Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ombudsman calls on the citizenry to join government campaign against corruption

PASIG CITY – Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has called on the citizenry to help the government in its drive against corruption, not only in government but also in Philippine society.

In her speech during the launching of the 1st National Summit on United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which was timed with the commemoration of the International Anti-corruption Day, Gutierrez said that “we (the government) are really committed to fighting corruption.”

“This is the day for all sectors of society to join hands in fighting corruption to save our people from the quagmire of poverty,” she added.

Gutierrez called on everyone to do his/her part in curbing corruption not only in public but in private life as well by providing the Office of the Ombudsman with documents and evidence to back up their criminal or administrative complaints against grafters.

“If affidavits are not available, the complainants may identify such documents so that we can subpoena them,” she said.

She added that in filing denunciations of corruption against government personnel, complainants may not identify themselves to avoid reprisal or harassment.

The Ombudsman also reported that her office is now making headway in the Bolante Case and that by January of 2009, investigators should have already completed their work on the Fertilizer Fund Case.

The summit is the government’s contribution to the United Nation’s (UN) global fight against corruption.

It aims to provide opportunities for the government sector and civil society to come together and adopt a national roadmap to eradicate corruption.

From the launching of the UNCAC up to March 2009, series of Focus Group Discussions (FGD’s) will be conducted by different groups from the government, private and the civil society sectors to formulate effective ways of combating corruption.

Results of which will be further subjected to scrutiny by working groups from the three (3) branches of government, civil society and the private sector for further consultation and validation before implementation.

Mister Donut eyes 100 more outlets, relies on pasalubong spirit

Don Gil K. Carreon
BusinessWorld Online

PASTRY CHAIN Mister Donut Philippines plans to open up to 100 outlets next year, confident that the slowing economy would not affect sales.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mister Donut Vice-President for Corporate Marketing Alden M. Castañeda said the Filipino practice of giving donuts as pasalubong or a small gift was unlikely to change.

"We will continue to grow next year, although there is an economic crisis. People will try to establish what is really important for them, and [we think we can capitalize on] Pinoys’ putting a high value to giving something," he said.

But he admitted that next year would be more challenging for the company.

In a separate interview, Krispy Kreme Philippines Managing Director Carlyn T. Salud said they were also optimistic, and that expansion plans were on track.

She declined to say how many stores Krispy Kreme will open next year, but said the company would probably proceed at the same pace as in the past two years, when it opened 10 outlets.

"We just have to be more accessible, keep our prices affordable and make sure that customers see the value of our products," she said. The donut chain, she added, was planning to hit new markets.

Rival Dunkin Donut could not be reached for comments.

Mr. Castañeda said franchisees would account for about four-fifths of the 100 stores that will be opened next year, which will give the company more than 1,300 outlets.

"The stores that will be opened are skewed more towards shops and kiosks instead of smaller outlets," he said, declining to provide specific figures.

People who want to open a Mister Donut store must pay P150,000 for the franchise. A franchisee will have to invest an additional P150,000 for a small kiosk and up to P800,000 more for a restaurant.

Mr. Castañeda said Mister Donut was seeking to increase sales and profits by double digits next year, but declined to provide figures.

He claimed the entry of new players in recent years had not affected Mister Donut since they cater to different customers.

"The overall effect is positive for the category because donuts are being noticed more than before, but in terms of sales volume we continue grow," he said. The company wants to diversify its menu further, with plans to add more rice and pasta products, he added.

The Ramcar Group of Companies owns the Mister Donut franchise. It is also the local operator of the KFC and Tokyo Tokyo fastfood chain aside from being a car battery manufacturer.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Philippine Consumer Confidence Improves in Q4 2008

Bangko Sentral
Media Release

Nationwide consumer confidence improves

Consumer confidence improved quarter-on-quarter in Q4 2008 despite the ongoing global financial crisis partly due to the expected seasonal rise in consumer demand with the approach of the Yuletide holidays. The number of consumers who were optimistic about the general economic condition and their own financial situation increased, with the overall consumer confidence index (CI) in Q4 2008 at -40.3 percent. This index, while remaining negative, was higher by 12.5 index points relative to Q3 2008, although it was lower by 6.7 index points year-on-year.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. explained that consumer confidence was also buoyed up by the pullback in the prices of gasoline, fuel, and rice. Other reasons cited for the respondents’ optimism were the expected business upturn during the Christmas season, and employment opportunities available here and abroad. Meanwhile, other consumers cited lower income and the higher cost of basic commodities as major concerns that affected their sentiment.

There was also a broad improvement in the next quarter outlook as indicated in the increases in the three component indices at an average of -11.2 percent. Although the index remained negative, the number of optimists who believed that the general economic condition and their own financial conditions would be better in Q1 2009 increased. The next quarter index improved by 13.9 index points quarter-on-quarter but remained lower relative to Q4 2007 survey by 6.6 index points.

Respondents’ outlook was similar for the next 12 months, as the index improved to -10.7 percent, higher by 13.2 percent quarter-on-quarter but lower by 16.2 percent year-on-year.

Optimistic consumers from both NCR and AONCR increase in Q4 2008

The number of consumers with an optimistic outlook from both the National Capital Region (NCR) and Areas Outside NCR (AONCR) increased in Q4 2008. The CI for NCR at -32.8 percent was higher by 13.8 points quarter-on-quarter and 2.2 points year-on-year. Respondents from AONCR were less confident with CI at -41.5 percent. Nonetheless, this index was higher by 12.3 points quarter-on-quarter. However, relative to last year, the AONCR index was lower by 8.1 index points.

Expenditures for next 3 months to rise

Survey results indicated that more households nationwide expected that their average expenditures on basic goods and services would go up in Q1 2009 (CI at 44.9 percent). However, the number of those who said that their expenditures would rise was smaller relative to the previous quarter’s survey. The decline in the expenditures index by 12.0 index points quarter-on-quarter may be partly explained by the reduction in the prices of some basic goods and services particularly fuel, rice, and transportation.

Buying conditions improve in Q4 2008.

Fifteen percent of respondents indicated that buying conditions would be good in Q4 2008. This was higher compared to 11.4 percent a quarter-ago but lower than the year-ago level at 23.1 percent. Buying conditions for house and/or lot was highest at 22.0 percent, up by 5.1 percentage points from Q3 2008. Similarly, the proportion of respondents who considered the buying conditions for consumer durables and motor vehicles favorable in Q4 2008 increased to 14.0 percent (from 11.2 percent in Q3 2008) and 9.1 percent (from 6.1 percent in Q3 2008), respectively.

Among the reasons cited by respondents on the favorable buying conditions in Q4 2008 were: 1) affordability of consumer durables due to easy installment terms and appliance sales during the holiday season, 2) good investment options, and 3) availability of housing loans at competitive interest rates.

Buying intentions for the year ahead improve slightly

Despite a more confident outlook in Q4 2008, the proportion of respondents that indicated their intention to buy big-ticket items (consumer durables, motor vehicles, and house and lot) in the next 12 months remained relatively steady at a low 7.0 percent. About 10 in every 100 respondents indicated intention to buy consumer durables, 8 in every 100 indicated intention to buy house and lot, and 4 in every 100 indicated intention to buy motor vehicles in the next 12 months.

Selected Economic Indicators: Outlook for the next 12 months

Consumers anticipated that the peso would continue to depreciate against the US dollar, and unemployment and interest rates were expected to rise during the year ahead. Moreover, consumers expected that the prices of basic goods and services would go up in the next 12 months. However, all the indices declined quarter-on-quarter in Q4 2008 as the number of respondents that expected that these indicators would go up in the next 12 months declined.

Expenditures of Overseas Filipino Workers for Q4 2008

Most OFW households spent their remittances in Q4 2008 primarily on food and other household needs (95.8 percent of households who received OFW remittances), education (68.2 percent), medical expenses (57.6 percent), and debt payments (48.9 percent). The percentage of households that allotted portions of remittances to savings rose to 35.8 percent (from 30.4 percent in Q3 2008). Those that utilized remittances for investments declined to 4.7 percent in Q4 2008 (from 7.4 percent in Q3 2008), while those that utilized remittances for purchase/rental of house increased to 16.1 percent from 12.4 percent in Q3 2008. The utilization pattern of remittances was similar for both NCR and AONCR households.

About the survey

The Q4 2008 CES was conducted during the period 1-15 October 2008 with a total sample size of 5,448 households, of which 2,850 (52.3 percent) were from NCR and 2,598 (47.7 percent) from AONCR. The households interviewed were drawn from the National Statistics Office’s (NSO) Master Sample List of Households, which is considered a representative sample of households nationwide. The said master sample was generated using a stratified multi-stage probability sampling scheme. The nationwide total survey response rate for Q4 2008 was 96.6 percent (broadly similar to 96.3 percent in the last survey).

October OFW remittances second-highest on record

Reports from Reuters, GSDL

GROWTH in remittances from Filipinos working abroad slowed to just 3.3% in October from a year earlier but the inflow, at $1.43 billion, was still the second-highest on record, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) yesterday said.

The annual rise was the lowest since June 2007 when inflows rose just 1%. In dollar terms though, the amount was the highest since a record $1.45 billion in June this year.

Total remittances for the January-October period hit $13.7 billion, 15.5% higher compared to the same period last year.

BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr., in a statement, said the data showed that overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances were supporting the economy.

"The steady inflow of remittances from overseas Filipinos, which has stayed above the $1-billion level for more than two years now, shows that remittances remain resilient and continue to be an underlying source of strength for the economy," he said.

He said sustained demand for highly skilled and better-paid Filipino professionals, coupled with OFWs’ wider access to expanded remittance services, continued to support strong inflows.

The number of Filipinos deployed abroad rose by 25.5% to 1.12 million during the 10-month period from 888,339 a year ago.

While the BSP recognized that there could be a slowdown in deployment as a result of the global downturn, it said this could be offset by job opportunities in other countries such as Canada, some states in the Middle East, and Australia, among others.

Economists have said job cuts were expected to hit some of the Filipinos overseas, particularly those in the IT and finance sectors, which would hit the remittance inflows that fuels a lot of domestic spending.

BSP documents show that remittances — equivalent to about a tenth of domestic output — sent through official channels are expected to rise about 6-10% next year, slowing from an expected increase of 10-11% this year.

The BSP has forecast 2008 remittances to hit some $16 billion, from $14.45 billion last year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

President Arroyo to bring home $1 billion in new investments after 3-day official visit to Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (via PLDT) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo winds up today her three-day official visit here confident that the trip has generated for the Philippines US$1 billion in new investments, and raised to another level the friendly relations of the Philippines with Qatar, a leading destination of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

She leaves at noon (Monday, Dec. 15) on her return flight to the Philippines with a three-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi.

The President held various meetings with chief executive officers (CEOs) of several private companies employing Filipino workers as well as government officials, including executives of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) whom she asked to look into the prospect of doing business in the Philippines.

A state investment arm headquartered in this sprawling Middle East metropolis, the QIA serves as the spearhead of Qatar's investment expansion binge backed by the emirate's huge wealth from Qatar’s natural resources.

Awash with cash from its oil and natural gas exports, Qatar has launched a strong investment drive abroad while pursuing a massive construction program at home.

"As a world-class investor, the QIA adheres to the strictest financial and commercial disciplines. It has a strong track record of investing in different asset classes, including listed securities, property, alternative assets and private equity in all the major capital markets as well as the new emerging markets," says a backgrounder on the investment authority.

But the biggest investment draw for the Philippines from Qatar, thus far, is the tie-up between Qatar Telecom QSC (Qtel) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the Philippines' leading business conglomerate. The joint venture was formalized during the President's visit to Qatar.

Senior Qtel executives met with the President on Sunday (Dec. 14) to discuss potential areas of cooperation in Qtel's undertaking to extend access to broadband internet technology in the Philippines.

After the meeting, Qtel and SMC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the expansion and consolidation of the group's Southeast Asia operation. Ramon Ang, chief executive officer and president of San Miguel Corp., signed the MOU on behalf of his company, while Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Bin Saud Al-Thani, Qtel chairman, signed for Qtel.

Under the Qtel-SMC agreement, SMC will own 60 percent of the joint venture to Qtel's 40 percent. Qtel will put in an initial investment of US$150 million, but this will be raised to US$1 billion after one year.

After the formal signing of the accord, Qtel issued an upbeat statement view on its forthcoming Philippine operations, saying it sees a huge growth and expansion potential for the advanced telecommunications industry in the Philippines.

"We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet with President Macapagal-Arroyo. Qtel has looked to increase its profile within the Republic of the Philippines and the environment appears increasingly open to external investment and the provision of communication services," said Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Bin Saud Al-Thani, Qtel chairman.

He added: "We see huge opportunities for growth and partnership within the Philippines and this meeting provided an important opportunity for Qtel to communicate its ambitions and its obligations to the people" of the Philippines.

Qtel, which is operating in 16 countries including in Southeast Asia, is vying for a slot among the top 20 telecommunications companies in the world by 2020.

A telecommunications service provider, Qtel is licensed by Qatar's Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology to provide both fixed and mobile telecommunications services in the state of Qatar.

San Miguel, on the other hand, is the largest publicly listed food, beverage and packaging company in Southeast Asia with more than 15,000 employees in over 100 facilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Qtel's tie-up with San Miguel is the biggest investment thus far by a Qatari company in the Philippines or in a Philippine-based business conglomerate. Up until the Qtel-SMC deal, Qatari investments in the Philippines were concentrated on human services, notably in the manpower supply sector, or the recruitment of Filipino workers for the Middle East.

But the President's meeting with Qatar business executives brought to the fore the untapped markets in Qatar and other Gulf countries for such Philippine products as mango -- a favorite fruit here -- fresh as well as processed Filipino food.

Filipino workers get excellent grade in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar -- (via PLDT) -- Filipino workers here are getting excellent grades for reliability, skill, industry and professionalism.

The rave review of OFWs came from the chief executive officers (CEOs) and other top officials of 27 Qatar-based companies employing Filipinos during the "appreciation lunch" with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort on Saturday (Dec. 13), shortly upon her arrival here at noon yesterday.

The President is on a three-day official visit to this Middle East boom town to look into the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), enlist the support of Qatar's leadership in the Mindanao peace process, and discuss issues of mutual concern to the two countries.

Accompanying her are Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and a small group of members of the House of Representatives.

From the Qatar International Airport here, the President went straight to the Sheraton Doha Hotel for the meeting with the CEOs who represent a cross-section of the leading international business conglomerates operating in Qatar.

Among the leading companies represented in the luncheon meeting with the President were the US-based engineering giant Bechtel Corporation, Al Ahli Hospital, Sterling Group of Companies, Midmac Contracting, and Doha Resort and Convention Center.

Bechtel Doha Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Project Manager Laremy Estrada cited Filipino workers for their reliability, industry and overall skill.

He said Filipinos were highly trainable, efficient and trustworthy. He added that 65 percent of Bechtel’s workers in the construction of the new Doha International Airport are Filipinos.

Bechtel, a towering presence in the Middle East construction sector, won the contract for engineering, project and construction management of the US$2.5-billion new Doha International Airport.

When completed, the new air terminal can accommodate 24 million passengers and 750,000 metric tons of cargo annually.

Other executives of companies operating in Qatar echoed Estrada’s praises for Filipino workers in Qatar, with one CEO saying his company would be at a loss looking for workers as reliable, hardworking and skilled as his Filipino employees.

Estimates of the number of OFWs in Qatar vary from a low of 150,000 to a high of more than 200,000. Labor Secretary Marianito Roque’s own figure is 190,000.

President Arroyo thanked the company officials for hiring Filipino workers and protecting their rights and privileges under the International Labor Organization (ILO) mandate.

She said the Philippine government would act immediately on problems cited by the CEOs, including delays in the registration of labor recruitment permits and the need for stepped-up training for Filipinos seeking employment abroad.

The President pointed out that her administration has launched a P3-billion scholarship program to equip Filipinos with the needed expertise for frontline services not only abroad but also in the Philippines.

Qatar hiring 37,000 Filipinos in 2009

Written by Mia M. Gonzalez / Reporter
The Business Mirror

President Arroyo announced on Saturday night that Qatar is set to hire 37,000 more Filipino professionals and skilled workers in 2009, easing growing concern among overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East of possible retrenchment due to the global financial crisis.

The President, who made the announcement in her meeting with Qatar-based Filipinos at the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort several hours after she arrived in the Middle East country for a three-day official visit, also said the government will continue to prepare for any eventuality despite such good news.

Mrs. Arroyo said 27 chief executives, representing Qatar’s biggest employers, informed her of the substantial number of job orders for Filipinos to work in Qatar when they met that same day.

“Employment [for Filipinos] continues despite the global crisis. Just a while ago, the employers told me—and Secretary [Marianito] Roque computed the numbers—that there are job orders on top of those already here today for 37,000 more workers here in Qatar,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo added that while other countries have been reducing their work force because of the worsening global financial situation, “Qatar continues to look for additional [workers]” on top of the 190,000 Filipino workers estimated to be employed there at present.

Malacañang said in a press statement that this year Qatar has hired 56,277, making it the fourth-biggest destination of Filipino workers in the world, and third in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mrs. Arroyo said Qatar employers, as well as others in the Middle East, have expressed their preference for Filipino workers because they are diligent, trustworthy, efficient, and skilled.

The executives, all belonging to companies employing Filipino workers, had an appreciation lunch with Mrs. Arroyo on Saturday.

The companies represented at the meeting included US-based engineering giant Bechtel Corp., which is constructing the $2.5 billion new Doha International Airport, Al Ahli Hospital, Sterling Group of Companies, Midmac Contracting, and Doha Resort and Convention Center.

A Palace press statement said Bechtel Doha CEO and project manager Laremy Estrada cited Filipino workers for their reliability, industry and overall skill.

“He said Filipinos were highly trainable, efficient and trustworthy. He added that 65 percent of Bechtel’s workers in the construction of the new Doha International Airport are Filipinos,” Malacanang said.

In her meeting with the Filipino community in Doha, Mrs. Arroyo gave her assurance that even with the assured employment of more Filipinos in Qatar next year, the government will continue to prepare for the possible displacement of Filipino workers in other countries.

“Be that as it may, it’s always good to be prepared. That’s why we have implemented a program that would help anyone who will be forced to go home,” she said.

She bared her P250-million Filipino Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund, which would help displaced workers start a small business, venture into a livelihood program or take courses to develop new skills.

“You can rest assured that the government will do all it can to protect the people against the scourge of the global crisis,” she said.

The President had earlier said that her Qatar trip is for job security, to seek Qatar’s help in the Mindanao peace process, and discuss issues of mutual concern to the two countries.