Saturday, 1 November 2008

Why the Philippines is least affected

BUSINESS & LEISURE By Ray Butch Gamboa
The Philippine Star

At the recent successful launch of the 34th Philippine Business Conference & Expo, our business leaders exuded confidence. Guarded, yes, but the consensus seemed to be that the Philippines appears to be the least affected in the region by the growing global financial mess whose tentacles have reached prosperous countries with highly sophisticated banking systems.

Just how insulated are we? These are perilous times indeed and no government can afford to blink in the face of this growing meltdown which many say will not spare any economy. So why do our business leaders say there is no need to panic because we are the least affected, and we are in fact insulated, at least for now?

The reforms that the government initiated in the banking sector now clearly show how conservative policies can work well in the long run. The crash of the Thai baht during the Asian financial crisis (which miraculously saw the Philippines come out with just a few scratches compared to our Asean neighbors, thanks to a very timely and wise intervention by the Central Bank) over 10 years ago also had its roots in the construction and development boom. Back then, there was so much building going on in Thailand – subdivisions were sprouting like mushrooms, they were building country clubs and golf courses like mad in those days as part of their tourism boom. Like other parts of Asia, there was also a lot of bank lending to the real estate sector going on in the Philippines, but it was in Thailand that the crisis erupted. Financing with short- term money was just too extensive, and while the prices of real estate kept going up, this couldn’t be sustained for too long. The structure had to come crashing down.

Alarmed at what was happening to Thailand, other governments including the Philippines set up banking reforms which, in effect, limited the banks’ portfolio for real estate lending to a more conservative and manageable level and established a comfortable ceiling for collateral values to provide the necessary cushion in case of defaults. For any economist worth his salt, this is a simple, basic knee-jerk reaction which did not require a masteral stroke but it certainly worked well for us. It’s too simple that Americans overlooked it. Money in America was too easy, mortgage brokers and banks were making a lot of money on paper, no collaterals were required for new home owners, easy terms were hard to pass up. When the squeeze finally came, the ante was raised, the homeowners couldn’t meet their obligations, the banks had no collaterals to hold on to. These toxic loans were sold to other financing institutions and before the dam broke, there were several dead or dying financial institutions that had to be bailed out by the US government. Other institutions were deemed too weak to be worth a rescue, among them Lehman Brothers.

Many countries in Europe were greatly affected because of their strong links to the US economy. As many of us know by now, Iceland’s government faces an imminent collapse. Spain’s banks invested too much in speculative derivatives, and their real estate sector has also crashed because of runaway rates.

In Asia, fortunately, we have not felt the tremors as strongly. Singapore is also a heavy financial player and has suffered some repercussions in the market, but they have shored up their reserves over the last decade that they can absorb it well enough. Australia which is a producer of commodities is also now experiencing a slow down because of lower commodities prices.

Malaysia is another country which seems to be insulated from the ongoing turmoil. For one, it is not export-oriented, and it has a healthy fuel reserve to rely on when the crunch comes. It is the export-oriented countries like Korea, China and Japan that are feeling the pinch now because of declining commodities prices. China exports heavily to the US, and with the American economy at an all-time low, the Chinese cannot expect to export substantially in the next couple of years. Chinese economy has slowed considerably in the third quarter, though still registering a nine percent growth. Still, they have had mass lay-offs. Some toy factories and food manufacturers have shut down, and Chinese products now have a tainted image. They are still lucky, though, because they have built up fantastic reserves over the years, like Korea and Japan. Japan, on the other hand, has been suffering from economic stagnation, but their deficit spending helped them ride it out.

The Philippines has a relatively healthy export sector, according to PhilExport’s Sergio Luis-Ortiz. This year, they expect to meet their target of three to five percent, but they declined to make a forecast for next year. Traditionally, the electronics export is our biggest money- maker, and it is still the strongest up to now. They see a big change in habits of Americans now – more and more Americans will likely stay home and avoid spending, so more entertainment products, electronic games, etc will be produced, giving another boost to our electronic exports.

Our agricultural products are still very much in demand, so one of the points raised in the 34th PBC is the need to increase our agricultural production, particularly rice and our biggest sellers like bananas and mangoes. Our service sector (BPOs, call centers, etc.) will continue to be in demand and will likely retain its standing if we do not renege on the standards we have established which currently meet global standards.

At the moment, however, what is clearly emerging as the sunshine industry to watch is our mining ore export. This could very well replace our electronics export if fully explored. Such is the potential of our local mining industry. We just hope we have the right legislative measures in place and vigilantly implemented for responsible mining of our resources, tight controls at our ports of exit to avoid unauthorized export of these resources, and the right programs for sustainable development of this potentially rich industry. Of course, it goes without saying that there are moral obligations to uphold - one is to the environment, and another is to the host town or province where the mining site is. Many of these are in ancestral lands where the natives suddenly find themselves disenfranchised. The government, and the mining companies involved, should protect their rights as well.

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Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be Filipino.
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President calls on Congress to act on pending bills for poor calls

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked today Congress to pass more legislations that will cushion the impact on the ordinary Filipino of the current global financial crisis, rising food and fuel prices as well as bills to improve their lives.

The President issued the call after she signed into law the proposed Credit Information System Act of 2008 at the Rizal Hall in Malacanang.

The President said Congress has given the people an early Christmas gift through the said Credit Information Law. We look forward to Congress for more gifts to better protect our people,” the President said.

The new law, among others, broadens the credit access especially for the underserviced sectors, the small borrowers including small and medium enterprises as it reduces reliance on collaterals of credit facilities.

The law also protects the consumers’ rights as it opens a system of fair competition in the financial system.

She said there are remaining proposed reforms that still await Congress’ action and thus, the President said: “We cannot waste time on political intrigues and grandstanding.”

The President noted that amidst the current credit crunch and the high prices of food and fuel, the Philippines was able to withstand the full negative impact of the crisis because the Executive, Congress and the Central Bank have put in place economic and fiscal reforms even before the crisis.

“When some governments were cutting taxes, we raised them. When some governments were giving free rein to easy money adventures, we were bringing more discipline and order to our financial regulatory environment. When some governments were going deeper into debt, we were fiscally prudent, building up reserves, investing in infrastructure, but paying our debts,” she stressed.

These were not easy decisions but it needed to be done, the President said.

“Your valuable and timely legislations are seeing us this period of tremendous change as we prepare for the lower global fuel and food prices that are now beginning to happen,” she said.

The President said government must not be complacent but must remain vigilant to global developments so “we can continue to respond with the right policies to sustain the gains we have.”

Among the measures she wants Congress to pass is the proposed measure for the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) to strengthen the equity markets against global upheaval, specifically the extension for another year of the documentary stamp exemption for shares traded through the Exchange, and the reduction by half of the stock transaction tax to make the PSE more globally competitive.

“We urge Congress to look closely at their suggestions that require legislation,” the President said, adding that, “Let us continue to endeavor to help the ordinary Filipino stretch his paycheck.”

Philippine President signs Credit Information Law to boost business

Law to ease lending risks, expand businesses
The Manila Bulletin

President Arroyo signed into law yesterday the Credit Information Act which would pool credit information of borrowers to make it easier for banks to assess the risks of lending money to small businesses.

The President said the new Credit Information Act will help decrease the risks of banks in lending to small and medium businesses, and consequently decrease the premiums on loans given to small and medium businesses.

Mrs. Arroyo said it would also give entrepreneurs access to loans to expand their businesses.

"A credible and comprehensive credit information system run by the Credit Information Corporation will cut credit processing times and, therefore, lower transaction costs. It will reduce the risk of defaults with better credit information. It will reduce the credit premium charged by lenders and increase lending volumes. It will help expand the reach of credit to small and medium enterprises," she said.

"Let us continue to endeavor to help the ordinary Filipino stretch his paycheck," she added.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, principal author of the Credit Information Act, said the measure will make it easier for small and medium businesses to borrow money from banks even with little collateral.

"The main hurdle facing small businesses is that the banks don’t know them or their capacity to pay for the loans," Angara said.

Under the new law, the Credit Information Corporation will be established to receive and consolidate credit data and to act as a central registry of credit information that is vital in assessing the credit history and financial condition of borrowers.

Angara said the new law will lessen the reliance on collaterals in applying for loans from banks because banks would have access to the credit information and financial conditions of prospective borrowers.

The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will serve as ex-officio chairman of the new Central Credit Corporation, and the other members of its board of directors would be appointed by the President.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Philippines stepping up infra projects in 2009

Cai U. Ordinario
The Business Mirror

THE national government is now in the process of determining which infrastructure projects may be speeded up in order to boost employment in 2009, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Neda director general Ralph Recto said determining which infrastructure project can already be implemented next year will help many Filipinos secure employment next year. He said this is part of the emergency employment measures being undertaken by the government.

Recto said among the projects that are being eyed to be speeded up are the Light Rail Transit 1 extension to Cavite, Northrail, or the construction of the north Skyway road.

However, Recto said these projects need to be checked first and that the Neda will be the one to come up with a completed list in two weeks.

Ruben Reinoso, Neda infrastructure, regulation and contract review services assistant director general, said the list of projects will be created after the agency is able to determine which ones have completed requirements but has not yet been approved by the Neda Board.

These requirements include feasibility studies and documents that would prove that projects are already undergoing the Neda Investment Coordinating Committee (ICC) process such as the ICC Technical Board and Cabinet Committee.

Recto said speeding up infrastructure projects will also make good business sense for the government, especially at this time when the effects of the financial crisis are still being felt.

“I think we should be making these investments now, preparing for the upturn in the economy come 2010 or 2011,” Recto said.

Data from the National Statistics Office showed that the country’s unemployment rate in July 2008 was slightly lower than the estimated 7.4 percent compared with 7.8 percent recorded in July 2007.

Among the regions, the highest unemployment rate was recorded in the National Capital Region at 12.8 percent. The next highest rates were posted in Calabarzon with 10.4 percent and Central Luzon with 9.4 percent.

The number of unemployed was higher among males at 61.7 percent than females, 38.3 percent. By age group, for every 10 unemployed persons, five or 51.8 percent belonged to the 15-to-24 age group, while three or 28.5 percent were in the 25-to-34 age group.

Across educational groups, among the unemployed, the high-school graduates comprised more than one-third or 34.1 percent, the college undergraduates comprised about one-fifth or 20.8 percent, while the college graduates 19.5 percent.

The great equalizer

ASK GONEGOSYO By Joey Concepcion
The Philippine Star

The nightmare seems to be never ending. What started in the USA has now reached Europe and recently emerging markets that include China, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Russia and the Republics of Kazakhstan and Ukraine, among others.

The forbidden fruit that developed in America, containing multi-leverage sub prime, was bitten by the rest of the world. From this, you have an erosion of confidence and a surmounting fear that is grappling every investor out there, exiting over 5t hedge funds. All asset classes have been hit, from stock markets to commodities. Name it.

Greed has pushed property prices and stock prices to levels that have caused the bubble to burst. The excessive greed has now turned into excessive fear. People just want to get out of stocks and bonds as if the world will end tomorrow.

I call this the great equalizer. The problem today affected mostly the wealthy people. Who is to say that the rest will not be affected? But definitely, the rich, who have assets in the forms of stocks, bonds and other affected investment instruments, have become poorer. Close to 12 trillion dollars have already been wiped out. In the Philippines alone, the stocks had the biggest drop in four years, down by 12 percent or 239 points, to 1,750 levels. Several billions of pesos lost in one day.

In times like these, you realize that material wealth can be wiped out within seconds. This is what happened. The drop was so sudden and big.

But, life has to go on. I still believe that emerging Asia will be able to weather this than the rest. We have the experience from the Asian financial crisis, which will make us first realize that we have a problem. Denial will only cause more problems.

The government must reduce interest rates. If our currency depreciates, it will be good for exports and even for local manufacturers as imports will be more expensive. What are important in the end are the fundamentals. If the Philippines’ real economy (non-financial sectors such as manufacturing, industry, agriculture, telecoms, business process outsourcing) can continue to find niches of opportunities for growth; if they continue to provide employment and income to Filipinos or create negosyo opportunities; and if the country shows growth, manage its budget deficit, export more, and attract more call centers and BPOs to the Philippines; all these will create a multiplier effect. In a crisis, there are always opportunities.

PGMA, despite her poor ratings, has done a great job in preparing the Philippines for this crisis. When the peso appreciated a lot, the central bank supported by buying dollars to avoid peso appreciating. Now, they are selling at a huge spread. This will help the peso from moving down too fast. Commodity prices like oil and others have come down. We should feel the effect sometime on the second quarter of next year, as most companies have hedged out.

There will be no letting up. American companies will have to continue to relocate their accounting and call centers in our country. I have been talking to a number of real estate brokers who specialize in relocating BPO expats. They say that the number of companies relocating in the Philippines is growing. They find the Filipinos talented and hard working.

Our greatest assets as Filipinos are our service and work attitude. In our country, you can see a carpenter offering you to eat his lunch, inviting using our common line “kain tayo”. This is why we will continue to dominate the OFW market, and eventually the call center and BPO markets as well. You will always get a comment from foreign friends that Filipina nurses are the best, or that a yaya working in Hong Kong or Singapore gives more care, as she sacrifices to take care of other children just to give her own kids back home a better future. Our respect for elders is very strong in the Filipino system. All these values that have been handed from generation to generation give us the competitive edge versus other countries.

At this point the financial crisis affects mostly the rich who have assets. The challenge in the coming year is how we bring down the level of poverty, even with the financial crisis. The challenge now is how do make the poor rich.

The next column will discuss how the new Magna Carta on MSMEs will help, together with stories of the Citi Micro Entrepreneur of the Year nominees.


For feedback, email me at or thru SMS at 09175591245. For free business advice, visit Watch the Go Negosyo Bigtime Show in its new home, QTV, every Saturday and Sunday 8-8:30 a.m., with replays in NBN every Sunday 9:15 to 10 p.m.]

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

President Arroyo opens Second Global Forum

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the formal opening of the governmental-phase of the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Shown wity her are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo (right).

Philippines aims to break out of the cycle of sending workers abroad—President Arroyo

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon are shown on their way to address the opening session of the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development Wednesday (Oct. 29), at the Plenary Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. (Rey Baniquet/OPS-NIB photo) to break

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that she remains “stubbornly focused” on improving the economy so that the day will come when the Philippines will no longer lose its best workers to higher-paying jobs abroad.

She said that if ever Filipinos would still work abroad despite the availability of work here, then it would be a career choice already.

The President stressed this to some 462 representatives of governments participating in the two-day Second Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD2) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) even as she welcomed Filipino migrant workers’ contribution to the economy through billions of dollars in annual remittances.

“But we long for the day when going abroad for a job is a career option, not the only choice, for a Filipino worker. Our economic plans are designed to allow the Philippines to break out of this cycle. That is why we remain so stubbornly focused on the economy. We need to spread the wealth and keep the people working here at home. We are creating appealing employment opportunities by focusing on the development of priority sectors, such as business process outsourcing,” the President said.

She said that for the past seven years, seven million jobs have been created and she intends to create more high-paying jobs for the Filipinos so “we will increasingly be keeping our best and brightest right here in the Philippines, closer to friends and families, helping to build our communities and provide the next generation of leadership.“

At the same time, the President stressed that the Philippines, with about eight million people working overseas, is committed to protecting the rights of migrants.

“The Philippines stands to champion the cause of migrants,” she said as she noted that there are some 250 million people who migrated or live outside their countries of birth, many of them working, and this number rises every year, keeping pace with the advance of globalization.

“Indeed, migration is one of the dynamic forces behind the globalization that draws our world ever closer together,” the President said.

However, she lamented that many countries are often less equipped to protect their people abroad in times of trouble.

But she stressed that the Philippines has established one of the best-regulated expatriate workers programs in the world.

“On the basis of their contribution and of the nation’s humanitarian responsibilities to its people wherever they are, our government works doubly hard to strengthen migrant workers’ protection—protection from the depradations of domestic recruiters as well as of overseas employers, agents and officials, and protection from physical harm.”

The President added that the Philippines’ comprehensive and multi-dimensional “life-cycle” strategy covers all facets of the overseas employment process, from pre-departure orientation to post-return reintegration and retraining. She proudly said that the effectiveness of this approach in terms of protecting workers has been repeatedly acknowledged by international bodies.

“However, the full protection and empowerment of migrants is a task that goes far beyond what individual countries of origin can do on their own,” she stressed.

Thus, in 2006, when the Philippines was the ASEAN chair, it led in formulating the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and commencing the establishment of an implementing committee.

She also said that the Philippines has also hosted the International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development in Manila last month, where the delegates discussed the gender dimension of the social costs and benefits of migration, the upholding of the rights of women migrant workers, and seizing opportunities for enhanced gender equality and benefits of migration for women and their families.

“And now we are honored to be the first developing nation and the first Asian country to host the GFMD,” she said.

“For the Philippines, which is at the forefront of the global migration issue, hosting this meeting of GFMD represents a high point in our efforts to assist migrants through intensified global dialogue and networks for consultation and cooperation,” she added.

Philippines announces third package of social programs from VAT

New ‘Katas ng VAT’ initiative

AMID SLIDING CRUDE PRICES, the government yesterday announced a package of fresh social programs to be funded by excess revenues from the value-added tax (VAT) on oil in a bid to provide relief to the poor and those affected by the armed conflict in Mindanao.

The initiatives, which will cost P4.5 billion and includes fresh subsidies, were announced after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in Malacañang. They comprise the third batch of state spending to be funded by the so-called VAT windfall. The first and second packages were announced in June and July, respectively.

Placed under what is called the "Katas ng VAT" (roughly, fruit of the VAT) program, the latest plan seeks to allocate funding for an agriculture initiative, feeding programs targetted at victims of the conflict in Mindanao, rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas, subsidies to small power users, support schemes aimed at businesses, and school building construction.

"The Katas ng VAT is available due to the economic reforms set by the President. We have the funds that will enable us to focus on the most vulnerable sectors of our society," Press Secretary Jesus G. Dureza declared.

Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said P2 billion would be used for additional support to the FIELDS (Fertilizer, Irrigation, Extension and Education for farmers, Loans, Dryers and post-harvest facilities, and Seeds) program to ensure food security.

Half a billion pesos, meanwhile, will be used for the "Malusog na Simula, Yaman ng Bansa" (literally, a healthy start, wealth of the nation), a new feeding program that seeks to provide for people affected by military offensives against renegade members of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Another P500 million will be used as an "early recovery fund" to fast-track the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by the Mindanao conflict.

The amount of P400 million, meanwhile, will be spent for power subsidies directed at the so-called lifeline users, or those consuming less than 100 kilowatt-hours per month. Six hundred million pesos, in addition, will be used to establish a "competitiveness fund" to help businesses cope with rising costs.

Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said the allocation for businesses may include power subsidies and various capacity building programs to make firms more competitive.

Its use would be determined by the private sector, he said.

"They (private sector) have not given us the details. They should tell us exactly how these [funds] should be used."

Mr. Favila added that the P600 million would be part of a planned P1-billion competitiveness fund that seeks to encourage more investments in the country. He said the remaining P400 million may be part of the fourth Katas ng VAT package.

The remaining P500 million, lastly, will be used to augment funding for the construction of school buildings.

Mr. Dureza said details of the projects will have to be threshed out by the cabinet.

Citing preliminary data, Mr. Teves said total collections from the VAT on oil for the July to September period were P22 billion, surpassing the target of P13.98 billion. He said more than P8 billion comprised excess revenues due to high oil prices.

The Finance chief, however, admitted that windfall collections for the fourth quarter may dry up due to falling crude.

"Our concern is if we have enough collections in the fourth quarter. For the last quarter, if our assumption on the oil prices is that it will remain in its current level, then it seems that we would not have any [windfall]. But we have a reserve fund for [the] purpose of spending," Mr. Teves said.

Asked to comment on the new initiative, former Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said the government had merely "repackaged" some existing programs already being funded by the national budget.

"The FIELDS is already covered by the budget of the Agriculture department and the AFMA (Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act). The construction of school buildings is also covered by the national budget. The funding for refugees can be sourced from the Mindanao calamity funds," he said in Pilipino.

Mr. Diokno, budget chief during the Estrada administration, said he does not expect further windfalls from the VAT on oil due to recent global developments.

The first Katas ng VAT package allotted P4 billion for the following: power subsidies to lifeline users (P2 billion), scholarships and student loans, (P1 billion); the conversion of public utility vehicles to make them more energy efficient (P500 million); and the replacement of incandescent bulbs with fluorescent lamps (P500 million).

The second provided another P4 billion for: continued power subsidies (P1 billion); loans for the wives and relatives of transport workers (P1 billion); rehabilitation of areas damaged by typhoons (P1 billion); upgrading of provincial hospitals (P500 million); and cash allowances for senior citizens not covered by pension funds (P500 million).

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Sustained remittance inflows to allow Philippine firms to meet dollar needs

Gerard S. dela Peña
BusinessWorld Online

THE CENTRAL bank expects minimal withdrawals from foreign currency deposit units (FCDUs) amid sustained inflows of remittances despite a global financial crisis, allowing private and public firms to meet their dollar needs.

Diwa C. Guinigundo, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) deputy governor, said overseas Filipino workers and their families are not likely to withdraw their foreign currencies from their FCDUs.

"I think there’s less likelihood for people to withdraw their money from banks’ foreign currency deposit units," Mr. Guinigundo told reporters last week.

"We’re seeing how the crisis has affected the financial markets in the last three months.... But if you’ll look at the level of FCDU deposits, the level has been quite stable."

An FCDU is a unit of a local bank or branch of a foreign bank authorized by the BSP to engage in foreign currency-denominated transactions — mostly in dollars — such as accepting deposits and lending in foreign currency.

Public and private sector firms particularly manufacturers, utility and oil companies turn to banks whenever they need foreign currency funding.

Latest BSP data showed that FCDU deposits rose by 7% to $20.5 billion in June from $19.1 billion in March, and by 11.3% compared to $18.42 billion in the comparable period last year.

Mr. Guinigundo said total foreign currency deposits might have reached the $25-billion mark already

He also said FCDUs — also referred to as secondary reserves, the primary being the BSP’s gross international reserves — could very well cover any maturing foreign currency-denominated obligations in the next 12 months.

Mr. Guinigundo said the the weakening of the global economy could have an impact on the country through lower exports and investment inflows.

But while exports and investment flows have taken a beating from risk aversion, he said the weakening of the US economy was expected to hardly make a dent on remittances given that 60% of the estimated nine million Filipino migrant workers are in oil-rich countries in the Middle East, which have been slightly affected by the ongoing crisis.

He also said average incomes of overseas Filipinos have also improved, not to mention that most of them are in the health care sector, which is not affected by downturns in the business cycle.

"So if you have a deployment rate that is strong and average income also remaining strong relative to what we saw 10-15 years ago, I think a 10% growth in remittances will continue to be realistic in 2009 over this year," Mr. Guinigundo said.

Remittances coursed through banks by overseas Filipinos reached $10.94 billion from January to August, 17.2% higher than the $9.34 billion in the same period a year ago. The BSP expected remittances to reach $16.6 billion by yearend, higher compared to $14.4 billion in end-2007.

The BSP has also recently opened a dollar lending facility to banks to address any tightness in dollar liquidity.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Philippine president moves to enhance relations with China

Enhancement of diplomatic and trade relations is PGMA's top priority in her China visit

HANGZHOU, China – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told local officials here Sunday night that aside from attending the recently concluded 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Beijing, her other "agenda" in coming to China was "to enhance diplomatic, trade, cultural and educational relations" with the People’s Republic of China (PROC), particularly the provinces of Hubei and Zheijiang.

The President issued this statement during a meeting with Chinese Party Secretary Zhao Hongzhu who called on her at the Zhejiang Xizi Hotel here Sunday night (Oct. 26).

During their meeting, the President thanked Zhao and the Chinese people for their hospitality in hosting her visit to Wuhan, Beijing and Hangzhou.

The President also told the Chinese official that her latest visit to China could further enhance the existing ties between the two countries. “We can enhance that (diplomatic, trade, cultural and educational) relationship,” she stressed.

She informed Zhao that she will be meeting today (October 27) with other Chinese businessmen, particularly the “shakers and movers” of Chinese business and economy, in a series of calls aimed at attracting more Chinese investments to the Philippines to provide more jobs and income opportunities for Filipinos.

After their meeting, Zhao led the President to the nearby Xizi Hall where a banquet was hosted in her honor.

On her way to attend the ASEM7 in Beijing, the President first visited Wuhan City in Hubei province to meet with local government officials and business leaders led by Governor Li Hongzhong and members of the Hubei Department of Commerce. There, she pitched for more investments in the Philippines, promoting it as a favorable investment haven.

The President also enthused about the Philippines’ world-renowned highly skilled workers who produce and export well-manufactured computer and automobile parts.

President Arroyo also convinced the Chinese government officials and businessmen that China and the Philippines could further expand their trade relations in key industries such as automotive, tobacco, garments, mining, food and electronics.

Philippine Central Bank: Impact of crisis on Philippines unwarranted

Sentiment, not realities, dictate ups and downs
By Doris Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE UNABATED SELLDOWN OF PHILIPPINE STOCKS, bonds and currencies given the worst financial meltdown seen in the United States and Europe in 80 years is “not warranted,” the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.

BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said Friday that the more than 15-percent depreciation of the peso against the dollar since the start of this year was not reflective of the actual foreign exchange flows in and out of the country.

“The peso at 48-49, it’s not warranted by good fundamentals,” Guinigundo said. “We have a (balance of payments) surplus and remittances from overseas Filipino workers continue to come in.”

The BOP measures the foreign exchange transactions between the local economy and the rest of the world. Any transaction that gives rise to outflows like a pullout of foreign investments, importation or debt servicing is a deficit item in the BOP while any that gives rise to inflows like borrowing, exporting or overseas remittance is a surplus item.

“It’s an issue of confidence driven by market sentiment,” Guinigundo said.

For purposes of economic and fiscal budgeting, the government’s interagency committee has assumed a foreign exchange rate range of 42-45 to a dollar for this year and next. The central bank has been actively unloading dollars at the Philippine Dealing System to temper the peso’s depreciation since March this year.

The peso hit a 22-month low of 49 last week and closed Friday at 48.991 against the greenback.

Guinigundo also lamented that the spreads of Philippine credit default swaps (CDS), which are insurance-like protection against debt default, has now widened to more 700 basis points from about 250 points before the global financial turmoil. (One percentage point is equivalent to 100 basis points.)

He said the central bank would continue to look for ways to boost the flow of money in the local financial system. The central bank recently opened a new lending window for banks in need of foreign exchange as well as a US dollar deposit facility for those with excess foreign exchange.

The BSP has also agreed to enhance a lending window for those in need of peso liquidity by giving borrowers a higher amount of cash against the government securities used as collateral for these loans.

The lending facility is in the form of a repurchase agreement wherein banks can use their holdings of government bonds to immediately avail themselves of liquidity. But in the case of the US dollar repurchase agreement, the banks will have to use their holdings of foreign currency-denominated Philippine bonds as collateral.

The Bangko Sentral also approved recently another “precautionary” measure against the global financial meltdown -- by giving financial institutions greater flexibility in booking investments in bonds and equities to improve their capacity to generate profits.

The central bank is also studying a potential reduction in the reserve requirement as another measure to boost liquidity and confidence in the local financial system.

The reserve requirement, currently set at 21 percent, is the ratio of deposits that banks are required to keep in a low-yielding facility with the central bank.

Philippines posts record harvest of 2.45-M tons sugar in H1

Rudy A. Fernandez
The Philippine Star

The Philippines produced a record of 2,454.523 metric tons (MT) of sugar in crop year 2007-2008.

“This was the highest in 25 years,” said the Philippine Sugar Research Institute Foundation, Inc. (Philsurin).

In a report, a copy of which was furnished The STAR, Philsurin said that the last time the country achieved a similar production was in crop year 1982-83 when it produced 2.463,789 MT of sugar.

“However, in terms of productivity, last year’s average of 68.40 tons cane per hectare was a historical high,” pointed out the institute, a private entity established in 1995 through the initiative of the National Council of Sugar Producers to promote the local sugar industry’s advancement.

Philsurin, a not-for-profit sugarcane research, development, extension (RDE) organization, reported that the leading province in sugar production is Negros, which produced 1,351,726 MT of sugar last year equivalent to 55 percent of total Philippine production.

High-yielding varieties (HYVs) and good weather were responsible for the record production.

In Negros, new varieties accounted for 93 percent of all sugarcane planted in crop year 2007-2008.

The leading varieties included VMC 86-550, VMC 84-524, VMC 87-599, Phil 80-13 and Phil 88-39, which accounted for 71 percent of varieties planted in the province.

Philsurin was responsible for the massive distribution of new HYVs in Negros and other sugarcane-growing provinces in the country.

Over the past decade, the institution has organized mill district development councils (MDDC) in all the country’s mill districts.

MDDCs are entities in sugar-producing areas created primarily to identify productivity concerns and problems of the district. Represented in an MDDC are sugar planters, millers, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) and other organizations.

“Philsurin funds development and extension activities of the MDDCs. We have also constructed various infrastructure projects to enable the districts to serve their respective stakeholders,” explained Philsurin Director General Leon Arceo in an earlier report titled “Technology – Key to Sustainability and Profitability of Sugar Production: The Philippine Experience.”

Each MDDC has an office, a greenhouse to rear tissue-cultured plantlets, nurseries, hot water treatment facilities and a weather station.

Arroyo wants Asia plan tweaked

ASEAN+3 initiative bared last Friday ‘too cumbersome’
Reuters with reports from ADBR, GSDLP
BusinessWorld Online

BEIJING — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants a December summit of Asian powers to ease conditions on a regional financial support arrangement and bring forward its launch to counter global economic woes.

Mrs. Arroyo yesterday said that while 13 East and Southeast Asian nations had agreed on Friday to an $80-billion pool of central bank swap lines, she also wants leaders to ease conditions on use of the pool, 80% of which is tied to International Monetary Fund (IMF) steering conditions.

"The initiative as it now stands is too cumbersome ... We’re proposing a quicker dispersing," she told Reuters in an interview after attending the Asia-Europe summit (ASEM) in Beijing.

"It should be multilateralized, it should be quick-dispersing, and it should be implemented sooner, rather than later," she said of the multilateral swap scheme that the Asian nations agreed on Friday to form by mid-2009.

The financial support arrangement as it stands "may be too difficult for an economy that is in trouble to access on time".

She also urged that its launch be brought forward to December, when ASEAN member states will hold a summit with China, Japan and South Korea.

ASEAN groups Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Brunei. Together with China, Japan, and South Korea, they are called the ASEAN Plus Three or ASEAN+3 grouping.

Mrs. Arroyo’s proposal could easily be scotched by other members of ASEAN+3 that are wary of putting their funds at greater risk. But she appeared eager to court China as a potential backer.

"China has a tradition of or a track record for being a very responsible member of the global economic order," she said. "While it is premature to say what China should do ... we are confident China will continue to be a responsible member of the neighborhood."

Over the weekend, Beijing hosted 27 EU member states and 16 Asian states for discussions that dwelt on the financial crisis and allowed for sideline talks among the Asian powers.

ASEAN+3 agreed in May to expand the reserve pooling scheme, taking them a step closer to creating a full-scale Asian monetary fund, which has gained support in Asia as the financial turmoil dampens growth.

Ahead of the Asia-Europe meeting on Friday, they agreed to speed up cooperation to form the widened scheme by the first half of next year. The agreement would give participating nations access to foreign exchange reserves pool of at least $80 billion in the event of a financial emergency.

That scheme will replace the existing arrangement of mainly bilateral currency swaps formed after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative.

"It will be transformed. In fact, I like to call it Chiang Mai 2," Mrs. Arroyo said of her own proposal.

In Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. told reporters in an e-mail that "The ASEAN Plus Three leaders reiterated their agreement-in-principle to accelerate the multilateralization through a reserve pooling arrangement under the Chiang Mai Initiative as well as the creation of a macro and financial monitoring unit in the ASEAN secretariat."

"They said that to ensure the responsiveness and effectiveness of any fund intended to address the current crisis at this time, it should be quick disbursing and with minimum conditionalities."

Mr. Tetangco said a technical working group (TWG), composed of representatives from the region’s finance ministries and central banks, would thresh out the details.

"The leaders accepted the Philippines’ offer to have the TWG meeting in Manila in November ahead of the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in December in Bangkok," he said.

The TWG meeting will be held on November 12 while the 14th ASEAN Summit is scheduled for December 13 to 18 in Bangkok, Thailand.

A Palace statement quoted Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves as saying that the ASEAN+3 leaders wanted to expand Chiang Mai Initiative to cover all the effects of liquidity problems, including support for troubled financial institutions.

He noted that the original agreement was limited to providing funds only in case of a foreign exchange crisis.

Meanwhile, a joint ASEM statement released last Saturday said the summit had led to an agreement to "take firm, decisive and effective measures in a responsible and timely manner to rise to the challenge of the financial crisis.’’

The ASEM leaders also urged the international community to strengthen coordination and cooperation, and take "effective and available economic and financial measures in a comprehensive way" to restore market confidence and promote economic growth.

The ASEM members also backed a proposal of US President George W. Bush to convene an international summit on November 15 in Washington D.C.

The ASEM consists of the 27 members of the European Union, the 10 ASEAN states, and Japan, South Korea, China, India, Pakistan, and Mongolia. —

Seafarers buoy economy in a sea of uncertainty


AMID DIRE predictions that trade will slow down next year due to the global financial crisis, hundreds of Filipino seamen still gather in downtown Manila everyday to scan notices of vacant positions.

Wilfredo Narte, a 66-year-old Filipino sailor, has seen it all before as he walks past a group of recruitment officers offering him up to $8,000 a month to captain a foreign vessel.

Scanning the job notices, he carefully chooses one and signs up, content he will sail within the month.

Others like him wait their turn, but with hundreds of job vacancies on foreign ships none of them look worried even as the financial crisis starts to batter economies around the world.

"Crisis after crisis, they still look for Filipino seamen," said Mr. Narte, who has more than 30 years of experience on foreign vessels working his way up from deckhand to captain.

"I have traveled the world and have been on ships from Asia and the Americas to the Middle East," he said proudly.

Mr. Narte, who spends an average of 10 months a year at sea, is one of an estimated 270,000 Filipinos who make up roughly a third of the world’s merchant sailors. While economists make dire predictions that trade will fall next year with demand for cargo ships dropping sharply experts here say Filipino seamen would hardly feel the pinch.

Government has said that from its army of eight million overseas workers those most likely to be affected by the financial crisis will be the low-skilled labor and not those in specialized sectors such as shipping.

Filipino overseas workers sent home $14.4 billion last year, equivalent to 10% of the Southeast Asian nation’s gross domestic product.

Fluent in English and highly trainable, Filipinos are much sought-after to man anything that floats — from luxury cruise ships to giant tankers and container ships.

"The world economy may slow down but there will still be commodities that need to be moved around the globe," Roberto Ibaviosa of Epic Maritime, a staffing agency for foreign vessels told AFP.

"Even if the industry cuts jobs Filipinos will not be affected. They [shipping companies] want us to do the work."

The lowest-ranked Filipino seafarer, a messman, earns about $800 a month plus overtime.

Officers get as much as $8,000 a month — about 15 times higher than the average office executive in Manila.

"The situation now is that Filipino seamen can actually demand their own pay scale and choose to ignore the lower paying job offers," said Mr. Ibaviosa, himself a 24-year veteran seaman.

He forecasts the demand for shipping manpower to "slow down a little" in the first quarter of next year, with job orders still lined up until December.

A more pressing concern, he said, is rampant piracy near the sea-lanes off Somalia, where 120 Filipino crew aboard 11 foreign-flagged ships were seized by pirates between April and September this year, Mr. Ibaviosa said.

Gilda Estrella, a welfare officer at the Luneta Seafarer’s Association that runs the street job market, says recruitment booths aggressively compete for the best Filipino sailors.

"If there’s a drop in demand among chartered ships, then there will be a drop in manpower," she said.

"Where will the affected seamen go? The job market may be big now, but there might be a drop in the industry."

Ms. Estrella said there could be "social integration issues" to be confronted if sailors lose their jobs, including looking for jobs domestically that are low paying.

"Many of these seamen are used to the life at sea and the money it pays," said Ms. Estrella, a nurse by profession who worked for a decade in Canada. "What will they do when they return home?"

Outside on the footpath, a throng of seafarers. They take turns touching an icon of the Nuestra Señora De Guia, the patron saint of sailors. They bow and beseech the priest to bless their rosaries and applications sealed in plastic envelopes.

"I can’t imagine losing my job," whispers Mr. Narte. "The sea is my life." — AFP

Philippines leads in record-breaking stand vs poverty

Department of Education leads the way

MANILA (PNA) -- The Department of Education (DepEd) provided the huge number of participants in the “Stand Up and Take Action” events around the country, urging government leaders to end poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The DepEd mobilized elementary school students through a vegetable gardening activity in most of the elementary schools nationwide.

The United Nations (UN) office in the Philippines earlier announced that some 35.2 million Filipinos or an unprecedented one-third of the country’s population, participated in “Stand Up and Take Action” events around the Philippines.

The event that took place from October 17-19 aims to send a loud message to government leaders that they should start taking concrete action leading to the fulfillment of the campaign in ending poverty around the world.

The numbers were announced after a two-day tabulation by SGV & Co. of events registered by organizations and individuals all over the country.

SGV & Co., the largest auditing firm in the country, certified the official Philippine total as 35,264,652, followed by verification and official confirmation by Guinness World Records, a first in the history of the Philippines and of the world.

“No other country can come close to the Philippines as far as mobilizing the largest number of participants is concerned. But more than the numbers, the Stand Up Take Action campaign should result in concrete policy changes and actions that directly address poverty,” said Minar Pimple, UN Millennium Campaign Deputy Director for Asia.

“This weekend, people around the globe assembled in numbers too large to ignore, demanding that world leaders deliver on the promises they made in the year 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Already, world leaders are responding. History has shown us that mass mobilizations have the power to change the course of history, and we will not stop mobilizing and advocating for action until the Millennium Development Goals are achieved,” Salil Shetty, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, in a press statement said.

The Guinness World Records, for its part, announced that 116,993,629 participants in 7,777 events were mobilized around the world, topping last year’s 43 million count.

The number of participants set new Guinness World Record, topping last year’s global record.

Aside from DepEd, World Vision, Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission also took part in the said event.

The National Anti-Poverty Commission conducted a National People’s Day Caravan of Services at Luneta Park and in its communities nationwide.

World Vision and GCAP, on the other hand, partnered in a program called 50 simple steps to fight poverty, which they launched on Oct. 17 in their communities.

The Integrated Midwives Association of the Philippines and the National Federation of Barangay Health Workers conducted pre-natal care to pregnant women and provided vitamins and iodine and dewormed children under-five in all their health units.

Meanwhile, the Department of Interior and Local Government nationwide conducted prayers for poverty reduction.

The Assalam Bangsamoro Peoples Association Inc. conducted a concert in Sultan Kudarat. GCAP conducted a rap contest on MDGs and a concert in Liwasang Bonifacio.

The highlight of Oct. 18 activities was the MDG Fiesta organized by the League of Municipalities of the Philippines in Cainta, Rizal with Mayor Mon Ilagan. The El Shaddai community dedicated its Saturday mass to a prayer on poverty reduction.

The October 19 events were jumpstarted with a charity run for the MDGs organized by Botak with celebrity runners that included former sprint Olympian Elma Muros, former Miss Universe 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao and newscaster Karen Davila.

All over the country, prayers, medical services, tree-planting activities and information drives on MDGs were conducted. (PNA)

Philippine President's initiative on global fund to cushion impact of credit crunch firmed up at ASEM7


BEIJING, China -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's idea of setting up a regional fund that will help Asian countries that will suffer liquidity problems brought about by the US economic meltdown was firmed up during the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Leaders Summit.

Weeks before the biennial meeting of the 45 world leaders in this Chinese capital, the President had proposed that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners -- Japan, China and South Korea or the "+3" -- convene on the sidelines of the ASEM.

Upon her arrival here on Thursday, the President, together with the leaders of the ASEAN member-nations, held a dinner meeting to tackle the impact of the present US economic meltdown on the region.

This was followed by a meeting of the ASEAN+3 leaders where they signified their commitment to the setting up of a regional fund or the expansion of the Chang Mai Initiative (CMI).

Agreed in that meeting was the Philippine hosting this Nov. 12 of the conference of finance ministers and central bank governors of ASEAN +3 countries to prepare the mechanisms of the regional facility and/or the expansion of the CMI.

The outputs of that meeting will be the basis of the ASEAN+3 leaders’ decision on whether or not to approve the regional facility during the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders Week Meeting set in Bangkok, Thailand in mid-December.

The President had pushed for an increase in the amount of the quick disbursing fund from 20 percent to 50 percent with minimum conditionalities, and which fund should not be limited to providing emergency liquidity in case of foreign exchange problems, but also in times of liquidity problems and for the purchase of troubled assets.

She also called on developed economies to come up with a common ground on ways to coordinate assistance to countries badly hit by the financial turmoil.

And as in her overarching goal to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the poor, the President called on the G7 to consider the "interests of the poor and dispossessed ahead of the rich and powerful" in finding ways to ease the crisis in the global financial system.

Arroyo's management style, economic programs praised at ASEM leaders' Summit

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (second from left) participates actively during the Plenary Session of the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held last night (Friday, Oct.24) at the Banquet Hall of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China by leaders from 45 Asian and European countries to discuss global issues on food security, disaster preparedness and management, world economy and financial situation, sustainable development millenium goals, energy security and climate change, and social cohesion. (Alfredo Francisco/OPS-NIB Photo)


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s management style and visionary economic programs to insulate the Philippine economy from the roller-coaster global forces have earned her kudos from her fellow leaders who attended the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Beijing.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said this was revealed to him by Press Secretary Jesus G. Dureza in a conversation over the phone Saturday.

Dureza is accompanying the President on her five-day visit to China for the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Beijing of 45 leaders of Asian and European countries.

Kahapon nag-usap po kami ni (Press) Secretary Jess Dureza… Ipinagmalaki niya po sa amin kung gaano kasikat ang bansang Pilipinas sa buong mundo doon sa kanilang pagpupulong na nagyayari sa Beijing ngayon sapagkat ang lahat na mga pinuno ng mga iba’t ibang bansa sa buong mundo ay tinitingala ngayon ang bansang Pilipinas at saka si Presidente (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo sa mga programa na ginawa niya o nasimulan niya bago pa man dumating ang crisis sa ekonomiya,” Golez revealed over a radio program today (Sunday, Oct. 26).

The Malacanang official added that the President’s economic programs are now being replicated in other countries shaken by the US economic meltdown.

At ‘yan ngayon ay ginagaya ng maraming bansa sa buong mundo, yung management style at saka yung mga programang tinututok ng ating Pangulong Arroyo para sa ating mga mahihirap,” he said.

Golez, who was interviewed over the radio program “Pilipinas, Pilipinas!” of Radyo ng Bayan, added that the Philippines is now benefiting from the President’s tough economic reform initiatives, including the 12-percent expanded value added tax (EVAT).

At ngayon po natin madadama at mananalasa ang layunin ng ating Pangulo (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) na walang ibang puedeng makatulong sa ating bansa at sa ating mga mahihirap na kababayan.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

New RP carrier allowed to fly to Taiwan

Max V. de Leon
The Business Mirror

THE Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Taiwan has recognized new carrier Spirit of Manila Airlines (SMA) as the Philippine official carrier to operate international passenger services between the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and Taiwan, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) announced.

This is after the Civil Aeronautics Board granted to the SMA the right to operate passenger services at 450 seats per week between the DMIA Clark and Taiwan.

The 450-seat allocation is the maximum seats allowed pursuant to Category II of the Amendment to the Agreement on the Exchange of Traffic Rights between Meco and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) signed on March 10, 2006.

Lee Long-Wen, director general of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, which operates under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, said since the capacity of Category II has been fully allocated to SMA, then they would recognize the carrier as the only airline of this category.

“Any additional airlines’ operation shall be subject to future consultations between Meco and Teco,” Lee said in a letter to Carmelo Arcilla, CAB executive director, dated October 17.

Lee was earlier informed by Arcilla of the CAB’s designation of SMA for the Category II slot.

Lee said Arcilla’s office should inform the airline company to apply for its operation permit according to the relevant regulations in Taiwan.

“We would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Spirit of Manila Airlines to commence services to Taiwan,” said Lee.

Spirit of Manila is the country’s newest airline and operates out of a 10-hectare property at the DMIA in Clark.

The Spirit of Manila Airlines Corp. (Spirit of Manila) is the latest Filipino-owned airline company offering scheduled international passenger services from Manila to key Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

It plans to fly to Bahrain, Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Johor Bahru, Kaohsiung, Macau, Osaka, Palau, Taipei, Mumbai, Karachi and the Gulf Region. The airline also offers budget fares and other affordable fare schemes to cater to the overseas Filipino workers market.

SMA acquired at DMIA a 10-hectare property to house its fleet of Boeing aircraft. Together with its technical and investment partners, the company will start soon the construction of large hangars for aircraft maintenance services to DMIA’s regional and international carriers, including the fabrication of airframe and component overhaul on some of the most widely used commercial aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region.

For its start-up operations, SMA will use its family fleet of Boeing 737/767-300ERs aircraft.

This is Bangui, Ilocos Norte


You’d really feel you’re somewhere else as you go into the nine-kilometer stretch of beachfront property.

But no, you’re still in the Philippines, not Denmark or The Netherlands.

This is Bangui, Ilocos Norte, a quiet little town in the province’s northern part.

Bangui, specifically Sitio Suyo in Barangay Baruyen, has been home to 15 towers that rise 70 feet from the coast. This year, five more towers were added along the nine-kilometer stretch of the coastline.

The tops of these towers can be seen from the treeline and the fields along the national highway. While they do look fantastic from afar, they’re even better-looking up close.

They do look like giant electric fans upon closer look. And in a way, they are electric fans though instead of being powered by electricity, they generate electricity from the wind that blows up from the South China Sea.

In turn, power generated by these turbines lights up Bangui and supplies 40 percent of the needs of the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative.

All in all, these wind turbines that generate 25 megawatts of electricity power up the needs of an estimated 108,000 households since 2005.

Since its inauguration, the wind farm has become a tourist attraction in the province. It has also become the perfect background for a photo shoot.

Because come to think of it, you’re transported to an entirely different place – gray skies, giant wind turbines, the waves that crest and slam their way to the pebbled shoreline.

But this isn’t Europe; it’s similar and it’s closer to home, at least 58.1 kilometers from Laoag City.

And the beauty of it all is that, at the end of the day, your car is just around the corner.



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Tortuous climb seen for e-vehicles

By Rose De La Cruz
The Philippine Star

A tortuous journey awaits electric jeepneys and electric cars in the country, with transportation officials imposing new and additional requirements before the registration and licensing of these units.

A year after their successful debut in Makati in July 2007, the electric jeepneys have yet to be registered and given their respective license plates as both the Land Transportation Office and Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board are now insisting on adding new requirements like having the imported units listed in the articles of incorporation; maintaining a showroom in Metro Manila and other requirements.

“And the loser in the long run is not Solar Electric Co. (which pioneered in designing and importing e-jeepneys from China last year) or local manufacturers (like the Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturers Association that recently launched its locally assembled e-jeepney) but the commuters and consuming public and the country since we continue retarding the growth of this sunshine sector,” said Solarco president Robert Lopez Puckett to The STAR. “Solarco introduced electric jeepneys to the world last year and yet we can not go full steam ahead because of these legal stumbling blocks. Other countries in the world like China have adopted our e-jeepney and they are going so fast with it. We will again be trailing behind our neighbors,” he lamented.

“We already have a showroom in Bacolod but LTO and LTFRB want us to invest in another showroom here in Metro Manila, as if it costs peanuts to put up one,” said Puckett.

Puckett said it is not that easy, cheap and fast to revise the articles of incorporation and apply the revision with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Our articles of incorporation have been with us since we started in the seventies,” he said.

The MVP-MA, which launched its version of electric jeepneys early this year, was hopeful that it could save the sector from collapse as a result of declining car sales and car ownership by investing their parts inventory into a completely new line of vehicle only to find itself in a bind like us, Puckett said.

Solarco has sold e-jeepney units to local governments like Makati (where it made a successful debut last year), Palawan, Baguio, Iloilo, Bacolod and Boracay (in Aklan).

It tested its first five units in the Eco Park (operated by the ABS-CBN Foundation) in Quezon City and is now being tested in the Ateneo de Manila Compound also in Quezon City; in Makati (which now bought two units), Bacolod (the original project recipient for 50 units under a Dutch grant) and Palawan.

Currently, many private subdivision villages of Metro Manila have ordered e-jeepneys for use inside the villages to shuttle residents and guests. Among them are the posh villages in Makati and Quezon City; Fort Bonifacio and Alabang). These villages will go ahead using these units with or without the plates anyway they can go around the private road of the village, he added.

“People want to turn to e-jeepney for a lot of reasons among them to cut on fuel costs, increased earnings (for the jeepney operators and drivers) and to clean the air since electric vehicles do not emit noxious fumes like gasoline and diesel,” Puckett said.

SEC okays South Luzon Tollway capital hike

Zinnia dela Peña
The Philippine Star

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has approved the capital increase of South Luzon Tollway Corp. (SLTC) from P100 million to P4 billion.

SLTC, a joint venture between the Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC) and its Malaysian partner MTD Capital Bhd., is undertaking the expansion and extension of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

Started in May 2006, the project will help decongest Metro Manila by opening up new centers of business and industry in the south.

Documents filed with the SEC show that out of the P3.9-billion capital increase, P3.6 billion has been subscribed and paid for. Subscribing to the increase were MTD Manila Expressway Inc. (P2.88 billion) and PNCC (P720 million).

The SLEX project will have three phases: rehabilitation of the 1.2-kilometer Alabang viaduct, widening of the 27.3-kilometer segment of the expressway from the Filinvest area in Alabang to Calamba town in Laguna province, and extension of the expressway from Calamba to Santo Tomas in Batangas province to connect it to the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR).

The Filinvest-Calamba segment will be widened from four lanes to eight lanes to decongest the expressway particularly up to the Santa Rosa section, over a stretch of 15.6 kilometers.

The Santa Rosa-Calamba stretch covering 11.7 kilometers will be widened to six lanes from four.

About 150,000 vehicles take the expressway every day and over 60 percent of all produce in Luzon passes through it.

Manila fine-tunes labor deal with Qatar

By Arlie Calalo, Gigi Muñoz David
The Manila Standard

The Philippines and Qatar have signed a labor protocol ensuring protection for nearly 200,000 Filipino workers.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration yesterday said the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs will now issue Foreign Worker Work Visa to Filipinos bound for the kingdom.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque and Qatar Minister of Labor Sultan bin Hassan Al-Dhabit Al-Dosari signed the accord in Qatar last Oct. 19. The new accord adopted the so-called Standard Employment Contract for migrant workers, which was designed to address the problem of contract substitution as only one contract will be observed by both governments, Roque said.

It also affirmed the recruitment and placement process through a licensed Philippine recruitment agency, which protects workers from falling prey to abuse and maltreatment by illegal recruiters, Roque said.

Roque said the employment of migrant workers in the entire Middle East will remain largely unaffected by the worldwide financial crunch, citing the vibrant prospects and opportunities in the real estate, construction, energy, medical, tourism, retail, telecom operations and maintenance, hotels and restaurants, and information technology sectors in the region.

Qatar became the fourth top host destination of Filipino workers in the world and third among Middle East nations after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the Labor Department.

Deployment of documented Filipino workers in Qatar has grown to over 56,000 this year, Roque said.

In a press statement, POEA said the new work visa replaces the old system wherein the Ministry of Labor issues the work permit while the General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence, counterpart of the Bureau of Immigration, issues the No Objection Certificate otherwise known as the visa to enter Bahrain. The FWWV is a consolidated document of the work visa and the NOC.

Expatriate workers may verify their FWWV number through the online services of the Bahrain Labor Market Regulatory Authority Web site,, or 00 973 1750 6055.

In a letter, LMRA spokesman and services manager Waheed Al Balushi told the Foreign Affairs Department that the verification of the work visa number allows the confirmation of the expatriate worker’s exact occupation in Bahrain and his employer’s contact details even prior to his departure from his home country.

New airline: Spirit of Manila


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