Saturday, 18 October 2008

Photo update of Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project


Sample shot:

Las Vegas Coming To Manila


In the Philippines, the State-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCor) has announced that it is proceeding with plans to build the $15 billion Entertainment City near Manila.

The site is situated on a 150 hectares of reclaimed land in Manila Bay and could feature up to eight hotels alongside theme parks, shopping malls and other recreational establishments including casinos when complated. It is being touted as the nation’s answer to Macau and Las Vegas but faced several hurdles including fears over a potential rise in levels of prostitution.

'We expect to begin construction of the project by first quarter of next year,” said Rafael ‘Butch’ Francisco, President and Chief Operating Officer for PAGCor, which owns the nation’s 13 casinos.

“The project will then take about five years to complete. We've been trying to assure the Church for the past two years that there is not going to be casinos in every corner of this development.”

The last hurdle was cleared last week when the local government of Paranaque granted the project ecozone status, the final pre-construction requirement providing tax incentives for investors including delays in paying property tax.

Francisco revealed that three companies had already expressed interest in investing in the project, Japan's Aruze Corporation, Alliance Global and the SM Group of Companies, while America’s Steve Wynn and Australia's James Packer have reportedly passed for now.

'This project will result in about 400,000 jobs including the multiplier effect it will have on contractors, cement producers and other establishments to be built around Entertainment City,' said Francisco.

The local government stated that it expects to earn around $10.6 million annually from the project by receiving 25 percent of the take from gambling and five percent on non-gaming revenues, both of which are below the Philippine corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

Friday, 17 October 2008

President Arroyo calls on G-7 for a more global solution to crisis

Champions cause of emerging economies as she calls on G7 to include them in ‘grand plan’

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has called on the G-7 countries to include emerging economies like the Philippines in their “grand plan” to ease the global crunch following the Wall Street crash.

“I have also called, and I continue to call on the G-7 countries, to include the emerging economies in the bold actions and extraordinary measures that they plan to undertake to ease the global crunch -- the emerging countries should not be isolated from the grand plan,” the President said in her speech Wednesday in Malacanang during the dinner she tendered in honor of the delegates to the 5th ASEAN Leadership Forum.

“The systemic failures are sweeping the globe from the tropics to the arctic and therefore they (G-7 countries) should lead to a universal solution, not merely a patchwork of regional remedies,” the President said.

“We (ASEAN member nations) should aim for viable binding market monitoring and regulation. How to do that, through what institution, that is something we all have to think about,” she said.

Earlier, the President “proposed a meeting of ASEAN+3 next week in Beijing on the sidelines of the ASEM, the Asia-Europe Meeting” aimed at “preventing the financial firestorm from engulfing our markets and at putting in place solid stabilization measures.”

She said she made the proposal because “the last few weeks have revealed that confidence is important, but confidence alone is not enough. We need fundamental structural reform and global cooperation.”

“Today, markets around the world have swung back in a positive direction again. Who knows where they will be next week? One thing is sure -- we must not lose sight of the impact on real people who bear the brunt of these market fluctuations. We must not revert to complacency just because the markets swing to the positive,” the President pointed out.

“Every week brings a new chapter in the financial drama that is gripping the world. Some might say the recent chapters read like a horror novel.

“Two weeks ago, the US government approved, as we know, an unprecedented bailout worth 700 billion dollars that many thought would calm the waters. Last week, those waters were roiling across the globe as Asian and European markets and governments scrambled to respond in kind,” she added.

Philippine Gov’t addresses crisis with 2009 budget


The government is more than willing to meet with the Senate and present its assessment on the impact of the global financial crisis in the country according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as it rejected a Senator’s proposal top “recast the proposed 2009 government budget.”

The Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC) has presented to Congress scenarios arising from the global crisis. We are ready to do the same for the Senate,” Budget Undersecretary Laura B. Pascua said.

On the allegation that government has no sincere effort to focus (the budget) on the needs of the people,” Pascua noted that the P1.4 trillion government proposal already provides for programs to mitigate the possible adverse effect of the 3F crisis on food, fuel and the financial market.

“The budget submitted by the President to Congress addresses the crisis by investing heavily on food social services and infrastructure and it is therefore unfair to say the government is not sincere in addressing the needs of the people” the DBM official emphasized.

The DBM disclosed that about 30.7 percent of the propose 2009 budget was allotted to social services. Some P86 billion has been set aside for social security, welfare and employment, an increase of 24 percent from 2008 allocation of only P69.5 billion.

“Safety nets has been provided for the poor, ranging from conditional cash transfer to skills trainings, indigent health insurance to scholarship and better educational services ,” the official noted.

DBM added that government provided almost P40 billion in 2009 to finance the Rice Self-Sufficiency Plan which intends to boost rice production and the income of farmers.

President Arroyo opens Manila International Trade Fair


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formally opens today the Manila F.A.M.E. International, the country's biggest trade fair showcasing the Philippines’ world-class products, with around 2,000 buyers from around the globe.

The President, together with Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, will lead the ribbon cutting ceremonies that will formally open the four-day trade show at the SMX Convention Center of the Mall of Asia, Pasay City on Thursday morning.

The FAME International trade exhibit that will run October 16-19 is being organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the export promotions agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Manila FAME International is one of Asia-Pacific's longest-running trade show and touted to be Asia’s Queen of Trade Shows.

It is also the only trade fair in the country recognized by the Union Des Foires Internationales (UFI), a federation of the world's leading trade show organizers, fairground owners, and major associations in the exhibitions and trade fair industry.

The fair, launched in 1983, and held twice a year in April and October showcases the Filipino talent, creativity and fine craftsmanship.

Some 400 Philippine manufacturers, designers and exporters of furniture, home furnishings, holiday decors, jewelry and fashion accessories, among others.

As part of FAME’s 25th anniversary, the show will feature Filipino global brands who have made headlines in the international design scene such as Josie Natori, Monique Lhuillier, Bea valdes, Rafe Totengco, Cesar Gaupo, and Tina Maristela-Ocampo.

Based on previous exhibits, Manila FAME received the highest rating on design and quality among major trade shows in the Asia Pacific region, aside from generating more than $200 million yearly in sales from booked orders from buyers around the world.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Medical services to draw more tourists to the Philippines despite crisis

Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

The influx of Americans and other tourists from various European countries is expected to continue despite the prevailing global economic crisis.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said the country’s medical tourism will bring in more foreign tourists at this time of financial crisis.

“With 50 million Americans with no healthcare and another 120 million underinsured, we are anticipating more tourists to come here,” Durano said.

According to Durano, the healthcare crisis is not exclusive to the US as other places in Canada and Europe are having problems with the prolonged waiting time for patients who are in need of immediate attention.

Durano added that in the Middle East, there is insufficiency in the number of medical institutions that produce world-class healthcare professionals who will provide service to the region’s growing medical care needs.

He also said more and more Americans are traveling out of their country to avail themselves of medical services that range from simple teeth whitening to more complicated procedures like hip surgery.

The tourism chief further explained the comparative costs of medical procedures, like a coronary bypass surgery with heart valve replacement costs $11,956 to $17,391 here, while in the US, it costs around $70,000 to $133,000.

“Our country is likewise an inexpensive destination, which amounts to huge savings for patients,” Durano pointed out.

Another lucrative market in medical tourism is cosmetic surgery, with facelifts by top cosmetic surgeons in the Philippines costing $3,913 to $4,347, the lowest among Asian countries.

In the US, the same service is availed at $10,500 to $16,000.

Aside from low costs, Durano said another advantage of this country are the healthcare professionals who are known all over the world for their natural ability to nurture patients.

“With this innate caring attitude of Filipinos, we are presenting the country as the Tender Loving Care in the Heart of Asia,” he said.

While undergoing medical treatment, foreigners can also enjoy a holiday vacation.

“Packaging medical service with a holiday is among the thrusts of medical tourism. The sight of our sunset by the beach, or the feel of the cool sea breeze is enough to feel relaxed and healed,” said Corazon Jorda-Apo, DOT North America team head.

'An island of calm' amidst financial tsunami

‘Amid crisis, RP an island of calm’
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

The Philippines remains “an island of calm” amid the global financial storm because of its good macroeconomic fundamentals, an official of Standard & Poor’s said.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) deputy director general Rolando Tungpalan made public the statement of Agost Bernard, S&P’s associate director, during a news briefing in Malacañang yesterday.

The statement was also part of Tungpalan’s presentation to President Arroyo during a NEDA Cabinet Group meeting at the Palace on the current global economic developments.

“The Philippines is ‘lucky’ because they have made the necessary adjustments and reforms when times were still good. So they are facing the global market problems and economic slowdown from a considerably improved position, compared to what they were in three to four years ago,” Tungpalan said quoting Bernard.

“The Philippines is an ‘island of calm’ currently, while there is turmoil in the higher rated and previously stable countries,” he said. The S&P official apparently was referring to Malaysia and Thailand but Tungpalan declined to confirm this.

The NEDA official did not read Bernard’s entire statement but said it was part of an email of the S&P official to the Investor Relations Office of the Department of Finance the other day.

In an earlier report, S&P’s said the global financial crisis will not threaten the Philippines’ credit ratings but the government must improve its fiscal position.

The President earlier called for a coordinated regional action to help cushion the effects of the global economic slowdown.

The country’s economic contingency plan as well as the performances of the stock markets around the world was discussed during the Cabinet meeting. Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said Mrs. Arroyo is expected to issue a statement today on her call for a region-wide approach to addressing the financial crisis.

He said Mrs. Arroyo had dispatched Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya to the US to discuss her proposal.

The economic managers were expected to return to the country yesterday and report to the President.

Tungpalan said the improvement in the stock markets around the world “gave us a boost of confidence in where we are right now.”

He said there “seems to be better comfort” from the initiatives taken by developed countries to address their financial problems. But he said the Philippines will not let down its guard.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier told an economic forum that despite the looming recession in the US and in other major economies in Europe, the Philippines will not experience negative growth at least until next year.

“There is no doubt that we live in unsettled times today. The world is at a tipping point,” she said.

She said the setbacks from “the past year and the past weeks are real and profound. It will take time and perseverance to put the pieces back together.”

She said that while a recession in advanced economies is a cause for concern, “we are in best position to be able to weather such slowdown.”

“It (reform) is paying off. Our economy is more resilient today than ever before,” she said.

“We have created almost seven million jobs in seven years. Our international reserves cover six months of imports and the reforms have given us some running room to weather the wave of global price shocks that reverberated across the world this year,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“It hasn’t been easy but Filipinos are tough and resilient and that is one of our sources of competitiveness,” she said.

“We have pulled together. We have been able to draw on additional revenues to provide targeted investments in food and fuel to keep our poor afloat until a better day,” she pointed out.

She argued that while some economies in the region were experiencing recession in 2001, the Philippines was posting growth.

She said the administration is doing everything it can to keep the country’s fundamentals stable.

The country, she said, has already diversified its export markets and that the US is no longer its No. 1 market but China.

“Our banks are well capitalized and the innate conservatism of our bankers is matched by the prudential foresight of our regulators,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Philippine Central Bank Brings Financial Literacy Campaign to Overseas Filipinos in Singapore

Media Releases

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) will conduct the second international roadshow of its Financial Literacy Campaign (FLC) for overseas Filipinos in Singapore on 18-19 October 2008. The first international roadshow was successfully conducted in Hong Kong on 14 September 2008 with the active participation of 131 overseas Filipino workers and 23 representatives from banks and non-banks, media, and the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong.

BSP Officer-in-Charge Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. said that the FLCs are part of the BSP’s advocacy program that aims to reach out to overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries who may be currently unbanked or underserved by formal financial institutions. The program emphasizes the importance of savings and informs participants of alternative opportunities for their remittances, such as placements in financial instruments, investments in business ventures. Participants are also apprised of essential tips to protect their remittances and investments.

Two FLC sessions will be held to reach out to more overseas Filipinos in Singapore. Specifically, FLC sessions will be held on Saturday, 18 October 2008, 8:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at the YMCA Auditorium, Orchard Road; and on Sunday, 19 October 2008, 1:00-6:00 p.m. at the Singapore Management University, Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium, School of Accountancy, 60 Stamford Road, Singapore.

The conduct of the FLC, led by Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo, is spearheaded by the BSP. This endeavor is held in close coordination with government agencies and other partner institutions such as the Department of Foreign Affairs as represented by the Philippine Embassy in Singapore, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Reintegration Center for OFWs, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Singapore Management University, the Philippine Bayanihan Society in Singapore, the Philippine Stock Exchange, the Philippine Franchise Association, and commercial banks in Singapore.

OF Remittances Close to US$11 Billion In the First Eight Months of 2008

Bangko Sentral

Remittances of overseas Filipinos coursed through banks continued to be above the billion-dollar mark, at US$1.3 billion in August 2008. As a result, year-to-date remittances totaled nearly US$11 billion (at US$10.9 billion). The remittance level for the first eight months was 17.2 percent higher compared to the level recorded in the same period a year ago. Remittances in August 2008, however, grew at a slower pace of 10.4 percent compared to previous months.

While the ongoing global economic slowdown could put some dent on the growth of remittances, particularly from those advanced countries that would be most affected by the strains in the global financial markets, Officer-in-Charge Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. observed that remittances will continue to provide strong support to the economy for a number of reasons.

First, demand for Filipino workers overseas has been on an uptrend. Preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that, for the first eight months of 2008, the number of Filipinos deployed abroad reached 884,907, 26.4 percent higher than the level a year ago (699,937). Newly-hired Filipinos were mostly deployed to the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait) and Asia (Taiwan and Hong Kong). The ongoing conduct of talks with potential foreign employers combined with the increasing deployment of highly-skilled, therefore higher-paid Filipino workers (such as engineers, medical practitioners, production-related workers, hotel staff) continued to buoy the demand for Filipino manpower and the level of remittances.

Second, Filipino workers overseas and their families have gained greater access to enhanced banking services provided by local banks and their foreign counterparts. The increased access to formal channels by overseas Filipinos has been made possible by the establishment of more remittance centers and tie-ups abroad by local banks, OIC Espenilla added.

For the period January-August, remittances came largely from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, U.K., Italy, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Upgrading of two Mindanao seaports nearing completion

BusinessWorld Online

DAVAO CITY — Two seaport development projects identified as priority port projects under the Mindanao Super Region are expected to be completed by early next year, a statement yesterday of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) read.

Completion of the P607-million upgrading of Cagayan de Oro Port is under way. The project, scheduled for completion by February next year, involves the construction of back-up area for the newly built 4,150 square meter wharf, construction of drainage system and installation of a port lighting system.

Citing data from the Philippine Ports Authority, the statement said that, as of last August, the P607-million Cagayan de Oro Port Development Project which involves the construction of back-up area for the newly built 4,150 square meter wharf is 96.5% accomplished and is ahead of schedule by 34 days. Construction for the back-up area started in February 2007 and is scheduled for completion in February 2009.

The scope of the project includes widening of the existing reinforced concrete wharf, construction of a back-up area, construction of drainage system and installation of port lighting system.

Meanwhile, the Davao (Sasa) Port Development Project which is targeted for completion in January next year, is 95.5% complete and is 49 days ahead of schedule.

The P420-million project which started in February 2007, involves the rehabilitation of the quay and construction of a reinforced concrete wharf, mooring and fendering area, back-up area, as well as port lighting and drainage systems.

"These development interventions would significantly improve the water transport industry in Northern and Southern part of Mindanao," the statement quoted MEDCo Chairman Virgilio L. Leyretana, Sr. as saying.

MEDCo heads the Mindanao Super Region Inter-agency group, which is tasked to oversee the drive to make the area the country’s agribusiness hub.

Cebu Pacific permanently cuts airfares by as much as 75%

BUDGET CARRIER Cebu Pacific has cut its year-round fares for most of its Asian routes and some domestic services by as much as three-quarters as it lures more Filipinos to travel by air and draw more foreign tourists.

The cut in fuel and insurance surcharges, effective starting Oct. 15, followed the recent drop in global oil prices, which until now have been blamed for airlines’ rising costs.

In a statement, Cebu Pacific said it had cut fuel and insurance surcharges for domestic flights by P200 and by as much as $10 for most of its international routes.

"We hope that other airlines will follow this initiative since this really benefits the Philippine air travel industry," said Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing.

The lowest year-round one-way "Go Lite" fare from Manila to Ho Chi Minh was cut by 75%, to P299 from P1,799, while Manila-Kota Kinabalu one-way fare was to P299 from P799.

All fares exclude applicable surcharges and government taxes. Passengers with check-in bags will have to add P200 upon booking.

Cebu Pacific also cut fares for the Manila-Macau route by half to P799. Manila-Bangkok and Manila-Kuala Lumpur fares now start at P1,299, down from P1,799.

Meanwhile, the Manila-Jakarta, Davao-Hong Kong, Davao-Singapore, and Cebu-Singapore "Go Lite" fares were reduced to P1,799 from P2,799.

The Clark-Bangkok and Clark-Hong Kong one-way fares were also slashed by half and 33%, respectively, to P799.

The one-way fare for Cebu-Hong Kong was also cut to P1,799 from P2,299.

In the domestic market, Cebu Pacific cut its lowest year-round fares for Manila to Laoag and Tuguegarao by 17% to P788 from P988, including surcharges and taxes. The Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo fares now start at P988 all in, down from P1,188.

Meanwhile, the airline said the Manila-Puerto Princesa, Cebu-Puerto Princesa, and Cebu-Clark one-way fares were lowered to P1,688.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Philippines says will pump-prime to weather crisis

By Rosemarie Francisco

MANILA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Friday her government will spend more to stimulate the economy and protect growth as the world braces for the worst financial turmoil in 80 years.

A shift in the concentration of the country's exports to China from the United States would help minimise the impact of the crisis that originated from the U.S. mortgage market a year ago, Arroyo said.

"The U.S. is having an economic slowdown," Arroyo told a business forum. "We hope it will not have a recession, that's why we have drawn up our contingency plans to maintain our growth."

"Part of that is we have to pump prime, we have to spend, and to finance the spending ... we have to increase revenues."

Arroyo said the government would pursue plans to sell state assets to raise cash and fund infrastructure spending.

Manila has said it wants to sell its 40 percent stake, valued at about 25.7 billion pesos ($542 million), in oil refiner Petron and a portion of its stake in oil and gas explorer PNOC-Exploration Corp (PEC.PS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) this year.

"Privatising our economy is a top priority," Arroyo said. "We want to reap the rewards of our investments and use these rewards ... to invest in the people."

Bank bailouts, liquidity injections and interest rate cuts across the world have failed to quell investor anxiety over a possible global recession.

Markets worldwide remained on a downward spiral, with the Philippines' main stock index .PSI plunging 8.3 percent on Friday, its biggest single-day drop in 11 years.

"The best buffer we have to external vulnerability is our own domestic internal strength," Arroyo said.

Fiscal reforms such as a higher sales tax and banking reforms imposed by the government after the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis would help the Philippines withstand the global financial storm, she said.

Manila is also less dependent on exports to the United States than about 10 years ago, with China and Hong Kong combined now the Philippines' biggest export market.

Rising trade within Southeast Asia would also cushion the fall in demand from the West, Arroyo said.

In August, Philippine shipments to China and Hong Kong reached $976 million, almost 50 percent higher than exports to the United States of $652.77 million, data released by the statistics office on Friday showed.

The United States has traditionally been the Philippines' biggest export market. ($1 = 47.4 pesos) (Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait)

Philippines' Arroyo calls for 10-nation meet on crisis


MANILA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Monday called on Southeast Asian neighbours and partners to meet next week and devise a plan to cushion the region from the impact of the global financial crisis.

Southeast Asian finance ministers said last week economic growth in Asia will suffer from the worst financial crisis in about eight decades but no region-wide measures were necessary to stave off systemic threats because banks in the region were not at risk, unlike in the West.
"I propose for ASEAN plus three to convene on the sidelines of the ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) summit in Beijing next week to table the impact of the current credit crunch," Arroyo said in a speech at the launching of a manufacturing facility of food firm RFM Corp.

Aside from the Philippines, ASEAN, or the Association of South East Asian Nations, comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
The plus three refers to the group's dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea.

"I am asking developing and emerging economies to unite and come up with a coordinated approach to cushion the impact of a collapse of highly developed economies," Arroyo said.

"I am urging the developed countries or G7 to consider the interest of developing countries in their plan to prevent a worldwide economic meltdown."

(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Neil Fullick)

President addresses Business Roundtable

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo addresses the Business Roundtable with the Government of the Philippines on Friday (Oct. 10) at the Dusit Thani Hotel, Ayala Center in Makati City. Also in photo are (seated from left) Colin Low, GE president, Singapore, Philippines and Cambodia; Christian Fredrikson, Nokia Siemens Networks head of Asia Pacific Region; Charles Goddard, Editorial director of Asia-Pacific Economist Intelligence Unit; and Justin Wood, director, South-east Asia, Corporate Network of the Economist Intelligence Unit. (Edwin Paril/OPS-NIB Photo)

Foreign chambers push Philippine light rail project

Jessica Anne D. Hermosa
BusinessWorld Online

THE GOVERNMENT should fast-track implementation of the light rail transit project that will connect southern Metro Manila to Cavite and should use competitive bidding to source contractors, foreign chambers said.

The Joint Foreign Chambers said in a letter last Oct. 3 to Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza that export manufacturers in Cavite have been waiting for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 South Extension Project for a decade.

"[We] urge the government to accelerate implementation of the [project] and to use international competitive bidding. [It] is an essential mass transit project needed if economic growth and job creation is to continue in Cavite, one of the fastest growing provinces in the country," read the letter, posted on the Web sites of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. and the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.

The project will add 11.7 more kilometers to the existing LRT Line 1 system and will traverse the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas in Metro Manila and reach the municipality of Bacoor, Cavite.

The project was estimated to cost $683 million, of which $260 million will be borrowed from the World Bank, Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) said on its site.

The project was to be undertaken by a joint venture between LRTA and SNC Lavalin International Inc. (SLII) in 2003, until it was decided that the project should go through public bidding instead.

Philippine air passenger traffic grows

Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
BusinessWorld Online

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE going to and from the Philippines via air grew in the first six months, despite high prices of goods, including plane tickets.

Civil Aeronautics Board data showed that combined number of incoming and outgoing passengers in the Philippines, for both local and foreign airlines, grew to 6.3 million for the first half, 9.13% more than in the same period last year.

Lucio Tan-led Philippine Airlines, Inc. (PAL) saw its total of international travelers grow by a tenth in the six-month period to 1.92 million, from 1.74 million last year.

Gokongwei-owned Cebu Pacific Air, meanwhile, saw its total grow to 671,738, or almost by half more than the year before.

PAL Vice-President for Corporate Communications Rolando G. Estabillo noted in a phone interview yesterday that the period covered was before the successive financial shocks started hitting the US last month and spreading to Europe.

He said air travel "has become a necessity," especially for businessmen and tourists, "despite high oil prices."

The company has said that plane ticket prices have gone up by as much as 10% since last year, due to the imposition of higher fuel surcharges.

Cebu Pacific spokesperson Candice A. Iyog meanwhile attributed the growth to the airline’s low fares. "We’re better off giving those [tickets] at low prices than having half empty planes," Ms. Iyog said.

Meanwhile, Asian Spirit, Inc., which started international flights in the first half, flew a total of 4,684 people to and from its international routes Incheon, Korea; Sandakan, Malaysia; and Macau.

The carrier recently changed its name to Zest Airways, Inc., to reflect the core business of its new owner, Alfredo M . Yao, chairman of Zest-O Corp., maker of the juice drink, Zest-O. Mr. Yao bought the airline last March.

Hiring of more Filipino medical workers seen

The Manila Bulletin

Despite the global economic crisis, labor markets in western countries are likely to hire more Filipino medical workers and nurses in the coming years, according to a recruitment industry leader yesterday.

Recruitment industry leader Emmanuel Geslani said the hiring of Filipino nurses abroad would not be affected by the looming world recession because of the expected growth of employment opportunities for them.

"Amid the pessimistic talks on OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) losing their jobs, the health care industry is predicted to be one sector which will not be affected by the recession in the next ten years," Geslani said.

He explained that the ageing population in the United Kingdom and the growing demographics in the number of Americans aged 65 and above in US will increase the demand for OFWs.

In the UK, more than 21,500 medical workers are reportedly providing home care services to the country’s elderly.

"Breakthroughs in medical technology will increase the life expectancy of those born after World War 2. New advancements in the treatment of major diseases will also increase the need for more health care professionals," Geslani added.

Licensed recruiters projected that foreign employers will be needing about four million medical workers until 2016 that includes 480,500 healthcare aides and 512,500 nursing home workers.

Those who will be hired will take vacancies at care homes presently understaffed and many of them have resorted to the employment of student carers to augment their manpower resources.