Friday, 28 November 2008

Stronger-than-expected growth surprises analysts

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
With Lawrence Agcaoili, Joyce Pangco Pañares, Bloomberg, AP

THE economy picked up unexpectedly in the third quarter as higher government spending and remittances countered a slowdown in export growth.

The gross domestic product expanded 4.6 percent in the third quarter, the National Statistical Coordination Board reported yesterday. That was faster than the revised 4.4-percent gain in the second quarter but slower than the 7.1-percent growth in the same quarter last year.

“The Philippine economy has been damaged but not quite ravaged by the global financial turmoil and high oil prices,” said Romulo Virola, secretary general of the statistical board.

Industry grew at a faster rate of 7.1 percent from 6.6 percent a year earlier, but the services sector—the linchpin of the economy with a 49.2-percent share of the GDP—contracted by 3.7 percent.

Still, the third-quarter performance was enough to make the Philippines the second fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia, which grew 6.1 percent.

“The GDP growth in the third quarter reflects the resilience of our economy,” said Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, who attributed the uptick to increased public spending on infrastructure and social services.

Economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said he didn’t think the Philippines would slip into a recession next year, adding he expected fourth-quarter growth of between 4 and 4.6 percent against 6.4 percent last year.

He said the government would continue ramping up public spending, especially infratructure projects, while increasing revenue collections.

The government expects 2008 growth of between 4.1 percent and 4.8 percent, down from 7.2 percent in 2007.

“The Philippines’ economy is still consumption driven, powered by flows from overseas Filipinos,” said Ildemarc Bautista, an economist at Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. in Manila.

“What we have to avoid is too much of a gloomy forecast for next year that might spook people into saving too much.”

Easing inflation would help support growth in the coming months by bolstering consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, Recto said.

President Arroyo is building more roads, bridges and airports to create jobs and bolster an economy poised to slow for the first time in three years.

Data from the Treasury Bureau showed that public spending went up 10.4 percent to P1.034 trillion in the first 10 months of the year, up from P937.4 billion in the same period last year as the government stepped up its pump-priming.

Government revenues also grew, but at a slower rate of 8.5 percent, to P972.6 billion for the same period.

The peso rose 0.5 percent to 48.88 to the dollar as of 11:01 a.m. in Manila, according to Tullett Prebon Plc. The Philippines’ benchmark stock index rose for a fourth day.

The government, which in May abandoned a plan to end a decade of budget deficits this year, might postpone its goal of balancing the budget by a year to 2011 as it increases spending on infrastructure to attract investments, Recto said at a briefing. The shortfall may be 0.5 percent to 1 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, he said.

Inflation, which reached a 16-year high in August, may have slowed for a third month in November as fuel and food prices eased, the central bank said. Lower inflation rates may boost growth in the fourth quarter to a range of 4 percent to 4.6 percent, Recto said.

The government this month lowered its 2008 growth target a fifth time to a range of 4.1 percent to 4.8 percent and said expansion may slow to an eight-year low next year. The Southeast Asian economy grew 7.2 percent last year, the fastest pace in three decades.

Governments worldwide have slashed borrowing costs and pledged to increase spending as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression pushes the world into a recession. Global growth would slow to 1 percent in 2009 from 2.6 percent this year, the World Bank said on Nov. 11.

The Bangko Sentral last week kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 6 percent for a second month after three increases since early June.

The central bank has reduced deposits it requires lenders to hold in reserve, approved a dollar-lending facility, and increased the amount banks may borrow from it to boost lending.

Mrs. Arroyo has vowed to create 1 million jobs by 2010 to lower the unemployment rate, which at 7.4 percent in July is the highest after Indonesia’s in the Asia-Pacific, according to Bloomberg data.

Remittances from the more than eight million Filipinos abroad, or about a tenth of the population, are sustaining consumer spending as exports wane. Money sent home from abroad jumped 25.5 percent in the third quarter in peso terms, the fastest pace since the second quarter of 2001.

Consumer spending grew 4.6 percent in the third quarter, faster than the 4.1-percent pace in the previous three months. Government spending, which accounts for a tenth of the economy, increased 12.5 percent, compared with a 1.5-percent decline in the second quarter.

Exports of products made by Texas Instruments Inc. and other companies, which make up two-fifths of the Philippine economy, rose 4.7 percent from a year earlier in peso terms, easing from 7.6 percent in the previous three months.

Tourists from nontraditional markets lead growth — DoT

BusinessWorld Online

ARRIVALS from new sources of tourists posted double-digit growth rates from January to October, outstripping growth from traditional markets, a press release from the Department of Tourism (DoT) yesterday read.

Tourist arrivals rose 4.28% from a year earlier to 2.607 million within that period.

But the top three traditional markets — South Korea, the United States and Japan — still accounted for half the arrivals in that period. Specifically, South Korean arrivals of 515,394 accounted for 19.77%, US arrivals for 18.43%, and Japanese arrivals for 11.72%.

Arrivals from China placed fourth at 140,685, accounting for 5.4% of the total, while those from Taiwan landed the fifth spot at 103,134, accounting for 3.96%.

Data on whether arrivals from traditional tourism markets grew were not released.

In terms of growth rate, the department identified the top new sources of foreign tourists as:

  • The Russian Federation, whose arrivals grew 36.7% to 8,422;
  • Vietnam, 32.07% to 11,771;
  • United Arab Emirates, 30.87% to 9,170;
  • Norway, 21.42% to 11,978;
  • France, 20.94% to 18,531;
  • Spain, 16.73% to 10,464;
  • Canada, 15.98% to 77,980, (ninth in terms of volume and accounting for 2.99% of the total);
  • India, 15.36% to 26,190;
  • United Kingdom, 13.99% to 70,807 (10th in volume, accounting for 2.72%);
  • Sweden, 13.05% to 10,328;
  • Indonesia, 10.86% to 23,269;
  • Australia, 10.38% to 93,693 (seventh in volume, accounting for 3.59% of the total);
  • Saudi Arabia, 10.31% to 15,353; and
  • Thailand, 10.28% to 26,915.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Tourism Secretary Joseph H. Durano said growth in arrivals amounted to 4% in the 10 months to last October, and that his department expects the same period next year to register 4%-6% growth. Besides opportunities from new tourist sources, Mr. Durano cited "greater demand for recession-driven products like medical tourism." — E. N. J. David

Q3 growth shows Philippines' resilience — gov’t

From reports by Reuters, Alria M. Ventanilla, Ruby Anne M. Rubio, and Alexis Douglas B. Romero
BusinessWorld Online

ECONOMIC GROWTH improved to 4.6% in the third quarter from a revised second quarter gain of 4.4%, the government yesterday announced.

Officials touted the result as showing the country’s resilience amid a global financial crisis, pointing out that the Philippines had performed better than most of its neighbors.

"The Philippine economy has been damaged but not quite ravaged by the global financial turmoil and high oil prices in the third quarter," National Statistical Coordination Board secretary-general Romulo A. Virola told a briefing.

Malacañang claimed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should take credit.

"In the middle of the world economic crisis, it’s good to know that the Philippine economy grew by 4.6% and according to economic analysts, the growth was mainly due to improved government consumption, particularly the absorptive capacity of different [government] agencies," Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony T. Golez, Jr. told a press conference

"The President was the one who ordered these agencies to boost spending on various infrastructure projects," Mr. Golez added.

The third quarter result hit the high end of the government’s 3.8-4.6% estimate.

But in terms of seasonally adjusted rates, growth was just 0.9% in July to September from the second quarter.

There were signs the economy was on shaky ground, with investments in fixed capital, including durable equipment, growing 4.8% from a year ago, sharply lower than the 15.3% rise in the second quarter.

"It shows that the country is in better shape than expected but going forward, I don’t think it’s going to be sustained," said Radhika Rao, an economist at IDEAglobal.

Annual growth in the third quarter was slower than Indonesia’s 6.1% but beat Thailand’s 4.1% expansion and showed the resilience of most economies in Southeast Asia, except Singapore, despite the worst financial crisis in decades.

Personal consumption grew a seasonally adjusted 2% in the third quarter from the previous three months, the highest in at least 13 years, partly fuelled by dollars sent home by Filipino workers abroad.

"I suspect that private consumption may be a bit stronger than what we’ve thought," said Nicholas Bibby at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong.

"Overall though, growth is expected to slow going forward, we’re looking for GDP growth of around 3% next year."

The government said growth in the fourth quarter would likely be between 4.0-4.6% year-on-year, which means that growth could hit its lowest level since a 4.1% expansion in the third quarter of 2005.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph G. Recto said the government needed to continue investing in infrastructure to boost growth and create employment, increase the absorptive capacity of its line agencies, and to push for policy reforms in key sectors.

Mr. Recto emphasized the need to improve revenue collections, identify investments and jobs that are at risk, and put in place the necessary contingency measures.

Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves, meanwhile, said "Moving forward, we need to continue increasing and accelerating spending on infrastructure and social services to further boost the economy and protect the most vulnerable sectors."

The Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), which had forecast 4.7% growth for the quarter, said the latest data showed "the Philippine economy is slowing considerably."

"The big picture is that with a major growth slowdown under-way, economic growth should average 4.7% this year and 3.8% next year, slowing sharply from last year’s 7.3%," it said.

"For the rates markets that means that the policy easing bias currently in place might translate into rate cuts in the policy repo and reverse repo rates," DBS added.

IDEAglobal’s Mr. Rao said "I still go for a 25 basis point rate cut at the December meeting given that core inflation will come off and given the external financial environment.

Growth was better than expected but still quite low compared to last year’s annual growth."

Central bank Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. yesterday said annual inflation in November was likely to come in at 10.3-11.2% from 11.2% in October, with food and oil prices on the decline.

That may not be enough of a drop to persuade an easing, as Mr. Tetangco said a weaker peso and impending hikes in power prices could pose risks to inflation.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ policymaking Monetary board will discuss rates on December 18.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Philippine exports post 4% growth in 9 months

The Manila Bulletin

The country’s total exports posted a modest growth of 4 percent to .86 billion in the first nine months of the year from .359 billion in the same period in 2007.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) said that total imports rose by 12.4 percent to $ 45.286 billion from $ 40.278 billion during the 9-month period last year.

The balance of trade in goods (BOT-G) during the 9-month period in 2008 registered a deficit of $ 6.419 billion from $ 2.919 billion deficit in the same period last year.

Total external trade in goods for January to September 2008 reached $ 84.152 billion, up by 8.4 percent from $ 77.638 billion during the 9-month period in 2007.

Total merchandise trade for September 2008 rose by 1.9 percent to $ 9.302 billion from $ 9.133 billion in September 2007.

Exports receipts in September 2008 totaled to $ 4.439 billion, up by 1.1 percent from last year s $ 4.389 billion.

The country's merchandise imports, on the other hand, increased by 2.5 percent to $ 4.864 billion from $ 4.744 billion in September 2007. The balance of trade in goods (BOT-G) in September 2008 recorded a deficit of $ 425.00 million from $ 354.00 million deficit in the same period last year.

Imports of electronic products which accounted for 35.5 percent of the import bill, dropped by 26.1 percent in September 2008 to $ 1.724 billion.

Month-on-month, however, reflected an increase of 3.6 percent from $ 1.665 billion recorded in August 2008. Among the major groups of electronic products, semiconductor had the biggest share of 27.2 percent, down by 28.4 percent to $ 1.324 billion from $ 1.848 billion in September 2007.

Imports of mineral fuels and lubricants in September 2008 ranked second with 20.0 percent share and posted a growth of 52.1 percent to $ 970.32 million over the previous year s level of $ 637.77 million.

Cereals contributing 5.7 percent to the total import bill, was the the country s third top import for the month with payments placed at $ 277.53 million from last year s $ 81.28 million or an increase of 241.5 percent. This was due to the increase in the importation of rice and wheat.

Industrial machinery and equipment ranking fourth with a share of 4.8 percent at $ 231.20 million worth of imports, went up by 31.6 percent from its year ago level of $ 175.68 million.

Transport equipment ranked fifth as foreign bill amounted to $ 221.17 million, up by 8.5 percent from $ 203.86 million last year.

Iron and steel registered $ 109.23 million worth of imports, up by 63.1 percent from its year ago level of $ 66.97 million.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Carriers ring up a dramatic rise in fixed-line subscribers

By Roderick T. dela Cruz
Business Mirror

THE number of fixed-line telephone subscribers in the Philippines grew by nearly 300,000 in 2007 from a year ago, its fastest increase in years, lifted by the introduction of wireless landline telephones and rising subscriptions to the broadband Internet.

Citing data from the National Telecommunications Commission, the government’s main statistical agency said the number of fixed-line telephone subscribers rose 8.4 percent to 3.9 million last year, faster than the average annual increase of 3.2 percent in the period 2000 to 2007.

Wireless and fixed landlines are both considered landlines, the only difference being subscribers to wireless landlines pay a fixed monthly fee. People with wireless landline connections are able to call landline numbers while roaming with their handsets.

Bayan Telecomunications ended 2007 with nearly 100,000 post-paid wireless landline subscribers, and this number is expected to double by the end of this year. To catch up and gain a share of the market, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Globe Telecom also launched their wireless landlines this year.

The number of fixed-line telephone subscriptions picked up last year on the back of the increase in subscriptions to the broadband Internet and wireless landlines, but the double-digit increase in the number of cellular mobile phone subscriptions easily surpassed them.

The National Statistical Coordination Board said the number of mobile phone subscribers rose 33.6 percent to 57.3 million last year, faster than the average annual growth of 31.4 percent for the period 2000 to 2007.

“[That] was almost 15 times more than the number of fixed-line telephone subscribers estimated at 3.9 million,” the agency said.

Data show that the cellular mobile telephone density in the Philippines reached 65.93 for every 100 people last year, while the fixed-line telephone density reached only 8.24.

Subscriptions to cellular phone networks started to outnumber fixed-line subscriptions in 2000, when the ratio hit 2 to 1.

Metro Manila had the highest fixed-line telephone density of 29.53 last year, followed by Southern Tagalog with 7.77 and Central Visayas with 7.52. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had the lowest telephone density at 0.81.

Among provinces, Agusan del Norte posted the highest telephone density at 12.19, followed by Cavite with 11.15 and Benguet with 10.66. Sulu had the lowest telephone density of 0.05.

San Miguel borrowing $2B for expansion

Business Mirror

SAN Miguel Corp. (SMC), the Philippine food and drink company seeking mining and energy assets, plans to borrow as much as $2 billion to fund expansion, as the global credit slump depresses prices.

There are “plenty of good deals at a discount,” president Ramon Ang said in messages sent from his mobile phone on Tuesday. The conglomerate may borrow by selling “preferred convertible bonds,” he said, without providing additional details.

Rising beer demand has buffered SMC against global recession, driving up profit and prompting it to seek stakes in companies from Indonesian coal producer PT Bumi Resources to Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Petron Corp. San Miguel had a net debt-to-equity ratio of 4.6 percent at the end of 2007, less than a tenth of the 59-percent average for 50 comparable Asian food-and-beverage makers.

It may be a good long-term investment,” said Peter Lee, a senior investment officer at IGC Securities Inc. “San Miguel is still cash-rich and the businesses they’re entering are resilient and defensive. They still have the backing of their most attractive business, the brewery.”

The company reported P99.3 billion in cash and near-cash assets at the end of the third quarter, P81.9 billion of current liabilities and P41.2 billion of long-term debt.

SMC has said it wants to buy a majority stake in Bumi and is trying to get PT Bakrie & Brothers to drop an agreement to sell 35 percent of Bumi to Northstar Equity Partners, an affiliate of US buyout firm TPG Inc. It’s also in talks with London-based Ashmore Investment Management Ltd., which controls Petron, for a majority stake in the Philippine oil refiner.

A 51-percent shareholding in Bumi would be worth about $565 million after the Jakarta-based company’s stock fell for the past 12 days, while a majority stake in Petron would be worth $413 million.

San Miguel is working on Bumi “and five other deals,” Ang said, without providing further details.

The company has sold about $4 billion of food and beverage assets in the past three years. Ang and chairman Eduardo Cojuangco have vowed to reinvest the proceeds in faster-growing energy, property and mining businesses.

SMC, last month, said it would buy 27 percent of Meralco from state-run pension fund Government Service Insurance System, paying P27 billion over three years.

San Miguel has $2.6 billion of bonds and loans outstanding, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The company’s A shares, which are reserved for Filipinos, snapped a six-day losing streak, climbing 5 percent to P42, the biggest gain this month.

Its B shares, which have no ownership restrictions, rose 2.4 percent to P42.50. (Bloomberg)

SM Prime expansion on track

Business Mirror

SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SM Prime) is scheduled to open two more malls this year as well as complete the expansion of two existing ones.

The Sy-controlled company said it expects to inaugurate SM City Rosales in Pangasinan and SM City Baliwag in Bulacan, and finish the expansion of The Annex at SM North Edsa and SM Fairview in Quezon City. This brings the total number of its malls to 33 nationwide.

The expansion of its SM Megamall Bridgeway has been completed and will be inaugurated today. The Bridgeway, which will add 15,109 square meters (sq.m.) of gross floor area (GFA) to the main mall, includes a chapel at the top floor, which is enough to seat 1,000 churchgoers. The new space will increase Megamall’s total GFA to 346,788 sq.m.

In a statement, SM Prime president Hans Sy said, “We honor SM Megamall with this expansion, a proof of how we keep in step with the times, how we look after our markets, and how we value and maintain our treasured assets. The SM Megamall is at the center of our three largest malls on Edsa. SM Prime remains steadfast in its commitment to bring value and better service to our customers.”

By itself, the Bridgeway has a gross leasable area of 8,120 sq.m and its tenants include shoes and apparel shops Gap, Promod, Liz Claiborne, Steve Madden, Franco Sarto, Aldo, 5CM, Lacoste Footwear, La Senza, and Zoo York; food outlets Choi Garden, Secret Recipes, Haagen Dazs, Amici, C2 Classic Cuisine, Kebab Factory, Painted Red, Gumbo and Toastbox; and coffee chains Starbucks, Blenz Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Bo’s Coffee; among others.

The country’s leading mall developer and operator earlier said it is setting aside P10 billion for the construction of new malls in the Philippines and in China next year.

The company is building five more shopping centers in the Philippines in 2009, on top of the expansion of various existing malls. In China, a mall will be put up in Suzhou City by the end of next year, while another will be opened by 2010 in ChongQuing. One more SM mall will rise in Xiandong in 2011.

Victory Liner, Inc.: Staying on top through innovation
BusinessWorld Online

THE COUNTRY’S biggest bus company — also one of its oldest — is trying to stay on top of the game by finding new ways to satisfy its clients, while having to deal with global market forces never before experienced.

For 63-year-old Victory Liner, Inc., being prepared for what the future holds and taking advantage of every opportunity are the key to its profitability.

"We will never stop innovating and finding new ways to satisfy our customers. We can never be lax as far as bus maintenance and training is concerned," said Marivic H. del Pilar, treasury and marketing manager of Victory Liner.

She said the bus firm is capitalizing on strong tourism growth particularly in Northern Luzon, even as volatile fuel prices and government policies force them to adapt to the times.

The bus company formed by Jose I. Hernandez, Sr. in 1945 — a time when the country was still reeling from the wreckage of World War II and there was no transportation system to speak of — continues to expand and innovate.

"We differentiate ourselves in terms of service, in having the most number of buses, most number of routes and most number of dispatches in a day to any one route," Ms. del Pilar said in an interview. Today, she said, a number of other bus companies have cropped up, Victory Liner’s service sets it apart, she pointed out.

A prewar mechanic, Mr. Hernandez collected spare parts from abandoned US military vehicles to build a delivery truck for his family’s trading business of fish sauce, rice, corn, vegetables and homemade laundry soap.

He was surprised to discover that the delivery truck he had ordered from a Chinese acquaintance looked more like a bus with rows of benches, and with its right side open.

Reluctantly and prevailed upon by his wife, Mr. Hernandez accepted the vehicle and used it instead as a public utility vehicle.

Competing against 12 other bus companies, Victory Liner’s first bus started serving the Manila-Olongapo route on Oct. 15, 1945 with Mr. Hernandez as the driver and his brother-in-law Leonardo D. Trinidad as his conductor. The first terminal was located at the corner of Azcarraga St., which is now Claro M. Recto Ave., and Juan Luna St. in Divisoria, Manila.

Speaking of innovation, Mr. Hernandez brought the country’s first air-conditioned bus from Japan in the 1960s. He also initiated the conversion of front engine buses and the use of steel-bodied buses.

In the 1970s, Victory Liner also provided the riding public with air-conditioned provincial bus service, which was unique at that time.

In the 1980s, the company introduced automatic transmission buses from GM-Allison and started using TVs and video facilities. At that time, it embarked on a training program for its drivers, conductors and mechanics on road safety, customer service and bus maintenance. This is a practice it maintains up to this day.

Victory Liner has the biggest fleet of buses at 860. Recently, it launched its advanced seat reservation system, which allows one to reserve a seat via phone a month before the trip. Other innovations include the use of deluxe buses complete with a bus attendant and toilet.

Ms. del Pilar said Victory Liner considers its people its greatest asset. "What for are nice, brand new buses without competent drivers, without dedicated managers and employees? Take care of your employees. They can make or break the company," she said.

She said the bus business is a labor intensive business, and the management and its employees have to work together to attain their goals. "When we take care of our employees, they in turn want to take care of our customers. It’s a cycle of happy people wanting to give happiness to other people. Angry people cannot give love to other people," she said as a matter of fact.

Through the years, Ms. del Pilar said, Victory Liner has managed to come out of different type of crises, from natural calamities such as the Baguio earthquake and eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the early 1990s, the currency crisis in 1997, and recently, rising fuel prices.

She said the company had done so through sheer perseverance and focus. "We do not get disheartened. We do not decide to stop growing. We think beyond what is happening and focus on being the best," she added.

JPMorgan Chase eyes ’next wave’ cities in the Philippines for outsourcing arm

Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
BusinessWorld Online

THE BUSINESS process outsourcing (BPO) unit of global banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. is looking at expanding outside Metro Manila and tapping so-called next wave cities for its subcontracting business.

The company said it was considering Bacolod, Baguio, Cebu and Iloilo, which will complement existing sites in Makati City.

"We are exploring second city options," JPMorgan Chase Vice-President Barry E. Marshall told a forum yesterday. "Just like any other [BPO] company in the Philippines, we’re looking at the next wave cities," he added.

Last year, the government and Business Processing Association of the Philippines released a list of cities outside the metropolis that can best support the growth of the BPO sector.

Mr. Marshall said outsourcing offices outside Metro Manila would provide "contingency coverage" during an emergency.

He said having sites far from each other would allow the company transfer vital parts of its operations to different areas and ensure business continuity.

JPMorgan earlier said it would continue expanding here despite mounting concerns about a recession in the US. It said it would expand its card service operations to 2,400 employees by yearend. The company’s Manila branch now has 2,700 employees. It’s recently opened call center in Taguig has 1,400 seats.

JPMorgan is one of several global financial giants that have started to subcontract more work to the Philippines.

Last month, the American Insurance Group’s outsourcing arm, AIG Business Processing Services, Inc., said it would more than double its employee base to about 3,000 with the opening of its new Alabang site in December, from 1,200 employees today.

Other banks that plan to expand their BPO operations are Citigroup and the German Deutsche Knowledge Services Pte. Ltd.

"We know how significant the BPO industry in the Philippines is, and we are very bullish [about] it," Mr. Marshall said.

Aside from the Philippines, the company also has BPO operations in India, where it employs more than 10,000.

The company’s Manila office focuses on customer services for its credit card, home and auto financing businesses.

Also yesterday, executives from other BPOs attending the same forum shared JPMorgan’s optimism for the industry.

Ma. Christina G. Coronel, president of information technology BPO company Pointwest Technologies Corp., said the company had not experienced a significant slowdown in business activity. "The outlook is still quite positive."

Last month, the company opened a P70-million, 2,600-square meter site, its second in the country. Like its older site in Makati, the new Quezon City office will employ 500 workers.

Pointwest is seeking to increase revenues by around a third this year to $14.5 million.

Like Pointwest, Accenture Philippines has yet to be affected by the slowing global economy, senior executive Mike Masterson said.

"We haven’t noticed any significant slowdown [as a result of the crisis]," he said. Accenture has more than 1,000 employees nationwide, serving clients primarily from the US.

The Philippines wants to corner a 10% share of the projected $130-billion BPO market by 2010. BPO was a $3.3-billion industry as of 2007, with 120 companies employing at least 200,000 workers.

Businesses move to boost quality of teachers

Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo
BusinessWorld Online

THE NUMBER of students enrolling in education courses may be rising but their population as a percentage of the total number of college enrollees is actually shrinking. And for a group of businessmen, the quality of students in teacher-training courses is suspect.

Concerned over the declining quality of the country’s labor force, especially when it comes to English-language skills, the business advocacy for education reforms is tracing the problem to poor school instruction, particularly at the primary and secondary levels.

It’s easy to see why: education courses are no longer attracting the best and the brightest, considering that a call center worker is paid more than a public school teacher.

Education, though, remains the third most popular college major. Nearly two decades ago, it was next to business management and engineering and technology, with 242,828 students — 18% of 1.3 million high school graduates who went to college that year — enrolling in teacher-training and education courses in 1991.

The share of education majors to the total went down to about 15% in 2005, the latest data available. Out of 2.5 million high school graduates, education and teacher training attracted 388,735, next to the 454,415 who took up medical and allied courses and 544,286 who chose engineering.

Businessmen have started to pool resources to create incentives that will hopefully lure the country’s top high school students into taking up education, and are appealing to others to contribute.

The Philippine Business for Education (PBED) notes that while the number of high school students wanting to become teachers has remained significant, the education profession has become less and less attractive.

"The business community is worried about how Philippine education has deteriorated ... Perhaps the most important [factor] is that the quality of teachers is deteriorating," Philippine Investment-Management, Inc. (Phinma) President and PBED founder Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr. said in a recent interview.

He said qualified students who really want to teach end up choosing other courses which promise a more rewarding career.

Philanthropy, Mr. del Rosario said, is key to bringing opportunities closer to poor families and enticing poor but deserving young people to pursue a career in teaching.

The PBED, composed of 69 corporations, is hoping to make a dent through the 1,000 Teachers program, introduced early this year. The program, which provides scholarships and other perks to high school graduates pursuing an education career, has so far benefited 98 students out of 294 who had applied. The PBED aims to help 1,000 a year in five years.

"This program was adopted to make the profession more appealing. We give these students the means to pursue this career," Mr. del Rosario said.

More than 20 universities have agreed to provide scholarships. The program provides a monthly stipend of P2,000 and book allowances. But graduates must commit to spend five years of teaching in the Philippines, most preferably in the community where they came from.

However, helping students finish education courses is not enough, Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. (Philamlife) President Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said, adding compensation plays an important role in enticing students to teach.

"It’s not enough to do this (the program) but it’s a good start. The government needs to see what they can do to increase compensation for teachers," he said.

Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) President Aurelio R. Montinola III noted that entry-level teachers started with a P10,000 monthly salary some 10 to 15 years ago. The amount has grown to P17,000-18,000 but this is below what an entry-level call center agent earns.

"Fresh graduates can earn as much as P20,000 to P25,000 in the call center industry," Mr. Cuisia said.

PBED members Phinma, Philamlife and BPI are among the program’s biggest donors.

Mr. del Rosario said major corporations should do their part in helping to improve the quality of teachers. "We want to see Filipinos who can do good jobs and sustain them. The answer to poverty is education ... relevant education to help improve the quality of poor people’s lives."

Mr. Cuisia said the government should set its priorities straight and allocate limited resources properly.

"We see continued misuse of resources every year. The business community can only do so much like pay taxes but the government has to do its part by improving the education infrastructure," he said.

Senate passes bill banning all forms of child pornography

The Manila Bulletin

The Senate unanimously passed on third reading Monday a bill making unlawful all forms of child pornography, including those on the Internet, and providing stiff penalties on violators.

Senate Bill No. 2317, principally authored by Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal, seeks to impose penalty ranging from six to 12 years in prison and a maximum fine of R2 million for violators.

The measure still needs a concurrent approval by the House of Representatives before it could finally become a law.

Covered by penalties are those who recruit children for pornographic activities and those who produce, publish, and possess child pornographic materials.

Madrigal said the passage of the bill was " significant" since it is the first of its kind in the Philippines and could serve as a model for anti-child pornography legislation in Southeast Asia.

She said the Philippines has been listed as one of the largest producers of child pornographic materials in Asia, second only to Thailand.

Seventeen senators voted for the passage of the bill during the Senate plenary session Monday night presided by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Richard J. Gordon, Juliana Pilar S. Cayetano, Rodolfo G. Biazon, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan, Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino II and Enrile.

Proponents of the bill noted that the Revised Penal Code does not provide penalties for spreading child pornographic materials through the Internet and cell phones.

Once the measure is finally enacted, producers of child pornography and pedophiles could be penalized for mere possession of child pornographic materials, said Madrigal.

"The mere possession (of pornographic materials) will soon be a crime," she said.

Loren said the measure would solve the problem of lack of laws specifically addressing child pornography.

"People caught engaged in child pornography were often released as law enforcers have no clear basis as to what should be done. More commonly, child pornography is perceived only as an element of graver offenses like sexual exploitation and prostitution. Hence, we barely recognize the true nature of child pornography," she said.

The bill highlights the need to regulate and monitor information flows by mandating Internet service providers to install the latest technology that would block access to pornographic materials.

The measure would make all Internet service providers responsible for notifying the Philippine National Police (PNP) or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) within seven days from obtaining information that child pornography was being committed using its servers and facilities.

The measure’s proponents said that as a signatory to International Conventions on the Rights of the Child and Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, the Philippines is committed to criminalize acts that blatantly violate the fundamental rights of children.

US BPO firm to hire 1,000 trainees in the Philippines

The Manila Bulletin

Denver, Colorado-based StarTek, a high-value business process outsourcing (BPO) services provider, is ramping up recruitment and training initiatives in its just-launched Makati facility which could hold as much as 1,000 trainees.

StarTek Philippines general manager Susan Padley said the BPO firm has stepped up recruitment of agents and support staff for its new facility in Makati City, where it recently began operations, in response to client demand.

New agents undergo a comprehensive training program as part of the company’s management and agent development initiatives. The company, which helps its clients build strong, enduring relationships with their customers, began operations in its first Philippine facility last month.

"We initially started recruiting in a small, temporary development office but still fulfilled our goal of hiring our entire pioneer management team," said Padley.

"We have recruited top coaches, team leaders, and operations managers to support our start-up and ongoing operations," she said, "as well as our pioneer agents," she said.

Padley’s next task is to rapidly ramp up recruitment of agents to meet the "enthusiastic demand" of the company’s clients.

Despite intense competition for smart, motivated BPO professionals, Padley is confident that prospective employees will be attracted to the company.

According to Padley, the StarTek culture is a major factor in successfully recruiting agents.

"We bring to the Philippines the people-first culture that has enabled us to build a strong, loyal workforce over 21 years and it is just as appreciated here as it has been in North America," said Padley.

"A major component of the StarTek culture is our open-door policy for employees," Padley said.

"Here, everyone is treated with respect, and if someone has something to say, we definitely want to hear it," she said.

Personal interest-focused clubs, fitness programs, sports tournaments, and other activities offered to provide work-life balance are also fixtures of the StarTek culture.

StarTek has partnered with its clients to solve strategic business challenges, improve customer retention, increase revenue, and reduce costs through an improved customer experience.

Known for creating the highest customer service for clients and their customers, StarTek services include customer care, sales support, complex order processing, accounts receivable management, technical support, and other industry-specific processes.

Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, StarTek operates 21 facilities in North America and the Philippines.

Jollibee completes buy of Taiwan business

70% of restaurant chain
James A. Loyola
The Manila Bulletin

Jollibee Foods Corporation has signed a final agreement to acquire 70 percent of the Lao Dong restaurant business based in Taipei, Republic of China for P63.1 million to pave the way for a P45.1-million capital expansion.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) yesterday, Jollibee said this finalizes the initial agreement of the joint venture signed last June while the actual payment and transfer of the stake to Jollibee will be in December 2008.

Consistent with the initial agreement, the final agreement provides that JFC, through wholly-owned units Jollibee Worldwide Pte. Limited, will acquire 70 percent of the Lao Dong business by paying NT42 million (P63.1 million) to the present owners.

JFC will also invest an additional NT21 million (P31.6 million) to the joint venture, while the present owners will invest NT9 million (P13.5 million).

The joint venture was entered into by JFC to pursue the operation and further expansion of the Lao Dong business in Taiwan and the introduction of the business in the People’s Republic of China.

Since the time of the initial agreement, JFC had conducted due diligence while the present owners had to meet certain key conditions for the joint venture.

The financial due diligence was conducted for JFC by Pricewaterhouse Coopers while the legal due diligence was performed by the Pamir Law Group of Taiwan.

The Lao Dong restaurant has eight stores and a commissary in Taipei. Lao Dong, a full-service restaurant that serves beef noodles as its core products, has annual sales of NT121.6 million and is generating profit.

Jollibee also completed last month the P2.5 billion acquisition of 100 percent of Hongzhuangyuan, a congee restaurant chain in China, for its second major investment in the giant consumer market.

JFC said the completion and closing of the transaction were effected following the approval by China¢s Ministry of Commerce and after the owners of Hongzhuangyuan had complied with certain key conditions for the acquisition.

Consistent with the final agreement, JFC, through wholly-owned subsidiary Jollibee Worldwide Pte Ltd, acquired 100 percent of Hongzhuangyuan for RMB3, 79 million (.5 million or P2.5 billion).

Of this amount, RMB246.4 million was paid to the sellers as the initial payment while the remaining RMB132.6 million will be paid within the next 12 months.

Hongzhuangyuan operates a total of 37 restaurants of which 31 are company owned, all located in Beijing, and six are franchised stores situated in other cities in China. It added five company owned restaurants since the time of the initial agreement last year.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Philippine auto industry sees modest growth

The Manila Bulletin

Amid a heavy veil of gloom in the American automotive industry and others, the domestic industry forecasts a modest 125,000 sales units next year or a modest 4 percent growth from this year’s 130,000 unit sales target.

Elizabeth H. Lee, president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (CAMPI), told reporters the initial sales forecast has already factored in the impact of the global economic meltdown.

"It is just a slight uptick but if we consider the Philippine automotive industry against itself it is still an improvement year-on-year. There will be growth, it will be slower growth, but growth just the same," she added.

The slight uptick is also seen even better than the developed countries like the US, which have been experiencing declines.

"The global meltdown will definitely affect us but we should have felt the impact now just like the other countries but we are posting positive," she said.

Driving up growth next year is the stable remittances of the overseas Filipino workers and the entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos. Lee expects the commercial vehicles to continue dominating industry sales next year.

As of the first ten months this year, the industry grew by 10 percent with sales hitting 104,757 units versus 95,242 units in the same period last year. Of this figure, the commercial vehicles dominated with 67,184 units or 8.8 percent improvement from 61,778 units in the same period last year.

Sales of passenger cars went up 12 percent to 37,573 units from 33,464 units in the January-October period last year.

But sales started to decrease by 2.9 percent in October with 10,624 units versus September sales of 10,937 units following a negative 11.3 percent growth in the passenger car segment.

"Local automakers continue to be cautiously optimistic, supporting the original forecast of 125,000 units to be attained by the end of the year. The figure will be the highest auto sales volume in a decade," Lee added.

"Although the effect of the global crisis on the local auto industry is relatively minimal at this point in time, players are preparing for measures to guard against the devastating effect the crisis has had on other larger, mature, foreign auto markets. Aggressive inventory management to maintain optimum cash flow will be priorities for local operations. At the same time, a market offensive stance to help mitigate the dire effects of the global meltdown locally, is for the government to aggressively support & encourage entrepreneurs / SMEs most especially during these times," Lee said.

"One of the possible ‘side effect’ of some OFWs coming back home is that they will be ‘forced’ to become dual income earners in the short to mid-term. Most may choose to become entrepreneurs against the backdrop of declining job opportunities as a result of the crisis. Bad times could somehow create some good opportunities for entrepreneurs. They must be supported as they are a significant engine for growth," she said.

For the remainder of the year, buyers can take advantage of the the last quarter sales programs of most automakes while at the same time enjoy the current price levels which have yet to reflect the full impact of the increase in raw materials and logistics cost. (BCM)

Citibank expanding Philippine operations

The Manila Bulletin

Citi (Citibank N.A.) is hiring more people as they expand Philippine operations next year, the bank’s country manager Mark Jones said.

Jones told reporters that they are hiring 1,000 more in 2009 after increasing their staff by 500 this year. This move is in contrast to Citigroup’s worldwide plan of laying off 10,000 of its employees this year.

"Citi is repositioning in the Asia Pacific but we remain focused on growth," said Jones. "As we review our operations and see where we can be more efficient, something which we have been doing even before the downtrend in the global financial markets."

"We remain optimistic that instead of reducing the headcount, we will be growing," he added.

"In the last 12 months we’ve had about 500 people in Citi here and in the next few we will have 1,000 more," said Jones. The additional 1,000 jobs are planned for call centers, financial reporting and service centers. "There’s a whole lot of activity moving in the Philippines as we grow our businesses, and as they grow efficient, Citi is moving more equity here."

Citi is investing in systems and building processes and they require additional people for this. "Inevitably if you go through change as we upgrade our systems – these systems get automated, that happens (re-positioning of employees)."

Jones said 2009 is a tough year globally, and for the Philippines he "doesn’t feel safe yet."

"But we’re certainly preparing for (effects of the global economic slowdown). We haven’t really seen its impact on the consumers but we’re preparing for it," he added.

Citi spent P100 million to upgrade its systems, particularly for Citibank Savings Bank.

The bank is investing a total of P3 billion to improve its online, customer services and other transactions offered to clients across six countries in the region.

In the Philippines, Citibank has 30 percent of the total credit card market share. Its savings bank, which it bought from Insular Life in 2005 for P1 billion, currently operates 56 branches. There are 1.2 million local Citibank credit cardholders.

According to Jones, "we expect the Philippines to be a preferred location for regional hubs and centers of excellence because of superior skilled workers and attractive labor costs."

Australia needs 10,000 workers, says POEA

The Manila Bulletin

Displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and those who will lose their jobs in host countries due to the global economic crisis may seek employment in South Australia which needs 10,000 workers in 2009, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported yesterday.

POEA Administrator Jennifer Jardin-Manalili said Australia will hire thousands of Filipino construction workers, welders, and pipe-fitters for its road rehabilitation projects in the next 10 years.

Manpower requirements of these projects are estimated to reach 133,000 until 2018. Another 206,000 workers would be required to replace those who would leave the workforce.

"Australia is very reassuring that it will hire OFWs starting next year even in its export, manufacturing, and retail sectors adversely affected by the financial crisis," Manalili said in an interview.

The country’s labor officials and Australian employers convened in a meeting last week to discuss the recruitment of Filipino workers in an effort to give them jobs in the host destination as they are adversely affected by the global economic slump.

"They have assured us that they are coming over in January or February next year for the recruitment process. They went to the POEA because they wanted to know the procedures and they were advised what to do," she said.

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito Roque said Deputy Premier Kevin Folley will head the Australian delegates for the agreement signing with the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) early next year.

"South Australia is bent on recruiting Filipino skilled workers to address its perennial problem on skills shortage and subsequently ease the pressure on employers in this Australian state, struggling with the lack of essential skills," Roque said.

He said the labor agreement with Australia would be similar to the deal entered into by the DoLE with the Canadian province of Manitoba.

"The recruitment of OFWs to South Australia would also be orderly, ethical, and in line with laws and policies of the Philippines and those of Australia, providing for the protection and the development and skills upgrading of OFWs," he said.

A DOLE technical team and Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship have been in consultations for the forging of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would provide for the recruitment of skilled OFWs in Australia.

In South Australia, nearly 1.6 million people live in the state that comprises less than 10 percent of the Australian population. Its economy relies on agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, mostly of automotive and component parts, pharmaceuticals, defense technology, and electronics systems.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The changing face of Filipinos in Singapore

By Dodo Certeza
The Philippine Star

I arrived in Singapore 20 years ago and I would get questions from Singaporeans and foreigners alike on how I got my job in the city-state. It was a struggle but it has allowed me to me experience what it means to be a Filipino in Singapore.

We have been described as a nation of domestic helpers, political dynasties and corrupt government officials. We are quiet by nature, and that's why we never strive to address these negative perceptions. We were content to have a good job and that we have been given the opportunity to work elsewhere.

I have been asking myself what really defines our culture because we always have to remember who we were.

As the top economy in Asia (next to Japan) in the 1960 s and '70s, we even boasted to have the first airline in Asia. When Malaysia's Putrajaya complex was developed to give a new face to Malaysia's seat of power, we had already did this with the proposed development of Roxas Boulevard where the cultural center and coconut palace have been constructed 10 years before. When Singapore structured its economy to become the leader in Southeast Asia, we were a silent partner in this; our architects, engineers, nurses and IT specialists are part of the team that led the development.

The recent win by Barack Obama as the next United States president is a symbolic one even in our context. His win stood for change in the highest regard – race and culture - bringing new hope, which is ensured by strong principles to succeed. This age has also brought about change among Filipinos living in Singapore, which is recognized as the regional hub in Southeast Asia.

President Arroyo in a speech in Singapore last year promised a new city in the Philippines, one that would provide an option for Filipino overseas contract workers and prevent brain drain. The city, which is believed to be the new Clark Development area, is now paved with nice roads and foreign investments from the Middle East and Europe. This was the best idea I have heard since Marcos left office. It's about time we showcase to the world who we are as a people.

I will tell you why we can be proud of who we are now. The Filipino is visible in Singapore today. Tycoons such as John Gokongwei Jr. own large stakes in Singapore blue-chip companies such as UIC. Del Monte is listed on the Singapore exchange.

In finance, Lito Camacho is vice-chairman of Credit Suisse Investment Banking, overseeing billions in investments. Bing de Guzman is CEO of ING private bank and leads wealth management expertise in Asia. Raymundo Yu is Chairman of Merryll Lynch Asia-Pacific.

Entrepreneurs such as polo playing Inigo Zobel has been featured in the Singapore Tatler magazine, while Andrew Tan of MegaWorld properties hit the cover of Forbes Asia just last month. Lucio Tan Jr. and Marco Yuchengco Santos were big investors during the technology boom in Singapore.

For sports, Paul Monozca of the Monozca Foundation was awarded the Sports Minister's Inspirational Award in 2006 and has been named by the society magazine The Peak as a sports philanthropist. Lydia de Vega trains the future track and field stars of Singapore. Al Vergara and Jason Castro are star point guards of the Singapore Slingers professional basketball team. Golfer Jennifer Rosales played in the Lexus (all-women) golf championship. Joey Loinaz and Mikee Cojuanco also lent their presence during equestrian events.

In education, Wharton-educated Bobby Mariano is the dean of economics of the Singapore Management University (SMU), the city-state's best business school. Emil Bolongaita was a leading academic at the Singapore National University years ago.

The music scene here is led by Babes Conde and has been at the forefront of reality shows such as the Singapore Idol. Concerts such as Ryan Cayabyab, Aiza Seguerra and Gary Valenciano have been held in Singapore. Even some of the voices of radio stations here are Filipino.

In media, Rico Hizon of the BBC, Anthony Suntay of ESPN and Jennifer Alejandro/David Nye of Channel News Asia are visible globally as television presenters. Celebrities such as Lea Salonga, Donita Rose and Alessandra De Rossi are well known here. Richard Gomez's gold medal in fencing during the Southeast Asian games here also made a difference a few years back, bringing glamour -- with his wife Lucy Torres -- to the Filipinos in Singapore.

Filipinos have also been named by the Singapore Straits Times newspaper as the top choice for hospitality and service related jobs. Our nurses man Singapore's hospitals.

In the arts, Ben Cab, Charlie Co, Ronald Achacoso, Juan Alcazaren, Annie Cabigting, Nilo Ilarde, Bernardo Pacquing, Elaine Roberto-Navas, Crispin Villanueva Jr. and Dominic Rubio are among dozens of top Filipino painters who have showcased their works and have gotten rave reviews.

Small and medium enterprises dominate one whole shopping mall along Orchard Road (Lucky Plaza) and the 7107 Islands restaurant launched a filipino fine dining restaurant. Hotgrill burgers opened in Lau Pa Sat market.

The fashionable and stunning Mindy Cruz is the new Philippine Ambassador to Singapore.

Our domestic helpers have brought about entrepreneurship with their remittances to the Philippines and are highly regarded now as an indispensable part of family life here.

On Nov. 30, 2008, Singapore will feel like home. The first official Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game will be held in Singapore, pitting San Miguel Beer and PLDT's Talk&Text teams.

We have come a long way since 20 years ago when I first came here. The future is in our hands.

Mabuhay ang Pinoy!

SM steps up building works at Hamilo

The Manila Bulletin

SM Investment Corporation continues to develop its Hamilo Coast, the country’s emerging premier eco-tourism destination, and is breaking ground for its new projects – the Carola and Miranda condominium clusters.

Located at Pico de Loro Cove, Carola and Miranda are among the 11 clusters of low-impact residential condominiums to rise along the impressive coastline of Nasugbu, Batangas.

Jacana and Myna, the first of the clusters at Pico de Loro Cove with 240 units have been successfully taken up since its launch last year. Carola, Miranda, Jacana, and Myna will soon be part of Hamilo Coast’s first integrated coastal community.

"Development is already in full swing at Hamilo Coast and we’re moving forward with the residential components of the project," said Jess Lucas, president of SMIC’s Costa del Hamilo, Inc., developer of Hamilo Coast.

He added that "the Carola and Miranda Clusters will be a vital part of our overall vision to provide Filipinos with a new kind of resort lifestyle – one that embraces modernity and nature."

The Carola and Miranda condominiums with a total of 496 units are designed to be stylish yet functional. As with the rest of the world class developments at the 5,900-hectare Hamilo Coast, its contemporary yet tropical architecture evokes a relaxed, laid-back feel.

Spacious interiors, extensive balcony areas, and large bay windows allow units at Carola and Miranda to blend seamlessly with Pico de Loro Cove’s magnificent scenery.

Units at Carola and Miranda range from one-bedroom junior units to three-bedroom penthouse loft-style units—matching varying lifestyle requirements of future residents.

Units at Carola and Miranda will have a stunning view of a central man-made lagoon as well as access to the Pico de Loro Beach & Country Club, an exclusive leisure and resort facility for eco-adventure activities such as trekking, hiking, snorkeling, and diving.

Construction of Carola and Miranda will be carefully carried out with utmost sensitivity to Hamilo Coast’s natural resources.

These include merging miles of pristine beaches, 13 coves of varying sizes, shapes and character, promontories, limestone cliffs, virgin forests, rock formations and waterways.

To ensure sustainable development of Hamilo Coast and preservation of its natural environment, Costa del Hamilo, Inc, developers of Hamilo Coast has partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Update photos of South Luzon Expressway


President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Speech during the Inauguration of the U.P.-Ayala Land TechnoHub

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presses the button to signal the official launching and start of operation of the UP-Ayala Land Techno Hub along Commonwealth Ave. in Diliman, Quezon City which she inaugurated Friday (Nov. 21). With the President in photo are (from left) Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Ayala Land Inc. president and chief executive officer (CEO) Jaime Ayala, Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro, Ayala Land Inc. chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, and University of the Philippines president Dr. Emerlinda Roman. (Bert Canilang/OPS-NIB Photo)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is briefed by Ayala Land Inc. president and chief executive officer (CEO) Jaime Ayala on the features of the UP-Ayala Land Techno Hub along Commonwealth Ave. in Diliman, Quezon City. The President inaugurated the “Hub” Friday (Nov. 21). With the President in photo are (from right) Rep. Mary Anne Susano of the 2nd District of Quezon City, Ayala Land Inc. chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte and Rep. Nanette Castelo -Daza of the 4th District of Quezon City. (Dado Aguilar/OPS-NIB Photo)

Thank you, Secretary Alabastro, for your introduction. And thank you for helping me so much to make Science and Technology the foundation of Philippine Economic Development.

Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Jimmy Ayala and the other officials of the Ayala Land; Dr. Roman, CHED Chair Angeles and the other members of the Board of Regents and the whole U.P. family; Mayor Belmonte; our Congresspersons from Quezon City: Nanette Daza and Annie Susano; Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista and everybody from Quezon City, to all of you, congratulations!

The U.P.–Ayala Land TechnoHub is one giant step to bring our country closer to the goal we declared in 2001 of making technology the foundation of our economic development. This is an important step together with the three billion pesos that the government is investing, has been investing, in R&D Manpower Development, and the one billion pesos that was mentioned by President Roman that we put in the national budget for U.P. to build its own Science and Technology Complex.

And now, here we are, we have the S&T Park of the U.P., with the TechnoHub as indeed its hub. And as Jim Ayala said, we can now create our own version of Stanford University’s Silicon Valley and MIT’s Route 128, the birthplace of so much research that has changed lives and lifestyles. The numerous applications of the research from these two cradles of modern technology today define the way people all over the world do business, work and spend their leisure. And we hope this U.P.-Ayala Techno Park will do the same.

With this Science and Technology Park, of which this hub is a central portion, we hope that U.P., the country’s premier academic institution, will ignite a new technological revolution that will upgrade our total Science and Technology capability and bring our country to the threshold of the First World in 20 years.

This Park will serve as our country’s foremost IT laboratory, training ground and incubator of new and high-value adding products and services. Together with the Science and Technology Complex and the Science and Technology Park, it will provide the nurturing environment for new IT-based businesses that transform new technologies into useful and commercially viable services. We must make sure that it has the physical infrastructure to support the academic, scientific and technological pursuits of noted U.P.-based specialists. And as Jim said earlier, this community-like environment, campus-like environment will strengthen the synergy between the academics in R&D and the technology-based entrepreneurs. The closeness to U.P. will offer the academics a better appreciation of the needs and risks of businesses, and the entrepreneurs located so close to U.P. here in the hub and in the entire Science and Technology Park will give the entrepreneurs valuable information about R&D.

As the pioneer academically-based IT Park, U.P.-Ayala Land TechnoHub plays a central role in the future of the bigger U.P. Science and Technology Park. TechnoHub will set the standard against which future S&T Parks and locators will be measured. And that is the same for the country as a whole.

Even in the face of new challenges brought about by the financial asset meltdown and the deepening recession abroad, our priority projects such as technology and R&D development will continue.

We all know that there is a global economic crisis that has been responsible for driving up the prices of food, fuel and rice in the Philippines and around the world. In the country, we are not in crisis, thank God, but we are facing strong challenges like all other countries. During these troubled times, it is the role of the government to help insulate the Filipino people from these price
shocks and economic pressure.

That is why the government is doing everything in its power to put food on the table, and protect the paycheck from high prices and inflation. And one way by which we are protecting the U.P.’s paycheck is to increase the paycheck. That is why we have exempted you from salary standardization and we’ve also given the power to the Board of Regents to increase your salaries. We are also continuing to invest not only in education like U.P. but in the nation’s system of healthcare and social services.

Were it not for the painful reforms of the past seven years -- and we thank our congresspersons for helping much to make those fiscal reforms -- the impact on our country of the global meltdown would be much worst as it is in many other developing countries. Instead, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor says that the Philippine economy, in a very stormy sea of economic global uncertainty, the Philippine economy is an island of relative calm.

But this relative strength and resilience of our people and our economy is still no consolation to the average Filipino who is paying higher prices for basic commodities. We are very aware of the pressures the average Filipino faces from high prices and high rates of inflation. We know the average Filipino is concerned about job security and the buying power of his wages. We are also concerned.

That is why we are working hard to keep the prices of rice, food and fuel down; and to continue to increase the number of jobs and the investments that will continue to generate employment opportunities for more of our countrymen.

What we are inaugurating today is one of those investments.

We are dealing with the effects of the worldwide financial crisis through a comprehensive program that creates emergency jobs through pump priming measures, ensures food on every table, delivers targeted relief to the most vulnerable sectors, and encourages investments like this in industries with high resistance to the economic crisis.

Right now, the ICT sector is one of the areas where growth is robust, employment generation is on the rise, and investors are excited and placing money to back up that excitement.

Yesterday, we were very alarmed to read the news that one of the call centers supposedly laid off 700 workers. So we checked with that center, ACS, and they totally denied it. In fact, they are looking for more workers. And they were even telling us the story that when other call centers like Teletech and others read the news, they called up ACS and said, where are the workers you’re laying off, we want to absorb them right away. But ACS says we’re not laying off anyone. We’re looking for more.

And so because of this robustness of ICT, I have instructed the Commission on ICT to make a technical study on the resources needed to transform not just Sonny Belmonte’s hub but also every province in the country -- not necessarily a hub like this but -- to be an ICT-enabler.

After completing the technical studies, the national government through the CICT, shall guide the LGUs concerned on how to pursue the techonology programs with these twin objectives:

Number one, develop a technology hub -- a small one, not one like this -- in each of the country’s provinces with the hub capable of hosting, at the very least, contact center operations; and

Second, expand the capabilities of provinces that are already currently ICT-enablers so that they can increase their absorptive capacities and expand into hardcore ICT operations.

The national government will merely provide guidance and advice on a menu of pathways and strategies towards these objectives. It will be the LGU leaders who will decide on the level of technology and development they want.

Each to its own need. And Sonny has decided that this city will have the highest level of ICT technology. Each to his own need. And this is what we can do given that we have not been able to put together a national broadband. This is a good second best.

In the ICT jargon, we need to “wire” the entire country to attract more BPO and hardcore technology companies and help train young Filipinos into world-class workers in programming, embedded technologies and network engineering.

There is a wealth of technical and creative talent from where to draw this world-class pool of technology workers and there is the U.P. Science and Technology Complex to develop their potentials.

Let us direct the talent of the young away from hacking and other disruptive undertakings into productive ones. The CICT can utilize the National Computer Center and seek the support of state colleges and universities specializing on courses in ICT, like the U.P.

We cannot let this window of opportunity close.

Technology has also helped the government make sure that we now have a solid supply of rice for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, we are happy that distribution of rice is working. The people are getting the rice they need.

Our farmers are getting the investments they need. Instead of buying only 30,000 metric tons of rice from our farmers as before, this harvest season government is buying one million metric tons. This should encourage rice production to go up. With this, inflation has started to come down. The price of rice together with fuel has come down. And we expect the earning power of U.P. employees and others’ paychecks to increase. We want to harness the wonders of technology to produce more food, create more jobs -- as what will be created here -- and improve our productivity. The U.P.-Ayala TechnoHub and the whole S&T Park and the U.P. S&T Complex will help achieve all these objectives.

So, I thank Ayala Land. I thank the early locators who are already here -- sounds like a nice place to spend an afternoon having coffee and spaghetti here. I thank you all for your continuing faith in the nation’s ability to stand up to any challenge.

Our people are as optimistic as you, and as eager to work harder to get our country back on the growth track.

This afternoon, we leave for the APEC Leaders Meeting in Peru. We are optimistic, as we leave, about our future and the hope, optimism and resilience of the Filipino people, because we are revitalized by what we see here.

We will express to the other leaders of APEC the hope of our people that in seeking common ground on ways to coordinate assistance to our economies, we must do so in a way that puts the interests of the poor and the dispossessed ahead of the rich and the powerful.

As we inaugurate a symbol of a new age of technology in the Philippines, let us continue to be hopeful that the global storm will soon subside.

Let us wish the whole world the best. And here within our country, let us resolve to work even harder to keep our economy resilient.

To Ayala Land and U.P., for your contribution to these important goals, congratulations and thank you.

PGMA on the right track to endorse ASEAN Open Skies

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is on the right track to endorse the ratification of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Open Skies by the ASEAN governing body during the ASEAN Summit Meeting in Chang Mai, Thailand on Dec. 22.

In a letter to President Arroyo, the Federation of Tourism Industries of the Philippines (FTIP) -- an umbrella organization of major associations in the tourism industry -- told the Chief Executive that she is in the right direction to support the ASEAN Open Skies, “an important component of the overall economic integration of ASEAN, since transport links are critical to bringing down barriers to trade and facilitating change.”

The FTIP – which is headed by Atty. Alejandra C. Clemente -- is composed of all the major associations in the tourism industry, namely: Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA); Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA); Hotel Sales & Marketing Association (HSMA); Hotel & Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRAP); Philippine Tourism Business Club (PTBC); Board of Airline Representatives (BAR); Philippine Association of Convention Exhibition Organizers & Suppliers (PACEOS); Association of Car Rental Companies, Inc. (ACRCI); Manila Japanese Travel Agents and Hoteliers Association (MJTAHA); Freedom to Fly Coalition (FFC); and the Southern Tagalog Tourism Council (STTC) headed by Clemente.

Mrs. Clemente said that under the ASEAN Open Skies, ASEAN airlines can fly unlimited third, fourth and fifth freedom traffic rights among any cities within the ASEAN region. For example, Philippine carriers will be able to fly unlimited flights from Manila to Singapore to Bangkok, or from Cebu to Penang to Phuket.

She explained that from December 2008 until 2010, only capital cities will be opened. This means that ASEAN airlines like PAL and Cebu Pacific can fly unlimited 3rd, 4th and 5th freedom traffic rights between Manila and the other capital cities of ASEAN.

“This unified aviation market by 2015 will be the result of the 22-year liberalization process in ASEAN aviation, embodied in the ASEAN Roadmap for the Integration of ASEAN: Competitive Air Services Policy based on the implementation timeframe,” Clemente said.

“President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is on the right track in pushing this open-skies charter agreement as this will open up travel and the free flow of goods within the Region and will increase export as well as import between and among the ASEAN member countries,” the FTIP president said.

“One of the most important provisions of the ASEAN Open Skies Agreement is the 5th freedom of an airline from one country to land in a second country, to then pick up passengers and fly on to a third country where the passengers then deplane,” she added.

She said the signing of this agreement among the ASEAN members will bring in the leisure market and will bring in more tourists, thus increasing foreign exchange receipts from the $3.5B to $10B by 2010 which will increase tourist arrivals to five million.

Clemente also said that the ASEAN Open Skies is very timely with the passage of the Tourism Act by both the Senate and the House which hopefully will be signed into law before the end of 2008.

“At the same time, this will boost the Entertainment City known as Bagong Nayong Pilipino, the $15-billion project of PAGCOR and will bring in foreign as well as local investors who will build the much needed hotels and resorts. This will enable the country to accommodate more than 5M to 7M tourists yearly. Travel from and within the ASEAN countries will boost the tourist arrival figure and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano’s promotion and marketing thrust in emerging markets like China and India will definitely add to the tourist arrival statistics.”

The ASEAN Open Skies will therefore open the doors for the growth of tourism in the Philippines which will contribute to the economic stability and also cushion the impact of the global economic meltdown with new hotels and resorts which are expected to be ready by 2010.

An additional 20,000 will be added to 14,000 rooms that are presently available. It is further expected that 250,000 jobs will be available in two to three years time.