Saturday, 24 January 2009

Photo update: Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway


Citibank sees Philippine consumer business growing

By Eileen A. Mencias
The Manila Standard

Citibank said it expects consumer business to grow further this year after climbing 15 percent despite the adverse global environment.

“There’s a global answer and there’s a Philippines answer. In the Philippines, people are confident and they are buying goods,” Mark Jones, Citibank global consumer group country business manager and Citibank Savings chairman, told reporters yesterday.

“In the Philippines, we are cautious because of the global condition but the Philippine economy seems to be sound. The policies put in place in previous years have put the country in good standing,” Jones said. “We’re not aggressively going after more customers because we’d like to maintain our growth trajectory. We won’t be aggressive until there’s some clarity in the global conditions.”

Citibank will complete the merger of Citibank Savings and Citifinancial on Feb. 4, with the former as the surviving entity. Citibank Savings has 36 branches while Citifinancials has 16 that are now being integrated into the savings bank. The two has combined assets of P11.25 billion.

Jones said the bank had started offering car loans in November and planned to go into mortgage by the middle of this year.

Citibank NA is investing $25 million (P1.17 billion) into the Philippines this year to strengthen its consumer business and keep its lead.

Citibank Savings is investing some $15 million for a new system alone and another $1 million for new automated teller machines.

Another $1 million will be invested to improve Citibank Savings online banking and $1 million will be plowed in to improve its phone banking service.

The merger between Citibank Savings and Citifinancial is expected to improve the bank’s margins because of the synergies and allow them to deploy their resources more efficiently. Citibank Savings has huge deposits while Citifinancial has a relatively big loan portfolio.

Citibank bought Citibank Savings from Insular Life in 2005 for P1 billion. In 2006, Citibank invested an additional P1 billion into the savings bank. Citifinancial, meanwhile, is focused on the personal loan business.

Philippines eyes 5.8% increase in rice output

By Othel V. Campos
The Manila Standard

The government expects rice production this year to rise 5.8 percent to 17.81 million metric tons.

Frisco Malabanan, head of the national rice program, said the production target was still preliminary.

“We’re still assessing targets,” he said, claiming that the five-year rice self-sufficiency plan remained unless the government reviews it again.

The government aims to achieve self-sufficiency status on rice by 2013. Rice output in 2008 stood at 16.82 million MT.

The government plans to import rice as buffer stock in the lean months despite bumper harvest and higher targets.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap declined to comment on a rice import agreement with Vietnam.

He said his department was not ready to disclose the volume of imports this year to prevent a spike in rice prices. Yap assured the volume would be less than what the government bought last year.

“We’re still importing less than 2008, because we started with a bigger carryover stock. We have about 28 to 29 days worth of stocks because of aggressive procurement,” he said.

Rice imports last year rose to an all-time high of 2.3 million MT. The department remains tight-lipped over this year’s importation.

“Figures about buying will remain confidential because of experience in 2008. Figures are to be left confidential unless they [suppliers] themselves make those public. It’s very tricky to comment on prices influenced by so many factors,” he said.

He added that suppliers had requested the Philippine government to keep silent on the issue of importation because of the “destabilizing effect on prices.

Philippine BPO industry ready to take in retrenched electronics workers

BusinessWorld Online

The local business process outsourcing (BPO) industry has the capacity to absorb displaced employees of shuttered semiconductor firms, industry leaders said yesterday.

In a briefing in Makati yesterday, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P) said the local BPO sector, which expects to grow by as much as 25% this year despite the economic downturn, has more than enough room to hire people who lose their jobs in the crisis.

"As long as they are willing, they can be hired," BPA/P Director for Industry Affairs Jonathan de Lazuriaga told reporters yesterday.

On Thursday, the world’s largest computer chip maker Intel Corp. announced that it would close down five of its plants around the world, including one in the Philippines which employs 1,800 people.

Mr. Lazuriaga said the economic slowdown has forced companies in the US which did not even entertain the thought of sub-contracting work to the Philippines before are now considering setting-up shop here to cut costs.

"Definitely, this is going to be a strong year for the BPO industry," he said.

BPA/P expects the industry to hire an additional 100,000 people this year, to bring the industry workforce to around 600,000. The BPO sector is also expected to rake in an estimated $9 billion in revenues this year from under $7 billion in 2008.

Not automatic

However, Mr. Lazuriaga admitted that not all employees from closed manufacturing firms may be immediately hired by BPO companies.

"Honest to goodness truth, there will be a little mismatch [in skills]," he said.

"The government needs to have re-skilling programs to make these people qualified for BPO companies," said Lauro Vives, Chief Executive Officer of information and communications technology advisory firm XMG, Inc.

He said around two-thirds of displaced employees from manufacturing firms may land jobs in the non-voice BPO sector, while the rest may be hired in regular call centers.

Meanwhile, US-based Citibank said it would expand its BPO presence in the country by as much as 20% this year.

Talking at the same briefing, Nigel Romano, Citibank North America chief financial officer said the company plans to hire as many as 400 employees this year, to add to the company’s current BPO workforce of 2,200 people.

Unexpectedly severe

In a separate briefing on Friday, the local unit of Intel Corp. said there was nothing the government could have done to avert the Cavite plant’s closure.

"Nobody knew the impact [of the crisis] would be so severe," Intel Technology Philippines, Inc. Corporate Communications Manager Arlita Narag said yesterday.

"If the global financial crisis did not happen, then things would have been different," she added.

The company earlier reported a 90% decline in net income in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $234 million from $2.3 billion in the same period last year.

She said the government had done its best in past years to address concerns the company had, particularly high power rates.

As early in the first half of last year, electricity rates in the country were twice as expensive as in China, where Intel also has manufacturing plants.

Ms. Narag also clarified that the company’s 1,800 employees were not notified of their plant’s closure via e-mail, as reported in some publications. Instead, she said the company had a series of meetings, which were attended by two top executives from the US, to notify the employees.

She said the company would gradually shut down its Cavite plan until the end of the year.

Philippines expected to emerge as premier non-voice outsourcing hub

BusinessWorld Online

The Philippines, whose offshore market has grown 46% annually since 2004, is poised to emerge as a leading destination for non-voice business process outsourcing (BPO) work for customers looking beyond India, Dallas, Texas-based Everest Research Institute said in a statement on Friday.

The $35-billion global BPO market is projected to grow to $220 billion-$280 billion by 2012, with non-voice work accounting for 90% of that growth.

Although a number of providers have already tapped the Philippines for a wide range of non-voice functions, there is limited awareness of the Philippines’ capability in non-voice services, which has grown significantly over the past three years, according to the Institute’s study, titled: "The Silent Knight: The Philippines’ Emerging Non-Voice BPO Capability." The study includes inputs from the Business Processing Association of the Philippines.

The $6.8-million Philippines offshore market employs more than 450,000 people, most of them in voice-based services.

"Success in voice-based BPO services has positioned the Philippines as the second largest low-cost BPO destination after India, and both countries combined account for 50% of the BPO market in revenue terms," the statement quoted Everest Research Institute Principal Nikhil Rajpal as saying.

"While some providers are leveraging the Philippines for non-voice functions, the scale of work is relatively low. However, tremendous market potential exists if service providers can successfully manage talent-related constraints."

Other study insights include:

* Most current non-voice BPO operations are focused on transactional services like finance and accounting, as well as medical transcription.
* Judgment-intensive services like research, analytics and legal services are being performed, although still at a small scale.
* Multinationals have expanded their service portfolios in the Philippines to include multiple non-voice BPO services in addition to voice-based BPO services, although the scale of operations in non-voice is low.
* The government is focused on development of the non-voice BPO industry, providing incentives to attract investors and developing relevant infrastructure.

"Managing talent-related constraints — especially the availability of specialized and managerial skills — will determine operational success in the Philippines," Everest research director Jimit Arora said in the same statement. "We expect strong growth to continue in the non-voice services sector, especially in the transactional services space."

"However, these constraints suggest the Philippines is not likely to replace India as the nerve center for the sourcing and management of services for many organizations," Mr. Arora clarified.

Everest Research Institute is the research arm of global consultancy firm Everest Group.

Philippines prioritizes emergency jobs creation in regions

The Manila Bulletin

President Arroyo yesterday directed the Cabinet to accelerate its emergency employment programs across the country amid reports of domestic job losses as a result of the global financial meltdown.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday the President has assigned Cabinet members to specific regions where they should provide livelihood assistance and emergency jobs this year.

The emergency jobs for the poor and out-of-school youth include road maintenance, school rehabilitation, irrigation repairs, and organic farming activity, sea and forest patrols, among others.

The government plans to create 1.5 million jobs by June 30, 2009 and for another 1.5 million by the end of the year, or a total of three million jobs for the year.

"We have alerted the Cabinet members to be ready with certain measures to absorb these people who will be losing jobs so they’ll be given alternative undertakings, so they will have their own jobs," Ermita said.

On top of the emergency employment program, Ermita said the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has readied contingency measures for Filipino workers who may lose their jobs abroad. The Philippine Economic Zone Authority was also mobilized to look into ways to overcome the problem of unemployment in some economic zones, he added.

Last Wednesday, Intel, the world’s biggest computer chip maker, announced plans to close its plants in Malaysia, Philippines, and the United States, resulting in the loss of 1,800 jobs in its assembly test facility in Cavite.

Ermita admitted that the Philippines will likely endure the adverse effects of the global economic slowdown this year, but assured the people that the government has readied measures to mitigate the blow on the people.

Malacanang earlier raised the R300-billion economic resiliency package by another R30 billion to invest in infrastructure projects, job generation, and social protection. The package seeks to boost the economic growth in the face of worldwide credit crunch.

Relatedly, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque yesterday admitted that hundreds of Filipinos are losing their jobs every day as the global economy slows.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 19, some 15,600 workers were laid off, he told a local radio.

Over the same period, 19,000 others had their shifts or working hours reduced. ‘’Just for today it was reported to us that 458 people nationwide could lose their jobs,’’ Roque said.

He said most of the job cuts were happening in the electronics sector, which has suffered from plunging global demand. The sector employs 480,000 people and accounts for nearly 70 percent of Philippine exports.

After US chip maker Intel Corp. announced the closure of a chip testing plant near Manila this week with the loss of 1,800 jobs, Roque warned Thursday that up to 60,000 Filipinos could lose their jobs this year, mainly in the electronics and garments industries.

Roque said he did not keep comparative figures for previous years, but stressed: ‘’This is not normal. This is not business as usual.’’

He however stressed that jobs are still being created in the Philippines, citing 600 new hires reported Thursday in the Calabarzon industrial belt south of Manila, where most of the electronics jobs had been lost. ‘’These are mainly manufacturing jobs that have no connection to the electronics sector.’’

Meanwhile, as a result of OFWs repatriated from war-torn Israel, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is considering to set up help-desks at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for traumatized Filipino migrants

PNRC chairman Sen. Richard J. Gordon said yesterday they are moving to assist Filipino repatriates not only from Israel but from other troubled areas in the globe. "The number of Filipinos being repatriated from Israel is increasing. And they need various assistance once they arrived at the NAIA, hence we are thinking of putting up help desks at the airport not only for those being repatriated from Israel but also from other countries," he said.

"The PNRC is here to give assistance to our countrymen who are in need. Wherever there are calamities and disasters in our country, we are there to lend a helping hand. And this is also a disaster that has badly affected our countrymen in Israel," he added.

Gordon said the helpdesk to be put up would offer assistance such as psychosocial support, critical incident stress debriefing and answer inquiries on welfare related concerns, among others. (with reports by Ronniel C. de Guzman, AFP)

Friday, 23 January 2009

LRT North Extension progress

Courtesy of DX.

Remittances to Philippines in First Eleven Months Reach US$15B

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

Remittances of overseas Filipinos (OF) coursed through banks continued to be above the US$1 billion mark in November at US$1.3 billion, posting a year-on-year growth of 10.5 percent. Cumulative remittances for the eleven-month period reached US$15 billion, 15.1 percent higher than the level recorded in the comparable period a year ago. This level is only US$1.3 billion short of the BSP’s projection of a full year 2008 OF remittances coursed through the banks of US$16.3 billion.

“The steady stream of remittances from overseas Filipinos continues to provide the economy with much needed foreign exchange liquidity in the midst of a challenging external environment,” BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said. Factors contributing to sustained remittance flows were the continued demand for Filipino workers abroad, specifically professional and skilled workers, as well as greater accessibility of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to a wide array of financial services by banks that facilitated funds transfer.

Preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated that, during the first eleven months of 2008, the number of Filipinos deployed abroad increased considerably by 24.4 percent to 1,221,829 from 982,286 a year ago. The POEA data also showed that 90 percent of newly hired overseas Filipino workers in the first ten months of 2008 consisted of professionals and skilled workers, and that the deployment was concentrated in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Hong Kong.

While there are concerns that deployment could decelerate in the coming months due to the continuing global economic slowdown, the POEA indicated that the decline could be mitigated by strong labor demand in Canada, Bulgaria, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The Philippine government has signed memoranda of agreement with various provinces of Canada and with Qatar, and is currently in negotiations with South Australia for possible employment opportunities for Filipino skilled labor. Moreover, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), through its overseas labor offices in more than 30 strategic host destinations worldwide, has continued to conduct marketing missions and employment facilitation programs to widen the productive opportunities for Filipino workers both in the local and global fronts.

For the period January-November, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Canada, U.K., Italy, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Philippines' Clark airport seen to draw 1M people despite slump

Jacob Cunanan
The Business Mirror

CLARK FREE PORT, Pampanga—Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) president Victor Jose Luciano said there is every reason to expect the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) will be able to generate at least 800,000 to 1 million international passengers this year despite the global economic recession.

“[The] DMIA will fly higher than 2008, especially now that there is more interest from airlines. We will try to reach 1 million international passengers this year,” he said on Monday at the launching of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2008 project for the airport at the Mimosa Convention Center here.

Several airlines operate at the 2,300-hectare Clark Civil Aviation Complex that houses the DMIA, among which are Tiger Airways of Singapore flying the Clark-Singapore route, Air Asia of Malaysia that flies to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu; Asiana Airlines that flies to Incheon, South Korea; local carrier Cebu Pacific Air to Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau and Singapore; and South East Asian Airlines (Seair) that flies to Caticlan.

The Spirit of Manila and Zest Air (formerly Asian Spirit) are slated to mount flights from the DMIA this year, an event expected to boost the development of the airport.

The DMIA, averaging at least 77 international and domestic flights per week, has become one of the busiest airports in the country, boosting the vision of President Arroyo to make it the country’s premier international airport.

The launching of the ISO-9001:2008 project for the DMIA is aimed at improving the delivery of services, especially in passenger facilitation, for the airport to become globally competitive.

“This ISO project will further improve the quality of service at the airport, a move that will put us on a par with the leading airports in the world,” said Luciano.

“A quality management system [QMS] improves business operations; creates a positive effect on investment and growth; and establishes a competitive advantage for CIAC. With a QMS in place, CIAC will be focused toward achieving its quality goals,” added Luciano.

The ISO committee, headed by Romeo Dyoco Jr., a CIAC vice president, has already been formed and is composed of employees from various departments.

The ISO 9001:2008 program is in accordance with Executive Order 605 and Administrative Order 161 directing government agencies, including government-owned and -controlled corporations and government financial institutions to adopt the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System program.

The launching of the ISO certification project was attended by executive vice-president Alexander Cauguiran, and Clark Development Corp. directors Max Sangil and Frankie Villanueva, Clark Locators and Locators Association (CILA) president Jeannie del Rosario-Ng, among others.

OFW deployment reaches record high

By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have proven to be more popular than ever among foreign employers.

The hiring of Filipino workers for overseas deployment reached record highs in 2008 despite the prevailing global financial crisis, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported yesterday.

POEA chief Jennifer Manalili said the number of workers employed abroad went up dramatically by 27 percent, from 1,077,623 in 2007 to 1,376,823 last year.

Manalili noted that the overseas deployment for the whole 2008 was 300,000 more than the previous year and half a million higher since 2003.

From a total deployment of about 800,000 in 2003, Manalili said deployment of workers abroad continuously went up and reached one million for the first time in 2006 and a high of 1.37 million in 2008.

Except for the months of February, March and December, Manalili said the POEA recorded monthly deployment of more than 100,000 during the past year.

Based on the number of employment contracts processed last year, Manalili said the number of new hires also went up by more than 100,000 from 313,280 to 428,429.

Land-based workers still accounted for the bulk of workers who were deployed overseas.

Cebu Pacific hikes base to 6.7M last year

Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
BusinessWorld Online

CREATING NEW routes and frequent seat sales helped budget carrier Cebu Pacific increase its passenger base by close to a fifth in 2008.

In a statement, the airline yesterday said it had flown 6.7 million domestic and international passengers last year, a 23% increase from a year earlier.

"We carried 5.38 million domestic passengers last year, up by 20.7% from 2007, while international passengers rose by 33% from one million to 1.4 million," Cebu Pacific Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei said.

He traced the growth to higher seat capacity coupled with their trademark low fares. "We were able to successfully convince more Filipinos to travel by air despite economic uncertainties," he added.

The growth, however, was short of the company’s target of seven million passengers. This year, Cebu Pacific expects to hike its passenger base by more than a third to 9.3 million.

The company expects to take delivery of six new aircraft this year, which it will use to expand its network. The company posted a net loss of P1.87 billion in January to September last year.

Philippines approves P10-billion PTV-4 rehab, bridge projects

The Manila Bulletin

Two projects worth P10 billion got the go-signal from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Investment Coordination Committee-Cabinet Committee (ICC-CC).

The approved projects were the immediate rehabilitation the People’s Television Network, Inc. (PTV-4) and the upgrading of bridges.

Aiming to modernize the analog broadcast facilities and equipment of PTV-4 and strengthen its efficiency and effectiveness as an integral and critical part of the government’s information system, the rehabilitation of the network is estimated to cost P470 million.

About 85 percent of the funding would be sourced from the US Export-Import (EXIM) Bank with London Forfaiting Americas, Inc. (LFAI) as lender. LFAI shall finance the remaining 15 percent.

On the other hand, the bridge project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) involves constructing permanent bridges and replacing temporary bridges, all totaling 242 along national roads nationwide.

Of the P9.6 billion bridge project, about P8.3 billion shall be financed by the United Kingdom and about P1.31 billion shall be provided by the Philippine government.

NEDA has also approved the Iloilo Flood Control Project Phase 2 (Stage 1) and its change in scope and cost increase of P1.68 billion. The project aims to mitigate flood damage to create a more sustainable urban community in Iloilo.

The change in scope of works was approved to avoid further delays in the completion of the project due to right-of-way (ROW) problems.

Philippines to upgrade hospital facilities using P33-B budget

The Manila Bulletin

The Department of Health (DoH)) is set to order an upgrade of government hospital facilities and equipment as soon as the office receives its newly approved P33B budget for 2009, up by P4 billion from last year’s budget.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque said the additional P4 billion will be used for the health facilities enhancement program and for capital outlay in infrastructure and equipment upgrade, costing "close to P2 billion." The remaining P2 billion, he said, will be allocated for the procurement of essential drugs to meet the demands of the recently-launched P100 medicines program.

The P100 medicines program consists of treatment packs that can be bought for P100 pesos through a doctor’s prescription. Included in the program are medicines for infections, hypercholesterolemia, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, Vitamin C and others.

Duque said this year, the DoH has in its priority list strategies to bring down pregnancy-related deaths from 162 per 100,000 live births to 54 by 2015. He earlier emphasized his target of bringing down the figure to 90 by 2010.

"We would like to shift 60 percent of deliveries from home-based deliveries because this is where the problem lies because of lack of sanitation, hygiene, lack of professional expertise to deliver a baby, to attend to unexpected complications, respond to bleeding, sepsis, infection, hypertension," Duque told reporters in a recent forum organized by the Philippine College of Physicians.

Duque named two important new programs to achieve this, the institution of Basic Emergency Maternal Obstetrical and Newborn Care and Comprehensive Maternal Obstetrical and Newborn Care.

"This is in line with the Millennium Development Goal number 4 which is to reduce child mortality. Our goal for reducing child mortality would be about 32 (in 2006) to 27 child deaths per 1,000 live births," the health chief said.

"Even the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health organizations have given us a good score in the area of reducing child mortality. Of course its no excuse for us to be complacent. We have to step up efforts to more aggressively address issues and problems," he added.

Other areas of focus by DoH are the reduction of the incidence of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases; improving access to potable water and sanitation and the continued provision of affordable drugs.

Philippine Senate ratifies bicam report of P1.4 B nat’l budget

The Manila Bulletin

The Senate ratified yesterday a conference committee report on the Malacanang-proposed 2009 P1.4 trillion national budget, ending weeks of discussions between the Senate and House of Representatives bicameral committees on the proposed P50 billion economic stimulus program and other provisions in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile banged the gavel at 10:46 a.m. to signal the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed 2009 GAA which was ratified by the Lower House last Wednesday night.

Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri led the approval of the report at the Senate session hall.

The bicameral conference committee was hammered out by Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee and head of the Senate bicameral conference committee panel, and his counterpart, Rep. Junie Cua, who ironed out the conflicting provisions of the GAA since last December.

Angara expressed hope that the budget would be used and spent wisely.

The report contained the allocation of a controversial P50 billion economic stimulus package coming from the proposed P287.87 billion debt service

Angara said this has been re-aligned to various departments such as increased appropriation of P9.3 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways, P8.54 billion for the Department of Education and P3.8 billion for the Departrment of Transportation and Communications.

The other P14.8 billion came from budgets of other departments and agencies that could still be deferred.

Opposition Senators Panfilo Lacson and Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino cast the two lone negative votes.

Lacson and fellow-opposition Senators Mar Roxas and Jamby Madrigal asked that their individual P200 million pork barrel, technically called Priority Development Assistance Fund, be deleted in the Senate budget.

Detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also wanted P100 million of his pork barrel deleted.

Senators and congressmen’s original P6.24 billion pork barrel fund increased to P9.66 billion, or up by P3.4 billion. The port [sic] barrel of each senator is P200 million while a Lower House member has a P70 million pork barrel allocation.

Philippine classroom fund raised from P3 B to P8 B

Senate, House approve P1.4-trillion national budget
Congress gives DepEd P8 B for schools construction

The Manila Bulletin

The decision of the Senate and the House of Representatives to increase the budget for the construction of school buildings from P3 billion to P8 billion to minimize the classroom shortage is a bright spot in the proposed 2009 P1.4 trillion national budget that Congress approved and would be sent to President Arroyo for signing.

Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, chairman of the Senate education, culture and arts committee, said the amount will be used to construct 10,666 classrooms, thereby reducing the classroom gap which, in the 2006-2007 school year, stood at 74,115. There are 65 pupils/students per class or 90 and above per class in extreme cases.

"We can’t neglect our children’s education at this time of crisis. Our children’s future is important," Roxas said, disclosing that he is giving up his P200 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as pork barrel.

Roxas called on the public to closely monitor President Arroyo’s implementation of the P1.43 trillion national budget to prevent its misuse for charter change and partisan activities.

Roxas bared that he has not received any of his PDAF allocation since the latter half of 2005 after the Liberal Party (LP) which he heads withdrew its support to the Arroyo administration.

In his sponsorship speech of the Senate-Lower House bicameral conference committee report on the 2009 budget, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee and head of the Senate bicameral conference committee, said the conference committee re-aligned P1.927 billion from other agencies to the Department of Education (DepEd).

Angara said another P1.17 billion has been realigned to State Universities and Colleges.

Asked for comment, the DepEd said that the bigger pie for school buildings will augment the current needs of the department and ease up the shortages in classrooms.

"This is one demonstration of how supportive our people in the legislature are. We stand to benefit from this, especially the public schools. It is something very pleasing. This is a most welcome development,’’ said Mila Talino of the DepEd Planning Division.

She admitted that even as computers or books are augmented each year in various schools, budget for addressing laboratory concerns, among others, is always wanting.

Citing past studies by the Third Elementary Education Project (TEEP), she said that 15 percent of existing classrooms are beyond economic repair. This means that an additional P15-billion should have been appropriated then to replace the classrooms.

Talino also clarified that DepEd’s official declaration of classroom shortages in 2007 was 20,587 at 1:45 double shift, while there was 41, 000 classroom shortages at 1:45 single shift in 2006. "Classroom shortage was reduced to 6,000 in 2006 after President Arroyo imposed a policy for a 1:50 double shifting,’’ she said.

"In 2007, we were advised to be strict in conforming to the double shift policy of the President but still following the Roxas Law of 1:45,’’ according to Talino, adding that the official declaration for classroom shortages at present is more or less 12,000.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Philippine growth uninterrupted for 36 quarters

President: Govt planning for better days ahead while preparing for worse of crisis

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that her administration is planning for better days ahead for the country, even as it battens down the ramparts should the global economic downturn turn from bad to worse.

“As an economist, I also know that things can turn quickly. That is why we are planning for better days – even as we are developing contingency plans if things get worse. We have worked fervently – even before the crisis took root – to cushion the blow to our people,” she told the country’s diplomatic community at the traditional Vin ‘d Honneur held this morning at the Rizal Hall of Malacanang.

She said that the Philippines has avoided the full impact of the economic fallout and kept the crisis at bay – “thanks to the fiscal, economic and structural reforms we implemented in the past – even while it was unpopular to do so.”

The President echoed the favorable assessments of Fitch ratings agency, Credit Suisse, Bank of New York Mellon, JP Morgan, and Standard and Poor’s, among others, of the country’s ability to surf through the worse of the global economic crisis.

In its latest assessment, Fitch said the Philippine economy remains “reasonably healthy”; Credit Suisse said the Philippine macroeconomic risk is lowest while the S&P described the country as an “island of relative calm amid the stormy seas of global economic uncertainty.”

“The Philippines is in a relatively strong position to weather the global downturn with the economy driven by private consumption and services, which are less vulnerable to external shocks,” the President said, quoting the recent analysis of the Bank of New York Mellon and JP Morgan.

She pointed out that “maintaining a strong growing economy” is of highest priority to her administration in order to eradicate the decades-long problem of poverty in the country and ensure that safety nets are in place for the most vulnerable sector – the poorest of the poor.

As a result of the successful implementation of the Arroyo administration’s financial reforms and sound fiscal management, the country has avoided the full brunt of the economic downturn to the Philippine economy.

“I assumed the Presidency in 2001 with no budget to spare. Our coffers were in the negative. Because of our financial reforms and sound fiscal management since 2001, our economy has posted uninterrupted growth over 36 quarters,” she said.

This uninterrupted growth has cut down the rate of poverty in the country and raised the annual average of new employment.

“With the revenues from the expanded value-added tax and alcohol and tobacco excise tax, we have been able to expand access to health-care as never before. Health insurance now covers 74 percent of the population, public hospitals are being upgraded, and the poor can buy their essential medicines at half the price of year 2000. Our social services now include a 10-billion-peso budget for targeted cash payments to the poorest of the poor, conditioned on their children going to school,” the President said.

Philippine President visits Veterans’ Village in Project 7 to lead govt-Church program to help the poor


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led today another visit to a depressed area in Metro Manila to extend government social services to the poor, the sector of society most vulnerable to the blows of the global crisis.

This time, the President visited the depressed areas of the Veterans’ Village in Project 7, Quezon City to distribute scholarships, offer trainings, livelihood and other social services for the poor residents.

The pro-poor project, which the Arroyo administration is carrying out jointly with the Catholic church, is a continuing program designed to soften the impact of the economic crisis buffeting the world on the poorest of the poor Filipinos.

Upon her arrival at the Christ the King Parish in Project 7, the President was welcomed by some 2,000 residents led by Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista and 1st District Rep. Vincent Crisologo.

Also on hand was Caritas Manila executive director Fr. Anton Pascual, Christ the King parish priest Fr. Henry Ferreras, Veterans’ Village Barangay Chair Giddy Gener, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director-General Augusto Syjuco.

Fr. Pascual said that todate, the continuing government-church social development program has already benefited some 120,000 poor families in Metro Manila.

The President and Caritas have already gone to Tondo, Manila and Pasay City. Fr. Pascual said that next in the list of the places to be reached by the program are Caloocan, Novaliches and Pasig.

The support services project seeks to assist 300,000 of the poorest of the poor families in Metro Manila.

The President led the awarding of scholarship certificates from TESDA, microfinance assistance for poor residents identified by Caritas, the establishment of National Food Authority (NFA) rice outlets, and the conduct of medical clinics and various livelihood programs as part of the government-church partnership to improve the plight of poor families in Metro Manila.

Thanks to the tough economic and fiscal reforms instituted by the President, the government was able to generate enough resources to invest in infrastructure, human resource development, and provide essential social services to uplift the lives of the poor.

At the Vin d’ Honneur held earlier this morning in Malacanang, the President cited the P300-billion pump-priming package of the government to mitigate the effects of the global crisis that include allotments for infrastructure and social services.

The President also said that P10 billion was allotted to expand the roll of beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to protect the poor and the vulnerable sectors from problems arising from the global crisis.

Philippines eyes creation of three million new jobs this year


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s P330-billion emergency livelihood program for the poor and out-of-school youth (OSY) is expected to create three million jobs this year on top of the regular job-generation programs of various government agencies.

This was disclosed by Secretary Domingo Panganiban of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) at a joint press briefing with Press Secretary Jesus G. Dureza this afternoon (Jan. 20) in Malacanang.

Panganiban and Dureza said some 1.5 million jobs are expected to be created and filled by June 30 alone and another 1.5 million by year-end, or a total of three million jobs for the year.

The administration had initially targeted the creation of one million emergency jobs as part of the program to pump-prime the economy this year, but based on “indications of what has been reported to us… we might go beyond 1.5 million after June 30,” Panganiban said.

By the second half of the year, “we could create another P1.5 [sic] million jobs, or approximately three million jobs” for the whole year, he added.

The original allocation for the emergency employment program was P300 billion, but this has been raised to P330 billion. The additional amount of P30 billion will be contributed by government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).

The jobs to be generated by the emergency employment program include road maintenance, organic farming, farm-to-market roads, rehabilitation of government school buildings, hospitals, and irrigation systems, janitorial and security services for government installations, and “bantay-dagat” projects, among others.

Some 100,000 jobs are expected to be created and filled this month alone, with 50,000 jobs already created during the first half of the month for road maintenance, according to Panganiban.

The new jobs to be created under the program will make a “big dent on poverty (incidence) by about 25 percent.”

The administration’s emergency livelihood program is intended to cushion the impact on the country’s poor of the world economic meltdown.

Panganiban said that for purposes of project implementation, the country has been divided into various regions, with each region placed under Cabinet members. For instance, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro is in charge of SocSarGen (South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos).

Teodoro has started the emergency employment ball rolling last Saturday (Jan. 17) by opening the recruitment of workers from among the region’s poor.

Panganiban said Bayani Fernando, head of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), has also started the recruitment of unemployed workers in Metro Manila for government projects in the area.

The presidential assistants in every region have been tapped to help identify the people for employment in their own regions.

Panganiban stressed that the program is “really for the jobless.” Contrary to opposition charges, the employment program is not in furtherance of Charter change but the government’s way to uplift the lives of the country’s poorest of the poor at this time of deep economic stress worldwide.

State teams up with the Church to deliver social services to the poor


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will personally supervise the delivery of enhanced basic social services to the flashflood victims of this city when she visits Wednesday the Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Carmen, here.

The presidential event in this city is part of the continuing government-church program to uplift the lives of the poor. It is the first time the church-state program is held outside Metro Manila.

The program involves the teaming up of the government and the church to deliver the much-needed social services for the less fortunate not only in Metro Manila but all over the country.

The package consists of feeding church-identified malnourished children, medical mission for the sick in the community, a botika sa barangay for affordable quality medicine, vocational scholarships for out-of-school youth and microfinance for entrepreneurs.

It also includes a scholarship program for elementary and high school students who are also given subsidies for books, school supplies, on top of the P600 transportation allowance.

Similarly, college and vocational scholars will be given book subsidies and a P1,000 transportation allowance.

Upon her arrival at the Cagayan de Oro Airport, the President will motor to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish to lead the feeding of some 100 children whose families were affected by the recent floods here.

She will also lead in the distribution of family food packs to some 2,000 parishioners identified by the parish.

A medical mission organized by the Office of the President-People's Government Mobile Action team will open at about 8 a.m. at the parish grounds.

The close collaboration of the state and church to deliver basic services to the poor was launched last Friday in Don Bosco in Tondo, Manila.

Yesterday, the program was held in Malibay, Pasay City, and today, in Project 7, Quezon City.

Uplifting the lives of the poor is one of the top priorities of the President.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

P200-b stimulus plan hangs as Congress delays budget

By Joyce Pangco Pañares and Christine F. Herrera
The Manila Times

THE government has identified 3,200 infrastructure projects, worth at least P60 billion, that it will implement in the first six months of the year as part of an economic stimulus package that aims to spur growth and generate at least 35,000 jobs.

But funds for the projects are still uncertain because Congress has yet to pass the government’s P1.425-billion budget, which covers the economic stimulus plan amounting to P200 billion.

“Time is of the essence here,” Public Works Undersecretary Ramon Aquino said. “We want to make sure that these projects are implemented quickly.”

Aquino said the Public Works Department had doubled the amount that local district directors may disburse without clearance to cut red tape.

“Before, our district directors could only release funds for projects worth P50 million and below, but that amount has been doubled to P100 million,” he said.

Aquino said bidding for all the projects must be finished by next month. Public Works directors must be resourceful in solving problems relating to road right-of-way, and those failing to comply with the spending plan would be re-assigned.

“Sanctions will be imposed on officials who fail to implement projects quickly, and resources will be shifted from slow to fast-moving projects,” he said.

Among the projects identified for financing were the Halsema Highway and Bontoc-Tabuk-Tuguegarao Road in the Cordilleras; the Baler-Casiguran Road and Dingalan Port Road in Central Luzon; the Marikina-Infanta Road in Calabarzon; the Iloilo East Coast Road and Calbiga-Tacloban Road in the Visayas; and the Basilan Circumferential Road, Surigao-Davao Coastal Road, and Iligan Circumferential Road in Mindanao.

But the spending plan may only be implemented once Congress approves the P1.4-trillion budget that is still pending in a bicameral conference committee. The budget was supposed to have been passed by Dec. 17, but it was overtaken by Congress’ Christmas break.

“We need to work double-time,” Speaker Prospero Nograles said on the eve of the resumption of congressional sessions, noting that Congress would have only 21 session days before it went on a month-long recess from March 6 to April 12.

Nograles said the bicameral conference committee had been meeting Mondays to Wednesdays, but its leaders, Senator Edgardo Angara and Quezon Rep. Junie Cua, had the option of meeting on Thursdays and Fridays too.

If Congress fails to pass the budget on time, the Executive department will have to operate on a reenacted budget of P1.2 trillion, which does not include the P200 billion that was allocated to finance priority projects.

The budget is one of several priority measures that include a new law extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which expired Dec. 31, 2008; the reproductive health bill, and a proposal to amend the Constitution.

The House and Senate also have to act on bicameral conference committee reports on amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law, the investment and incentive code, corporate reform act, oil deregulation law, cyber-crime act, reforms of food and drug laws, the Philippine lemon law, rent control law and anti-squatting law, among others.

P100-b pool lists 9 projects

By Elaine Ramos Alanguilan
The Manila Standard

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry has trimmed to nine the list of infrastructure projects that will be funded by the proposed P100-billion private-public partnership fund.

Edgardo Lacson, president of PCCI, told reporters that the projects included the proposed central station for the rail transit systems in Metro Manila, the extension of the North Luzon Expressway to Baguio City, a road connecting the STAR Tollway to the South Luzon Expressway and its rehabilitation.

“With the crisis at hand, what is important now is economic pump-priming. We have already identified nine projects that would benefit from the P100-billion private and public funding, the question now is which among those projects must be implemented first,” Lacson told reporters at the sidelines of a recent meeting of various business groups.

He said the proposed central terminal linking all the rail systems in Metro Manila would be located near the Trinoma Mall in Quezon City. The project is expected to cost less than P1 billion.

The rehabilitation and extension of the SLEX to connect with the STAR Tollway is another project that is being seriously considered by the PCCI.

“With government willing to extend sovereign guaranty, we from the private sector can already commit to partially finance these projects,” said Lacson.

Four government financial institutions, namely Land Bank of the Philippines, the Social Security System, the Government Service Insurance System and Development Bank of the Philippines earlier committed to put in P12.5 billion each as government counterpart in the proposed P100-billion fund.

The private sector, which proposed the fund, has not yet come up with a firm commitment pending sovereign guaranty on the projects. Lacson said the counterpart fund from the private sector would come from private banks and consortia.

“We can start on the implementation of these projects within the first quarter of the year. We will make use of the seed capital from the [government financial institutions] to jump-start these projects and then funding from the private sector would follow suit,” said Lacson.

The short-listed projects are divided into major components—rail-based, toll roads, ports and airport terminals.

PCCI may drop stimulus plan

BusinessWorld Online

PRIVATE SECTOR PROPONENTS of a P100-billion stimulus may abandon the effort if they and the government cannot settle the matter of which agency will handle the funds and if projects do not begin within the first half of the year.

The plan will no longer effectively pump-prime the economy if implemented too late in the year, officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) yesterday said.

The PCCI, the country’s largest business group, proposed the fund late last year, in which government financial institutions will shoulder half of the P100 billion while private banks will lend the remainder.

National Development Corp. (NDC) had been tagged as the disbursing agency as it is authorized by its charter to do so. The state-owned company, however, has refused to guarantee the private banks’ contributions, a condition urged by the private sector.

"If [NDC chairman and Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila] insists [on no guarantee], then I will have to tell the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] that we cannot do this ... We have no other vehicle we can use," PCCI Chairman Emeritus Donald G. Dee told a meeting of the group’s infrastructure committee.

"And if it lapses after two months, it will become less of an interest because pump-priming should be done early," he added.

PCCI President Edgardo G. Lacson echoed this, telling the meeting: "This plan is strictly time-bound. We have to be on the ground by the first half. If not, we will have to surrender. We tried."

Mr. Favila was not immediately available for comment. He has said guarantees would be issued only for select projects.

Still also to be settled is the issue of the expropriation of land where the planned infrastructure projects will be located.

The Budget department also cannot allot funds because the total amount needed is not yet clear, infrastructure committee chairman Enrico L. Basilio said. A writ of possession, which is needed for construction to start, also cannot be acquired until payment for the land has been deposited, he added.

Meanwhile some of the projects which may be funded, such as the C-6 highway from Bicutan to Meycauyan, still have to undergo feasibility studies and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) screening, Public Works department director Bien Venida Firmalino said.

As a solution, the PCCI is considering projects that have already gained approval from the NEDA Investment Coordination Committee but have been earmarked for funding by overseas development aid (ODA).

"We will ask agencies to submit a list of ... approved projects without funding or have a stalled ODA loan," Mr. Basilio said.

No projects were officially identified yesterday for prioritizing but the C-6, an expressway from Skyway 1 to the North Luzon Expressway, a "grand central station" on North Avenue and EDSA, and the extension of LRT Line 1 southward were again mentioned by Messrs. Dee and Basilio.

While negotiations on which agency will handle the fund are ongoing, the public and private sector Pro-performance Systems Steering Committee (PPSSC) will be given a list of possible projects so it can start resolving right-of-way issues, Mr. Basilio said.

The PPSSC monitors the progress of infrastructure projects which Mrs. Arroyo has pledged to fulfill.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Philippine Presidentkicks off Friday the govt’s pro-poor program with the Church

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will kick off this Friday at the Don Bosco Parish in Tondo the government’s pro-poor program for the year in cooperation with the Church.

The program continues the government’s template package of pro-poor projects, but with the Church identifying the beneficiaries from among the country’s poorest of the poor.

The package consists of feeding of identified malnourished children, medical mission for the sick in the community, a “botica sa barangay” for affordable generic medicines, vocational scholarships for interested out-of-school youth (OSY), and micro-finance for budding entrepreneurs.

The President is scheduled to visit the parish at 1:30 p.m. on Friday (Jan. 16), and will be met by Don Bosco School head Fr. Ferdinand Camilo, parish priest Fr. Eliseo Santos and Caritas Manila Executive Director Gr. Anton Pascua.

The parish covers 17 barangays with a total of 200,000 families in Barrio Magsaysay, Tondo.

Some 50 malnourished children, who were earlier identified by Caritas Manila, will partake of a meal funded by the Office of the President; while some 72 identified OSY will be awarded by the President with scholarships for job-ready courses at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The medical mission shall cater to some 1,000 sick residents around the Don Bosco compound across the North Harbor.

The vocational school managed by the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) has 700 indigent students from Manila, Valenzuela, Navotas, Pasay and the provinces, according to Fr. Camilo.

The 10 courses take a total of 17 months – 12 months or one year for the theory and skills training, and five months for on-the-job training. Ready jobs await graduates as the school’s personnel office doubles as a placement office.

Fr. Camilo said the most in-demand are welding technology and automotive mechanic courses. The other courses offered are General Electrician Course, Fitter-Machinist Course, Industrial Electronics Course, Refrigeration and Aircondition Mechanic Course, Office Systems Technology, Garments Technology, Seafarer’s Rating Course and the Computer Technology Course.

The school spends P40,000 per student even as each student pays only P3,000 for the entire course at a staggered payment schedule of around P300 per month for the school uniform and other school requirements.

The school has been helping educate the indigent youth in the area and prepare them for gainful livelihoods for the past 40 years since 1968.

Manila sees 4.7% growth in 2009

AFP with Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard

ECONOMIC growth of 4.7 percent in the Philippines is possible this year as long as the government spends money to get it through the global turmoil, an official said yesterday.

The Philippines posted about 4.6-percent growth in 2008 despite high oil and rice prices the world credit crisis, Economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said.

This year, the economy is projected to grow by between 3.7 and 4.7 percent.

“If we do the plan, we can hit the higher end of the [growth] range,” Recto said at a business forum on economic prospects.

President Arroyo has asked Congress to approve a P300-billion stimulus package to help the Philippines spend its way out of the downturn.

Recto and other economic aides said the country was weathering the global crisis well, with surpluses in the balance of payments and gross international reserves, and with remittances from overseas workers growing.

The banking system remained secure and inflation was going down as the price of fuel and food also fell, the officials remarked.

The government plan for sustaining growth this year includes large-scale public spending in the first half of the year, particularly on infrastructure and social services.

Recto said there would be P150 billion in public investment this year alone, mostly in the first half, so the money could trickle down faster.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said revenue collection efforts would be stepped up, with a crackdown on tax evaders and smugglers, while improving the efficiency of the Internal Revenue and Customs bureaus.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said that despite the crisis, which has seen exports in the key electronics sector plunge, food and marine product shipments as well as investment in outsourced businesses were still growing.

Citibank country manager Sanjiv Vohra said the government’s plan had a great chance of success, adding that compared with other countries, “the Philippines is in a position of strength.”

The International Monetary Fund said the Philippines was “in a better position” to weather the global economic crisis because of the successful implementation of the expanded value-added tax.

“The Philippines today is in a much better position to handle [the global economic crisis] precisely because of the important fiscal and economic reforms,” said outgoing IMF resident representative Reza Baqir.