Saturday, 11 October 2008

LRT line I ridership hits more than half a million passengers

Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
BusinessWorld Online

More than half a million people rode the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Baclaran to Monumento line on October 3, the most in a day since January 1998, even if oil prices have begun easing.

Melquiades A. Robles, Light Rail Transit Authority administrator, in a statement yesterday said 508,220 people rode the LRT Line 1 on October 3, the highest recorded for a single day since January 1998, when 495,653 took the trains.

Oil prices have eased, which should have encouraged people to use their cars again.

"At the end of the year, we hope we can set a new all time high record for Line 1," Mr. Robles said.

The all-time high stands at 542,605 passengers in a day, recorded on December 16, 1996.

Despite ridership near the record-high, Mr. Robles reiterated that this was not even half of the train system’s full capacity.

"With our Line 1 system’s stable of 139 coaches, which may be configured into three-car or four-car train combinations depending on passenger demand, we have a carrying capacity of 1,309,680 passengers per day," he said.

To handle the increase in passengers, Mr. Robles said he has ordered the rehabilitation of all down trains, some of which have been inoperative for 15 years.

He also pushed for the procurement of additional 12 four-car trains and the rehabilitation of stations.

Meanwhile, ridership for LRT Line 2, which runs from Recto to Santolan, also set a new record of 223,481 passengers on September 5, the highest so far since its first commercial operation in 2003.

The LRTA has extended its operating hours for both Line 1 and 2 up to 11 p.m. starting August 19.

Despite the high cost of maintenance and operation of the two train systems, Mr. Robles assured the public there would be no fare increase.

"The President does not want any fare increase for the LRT as it is the only affordable transportation in the country now, with a maximum fare of P15 for Line 1 and P14 for Line 2," he said.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Philippines exports grow, tax chief quits


Philippine exports grew 6.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.38 billion dollars in August, but shipments in the key electronics sector fell, the government said Friday.

The figure was down 1.1 percent compared to July, when exports grew 4.3 percent to 4.42 billion dollars.

The figures come as the head of the main tax collection agency quit her job as commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue after a year in office, the government said Friday.

Lilian Hefti cited "health reasons" in her resignation letter to President Gloria Arroyo, and her replacement will be announced shortly, presidential spokesman Anthony Golez told reporters.

The Philippines posted a lower-than-forecast budget deficit of 18 billion pesos (about 379 million dollars) in the first half, when revenues grew 11.7 percent to 570 billion pesos, 1.5 percent above target, while spending rose 6.7 percent to 588 billion pesos, or 2.4 percent below the ceiling set by the government.

Electronics, which make up the largest segment of Filipino merchandise exports, dropped 2.8 percent from the previous year to 2.53 billion dollars in August, the National Statistics Office said.

Exports for the eight months to August rose 4.41 percent to 34.42 billion dollars, a pace that was slightly below the government's revised 2008 growth target of five percent.

Electronics shipment for the first eight months eased by 1.65 percent to 20.228 billion dollars, the government agency said in a statement.

The Philippine government is aiming for export growth of at least five percent this year. The original target was 11 percent.

PGMA cites opportunities created by U.S. financial crisis to banking sector

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told agri-business groups today to take advantage of the many opportunities offered by "our strong banking sector" to maintain the momentum gained from a robust business atmosphere far removed from the volatility of the global markets.

"This is the time for agribusiness to exploit the financial liquidity of our strong banking sector to expand your role in your respective niche markets," the President said in her speech keynoting Agrilink, Foodlink, Aqualink 2008 held at the World Trade Center in Pasay City this morning.

"We encourage continued activity by the agriculture, food and aquaculture business groups. This also means the government continues to promote privatization including the Food Terminal, Inc. as a counterpoint for our own pump-priming," she added.

The President pointed out that despite the adverse effects of the US financial meltdown on other countries’ economies, its impact on the Philippine banking sector is minimal.

"The potential exposure of our banking sector to the asset deflation triggered by the subprime mortgage losses in the U.S. accounts for less than one percent of their total system assets here in the Philippines," the President said.

"This exposure is fully reserved, our banks are well-capitalized, and the innate conservativism of our bankers is matched by the prudence of our regulators," she added.

PGMA conducts surprise inspection of two Metro Manila groceries

To assure the people that the government was serious in implementing a Department of Health (DoH) order banning the sale of milk items found to contain melamine, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo conducted surprise visits to two Metro Manila groceries this morning to find out if the retailers are complying with that DoH order.

The President first inspected the milk section of Liana's supermarket located along Leveriza st. in Pasay City and then it was followed by a tour of the newly- opened Save More supermarket in Nagtahan, Manila.

With the President during the inspection of Liana's supermarket were Pasay Mayor Wenceslao "Peewee" Trinidad, Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Zeny Maglaya and Bureau of Food and Drug Director Leticia Barbara Gutierrez.

The same group, minus Trinidad, also joined the President as she inspected Save More supermarket.

The President expressed satisfaction after she found that both establishments were found to have fully complied with the DoH directive by pulling out from their shelves milk products found by BFAD to contain melamine.

Trinidad told the President that it has been the policy of the local government of Pasay to conduct random inspections of prices of goods and commodities, on retail establishments "every now and then."

He said that since the discovery of melamine-tainted milk products from China several weeks ago, the Pasay City government has made random inspections of retail establishments selling these tainted milk products.

"So far, no retail establishment in Pasay City has been found to carry melamine-tainted milk products," Trinidad said, adding that the owners of stores took it upon themselves to stop selling such products.

"Wala rin kasing bibili sa kanila," Trinidad said.

He added that the President was pleased with the Pasay City government's actions saying she extended her "congratulations" for doing what was needed to protect the people from harm.

Meanwhile in Manila, the President was given a brief tour of the facilities of Save More supermarket, which is a subsidiary of mall-giant SM.

Save More Nagtahan, according to its supervisor Almalyn Sore, adheres to the strict policy of providing only the best products for its buyers.

Because of this, no melamine-tainted milk products adorn its shelves.

The President also asked managers of both stores if the prices of their goods were reasonable despite the volatility and uncertainty of the global financial markets brought about by the economic slowdown in the United States.

The President appeared pleased when informed that the prices of goods in the two stores have remained stable.

Photo update on North-Southrail link


Sample shot

Oil strike off Palawan: 22,000 barrels a day

By Paolo Romero and Ted Torres
With Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star

Oil from the Galoc fields off Palawan started flowing yesterday, signaling the first step toward energy self-sufficiency for the Philippines.

Malacañang made the announcement as officials stressed the oil find would be used for domestic consumption to help reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel.

“The President is pleased to announce, as reported by Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, the extraction of fresh oil from the Galoc oil field in the northwest offshore of Palawan at 10:45 a.m. (yesterday),” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a news conference at Malacañang.

“It is a momentous day for us all,” remarked Jeff Davison, chief operating officer of Galoc Production Co. (GPC), the operator of the oil field, located about 60 kilometers west of Culion Island in Palawan.

GPC has started to pump oil that could mean some 20,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD).

“That is equivalent to roughly six percent of the daily oil demand of the country,” Secretary Reyes said.

Reyes reported the first well was opened at 10.45 a.m. and the oil extracted from it was put onboard a ship headed for local refineries before noon.

Officials described the oil extracted as “light medium crude oil” with a potential high yield for gasoline. The Galoc oil will be known as “Palawan Light.”

This will be the first time that an oil field was developed since 1992, officials said. The Philippines imports over 95 percent of its oil needs.

Reyes said reserves estimate in Galoc is approximately 10- to 20-million barrels of oil, based on an assessment made in 2006 for a two-well development.

The oil well, which has a reservoir located 2,200 meters below the sea floor, would produce an initial 17,000 to 20,000 barrels per day in the first 90 days of operation.

This will account for about six percent of the daily local demand of 300,000 barrels, officials said.

The Galoc production, combined with the current oil production in other wells in the country, will be over 30,000 barrel of oil per day, accounting for about 10 percent of the country’s daily oil consumption.

“The President is optimistic that this new development will positively impact on the administration’s efforts to reduce the country’s annual oil importation of $6 billion, and in turn will also contain the increasing cost of food and other commodities,” Ermita said.

He said the oil production from Galoc would also translate to about $1.4 billion in foreign exchange savings for the country, since the oil well’s lifetime estimate runs to about three to five years.

The Galoc Field was discovered in 1981, but the oil field was not developed due to the combination of risks associated with the reservoir and low oil prices.

Since then, advancements in technology have improved the capability of defining the reservoir and resulted in the need for fewer wells to access the reserves than previously necessary.

This has been successfully achieved with the recently drilled horizontal development wells Galoc-3 and Galoc-4.

Presently, production is from the first well, with the second well due to come on-line shortly.

The current development was initiated in mid-2005 when GPC farmed in to the existing Service Contract SC14-C Galoc Sub-Block.

It was originally scheduled for first oil production in April but mechanical problems and bad weather pushed it back by another five months. Delays reportedly resulted in an increase in cost from $86 million to over $120 million.


Reyes and Davison, in a joint statement, said further development to extend the lifespan of the oil well would be known in the first six months of production.

“We embrace this significant development as this will help immensely in our pursuit to be energy self-sufficient... We are on the right track in utilizing our indigenous sources,” Reyes said.

He said opening up the country for oil exploration “will eventually benefit everyone.”

“In a time of uncertainties in oil prices, this will benefit the country and make us less reliant on imported crude oil and save millions of dollars in importation costs,” he said.

Reyes said there is no definite price on the Galoc oil but pointed out that even at world market rates, pump prices could go down since there would be no more transportation costs, insurance, and handling expenses.

“The reason we benchmark it (Galoc oil price) at international prices is to make an accurate evaluation on our savings,” he said.

Davison, for his part, said, “The GPC team has invested three years of committed and concerted effort to bring the Galoc Field into production.”

Galoc Production is a joint venture owned by a subsidiary of the Vitol Group and Otto Energy Ltd. It formed a consortium composed of Nido Petroleum Pty Ltd., Oriental Petroleum and Minerals Corp., The Philodrill Corp., Forum Energy Philippines Corp., Alcorn Gold Resources Corp. and PetroEnergy Resources Corp.

GPC, which holds Service Contract 14C, owns 58.29 percent of SC 14, while Australia-based Nido Petroleum Ltd. owns 22.28 percent.

The oil exploration began in the early 1970s when the Philippines sought growth and self-sufficiency in energy production. In 1972, the government sought exploration in the Palawan-Sulu seabed where oil was initially discovered in the Nido oil field in 1976.

The oil extracted from the Nido oil fields, however, was not enough to meet the increasing domestic fuel demands.

The increasing fuel crunch prompted the government to look for other alternative sources of energy.

Reyes said the success in the Galoc oil fields is a first step towards self-sufficiency in energy.

He said the Galoc oil extraction would also trigger a flow of investments in the energy sector.

Davison said the development of any offshore field presents a unique set of challenges. He pointed out it took three years for the Galoc field to start coughing up oil.

Alternative sources

Lawmakers, on the other hand, approved a bill promoting the development and use of renewable energy resources.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, chairman of the energy committee at the House of Representatives, said the development of renewable energy resources such as wind, water and biomass would lessen the country’s dependence on imported fuel.

“A lot of investors, local and foreign, are waiting for this proposed Renewable Energy Law,” Arroyo said.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, principal author of a counterpart bill at the Senate, said the government could save up to P5 billion in oil imports while reducing the prices of gasoline.

“It could generate big savings for the country in terms of import cost (of fossil fuels) which we can translate into more projects like additional classrooms and teachers,” he said.

Arroyo, for his part, noted that proponents of alternative energy sources have been pushing for the enactment of a renewable energy law since 20 years ago during the 8th Congress.

He said the Renewable Energy Bill mandates the Department of Energy, the National Power Corp. and other concerned agencies to develop recyclable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass, and connect these sources to the national power grid, he said.

The measure will help government achieve its goal to boost the country’s energy self-sufficiency from 56.6 percent to 60 percent by 2010, he said.

He pointed out that estimates made by the Department of Energy showed that if renewable energy sources can contribute 2,500 megawatt[s] of electricity to the national grid in the next 10 years, the country would save about $1.2 billion in fuel importation costs.

While the renewable energy could bring in many benefits, Angara admitted the initial investment on technology for Renewable Energy could be very expensive.

Under the bill, developers of renewable energy resources would enjoy an income tax holiday for the first seven years of their operation. They will also be entitled to duty-free importation of machinery, equipment and materials within 10 years.

After the seven-year exemption from income tax, the developers would pay only a 10-percent tax instead of the usual 35 percent for corporations, provided that they pass on the difference to end-users in terms of lower rates for renewable energy.

The producers’ end product would be exempt from the 12-percent value added tax. They would also enjoy lower transmission charges.

The bill creates a National Renewable Energy Board composed of government and private sector representatives to promote a recyclable energy program.

It also mandates the creation of a renewable electricity market similar to the wholesale electricity spot market where Meralco and other power distributors source their electricity requirements. –

Fuel-saving plan gets green light

By Roy Pelovello
The Manila Standard

President Arroyo yesterday approved the Philippine Energy Efficiency Project, which will replace oil imports with local fuel thus saving the government $120 million annually.

More savings can be realized once the Renewable Energy Bill, just approved by a bicameral conference committee, becomes a law and gets carried out, lawmakers said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo gave the green light for the P2.17-billion project after it was endorsed by the technical board of the National Economic and Development Authority-Investment Coordination Committee during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

“The Philippine Energy Efficiency Project seeks to give form and substance to the policy of energy efficiency, including switching to fluorescent from incandescent bulbs,” Ermita said. The project includes the switch to the use of CNG (compressed natural gas)-fueled engines, Ermita said.

The project is expected to slash the government’s electricity bill by 20 percent and increase the consumption of electric cooperatives by 10 percent from 2007 levels.

According to the Neda-ICC, P1.58 billion of the project cost will be financed by a loan from the Asian Development Bank; P67.5 million will be sourced from the ADB Clean Energy Fund grant; and the remaining P517.5 million will be from the Energy Department’s counterpart fund.

The energy efficiency project is one of the six projects worth P17.4 billion endorsed by the Neda-ICC.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo announced yesterday the bicameral conference committee’s swift approval of the Renewable Energy Bill, a landmark legislation that is expected to boost the country’s energy security.

Arroyo lauded the swift passage of the measure, which he said would also yield huge economic benefits and boost the effort to safeguard the environment. He added that this was a notable achievement considering it has taken more than 20 years to get to this stage.

He said the House is expected to ratify the final version of the proposed Renewable Energy Act of 2008 before Congress goes into recess this week so that it could be quickly signed into law by President Arroyo.

“We are justly proud of this landmark measure’s passage, as it demonstrates the political will of this Congress to set aside politics and work as one in helping solve the problems besetting our nation,” said Arroyo, chairman of the House committee on energy.

The bicameral conference committee met to reconcile House Bill 4193 and Senate Bill 2046.

Rep. Arroyo said the bicameral panel agreed to use the Senate version as the working draft and incorporate the salient provisions of the House version with some minor amendments.

Renewable energy

Three hundred and fifty youth from Bangui secondary schools form the words ‘R.E. Law Now!’ on the beach in Bangui, Ilocos Norte, where a row of giant wind turbines producing electric power stands, in support of the Renewable Energy Bill in Congress. The wind farm, operated by Northwind, is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. A Greenpeace report, entitled ‘Energy Revolution: A Philippine Scenario,’ says wind energy can provide as much as 15,000 megawatts of power in the Philippines by 2030, and as much as 22,000 MW by 2050.


Philippine banks still strong

Gerard S. dela Peña
BusinessWorld Online

PHILIPPINE banks remain well capitalized against their risky ventures even after adopting stricter capital standards last year, latest central bank figures show.

Data released late Wednesday by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that banks’ capital adequacy ratio (CAR) stood at 14.49%, counting only the head offices and branches, and at 15.49%, if subsidiaries are included, as of March.

CAR is a measure of financial strength. It indicates how much capital a financial institution, such as a bank, has relative to its risks or assets such as money lent out.

The central bank requires a CAR of 10%, while the Bank of International Settlements, the bank of central bankers, requires a CAR of 8%. These caps are intended to protect depositors.

The figures in March, however, are lower than those recorded in the previous quarter. The CAR for head offices and branches stood at 14.71% as of December, and at 15.7% including subsidiaries.

Adoption of the Basel 2 Accord in July last year forced banks to set aside more capital for risks or assets such as investments in foreign-currency denominated securities.

The central bank explained that the decline in March was due to the higher risk weights given to certain assets.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

PGMA speaks before world’s big business leaders in Makati Friday


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will offer the Philippines to international and local investors as one of the best values for investments when she faces a group of local and international business leaders during a business conference in Makati City on Friday under the auspices by Economist Conferences.

The President will be the guest of honor and speaker in the Business Roundtable with the Government of the Philippines to be hosted by the Economist Conferences (EC) at the Dusit Thani Manila Hotel in Makati City on Friday morning.

Economist Conferences is the world's leading organizer of business roundtables which held 32 such forum with world leaders in major business and emerging markets last year.

Among those who will welcome the President and her economic team include EC Asia-Pacific Editorial Director Charles Goddard; Asia-Pacific Program and Government Relations Director Vivien Peters; Nokia Siemens Network Asia-Pacific head Christian Frederikson; and Joey La Vista of the Philippine Business Leaders' Forum.

After addressing the forum, the President is expected to interact with a group of business panelists on key issues such as economic policies and investment prospects in the Philippines.

Although not insulated from the world economic slowdown and the financial meltdown in the US, the President, and even the Asian Development Bank (ADB), have projected the Philippines as in a better position to respond to such external pressures due to its strong macroeconomic policies which President Arroyo launched two years ago.

These policies include the implementation of tax reforms that resulted in bigger revenue collections that were subsequently invested to infrastructures, better education, health and other social services to strengthen the country's competitiveness.

For the past several years, the President has been offering the Philippines as one of the best investment destinations because of its strategic location, rich mineral resources, and the highly-efficient and English-speaking Filipino workforce.

At present, the Philippines continues to be the favorite call center and business process outsourcing (BPO) destination in the Asia-Pacific next only to India.

The next big thing for investors are the Philippines' mining and resurgent tourism industries that the President included as a major pillar in her five-year Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan.

With 7,107 islands, the Philippines is among the favorite tourist destinations in Asia because of its natural wonders: pristine white beaches, dive sites, surfing areas, old churches, historical sites, and diverse collection of exotic flora and fauna.

Global business conglomerates currently investing in the country's tourism industry include Marriot, Banyan Tree, Hyatt, Raffles of Singapore, and even Dubai World's hotel and its leisure arm, Kerzner.

On mining, the Philippines is among the 10 largest mining powers, with the world’s richest in terms of mineral resources.

The Philippines is currently ranked third in gold, fourth in copper, fifth in nickel and sixth in chromite deposits.

Also, the Philippines offers numerous opportunities for products such as garments, furniture, fashion accessories, and dried fruit products, among others.

Passage of JPEPA will open new markets for RP agri-business sector, says PGMA


The Senate ratification last night of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) will open up new markets for the agribusiness sector, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today.

In her speech keynoting the opening ceremonies of Agrilink, Foodlink, Aqualink 2008 at the World Trade Center in Pasay City today, the President mentioned that sustaining agricultural growth has been a top priority of the Arroyo administration.

Hailing the passage of JPEPA, the President said the country’s goal of opening new markets for its agri-business products will be a lot easier to achieve with the approval of the agreement with Japan.

Four years ago, the Arroyo administration launched an ambitious program to further accelerate agri-business development through a pump-priming policy designed "to develop one million hectares of agribusiness lands and water to make them productive and to transport their products to the markets efficiently.”

This development plan also included the strengthening of "niche markets" such as "primary products, call center services, niche tourism and niche agribusiness.”

"Sustaining agricultural growth through niche markets is indeed the way to go in a globally competitive world," the President said.

"We earn the foreign exchange to buy the rice by exporting our own niche commodities like primary products, call center services, niche tourism and niche agribusiness," she added.

The President pointed out, however, that it is still "desirable to be self-sufficient in rice while still increasing our production of other plants, fruits, fish and livestock for the markets."

The Philippines has what it takes to carve out a niche for itself in the agribusiness sector with its diverse product base, she said.

She cited a long list of "non-mainstream products" such as mangosteen and papaya pastes, yogurt, civet coffee, goat's milk soaps, the golden "dory" fish, black tiger prawns, low fat salad dressing, palm sugar, indigenous plants and unconventional cut flowers which "will appeal to different segments of local and foreign markets".

"I am also pleased to hear about the use of nutritious indigenous vegetables like malunggay, which we are using extensively for our school feeding program, alugbati, saluyot, caturay and pako or fern," the President said.

"These are not only promising niche crops that translate into more income for the planters, they are also excellent sources of the vitamins and minerals we all need," she added.

For the fisheries sector, the President mentioned the development of mariculture or that specialized branch of aquaculture involving the cultivation of marine organisms for food and other products in the open ocean, an enclosed section of the ocean, or in tanks, ponds or raceways which are filled with seawater, which can earn extra income for Filipino fishermen.

"Growing fish in the seas has proven to be one of the best methods to increase fish production and meet demands without significantly reducing the volume of fish outside the cages," the President said, adding that because of its profitability, "We now have 34 mariculture farms throughout the country."

She said that this "diversification" of the country's agricultural, food, and aquacultural products has made the Philippines a prime exporter to countries other than the United States to include China, Japan and Europe.

"So that the US is no longer our top export market, that now is China. And now Japan will open up with the JPEPA ratified. We also look at the European market," the President said.

More foreigners entering RP despite financial crisis – BI


MANILA (PNA) – Despite the recent outbreak of the global financial crisis, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) reported an eight-percent increase in the number of foreigners who arrived in the country last September compared to those who came in the same month last year.

Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said Thursday that a total of 384,948 foreigners arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airports and other ports of entry last month, compared to the 356,760 who visited the country in September 2007.

Libanan said the upsurge in foreigner arrivals indicates that the Philippines is still an attractive tourism and investment destination amid the turmoil plaguing the world’s financial markets.

He added the continued influx of tourists and investors can help offset whatever adverse effects the financial crisis will have on the Philippine economy.

The BI chief also cited statistics showing an 11-percent drop in the number of foreigners who left the country in September.

There were 421,208 foreigners who departed during the month, compared to the 471,638 who left in the same period last year.

Libanan also bared more than 4.3 million foreigners already arrived in the country from January to September, which is also eight percent higher compared to those who arrived in the first nine months of 2007.

According to BI immigration regulations chief Gary Mendoza, Americans totaling 524,339 topped the list of the foreign visitors, followed by 479,830 Koreans and 293,965 Japanese.

“Also in the top 10 list of foreigners who arrived are the Chinese, Australians, Britons, Canadians, Taiwanese, Malaysians, and Singaporeans,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza also reported that tourists, totaling 2.041 million, account for the bulk of the foreign visitors, while the rest were expatriates, businessmen and holders of other immigrant and non-immigrant visas such as investors and retirees. (PNA)

Philippines draws oil in Palawan


The offshore Galoc oilfield in the province of Palawan commenced production on Thursday, extracting "light medium crude" from the oilfield at 10:45 a.m., the government said.

"We are expecting to get 20,000 barrels a day in the first 90 days of commercial production," the Department of Energy said in a statement. "That will provide for six percent of the daily oil demand of the country."

It said the oilfield is expected to produce up to 10 million to 20 million barrels of oil.

Shareholder Nido Petroleum earlier said the offshore Galoc oilfield is expected to produce about 17,500 barrels per day (bpd) of light, high-sulphur crude once it comes on stream. Galoc was to start production in mid-September but this has been pushed back because of bad weather, according to the operator, Galoc Production Company.

Galoc Production Company, comprising of European trader Vitol with a 68.62 percent stake and Otto Energy with the remaining 31.38 percent, operates the field with a 58.29 percent interest.

The remaining 41.71 percent is split between Nido Petroleum, with a 22.28 percent

PGMA gratified with good news: Inflation is levelling off


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today expressed satisfaction that the country’s inflation is finally levelling off even as she directed her economic team to draw up a contingency plan to cushion the impact of a possible US recession.

“We have been working hard on all fronts to manage inflationary pressures. Kaya gaya ng sabi ko kanina, salamat na lamang, kahapon, maganda ang ating balita -- nagle-level off na ang inflation,” the President announced to leaders of the Metro Manila Council of the Women’s Balikatan Movement at Malacanang’s Rizal Hall.

“Inflation this past month (September) was lower than the month before (August). We have also been working hard to provide a safety net to those hit hardest by these global events.

“Most notably, nagsisipag tayo upang matiyak na matatag ang supply ng pagkain at upang may pagkain sa bawa’t mesa (we are ensuring steady food supply and food on every dining table),” the President told the women’s group which celebrated its 20th foundation anniversary with the President in the Palace.

The inflation rate in September was computed at 11.9 percent, some 0.6 percent lower than inflation rate in August of 12.5 percent.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) had earlier forecast September’s inflation rate to range from 11.8-12.7 percent.

The President further revealed to the women leaders that the United Nations (UN) itself believes that the Philippines can attain the worldwide 2015 goal to halve hunger rates in UN member countries: “Doon nga sa Millennium Development Goals, yung goal, yung to cut down hunger by one-half by 2015, ayon sa mga pagsusukat ng U.N., kayang-kaya natin.”

Ipinasok din natin ang mga programa to lift the burden of high fuel price off our people. And though we are hoping that the U.S. will not slide into recession, I have directed our economic team to draw up a contingency plan to cushion the impact of such a possible recession on the ordinary people of the Philippines,” added the Chief Executive.

Kaya sa kabila ng unos sa pangdaigdigang ekonomiya, malaki ang paniniwala natin sa ating bansa. Malakas ang pag-asa na mararating natin ang magandang bukas,” enthused President Arroyo as she vowed to work hard to attain her Philippine Reform Agenda via economic, educational and environmental protection, and by fighting corruption.

Marami pa ang dapat gawin. Nagsisikap tayo upang makamit ang ating Philippine Reform Agenda. Patuloy nating ipagtatanggol ang ekonomiya, edukasyon, environment, gaya ng sinabi ko kanina. And we will work to fix the corruption that has unfortunately long plagued our nation.”

Gov't pushes for propagation of organic fertilizers


Davao City -- The government is pushing for the propagation of Organic Fertilizers as it came up with a program incorporating organic fertilizers in the FIELDS program of the Department of Agriculture.

The DA through its fertilizer program aims to provide farmers with cheaper and sustainable alternative inputs in view of the high cost of petroleum-based fertilizers triggered by the rising prices of oil and the demand for bio-fuel production in other countries.

The program, coordinated by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), calls for an accelerated production of organic fertilizers (rapid composting, vermin-culture, etc.) in partnership with local government units (LGUs), church-based people organizations and qualified nongovernment organizations, he said.

In a press statement Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the long-term goal is for farmers, through their clusters, to produce their own organic fertilizers.

He said the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), in consultation with the DA Regional Field Units (RFUs), has fine-tuned the schedule of location-specific interventions or LSIs (mainly micro-nutrients and soil ameliorants) to enhance palay productivity or reduce costs, given the different agro-climatic characteristics of the country's rice growing areas.

Meanwhile, the DA is focusing on the retooling and training of 8,000 LGU-based extension personnel on efficient rice production and post production technologies in partnership with the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), PhilRice, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the major regional State Universities and Colleges (SUCs); the training of 900,000 farmers through season-long Farmer Field Schools; and the creation of Barangay Food Security Volunteers promoting village-based participatory research and extension addressing whole-farm production systems.

These SUCs include the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna, Central Luzon State University, Central Mindanao University, University of Southern Mindanao and Don Mariano Marcos State University. (PIA)

PGMA on global financial crisis: Gov’t hoping for the best but preparing for the worse


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that while hoping for the best, her administration is preparing for the worst to ensure that the country’s economy remains resilient in the face of the financial turmoil roiling the world.

She assured members of the Metro Manila Council of Women Balikatan Movement, however, that the Philippine “economy is strong enough to withstand this external turmoil.”

Some 1,000 members of the Women Balikatan Movement led by its chairperson, Leonarda Camacho, gathered at the Rizal Hall of Malacanang this morning to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the women’s movement.

The President said she has directed her economic team to draw up a contingency plan to safeguard ordinary Filipinos, particularly women, from the effects of the global economic slowdown and a feared recession in the US.

The contingency plan, she said, would enable her economic team to manage inflationary pressures and ensure that the world financial crisis will not create additional burdens on ordinary Filipinos.

“Although we are hoping that the US will not slide into recession, I have directed our economic team to draw up a contingency plan to cushion the impact of such a possible recession on the ordinary people of the Philippines,” the President said.

She cited the urgent need to manage inflationary pressures in order to help ordinary Filipinos, particularly the women, who are in the frontlines of managing the food and other day-to-day family requirements.

Although the Philippines is not insulated from the unfolding developments in the world, the President said the Philippine economy is more resilient due to its strong macroeconomic fundamentals.

“Our economy is strong enough to withstand this external turmoil,” she said.

The President said that the country’s economic turnaround has enabled the government to continue investing heavily in vital infrastructure, education, health and social services; and help meet fiscal obligations to lessen external debts.

She said the government continues to work hard on all fronts to manage inflationary pressures thus resulting in lower inflation this past month compared to the previous month.

Filipino women, including the Metro Manila Council of Women Balikatan Movement, the President said, have long been a partner of the government in nation building and, most importantly, in these trying times.

She congratulated women’s balikatan for its pioneering role in the establishment of women cooperatives that have already created thousands of jobs.

Empowering Filipino women has significantly helped the cause of gender equality in the Philippines, one of the country’s most important gains under the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she said.

At present, the President said, the Philippines is in the top 6 in the world and the top in Asia in terms of gender parity.

The Philippines is No. 1 in the world in terms of gender parity in literacy and in health; and No. 1 in gender equality in enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

As government works to provide a safety net to those hardest-hit by global events, her administration is also working hard to ensure enough supply of food and help achieve our MDG of cutting hunger by half by 2015, the President said.

PGMA cites role of overseas Filipinos


Manila -- "Overseas Filipinos continue to play a critical role in the country's economic and social stability.

This was emphasized by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the launching of the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development.

"Our policy is not to export labor. Policy is to protect our workers when the market conditions both abroad and in the Philippines give them an opportunity to work abroad. And it is in this context today, in this day and age and its particular time in the economic development of the whole world, that is our honor to host the Global Forum on Migration and Development this month," President Arroyo said.

The Malacanang press report disclosed that the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development which will be held October 27-30, 2008 in the Philippines will gather around 150 United Nations and international organizations.

According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo the forum provides a platform to share best practices with the intention of fostering concrete, responsible and action-oriented solutions and policies, that harness the developmental impact of migration while addressing the concerns of migrants and their families.

For Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Esteban Conejos, the activity will afford the Philippines to highlight the country's efforts in promoting the rights and well-being of Filipinos overseas and their families.

The theme of the activity is " Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development".(PIA)

At long last: RP-Japan free trade pact approved

Bernard U. Allauigan and Felipe F. Salvosa II
BusinessWorld Online
Updated as of 12:10 AM

The Senate finally gave its concurrence to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), heeding to Palace appeals for the approval of the country’s first-ever bilateral free trade deal before the congressional break.

Senators voted 16-4 in favor of the so-called "mega-treaty," signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and then Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi in Helsinki, Finland in September 2006, despite stiff opposition from various groups.

Approval of the free trade pact was sidelined for months amid disputes over provisions supposedly permitting the entry of toxic waste from Japan as well as allowing Japanese equity in many sectors where the Philippine constitution bans foreign ownership.

Manila and Tokyo had to negotiate two side agreements where the latter vowed not to export toxic waste and violate the Philippine constitution to convince senators to approve the landmark treaty.

The JPEPA will take effect a month after the two countries official notify each other "that their respective legal procedures necessary for entry into force of this Agreement have been completed."

Sixteen senators were needed to secure the two-thirds votes required to approve treaties. Some lawmakers who had gone home were even called to go back to plenary for voting, with proponents careful to make sure they have the numbers to ratify the deal.

Those who voted for the approval of JPEPA include Senate President Manuel B. Villar, Jr., Senate Majority Leader Francis N. Pangilinan, Senators Edgardo J. Angara, Rodolfo G. Biazon, Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Jose "Jinggoy" E. Estrada, Juan Ponce-Enrile, Richard J. Gordon, Gregorio "Gringo" B. Honasan II, Panfilo M. Lacson, Loren B. Legarda, Manuel "Lito" M. Lapid, Ramon "Bong" B. Revilla, Jr., Manuel A. Roxas II and Juan Miguel F. Zubiri.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., Senators Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" C. Aquino III, Francis Joseph G. Escudero and Ma. Ana Consuelo "Jamby A. S. Madrigal voted "no."

Senators Joker P. Arroyo and Pilar Juliana "Pia" S. Cayetano were absent. Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV, facing mutiny charges, is barred from attending sessions.

The Japanese Diet ratified the JPEPA just months after it was signed.

Under the JPEPA, tariffs on 95% of Philippine exports to Japan will be eliminated while import duties on industrial goods such as electronics and cars will be phased out within a ten-year period.

The approval of the JPEPA puts the Philippines in league with other exporting nations in the scramble for bigger export markets following the collapse of multilateral trade talks under the World Trade Organization.

JPEPA proponents have argued that without such a deal, the Philippines would lose out to neighbors like Thailand and Indonesia, which already have their own free trade deals with Japan.

The Philippines, though, has a separate free trade deal with Japan through the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Aside from the free trade zone among ASEAN countries, the regional bloc also has free trade agreements with China and South Korea, and will soon sign one with India. Negotiations are underway with the European Union and Australia and New Zealand.

International trade expert Jeremy I. Gatdula said the Senate’s decision should be respected, adding that freeing up trade by opening markets could help the country minimize the fallout from the global economic slowdown.

"The JPEPA may actually be a good spark plug to excite our own economy and prevent any unwise slide towards protectionism," he said.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

What financial meltdown? Vehicle sales up 12%

Elaine Ruzul S. Ramos
The Manila Standard

CAR makers sold 94,131 units in the first nine months this year, up 12 percent from the 84,048 units sold in the same period last year.

Elizabeth Lee, president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc., said domestic sales continued to buck the downtrend in most countries as distributors kept prices steady despite rising costs in a bid to encourage more buyers.

For September, sales hit 10,937 units, up 10.4 percent from August, and 4.3 percent up from September 2007.

Last month’s sales were actually higher than the monthly sales average of 10,459 for the year, and the average sales of 9,800 units a month last year.

“September proved to be a better month than August, registering a 10.4-percent growth over the previous seasonally low ‘ghost’ month,” Lee said in a statement.

“Although fuel prices were higher relative to the same period last year, the recent decline in oil prices provided a respite for motorists and buyers alike.”

Oil prices have declined more than 30 percent against the high of over $140 a barrel a few months back.

“Players have started to rev up exciting promotions in preparation for the festive months,” Lee said.

“Recent model launches have likewise helped boost sales. Buyers can take advantage of remaining limited vehicle inventories with lower prices [while supplies last], while players slowly start to increase car prices reflective of the higher global raw material and logistics costs. Increases in car prices have been held off since early this year. So far, the industry is on target to reach the forecast of 125,000 units for 2008.”

Toyota Motor Philippines Corp. moved ahead of the pack with 34,113 units sold in the first nine months and a market share of 36.2 percent.

Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. held on to the second spot with 12,806 units sold and a market share of 13.6 percent.

Honda Cars Philippines Inc. followed suit with 11,109 units sold and a market share of 11.8 percent.

Hyundai Asia Resources Inc. and Isuzu Philippines Corp. rounded the list of the top five best-selling vehicle brands with 8,188 units and 7,664 units sold, respectively.

Commercial vehicles accounted for the bulk of total sales with 60,438 units sold, or 64 percent, in the first nine months as against the 33,693 passenger cars sold last year.

Lee attributed the sustained growth of the commercial vehicle segment to fleet deliveries, timely stock arrivals, and the introduction of new models.

Sales of the popular multi-use vans, pick-ups and Asian utility vehicles remained the backbone of sales for this segment.

“It is forecast that sales will continue to grow in the coming months with the bulk of purchases expected over the festive season,” Lee said.

Sales of light trucks declined by 4.5 percent compared with the same period last year, and 17 percent month-on-month due to unavailability of stocks.

Sales of trucks and buses increased by 12.5 percent, sustained primarily by the higher sales of front-engine bus models.

An award-winning project

Felix V Maragay
The Manila Standard

It used to take about three to six months for a driver to get a new license or to renew it. But with the computerization of the Land Transportation Office, the process has been shortened to only one to five days. And the registration of motor vehicles, which used to take four to eight hours, can now be done in just one hour. Consequently, the agency is now processing a lot more transactions on a per-person and per-day basis.

Needless to say, LTO chief Alberto Suansing is praising the agency’s information technology project, put in place by Stradcom Corp., as “one of the most successful, if not the most successful computerization undertakings of the government.” Suansing, also assistant transportation secretary, says the LTO is privileged to be one of the few government agencies that have successfully partnered with the private sector in upgrading operations through information technology.

In fact, the project has been recognized by prestigious international organizations, such as Computerworld, which named Stradcom as one of its 2008 laureates in Washington D.C. last June. “Stradcom successfully used the latest advances in information technology to revolutionize and redefine the delivery of public service through improved transparency and greater efficiency,” said Computerworld, the world’s highest award-giving body in the information technology.

With both the LTO management and its clientele satisfied with the performance of the agency’s automated processing system, it now looks odd and ridiculous that there are moves in Congress to investigate the LTO-Stradcom contract for alleged infirmities and disadvantages to the government.

Obviously, Rep. Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur was fed inaccurate information about the operations of the LTO’s information technology provider. Plaza filed Resolution 803 urging the House committee on good government to look into a 2002 report on the LTO prepared by the resident auditor of the Commission on Audit. The report stated that the build-own-operate contract between LTO and Stradcom was “grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

What the good legislator probably did not know was that all the issues raised in the 2002 LTO CoA report had already been thoroughly reviewed and decided upon by the commission en banc in 2005. The decision, signed by then Chairman Guillermo Carague and Commissioners Emmanuel Dalman and Reynaldo Villar, ordered the continuation of payments to Stradcom.

The ruling of the CoA effectively and clearly established that the LTO-IT project awarded to Stradcom was in no way disadvantageous to the government. “With respect to the third issue that the contract and the amended agreement are grossly disadvantageous to the government, this commission believes otherwise as the grounds cited by the respondent director and even some of those alluded to by the assistant commissioner involved the exercise of administrative discretion on the part of the DoTC/LTO and considerations of practical realities that an implementing agency deals with its usual course of business,” according to the 18-page decision.

Another issue raised by Ompong Plaza was why the LTO computerization project was done through a build-own-operate scheme and not build-operate-transfer option. Actually, when the project was bid out in 1997, the bidding terms of reference specifically provided for a BOO instead of a BOT scheme primarily due to the nature of the project. Everyone knows that information technology is a fast-paced industry with upgrades and technological innovations developed and rolled out within a span of several months. Thus it is prone to devaluation and obsolescence.

Thus, under the BOT scheme, the government would not be protected from the risks of depreciation of assets, even as it would be held responsible for the huge cost of maintenance and upgrading upon the transfer of the facilities. On the other hand, under the BOO scheme, the private contractor would shoulder all the costs and would be responsible for the burdens of developing, maintaining and upgrading the LTO IT facilities at no cost to the government.

What happened to the computerization projects of government that were either BOT or were directly operated and maintained by the government? Many of them failed. One example is the computerization of the Social Security System which followed the BOT mode. After the turnover by the private IT provider, the SSS was not able to operate the system as efficiently as the private firm which implemented it. This explains why it now takes up to six months again for a worker to get his SSS membership card.

The bidding of the LTO IT project was acknowledged as one of the most transparent during that time. Aside from Stradcom, there were four other bidders: Oracle, Ampi-Megadata, Photokina and a company run by former Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez. If Stradcom won, it’s because the company offered the best price in terms of the initial fee to be charged to the transacting public. Its technical capability was impressive. The maximum fee allowed by the National Economic Development Authority-Investment Coordinating Committee at that time was P300, with a maximum of a 10-percent increase per year. But Stradcom’s bid price was only P120 and at present is only P168 after more than five years of operations. This means a rate of increase of less than 8 percent a year.

Congressional sources revealed that the probe on the LTO-Stradcom deal was hatched by another company engaged in the lucrative but controversial drivers’ license business at LTO. The company, now under fire due to quality issues, is reportedly still operating in the agency despite the lack of a new or even renewed contract for the past few years now. Supposedly, the smear campaign against the agency’s IT provider was meant to divert public attention and even our lawmakers from the irregularities and misdemeanors of the company which has yet to renew its contract with the agency.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Intermission: I Will Sing Forever

"I Will Sing Forever"
Lyrics and Music by Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ
Performed by BukasPalad
Featuring the Ballet and Folk Dance Majors of the Philippine High School for the Arts and Ms. Katherine Sanchez
Produced by the Jesuit Music Ministry

Same song, different sights

Intermission: Philippine Medley by Lucio San Pedro

By bombiecustodio

"Live to Play, Play to Live" Philippine Youth Symphonic Band, Rockwell Tent, September 9, 2007, with Romy San Jose - Conductor, Gary Valenciano - Soloist

September Inflation Drops to 11.9 Percent

Media Releases
Bangko Sentral
Click here to view table (

After steadily rising for ten consecutive months, headline inflation decelerated to 11.9 percent year-on-year in September from 12.5 percent in August. This brings the year-to-date average inflation to 9.2 percent. Lower price increases of food and fuel, as well as transportation and communication services accounted for the slowdown in September inflation. Month-on-month headline inflation declined to negative 0.4 percent, a reversal of the previous month’s increase at 0.3 percent.

Slower year-on-year increases in the prices of rice, corn, and fruits and vegetables brought down food inflation, while the four rounds of rollbacks in the prices of petroleum products in September led to lower year-on-year inflation in gasoline products, diesel, and kerosene. The marked slowdown in the price increases of these items, which are the food and energy items excluded from core inflation, yielded a higher rate for core inflation at 7.5 percent compared to 7.0 percent in August.

Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. pointed out that the latest inflation reading was within the BSP’s forecast range and is consistent with the BSP’s assessment of an improving inflation outlook, due in part to the easing of oil and rice prices as well as early signs of improving inflation expectations. Yesterday, at its seventh policy meeting for the year, the Monetary Board decided to keep the key policy rates steady after three successive interest rate hikes. Governor Tetangco added that the BSP will continue to craft appropriate monetary policy to safeguard price stability which preserves the purchasing power of the public and contributes to sustained economic growth.

End-September 2008 GIR Stands at US$36.69 Billion

Bangko Sentral
View table here (

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) stood at US$36.69 billion as of end-September 2008, slightly lower than the previous month’s level of US$36.74 billion. The small decrease in the GIR was due largely to the payments of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the National Government, as well as withdrawal by PSALM from its foreign currency deposit with the BSP. These outflows were mitigated by receipts from the BSP’s net foreign exchange operations, income from its investments abroad, credits from foreign financial counterparties, and revaluation gains in the BSP’s gold holdings on account of the rise in the price of gold in the international market in September 2008.

The current GIR level can cover 5.8 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was also equivalent to 4.0 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 2.6 times based on residual maturity. Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to the sum of short-term external debt and medium- and long-term loan repayments falling due within the next 12 months.

The level of net international reserves (NIR) as of end-September 2008, which includes revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, declined by US$0.25 billion to US$35.78 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.

EU grants P470-M aid for Mindanao, pushes peace talks

Kris Bayos
The Manila Bulletin

Financial support for the civilian victims of atrocities in Mindanao continue to pour in as the European Commission allotted at least R470 million in immediate aid and longterm rehabilitation assistance to the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF).

European Union Ambassador Alistair MacDonald said the European Commission approved last Friday the grant of at least 7 million euros to the MTF from its Humanitarian Aid Department.

"In terms of immediate humanitarian relief, the Commission has earmarked up to 4 million euros or approximately R270 million at current exchange rates to help people affected by the recent violent incidents in Mindanao," MacDonald said.

"And in terms of longterm rehabilitation assistance, the Commission also approved a grant of up to 3 million euros or approximately R200 million for displaced households and communities affected by conflict over the recent years," he added.

MacDonald said that the funds will be channelled through the humanitarian aid agencies of the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and local non-government organizations.

"The assistance will cover emergency food distribution, drinking water, sanitation facilities, non-food relief items like medicines, basic shelter assistance, health care and psycho-social support, and emergency support to livelihood rehabilitation and protection," he said.

Echoing the stand of the European Commission on the hostilities in Mindanao, MacDonald urged the government and the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to declare ceasefire and give way for a peaceful dialogue.

"We urge both parties to return to the negotiating table because we support a non-violent peace process," he said, adding that the EC has urged them "to show restraint and genuine respect for the rule of law."

The EC has already provided some 33 million euros or approximately P2.2 billion of funding aid for Mindanao. This excludes the 93 million euros or approximately P6.2 billion development assistance during the last two decades.

This makes the European Commission the largest donor to the MTF, which was established in 2005 by the World Bank to assist conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

The MTF is implemented in cooperation with the Bangsamoro Development Agency of the MILF to focus on stabilizing existing communities and resettling displaced persons.

$ 10-M assistance to aid folk displaced by Muslim insurgency

MANILA -- The European Union said Monday it will extend seven million euros, or almost $ 10 million, in emergency aid for people displaced by the Muslim insurgency in southern Philippines.

The announcement by the EU, one of the largest sources of official development aid to the predominantly Roman Catholic southeast Asian country’s Muslim region, followed similar pledges of more aid from UN agencies.

Alistair MacDonald, head of the European Commission office in Manila, urged the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end the fighting on the island of Mindanao and resume peace talks.

It is "reaching the point where resources are being thinly stretched," he said.

Fighting flared up in August after the Supreme Court suspended a draft agreement that could have led to a peace accord with the 12,000-member MILF, which has been waging a four decades-old campaign to set up an Islamic state.

Hardline MILF units attacked Christian communities, burning and looting homes and killing civilians in fighting that has claimed about a hundred lives and forced half a million people to flee their homes. About 100,000 are still in evacuation centres.

In the latest incident, three Filipino soldiers were wounded when a military convoy hit a landmine near Valencia city on Saturday, the Philippine army said in a statement Monday.

MacDonald said the EU retained "a lot of optimism" about the prospects for peace.

The EU aid package includes up to four million euros in immediate humanitarian relief for the affected population.

The EU also approved a grant of three million euros to address the problems of civilians who had been displaced by fighting in recent years and had not been able to return to their homes.

Over the past decade, the EU said it has approved about 33 million euros in assistance to people displaced by the Mindanao conflict, on top of 93 million euros in development aid.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City Manila

Philippines May End Rate Increases to Boost Growth

By Francisco Alcuaz Jr.

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippine central bank may stop raising interest rates as it predicts inflation will ease, allowing policy makers to focus on spurring growth amid a global economic slowdown.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will keep the rate it pays banks for overnight deposits at 6 percent today, ending three increases totaling 1 percentage point since early June, according to 8 of 11 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Three expect the central bank to raise the benchmark to 6.25 percent.

Easing commodity prices have given Asia's central banks room to reduce borrowing costs, or keep them on hold, as the deepening U.S. financial crisis heightens risks to the region's export-dependent economies. Philippine economic growth may slow to as little as 3.8 percent this year from 7.2 percent in 2007, according to Finance Secretary Gary Teves.

Bangko Sentral ``may be wondering whether to join the line of central banks that have already cut rates, especially in an environment where credit markets are too stressed for the normal functioning of the economy,'' said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB-GK Securities Pte in Singapore.

The Philippine peso fell 0.7 percent to 47.385 per dollar as of 9:50 a.m. in Manila, near the lowest since May 2007, according to Tullett Prebon Plc. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index fell 42.71, or 1.7 percent, to 2,523.50 as at 10:47 a.m.


In the U.S. and Europe, money-market rates have soared as the failure of lenders in both continents prompted banks to hoard cash and stop lending to each other. Still, the Philippine banking system has ``enough liquidity'' and local lenders haven't had to increase borrowing from the central bank, Governor Amando Tetangco said Oct. 3.

Global credit markets are being squeezed by banks afraid to lend to each other after the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and other financial companies in the U.S. and Europe, Asia's biggest export markets. The U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 3 approved a $700 billion plan to buy troubled assets from financial institutions and revive lending.

UBS AG today cut its forecast for economic growth in Asia excluding Japan next year, saying the region will face ``recession-like conditions'' as the global economy slumps.

New Zealand's economy contracted in the three months to June, driving the nation into its first recession in 10 years. Japan's economy shrank at an annual 3 percent rate in the second quarter, the steepest drop since 2001, while the euro-area contracted 0.2 percent in the same period.

Inflation Eases

Taiwan, China, Australia and New Zealand cut borrowing costs in September. Inflation has slowed in Thailand and Sri Lanka and policy makers in India and Indonesia forecast price gains will cool before the end of the year.

Philippine inflation probably eased to 12.4 percent in September from a 16-year high of 12.5 percent the previous month, according to the median estimate of 10 economists in a Bloomberg survey. The government will release consumer-price data tomorrow.

Inflation may have stopped accelerating last month, the central bank's Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said Sept. 12. Crude prices have declined more than a third from the record $147.27 on July 11, helping the Philippines, which imports almost all of its oil.

Geothermal power generates a third of Philippine electricity

Country comes second to US in worldwide production

See video here at the Washington Post

Filipinos Draw Power From Buried Heat

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 4, 2008; Page A01

ORMOC, Philippines -- Ferdinand Marcos, the despot who ruled here for 21 years, is remembered mainly for the staggering quantity of his wife's shoes. But there is another Marcos legacy, and it is drawing new attention at a time of high oil prices, global warming and urgent questions about the role of government in alternative energy development.

Reacting to the early 1970s oil shock, Marcos created a major government program to find, develop and generate electricity from hot rocks deep in the ground. Since then, the Philippine government has championed this form of energy.

Geothermal power now accounts for about 28 percent of the electricity generated in the Philippines. With 90 million people, about 40 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day, this country has become the world's largest consumer of electricity from geothermal sources. Billions of dollars have been saved here because of reduced need for imported oil and coal.

"Goes to show that things aren't always the way we might expect," said Roland N. Horne, a Stanford University expert on geothermal power who has visited this country more than 20 times. "The Philippines would be in hugely worse shape without geothermal as an indigenous energy source."

In installed geothermal power capacity, the country ranks No. 2 in the world, narrowly trailing the United States, which has far more geothermal potential, far more engineering talent and far greater demand for clean sustainable power.

But unlike in the Philippines, government policy in the United States has been inconsistent. In 2006, the Bush administration cut most geothermal spending -- federal programs that received as much as $100 million a year in the 1980s shrank to $5 million. Research projects were dismantled. Scientists in the field had to find other jobs.

‘4.7% GDP growth is still respectable for economy’

By Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

DOMESTIC expansion even at the reduced anticipated rate of 4.7 percent in terms of the gross domestic product, or GDP, should still be respectable for an economy the size of the Philippines, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Friday.

In a briefing, BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said even though local output last year grew at the now heady pace of 7.2 percent, a growth rate equal to 4.7 percent this year should not be bad.

“A growth rate like 4.7 percent in GDP terms should still be respectable given the many challenges facing us,” he said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ralph Recto had earlier bared the likelihood that Manila would expand this year at a much reduced rate ranging from 4.5 percent up to only 4.7 percent.

The anticipated growth took into account the all-but-certain recession now gripping the United States, the country’s main trading partner.

Tetangco pointed out a growth rate like that was nothing to sneeze at.

“Of course, we would like to see a much higher growth rate, but because of what is happening, almost everybody is being affected and it is not only us but also the other countries,” he stressed.

“It should be respectable given that the long-term growth projection was seen much earlier to range from 4 percent up to 5 percent,” he quickly added.

Tetangco also said the BSP sold some of its dollar holdings to address a “tightness” in dollar liquidity that has stretched even further the already-stressed capacity of the peso to hold its own against the world’s most heavily traded currency.

“That dollar tightness has already eased, especially today [Friday] where we saw [inward] remittances. We also provided some of the requirement consistent with our commitment to provide for dollar liquidity when needed,” he said.

The local unit lost an average of 14.8 centavos against the US dollar on Friday to P47.128 per dollar versus only P46.980 per dollar the previous Thursday at the Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp.

Tetangco’s admission that the BSP provided some of the demand soothed frayed investor concerns as the volume of trade fell to only $742.7 million from Thursday’s $808 million.

“There is now [new] dollar supply,” he said.

He told reporters they continue to project the country’s balance of payments to end as a surplus totaling at least $2 billion this year, indicative of an economy that continues to generate far more foreign-exchange earnings than it was spending.

“That dollar tightness has eased, also because remittances from overseas Filipinos have started to climb ahead of the annual Christmas spending [sprees],” Tetangco said.

New technology to provide more jobs for rural people

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is visibly amazed as iQor president and chief executive officer Vikas Kapoor demonstrates to her the ease of access that new technology called FeAther brings during his courtesy call on her Friday (Oct. 3) at Malacanang. Kapoor used an internet connection at the Palace to take calls in her office. The demonstration underscored the power of the technology to create new job opportunities for people in remote rural areas to work from home. (Edwin Paril-OPS/NIB Photo)

President Arroyo sees Philippine economic rebound by next year

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed the hope today that the Philippine economy will achieve the economic rebound it is projecting by next year.

In her message at the 10th Semiconductors and Electronics Industries of the Philippines, Inc. CEO (Chief Operating Officers) Forum held at the Heroes Hall in Malacanang this morning, the President said with the country’s stronger macroeconomic fundamentals the local economy can even do better.

“We have been working tirelessly as we did in 2001 to address challenges arising in the global economic front,” the President said, as she noted that the present economic turmoil has been made worse with the spike in oil and food prices.

She said that the effect of the US economic crunch is worldwide, and that no nation is insulated from it. She, however, stressed that the Philippines is in a much better position to face the challenge as “our economy is more resilient today than ever before and I’ll say more resilient than other countries.’’

The President said other governments have felt “the overheating so much” that they had to cut down on infrastructure spending. The Philippines, she added, has not reached that stage.

On the contrary, there has been an increase in spending on bridges, airports, ports and telecommunications infrastructure.

“We have not reached that stage and we are not cutting down but increasing instead because [of] our economic reforms and fiscal reforms, strong economic fundamentals and banking system,” the President said.

“Our economy is strong enough to withstand the external financial turmoil,” she stressed.

For the country to weather the present economic challenge, the President said the government is working hard on all fronts to manage the inflationary pressures and to provide safety nets for those hardest hit by the recent developments in the global economy.

She added that the government will continue to generate more jobs, tap more revenues and lure more investments into the country.

She added that the government has been working hard to minimize, if not eliminate, red tape, reduce the cost of power and avoid wage spirals to make industries, like the semiconductors and electronics sector, more globally competitive.

The President noted that the semiconductors and electronics industry in the Philippines has not been spared the global economic slowdown as gleaned from its negative growth rate during the first six months of the year.

However, in June, the industry posted a 2.6 percent year on year growth, she noted.

The President said she remains optimistic that the electronics sector, like the Philippine economy as a whole, will make a strong rebound given the several expansions and future investments. She cited as the reason the expected surge in exports brought about by the $3 billion Texas Instruments’ expansion project at the Clark Freeport Zone.

“So against the ill force of winds of the global economy, we are deeply committed to be a force for the good of the country and the industry,” she said.

PGMA sees big increase in RP's electronics exports next year

Despite the turmoil buffeting the US financial market, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sees a “very big increase” in the country’s electronics exports in 2009 as returns on new investments in the sector, led by Texas Instruments, start trickling in next year.

In her speech during the 10th Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI) CEO Forum in Malacanang today, the President noted that the electronics industry, which produces two-thirds of the country’s total exports, struggled with a minus 22 percent growth in 2001.

Amid projections of a flat growth this year, she reminded the SEIPI leaders of their industry’s minus 22 percent growth in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and “how you recovered, and you will recover even more now because we can see investments that are under gestation.”

“Texas Instruments,” she added, “will formally open in January and with their market of $3 billion a year, we can expect that by yearend, we will have a very big increase in the electronics exports not to mention those new industries that (Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila) is nursing, or those new factories that Peter is nursing for them to locate here in the Philippines.”

Summing up the pluses and minuses of the global financial situation, President Arroyo stressed that “against the gale force winds of the global economy, we remain bullish in our country and your industry. We are optimistic about our future, your future, and we’re deeply committed to be a force for the good of your industry which is good for our people.”

Thanks to the electronics industry, the Philippines has registered an 18 percent share of the global electronic market since 2006, she said. The sector gives direct employment to almost 500,000 Filipinos, about the same number of employees in the payroll of the Department of Education (DepEd), the government’s biggest single employer.

Under the President’s administration, the electronics sector has invested $5 billion, the latest investment being that of Texas Instruments’ Clark operation involving $1 billion.

On the part of the government, the President said her administration has been addressing the concerns raised by the electronics sector in 2001 regarding the upgrading of the country’s infrastructure facilities.

She cited the government’s push for the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), the Alabang Viaduct -- now 83 percent completed – to ease the flow of traffic from Calabarzon towards the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The Batangas Port, which was completed last December, services some of the electronics companies. “The SCTEX has been completed also for the convenience of the factories located in the northern part of the Luzon Urban Beltway,” she added.

Similarly, her administration, through the PEZA, now offers reduced power rates for locators, she said. Hopefully, the open access program will be implemented and thus power cost down some more, the President added.

Highways to wrap up airport’s toll road

Vito Barcelo
The Manila Standard

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway, connecting to passenger Terminal 3 and Centennial Terminal 2, is opening next month.

The Department of Public Works and Highways was tasked to plan and construct the elevated toll road with three bridges linked to the Southern Tagalog Access Road, Coastal Road and Southern Luzon Expressway.

The Naia road project was given the go signal in 2001 but construction started a year later.

Bridge 1 crosses the South Luzon Expressway, Bridge 2 is on the northbound section at Maricaban creek while Bridge 3 joins the Skyway.

A viaduct was built along Sales Street in front of Villamor Airbase along with an interchange connecting Marcos Highway and President C.P Carcia Avenue.

The road was also designed to decongest traffic in Metro Manila, particularly in sections of the cities of Pasay and Parañaque, and Coastal Road.

General Manager Alfonso Cuisia, of the Manila International Airport Authority, said the P9.76-billion expressway would improve passenger access to Terminals 2 and 3.

He said the project was partly funded by a $150,000 financial assistance from the BOT Project Development Facility, and the Japan International Coordinating Agency, managed by the Coordinating Council for Private Sector Participation. Vito Barcelo

Korean shipbuilder resuming operations

Maryann A. Zamora
BusinessWorld Online

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries Construction Co. Ltd. will resume its $2-billion shipyard project at the Philippine Veterans Investments and Development Corp. (Phividec) industrial estate in the first quarter of 2009.

Initial development of the 500-hectare Hanjin shipyard complex was suspended in April following a row with local government officials in Misamis Oriental.

"Everything is ready, construction of the shipyard starts before March 2009," said Ninfa Along-Albania, administrator of the Phividec Industrial Authority. Hanjin representatives could not be reached for comment.

Hanjin was earlier reported to have been scouting for alternative sites in Northern Mindanao and the Davao region, a report that the government had denied.

Ms. Along-Albania said Phividec was relocating residents who will be affected by the construction of the Korean shipyard. The agency targets to fully relocate residents living on the project site by the end of November.

Local government officials from Tagoloan and Villanueva earlier alleged they had been bribed by the Korean firm to allow the development of the site to continue without permits.

Mayor Paulino Y. Emano of Tagoloan later recanted, claiming they had misunderstood the Hanjin executives during a meeting.


Graphics by SAKAMOTO
(See his posts at

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Video update of the state of Philippine railways

Click here for video update from the Railways and Industrial Heritage Society of the Philippines.

Update photo of brand new Philippine National Railways (PNR) equipment

Click here for photo update of new machines, from the "Reese" blog.

A pictorial tour of LRT-2

Click here to see photos at the Railways and Industrial Heritage Society of the Philippines Inc (RIHS--pronounced Reese) blog.

Japan funds P270-M ARMM projects for 32 strategic infrastructures

The Manila Bulletin

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao -- The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is funding 32 socio-economic projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) worth P270 million through the ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP), one of the program thrusts of ARMM Gov. Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan to combat poverty.

JBIC had agreed two years ago to allocate P270 million for 32 strategic regional infrastructure (SRI) projects for the ARMM.

The first five projects up for implementation out of the 32 SRIs are worth about P60 million.

Ampatuan welcomed the JBIC’s projects, saying they augur well for his new administration.

"The partnership between ARMM and JBIC and other international donor agencies goes a long way. We are glad our friends and partners are still here with us helping our people improve their lives. We are grateful to them," said the newly-installed ARMM governor.

Ampatuan said he hopes member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference would respond to the call for more assistance to fight poverty, illiteracy, and lack of employment.

ASFP, now headed by lawyer Mustapha Sambolawan as project manager, is the conduit of JBIC and World Bank for the implementation of their separate projects designed to support the Mindanao peace processes.

Under the first term of Ampatuan, who chairs the ASFP Board, experts from the World Bank had successively rated thrice as "satisfactory" the projects being handled by the ASFPD.

Sambolawan named JBIC’s five funded projects as ARMM Integrated Regional Standards and Testing Laboratory Building (P5.6 million); upgrading of the Polloc International Seaport in Shariff Kabunsuan (P22.8 million); expansion of the Datu Halun Sakilan Memorial Hospital in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi (P10.3 million), rehabilitation of the Tamparan District Hospital in Tamparan, Lanao del Sur (P5 million); and the upgrading of the Dr. Serapio Montaner Memorial Hospital (P14.4 million).

On Friday, JBIC and ASFP jointly awarded the projects to various contractors in the presence of officials of different regional departments in the ARMM.

Hadji Razul Abpi, who heads the ARMM’s Department of Public Works and Highways, assured the JBIC-funded projects will be faithfully implemented.

"It is also nice to imagine how the ARMM and the JBIC have been helping each other deliver the autonomous region from the bondage of poverty and underdevelopment," said Abpi, one of those who signed the contracts for the five projects.

Sambolawan expressed elation at the awarding of the contracts for the JBIC’s projects.

Out of the 32 projects that JBIC is funding, Sambolawan said they awarded the five after two years of gestation period.

"Let us remember that these 32 SRI projects of JBIC are to be implemented in 2008, 2009 and 2010. This is something big that our people can anticipate," said Sambolawan.

"Credit goes to Regional Gov. Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan for ably steering the ASFP projects. That is why under his administration, ASFP received satisfactory ratings thrice from the World Bank," said Sambolawan.

Military treats Sulu kids to movies

The Manila Bulletin

JOLO, Sulu -- American and Filipino soldiers are conducting a weekly film showing activity downtown here aimed to offer recreational advantage to local folks in this remote Southern province.

The Joint Task Force Comet (JTFC) and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, Task Force Sulu is hosting a "Movie Night" once a week for local children every Sunday inside military camp Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista in Barangay Busbus, downtown here.

Each night has a different movie but all teach powerful lessons to viewers. Show time starts at 6:30 p.m.

Sulu has not a single movie house, hence kids and adults express eagerness in this recreational activity.

Though movies do not quite do a good deal with religious leaders of the Islam religion as pornography and much entertainment may divert focus among faithful, away from their daily prayer sessions, hence good quality, moral lesson-giving films soldiers offer are fine options.

What started to be a small gathering of 20 children ballooned to about 400 for the first few months among an assembly of kids and grown-ups eager to watch movies with the military personnel.

Sheila Albol, 13, of Barangay Palar, said a movie night is very special as it is one of the few times she is able to see her friends from other villages.

"Masaya ako dito kasi dumadami ang mga kaibigan ko (Im happy here watching movie because I gain more friends)," shared Sheila.

For 11-year-old Roymart Rafa, last Sunday’s movie night was his first time. He learned about it from an American soldier.

JTFC commander Major Gen. Juancho M Sabban said the conduct of "Movie Night" highlights the learning of right values, while having fun.

Movies are a rare glimpse into the outside world. It is a past time that children love and a fun activity where they can use their imagination. Viewers do not only enjoy an evening of fun and good movie, but soldiers provide free pop corns, bottled water and balloons too, the military chief said.

Before showing the movie, AFP volunteers interacts with the children first about basic healthcare, their dreams, and various other topics intended to instill the principles of obedience, discipline, unity, patriotism, and other values.

"It gives the children chance to discover what’s on the other side of the gate, seeing AFP men not only as fighters. We are here to help and educate them and show that we care about them," said AFP Marine Sgt. John Paul Lacao, a "Movie Night" volunteer .

After the education session children are shown short files, which highlight the importance of unity and patriotism, plus military’s various humanitarian undertakings meant to benefit the province. Then Philippine National Anthem is played, followed by a child-friendly movie.

Comelec submits P26.4-B regular and automation budgets

The Manila Bulletin

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday appealed for the immediate approval of its P5.4 billion regular budget for 2009 and a supplemental budget of P21 billion for the full automation of the May 10, 2010 presidential, congressional, local and party-list elections.

The Comelec, led by Chairman Jose A.R. Melo, said the P5.4 billion regular budget will be used by the poll body in the discharge of its administrative and quasi-judicial functions. A big portion of the budget will go to the salaries of its more than 5,000 personnel throughout the country, he said.

Melo said the Comelec also regularly conducts plebiscites for the creation of new municipalities and recall elections as provided in the Local Government Code.

For the automation of the 2010 elections, Melo said Comelec’s proposed budget of P21 billion has been submitted to the Office of the President and the Department of Budget and Management.

He said the proposed budget was personally received by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya who was receptive to the proposal.

The earlier the supplemental budget is approved, the better, Melo pointed out, stressing that without an approved supplemental budget, Comelec could not conduct public biddings for the procurement of computers and equipment needed for a fully automated 2010 polls.

He said the budget proposal was drafted in consultation with the Advisory Council composed of experts on automation as called for under the Poll Automation Law.

Melo said the amount of P21 billion for the full automation of 2010 elections was arrived at based on the expenses of the Comelec in the Aug. 11, 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Comelec, Melo said, plans to set up a nationwide automated voting system using Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology where a voter merely touches a pad or screen to indicate his or her vote preferences.

Melo said DRE technology, along with the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system, was successfully tested in the ARMM elections.

In OMR system, the voter fills in a special paper ballot that is fed into a scanner, Melo explained to electronically count the vote.

"Proof that both DRE and OMR systems were effective was proven by the fact that not a single complaint or election protest was filed before the Comelec arising from the ARMM polls," Melo said.

He said DRE is more expensive than OMR but many senators led by Sen. Richard Gordon favor the DRE as the technology suited for the 2010 polls since it requires less human intervention.