Saturday, 14 February 2009

Philippines sets release of P100 billion for pump-priming projects

BusinessWorld Online

FOUR GOVERNMENT departments will be authorized this month to begin using up to P100 billion for projects aimed at pump-priming the economy.

Special allotment release orders (SAROs), Budget Secretary Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. yesterday said, will be issued for the Public Works, Transportation, Education and Agriculture departments.

"They have already submitted their spending program to me for the first quarter, around 60% of their total infrastructure spending for the year." Mr. Andaya told Palace reporters.

"I am supposed to release the SAROs for this not later than the end of February."

Government plans to increase spending are "iunderway", he said, adding about 70-80% of infrastructure spending would be done within the first six months of the year.

Mr. Andaya said the delayed implementation of this year’s P1.415 trillion budget would not affect the pump-priming goal.

"The delayed implementation of the budget is a non-issue. We have that mechanism called [the] reenacted budget. And we simply follow the rules on reenacted budget which enabled us to have an early release [of funds]," he said.

The 2009 budget, approved by Congress last month, will take effect by early April, Mr. Andaya said.

"We officially received a copy from Congress yesterday (Thursday)," he said.

University of the Philippines economist Benjamin E. Diokno has said the delayed transmittal and approval of the budget could affect pump-priming initiatives intended for the first half.

"I’m sure there are significant changes from what President [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo submitted last July and what Congress approved last month. They could draft a veto message. The Palace will have to look into it and that process, including consolidation, will take at least two weeks," he said.

A P330-billion economic stimulus plan designed to mitigate the impact of the global downturn will partly be funded by the 2009 budget, officials have said.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Moody's affirms the Philippines' positive rating outlook


Singapore (PNA) -- Moody's Investors Service has affirmed the positive outlook on the Philippines' B1 foreign and local currency government ratings and the Ba3 country ceiling for foreign currency bonds and B1 country ceiling for foreign currency bank deposits.

Moody's had in late-January 2008 change the rating outlook to positive from stable.

The rating agency notes that the Philippines has so far demonstrated a remarkable degree of resiliency to the global financial and economic crises, and has largely preserved gains achieved in recent years in improving the country's economic, external payments and fiscal fundamentals.

"The Philippines' balance of payments and banking system have held up well to the global inflationary and credit market shocks of 2008, thereby placing the country's external payments in a strengthened position to cope with the stresses likely to be encountered in 2009," says Tom Byrne, a Moody's Senior Vice-President. The improving trend in external debt service capacity will pause but it may not deteriorate.

"This situation, together with the current steady deceleration of inflation towards the Central Bank's 2.5-4.5 percent formal targeting range in 2009, should help ease pressure on the exchange rate this year and provide the Central Bank with additional scope to relax policy to cushion the effects of the global recession," says Byrne.

Moody's considers that a stable peso is crucial for containing budgetary debt service payments ”more than 50 percent of public sector debt is denominated in foreign currencies” and so allow for budgetary resources to be channeled into infrastructure programs and fiscal stimulus measures.

Furthermore, Moody's considers that the government's intention to increase the national government deficit only moderately in 2009, rather than adhering to its stated aim of balancing the budget this year, would not necessarily permanently reverse the improving trend in the government's debt metrics. The Philippine's public sector debt overhang remains greater than most its rating peers.

"Moody's believes that the country's long-term fiscal outlook would improve with more progress in shoring up government revenues, both through tightened administration and new tax measures, several of which are now pending before Congress," says Byrne.

"In addition, while expenditure control has improved in recent years and Treasury debt management has been skillful, these alone will not ensure fiscal sustainability."

"For the rating to move up, Moody's will assess the prospects for the continued resiliency of the country's balance of payments and the government's ability to limit revenue slippage. In this context, a key concern will be how overseas workers remittances hold up. These have grown by double digits since 2002 and amounted to $ 15 billion in the first 11 months of 2008, or about 20 percent of current account receipts and equal to 10 percent of GDP, but may decline in 2009.

“The extremely volatile global economic conditions present challenges to having a forward looking rating that attempts to see through the crisis. Nonetheless, in the immediate three to six months ahead it should become more evident whether the improvement in the Philippines' credit fundamentals can be preserved," says Byrne.

The principal methodology used in rating the government of the Philippines is Moody's Sovereign Bond Methodology, which can be found at in the Credit Policy and Methodologies directory, in the Ratings Methodologies subdirectory.

Other methodologies and factors that may have been considered in the process of rating this issuer can also be found in the Credit Policy and Methodologies directory on Moody's website. (PNA)

DPWH announces completion of flyover linking SLEX and NAIA

Positive News Media

MANILA, Feb. 13 (PNA) -- The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced the completion of the P2.7 billion expressway connecting the South Luzon Expressway and Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA 3).

Undersecretary Ramon Aquino said the Naia Expressway project is one of the most modern infrastructure projects of the government as it involves the construction of flyover linking the SLEX to NAIA Terminal 3.

The construction of the project, which is divided into four packages started in October 2003, includes the on-grade improvement of Sales (Nichols) Interchange; ramps that will connect the International Passenger Terminal 3 to the Skyway traffic coming from the Makati Business Center and Alabang; and the viaduct and ramp traversing Sales Street that provides connection between the said ramps and Terminal 3 at strategic point along Andrews Avenue.

“This project will surely boost tourism and economic activities as travel to and from the country’s premier airport through the overhead highway will avoid perennial traffic jams in areas in cities of Paranaque and Pasay ,” he said.

Package 1 (P180 million) includes the construction of Bridge 1 connecting Sales Road across South Luzon tollways, Bridge 2 connecting North Bound down Ramp from Bridge 1, and Bridge 3 linking Sales Road under Maricaban Creek.

Aquino said Package 2 (P915.28 million) involves the construction of Ramp 1: off-ramp from Skyway, South Bound to Naia 3, and Ramp 4: off-ramp from Skyway, North Bound to Naia 3.

Package 3 (P721.65 million), meanwhile consists of Ramp 2: on-ramp from Naia 3 to Skyway, South Bound; and Ramp 3: on-ramp from Naia 3 to Skyway, North Bound while the fourth package was the construction of viaduct, down ramp and road improvement.

The project will eventually link up to Roxas Boulevard and to the Cavite coastal road and the booming Manila Bay reclamation area. (PNA)

Pangilinan tollway firm to spend P40B on Philippine infra projects this year

Kristine Jane R. Liu
BusinessWorld Online

PANGILINAN-LED Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. will spend about P40 billion on infrastructure projects this year.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of Metro Pacific Tollways — formerly First Philippine Infrastructure, Inc. — said P2.1 billion would be spent for the construction of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX)-Segment 8.1, which will link it to the C-5 Road.

Construction will start in March and the project is expected to be completed by April 2010.

The NLEX Segment 8.1 is a two-lane, 2.7-kilometer expressway that will link Mindanao Ave. to the NLEX.

Based on the plan, a toll plaza will be built on Mindanao Ave. where motorists can enter and exit the NLEX, effectively easing traffic congestion on the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) Balintawak.

Mr. Pangilinan said around P20 billion would be spent on the road that will link the North and South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

He also said the amount was just an estimate and could still go up or down once a prefeasibility study is finished.

"That’s the initial estimate, but I think in the course of the feasiblity phase, we are going to have a full idea [of how much we really need]," he told reporters on the sidelines of a special stockholders’ meeting yesterday.

"The detailed study will require a bit more time since it is something we really need to do to reduce travel time between the NLEX and SLEX," he said.

Mr. Pangilinan said the estimated travel time via this tollway would be only 15 minutes from the present one hour when one travels through EDSA or C-5.

He said the Philippine National Railways (PNR) is seeking to build a railroad track either in the middle of the railway or on the side, so that it could develop a commuter train service between the NLEX all the way to Calamba.

"It’s going to be a long-term project and will be rolled out in two to three years," Mr. Pangilinan said.

Last month, Metro Pacific Tollways and state-owned PNR signed a deal to conduct a prefeasibility study that will link the NLEX and SLEX by road and rail. The link will be an integrated rail and tollway project using the PNR’s right of way, which cuts across Metro Manila.

Initial discussions focused on the development of an 18-kilometer integrated rail and tollway project that will have "at-grade" and elevated roads over the existing PNR line.

The project is an alternative to various plans to link the two tollways. Other alternatives include the government’s P420-million plan of building a flyover that will connect the C-5 Road to Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City, so that vehicles from the SLEX do not have to deal with traffic on EDSA to get to the NLEX.

Another plan, worth P55 billion, is to extend the Skyway from Parañaque to Balintawak in Quezon City.

Aside from the two projects, Mr. Pangilinan said they hope to start with their Tarlac-La Union Toll Expressway project this year.

"It is still in the early stages of discussion. The objective is to start within the year even if [we would only able to secure] the right of way," he added.

The project cost, he said, is about P15 billion, half of which would be raised by borrowing from the public.

The 10-member consortium, composed of big players in the local construction industry, will oversee the design, construction, financing and operations of the 88.5-kilometer expressway project.

The Tarlac-La Union Expressway will extend from La Paz, Tarlac to Rosario, La Union, which is expected to lessen the travel time between Central and Northern Luzon.

Tarlac-La Union Expressway will have eight interchanges, nine toll plazas, two operating buildings, 20 bridges, two viaducts, 26 overpasses and three farm crossings.

Partial operations will start in January 2010 for the Tarlac-Carmen section, in January 2011 for the Carmen-Urdaneta stretch, and in March 2013 for the Urdaneta-Rosario segment.

Mr. Pangilinan entered the tollway business last year when his holding firm Metro Pacific Investments Corp. bought First Philippine Infrastructure from the Lopez family for more than P12 billion, giving the holding company two-thirds of the North Luzon tollway concession, and the Manila North Tollways Corp.

In a special stockholders’ meeting yesterday, minority shareholders of First Philippine Infrastructure approved the change in name of the company to Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. to reflect the new ownership.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

CHED to embark on P4B for faculty development program


MANILA (PNA) –- Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman Dr. Emmanuel Angeles on Thursday said they are set to embark on a massive P4-billion faculty development program designed to improve the quality of teaching in higher education institutions (HEI) nationwide.

Angeles said the program, which will also cover college and university presidents, senior administrators and deans, will be spread out over a period of four years starting this year.

“Not everyone has the chance to study in prestigious local and foreign universities such as Harvard so we decided to implement the expanded faculty development program to update the skills of our faculty,” he said.

The expanded program, Angeles said, is designed to accommodate an additional 2,000 faculty-scholars per year until 2013.

“At an average of P1 million per scholar, this target will require P500 on an annual basis or P2 billion in four years,” he said.

At present, CHED said it can only accommodate a small number of teachers for scholarship programs or graduate degrees due to lack of funding.

At least 2,000 faculty members of various HEI pursuing Masters and PhD in priority discipline have availed of the “Ongoing Faculty Development Program and the PGMA Science and Engineering Graduate Scholarship.”

But Angeles explained the current program is not enough to enable CHED to fully meet its target under the “New Philippine Education Highway” that would see the implementation of much-needed reforms and the infusion of additional resources to boost basic and tertiary education.

“The percentage of faculty with graduate degrees has increased largely as a result of the faculty development program but this must be further improved considering that the requirement is for all faculty teaching college subjects to have at least a masters degree,” he added.

At present, only 33 percent of college and university faculty members have masteral or doctoral degrees when the minimum requirement should be at least 55 percent.

Aside from this, close to 70 percent of the faculty are not in full-time status.

Presidents, senior management administrators and deans of HEIs will be made to undergo an “Executive Management Development Program” to upgrade their managerial skills, the CHED chief said.

“The program for presidents and senior administrators will develop and enhance their capabilities in organization management and development, quality assurance, human resource management, management information system, financial management and resource generation,” Angeles added.

The program will be implemented starting school-year 2009-2010.

Faculty development is one of the four main thrusts unveiled by CHED to improve the quality of Philippine higher education.

Others are strengthening the HEI’s research and development capability, facilities development and upgrading and additional scholarship slots for poor yet deserving students. (PNA)

Philippine economy: one of the brightest spots in the region, says visiting ICC Chair Victor Fung


The Philippines remains one of the economies in the region insulated from the effects of the global economic downturn due to the reforms initiated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo years ago.

This was the observation of Dr. Victor Fung, Chairman of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), who paid a courtesy call on the President on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 12) in Malacanang.

Dr. Fung is the first chairman from Hong Kong of the ICC, the largest, most representative business organization in the world with hundreds of thousands of member-companies in over 130 countries spanning every sector of private enterprise.

“I think the Philippines is one of the economies in the region that has been relatively insulated from this tsunami. I am very impressed with the way the Philippine economy has functioned,” Dr. Fung said.

“So I think it (Philippine economy) is terrific. It is one of the brightest spots in the whole region,” he added.

Although the Philippine exporting industry has been affected by the global recession, Fung said this would be temporary due to the uninterrupted remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other robust businesses, such as the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

The continuing reforms and policies initiated by the President years ago have firmly put the Philippines on a path to stability and growth which, Fung said, has maintained the momentum in foreign investment.

“Obviously, your exports have been somewhat affected but still going on very strongly. That is not a major part of your economy. I think that remittances have kept up and your BPO has really been developed very strongly due to the very good policies of the government that started a few years ago,” Fung said.

Fung said he and the President have been meeting quite a number of times, discussing a lot of issues such as keeping the multilateral trading system strong.

“In today’s environment it is absolutely essential that we maintain the flow of trade. Trade is the lifeblood of the international economy. In my capacity as chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) which is the voice of global business, I think the idea of making sure that we keep each other informed of our respective presence in keeping the global trading system open, is very important,” Fung said.

Dr. Fung, who leaves tonight for Thailand, had a speaking engagement in Manila and has been invited as speaker in the Philippines a number of times.

Yahoo! Philippines bullish about 2009 revenues

Jose Bimbo F Santos
BusinessWorld Online

DESPITE THE grim outlook for the global economy, Yahoo! Philippines expects to double its revenues this year as it banks on the rising online advertising and Web use by Filipinos as key growth drivers.

"Despite the gloom and doom scenarios, our industry continues to thrive," Joselito Añonuevo, general manager of Yahoo! Philippines, told a briefing yesterday.

Yahoo! Philippines, which is said to have an 85% market reach here, outlined strategies to hike revenues, but declined to give figures. The multinational Web giant Yahoo! was reported to have increased its 2008 revenues by 4% to $7.2 billion from a year earlier.

Local Web company Yehey! Corp. has a similar outlook for 2009, projecting 100% revenue growth.

In a telephone interview, Yehey! President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Lim said revenues last year more than doubled from a year earlier, and they were confident that the momentum would continue this year.

"We are still very bullish for this year because our industry is still a growth area," he said, adding that companies might opt to advertise online rather than use radio, TV and print because it is cheaper.

Meanwhile, among the strategies that Yahoo! Philippines intends to adopt is establishing a "social dimension" by partnering with different Web-affiliated organizations.

Yahoo! Philippines, which opened a local office in June, also said it would accommodate third-party applications in their search engine, and would target the local community of Web developers.

Mr. Añonuevo also cited the cheap price and increasing popularity of Web advertising, which he said could encourage companies to advertise their products online.

In a joint study by Yahoo! and the Nielsen Company released in December, online advertising in the Philippines was projected to grow by 41% to $22.11 million by 2010 from $15.64 million last year.

"In this downturn, marketing budgets are scrutinized more and more. Companies are now looking for accountable media, and one of the most efficient ways to advertise is through the Internet," Mr. Añonuevo said.

Yesterday, Yahoo! Philippines launched SearchMonkey, an enhanced search engine that is open to third-party developers and features more images and links in the search results.

According to Yahoo!, the Philippines had an Internet penetration rate of 14.6% in 2008 — or 14 million users — from 9.3% in 2005. The country had 967,600 broadband subscribers as of March 31, 2008.

3 Middle East airline firms allowed to fly from Clark

Jacob Cunanan
Business Mirror

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, Pampanga—The recent conclusion of air talks between the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has yielded flight rights to Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines and Air Arabia at the Clark airport.

Fifth freedom traffic rights on 14 weekly frequencies to and from the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark were given to the two UAE airliners. Each one was granted seven weekly frequencies. Air Arabia was given 14 frequencies.

“The Age of Middle Eastern flights to the DMIA in the Clark Freeport is here,” said Clark International Airport Corp. president and chief executive officer Victor Jose I. Luciano during the recently concluded RP-UAE air consultation talks.

Clark, the home of the DMIA, acquired the biggest allocation in the RP-UAE air consultation talks with 42 frequencies per week with 14 flights by designated airlines given full fifth freedom traffic rights, except to the US, Canada and Japan.

“This will be good to our two million Filipinos in the Middle East, 40 percent of whom come from the northern Philippines,” Luciano pointed out.

An item in the Confidential Memorandum of Agreement signed following the conclusion of the air talks states that “in the case of the UAE, the two delegations agreed to allocate the above 42 additional weekly frequencies to and from Clark as follows: 14 frequencies for Category 1 Route 1 to which Emirates Airlines is entitled to; 14 frequencies for Category 1 Route 2 entitled to Etihad Airways; and, 14 frequencies for Category 1 Route 3 allotted for Air Arabia.

“The delegations further agreed that the designated airlines of the UAE shall have the right to exercise full fifth freedom traffic rights only up to 14 weekly frequencies between any intermediate point or points and DMIA (Clark) only, and any point or points beyond, except Japan, the US and Canada.”

The Philippine delegation advised the UAE air panel that the DMIA will become Airbus A380-compatible in 2010, which, Luciano said, has been made and evidenced by the landing of the Airbus A380 during its proving flight to the DMIA in October 2007.

The two delegations also agreed to allow the designated airlines of each side to operate up to 600 tons per week per direction to and from Cebu International Airport. Five additional weekly frequencies were allowed on each side to and from Manila, while 21 additional weekly frequencies for each side were allowed to and from Cebu International Airport as well as 21 additional weekly frequencies for each side to and from points in the Philippines other than Manila, DMIA and Cebu International Airport.

4 carriers moving to NAIA 3

Recto Mercene
Business Mirror

SOME airlines that deferred their transfer to the new Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 have changed their minds and are transferring sometime before June this year after the old Terminal 1 exceeded its 7-million passenger capacity, making it overcrowded.

General manager Alfonso Cusi of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said that at the end of the year, perhaps up to four international air carriers would have transferred to Terminal 3 (T3), but did not identify them, only saying none fly to the United States.

“We have reached an agreement that these air carriers would transfer to T3 as part of a bargain that we have arrived at,” Cusi told a media forum at the Sofitel Hotel on Tuesday.

He said the Miaa expects international traffic in Manila to rise by 2 percent to 3 percent this year, while domestic air travel is seen to have only a more modest growth.

He reported that in 2008, international passenger traffic was at 10.7 million and domestic traffic was 9.7 million, for a total of 20.4 million passengers.

By 2013, the MIAA forecasts 11.3 million international passengers and 10.3 million domestic passengers for a total of 21.6 million passengers; and in its long view, the figure would be 39 million by 2018.

As the movement of passengers between T1 and T2 is seen to rise, Cusi said a monorail would be constructed next year to link them; it’s estimated to cost P300 million and be completed in three years.

“We intend to use our own revenue for the construction of this monorail, which is less than a kilometer long, although eventually, it would be extended up to T3,” said Cusi, revealing the MIAA had revenues of P8 billion last year.

They expect the Philippines to continue to register greater passenger arrivals despite the crisis, citing the healthy growth of deployment in overseas Filipino workers. OFW arrival last year was recorded at 25 percent of terminal capacity.

Beneficiaries hail Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program as "pantawid buhay"


For Alma Pamplona, Cresteta Siocson and Analliza Begas, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) is "pantawid buhay" indeed.

The three 4Ps beneficiaries in Pasay City recounted today how the government’s assistance program for the poorest of the poor has helped tide them over tight financial situations.

Pamplona informed the President that she has three children, a first year high school student and two elementary pupils. Helping her out, she said, is her husband, a street sweeper under the government’s Out-of-School Youth Serving Towards Economic Recovery (OYSTER) program.

“Madam President, nagpapasalamat po kami bilang beneficiary ng 4Ps program. Malaking tulong po ito bilang tugon sa aming pangkalusugan, edukasyon at pang-araw araw naming pangangailangan,” Pamplona said.

Siocson, a single parent of three, told the President that she uses her cash grant to buy and sell candies. She buys the candies in Divisoria and sell them in her neighborhood.

Begas, on the other hand, told the President that the cash grant would certainly help as she earns very little from doing the laundry of her neighbors.

A mother of five, Begas is four months away from giving birth to her sixth offspring. She is attending pre-natal care sessions at the Pasay General Hospital -- one of the “must” requirements for beneficiaries of the 4Ps.

The Pamplona, Siocson and Begas households were among about 200 poor families in Pasay City who expressed today their gratitude to the President for spearheading the P10-billion 4Ps of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The President motored to Pasay City this noon to award cash grants to the poorest residents in the area.

A total of 699,000 poor households all over the country are covered by the program, including nearly two million children, aged 0-14, who will benefit from the President’s pro-poor project through subsidized health and educational services.

The President was warmly welcomed by the recipients and local officials when she arrived at the ground floor of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) building along Roxas Blvd. in Pasay City.

Among her welcomers were Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Land Bank President Gilda Pico, PEZA Director-General Atty. Lilia de Lima, Pasay City Mayor Wenceslao Trinidad, Vice Mayor Antonino Calixto and Pasay City Lone District Rep. Jose Antonio Roxas.

“This has become a partnership of the national and local government. Iyong Pantawid Pamilya program galing sa national government, iyong services na nakukuha ninyo galing sa local,” the President said.

After awarding the cash grants, the President watched as three beneficiaries withdrew their cash grants from a Land Bank automated teller machine (ATM) using a cash card issued under the program.

Cabral said that in Pasay City alone, more than 1,500 4Ps have already benefited from the program.

She said the President has doubled the budget for the program from P5 billion to P10 billion to increase the number of beneficiaries to 699,000 poor households nationwide.

The pro-poor assistance program provides cash grants of P6,000 per year for health and nutrition expenses of the identified household, plus P3,000 a year each for the educational expenses of up to a maximum of three children per household.

A household with three qualified children is eligible to receive a maximum allowable subsidy of P15,000 a year as long as the family complies with certain conditions, such as attendance at responsible parenthood sessions, pre-and-post-natal care, preventive health checkups and vaccinations.

At age five, a child must attend daycare or pre-school classes, while those 6 to 14 years old must enroll in elementary or high school and attend at least 85 percent of the class calendar.

In 2008, some 337,416 poor households from Pasay, Caloocan and the country’s poorest provinces benefited from the program.

Arroyo scolds Reyes

Joyce Pangco Pañares
The Manila Standard

THE supply of cooking gas had “largely normalized,” Energy Secretary Reyes said, but President Arroyo showed him a canteen operator who told yesterday’s Cabinet meeting she still could not find cooking gas in the market.

Mrs. Arroyo then ordered Trade Secretary Peter Favila to speed up filing profiteering charges against suspected hoarders and people refilling LPG tanks illegally.

She also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation and the police to help the Trade Department monitor 100 pending cases against hoarders and profiteers.

Malacañang gave the Energy Department two weeks to solve the cooking gas supply problem, but cooking gas remains scarce and consumers complain prices are unusually high.

World Bank gets the blame

By Fel V. Maragay and Roy Pelovello
The Manila Standard

The Philippine government had tried to initiate reforms in the implementation of foreign-funded projects, but the lenders themselves blocked these reforms, Deputy House Speaker for Mindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong said yesterday.

Datumanong said he was swamped with protests coming from foreign-funders like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation after he issued an order that limited to 15 percent the allowable increase in project cost from the government’s estimate.

“But they protested. They wanted that projects awarded to contractors with very much high price,” he said.

World Bank officials have refused to attend the hearings at the House of Representatives to find out the truth about the alleged rigging of bids for contracts involving public works projects.

Reports said the Philippines is facing the prospect of a big cut in foreign aid because of corruption.

Datumanong said the report was unfair, as it did not name the source of the supposed statement.

“Why not come out in the open and substantiate it. That is too much and [it is] the height of exaggeration. We can’t even get the complete WB report,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate is demanding to get a copy of the “edited” report of the World Bank on the alleged collusive practices of certain local construction firms in the bidding of bank-funded projects.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairman of the committee on economic affairs, said yesterday that country director Bert Hofman sent her a letter promising to provide the Senate with a copy of the “redacted [edited] copy” of the report, which is being finalized by the bank’s Integrity Vice Presidency.

Santiago said Hofman informed her that he has forwarded to the WB main office in Washington D.C. the letter from the Senate protesting and requesting the reconsideration of his refusal to give a copy of the bank’s documents on the collusion scandal that implicated First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

“Your letter raises important considerations of national and international law with respect to availability of information in the context of the World Bank’s recent debarment of international and domestic firms on ground of collusion,” Hofman told Santiago in his letter-reply.

Santiago said she was informed that the edited report will have to be reviewed by the government through a designated reviewing officer, WB executive director to the Philippines Jorge Humberto Botero.

Get smart, Philippines

Outside the Box
John Mangun
Business Mirror

Two Bible verses summarize my opinion of the current financial crisis:

The first describes the cause—Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” One who has a haughty spirit is scornfully arrogant. The second forecasts the future—Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” One who is meek displays patience and humility.

The United States had such pride in the economic system it created, borrowing money from foreigners to buy their foreign-made goods. The Americans arrogantly believed this credit cycle could continue forever. So arrogant were they that they then adopted this same system for their housing and banking industries. And now come the disaster and the fall.

Perhaps thinking about the idea that “it takes a thief to catch a thief,” the Americans just elected a group of economic fools to rescue them from problems created by other economic fools.

Ignore the US stock-market fall. It means little. The market dropped because wise money knows that the solution the US government is proposing for its banking system is, in effect, to nationalize and for the government to take over the banks, leaving public shareholders with nothing. On Tuesday, Dow Jones Index components Bank of America lost 19 percent, Citigroup dropped 15 percent, American Express fell 10 percent and JPMorgan Chase lost almost 10 percent. The “bank bailout” of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will not bail anything out. It will only transfer bad assets to the government and, therefore, the US taxpayer. And how the purpose of all this, to increase bank lending, will be achieved is a complete mystery.

The Obama economic-stimulus package will stimulate little except the special economic interests, and that will have little positive impact on the economy. The Obama administration will spend the equivalent of a minimum of $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. But instead of giving it directly to the people the money is supposed to help, the government will spend it. And we all know how well every government spends taxpayer money.

That is about the proud and haughty. What about the meek?

It was rightly predicted that a large portion of the world’s economic power would go from the West to the East. Unfortunately, the “East” meant countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China that took that power in the same way a flea sucks from the flesh of a dog. Instead of using a decade or two of prosperity to build their domestic economies to achieve self-sufficiency, they only learned to become larger and stronger economic parasites, living off the debt-rich blood of the West.

Taiwan’s exports declined 44 percent in December. Exports are 231 percent of total GDP in Singapore, in recession with 2009 economic estimates at minus 5 percent. Korea’s economy contracted by 22 percent in the last quarter of 2008.

After the shift to the “East,” futurists also postulated that power would shift to the “South,” where we find the meekest of the meek. Think Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the Philippines, India and South Africa, for example. These countries have struggled through the manipulation of gold and currency prices, restrictive trade policies when “globalization” favored only the economic parasites the West needed, and other neocolonial First-World policies.

The Philippines has become so brainwashed by the West and its local mouthpieces that we cannot see our strengths. Again, exports mean little to the Philippine economy, as I pointed out through the work of common-sense economist (perhaps the only one) Dr. Cielito Habito. We are reading of some 500,000 job losses in the United States last month, yet, where are the airplanes filled with returning overseas Filipino workers the “experts” keep warning about? They need Filipinos! Microsoft just fired 5,000 employees. Yet, they are lobbying the US Congress for more, not less, immigrant working visas. And Obama’s new Commerce Secretary Judd Gregg is a very strong supporter, described as “unabashedly endorsing an expansion of H1-B workers for the technology industry.” Speaking of overseas Filipinos, an incredible Philippine strength is the hundreds of thousands of soon-retiring Filipinos particularly in the United States. All those Filipino migrants during the 1970s and 1980s are reaching their “golden years” and are discovering that the “land of milk and honey” just isn’t. The general manager of the Philippine Retirement Authority should be given a Cabinet-level ranking and position. And a separate and heavily funded department should be established therein just to encourage Filipino retirees to return to the land of their birth.

Did you know that foreign direct investment to the Philippines surged by 68 percent in November? Why? Mining. Gold prices will move far above $1,000 per ounce in 2009. The Philippines has the third-largest gold reserves in the world. Help the government encourage, not discourage, this wealth builder while maintaining responsible mining practices. Build your personal wealth by owning shares of local mining companies on the stock exchange.

To those who continue to whine and blame economic woes on Philippine politics, remember this: Economic wealth creates political stability and a better political system, not the other way around. China under Mao Zedong was an economic disaster, and the politics no better. Dogs fight over empty bones, not over plentiful cuts of meat.

Get smart, Philippines. Almost everything needed for renewed economic prosperity is right here. And what the Philippines can use from the West will return to them something they desperately need: a profitable investment.

PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by Inc. E-mail comments to

WB Philippine report: A mix of facts, rumor, innuendo

Written by Malou Mangahas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

IN investigating the alleged collusion and overpricing of World Bank (WB)-funded road projects in the Philippines, the international financial institution’s powerful and dreaded anticorruption unit, the Development of Institutional Integrity (INT), conducted interviews for almost two years in at least three countries. By the time it wound up its work, it had interviewed some 60 people.

The 230-page Part II of the Notice of Sanctions Proceedings is perhaps the first solid and extensive documentation of the myriad, if also conflicting, cases of collusion and corruption in the public-works sector, according to industry players themselves.

While many interviewees offered second- or third-hand stories, many others also offered firsthand revelations that altogether paint a big, nasty picture of widespread corruption in the Philippines.

Local investigators should now access the documents to sift through the layers of rumors, innuendoes, and facts—and distill the good from the bad raw information. The story line repeats in most of the accounts: Contractors, bureaucrats and politicians conspire to rig bids to draw fat commissions from contracts.

Yet, by all indications, the bank’s massive, expensive and multicountry effort to investigate corruption in Philippine road projects may stand a lot of improvement. In fact, the way the INT conducted its investigation does not seem to measure up to the image it commands within the international political circle.

For one, most of the interviewees were contractors with rival vested interests. For another, the interviewees also offered a wild mix of information they claimed to know directly, a lot of impressions and opinions they hold, and mere rumors they said they heard regarding how public-works contracts in the Philippines are supposedly riddled with corruption.

And yet, the INT personnel and consultants apparently accepted all these accounts uncritically, and exerted minimal effort to corroborate the stories told by the interviewees. In part, that may be explained by the very nature of INT investigations that are mere “administrative” and not criminal nor judicial proceedings. The “record of interviews” conducted by the INT takes up 231 pages in the World Bank’s voluminous report on the NRIMP-1 investigation.

Curiously, the “record of interview” memoranda carried a standard caveat: “this memorandum is not intended to be a verbatim transcript of the interview... rather, the interview is related in sum and substance only.”

E-mail trigger

The investigation into the Philippine road contracts funded by the World Bank also had an unusual trigger—a series of email from a source/s known only by a series of pseudonyms—“Kim Lhi Ko,” “jimmy,” and “gerrypanch.”

The first e-mail from “Kim Lhi Ko” ( was received on May 5, 2004, addressed to William D. O. Paterson, lead highway engineer of the East Asia Pacific Regional Office of the World Bank. This set off an email chain between the anonymous e-mail senders, and Paterson and Terry Matthews of the World Bank INT.

To be sure, the anonymous email were a critical and useful twist in the INT’s investigation. In one email, the sender actually predicted the outcome of the bidding, a solid proof of actual collusion.

29 sessions, 43 months

Apart from the e-mail exchanges, the INT conducted 29 scheduled interview sessions, starting with Paterson and EAP Regional Procurement Advisor Denis Robitailer on April 28, 2003.

The interviews brought the INT team to Manila, Japan, and South Korea, and ran through a 43-month period ending on November 28, 2006.

By May 2008, the World Bank’s Evaluation and Suspension Officer , who evaluates the evidence gathered by the INT, issued the notice of sanctions to bidders suspected of collusion. That led to a process for the bidders to refute the allegations within 90 days, but not to confront the INT’s anonymous and named witnesses.

(Only 54 out of the 60 the INT said it interviewed are named in the report. According to the INT, the others the others had reportedly requested anonymity.)

Initially, the INT recommended sanctions against 17 companies. The evaluation and suspension officer recommended sanctions only against seven companies, four of them Chinese and the rest Filipino. These seven were barred from participating in any World Bank-funded project for at least four years for their alleged role in the collusive scheme to artificially inflate bid prices.

The Bank’s sanctions board also upheld the INT’s findings of collusion, but it also concluded that the evidence “did not establish that it was more likely than not that the Respondents had engaged in fraudulent practices separate from the collusion.”

The sanctions board concluded as well that the INT “had not presented evidence sufficient to establish that it was more likely than not that these Respondents had engaged in corrupt practices.”

Exposed to scrutiny

But the INT may not have missed the mark not only in coming up with concrete evidence to back up its findings. It may have also fallen short in dealing fairly with the interviewees who have now been exposed, unwittingly, to public scrutiny.

Two of those interviewed by the INT told PCIJ that they had not been fully apprised that their conversation was part of a formal investigation. They also said that they were not told as well that they could opt to secure anonymity and did not have to disclose their identities, and that whatever they say— no matter how self-incriminating it was—would be enrolled in printed form in a World Bank report.

Too, even as each of the hundreds of pages of the INT report has been stamped “STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL,” loose, random pages have circulated out of the World Bank network and into the hands of Filipino politicians and journalists, exposing not just the debarred companies, but also all the other interviewees to public scrutiny, and even possible criminal liability.

For instance, one of the interviewees, the president of a Filipino firm, had nonchalantly declared that his company does not disclose or pay its lawful taxable income so that it could accommodate the commissions demanded by some politicians from public-works projects.

But filing suit in a court of law seems farthest from the INT’s mind. On the World Bank website, the INT has clarified that the nature of its investigation is “administrative…not intended to prove a criminal or civil offense.”

The interviewers

Those who conducted the interviews for the INT included:

1. W. Michael Kramer, a US licensed attorney and consultant who “has conducted investigation and civil prosecution of serious fraud and corruption cases throughout his professional career.” He had served as a special attorney in the Criminal Division, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, of the US Department of Justice.

2. David Hawkes, senior institutional integrity officer of the World Bank INT, “with expertise in anti-money laundering investigative and forensic auditing of fraud and corruption in Bank-financed projects.”

3. Eidil Dushenaliyev, a financial specialist at the World Bank

4. Tom McCarthy

5. Tim Carrodus

6. Duncan Smith

Bid-rigging report

IT must be noted that before the INT investigations, a study conducted by the consulting firm of former Prime Minister Cesar Virata for the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) had found that bid-rigging and overpricing were quite rife in many foreign-funded national road projects.

The study released in early 2007 concluded that there was lack of competition in biddings for road building contracts owing to procurement policies of the government and the lenders.

It said: “With limited competition, a potential environment for collusion among few bidders is created which would cause the processing entity, the DPWH, to pay for a higher cost of works than would otherwise
be required.”

Virata and Associates also found that qualified construction firms were kept from bidding to eliminate genuine competition.

“Contractors capable of performing contract works are precluded or predisqualified from participating in bidding, thus depriving the procuring entity of a wider range of bids and possibly from receiving a more advantageous bid proposal,” the consulting firm said.

Analyst forecasts better ’09 growth for Philippines despite crisis

BusinessWorld Online

A LOCAL ANALYST remains upbeat about the Philippines’ growth prospects, forecasting the economy to perform above official targets despite the global economic slowdown.

ATR KimEng Securities, Inc. economist Luz L. Lorenzo told a Security Bank-sponsored briefing yesterday that the Philippines would likely grow by 4.9% this year, up from last year’s 4.6% and better than the official target of 3.7-4.7%.

"This is premised on domestic demand benefitting from lower inflation, greater government spending, lower interest rates and stable remittances," she said.

International debt watchers Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have much lower expectations, ranging from 2-3.3%. The International Monetary Fund also has a 2.25% outlook.

Ms. Lorenzo said domestic spending would contribute more than three-thirds to gross domestic product, driving the growth despite a drop in demand for exports.

Latest government data showed a significant 40% plunge in exports last December as global demand dropped.

Growth in remittances, meanwhile, will stay steady as Filipinos abroad are mostly employed in "recession proof" sectors such as education and healthcare, she said.

"Healthcare and education are the pillars of the stimulus packages of developed countries" where migrant Filipinos are employed. "These are industries where jobs are being created instead of being lost."

"Remittances may slow down, [but] I don’t see it contracting sharply," she said, projecting a 5-6% growth in funds sent home by Filipinos working abroad.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo yesterday said a contraction in remittance inflows was unlikely. As of November last year, Filipinos had sent about $15.1 billion, a 15% improvement.

Ms. Lorenzo also projected a higher budget deficit this year due to increased spending as a result of the government’s P330-billion fiscal stimulus.

Her optimistic outlook, said Ms. Lorenzo, also rested on the government’s implementing its fiscal stimulus, which revolves around increased infrastructure spending, efficiently and as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Philippines expected to outperform Asian neighbors

By Des Ferriols
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Previously branded as the sick man of Asia, Moody’s Ratings said yesterday that the Philippines would outperform many of its neighbors this year, with growth projected at 3.3 percent.

Moody’s said that Southeast Asia would see a reversal of roles this year and the Philippines would lead growth despite the anticipated slowdown in economic expansion.

Moody’s assessment came in the wake of the latest warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which admitted for the first time that the world’s most developed economies have slipped into depression.

“This year will probably be the most interesting for Southeast Asia since the Asian financial crisis,” said Moody’s associate economist Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya. “We expect tradition to be turned on its head and ASEAN members to undergo a role reversal,” he added.

Bhattacharyya said Singapore, usually the most stable in the region, would be the worst hit amongst the ASEAN trading bloc, together with Malaysia and the big falls in output and milder rises in unemployment.

“Indonesia and the Philippines, traditionally less stable, will slow, but chances of recession are low,” said Bhattacharyya.

According to Bhattacharyya, the Philippines specifically, would outperform other economies in the region although growth would be slower than 2008. Consumer spending would be one of the strongest drivers.

Bhattacharyya said the Philippines has been branded the sick man of Asia because of its relatively slow growth in recent years. But this time around, the country would keep within its growth range despite the slowdown that would result from the global recession.

Bhattacharyya said Singapore is expected to suffer the largest swing in its economy, with a 4.4 percent contraction expected in 2009 compared with a 1.2 percent expansion in 2008.

On the other hand, Bhattacharyya said that Indonesia is expected to hold an uneventful election after a long period under a “dictatorship where political freedom was unthinkable over a decade ago.”

Bhattacharyya said Indonesia is expected to grow 3.9 percent and said this is “not too bad” considering the state of the global economy.

However, Bhattacharyya said nearly all other economies in the group would experience slow economic growth that won’t keep pace with labor force growth, leading to higher unemployment.

Capital-adequacy ratio of top 3 Philippine banks still above 13% at end-2008

Erik de la Cruz
The Business Mirror

THE Philippines’ three largest banks managed to keep their individual capital-adequacy ratio (CAR)—which measures how susceptible they are to failure—at more than 13 percent at the end of 2008, well above minimum standards.

Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO), Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. (Metrobank) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) also kept their nonperforming-loan ratios (NPL) below 5 percent, their latest balance sheets show.

Henry Sy-led BDO ended 2008 as the biggest with total assets of P808 billion, and with CAR of 13.53 percent, slightly lower than the end-September level of 13.68 percent, and NPL ratio of 4.01 percent.

George Ty’s Metrobank, which used to be No. 1 in size, was the second- biggest with total assets of P758.5 billion. Its CAR improved to 13.45 percent from 13.0 percent as of end-September, while its NPL ratio stood at 3.89 percent.

BPI, controlled by conglomerate Ayala Corp. and partly owned by DBS Bank of Singapore, remained the third-biggest with total assets of P658.4 billion and NPL ratio of 3.55 percent.

Its CAR rose to 14.16 percent from 13.2 percent as of end-September.

The Big Three’s CARs exceeded the statutory level set by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) at 10.0 percent and the standard set by the Bank for International Settlements—which serves as a bank for central banks—at 8.0 percent.

Debt watcher Fitch Ratings recently said local banks are well-capitalized and relatively liquid but lenders and regulators in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia are likely to see a need for additional capital to protect their balance sheets from the expected erosion of profits and increase in soured loans this year.

Amid a deteriorating outlook for Asian economies, Fitch said banks are facing the grim prospects of lower revenue, higher NPLs and bad-debt charges.

These trends, it said, may prompt banks to raise additional capital “to offset the effect of credit losses and to boost capital levels to the new higher norms that are becoming the standard in the wake of the credit crisis.”

Early this month BDO disclosed two initiatives aimed at further boosting its capital position and preparing itself for further expansion and potential acquisition opportunities.

It was looking to raise up to P13 billion by selling notes and shares.

BDO expects the additional capital to improve its CAR to around 16 percent.

BPI, meanwhile, has the option to raise fresh capital of up to P10 billion this year.

It obtained approval from the BSP last year for a P15-billion offering of Tier 2 notes, and in November raised P5 billion from the initial offering.

Metrobank has not disclosed any capital-raising plans yet.

The Philippine banking system’s average CAR of 15.2 percent as of end-September 2008 was higher than those of Malaysia (13.0 percent) and Korea (12.0 percent) but lower than that of Indonesia (17.1 percent). Thailand had the highest CAR in the region at 18.4 percent.

The local industry’s average NPL ratio had eased to 4.5 percent as of end-September from 5.7 percent a year ago.

There were 835 banking institutions operating in the Philippines as of end-September, with the entire system consisting of 38 universal and commercial banks, 80 thrift banks, and 717 rural banks.

According to BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr., the “ideal” situation is to have five or six local banks, plus branches of foreign banks holding about 70 percent of the total banking system’s assets.

Philippines allocates P3B for coconut program

The Manila Bulletin

The government has allocated P3.09 billion for the 2009 coconut planting and fertilization under the National Coconut Productivity Program (NCPP) which originally targeted to double coconut production from a two million metric ton (MT)-level slump.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) targets the planting of more coconut seedlings this year to 10 million coconut seedlings, substantially higher than the 7.87 million coconut seedlings planted last year.

The National Coconut Planting Project was a resounding success. (For this year), we plan to cover 100,000 hectares to be planted or replanted with 10 million coconut seedlings, said PCA Administrator Oscar G. Garin.

The NCPP consists of a replanting program costing P350 million, a salt fertilization project costing P2.59 billion, and a plowable intercropping program worth P150 million.

Garin said a participatory program between PCA and farmers enabled the more massive planting of coconut seedlings.

Aside from the planting of seedlings, 6.36 million coconut trees have been fertilized with salt.

The program involved 25,183 coconut farmer participants which in 2008 enabled planting on a total of 52,475 hectares. That area will be nearly doubled in 2009.

The incentives part also contributed to the increased planting program as total incentive package was P236.139 million.

The project proved innovative and participatory as it mobilized the farmers, cooperatives, local government units and other stakeholders to plant some 8.4 million coconut seedlings throughout the country, said PCA.

PCA is also pursuing a brontispa control program. Out of the total 1.416 million infected trees nationwide, already 1.229 million trees have been treated against brontispa infestation.

Garin said laboratory studies showed that pesticides proved to control the infestation. Pesticides used were Actara 25 or thiametoxam, Alika 247ZC or thiametoxam plus Lambda-cyhalothrin, Dantop 16 WSC or clothianidin, and Solomon 300 OD or imidachloprid plus B cyfluthrin.

An important observation was there was no detectable residue found in the coconut meat after spraying of the four insecticides even if these insecticides are injected into coconut trunks.

Japanese shipbuilder plans Philippine P12-B expansion

The Manila Bulletin

Tsuneishi Heavy Industries, (Cebu) Inc. (THICI), one of the leading medium-sized shipbuilders in the world, is investing P12 billion to expand its existing Cebu operations to include the manufacture of all types of cargo vessels that would employ 3,000 workers.

The project has been approved by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) entitling it to tax and fiscal incentives.

PEZA Director-General Lilia B. De Lima cited the third expansion project of Tsuneishi saying it is a break to all the bad employment news that occurred recently. At present, Tsuneishi directly employs 5,800 workers.

For its expansion program, the company will manufacture all types of cargo vessels with capacity of up to 250,000 DWT such as bulk carriers, container ships, oil tankers, reefer ships, and pure car and truck carriers.

The expansion also includes the acquisition of 90 hectares of property. Its PEZA application says the Cebu subsidiary will also be involved in leasing activity.

Originally, Tsuneishi was registered with the Board of Investments in September 1998 under a local unit Tsuneishi Heavy Industries Cebu Inc. to operate a shipbuilding of bulk carriers and ship repair facilities at the West Cebu Industrial Park in Balamban, Cebu with an initial investment of P158.240 million.

THICI ships out medium sized vessels to different parts of the world targeting Japan and Europe as its markets.

Other company’s other activities include the fabrication of ship parts and engineering works.

The company, however, decided to transfer its registration with the PEZA.

Tsuneishi first expanded its operation in August 2004 with P808.12 million worth of investments to construct a second slipway which to increase its production capacity for shipbuilding and ship repair.

To date, a total of 32 Bulk Carriers have already been built at THICI’s shipyard.

THICI offers the following ship repair services: dry-docking, afloat repairs, cleaning, blasting and painting, damage repairs, electrical and mechanical repairs

For 2008, Tsuneishi Cebu posted $ 886.813 million exports.

It has an authorized capital of P300 million, subscribed of P300 million and paid-up of P300 million.

The company is a joint venture between Tsuneishi Holdings of Japan with 80 percent shareholdings and 20 percent by the Filipino-owned Aboitiz & Co. Inc.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Photo update: South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)


Philippines' Arroyo unveils measures to assist vulnerable industries, Filipinos in face of global crisis

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo receives from Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila a copy of the Communique government and business sectors with other stakeholders in support of an environment that sustains business viability and growth to preserve and generate jobs and provide support to affected workers during presentation of the Communique Monday afternoon (Feb. 9) at the conclusion of the gathering on "Joining Hands Against The Global Crisis" at Malacanang's Heroes Hall. (Rodolfo Manabat/OPS-NIB Photo)


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unveiled today several government initiatives to assist vulnerable industries and Filipinos who would be displaced as a result of the deepening global financial crisis.

In her keynote speech during the multi-sectoral jobs summit on "Joining Hands Against the Global Crisis" this morning at the Heroes' Hall of Malacanang, the President cited eight specific measures and actions in response to the concerns raised by various stakeholders during the tripartite meeting that started two weeks ago.

These measures include the condonation of penalties and surcharges on loans of members of the Social Security System (SSS), cutting down the cost of doing business and the establishment of a standby fund from which displaced seafarers and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can draw startup capital for business ventures.

She noted that SSS members had appealed to the government to condone the penalties and surcharges imposed by the SSS on delinquent members.

"In response to this concern raised two weeks ago SSS is already implementing such a program for one year," the President said.

The President also directed the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to establish a stand-by fund that can be easily accessed to help capitalize startup businesses or finance further studies and training of displaced seafarers, land-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) including workers being laid off in export-oriented industries.

"The DOLE is the lead in carrying out the government's program for the returning expatriates and the retrenched export workers. The first component of this program is an Expatriate and Export Workers' Livelihood Support Fund in the amount of one billion pesos financed by OWWA for the OFWs and supported by government lending institutions such as the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Land Bank and the SB Corporation," the President said.

She also directed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to implement training programs and interventions including the tapping of in-bound returning workers and domestic retrenched workers to become trainors in these trainings that would be initially implemented in the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) area, Subic, Clark and Mactan.

The President said government is also reducing the cost of doing business by providing fuel subsidy to firms in transporting workers in the export processing zones.

Additionally, the standardization of the city business registration and permit process would be launched on Feb. 18 by the League of Cities of the Philippines to reduce red tape and the cost of doing business.

The President said that government financial institutions (GFIs) would provide loan facilities, such as working capital, to creditworthy firms.

"We have requested the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) also through the national government's representative in the Monetary Board, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, to provide liberal terms for rediscounting windows and allow the banks particularly the GFIs some flexibility on regulatory financial ratio compliance," she said.

The President also asked the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Chamber of Philippine Industries headed by businessman Jess Arranza to become an integral part of the government's Anti-Smuggling Task Force to further stimulate domestic production and product demand and consumption by addressing smuggling.

She also said the concern raised over the possibility of imposing a moratorium on wages and other economic benefits for a limited period can be discussed by labor and management when wages are due for annual review between July and August.

She also directed TESDA to mainstream and expand training partnerships between government and private companies such as that being done in San Miguel and Max's.

Among those present at the jobs summit were top business leaders and other social partners and stakeholders representing the non-government organizations, labor, academe, church, and government organizations.

Also present were Vice President Noli de Castro, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, Environment Secretary Jose Lito Atienza, TESDA Director General Augusto Syjuco, business leaders and Valenzuela 2nd District Representative Magtanggol Gunigundo, chairman of the House Labor Committee.

Unlike many countries, the President said her tax and other economic reforms have paid off with revenue for investments in human and physical infrastructure that made the Philippines weather "the worse of the global crisis thus far."

"Nonetheless, this is a time when government, business and labor must join hands against the global crisis so that it does not become a crisis in the Philippines. In doing this, we must not neglect those who feel the hardships of the global downturn, especially firms under strain and workers facing layoffs," she pointed out.

In order to come up with appropriate responses and interventions, the President said government and industries must share information on employment, number of companies and workers affected, and other related information in order to come up with an accurate and reliable picture of the actual impact of the global financial crisis on employment and business.

In contrast to news of huge number of retrenchments, Labor Secretary Roque said that reports from the business sector indicated that 30,000 jobs have been lost since October last year.

Outsourcing in Philippines grew 26pct in 2008: industry

MANILA (AFP) — Call-centres and other outsourcing companies in the Philippines earned 6.06 billion dollars in 2008, a 26 percent increase over 2007, the industry association said Monday.

The number of people working in the industry also rose over the same period, by 24.8 percent to 371,965, despite the global financial crisis, said Oscar Sanez, head of the country's Business Processing Association.

He said that this showed the Philippines was on track with its plan to capture 10 percent of global market for outsourced services by 2010.

Call-centres still accounted for the bulk of the industry, earning 4.1 billion dollars in 2008 and employing 227,000 people, Sanez said.

But other sectors such as back-office operations, transcription, animation, software, engineering services and game development all showed strong growth as well, he added.
Officials and industry leaders say they expect the industry to continue growing as more foreign companies seek to save money by outsourcing functions to low-cost countries like the Philippines.

Despite this, the Philippines still needed to promote its capabilities abroad, Sanez said, citing personal experiences in Germany and England which suggested people were unaware that English was spoken in his country.

Philippine passenger car sales rise 14.2%

The Manila Standard

SALES of passenger cars rose 14.2 percent to 3,384 units in January, beating other markets including the United States, where sales plunged 27 percent in the same period, a group said.

But sales of commercial vehicles dipped 7.5 percent to 5,407 units, bringing total vehicles sold to 8,791 units for a slight 0.2-percent decline, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines said.

Commercial vehicles made up 62 percent of total sales, the group said, adding sales of Asian Utility Vehicles dipped 24.8 percent as a result of low stocks and higher prices.

But sales of light commercial vehicles including pickups, vans, and full-size SUVs climbed 3.1 percent.

Similarly, light truck purchases rose 27.4 percent, the group said, adding it was optimistic of sustaining sales with the arrival of new models.

“Sales are expected to be sustained in the coming months, although an increase in prices may be seen should the yen continue to remain strong against the greenback,” group head Elizabeth Lee said in a statement.

Citibank to hire 1,000 more staff in Philippines

PNA with Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

CITIBANK is hiring 1,000 more people as it expands its Philippine operations this year, country manager Mark Jones said yesterday.

The bank made the announcement even as the business process outsourcing industry predicted that between 100,000 and 110,000 new jobs would be open to new college graduates and those displaced in other industries.

The bank would add the 1,000 to its workforce after hiring another 500 last year, in contrast to Citigroup’s shedding of thousands of jobs worldwide, Jones said in a statement.

“Citi is repositioning in the Asia-Pacific, but we remain focused on growth,” Jones said.

“Instead of reducing the headcount, we will be growing,” he said, adding the extra 1,000 people would man 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,” Jones said.

He said Citibank would be needing more people here because it was investing more money in systems and building processes.

“2009 is a tough year globally, but we’re certainly prepared for the effects of the economic slowdown,” he said.

“We haven’t really seen its impact on consumers, but we’re preparing for it.”

Citibank has spent P100 million to upgrade its systems, and particularly for Citibank Savings Bank. It plans to spend P3 billion more to improve its online, customer services and other transactions.

The bank has 30 percent of the total credit card market in the Philippines, where it counts 1.2-million credit card holders.

Its savings bank, which it bought from Insular Life in 2005 for P1 billion, operates 56 branches.

Philippine Gov't to launch P500-million program to hire nurses for poor municipalities


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the government will launch the Nurses Assigned in Rural Areas (NARS), a P500-million program to help Filipino nurses land short-term jobs in the country as part of their preparation for employment abroad.

Under the program, 5,000 Filipino nurses would be deployed to the country's 1,000 poorest municipalities at five nurses a municipality.

In her speech during the multi-sectoral jobs summit dubbed, "Joining Hands Against the Global Crisis" this morning at the Heroes’ Hall of Malacanang, the President said the nurses would be paid a monthly allowance of P8,000.

"If they are paid an allowance of P8,000 a month, and you have two six-month tours of duties of nurses, five nurses for each of the 1,000 poorest municipalities, that will cost less than half a billion pesos," the President said.

She called on Binalonan, Pangasinan Mayor Ramon Guico, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), to make LGUs come up with a counterpart fund of at least P2,000.

"I ask corporations to chip in as well – shirts can come from manufacturers, insurance, vitamins from pharmaceuticals, cellphones that will make the program truly a national enterprise with private equity," the President said.

The nurses would be deployed to rural areas to enable them gain the necessary training and experience needed for overseas employment.

Calling them "warriors for wellness," the President said nurses to be hired would be mobilized in their hometowns to undertake the three I's:

* Initiate primary health, school nutrition, maternal health programs, first-line diagnosis etc.;
* Inform, inform about community water sanitation practices and do health surveillance; and third,
* Immunize, immunize children and mothers.

"They shall also serve as roving nurses for rural schools," the President added.

Philippine President tasks infra agencies to show solid progress in bidding, implementation of projects


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today government agencies in-charge of infrastructure and social programs under the P300-billion stimulus package must demonstrate solid progress in bidding out and implementing the projects.

In her speech during the multi-sectoral jobs summit dubbed, “Joining Hands Against the Global Crisis” this morning in Malacanang, the President pointed out that the government would pursue its policy of massive investments in physical and human infrastructure to pump-prime the country's economy in 2009.

“I direct key agencies to show solid progress in bidding out and/or implementing major infra and social projects under the 300 billion pesos stimulus plan,” she said.

The economic stimulus package is intended to upgrade infrastructure and capital stock as well as expand social protection to ensure sustainable growth and attain the higher end of the growth targets for this year.

“We consider this the most important government initiative this year. And the agencies, you should start seeing the agencies rolling out tangible results. This will be part of our subject matter in our Cabinet meeting tomorrow,” the President said.

The components of the economic stimulus package involve huge spending government spending on infrastructure and social projects during the first semester.

The focus of the spending program is the infrastructure sector.

Philippines to create 1.3M jobs

Labor summit counts pledges, notes P25-B outlay to protect workers

BUSINESS AND LABOR GROUPS, the academe and the government yesterday pushed for the creation of over 1.3 million jobs within the year and the allocation of around P25 billion to support employment as the country struggles to cope with the global economic crisis.

These initiatives were detailed in an eight-page communique signed by 138 participants who attended a government-sponsored labor summit in Malacañang yesterday.

The employment target involves both domestic and overseas positions. These include 824,555 jobs from the government’s emergency employment program, 80,000 to 100,000 committed by the Business Processing Association of the Philippines, and 400,000 jobs abroad based on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s registered and active orders.

Summit participants also supported the allocation of at least 1.5% of the P1.415-trillion 2009 budget — about P21.23 billion — for the temporary hiring of displaced workers, as well as the setting aside of P3.9 billion to finance livelihood and microfinance projects.

The multisectoral summit also resolved to reduce the cost of doing business by, among others:

  • bringing down the cost of power;
  • faster import permit transactions for non-Philippine Economic Zone Authority firms;
  • relaxation of criteria for the extension of income tax holidays;
  • suspension of tariff reductions for five years;
  • fuel and transport subsidies; and
  • lowering costs of business licenses and permits.
  • Other recommendations include improving the marketing of products through tax incentives; facilitating the training and re-tooling of affected workers; and providing access to health services for affected workers and their dependents.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman emeritus Donald G. Dee said projects would immediately be implemented. The P3.9-billion livelihood and microfinance fund will be sourced from government coffers, he added.

"The business community is very supportive of these initiatives. If we can make 1.3 million jobs, that will cover those entering the job pool every year as well as those displaced. There’s always more that we could do but realistically, this is what we can do right now," he said.

Program implementation will be monitored through regular consultative meetings, Mr. Dee said, adding that a quarterly report will be submitted to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Jesus L. Arranza, president of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), said programs stated in the communique were "doable".

Industries officials particularly noted calls to intensify efforts to curb smuggling as well as stronger enforcement of Executive Order 156 banning the importation of second-hand vehicles.

But Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. and Employers Confederation of the Philippines President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said the communique lacked initiatives to help the export industry, particularly a requested P1-billion export development fund.

"I didn’t see that. We requested that to help companies so those operating will not close shop," he said.

In addition, he stressed some of the programs were not "immediately implementable" such as the anti-smuggling and tariff reduction initiatives. Mr. Ortiz-Luis said these issues had been raised time and again in various manifestos and did not necessarily address the issue of employment.

"Some are doable but they should have focused on immediately implementable programs," he said.

Stakeholders also called on Congress to provide support by passing a pending stimulus package bill. The FPI’s Mr. Arranza said a copy of the communique would be sent to legislators.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Arroyo announced a package of programs aimed at generating more jobs for retrenched workers as well as helping companies cut operating costs.

In her opening remarks, the President said the government had responded to concerns raised during a tripartite labor meeting early this year.

The responses, she said, include the provision of "green-collar jobs" to Filipinos under a P2-billion reforestation fund as well as mobilizing nurses in the provinces under the Nurses Assigned to Rural Areas (NARS) program.

Budget Secretary Rolando T. Andaya, Jr. said P500 million would be allocated to the NARS initiative.

Mrs. Arroyo also announced that the Department of Trade and Industry had directed the Philippine Economic Zone Authority to implement fuel subsidies for firms operating in economic zones as well as measures to lower the cost of doing business.

Other proposals include condoning penalties and surcharges for Social Security System loans incurred by affected workers, a P1-billion standby fund for displaced seafarers and overseas Filipino workers, training programs, and working capital through loan facilities.

Mrs. Arroyo said the imposition of a moratorium on wages increases would be discussed during reviews to be made from July to August.

Monday, 9 February 2009

From Subic hub, FedEx flies to Clark

Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines—Federal Express (FedEx), the world’s largest express transportation company, has not really left the Philippines.

A day after starting the shutdown of its Asia-Pacific hub at the Subic Bay Freeport, FedEx made its inaugural flight into the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) on Friday night to prepare this former American military aviation complex as base for its Philippine operations, which would be linked to its new hub in China, an official said.

The arrival of FedEx’s MD-11 aircraft, which landed at 10:30 p.m. here, came after the American courier giant and Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) signed in October 2008 a memorandum of agreement allowing the firm to “locate and do operations in Clark,” CIAC president and chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano told the Inquirer on Saturday.

The debut flight, which was done without fanfare, was part of test operations by FedEx, Luciano said.

He said this phase entailed doing technical stops for refueling and crew layover.

“Eventually, these would graduate into cargo operations,” Luciano said.

Two Inquirer sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the project, confirmed that FedEx has transferred all its ground equipment from Subic to Clark.

Under the agreement, FedEx will fly twice daily to and from Clark, except on Saturdays, according to one of the sources. The source said the destinations are China and Taiwan.

Luciano said China’s Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou would be the main hub of FedEx in the Asia-Pacific region.

FedEx has yet to issue an official statement on its Clark project.

The technical stop, said Luciano, is a sign that Clark is ideal and viable for FedEx’s freight-handling business.

DMIA used to be the biggest facility of the United States’ 13th Air Force in the Asia-Pacific. The Philippine government took more than a decade to turn it around, enjoying a boom in cargo operations and passenger flights since under the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo, Luciano said.

Test flight

The test flight turned out to be a sentimental journey for the pilot, Capt. Phil John, Luciano said.

“When I met him on the plane, he told me: ‘I’m very happy to land here. The last time I was here was 20 years ago when I was with the US Air Force,’” he said.

John and his crew were received by Luciano, FedEx senior manager for operations Virgilio Mangisel and country manager Samuel David.

Another CIAC official, who asked not to be named because he has no authority to speak on the project, said CIAC and DMIA officials handled the transfer low key to avoid upsetting officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said he had been told of the Clark plan.

“This is to support their Philippine operations, not as a hub. That’s okay because FedEx remains to be in the Philippines,” Arreza said.

In an interview on Friday, Arreza said the government stands to lose P150 million annually from the pullout of FedEx hub in Subic.

The Subic Bay International Airport, home to FedEx for 14 years, is smaller than DMIA, which spans 2,500 hectares. The DMIA has two runways measuring 3.5 km each.

7-Eleven posts robust sales growth in 2008

The Manila Bulletin

Newly opened stores located in high traffic areas helped the local operator of 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores to register double-digit sales growth last year, a company official said.

Lawrence de Leon, comptroller of listed Philippine Seven Corp., said that while audit on the company’s full-year finances has yet to be completed, sales of in 7-Eleven stores have likely posted impressive growth despite of the prevailing global economic slowdown.

"The fourth quarter is usually a strong quarter for 7-Eleven and the last one ended meeting our expectations." De Leon said. PSC is the local operator of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain.

Based on its latest report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, PSC’s net income grew by 73% to P57.5 million during the first nine months of the year, from P33.3 million reported during the same period in 2007.

System-wide sales grew to P4.5 billion from January to September 2008, from P4.1 billion in the same period the previous year. De Leon said the increase in the company’s sales continued until the last quarter of 2008, driven by the strong performance of new 7-Eleven stores near call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO) offices in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

De Leon also attributed the surge in sales to the company’s intensified marketing and merchandising strategies. For instance, he said 7-Eleven stores noticed a marked increase in the sales of fresh fruits which are strategically located in the stores as well as featured items for the week promoted by the store staff.

"The same is true for our breads and bakery category, which are delivered fresh in our stores daily. When we placed the freshly baked breads near our cashier counters, more people bought them," he added.

Aside from these, De Leon said raffle promotions during the summer and Christmas seasons helped in encouraging 7-Eleven customers to buy more. "We saw people buying more just so they qualify in the raffle," he said.

On the other hand, PSC’s efforts in cost containment paid off, keeping the company’s store costs and expenses at a minimum. For the nine months ending September 2008, the company’s general and administrative expenses stood at P1.3 billion, a slight increase from the P1.25 billion reported during the January-September 2007 period.

Gonzales joins call for Comelec to review poll-automation plan

The Manila Bulletin

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has joined at least 38 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in asking the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to reconsider its decision to adopt a method of poll automation that is said to be "more costly" and "more vulnerable" to fraud.

Gonzales said that an open election system (OES) is a more credible method that can be adopted by the Comelec for the scheduled national and local elections in 2010.

He said the OES will "ensure a transparent and fraud-free automated election system," adding that the credibility of the forthcoming presidential elections in 2010 is a national security concern.

"I urge the Commission on Elections to reconsider its decision to adopt the much more expensive but not transparent Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system," Gonzales said.

He cited a two-page letter by CBCP’s social arm, the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), to Comelec chairman Jose Melo where the bishops expressed concern that the OMR system "may elicit more questions than (the Comelec is) capable of answering."

The CBCP also underscored the "grave duty of the Commission to utilize appropriate methods and technology to safeguard the sanctity of the ballot."

"We realize that the Commission sincerely wants to reform its tarnished image and it hopes to do so through the introduction of the Optical Mark Reader and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. We regret, however, that these two technologies seem to be very costly in terms of procurement and storage and do not exactly guarantee fraud-free elections results," the bishops said.

"We fear, among others, the fact that OMR and DRE both operate through instantaneous and internal tally of votes, which the electorate cannot manually recheck or validate," the CBCP added.

Among the signatories are Archbishops Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro; Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato; Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando (Pampanga); Ramon Arguelles of Lipa (Batangas); Romulo Valles of Zamboanga; and Bishop Broderick Pabillio of Manila.

Gonzales echoed the concerns of the bishops, saying the OMR has disadvantages that "can endanger the credibility of the 2010 elections and can consequently spark a political crisis."

"Poll automation experts have already raised their concerns about the vulnerability of the OMR to wholesale fraud, which can be done just by a few computer technicians, with or without the connivance of the Comelec or of vendors of the machines," Gonzales pointed out.

The bishops also said that in contrast to the OMR, the OES "espouses transparency from voting to the tallying of votes and makes all election data readily available to all groups for their own monitoring purposes."

"We believe that the OES reflects our aspirations for a fraud-free 2010 elections," the church leaders said.

"The fact that the voting and precinct counting are transparent to the voting public makes wholesale cheating extremely difficult to execute," they added.

The bishops also pointed out that the OES is the "least costly" among automated election technologies available to the government.

According to the bishops, OES combines manual voting and precinct counting with automated canvassing from the voting center to the national level.