Saturday, 26 December 2009

Malls also a hit on Christmas day

Victims trapped inside sunken ferry?

Why 2009 wasn’t so bad for our country

By Harvey S. Keh
Manila Bulletin

When one would look back at 2009, images of the gruesome Maguindanao massacre, Typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng, the impending eruption of Mt. Mayon, the Katrina Halili-Hayden Kho sex scandal and political bickerings would dominate the year that is just about to end.

Yet, despite all the negative news and our seeming inability to move forward as a nation, there are also several inspiring and uplifting stories that continue to make us feel proud of being Filipinos.

This year we saw the emergence of Filipino youth-led social enterprises such as Rags2Riches, Hapinoy, Bejeweled and Chains for Change to mention a few. These social enterprises bank on the ingenuity and innovativeness of the Filipino youth towards helping uplift the quality of life of marginalized communities all over the country.

The wonderful thing about social enterprises is that it does not only help solve society’s most pressing problems but more importantly it is able to generate enough profit for these positive changes to become scalable and sustainable.

The Ateneo School of Government has also seen a marked increase in the number of people who are enrolling in its social entrepreneurship program since more and more Filipinos are seeing this as the new way of being able to contribute to nation-building.

As we gear towards the upcoming 2010 national elections, we have also seen youth-led organizations such as Youth Vote Philippines create campaigns and projects that are aimed at encouraging the Filipino youth to register for the upcoming polls.

This campaign was brought to different colleges and universities all over the country and was able to encourage several thousands of first time voters to go out of their way to register. Given that more than 50 percent of our country’s voting population is comprised of Filipinos aged between 18-40 years old, the power of the youth when harnessed properly will be able to actually elect the right kind of leaders for our country. Youth Vote Philippines has also opened an online portal which will enable young Filipinos to access information about the different national candidates who are running in the 2010 elections. This will help all of us choose the kind of government leaders that our country sorely needs.

During the latter part of the year, we were again given pride and honor through the selection of our very own Efren Peñaflorida as this year’s CNNNN Hero of the Year. Efren has shown us that the Filipino youth can become a catalyst for positive change in our country if he or she decides to do so. Through the efforts of Efren and his friends at the Dynamic Teen Company in Cavite, thousands of out of school youth and street children are given proper education thereby giving them a better chance of achieving a better quality of life in the future. Efren’s very humble beginnings have shown that one need not be rich and powerful to be able to become a changemaker in our society.

Finally, this year also saw the bayanihan spirit in action as we have seen during the massive rescue and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Although many of the victims were not known to us, many Filipinos here and abroad went out of their way to share their resources with those who needed it the most. More importantly, we saw young Filipinos taking time to volunteer to sort, pack and deliver the relief goods in the different evacuation centers all over the country. This has shown that amidst great tragedy the Filipino spirit will continue to prevail.

Now, as we enter 2010, I look forward to another year full of stories of hope and inspiration as we enter a crucial time in the history of our young nation. Let these stories of hope in 2009 continue to inspire us to be part of the change that we want to see. Let us work together so that 2010 will not only be a new year for all of us but more importantly a new life and a new beginning for our country.

Harvey S. Keh is director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo School of Government.

Comments are welcome at

Mayon at its best

Tourists have been flocking to Mayon Volcano to witness its awesome display of flowing lava and pyroclastic materials as authorities continue to expect a major eruption anytime soon. (Photo by LINUS G. ESCANDOR II)

December 25, 2009, 3:16pm
Manila Bulletin

LIGNON HILL NATURE PARK, LEGAZPI CITY – Residents were treated to an overnight fireworks display that greeted Christmas Day here as Mount Mayon spewed more lava and pyroclastic materials, prompting some people to spend noche buena on top of this hill for a view of the glowing volcanic materials trickling down Mayon’s slopes.

“Magayunon!” (It’s beautiful!),” a girl told her father who was busy shooting pictures not only of Mayon Volcano but also the view of Legazpi City after partaking their traditional noche buena on top of Lignon (pronounced as "linyon") Hill here.

So spectacular was that sight that Albay Governor Joey Salceda was prompted to say that Mayon’s activities since Thursday night was the most beautiful sight he had seen so far from the rumbling volcano, what with the glowing lava that looks like tentacles in the slopes.

“It’s Mayon at its best,” Salceda said.

The spectacle has drawn many tourists to Lignon Hill, considered a view deck for Mayon Volcano, as good weather and clear skies allowed a clear view of the burning lava flow on Christmas Eve.

Cars lined up at the foot of the hill waiting for their turn to enter the view deck since only 10 cars can enter the narrow space of the hill at any given time.

We noticed that there are more people climbing the hill tonight than in the past few days. Maybe it is because of the good weather. We can see the volcano clearly,” said Kim Chan, chief security officer of Lingnon Hill Nature Park.

A few meters away from the hill lies the observatory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Volcanologist and Phivolcs Planning Officer Delfin Garcia said the skies have cleared since 2 p.m. last Wednesday.

“It has been cloudy for the past three to four days. The skies cleared up only 2 p.m. last Wednesday. In the past few days, we cannot see the height of the eruption column,” Garcia said.

The glowing red lava coming from the volcano can be seen in both sides oozing from the summit. Explosions were also heard intermittently, giving tourists more excitement.

Burning particles were also seen detaching from the glowing rocks that cascaded down the slopes, like fireworks displays ordinarily seen during New Year's Eve revelry and on special occasions.

While the volcanic activities were indeed wonderful to behold, they brought, however, more jitters and anxiety to affected residents and local disaster officials after scientists said the threat posed by Mount Mayon is far from over.

Resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said there were actually 96 ash explosions recorded, each followed by audible booming sounds, during good visibility that are actual manifestation of intense activity inside the volcano.

“These explosions produced light brown to grayish ash columns that reached as high as two kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

At least 98 rock fall events were also detected, and three were observed to have generated pyroclastic flows that moved down within two kilometers from the crater, he added.

The rock falls, he explained, were actually a result of the detachments of lava fragments deposited in Mayon’s upper slopes.

The emission of sulfur dioxide and occurrence of tremors are on the downtrend but Laguerta said they are not an assurance that Mayon’s activity is subsiding. He said it could even spell out more danger.

Despite the huge volume of lava oozing out of the crater and the booming ash explosions that some thought was already a major eruption, Laguerta said they do not call for the hoisting of alert Level 5 that would indicate a hazardous eruption is ongoing.

“Medyo bitin pa kasi, I mean one of our categories in declaring alert level 5 is successive tall ash columns that could reach an average of five kilometers from the summit,” said Laguerta.

The ash explosions since Thursday night up to Friday only reached as high as two kilometers.

“So we still have to monitor and wait further for the activities in the next days,” said Laguerta.

Rumbling sounds and explosions were more evident Friday night than in the previous days while the explosion column or smoke-like chamber on top of the volcano can also be seen clearly even without the aid of a telescope.

Satellite images gathered two days ago revealed there are already a total of 20 million cubic meters of lava that has been discharged by the volcano.

“Now, there are scattered rock falls,” Laguerta added.

In a separate interview, Phivolcs director Renato Solidum explained that rock falls are detached fragments of the lava flow that would generate pyroclastic flows.

“While lava is flowing, there are also other hazards related to it. The fragments, they get broken into pieces and they bring in other materials and that produces pyroclastic flows,” Solidum said.

Friday, 25 December 2009

QTV: 'Secret Santa' pays hospital bills of some patients at PGH

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Christmas Message

President's pre-Christmas visit to Legazpi City

PGMA Leads Destruction of illegal Drugs in PDEA, Q.C.

74th Founding Anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Philippines volcano activity intensifies - 24 Dec 09

Govt starts Christmas bonus release on Thursday

Green light for the radio frequency ID project

Alvin Capino
Manila Standard

It appears that there is no more impediment to the implementation of the radio frequency system by the Land Transportation Office this January with the failure of militant groups to get a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

Earlier, the militant transport group Piston, together with Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza and Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod had asked the Supreme Court for a permanent injunction order with prayer for a TRO.

With their usual paranoia, the progressive groups claimed that the project could be used by the government to spy on and invade the privacy of people who are perceived as enemies of the state.

“Invasion of privacy” is a refrain we hear from Leftists whenever the government tries to implement programs and projects that seek to install order and convenience for the public. This is their mantra against the national ID system that would give a unified ID for all citizens to make transactions with government easier and make it difficult for people to assume multiple identities.

Using the “invasion of privacy” line to object to the project, however, verges on the ridiculous.

LTO’s RFID will serve as a vehicle’s birth certificate of sorts and will serve as the unique ID for a vehicle from motorcyles to trucks.

How this can be used to invade an individual’s privacy is hard to imagine. Perhaps the militant groups opposing the adoption by LTO of the system can explain how they came to this conclusion.

The system can be used as a deterrent to carnapping since any attempt to register a carnapped vehicle will immediately raise alarms.

The system will stop the practice of non-appearance for mandatory emission testing for vehicles before registration. Once the system is in place, RFID readers will be installed in all LTO authorized emission testing centers. It can easily be verified if the vehicle is actually in the center when the emission test is conducted.

RFID will make it easier to stop “colorum” buses and jeepneys. With a tag reader, a law enforcer can immediately detect if a public transport vehicle has a franchise or if it is operating outside its franchise area.

Transportation chief assistant secretary Arturo Lomibao had a meeting with Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima to explain the system and assure her that the technology does not invade the rights to privacy of motorists.

De Lima had expressed concern about possible privacy rights violations amidst the controversy generated by the opposition to the announcement of the planned implementation of the system.

Lomibao said he assured De Lima that LTO’s strict protocols would not allow RFID to be used to harass motorists.

In a recent talk with journalists, Lomibao stressed that no contact information like address or telephone numbers can be accessed through the RFID. The tag does not have global positioning capability.

One expert earlier explained that a cell phone was potentially more invasive and was more of a threat to privacy than RFID. There are devices, after all, which can trace the location of a cell phone user as well as tap voice and text messages sent through the cellular phone.

Lomibao said that an RFID reader will show only the following information: RFID unique code, motor vehicle file number, engine number, chassis number, plate number, motor vehicle type, color, make, series, year model, body type, registered owner, last registration date and alarms on the vehicles and whether the alarms have been settled or still unsettled.

If it’s a public utility vehicle tagging the RFID through the reader would also show the franchise number, the authorized route, and the name of the owner/organization.

It would seem that only the militant Piston is still opposing the implementation of the RFID system.

All other major transport groups led by 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK) led by sectoral representative lawyer Vigor Mendoza had expressed their all out support for the implementation of the RFID through a resolution signed by the organization’s key transport leaders nationwide.

The resolution urged President Gloria Arroyo to immediately implement the RFID project as well as the interconnectivity program of the LTO and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Aside from 1-UTAK other transport groups which have publicly expressed support for the LTO RFID project are Acto, Pasang Masda and Fejodap.

The P350 price has been cited by some of those opposing the project to ask government to junk it. They say the charges are exorbitant and the price of RFID is just a fraction of what will be charged to vehicle owners.

Like the issue of RFID potentials to spy on vehicle owners, the issue of exorbitant price is baseless and unreasonable.

The P350 price for the RFID tag is a one-time payment. The tag has a warranty of 10 years so the yearly payment amounts to P35/year.

Those who say the tag is overpriced conveniently forget the fact that the P350 covers not just the tag but the entire system plus its operation, the yearly maintenance, value-added tax and government’s revenue share.

For every P350, the VAT for each tag is P37.50, the revenue share for the national government is P20.43 and the fund allocated for the LTO Training Fund is P32.93. These three items alone total P90.86.

If you factor in the capital expenditure for the hardware, software, readers and network equipment as well as the cost of personnel to be hired specifically for the project, the general administrative cost and the cost of the tag the net to Stradcom, the service provider is less than P20.

The P350 cost of the RFID is reasonable if you compare it to the Epass for Slex (P1,300) and the EC tag for Nlex (P1,000). Of course the Epass and the EC tags uses the old battery powered active type system which is good for three to five years while the passive type non-battery operated RFID system is a next generation identification technology similar to barcode readers.

Perhaps a fairer comparison is RFID systems used in other countries for transport. The Touch and Go payment card in Malaysia and Octopus system in Hongkong for payment of tolls and payment in retail outlets cost the equivalent of P2,000. The EZ link payment card in Singapore cost the equivalent of P600. Compared to these cost, the P350 for the LTO RFID tags is reasonable.

Perhaps Ocampo and Masa can look at other issues that would really be relevant to the public. They do not sound reasonable in their opposition to the RFID project and only he carnappers, the colorum operators and the unscrupulous emission testing centers are happy with their efforts to stop what appears now as a good project.

PGMA distributes relief goods in Legaspi City evacuation center

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today oversaw the distribution of foodstuffs and other basic necessities in various evacuation centers in Legaspi City.

Later, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, chairman of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, told the President that the number of solders and policemen patrolling the area around Mayon Volcano have been doubled to ensure that everybody is moved to safer grounds and nobody is allowed to go within the danger zone.

For their part, officials of Philvolcs told the President the volcano could erupt any time.

In a media briefing in Malacañang earlier, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita disclosed that 9,880 families had been moved to temporary shelters after the volcano showed signs of imminent eruption.

The families, composed of 47,137 individuals, are now housed in 26 school and other government buildings in the cities of Legaspi and Tabaco and in the towns of Maliliput, Camalig, and Guinobatan.

The President had flown in from Hong Kong, where she spent three days for a much needed rest with her family.

It has always been the President’s practice, Ermita said, to go directly to disaster and calamity areas from a trip abroad.

“She is one President I know, who after landing goes to the hangar of the airport and fly to any place in the Philippines, where her presence is needed” Ermita said.

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, Ermita said, Philvolcs had hoisted Alert Level 4, which means the volcano could erupt within days.

According to Ermita, school authorities have been advised to devise ways to enable students in evacuation centers to hold regular classes as soon as possible.

So far, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has released 10,200 sacks of rice worth P9.37 million, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and RDCC have given away three truckloads of relief goods worth P2.1 million.

There is also a P500,000 standby fund for the purchase of additional relief goods if needed.

Also, the UNICEF donated 20 trailers of water jugs for the affected residents around the volcano.

The Executive secretary said the NDCC, RDCC, and other local government officials, along with private organizations, have made the necessary preparations to achieve zero-casualty, in pursuant to a policy formulated at President Arroyo’s insistence.

Before leaving for Hong Kong a few days ago, the President met with disaster control officials and ordered them to strictly implement the Extended Danger Zone (EDZ).

The EDZ consists of eight kilometers on the southern part and seven kilometers on northern part of the volcano’s summit. Nobody is allowed to go within that radius. (PND)


Arroyo orders police to find Mayon holdouts

By Rey M. Nasol
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines—-"Find the 56 holdouts!”

That, according to Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, was how President Macapagal-Arroyo barked out the order to military and police officials to find at least 56 people who reportedly refused to leave their homes despite Mayon’s Volcano’s continuing eruption, when she visited on Wednesday a temporary shelter for hundreds of people evacuated from homes and farms threatened by the volcano.

The President was reacting to the information that despite the continuous intense level of activity of Mayon, some resident refused to leave their homes within the danger zones.

But even people who have moved to evacuation centers, still go back to their homes—to check on their property, feed their animals, do some laundry, take a bath, use the toilets, gather firewood or any other personal reason—defying the danger.

Salceda said President Arroyo gave the order after clearing with the Department of Justice the forcible removal of stubborn residents still holding out in their homes.

She arrived in Legazpi at about 2:10 p.m. to personally convey her assurance of support to the affected residents now temporarily housed at various evacuation centers.

Ms Arroyo visited the Mayon evacuees at the Gogon Elementary School, which houses residents of Barangays Bonga and Buyuan, both within the declared danger zone.

She distributed food packs.

The school houses 743 families or 3,643 individuals.

The President was briefed by Phivolcs resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta on the condition of Mayon.

Salceda also explained to the President the nature of the existing disaster mitigation measures being put to work in all evacuation centers in the province.

“In response, President Arroyo committed P35 million worth of goods to the province of Albay but as of this time the provincial government is still utilizing its calamity funds,” he told local journalists.

“I already assured the President that everything is being taken care of by the provincial government in partnership with concerned government agencies,” Salceda said.

He said the province's resources are good for the next 17 days.

Salceda said that aside from ensuring food, sanitation, health services and safety of the evacuees and their properties, the provincial government was implementing a "cluster response approach" whreby nongovernment organizations, United Nations agencies and other stakeholders have identified their respective responses.

The President then proceeded to the Naval Forces of Southern Luzon in Rawis, Legazpi City, to inspect the stockpile of food and other donations from the World Food Program.

The joint Philippine Army-Philippine National Police Task Force Mayon has been conducting a census of individuals who keep on coming back to their homes despite the volcanic activity, including lava flows and ejections of ash, steam and gases.

“Because they cannot be told to stay at their designated evacuation centers, they would be asked to sign a waiver for risking their lives there,” said Capt. Razaleigh G. Bansawan, task force spokesman.

But this has yet to be decided upon by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.

Bansawan said the implementation of a “no human activity” policy inside the danger zone was part of Salceda’s zero-casualty goal.

Bansawan said a report submitted to the PDCC was the subject of a new study to determine whether the local government units had truly evacuated all threatened residents.

He said their initial information showed that some 100 residents were still in Mabinit, barangay of Legazpi City within the eight-kilometer danger zone.

However, Salceda has strongly recommended not to allow any human activity within the danger zone.

“If you are there and Mayon violently erupts, you are dead, so what is the use of a waiver? It is better to stay away from the volcano while there is still time and return to normal habitats if Mayon returns to normal condition. After all, the government will help them rebuild their homes, farms and their lives," he said.

The Department of Health has provided P6 million for medicines and portable toilets for the evacuation centers in Albay.

Salceda briefed six teams of doctors and nurses from different government hospitals in Manila who arrived at the PDCC conference hall Wednesday to augment local workers at the shelters.

Tthe PDCC has secured 10,000 water jugs, mats and blankets.

DSWD Regional Director Remia Tapispisan immediately released and prepositioned materials at the Naval forces office in Rawis, Legazpi City for distribution to the operation centers.

The PDCC has also activated a water purifier donated by the Spanish government. It has a capacity of 30,000 liters per hour capacity.

However, for bathing, cooking and laundry, the Bureau of Fire Protection has been tasked by the PDCC to distribute water to all the evacuation centers three times a day.

Albay folks brave Mayon fury ‘to feed the pigs'

Manila Bulletin

Legazpi City— Living up to their Bicolano reputation as passionate lovers, Albay couples brought to evacuation centers while Mayon Volcano is threatening to blow its top have been braving the dangers of hot lava and cascading boulders, returning to their homes inside danger zones to consummate their fiery love, officials have discovered.

Triggered by curiosity as to why some evacuees have repeatedly been caught returning to their homes, local authorities here launched an investigation and discovered that the oft repeated alibi of going back “to feed the pigs” is actually a euphemism and password for making whoopee.

“So if you hear couples telling authorities in evacuation centers that they have to go back para mabaog ning orig (to feed their pigs) back home, it actually means that they will have sex,” said Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

Aside from the report of security forces tasked to evacuate those in the six-kilometer and eight-kilometer danger zones that they had evacuated the same people at least thrice, Salceda narrated that local authorities tasked to supervise evacuation centers also discovered the modus when a couple tried to get permission to go back.

Asked why, the husband said that they simply must because their pigs would starve to death if they fail to feed them.

At that point, one of the couple’s kids butted in and said, “wara man kitang mga orig” (but we have no pigs), Salceda narrated.

The official also disclosed that they have observed frequent verbal tussles between couples in evacuation centers, attributing the altercations to the lack of sex for both of them.

“We understand them because it is a biological need. The biggest punishment if you are married is not doing it for days,” said Salceda.

As such, Salceda said that when evacuations began as early as November, local disaster officials immediately ordered the setting up of at least two conjugal rooms in every evacuation center.

But the evacuees won’t do it there.

“Based on our reports, they won’t avail it. Possibly because they are afraid that they would be laughed at or teased or they are afraid of peeping toms,” said Salceda.

And since the 26 evacuation centers in Albay are now almost congested, Salceda said they are considering the distribution of entrance stubs to all motels near the evacuation centers in order to give couples their needed intimate moments.

He said they are still on the planning stage as to the number of stubs that would be procured and distributed and the number of stubs that would be given per couple.

“But one thing is for sure: we will not give the stubs to husbands because they might use them with other women aside from their wives,” the governor said.

Real toys make real memories

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Looking back at the “good old days” is definitely a sign that you are entering your “mature” years. That being said, there may have been some advantages from “before” that we do not have “now.”

The US economy is a disaster. Real unemployment is above 20 percent. There is no growth in economic activity as evidenced by the latest revision of the third-quarter gross domestic product, previously reported as up 3.53 percent, then revised downward to 2.78 percent and now pegged at 2.24 percent. The critical retail and housing sectors are “bottom bouncing” and showing no growth.

But all that has not stopped American shoppers from jumping on the latest Christmas toy, Zhu Zhu Pets.

The US has a well-founded reputation of one toy being available in time for Christmas that turns into a craze. Every year stories emerge of shoppers practically killing each other to get the last one in stock. Parents driving hours to little rural towns where there might be one left. And, of course, entrepreneurs hoarding items early and selling them for three or four times the retail price on eBay. This year is no different.

The hot toy for 2009 is the Zhu Zhu Pet, a battery-operated motorized hamster-looking toy, which name means “little pig” in Chinese.

According the company’s web site, “Zhu Zhu Pets are the world’s first innovative, realistic, interactive, plush and artificially intelligent hamsters that talk and move around in their own play sets [two AAA batteries included].”

Zhu Zhu Pets are the brainchild of an American toy company employing a couple of dozen executives and sales people and several dozen more workers in China doing the manufacturing. They will undoubtedly make millions; not the Chinese, of course.

I will admit it. I like kids’ toys. Over the years, I realize I have bought toys for my sons that I probably wanted for myself. And I am possibly a little jealous. When I was a child, if you wanted your toy gun to go “Bang!” you had to shout “Bang!” Now, that toy gun has a computer chip that says “Bang!” and a lot more than that, and almost certainly does it in 20 different languages. But you know, even after more than half a century, I can still remember a small tree branch I had that sort of looked like a rifle. I played with that gun for a whole summer vacation. It never said “Bang!” but it did have a sling that I made out of two old shoelaces tied together and an aiming sight from some gold thumbtacks.

The creator of the electronic hamsters says the objective was to make a toy that offers the fun of a hamster without the mess. “The best alternatives to real live hamsters, Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters don’t poop, die, or stink.”

And that is my objection to Zhu Zhu Pets.

There have always been pets roaming through my family. A couple of hundred tropical fish, several cats, nearly a dozen dogs, mice, birds and the latest addition, a guinea pig, have called my house their home. And every one of them pooped, sometimes stank, and a few have died. And I am glad they did not run on two AAA batteries.

I remember when the oldest boy was still short of his seventh birthday. Our dog wandered around the house all day not feeling well and about dinnertime suddenly started heaving and coughing and then died on the kitchen floor. The vet said it was probably canine distemper or something like that.

Before that night was over, my boys got their first taste of one part of living: the death of a loved one. The dog was bundled up in an old blanket and we dug a grave outside in the back garden. The youngest boy, about 5, thought that in addition to the leash, the dog’s food bowl should be buried, too, so that is what we did.

My young sons learned an important lesson that night, much more important than learning that if your pet Zhu Zhu stops moving, it is time to buy new batteries.

My children also learned over the years that pets, like people, poop and need to be cleaned up after. And if you take the enjoyment of loving a pet, you also take the duty and responsibility of cleaning up the pet’s mess.

The Zhu Zhu people say that they “create positive disruption through innovation, whereby saving magic from extinction.” I am not sure what kind of magic they are saving as toy manufacturers but I remember the magic in son No.3’s eyes the first time he saw the momma guppy give birth to 30 baby fish.

The true lessons of life have to be learned by living life, not by fake imitations. A few summers ago, the boys wanted to earn some extra money so they set up a fish-ball/cheese-fry business outside the house. They discovered about working capital and raw-material costs and profit margins and division of labor. The youngest wanted to be the cook but he could not quite reach the cooker properly. So he was happily in charge of napkins and toothpicks. And they also found out about unsold merchandize, having to eat leftover fish balls for dinner and breakfast.

The only one in my house that would probably appreciate a Zhu Zhu hamster is the Labrador Jake. Every time Jake gets too close to the realistic, interactive, plush, and actually intelligent guinea pig named Jack, he gets his nose whacked. The Zhu Zhu would be easier to catch and chew on.

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IMF, WB say RP banks stress-free amid crisis

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its sister firm the World Bank (WB) have given the Philippine banking system a clean bill of health, pronouncing it stress-free from the debilitating impact of the global economic slowdown.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco announced this development at a forum he hosted on Tuesday for the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap).

According to Tetangco, the IMF/World Bank tandem conducted a so-called stress test on the banking system to try to determine the areas rendered weak or troubled by the economic woes of countries including the United States, Japan and much of Europe.

“The results have been positive. Philippine banks were found to be in position to weather the stress created by the global economic downturn,” Tetangco said of the tests conducted under IMF/WB’s Financial Sector Assessment Program.

 The series of probes was conducted in the weeks just before a team of IMF economic experts subjected the Philippines to a review under Article IV of the Agreements in November.

Member-countries agree under Article IV to open their macroeconomic books to IMF analyses at least once a year, for monitoring and compliance purposes.

In the areas of bank nonperforming loans (NPLs) and capital adequacy, for example, the IMF found no reason to be concerned.

According to Tetangco, none of the double-digit NPL rates prevalent in the wake of the 1997 region wide financial crisis was uncovered during the tests.

This means Philippine banks continued to lend to the productive units of the economy and optimize local output; and yet the quality of those loans remained well within the 8 percent minimum set by the Bank for International Settlements and the 10 percent set by the BSP.

Latest data show the banks’ NPLs averaging 3.3 percent in October, the 13th month in a series when the incidence of bad loans averaged lower than 4 percent.

The banks’ capital-adequacy ratio, an indication of capacity to withstand the erosion of capital as a consequence of bad loans and other operational hazards without falling by the wayside, stands 4- or 5-percentage point higher to around 14 percent to 15 percent at present.

The BSP requires Philippine banks to observe a minimum capital adequacy ratio of 10 percent or risk regulatory penalties such as a status downgrade or denial of access to interbank credit privileges to encourage compliance.

“Philippine banks were found to have a good mix of declining NPLs and better capital levels during the tests,” Tetangco said.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

QTV: Arroyo set to visit evacuation sites in Albay

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

QTV: Strombolian phase of eruption usually precedes big eruption

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Mayon's rumblings stronger

Politicians now engage in 'V-blogging'

Remittances seen rising by at least 8% in 2010

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

FROM an expected growth of at least 4 percent this year, remittances of Filipinos abroad are likely to be stronger in 2010, possibly rising by at least 8 percent, as recession-hit countries hosting tens of thousands of Filipino workers are now recovering, according to DBS Bank.

The Singapore-based institution, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, expects the crisis-hit economies of the US, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong to grow in excess of 4 percent in 2010, “which could well mean remittances growing by 8 percent or more.”

A growth of 8 percent means remittances next year will exceed $18 billion, from the projected level of $17.1 billion this year, which is based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) forecast of at least 4-percent growth from last year’s $16.4 billion.

The reported figure does not include money sent through nonbanking channels.

The DBS forecast is more bullish than the BSP’s latest projection, which is for remittances to rise by 6 percent in 2010.

The bank was among several foreign financial institutions that had painted a grim scenario for remittances to the Philippines this year, projecting a contraction because of the global downturn.

But they were all proven wrong as remittances continued to rise and kept the domestic economy afloat while many rich nations plunged into recession.

“Remittances next year should grow even more strongly than they have this year as the global economy reflates,” said DBS economist Lim Su Sian, who projected a growth of 4.8 percent for the Philippines’ gross domestic product in 2010.

“[Higher remittances] should help to keep consumer spending supported.”

Lim expects private consumption expenditure in the Philippines to rise by 4.8 percent next year, from this year’s projected 3.4-percent growth.

The increased spending of Asian consumers is now seen driving economic growth in the region at a time global trade remains in the doldrums.

Remittances course through banks rose by 6.7 percent in October to $1.5 billion, bringing the cumulative inflows for the first 10 months of the year to $14.3 billion, representing a growth of 4.5 percent over the same period last year.

The BSP attributed the steady growth in remittances to the conti-nued deployment of Filipino workers abroad.

“The country’s long-term deployment outlook has remained favorable in the Middle East countries, specifically in Saudi Arabia’s construction and health workers,” BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. in a recent statement.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Extra pay for working on Christmas holidays

MANILA, Philippines—Extra pay await workers who will work during the holidays: regular holidays on December 25 (Christmas Day) and December 30 (Rizal Day), and January 1 (New Year’s Day), as well as the special non-working days on December 24, and December 31, the Department of Labor and Employment said in an advisory.

Siting Proclamation 1699 which declares December 24 as an additional special non-working day throughout the country and the Labor Code, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the following pay rules shall apply:

* For the regular holidays of December 25, December 30, and January 1:

1. If the holiday falls on an employee’s regular workday:
- If worked, employee is entitled to 200 percent of his/her basic wage for the first eight hours and, for work in excess of the eight hours, to an additional 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

- If un-worked, the employee is entitled to 100 percent of his or her regular daily rate, provided he or she was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

2. If the day is the employee’s rest day:
- If worked, the employee is entitled, for the first eight hours, to 200 percent of his or her daily rate plus 30 percent and, for work in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

- If un-worked, the employee is entitled to 100 percent of his or her regular daily rate, provided he or she was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

3. Where the day immediately preceding the holiday is a non-work day in the establishment or the scheduled rest day of the employee, he or she shall not be deemed on leave of absence on that day, in which case he or she shall be entitled to the holiday pay.

* For the special non-working days on December 24 and December 31:

1. If worked, an employee is entitled to 130 percent of his/her daily rate for the first eight hours, and to an additional 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day for work performed in excess of eight hours.

2. If un-worked, he or she is not entitled to any payment, unless there is a favorable company policy, practice, or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) granting payment for special days even if not worked;

3. If worked and falling on the employee’s rest day, the employee is entitled for the first eight hours to 150 percent of his or her regular daily rate, and for work performed in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his or her hourly rate on the said day.

For clarifications regarding the holiday pay rules, call the department’s Bureau of Working Conditions at tel. no. 527-3000 local 301.

No child's play: Kids render music that transcends age

Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines—Mariana Ablan, Kaira Palcos and Lia Nanca look like normal kids at first glance. but after the three played their Orff instruments, they made me realize: the universal language of music transcends boundaries that highly complicated classical pieces are also made for the young.

Mariana is one of the marimba players of Temple Hill International School Instrumental Ensemble while Kaira and Lia play lead percussion instruments for the Philippine Montessori Center Instrumental Ensemble, which performed for the New York Children's Orchestra Society in April 2008. Both groups performed with the Philippine Madrigal Singers at the “Thankful” concert on December 15.

“When I saw my sister and two brothers play the guitar and drums, I also wanted to be into music and learn to play at least four instruments. Now after being part of the group, I realized how fun it was plus I learned how to listen to other people and meet new friends,” said 10-year old Mariana, who spent the last four years with the ensemble.

“I joined the group to play music, have fun and overcome my shyness,” said Kaira and Lia.

“Music is fun and it's for everyone,” added Kaira who just turned six this year.

Kaira and Lia, who play the marimba and glockenspiel, and Mariana, who also plays the base xylophone and temple blocks are mentored by music teachers Maria Catherine Zulueta and Lois Espinosa from Philippine Montessori Center.

Both teachers said they adopted the philosophy and methods of German composer Carl Orff in teaching music to pre-school children. Orff, over his 30 years of work, observed that young children responded most to rhythm so he focused on teaching music via rhythmic expressions.

“Orff instruments like the small glockenspiel, concert bells and triangle are used for teaching kids because they use cross motor skills that children have raw, in the beginning. Of course, we simplified how the orchestra music can be played using percussion instruments to match it to the skill sets of the children,” said Espinosa.

“Then in 1982 our school director asked us to form a group that would perform intermission numbers during our culminating activity. From two children playing Orff instruments that are found in the classroom, we have added members to play new instruments and later, we introduced more songs,” she added.

“Since most of the kids are first-timers, they have no preference in music so they learn whatever you introduce. Now we endorse classical pieces because studies have shown that help in brain development especially in critical thinking functions,” said Espinosa.

Realizing that Filipino children love melody as much as rhythm, the teachers introduced more complicated pieces from Broadway, overtures and Filipino classical compositions, which has become a staple numbers in the group's performances both here and abroad.

“Children are definitely easier to handle than adults, I believe. They are like sponges, they absorb what you teach them. Of course, we selected them based on their innate musical ability but we also considered their attitude,” said Zulueta.

“Attitude is very important because while learning music, they must also learn discipline which is very much part of the processing of learning to play music and working as a team,” she added.

Above learning musical prowess and artistic fluency, Espinosa added that the children in the group learn values such as patience, concentration, discipline and teamwork.

“Over time we have noticed and the kids themselves too, that they become more patient and more considerate of others like when a teacher works with a child while the rest waits. They do not blame others for mistakes during practice sessions or even in performances,” she said.

“We don't have ranks, there is also no hierarchy on who gets the bigger part. They know they are a group and whether they play a minor, a major or a soloist role, they are happy because they know they are as important as everyone else in the group. Plus, they are better academically and more emotionally stable,” said Espinosa.

Zulueta and Espinosa added that through the group, awareness on the marimba—a wooden instrument with keys similar to the xylophone that are hit by a mallet—has been rising. The once forgotten indigenous instrument is gaining high interest worldwide and also among members of the instrumental group who want to take advance lessons for playing the instrument.

“I want to learn to play the marimba better. Although it is a challenging instrument, I enjoy it,” said Mariana.

Zulueta added that the group also adopted the angklung, an indigenous musical instrument from India which uses two to three bamboo tubes set to a specific pitch and attached to a frame.

As for Mariana, Kaira and Lian, all three said they would pursue learning more instruments that would be introduced in the group as they ponder a musical career in the near future.

While 80 percent of the ensemble's member usually leave for another school in the following year, Zulueta and Espinosa said the difficulty of training a new group of children every year does not compare to the fulfillment of seeing the kids perform as a group and in collaboration with other artists.

Asked for their message to the group, Espinosa said: “I hope you (kids of the ensemble) continue making music either as a soloist or a group. Keep at it.”

“You are the reason that continually inspires music teachers like us to keep going year after year,” said Zulueta.

Irrigation agency set to build P1-B dam for Leyte’s rice areas

S. Q. Meniano

TACLOBAN CITY -- The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) will build next year a P1.1-billion dam that will store water to irrigate 3,000 hectares of farms throughout the year.

"This will be the first earth-filled storage dam to be constructed in Leyte," NIA regional manager Romeo G. Quiza told journalists here recently.

The Hibulangan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project, which will be implemented in Villaba town in Leyte, will involve the construction of a 35.5-meter earth-filled dam with storage capacity of about 10.8 million cubic meters of water.

It will irrigate the farms in the towns of Villaba, Matagob and Matalom, which are known as the rice-producing areas in Leyte.

Mr. Quiza said the project is designed to mitigate the impact of climate change. "Because of climate change, we expect prolonged dry spell or longer rainy days. We need a storage dam to store water during the wet season and release it during the dry season," he said.

The Regional Development Council endorsed the project last week for implementation early next year.

The reservoir will be located in Barangay Sulpa, Villaba, Leyte.

A network of irrigation canals will carry water to farmlands in barangays Hibulangan, Bugabuga, Tumamak, Sta. Cruz, and Capinahan, all in Villaba municipality.

Service roads will be built on the bank of the canals.

"Also, the project envisions to provide the community an opportunity to engage in inland fish production within the reservoir area. This project will boost the socioeconomic status of farmer-beneficiaries in the area," Mr. Quiza said.

The dam is scheduled to be completed in two to three years, depending on availability of funds from the national government.

It is among the eight Small Irrigation Reservoir Irrigation Projects in a list of 28 projects that were endorsed to the National Economic and Development Authority for submission to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

The project was also one of the four priority irrigation projects in the Regional Development Plan 2004-2010 that was deemed vital to the region’s economic expansion. Other priority irrigation projects are located in Catarman-Bobon in Northern Samar, Dolores in Eastern Samar, and Basey in Samar.

Leyte accounts for two-thirds of the region’s annual rice output. The province has 4,500 hectares of irrigated farms. Eastern Visayas has a total rice area of 160,000 hectares, of which 57,000 hectares are covered by irrigation systems.

BPOs’ continued boom boosts language schools

Claudeth Mocon
Business Mirror

LEARNING a new language can be made easy, enjoyable and affordable—that’s the mantra of Berlitz Language and Learning Center, the world’s premier language service provider, which is enjoying a boom as outsourced businesses increasingly put a premium on proficiency in a foreign language.

Berlitz Philippines, with centers at Peninsula Court in Makati City and the newly opened branch at Connecticut in San Juan, is not only polishing the skills of those in the business-process outsourcing industry, but also making individuals ready for opportunities abroad—armed with another language.

William Go, president of Berlitz Philippines, said those aspiring to work or migrate abroad will no longer be faced with the dilemma of communicating or understanding a foreign language.

“One can benefit from our trainings. Those who want to work abroad, for example, who want to learn Japanese, can enroll with us. Right now there are job opportunities in Japan for nurses and caregivers. We give them lessons; or if you want to migrate to places like Canada, you can learn French here and you’ll have a big advantage because you know how to speak their language,” Go said after the soft launch in San Juan of the school’s latest branch on Saturday.

The launch was also graced by Berlitz board chairman Renato Constantino Jr., Berlitz director Fortune Joy de Lara, general managerAna Michelle Hilvano, and other partners. San Juan City Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito also graced the opening of the new branch.

Ejercito thanked Berlitz for putting up business in San Juan.

Berlitz offers Language Training in English for Business Presentations, Business Writing, Grammar Fluency, Public Speaking, Accent Nuetralization Program, Business, Arts and Entertainment, Social Situations, Negotiations, Meeting and Presentations and Pronunciations also in  Filipino, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish French, German, Italian, Portugese, Bahasa-Indonesia and Fookien.

It also offers Language Evaluation (Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking) in English, Filipino, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Bahasa-Indonesia, Thai and Korean.

Language Translation/Interpretation is also included, along with courses such as: United Kingdom and American Training in culture, geography and accent; Call Center Essentials like Customer Management, Stress Management and Effective Communication Skills, among others; and other cross-cultural training.

Go added that Berlitz is getting a boost from the BPO industry’s fast growth in the country and around the world. Berlitz, for instance, has the edge when it comes to assessing the competency of a call-center agent before hiring.

Potential employers want to make sure that what they get are really competent staff, Go said, noting that most of the Filipinos they graduate are employed in call centers.

“We are actually making Filipinos find jobs especially in BPOs; with Berlitz, their chances of hiring is higher,” he stressed.

For those interested, class types in Berlitz are as follows:

Private instruction, which is a “one-on-one class with you and your instructor. Lessons are done at your pace and class schedules are flexible”;  

Semi-Private Instruction. this type of class is similar to the private class, but the number of students is limited to two to three students that are of the same proficiency levels, as determined by their language instructors;

Group classes. These classes consist of four to six students who are of the same proficiency levels.

Charter Classes. Charter lessons were developed especially for their corporate and institutional clients. The internal group may have a maximum of 10 participants. Charter lessons are efficient because of the small number of students. Moreover, because of the fact that they work in the same company, their goals are attuned and they will have more interaction outside the classroom.

In defense of Filipino time

John Mangun
Outside the Box

Perhaps as its last official act for 2009, the House of Representatives has passed a bill “synchronizing the standard time nationwide.” House Bill 6905 or the Philippine Standard Time law creates a single time zone for the entire country.

I am not happy about this.

Until this new law, when you set your time zone on your computer for example, you had a wide variety of choices. Try it for yourself. Windows give us the option of being in the same time zone as Beijing or Hong Kong or Taipei. However, if you wanted your computer to seem a little more exotic, you could also choose to be part of the Urumqi Ulaanbaatar or Irkutsk zone. For those wanting to be slightly to the sophisticated side, set your clock to Singapore. And if longing to be abroad is where your heart is, you can pretend to be in Perth, Australia.

Check out other sources on the Internet and you might find a notation that Manila and the rest of the Philippines is part of the “PHT” time zone. Well, actually there isn’t any PHT time zone in the same way as your brother in New York operates on EST or Eastern Standard Time or your cousin in Germany sets his clock by European Central Time.

Yet PHT does mean something: Philippine Time. Now, that is not to be confused with “Filipino time” which might be an entirely different matter. But then again, maybe not. You see, when you look up what the letters PHT could mean, one of the definitions for PHT is Peace, Harmony and Tranquility.

Think about that. We live in, or at least, used to before HB 6905, a time zone know as Peace, Harmony and Tranquility. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? Now, that is not to say that the nation is always peaceful, harmonious, or tranquil but maybe the name of your time zone does cast some influence on the lives of the people who live in it.
If you live in the state of New Mexico in the US, your time zone is Mountain Time. Actually, there aren’t any mountains in New Mexico; just high hills. When you are surrounded by nothing but hot, empty desert, the time zone might make things a bit easier by moving thoughts to cool pine trees and running streams.

Of course, other places want their time zone to be totally unique. New Mexico’s neighbor, Arizona, does not want to be part of the West Coast’s Pacific Time or Mountain Time. So they have an official “Arizona Time Zone.”

This brings us back to our former time zone, PHT. Filipino time is known worldwide for meaning being somewhat late. Filipino time is always criticized, even made a villain in the fact that we are not rich and First World. Overseas Filipinos always mention how they have lost their Filipino- time culture and have adapted to the punctuality of the West in particular. In fact, sometime these balikbayan are real pains in the backside as they take an air of superiority because they are not only on time but early!

As I mentioned, I am not really happy with the change from “PHT” to “PST”. Now I can understand why it might be important for the entire nation to be using the same clock. But honestly, I do not want to lose PHT as it relates to “Filipino time.” In the South Pacific French resort islands, they operate on “Tahiti time.” Just the name evokes images of long beaches, waving palm trees, and sarong-clad maidens serving rum drinks in coconut shells. Right?

Well, for some of us, PHT does mean Peace, Harmony and Tranquility. Filipino time is a part of this culture and I do not think it is necessarily a negative at all.

Filipino functions are always an ongoing event. You know that guests are going to be arriving throughout the night. Are you bored talking to the current attendees? Not to worry. There will always be new faces arriving soon. Western events are like going to a movie. There is a definite start and stopping time. Now that is not relaxing at all. I like being late because I just had to watch the end of my favorite TV show and knowing that the host is not going to feel neglected or insulted.

Now you are going to say that maybe PHT is all right for social gatherings, but what about business? Sorry, I do not have any problems with business operating on Filipino time also.

Imagine you are going to wrap up a big deal and have an appointment with a prospective investor. Now which would you prefer? Do you want your appointment to have to fight traffic, get all frustrated and “high-blood,” and arrive on time? Or would it be better that the person arrived 30 minutes late having taken a long short-cut that avoided all the traffic hassle?

Filipino time is just like being a husband. Instead of watching the clock, nagging your wife that you’re going to be late, and starting the evening on a sour note, there is a better alternative: “Married Man Time.” Get a drink, watch TV, and wait for the wife to say, “I’m ready, let’s go.” Then you know you still have plenty of time to shower and dress, and meet your better half at exactly the right time to walk out the door together. Long live Peace, Harmony and Tranquility.

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

Monday, 21 December 2009

PGMA’s legacy: A stable economy, free elections

With just six months left in her presidency, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to be remembered as having brought economic stability—elevating the economy to first world status—and a free, fair, and open elections.

This was the gist of the President’s interview with Romeo Bernardo and Margarita Gonzales for New York-based think-tank Global Source Partners. Dated Dec. 15, the special report read by movers and shakers in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world described the President as “the Philippines’ economist-in-chief…who not only has a doctorate in economics… but also the second longest-serving head of state, one who had governed through a very difficult environment for the country.”

“I pledge to see the election through to its proper end and work cooperatively with the incoming administration so that they can hit the ground running,” the President said.

“Our nation is entering a crucial election year at a time when our economy is just starting to recover from the global recession. Now more than ever, it is important for me to focus on ensuring free, fair and open elections that reflect the will of the people,” she said.

The report said the economy during her nine-year presidency has been a “mixed bag of triumphs and disappointments—a stable macroeconomic environment against deterioration in competitiveness and governance indicators, improvement in credit standing because of fiscal consolidation that still left ratings lower than where she found them, and solid gross domestic product (GDP) growth despite a global crisis that relied heavily on remittances sent home by overseas Filipino workers, numbering a fourth of the country’s workforce.”

The report noted her ability to survive the political arena marked by noisy critics, whom the President described as “men and institutions who seek only to further their own agenda. That is why I have avoided the debate and instead channeled my energy into lifting the poor and bringing economic prosperity to the people of the Philippines through my economic reform agenda.”

President Arroyo said she never believed in popularity as an indicator of whether someone would make a good leader. “The Philippines needs a reformer, one who can make tough decisions needed to transform the country and the economy so it can continue its way to becoming a first world country.”

On what she thinks is needed to raise the potential growth rate of the country to be at par with its East Asian neighbors, the President named three factors: a) improving rural employment and incomes through agricultural productivity; b) rooting out corruption, especially in the economic and fiscal governance areas; and c) instituting more effective and sustained population management programs that remain consistent with the core values of a dominant Catholic nation.

Amid speculations of a possible failure of elections—from former close aides—the President said she is “confident in the power of the democracy of our nation, in the ability of the newly-automated polling system to deliver accurate results that will enable fair election, and in the people of the Philippines and their passion to come together to ensure a successful election next year.”

“We must not forget that the success of an election in a democratic country su

Volcanic activity of Mayon increases

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

DPWH completes P65.71-B worth of roads and bridges in 2009

MANILA, Dec. 18 (PNA) -- In keeping with its vision of improving the life of every Filipino through quality infrastructure, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) completed from January to Nov. 2009 P65.719-billion worth of national roads and bridges nationwide.

A total of 6,186.473 kilometers of national roads and 54,945 lineal meters of national bridges were constructed/rehabilitated to improve the country’s transport system and alleviate poverty in the countryside and isolated regions.

DPWH Secretary Victor A. Domingo said that the intensified implementation of public works and highways projects has also enhanced peace and order in conflict-affected areas through efficient transport and trade; strengthened national unity, family bonds and tourism by making the movement of people faster, cheaper and safer; and facilitated the decongestion of traffic.

DPWH also facilitated countryside growth by widening the reach of opportunity and progress with the completion of 70 farm-to-market road projects.

Full completion of the remaining four on-going projects will enable the realization of the total target 76.694 kilometers improved/constructed farm to market road under the P90.911-million funds of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Also, to improve the delivery of agricultural goods and services, about 692 kms. of the target 1,313 kms. farm to market road nationwide were completed under the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DENR) funds which has a program amount of P3.630-billion.

Although delayed release of fund hampers the progress of project implementation, more projects will be completed with the release of sub-allotment advice for FMR projects.

Among the 2009 DPWH major completed roads and bridges are the following:

NAIA Expressway & Its Related Road Project, Phase 1; construction of Amburayan Bridge along Manila North Road, Tagudin, Ilocos Sur; construction of Quirino Bridge along Manila North Road, Bantay, Ilocos Sur; construction of Suyo-Cervantes Road, Suyo, Ilocos Sur; restoration of Patapat Viaduct along Laoag-Allacapan Road, Ilocos Norte; concreting of San Nicolas-Natividad-San Quintin-Umingan-Guimba Road, Pangasinan; concreting/improvement of Junction National Bitnong-Belance-Nueva Viscaya Boundary Road, Dupax del Norte; construction of Delfin Albano Bridge along Delfin Albano-Tumauini Road, Isabela;

Improvement of General Alejo Santos Highway, Bulacan; rehabilitation/improvement of Sta. Rita-Biak na Bato Road, San Miguel, Bulacan; construction of Dinadiawan Bridge along Baler-Casiguran Road, Aurora; upgrading of Pantabangan-Canili-Baler Road, Cadaclan Section; concreting of Jct. Layac-Balanga-Mariveles Port Road, Bataan; widening of Manila North Road (McArthur Highway), Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac; rehabilitation/improvement/ widening of Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan Port Road (Sta. Rosa-Jct. Fort Magsaysay Road, Gabaldon-Dingalan Road, Tarlac City-Sta. Rosa-Nueva Ecija Road);

Improvement of Baler-Casiguran Road, Aurora; concreting of Porac Access Road (Hacienda Dolores) leading to Porac Interchange of SCTEX, Pampanga; construction of Access Road (West Lateral Dike) connecting to Porac Interchange of Hacienda Dolores, Porac, Pampanga; rehabilitation/reconstruction of San Juan-Laiya Road, San Juan, Batangas; rehabilitation/reconstruction/upgrading of Batangas-Lobo Road; construction of Ilijan 1 and 2 Bridges along Batangas-Lobo Coastal Road, Batangas City; construction of Dela Paz Bridge along Batangas-Lobo Coastal Road, Batangas City;

Construction of Bacao Bridge along Batangas-Bacao-Lobo Road, Taysa, Batangas; construction of Panamitan Bridge along Zapote-Cavite Road, Kawit, Cavite; construction of Malamok Bridge along Zapote-Cavite Road, Kawit, Cavite; concreting of Puerto Princesa-Sabang Road (Underground River), Palawan; Marinduque Circumferential Road, Marinduque; Tablas Circumferential Road, San Agustin-Sta. Maria Section, Romblon; Sibuyan Circumferential Road, Sibuyan Island, Magdiwang-Cajidiocan-San Fernando Section, Romblon.

Fraternidad-Biak Na Bato-E. Angeles Road, Camarines Sur; construction of Libon-Morocmoc-Pantao Road, Albay; asphalt overlay of Quirino-Andaya Highway, Camarines Norte; concreting of Jct. Bato-Baras Road, Catanduanes; concreting of Cataingan-Esperanza Port Road, Masbate; concrete reblocking of Sipocot-Cabusao Road, Camarines Sur; concreting of Quirino-Andaya Highway, Del Gallego Section, Camarines Sur;

Naga City Boundary-Calabanga-Balongay Road, Camarines Sur; concreting of Ariman-Jct. Bulusan Lake Road, Sorsogon; 2.798 kilometer; construction of San Enrique-Vallehermoso Road, La Castellana-Canlaon Section, Negros Occidental; construction of Alicante Bridge along Jct. Bagonawa-La Carlota-La Castellana Road, La Castellana, Negros Occidental;

Concreting of Odiong-Sibalom-San Remigio-Leon Road, Antique; concreting of Mandurriao-San Miguel-Alimodian-Maasin-Cabatuan Road, Iloilo; rehabilitation of Bacolod South Road, Pontevedra Section, Negros Occidental; construction of Agas-Agas Bridge, Souther Leyte;

Construction of Gatanguit-Calbiga Section, Western Samar; construction of Calbayog-Gatanguit Section, Western Samar; construction of Palo East By-Pass Road, Palo, Leyte; concreting of Pangpang-Palapag-Mapanas-Gamay-Lapinig Road, Northern Samar; rehabilitation of Calbiga-Tacloban Road, Samar;

Limpapa Bridge along Zamboanga City-Zamboanga del Norte Boundary, Zamboanga City; concrete reblocking of Butuan City-Cagayan de Oro City-Iligan City Road, Cagayan de Oro City; construction of Valencia Bridge and approaches along Junction Sayre Highway, Bagontas-San Fernando Road, Bukidnon;

Cconstruction of Tagoloan Parallel Bridge and approaches along Iligan-Cagayan de Oro City-Butuan Road, Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental; construction of Cagayan de Oro City Third Bridge and Access Road, Cagayan de Oro City; concreting of Jct. Sayre Highway-Aglayan-Ticalaan Road (Ticalaan-Paganan Section), Bukidnon; concreting of Jct. Sayre Highway-Manolo Fortich-Libona-Indahag Road, Bukidnon; concreting of Jct. Sayre Highway Aglayan-Zamboanguita Road, Bukidnon; rehabilitation/improvement of Sayre Highway, Alae-Kisolon Section, Bukidnon;

Construction of Lobog Parallel Bridge along Oroquieta-Plaridel Road, Plaridel, Misamis Occidental; concreting of Montevista-Compostela-Mati Boundary Road, Compostela Valley; rehabilitation/improvement along Surigao-Davao Coastal Road, Badas-Baso Section, Davao Oriental; rehabilitation/improvement along Surigao-Davao Coastal Road, Dawan-Tagamot Section, Davao Oriental;

Replacement of Padada Bridge along Digos City-Makar Road, Davao del Sur; improvement/regravelling of Monkayo-Diwalwal Road, Compostela Valley; construction of Upper Makar Bridge 1, Barangay Sinawal/Fatima, Phase 1, South Cotabato; construction of Kitagas Bridge along Sarangani-Sultan Kudarat Coastal Road, Sarangani;

Rehabilitation/asphalt overlay along Daang Maharlika (Surigao-Agusan Road), Poblacion Cabadbaran-Comagascas Section, Agusan del Norte; 1.918 kilometer; rehabilitation/asphalt overlay of Butuan City-Masao Port Road, Lower Doongan-Barangay Ambago Section, Agusan del Norte. (PNA)

Sikat is RP’s next ‘hot’ thing

Anjo C. Alimario
Business Mirror

THE blazing rays of sun gave Sikat—the Philippines’ second solar-powered car—a perfect run around the SM Mall of Asia grounds showcasing one of the country’s concrete efforts in fighting climate change and, at the same time, to signal to the rest of world to do their share in climate-change mitigation.

Sikat’s launch also marked the anniversary of the Philippine Renewable Energy Act, the first comprehensive legislation in Southeast Asia to promote renewable energy, former Energy secretary Vince Perez, who is also the Philippine Solar Car Challenge Society Inc. (PSCS) special adviser, said.

“We’re blessed not only with sunshine and renewable energy but the fact that we are the leader in fighting climate change and in tapping the potentials of our young Filipinos,” Perez added.

The birth of Sikat was inspired from the success of the country’s first solar car—Sinag—after ranking 12th in the World Solar Car Challenge in Australia besting some of the more experienced participants in the competition.

Students and faculty from the mechanical engineering and electronics and communications engineering departments of the De La Salle University (DLSU)-Manila, in partnership with PSCS, designed and constructed Sikat.

“This is our [DLSU team] way of inspiring other people to invent things that will contribute in lessening the impacts of climate change,” Rachel Pastcoriza, electronics and communications engineering student and lone female driver of Sikat, said.

“There’s so much for the youth to do. I feel proud to be part of history.”

Sikat’s body was made of carbon fiber to make its weight lighter to achieve higher running speed.

Dean Dr. Pag-asa Gaspillo of the DLSU College of Engineering, said the smaller and sleeker Sikat features intensified power, higher level of performance and new aerodynamic properties.

“Sikat shows what the youth can do and points out that there is much to do in the academe in creating more clean-energy sources,” she explained.

The car’s top surface is covered with solar cells provided by Sunpower, the highest-efficiency commercial solar cells in the world, Sunpower director for quality assurance, Jong Jimenez, said.

The commercial solar cells are manufactured in Laguna where millions of solar cells are created and exported to other countries, he added.

The Philippines has a huge potential for tapping solar technology that is one of the cleanest known methods of energy production, the PCSC press release said.

According to the Department of Energy, the country receives an average of 5.1-kilowatt hours of solar radiation per square meter of land each day.

However, it is difficult to mass-produce solar-powered cars due to high upfront cost of manufacturing solar cells, the press release said. There needs to be a large surface area to catch enough sunlight to provide sufficient power to the car.

The goal of the project is to harness the power of sun and convert it to energy that can lessen the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, Ed Chua, PSCS president and Shell country chairman, said.

Moreover, the initiative hopes to generate pride for the Philippines and raise awareness for the vehicle-technology skill and potential in the country, he added.

For its short-term goals, Chua said the project seeks to demonstrate and interest the youth on technology.

According to Chua, Sikat will have a road show which is set to travel across the Philippines next year to show the youth from different universities the possibilities of solar technology.

The event also featured a performance of Final Cut band with the song “Lakbay,” written by Caesar Rosales, which won the first prize in the Sikat songwriting competition. The song encourages the youth to partake in this kind of endeavor of leading the cause in combating climate change.

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Manila Water allots $1B for projects in concession area

Max de Leon
Business Mirror

MANILA Water Co. Inc. is allocating $1 billion in investments over a 10-year period for the improvement of its wastewater treatment network.

Luis Juan Oreta, Manila Water chief finance officer, said the plan is to double the number of treatment plants from the current 30. “The investment per plant depends on the size,” Oreta told reporters.

He said the wastewater treatment facilities need to be beside the three main rivers located in its concession area—the Pasig, San Juan and Marikina rivers.

Investments in the treatment facilities, he said, will have to go beyond 2018 as the company will continue to pour in more money to increase current capacity by up to 10 times more.

Aside from the treatment plants, Oreta said Manila Water will also be busy pursuing the one million new customers that it is targeting to service in the eastern side of Rizal province.

He said this will be achieved in three to four years.

The company, however, has to raise the same amount from the debt market. In 2009, the Ayala-led water concessionaire spent P6 billion.

“We will have to borrow for 2011, but it would really depend on the market,” Oreta said.

The company expects to provide water connection to about 1 million. About 5.6 million people in 23 cities and municipalities in eastern Metro Manila and the Rizal province are currently connected with the Manila Water.

More than 99 percent of the population in these areas now enjoy 24 hour water supply, from a mere 26 percent at the onset of its privatization in 1997.

Experts: Deficit woes not that bad

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

THE Philippines’ fiscal position continues to deteriorate but analysts at some of the biggest banking institutions believe the country is not in a worrisome situation yet, if the budget deficit is to be viewed in the context of the current global economic crisis.

The large budget deficit this year and in 2010, according to Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. (Metrobank), should not be viewed as a “market-destabilizing event,” because the country’s debt as a portion of the gross domestic product should remain relatively stable.

The numbers, Metrobank head of research Marc Bautista said, “will look absolutely horrible when viewed in isolation.” But the Philippines is not alone in spending beyond its revenue-generating capacity, he noted.

And given the global downturn, he said government spending—even at the point of incurring deficits—is considered a cure to a slump in demand, and there are too many countries out there doing the same thing to support their economies.

Philip Wee, a currency strategist at DBS Bank, said the widening budget gap has not dampened sentiment toward the peso, which on Friday was up almost 2 percent thus far this year at 46.61 to the dollar from its end-2008 level of 47.52.

Throughout 2009, he said, DBS had been more cautious than optimistic about the peso. “As a long-time observer of the peso, it was not easy to overcome the worries that normally accompanied missed fiscal targets.”

But looking into 2010, he said, “it is probably time to turn more optimistic” about the peso and take into account other factors that point to “stronger Philippines” today, such as its steadily rising external liquidity.

Wee said since 2006 the country’s current- account surpluses have consistently exceeded budget deficits, which also did not add to external debt burden. More important, he said foreign reserves continue to surge to new highs, reaching $43.7 billion as of end-November.

 If such pace of accumulation is sustained, he said the reserves may surpass the country’s external debt of  $51.8 billion as of end-June as early as the second half of 2010.

The positive comments came ahead of the release this week of the January-November budget deficit report.

The cumulative deficit covering the January-October period reached P266 billion, surpassing the full-year target of P250 billion, and the government said the worst-case scenario for 2009 is for the deficit to hit P300 billion, barring more negative surprises on revenue and without the sale of state assets.

According to Bautista, it looks like the markets have already factored in a deficit figure close to the P300-billion level.

“Our own forecast is a number between P320 billion and P330 billion. But at this point, that would not be much of a surprise given the latest official deficit estimates,” he said. The full-year number will come out early next year and by that time, he said there would hardly be any impact at all on investor sentiment.

But he pointed out “the deterioration is pretty obvious, and yes, things have taken a turn for the worse, but they’re not that worrisome yet.”

While P300 billion looks large in absolute numbers, he said it has to be viewed in the context of GDP. “Taking a look at the fiscal balance-to-GDP ratios for the Philippines, we see that the 2009 year-end estimate, although bad, is not the worst ever.”  

The focus is now shifting to what the deficit number will be in 2010, analysts said.

Property developers eyeing land beside SLEx extension

Emilia Narni J. David

A PROJECT to extend the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) all the way to Quezon province is already gaining interest from a number of property developers, the head of the joint venture undertaking the tollway project said last week.

South Luzon Tollways Corp. (SLTC) President Isaac D. David said in an interview that real estate companies have already expressed interest in developing land beside the planned extension of the SLEx to Lucena.

"We have already heard from developers like Ayala, Eton, Globe Asiatique, Carmelray, Nuvali, and Crowne Asia that the extension would be something that is interesting to them," said Mr. David.

He added that some 7,000 hectares are being developed in anticipation of the tollway extension.

SLTC was contracted three years ago to extend the expressway from Calamba in Laguna to Lucena in Quezon, along with the ongoing tollway upgrade and expansion.

Mr. David said developers are already anticipating the vehicular traffic that would come with the extension.

The expressway extension has not yet begun because the SLTC is focusing on completing the first phase of the project, which is to expand the SLEx to eight lanes from five lanes from Sta. Rosa to Calamba, and to add new toll plazas on the whole stretch from Alabang to Calamba, Mr. David explained. A connection to the Star Tollway going to Batangas is also being built.

"We are right now doing engineering due diligence. The extension is being studied and designed but it still depends on the right of way [acquisition]," said Mr. David.

He added that the extension could be done in "three to four years’ time."

The company is in discussions with the operator of the SLEx, the Philippine National Construction Corp., a minor shareholder, regarding the operation of the expressway. Both companies have agreed not to make any moves regarding the transfer of operations in the expressway until today.

JG Summit to push P34-B cracker project

Manila Bulletin

The Gokongwei Group has vowed to pursue its naphtha cracker plant project saying the Korean Export Import credit agency, which is largely funding the proposed P34.38 billion plant in Batangas, has finally given the go signal for the project’s financing.

This was made clear by Lance Gokongwei, president of JG Summit Holdings Inc., to reporters covering the awarding ceremonies for The 1st BoI Recognition Awards for Investors in which the Gokongwei firm as one of the “Guinogulan Awardees.”

“A naphtha cracker plant project is highly dependent on financing and because of the financial crisis there was no development with the Korean Import-Export Bank, but with the economic recovery now the Korean credit agencies are supportive of our project. We are still in discussion about the financial requirements,” Gokongwei explained on the cause of delay in the project’s implementation.

He also said they are not talking to other financier for the project noting that this project is largely to be funded by the Korean credit agency.

Originally, the Gokongweis had proposed to start commercial operation of its naphtha cracker plant in 2008 when they registered the project with the Board of Investments in 2005 under JG Summit Petrochemical Corp.

In May 2008, however, the company revised the project with a new commercial operation target of January 2012. At that time, the project cost already ballooned to P34.38 billion, P8.7 billion more than its original P25.6 billion and under an entirely new unit – JG Summit Olefins Corp.

Even as discussions are still ongoing with the Korean credit agency, Gokongwei said, “We are pushing with the design and site development and we expect to operate the plant in 2013,” Gokongwei said.

The project’s commercial operation is now moved a year later from its revised schedule.

The company is also pouring in its own initial equity investments of $30 million for the engineering work of the plant. Gokongwei said they have already signed an agreement with technology provider Lumus Ltd. to start the site and design development in March next year.

If the financing package from the Korean Eximbank is completed by May to August next year, Gokongwei said then the project is a sure go.

As if to assure that they are really bent on pursuing their naphtha cracker project, Gokongwei said they would not put up their own $30 million equity for the engineering work if they do not intend to push through with the project.

Based on its revised project registration with the BoI, the naphtha cracker plant would have a production capacity of 320,000 metric tons of ethylene, 190,000 metric tons of propylene, 270,000 MT of Py gas, and other by-products such as methane, pyrolysis fuel oil and acid gases.

The plant would be located in barangay Simlong, Batangas City, near its existing polypropylene and polyethylene plants. The naphtha cracker project is an upstream activity for the polyethylene business.

'No-man's land' set around Mayon Volcano

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Update shots: LRT North Extension (The Loop)


Filipino shows Singapore how service is done

By Corrie Salientes-Narisma
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WINSTON M. Lim and his team are the public face of premier serviced residence Ascott Singapore Raffles Place.

They welcome guests with their sweetest smiles, help them register, bring them to their apartments, address their concerns and make them feel at home.

Winston fits well in the multicultural setup in Singapore, in general, and Ascott, in particular.

People who see him receiving and confidently chatting with guests at Ascott may think he is Singaporean or Chinese, or even Japanese.

But when one, particularly a Filipino, comes closer, he would sense a different kind of warmth in Winston—the kind that can only come from a Filipino.

“I am from Manila,” he says, and that explains it.

Winston Mallari Lim is one of the many Filipinos in Singapore who have helped changed the face of OFWs in this city-state for the better.

He is assistant resident service manager of Ascott Singapore Raffles Place, the highest ranking Filipino there.

He was part of the pre-opening team of Ascott’s flagship serviced residence in Singapore, which opened only in July last year, and he now leads its front office team.

Cut for the job

Winston’s natural charm and warmth serve him well as he goes about seeing to the needs of his clients at the serviced residence—a second home for those who need to stay out of their own homes for some time. Ascott provides an ideal environment with professional support—a place to relax and enjoy life with the most personalized services possible.

The difference between a hotel and a serviced residence, he says, lies in the service provided.

“Because our guests stay long term, as against a hotel setup, we have to connect and live with them. The relationship is more personal,” he explains.

Winston doesn’t have any problem with that. In fact, he finds it easy to connect with guests.

“This is one area where Filipinos are very good at,” he says, adding that Filipinos can be effortlessly warm, hospitable and customer-oriented.

“We are maabilidad (resourceful). No problem is too big that we can’t resolve. We don’t mind working extra hours if only to finish a task,” he says.

The patience of Filipinos comes in handy when dealing with the most demanding guests and handling their most “unique” demands, as Winston refuses to call them “difficult.”

These are the factors that endear Filipinos to many service-oriented companies in Singapore, and the reasons why Filipinos end up at the front lines of these establishments.

Winston says that when Ascott was just starting to get off the ground, half of its front service staff of 14 were Filipinos, and the training manager was also a Filipino. The number is now down to four as some of his fellow Filipino staff members moved to other countries or have settled down.

“I’d say Ascott and other service-oriented establishments here want to hire more Filipinos but they have to maintain a certain mix.”

Happy resident

Terry Smith, a British psychologist who has been residing in Ascott Singapore since February this year, readily puts in good words for Ascott and its staff, particularly the Filipino front service personnel he has been dealing with since the start of his stay in the serviced residence.

“There is an interesting mix of people here and they are all nice, but what I like about the Filipino staff members is that they are confident, relaxed and easy to talk to,” Smith says.

Although Smith knows he won’t stay in Singapore forever, he has come to appreciate life in Singapore and feels right at home in Ascott.

“There’s peace and fun here, and the personal attention I get from the staff is second to none.”

Landing in Ascott

Winston graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. He started his career in a five-star hotel in Manila before transferring to a resort in the Maldives. Later, he moved to Singapore.

Although his major was culinary arts, his strength turned out to be in the area of dealing with people, and there is great demand for that particular skill in the hospitality industry.

He was on vacation in Singapore while still working in the Maldives in early 2008 when he found out that Ascott’s flagship serviced residence was opening there and was in need of front office personnel. Upon the prodding of his friends, Winston applied and was immediately taken in by Ascott.

His current job involves supervision and administration of the front office staff, now composed of 16 people.

“We bring guests to their apartments, orient them on how to fully enjoy their stay in their new ‘homes’ and help them settle down,” he says.

Ascott’s guests are mostly executives who have to stay in Singapore for weeks, months or even years. Thus, they need more than just rooms to sleep.

“We should be a family to them,” he says.

Winston loves his work and the place where he is working now, for Ascott Singapore has become his home away from home.

Also, he is happy and proud that, in his own way, he is able to promote the Filipino’s warmth and hospitality for all the world to see and experience.