Saturday, 22 August 2009

PGMA Speech Commemoration of the 400th Year of Christianization and Founding of Baler

Tawi-Tawi pins hopes on improved airport to boost tourism, aquaculture


BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI — With the improvement of this town’s airport, government officials and business leaders said this southernmost island province would soon be transformed from "southern backdoor to southern gateway."

During the inauguration of the newly rehabilitated Sanga-Sanga (Bongao) airport last Monday, Governor Sadikul A. Sahali said the airport will rectify the reputation of the province from being a transit point for smuggling to having thriving tourism and marine export industries.

The airport’s runway has been upgraded and extended from 1,608 meters to 1,920 meters, and widened from 18 to 30 meters to accommodate bigger aircraft.

"We are happy to be part of the development of this island province," said United States Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, who was the airport inauguration’s guest of honor.

The P200-million project was implemented by the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Civil Aviation Authority, the provincial government, and the US-funded Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program.

Carlos Canda Tan, GEM’s deputy program manager for infrastructure, who helped in the conceptualization of the project, said the rehabilitation of the airport should improve the province’s air links with the rest of the country, and help strengthen the local economy.

The airport will also have new passenger terminal facilities that will be equipped with baggage conveyors and x-ray machines for efficient, effective, convenient and reliable aircraft operations.

Abdelnooh K. Hadjirul, president of the Tawi-Tawi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the airport upgrade will give Tawi-Tawi’s emerging aquaculture and eco-tourism industries a competitive advantage.

Mr. Sahali said major airlines such as Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (PAL) are expected to service the province.

Currently, only South East Asian Airlines, Inc. is servicing Taw-Tawi with only one route — Zamboanga-Bongao. The aircraft currently in use has limited sitting capacity and has no space for commercial-scale cargo.

Selino S. Jalalon, PAL’s flight technical division manager, said in an interview that his office in the process of gathering legal documents and requirement for them to start regular flights here.

With Tawi-Tawi being rich in marine resources, PAL could deploy bigger passenger and cargo aircraft to help local growers of high-value commercial fishe to transport their products, he said. "We are looking at the same concept that we are providing to the tuna industry sector in General Santos City, where they use our aircrafts in transporting their products abroad."

Nazrullah G. Masahud, technical division chief of the autonomous Muslim region’s Trade department, said in a separate interview that major aircraft in the past have serviced Taw-Tawi, focusing mainly on transporting live high-value commercial fishes.

"It is very beneficial to us here, since our marine products could directly be sent Manila and other major points in the country," he said, adding transport of marine products was also a major point of interest when he spoke with Cebu Pacific officials just recently.

Governor Sahali said the opening of the new airport will encourage more tourists to visit the province, which is known for its fine white sand beaches and exotic marine animals.

He said Tawi-Tawi, which shares maritime borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and the Indonesian Kalimantan province, has been one of those areas studied by local and foreign institutes focused on bio-diversity in the Sulu Archipelago. One of the famous research sites is Turtle Islands, where marine biologists are studying the nesting sites of green sea turtles. In 1996, the islands were declared a protected area by the government.

Several diving spots have also been identified in the province’s 307 islands and islets, with a combined land area of 462 square miles.

Megaworld parent firm reports 29% profit rise

by Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

ALLIANCE Global Group Inc., the holding company of tycoon Andrew Tan, reported a 29-percent rise in profits in the first half, powered by strong sales in its real estate and McDonald’s fast food operations.

Net income for the first six months came to P3.2 billion, up from P2.67 billion in the same period last year, the company said in a filing with the stock exchange.

Alliance Global said revenue jumped 12 percent to P17.3 billion from P15.4 billion with its real estate subsidiary, Megaworld Corp., contributing 50 percent, followed by its fast food business with 27 percent, and its food and beverage subsidiary accounting for the remaining 16 percent.

Alliance Global’s major subsidiaries include Golden Arches Development Corp., the local master franchise holder for McDonald’s, and Emperador Distillers Inc.

Megaworld’s revenue rose 19 percent in the first half as a result of aggressive property development. Real estate sales grew 15 percent while property rental income jumped 41 percent due to high occupancy rates for office and retail space.

Revenue from McDonald’s grew 16 percent to P4.7 billion while revenue from franchised restaurants increased 30 percent.

The company opened 12 stores this year, bringing its total number of stores nationwide to 289.

Revenue from its food and beverage unit, Alliance Global Brands, dropped 18 percent following a 24.9-percent slide in sales of alcoholic drinks.

“The demand for the alcoholic drinks, being premium items, was affected by competition and inflation. Nevertheless, The Bar, a new flavored alcohol drink launched this year, is selling very well,” Alliance Global said.

In its report, Alliance Global said it remained bullish on its joint venture with Star Cruises, through its subsidiary Travelers International Hotel Group Inc., to build Newport City as the country’s first integrated tourism city.

Newport City, located across the Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, is expected to open before the end of the year.

Star Cruises is part of the Malaysian conglomerate Genting Berhad and is the world’s third largest cruise line operator.

Friday, 21 August 2009

President Arroyo orders construction of Cory monument

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the immediate construction of a monument honoring the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino at the Rizal Park in Manila.

In a Malacañang press briefing today, Deputy Spokesperson Anthony Golez said the construction of the Aquino monument will be overseen by the National Historical Institute (NHI). It is expected to be completed within six months.

The announcement was made a day before the nation commemorates the 26th death anniversary of President Aquino’s husband, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., a national holiday. It commemorates the assassination of the former senator that led to the downfall of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

After the assassination of the former senator, his widow, Cory Aquino became a focal point and unifying force of the opposition against Marcos. She led the country in a bloodless revolution against the former leader in 1986.

Coincidentally, the burial of former president Cory Aquino comes 16 days before this year’s commemoration of the Ninoy Aquino Day.

With the construction of the Aquino monument, Golez said, the Filipinos will honor the memory “of an extraordinary woman who united our people for one shining week in February in 1986 and presided over the rebirth of democracy.”

He added the monument will be a constant reminder for future generations of what the former leader had achieved and sacrificed for the Filipino people.

“I think everybody will agree that former President Cory Aquino deserves such respect and honor from this country,” he noted. (PND)

PGMA joins nation in commemorating Ninoy's death

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo joined the nation today in the commemoration of the 26th death anniversary and martyrdom of the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President sponsored a Holy Mass in Malacañang this morning in recognition of Aquino's contribution to the restoration of democracy in the country.

"We join the rest of the nation in commemorating the death and martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino today," Remonde said in a press briefing in Malacañang.

He said the President, together with First Gentleman Atty. Mike Arroyo, watched "Ninoy Aquino, The Movie" at Bahay Pangarap late last night.

With the First Couple were several members of the Cabinet and Director Lupita Aquino-Kashihiwara, sister of the late senator.

Then considered as the top rival of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Aquino was among those incarcerated at the imposition of martial law in 1972.

On August 21, 1983, he was gunned down at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (now Ninoy Aquino International Airport), minutes after he arrived from the United States. (PND)

Inauguration of the Fly Over at Pres Carlos P Garcia Extension

C-5 extension leads to the new El Shaddai Church

Cutting through two SM stores in Sucat, Paranaque, the C5 Extension Road that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo inaugurated this afternoon leads right through the vast empty lot that could very well serve as the parking lot for numerous jeepneys hired by faithful followers of Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai.

It took the President only 10 minutes to listen to the briefing of the C-5 Extension by Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, cut the ribbon opening the alternative route to Cavite and South Luzon Expressway and to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and drive through in an open pick-up.

The 390 meter flyover along President Carlos P. Garcia (C5) Extension cuts across Sucat all the way to SLEX and cuts travel time by half.

The Presidential convoy then proceeded swiftly to the Amvel Compound, heading straight to the newly-built College of Wisdom and El Shaddai International House of Prayer. Thousands of faithful followers assembled for the special day of prayer in honor of the 70th birthday of Bro. Velarde, whom they call their servant-leader and founder.

Chants of healing and well-being and shouts of "Amen" "Praise the Lord" echoed through the magnificent and massive indoors of the newly-built temple, where thousands of followers will celebrate their weekly masses and prayers.

Among those who joined the President's party from the C-5 Extension to the El Shaddai temple were Ebdane, Paranaque Mayor Florencio Bernabe Cynthia Villar of the lone district of Las Pinas, and Barangay San Dionisio Chairman Mael de Leon.

The newly-built temple is worth P1 billion and its cross-shaped design (personally executed by Velarde) is shaped like Noah's Ark. It is the biggest place of worship in Asia and has a capacity of 15,000 but with standing room capacity of 25,000. The total surrounding area of 6 hectares was designed to accommodate the overflow crowd.

Temple officials said the estimated temple attendees total 300,000. (PND)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

PGMA to inaugurate fly-over along C-5 extension in Parañaque City

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will inaugurate tomorrow, (Thursday, August 20) the 390-meter flyover along President Carlos P. Garcia (C-5) Extension which will cross Sucat all the way to the South Luzon Expressway and cut travel time easily by half.

Since the fly over is toll free, traffic along Sucat Road--- where several subdivisions are located—will be decongested of vehicles bound for SLEX or NLEX, according to Project Engineer Rey Rosario.

Costing P260 million, the road was started September 16 last year and completed two months earlier than schedule last July 15.

The flyover is a major component of the ultimate design of the C-5 Extension Project (NLEX-SLEX-Coastal Road connection), which is funded out of the regular Infrastructure Budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The President, will make a 30-minute drive-through of the newly-built road at around 4 p.m.

She will be met by Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando, Paranaque Mayor Florencio Bernabe Jr., Rep. Eduardo Zialcita of the 1st District, Paranaque, Las Pina Mayor Vergel Aguilar, Congresswoman Cynthia Villar of the lone district of Las Pinas, and Barangay San Dionisio chairman Mael de Leon.

Also invited to attend are Rep. Roilo Golez, Buhay Party List Rep. Rene Velarde, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Works Senator Bong Revilla and Chairman of the House Committee on Public Works Roger Mercado.

The President will then motor to the Amvel City Business Park in San Dionisio, Paranaque City and then proceed to the El Shaddai International House of Prayer and College of Wisdom, where she will be met by Brother Mike Velarde, Servant Leader and Founder of El Shaddai. (PND)

PGMA cites Aurora’s economic boom

BALER, Aurora (PND) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lauded the economic progress of the province of Aurora in today’s celebration of the 400th founding anniversary and Christianization of this town.

The President said the country’s first “green ecozone”---the Aurora Special Economic Zone—in the municipality of Casiguran will lead to the development of the province’s agriculture and eco-tourism potentials.

“This (ecozone) rekindles people’s awareness of Aurora,” the President noted.

The economic zone was created through Republic Act 9490, which also created the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority, on June 29, 2007.

According to the President, the development of industries, an international seaport and airport, and a mariculture plan will create jobs for the residents of Aurora and neighboring towns and provinces.

She said the Casiguran port project will be completed in a few months while the international airport is expected to be operational this year.

Aurora, Central Luzon’s gateway to the Pacific, produces corn and rice in quantity. It also cans tuna and mackerel, for distribution to other parts of the country.

The President said Balerenos will feel the benefits of development when the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) is linked to the Baler Road and the Baler-Casiguran Road.

The SCTEX-Baler Road project will be completed by end of this year while the Casiguran-Baler Road project is halfway to completion.

RP generates US$6.2B from PGMA’s US visit

The Philippines generated at least US$6.2 billion in investments, trade, and aid from the recent US visit of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The amount, according to Malacañang, is higher than the total benefits generated in her combined foreign trips for 2007 and 2008.

In 2007, the President’s foreign trips generated US$873 million in investments, trade, and assistance, with the Middle East accounting for US$579.8 million and the European Union with US$185.4 million. Last year, foreign visits of President Arroyo generated US$399.9 million, the bulk coming from the United Arab Emirates with US$375.4 million.

Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde cited the US$1 billion invested by US-based Coca-Cola Co. to expand its Philippine operations. Of the total, US$300 million has already entered the country.

Other benefits received by the Philippines from the recent US state visit are US$136 million in security and development aid, a US$350 million Millennium Challenge Corp. grant, US$1.6 billion involving the Generalized System of Preferences, US$198 million for the Filipino veterans’ equity fund, US$1 billion in estimated garment exports, and US$1.2 in estimated investments.

Since 1999, the Philippines has received US$429 million in military assistance from the United States. From 2001 to 2008, the country also received US$312 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for Mindanao.

“Evidently, any of these numbers are well in excess of the P2.5 billion or about US$15 million that has been spent on both local and foreign travel by the President since 2001,” Remonde said.

He added that variants of actual versus budget numbers are not enough to conclude whether or not the Office of the President had overspent.

Remonde pointed out that as a working president, President Arroyo, continues her agenda to uplift the lives of the Filipinos.

He noted the Chief Executive has increased the conditional cash assistance to the poorest of the poor nationwide from P5.10 billion to P5.15 billion.

“This is an anti-hunger and pro-poor governance at work and not just symbolic or feel-good gestures,” he added.

Remonde pointed out the other recent accomplishments of the Arroyo government, including the disbursements of official development assistance (ODA) totalling US$825 million for the first half of the year, nearly double the number during the same period last year.

“This is welcome news for our development projects as well as for our external balances position. It also signifies improvement in our capacity to deploy funds for social services and economic stimulus,” he said.

He cited the US$8.5 billion remitted by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) for the first half of this year, an increase of nearly three percent from the same period last year.

Remonde said that according to Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, many companies are now starting to recall their workers laid off earlier.

“This recall of laid off workers is another sign of our economic resilience and recovery. Allow me to reiterate that this is the kind of progress in which our President’s empathy for our poorest countrymen should be measured,” he stressed. (PND)

Allied Bank’s first-half profit up 20%

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

ALLIED Banking Corp. posted a net income of P514.3 million for the first half of 2009, up 20 percent over the year-ago profit of P428.7 million, as net interest income swelled by 44 percent.

The gains from lending operations offset the impact of weaker income from charges and fees and foreign-exchange gains.

The Lucio Tan-owned bank, which is moving toward a merger with Philippine National Bank (PNB), said its net income in the second quarter surged 178 percent to P366 million, from P131.4 million in the same period last year.

First-half net interest income rose to P3.36 billion from P2.32 billion last year.

“Net interest income...swelled by P548.517 million [47.1 percent] due to the increase in loans and receivables by P387.725 million [32.91 percent] and deposits with banks and interbank loans by P55.274 million [35.11 percent],”Allied said in notes accompanying its results.

The bank’s asset base expanded by 15.3 percent to P183.1 billion as of end-June, reflecting increases of 20 percent in loans and receivables and 22 percent in investment securities.

Deposit liabilities increased by P15.9 billion, or 29 percent.

Allied Bank’s capital adequacy ratio, which measures capital strength against risk-weighted credit exposures, stood at 17.59 percent as of end-June, well above the minimum regulatory requirement of 10 percent. But nonperforming loans (NPLs) increased by P512.85 million, or 26.6 percent, to P2.44 billion, pushing its NPL ratio higher at 2.51 percent as of end-June from 2.18 percent a year before.

Of the total NPLs, only around P700 million were covered by allowance for impairment. For the first half, the bank booked P232.5 million in provision for impairment and credit losses, substantially higher than the P1.46-million provision made for the same period last year.

If Allied and PNB merge now, the group will be the fifth largest in assets. PNB had total assets of P274.6 billion as of end-June.

Their combined assets of P430.7 billion were short by P40 billion compared with current fourth-placer Land Bank of the Philippines, which reported total assets of P471 billion as of end-June.

PNB and Allied previously had seen themselves becoming the fourth largest banking group in the country, with PNB—now the fifth-largest—as the surviving entity. The three biggest in assets as of end-June were Banco de Oro Unibank, Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. and Bank of the Philippine Islands.

There are more than 30 regular and expanded commercial banks in the country, with the top three accounting for around 40 percent of the Philippine banking system’s total resources.

Early this month PNB president and chief executive officer Omar Byron Mier said the merger might finally be legally done within the next six to nine months.

The merger was supposed to have been completed by the middle of this year, but was delayed because of the need to comply with US banking regulations requiring Allied to divest its 28-percent equity share in California-based Oceanic Bank prior to merger.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Philippines posts $2.7-B BOP surplus

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE country’s balance of payments (BOP) posted a significantly larger surplus of $2.72 billion in the first seven months, boosting the likelihood the year would end with something beyond the most optimistic expectations of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

In July the BOP had a $506-million surplus, nearly seven times larger than the $73 million in June when the external sector was variously weakened by the general slowdown in the country’s main export markets.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. originally expected the BOP to have a surplus of just $700 million this year, at that time already a sizable improvement from actual BOP surplus of $89 million in 2008.

With the more advanced economies now seen as coming out of recession, Tetangco said there is increasing likelihood the year’s BOP will end “higher than $1 billion” and that there will be a review in October and the target may be recast.

He was not really surprised at the BOP surplus, as he traced much of it to continued
foreign inflows from the remittances of overseas Filipino workers, foreign portfolio or “hot money” investments, and foreign direct investment.

OFW remittance flows, for example, have stubbornly resisted expectations of negative growth forecast by the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Group and even by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank.

Continued foreign exchange flows, Tetangco noted, allowed the country’s gross international reserves to hit the all-time high of $39.99 billion in July or enough to pay more than six months of imports or maturing foreign debt.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cebu Pacific turns around, posts P1.82b 1st half profit

Roderick T de la Cruz
Manila Standard

BUDGET carrier Cebu Pacific returned to profitability this year, with a net income of P1.82 billion in the year to June after posting a net loss of P15.66 million a year ago, its parent firm said yesterday.

JG Summit Holdings Inc. said Cebu Pacific’s gross revenue jumped 21.3 percent to P11.39 billion as a result of its adding routes and increasing flight frequencies.

The airline added flight capacity following its taking delivery of more Airbus A320 and ATR72-500 aircraft in recent months, JG Summit said.

Cebu Pacific chief executive Lance Gokongwei earlier said the airline flew 4.3 million passengers in the first half, which was in line with its full-year target of nine million passengers this year.

The airline expects delivery of 17 new planes from Airbus between 2009 and 2014, including two A320 planes this year. It will also take delivery of two ATR aircraft within the year.

Cebu Pacific said its costs and operating expenses also increased, to P9.28 billion from P8.19 billion a year earlier.

It incurred foreign exchange losses of P223.38 million, though that was 77 percent lower than last year’s P958.72 million.

The airline posted fuel hedging gains of P471.43 million against P77.11 million last year.

“All these factors contributed to the turnaround in the airline’s bottom line, from a net loss of P15.66 million last year to a net income of P1.82 billion this year,” the airline said.

Gokongwei said Cebu Pacific expected to be profitable this year, but challenges remained in the second half and mostly as a result of increasing fuel prices.

e-Passport online application to start 26th of August


MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will accept applications for ePassport through the online appointment system starting August 26, Wednesday.

In a statement, the DFA Office of Consular Affairs advises interested applicants to set an appointment through the DFA website.

Until the DFA’s ePassport system has achieved full capacity, only 100 ePassports will be issued daily, on a first-come-first-serve basis. From August 26 to September 30, only passport applications for renewal will be accepted.

Before submitting their online appointment application, applicants are requested to fill up the required fields on the online appointment page at the DFA website. Otherwise, the online appointment process will not proceed. After internal verification, the DFA will inform the prospective applicant of his/her schedule by electronic mail. Subsequently, the applicant will confirm his/her availability by sending a reply.

Personal appearance is required for prospective ePassport applicants. Until an announcement is made, all ePassport applications during this period shall be filed by the applicant personally to the exclusion of third parties.

Interested applicants will be required the following: old passport, one photocopy of old passport data page, a valid identification card, and the duly accomplished passport application form.

An applicant may use the current machine readable passport (MRP) application form for this purpose, which is also available in the DFA website.

Current MRP holders are firmly advised that their MRPs remain valid and are compliant with global standards.

Security Bank’s second-quarter profit up 41%

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

MIDSIZED Security Bank Corp. clocked a net income of P655.3 million for the second quarter, up 41 percent over P465.6 million in the same period last year and bringing the first-half bottom line higher by 8 percent at P1.4 billion.

The first-half profit translates to an annualized return on average equity (ROE), a measure of profitability, to 20.76 percent compared with 22.0 percent for the same period last year but better than the full-year ratio of 19.23 percent for 2008.

The bank recorded the highest ROE of 22.31 percent in the first quarter among the more than 30 regular and expanded commercial banks in the country, based on figures from the central bank.

With the surge in loans, the bank on Monday said its net interest income improved by 24 percent to P2.9 billion. This resulted in an increase in net interest margin to 4.3 percent from last year’s 3.9 percent.

Noninterest income dropped 11.5 percent to P1.0 billion, reflecting an across-the-board slowdown amid weak income from service charges and fees and foreign-exchange gains.

“Our focus on building our core business while prudently managing risks in our earnings stream has been successful. Our sound balance sheet gives us the leverage to explore different opportunities,” president and chief executive Alberto Villarosa said.

The bank is looking to raise up to P2.5 billion in Tier 1, or core capital, by selling new common shares to certain eligible shareholders. Proceeds will be used for strategic growth initiatives, such as expanding the client base and offering new and higher-value products.

The extra capital will boost its Tier 1 capital adequacy ratio (CAR)—a measure of capital against risk-weighted credit exposures—from 11.29 percent recorded as of end-June, which was still above the minimum regulatory requirement of 10 percent.

Its total CAR, which takes into account Tier 2, or supplementary capital, stood at 14.5 percent as of end-June even after having called P3 billion of its outstanding Tier 2 notes in the first quarter.

A higher CAR will allow the bank to absorb more risks through lending. It previously said it was looking to expand its loan portfolio by 10 percent this year.

Provisions set aside for credit and impairment losses amounted to P251 million for the first six months, P153 million or 37.9 percent lower than the P404.0 million for the comparative period last year.

“The provisions for the year represent the regular buildup of provisions for loans and receivables as a continuing effort to strengthen the bank’s balance sheet in support of the growth in the loan portfolio rather than due to portfolio quality deterioration,” the bank said in notes accompanying its results.

This further strengthened the bank’s nonperforming loans (NPLs) cover to 306 percent as of June from 298 percent 12 months before. Its NPL ratio was flat at 1.4 percent.

“While signs of a global economic recovery still appear tentative, we maintain our guarded optimism for the country and the bank,” Villarosa said in a statement.

The bank ended the first half with P140 billion in total assets, registering a P2.2-billion or 1.6-percent growth from end-2008.

Chief financial officer Carlos Borromeo said the 21-percent increase in the loan portfolio showed the bank’s steady shift in asset allocation from government securities. Loans now account for 47.4 percent of total assets compared with 43.0 percent a year before, he said.

Partly owned by the Social Security System and brokerage firm Asiasec Equities Inc., the bank is controlled by the Dy family, who has a 40-percent stake.

Shares in Security Bank closed steady at P44 on Monday.

Philippines gives P5-B more to poor

Manila Bulletin

The Arroyo government will increase the cash subsidies given to one million poor families to improve their health, nutrition, and education.

President Arroyo Monday authorized an increase of P5 billion to the P10 billion-Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to cover more poor beneficiaries during a visit in Lanao del Norte.

The welfare project, patterned after Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, provides cash assistance to poor households on the condition their children go to school and take part in health and vaccination programs. So far, the government’s welfare program, patterned after Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, benefits 700,000 poor families or 4.5 million people across the country.

The President said the conditional cash transfer program will target the 20 poorest provinces across the country, apart from the poor families living in Metro Manila.

“Starting this July, 700,000 families have started to receive assistance,” the President said in a regional media interview in Sultan Naga Dimporo, Lanao del Norte where she distributed cash subsidies to some 5,000 families.

Asked how many more the government plans to target, the President: “I have just instructed Secretary Cabral that at the the end of the year, she should now target one million. We will extend the program of Pantawid Pamilya to one million of the country’s poorest families.”

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo explained that the government needs P5 billion to cover the 300,000 new poor families who will benefit from the welfare program.

Fajardo said the Department of Budget and Management was assigned to set aside the additional resources that will bring the total cost of the Pantawid Pamilya program to P15 billion this year.

In the same regional interview, the President also pushed anew a legislation institutionalizing the conditional cash transfer program in the country.

She noted that Senator Miriam Santiago and Deputy House Speaker Amelita Villarosa have already authored a draft bill on the program. The two lawmakers accompanied the President during her recent visit in Brazil where they received a briefing on the Bolsa Familia program, which has benefited 12 million poor families.

The President said she wanted the conditional cash transfer project issued under a executive order to be permanent, saying the program is only as good as her tenure.

“An executive order has the power of the law while you are a president until the next president repeals it. A law can only be repealed by Congress.”

Beneficiaries of 4P’s were chosen through household assessment done by the DSWD. Each family received a maximum of P1,400 (P500 for one parent; P900 for three dependents) for five years given in a quarterly basis.

MetroPac in final talks to buy hospital

Miguel R. Camus
Business Mirror

THE hospital unit of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) is close to acquiring one more provincial hospital before the end of this year as part of the Pangilinan-led conglomerate’s goal to build the largest network of medical institutions in the Philippines.

In a telephone interview with the BusinessMirror, MPIC executive director Augusto Palisoc Jr., who heads the company’s hospital division, said the P500-million deal will cover the acquisition as much as half of the facility’s existing shares as well as expenditures for improvements. The executive, however, declined to name the hospital as negotiations are ongoing although he noted that it is one of the biggest outside Metro Manila.

Palisoc added MPIC is also in talks with as many as five other provincial hospitals, though any potential investment will likely occur beyond 2009. At present, the hospital division owns one-third in both Davao Doctors Hospital and Makati Medical Center, while holding the right to operate Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan for the next 20 years.

MPIC’s hospital unit operates a total of 1,000 beds, of which Makati Med accounts for half, with the remainder split evenly between Cardinal Santos and Davao Doctors.

MPIC plans to grow its current capacity to at least 3,000 beds in the coming years which will translate to as many as 10 hospitals, said Palisoc. He said these will likely be in large provincial centers such as Davao and Cebu City.

“There is more negotiating leverage [when operating] eight to 10 hospitals instead of one. There are synergies [in owning] a chain of hospitals—from purchasing of medicines to hospital supplies,” said Palisoc. “Eventually we would like to do some shared service and reduce costs.”

The firm also plans to spend on upgrades for its existing hospitals. Palisoc said near-term spending includes P600 million for equipment in Makati Med and another P200 million for Davao Doctors. The firm has also committed to spend P750 million for Cardinal Santos over the next 10 years as part of its operating contract.

In the case of Makati Med, Palisoc said the strategy will be to improve its outpatient facilities, or services that do not involve a patient being admitted to a hospital like blood-tests or radiology procedures. The hospital’s new outpatient facility is nearly complete, added the MPIC official.

For the first six months of 2009, MPIC’s hospital group reported better earnings.

Medical Doctors Inc, which manages of the Makati Medical Center and Cardinal Santos Medical Center, said first-semester net income rose to P175 million from P122 million after a 52-percent increase in consolidated revenues to P2.16 million. Likewise, Davao Doctors Hospital said core net income increased 27 percent to P70 million, and contributed P18 million to MPIC.

“We are the smallest part of the [MPIC] group at the moment [but] If we do succeed we would like to establish the MPIC hospital group as a very dependable group in the country,” said Palisoc.

Improving RP’s foreign/economic policy strength

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

THE Philippines has unsuccessfully attempted for a long time to find its position in the global community. Much of the thrust of this effort has been taken seriously by the West, in particular by the United States. The recent trip by the President to the US shows how impractical that effort can become.

The Philippines lost any potential influence with the US in 1991 with the Senate vote to cancel the bases agreement. I am not implying any judgment on that decision. It is simply a fact that when the Americans were told to leave, they also took any sort of influence or power that the Philippines may have wielded with the US.

Prior to President Arroyo’s US trip, headlines touted that terrorism would be high on the agenda. How foolish. Obama could not care any less about terrorism or internal conflicts in the Philippines. To say otherwise is to ignore his public statements and policy actions around the world. Were the Abu Sayyaf to march into Malacañang, there might even be some question about which side Obama would support.

The fact that President Arroyo was the first leader of a Southeast Asian nation to visit Obama perhaps says something about the opinion of the other leaders regarding the US’s perception of the region.

The local pundits that attempted to find some sort of hidden agenda in Obama’s statement that “the Philippines will be the coordinating country in the US relationship with Asean” is plain silly. To imply that Obama desires the oil that potentially lies in the disputed waters of the South China Sea is ridiculous. To get to that oil through the Philippines, the US would have to back the Philippines’ claim against China, and that is never going to happen.

Obama’s statement sounded more like a father preparing for a business trip, saying to his six-year-old son, “You’re the man of the house now.”

Granted, though, the Philippines has focused much of its attention on China. But I cannot shake the feeling that any relationship with China is a dance with the devil.

Read this from the Times of India, Manila, August 14 (Associated Press): “China rejects Philippine plans to extract oil from the Reed Bank in the disputed South China Sea as a violation of Chinese sovereignty, Beijing’s ambassador said today. Reed Bank is in the South China Sea but is closest to Palawan Island, which is uncontested Philippine territory.”

If China wants the Reed Bank and its potential oil, then the next China will be claiming is Boracay as its sovereign territory.

And look at the statement later from our dear friends, the Chinese. From Xinhua News Agency, August 14: “Insurgency battles, kidnappings and terrorism appearing now and then in the press hold back tens of thousands of potential Chinese tourists to the Philippines, China’s top envoy in Manila said Friday. Liu said ‘a sense of security’ was very important as Chinese tourists are bothered with media reports on violence in the Philippines.”

And what “media reports” is Ambassador Liu speaking of? Well, Xinhua News Agency is the official press agency of the Chinese government.

One way the Philippines could have created more influence is through the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean). As a founding member of Asean, along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, this could be the venue to place the region and, more important, the Philippines, in a more prominent position.

The purpose for Asean was to create stability and harmony among the members, as well as economic cooperation. After 40 years, little concrete has really been achieved. Asean did nothing in the dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines over the sovereignty of Sabah. The 1997 economic crisis saw it as a body sitting quietly on the sidelines as member-nations worked through their problems.

If you read the Fundamental Principles statement of Asean, you would think you were reading a statement from nations that had just been at war with each other. That is probably closer to the truth of Asean, since it was formed shortly after Singapore and Malaysia nearly went to war during the breakdown of the newly formed Malaysia. Indonesia and the former Federation of Malaya did go to war.

If you look at the last 10 years of Asean, nearly countless “road maps” have been developed for economic cooperation. Unfortunately, road maps do not necessarily lead to “roads.” For example, some sort of unified stock exchange or at least cross-border company listing and electronic trading has been talked about for years. And talked about endlessly with nothing being moved forward in a practical sense.

On the plus side, Asean has concluded fair-trade agreements with several nations, including China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India. But here again, each individual nation still must adhere and adapt to these agreements. Yet Asean itself has never achieved “open borders” between its member-nations.

Asean is like a ship without a captain. The Philippines could and should assume the predominant leadership role in Asean if it so desired. Then the rest of the world, and particularly the US, would give this nation the importance it needs in this new economic world. The Philippines cannot do it by itself. But the strength of Asean has the potential for success.

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Philippine remittances defy forecasts

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases
OF Remittances Up 2.9 % in First Half at US$8.5 Billion

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks reached a record high of US$1.5 billion in June 2009, posting a year-on-year growth of 3.3 percent. This positive development brought cumulative remittances for the first half of the year to US$8.5 billion, indicating a 2.9 percent increase from the year-ago level. Remittances from sea-based and land-based workers posted gains of 4.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

“The continued growth of remittance flows since January this year accompanied by emerging signs of improving global economic conditions have affirmed the positive outlook for steady remittances for 2009,” BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said. The sustained foreign demand for highly-skilled and professional Filipino workers combined with wider access of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to a broad array of financial products and services offered by banks and other financial institutions have been the driving factors behind the sustained growth in remittances.

Deployment of Filipino workers abroad is anticipated to be steady in the months ahead given the employment arrangements between the Philippines and host countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia and South Korea. Apart from the prospective recruitment of about 4,000 Filipino medical workers in Libya, the Tripoli-based Philippine Overseas Labor Office is also exploring employment opportunities for OFWs in non-traditional markets such as Algeria, Chad, Malta, and Morocco, particularly in the hotel, oil and gas, and technical services sectors. Moreover, the POEA reported that the employment of additional production workers in Taiwan will be facilitated starting August this year through the special hiring program for Taiwan (SHPT) in cooperation with the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO). The Philippine government’s strong support for overseas Filipino workers in crisis-affected countries has also resulted in the deceleration in the OFWs displacement rate.

Meanwhile, bank and non-bank service providers’ continued expansion of their international and domestic market coverage to capture a larger share of the global remittance market has also helped to sustain the inflow of remittances. The enhancement of their operations overseas and the introduction of new products and services have contributed significantly in addressing the remittance needs of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries.

For the period January-June 2009, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany.

Monday, 17 August 2009

President Arroyo visits Mindanao troops

Redesigning industrial economic zones

Manila Bulletin

I am glad that Director Lilia de Lima of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority has been very strategic in her view about the future of our economic zones. Very early on, she gave the go-signal to the IT Parks, in which Eastwood City was a pioneer. Then there are the agro-industrial zones. More recently, there are the retirement village and tourism zones. Such a forward-looking strategy is adapting to the rapidly changing competitive dynamics in the global economy.

In the next twenty years, the Philippines’ competitive advantage will veer towards agribusiness, tourism, health care, BPO and manpower training. We must redesign our economic zones to move away from the industries that will lose their competitive edge based solely on cheap labor.

I was heartened to read a report of AFP that quoted Subic Freeport Administrator Armand C. Arreza saying the most sensible thing about the future of Subic. Commenting on the shift in Subic from manufacturing to tourism and logistics, he said that Subic's manufacturing future had been in question even before the ongoing global crisis hit electronics companies.

He said that for the past several years, low-wage competition from China and Vietnam has been luring companies away from Subic. He categorically states that "low-cost manufacturing is not the area where Subic is competitive. Most of our land area is protected forests and protected seas. We don't have any space to accommodate large industrial parks." In his opinion, the future of Subic lies in tourism, medical care, shipbuilding and logistics, using the ample space still available for warehouses especially around the largely unused Subic airport.

Subic is like a microcosm of the entire Philippines. We have more than 7,000 islands, many of which can attract millions of tourists (both domestic and foreign) if only we build more efficient infrastructures (which are part of industry). Besides, we have highly educated and motivated industrial workers.

We can, therefore, graduate to higher-value manufacturing in the electronics and semiconductor devices sector. When I say that the likes of Intel, Fairchild, Texas Instruments will phase out their labor-intensive manufacturing activities, I am not suggesting that the whole industry is doomed to extinction. The key is found in the statement in the same AFP report of Danny J Piano, President of the Subic Chamber of Commerce: "Subic manufacturers can survive. The Philippines has the capability to do good high-end work due to workers' better education, communication and English skills."

The electronics and semi-conductor devices industry is now in crisis because for thirty years, it has hardly graduated from low-value manufacturing to the high-end work to which Mr. Piano is referring. Unless we can produce more engineers and highly-skilled technical workers that can be employed at the higher end of electronics manufacturing, then we will see more firms in this sector (that accounts for more than 60 percent of our exports) following the example of Intel that decided to leave the Philippines even before the present deep recession. I hope other export-processing zones such as those in Mactan, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite are listening to the wise advice of the Subic officials.

They have to encourage their industrial tenants to go upscale in the manufacture of electronics and semiconductor devices.

The experience of the electronics industry should be studied very closely by the BPO industry that is just beginning its own thirty-year industry life cycle. Fortunately, there are enlightened leaders in this sector (that continues to grow at double-digit rates even as the global economy is taking a dive this year) who already realize that they have to move as quickly as possible from just call centers to higher-value BPO activities like medical transcription, animation, legal documentation, accounting and finance, investment research, etc. It is not impossible that in the next five to ten years, there will be millions of Chinese university graduates who will be very fluent in English and take over the role of Filipinos in manning call centers. We better make sure that we are ready for this situation by moving to higher-value BPO activities more rapidly than the electronics sector has been able to do in the last thirty years.

Finally, to once and for all bury the manufacturing bias of some of our leaders, let me quote from Zenaida Pineda, 40, a former electronics worker in Subic, who was also quoted in the AFP report. She said that she now earns as much working as a chambermaid in a Subic hotel as she did at her factory job: "I like housekeeping more because you can move around, not just stay at your work station. Besides, working on electronics hurt my eyes." These very sensible remarks of Ms. Pineda take away the mystique and glamour of manufacturing. Most labor-intensive manufacturing jobs, whether in textile, garments, shoes, electronics, etc. are dehumanizing.

They involve repetitive tasks with very little intellectual content and remind me of Charlie Chaplain's famous movie Modern Times. Service-oriented jobs are more humane and can be more challenging both intellectually and emotionally.

I always tell my friends jokingly that if I had to earn my keep as a blue-collar OFW, I will look for a job as a gardener in Barcelona or Vancouver rather than as a factory worker in Taipei. As a gardener, I will be using not only my brawn but also my creativity and intellectual capacity to understand the most exciting world of trees, shrubs and flowers. I will be combining earning a living with a very pleasurable hobby. For comments, my email address is

JG Summit rebounds with P3.9-billion profit

Manila Bulletin

JG Summit Holdings’s net income for the 1st half of 2009 amounted surged 514.8 percent to P3.87 billion on the back of a recovery in the second quarter.

The firm said that the second quarter brought in record results as JG Summit netted profits of P3.01 billion (compared to P864 million in the first quarter) since the company benefited from the initial signs of stabilization on the global financial markets front even as the peso depreciated during the period.

Even excluding the effects of the financial and foreign exchange markets, JG Summit said it still showed marked improvement as core earnings for the first six months increased 12.3 percent from P4.90 billion in 2008 to P5.50 billion in 2009.

Consolidated revenues were up 15.5 percent from P46.20 billion to P53.34 billion driven by the continued growth in sales and revenues of its core businesses, mainly: Foods, airline and the mobile phone business.

In addition, equity in net earnings of associates recorded an 82.4 percent growth during the period, from P911.62 million last year to P1.66 billion during the first half of this year. Revenue growth, however was tempered by the decline in sales of JG Summit’s petrochemical business by 42.4 percent to P2.50 billion during the period.

Financing costs and other charges incurred for the six months of the year increased 29.8 percent to P3.58 billion mainly due to higher level of debt financing during the period as well as the higher peso-exchange rate used.

Mark-to-market gains recognized during the period amounted to P1.14 billion as compared to a loss of P1.78 billion recorded for the same period last year.

The market values of the Group’s financial assets have shown signs of recovery especially in the second quarter, brought about by the improving confidence in the global financial markets.

Foreign exchange loss recorded for the first six months of 2009 amounted to P1.07 billion, a 59.5 percent decrease from P2.64 billion for the same period last year mainly due to higher peso devaluation during the first six months of last year.

Interest income declined 19.5 percent for the first six months of 2009 from P1.17 billion last year to P943.66 million this year due to lower average investment portfolio during the period as compared to last year’s.

The Other income account dropped 55.4 percent for the first half of 2009 from P752.57 million in 2008 to P335.70 million mainly due to lower trading gains (actual) realized this year in our financial assets as compared to the same period last year and also due to last year’s recognition of gain on early repayment of various debts by a certain subsidiary.