing is expected by December 2009 and construction should start in January 2010.

Levin said the project proponent has no sovereign guarantee for the loans it is going to incur.

Project components include a 12.11 kilometer of elevated mass rail transit, 6.655 kilometer at-grade MRT, 1.445 km. open-cut MRT, .785 km. tunnel MRT and 6 lane road.

The project envisions to provide reliable connection for Commonwealth, Fairview and Bulacan commuters.

Levin said the project will address the congested EDSA as it will provide an alternative route for the provincial buses coming from the north.

This mass rail trail project has also a real estate component that seeks to establish a new satellite township in Del Monte, Bulacan.

Already, the project proponent has already bought 193 hectare property worth P1 billion in San Jose Del Monte. An estimated P2 billion are expected to be poured in by property developers for horizontal and vertical developments including the planned construction of 50,000 units intended to cater to low and middle income earners.

Several property developers have already committed to put up housing projects in the area, which is envisioned to create 50,000 housing units.

Start of the real estate construction is expected to start in July 2011.

Already, mall developers have expressed commitment to participate in the commercial development.

The project is expected to decongest Metro Manila with the construction of a satellite town in San Jose Del Monte.

A study conducted by the National Economic and Development Authority indicates a government savings of $ 2.4 billion over the 25 year concession period based on a crude oil price of $ 50 per barrel.

The project and the satellite township undertaking is also expected to create over 20,000 new jobs throughout the concession period. (BCM)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

NAIA 3 preparing for July opening

Gordon: Don’t let NAIA-3 go to waste

‘Use facility to boost domestic tourism’
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- In a bid to boost local tourism, Senator Richard Gordon toured the mothballed Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA 3) on Tuesday to check on repair and completion work in the facility and encourage airport officials to pursue plans to partially open it for domestic operations.

During his hour-long inspection, Gordon got a peek of a trial run of the terminal set for July, where the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) aims to host flights of local carriers Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines' budget brand PAL Express.

While designed for international operations, NAIA-3 is being configured to partially open for a few domestic flights as a test run, according to MIAA officials. During Monday's tour, monitors at the check-in counters sported logos of PAL and Cebu Pacific Air.

MIAA is set to hold Friday a simulation of passenger processes -- check-in, security screening, baggage claim -- at the terminal with the participating airlines, said airport development and corporate affairs chief Tirso Serrano.

“Let's open the terminal, and then investigate. Let's not leave it like this -- useless. If we don't use it, it will just waste away,” Gordon told reporters on Tuesday.

“With rising fuel prices, I anticipate that international tourism will lessen, airlines are now charging for baggage, so we have to focus on domestic tourism. The opening of this terminal for domestic flights will be good for domestic tourism,” he said.

Air-conditioning was still off, and heat and humidity worse than outside temperatures when Gordon was taken around NAIA 3 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the fifth time MIAA opened the terminal for outsider inspection in 2008.

Congress’ oversight and transportation committees earlier visited NAIA 3 several times, and the Joint Foreign Chambers visited the terminal most recently for a private tour.

During the tour, MIAA General Manager took Gordon through both the departure and arrival routes. The senator saw the check-in counters, the yellow immigration counters, and boarding gates where seats have been arranged.

At the ground level, MIAA officials showed Gordon the arrival route from the tube to baggage claim. There, workers were seen plastering minor cracks on walls, atop scaffolding while fixing the terminal's collapsed ceiling, and unloading trucks filled with other construction materials.

“That's almost finished, 85 percent complete,” said Serrano when asked about the collapsed ceiling.

MIAA twice postponed planned openings of the terminal in 2006 and 2007 because of structural defects traced to the March 27, 2006 incident, where a ceiling at the terminal's arrival area collapsed.

The agency's private engineering consultants advised against 2007's planned partial opening because of “life safety risks” found around the terminal, a concern that MIAA officials said were being remedied.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

President signs Bill on Tax Relief for Minimum Wage Earners

AT LONG LAST!--President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signs the Bill on Tax Relief for Minimum Wage Earners into law Tuesday (June 17, 2008) at Malacanang's Reception Hall. With the President in photo are (standing, first row, from left): Sen. Manuel Mar Roxas, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Francis Escudero, Rep. Ma. Amelita Villarosa, Rep. Edcel Lagman, Rep. Mary Anne Susano, House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Rep. Exequiel Javier and other legislators. (Rey Baniquet/OPS-NIB Photo)

Levy Laus moves back to business

Resigns from Clark Development Corp.
By Jacob Cunanan
The Business Mirror

CLARK FREE PORT—Clark Development Corp. (CDC) president Levy Laus submitted last month a letter to President Arroyo to relinquish his CDC post.

“It’s true. I’ve written the President a letter expressing my desire to hand over my CDC position effective July 31, 2008,” Laus said in a press statement.

Laus said his letter was submitted to the President through Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde.

He cited as reason for the decision his desire to go back to his business firms and steer them in the direction of the country’s growing economy under the Arroyo administration. “I want my companies to take advantage of the gains and growth of the economy under the President,” Laus said.

As this developed, Laus bared his business group, the Laus Group of Companies, is currently pursuing various expansion projects.

“We recently broke ground for two car dealerships, Kia and Hyundai in Baliuag, Bulacan, which will open next month. We will also inaugurate the Laus Group Holdings Inc. sometime in August,” Laus said.

Laus is founder and chairman of the Laus Group, whose core business is an automotive dealership spread in a vast network from Metro Manila, Central and North Luzon. He also owns trimedia outfits, radio station dwRW-FM, Sun Star Pampanga and CLTV-36.

CLTV-36 is also set to expand its operations in strategic areas in Central Luzon,” Laus said.

Laus, a close ally and family friend of the Arroyos, was appointed to the CDC in October 2006.

“My decision to leave CDC is consistent with the timetable and objectives I set for myself when the President gave me the opportunity to serve her government and help contribute to her vision for the development and growth of Clark,” Laus said.

Under Laus’s watch, Clark was converted from a special economic zone to a free-port zone and investments in the former US military base rose by 600 percent. Last year Texas Instrument, one of the world’s biggest semiconductor firms, moved to Clark with an investment of $1 billion, one of the biggest single investments by any foreign firm in the Philippines.

“In the nearly two years that I have been at the helm of CDC, I feel I have made my modest contribution to the overall effort in propelling the Clark free-port zone as world-class logistics and service hub, as well as an investment and tourism destination as envisioned by our President,” Laus said.

Prior to his CDC stint, Laus was appointed director of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority by President Arroyo. He also served concurrently as director of the Fort Bonifacio Development Corp. and the Bataan Technology Park. He was appointed commissioner to the 2005 Consultative Committee for the Revision of the Constitution and was later conferred the Presidential Medal of Honor by President Arroyo.

Public school teachers’ class time reduced to six hours

Elizabeth T. Marcelo and Chrysee G. Samillano
BusinessWorld Online

STARTING TODAY, the schedule of public school teachers will be reduced to six from eight hours.

This was announced yesterday by Education Secretary Jesli A. Lapus after he signed memorandum 291 on Friday.

The memorandum provides that public teachers should be required an actual teaching time of six hours, and the remaining two hours may be spent for other teaching-related activities such as preparing lesson plans and instruction materials.

In a telephone interview Mr. Lapus explained that unlike the current policy where public school teachers are required to teach for eight hours, the new directive will give an option for teachers to leave the school after the reduced teaching time, or teach for an extra hour or two and be paid on overtime.

The memorandum will apply to both elementary and high school teachers, said Mr. Lapus.

He said the memorandum was reached after a series of consultations with principals and teachers.

He added the new policy is pursuant to Section 13 of Republic Act 4670 or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, as well as with a recent Civil Service Commission ruling on the six-hour actual classroom teaching time.

"The memorandum should be implemented immediately upon issuance" Mr. Lapus said.

Mr. Lapus yesterday handed the memorandum to the Teacher’s Dignity Coalition (TDC) outside the building of the Department of Education main office in Pasig City.

He said TDC originally proposed a four-hour actual teaching schedule, but it "nevertheless welcomed the new policy."

The Education chief said the new policy aims to improve the teachers’ performance as they will have more time to prepare for the lessons.

Consortium to start rail link

BusinessWorld Online

THE DESIGN and construction of the P5.9-billion Light Rail Transit (LRT) North Extension Project that will connect the LRT 1 and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 lines has been given the go-signal.

DMCI-First Balfour of Consunji-led DMCI Holdings, Inc. and Lopez-owned First Balfour Inc. was awarded the A1, A2 and B packages of the project, totaling P3.6 billion.

"The project duration will be 20 months and will be due for completion on 2010," DMCI said in a statement to the stock exchange.

Negotiations on who will handle Package C of the project, which was declared a failed bid last April, are still ongoing.

The project will feature an elevated viaduct from the LRT’s Monumento station in Manila to the MRT’s North Avenue station in Quezon City. It will also have two new intermediate stations (Balintawak and Roosevelt) and one terminal station (LRT North Avenue station).

Local firm builds country’s first double-hull tanker

By Jeffrey O. Valisno
BusinessWorld Online

THE FIRST locally built, double-hull oil tanker made by a Filipino company was launched yesterday, offering a cheaper alternative to foreign-made tankers now being used by oil companies.

Ship repair and shipbuilding firm Herma Shipyard, Inc. unveiled M/T Matikas, considered the first "world-class," double-hull tanker built in the country.

Double-hull is a ship design and construction method where the bottom and sides of the ship have two complete, watertight layers, reducing the risk of oil spill should the external layer get punctured.

Herminio S. Esguerra, Herma Shipyard president and chief executive, said double-hull tankers are in demand after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandated oil companies worldwide starting April this year to only use double-hull tankers when transporting black fuel products.

By 2010, the IMO said all oil products should be shipped using double-hull tankers. The IMO is the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships.

"The launching of M/T Matikas answers my nagging question whether we Filipinos are ready to build tankers for the global market," Mr. Esguerra told reporters yesterday. "I stand here proud, because instead of importing a tanker, we said ’yes’ to the challenge. With Filipino skill and talent, we built M/T Matikas to international design and construction standards, all by ourselves," he added.

Mr. Esguerra said M/T Matikas took 22 months to make using imported steel and other materials from South Korea, Japan and China — the three largest shipbuilders in the world. He said the tanker cost $10 million, about $6 million cheaper than the average prevailing prices of foreign-made tankers, due to cheaper labor costs in the Philippines.

M/T Matikas was built in Herma Shipyard’s 17-hectare ship repair and shipbuilding facility in Mariveles, Bataan.

M/T Matikas has a 10-year contract with Petron Corporation for the transport of black fuel products from refineries to various depots and terminals nationwide. The tanker could transport as much as 22,000 barrels of petroleum products at a time. Mr. Esguerra declined to state the contract price with Petron, only that it was "double-digit" in million dollars.

After M/T Matikas, Herma Shipyard intends to build at least three more oil tankers until 2010. The company has alloted $50 million for capital expenditures until 2010 for building new ships, while maintaining ship repair operations. Mr. Esguerra said the budget came from bank loans.

Mr. Esguerra said the company’s second oil tanker will be launched this November. The tanker, which has a 14,000-cargo capacity, cost $8 million to make. The tanker will be used by Chevron Corp., under a 10-year contract with Herma Shipyard.

A third tanker, with a 40,000-cargo capacity, will also be built by the company. The tanker will also be chartered by Chevron and will cost between $14-16 million. It will be launched next year.

A fourth oil tanker is already being readied for construction for the use of oil and gas corporation Total. The tanker is estimated to cost $10 million and is expected to be completely built by 2010.

Mr. Esguerra said negotiations are under way for a fifth tanker for the Provincial Science and Technology Center, the extension arm of the Department of Science and Technology in Bataan. Talks however, have yet to conclude, he said.

Mr. Esguerra said oil companies operating in the Philippines are starting to realize the advantages of using locally made oil tankers for their operations in the country. "Filipino-made tankers have designs suited for Philippine marine conditions," he said.

He added that repairs are also easier, since they are done by Filipinos in Bataan. "Oil companies will not need to deal with bringing in the shipbuilder’s crew from another country just to have repairs," Mr. Esguerra said.

Once Herma Shipyard’s local operations are established, the company plans to offer its shipbuilding operations to international clients by 2012. "We would have a competitive advantage since we can offer our shipbuilding services for a lower fee because of the lower labor costs here," he said. —

BIR collections up 16% to P77.5B in May

By Iris C. Gonzales
The Philippine Star

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collected P77.5 billion in May or 16 percent higher than the P66.7 billion collected in the same period last year, according to preliminary data from the tax agency.

However, compared to the agency’s goal of P78 billion for the month, the latest figure is short by P500 million, data further showed.

“It’s almost break-even,” a BIR official yesterday said.

The source said the shortfall was mainly due to lower collection of the 20-percent withholding tax on government securities as the government opted to reject bids for its debt papers during the period.

However, the source stressed that the agency has yet to announce the final figures for the month of May.

While the agency’s May tax collection is slightly below target, the source said this was still better than what the BIR had expected.

“We were anticipating a P10-billion shortfall during the period,” said the BIR official.

He attributed the better-than-expected figures to strong first quarter collections from corporate income tax which came in during the month. He noted, however, that final figures on the latest corporate income tax collection are still unavailable.

Rice cheaper in the Philippines than in Thailand, Vietnam

Research by food agency showed that rice-exporting countries also hit by worldwide price hikes

By Ira Karen Apanay, Senior Reporter
The Manila Times

EVEN rice exporting countries are affected by the worldwide rice price crisis as retail prices of the staple in Vietnam and Thailand went up to P59.01 per kilogram and P45.11 per kilogram, respectively, the National Food Authority (NFA) said.

NFA Administrator Jessup Navarro said that a research made on rice prices in Asia showed that in May, the domestic selling price of rice in Vietnam and Thailand was at P59.01 per kilogram and P45.11 per kilogram, respectively.

In the Philippines, the average domestic price of rice was P33.26 per kilogram for the commercial varieties, for the same month.

Vietnam and Thailand are two of the Philippine’s major rice suppliers.

Navarro said the government is able to maintain the domestic price of the commodity at a range even lower than those of major rice exporting countries.

He explained that the percentage increase in rice prices was placed at 143.44 percent in Vietnam and 175.4 percent in Thailand. In the Philippines, the increase was only 28.91 percent.

In January, the prices recorded were P24.24 per kilogram in Vietnam, P16.38 per kilogram in Thailand and P25.80 per kilogram in the Philippines.

The Business Development and Promotions Department of the food agency based their study from the data of Yahoo financial news, Consumers International Malaysia and other international media organizations.

The research highlighted the fact that while both Vietnam and Thailand are producing rice in larger quantities and exporting to other countries, the worldwide price hikes in food commodities also affect them.

The government, through the food agency, continues to sell rice at P18.25 per kilogram for identified depressed areas and P25 per kilogram in accredited outlets.

”Keeping the price of rice within the reach of ordinary consumers reflects the government’s effective use of logistics and timely market infusion of the commodity which are part of the food security mandate of NFA,” Navarro said.

As of the end of May, NFA’s daily rice distribution was placed at 93,873 bags.

Total rice distribution since January has already reached 9.9 million bags, or 86 percent of the agency’s 11-million bag target.

Navarro added that the food agency’s capability to infuse rice in the market anytime and anywhere, when there is an abnormal increase in the price of the staple worldwide is an effective deterrent against domestic price spirals.