Saturday, 23 January 2010

Cerge Remonde's last prayer

Cardinal Vidal says Remonde ‘at peace with God and himself’

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde “was at peace with God and himself” when he died Tuesday of cardiac arrest.

Cebu’s Ricardo Cardinal Vidal made the observation in a homily at the requiem mass for the late Cabinet secretary held at Heroes’ Hall in Malacañang on Thursday night.

The night before he died, Remonde composed a prayer and posted it on his Facebook account – a prayer that shows, the prelate said, “the mind of a man who has learned the value of each day.”

Vidal quoted the prayer as follows:

Lord, thank you for the infinite love that meets our every need and provides all the beautiful and wonderful things we experience in life. Release our hearts and minds from fear and worry. Fill us with Your peace as we learn to fully trust in Your providence. Help us to do all that we are capable of and the rest we entrust unto You. Amen.

The Cardinal said the prayer is an expression of Remonde’s gratitude not for God’s power, generosity nor providence, but for God’s “infinite love.”

“In his professional life, Cerge spoke on behalf of the President. Now on the last day of his life, he spoke for himself, sharing with us his faith in God and hope in His love. For this last pronouncement, may we listen to and learn from him, for these are words that ring from a heart that has found its rest in God,” the Cardinal said.

Among those who attended the mass and condoled with Remonde’s wife, Marit, were Vice President Noli de Castro, Cabinet members and other government officials led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, colleagues in media, relatives, friends, Malacañang employees, and members of the Malacañang Press Corps. (PND)

Cebu subway to be finished next month

Manila Bulletin

CEBU CITY – The contractor of the P1.2 billion tunnel section of the Cebu South Coastal Road Project (CSCRP) is confident that the project will be finished before March 25, said Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) acting Secretary Victor Domingo.

Domingo, who personally inspected the ongoing subway works, said the tunnel is now 88 percent complete and the contractor, Kajima Construction, has assured him that the project will be completed by next month.

The project, also known as the segment 3B-2 subway or tunnel section, is the only remaining unfinished component of the CSCRP.

Segment 3B-2 has a contract amount of P1,264,367,691.31 and is funded by the national government’s loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

The four-lane tunnel, which connects the viaduct before the South Road Properties (SRP) to Sergio Osmeña Blvd., lies underneath the Plaza Independencia, which sprawls beside the Malacañang sa Sugbo.

It will stretch 0.97 kilometers long, consisting of a 610-meter twin box tunnel and a 360-meter reinforced concrete retaining structure.

The project was expected to be finished by 2008 but because the start of the project was delayed by four months due to the holding of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) summit, the date of completion was moved.

Domingo said the project is among the top priorities of President Arroyo, who he said will be in Cebu next week to inspect the subway.

The President will also check on the progress of the P2.4-billion Cebu North Coastal Road Project (CNCRP), said Domingo, adding that the project will be completed five months ahead of schedule.

The Cansaga Bay Bridge, which is a component of CNCRP, is now about to be finished.

PSBank makes P1.24 B in 2009, up 32%

Manila Bulletin

Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), the country’s second largest thrift bank, posted a 32 percent jump in unaudited net income last year to P1.24 billion from the P940 million earned in 2008.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, the bank said the 2009 figure is the highest net income level achieved in its history.

PSBank’s sustained growth track during the year resulted in a 25 percent increase in its total net revenues to P6.36 billion in 2009.

The expansion in revenues was comprised of a 30 percent improvement in net interest income and an 11 percent increase in non-interest income.

The growth in interest income was supported by the stable interest rate environment and the healthy expansion of its core lending business during the year

“I am very pleased with the record-breaking figures that the bank has achieved for 2009. This is a result of the healthy expansion of our core lending business backed by better-than-expected economic conditions last year,” said PSBank President Pascual M. Garcia III.

He added that “this financial milestone definitely augurs well for 2010 and in the mid-term.”

PSBank’s total assets rose 25 percent during the year to P93.09 billion. Gross loans increased 15 percent while consumer loans expanded at a 10 percent clip to P37.99 billion. PSBank’s loan portfolio continues to focus on the consumer with 78 percent of its portfolio in this sector.

The bank’s active participation in recent corporate issuances of Meralco, Aboitiz and PLDT among others also allowed its loan portfolio to expand significantly.

On the other hand, its investment securities totalled P23.30 billion, a year-on-year expansion of 19 percent from P19.50 billion in 2008.

Even with an expanded loan portfolio, the Bank was able to improve the quality of its asset base with its non-performing loans (NPL) ratio at 5.5 percent and its NPL coverage ratio at 68 percent as of end-2009.

111th Anniversary of the First Philippine Republic

Manila Bulletin

The First Philippine Republic was proclaimed on January 23, 1899, after President Emilio F. Aguinaldo's declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898. It adopted the Constitucion Politica de la Republica Filipina and replaced the dictatorial government established by the Truce of Biyak-na-Bato on December 15, 1897. The First Philippine Republic existed from January 23, 1899, to July 4, 1902, when United States President Theodore B. Roosevelt proclaimed the official end of the Filipino-American War.

The establishment of the First Philippine Republic is a great day in Philippine history and in the histories of colonial Asia. The revolution launched by Andres Bonifacio in August 24, 1896 gave birth to the first nation-state in Asia – the First Philippine Republic. This nation-state was the first republic in Asia. President Aguinaldo's proclamation of the republic on January 23, 1899, in Malolos, Bulacan, capped the Filipino people's fight to preserve their freedom, a fight that was begun in 1521 by Kalipulako, Chief of Maktan.

"Without the past," French President Jacques V. Chirac once declared, "there is no future." The First Philippine Republic was bequeathed to us by our patriotic forefathers.

In strengthening the nation-state founded by Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Andres DC. Bonifacio, General Emilio F. Aguinaldo, Apolinario M. Mabini, and their generation, we nourish this legacy and show the world that we have kept faith with our forefathers and our heroes.

Friday, 22 January 2010

RP BPO sector nears 10% of global market

Manila Bulletin

The bullish e-services sector is gearing up for better growth prospects this year with new sectors such as supply and procurement management and other knowledge-based services fuelling up its growth.

This was the assessment of industry players at the launch of the “e-services Global Sourcing Conference & Exhibition” to he held second week next month.

Trade and Industry Secretary Peter B. Favila said that the despite the global financial contagion, the industry witnessed some expansion last year and better prospects for 2010.

“For 2010, the industry projects to attain $11 to $13 billion in revenues, 650,000 to 900,000 new jobs and 10 percent of the global market share,” Favila said in a speech read by DTI Acting Secretary Elmer C. Hernandez.

One particular new sector that show much promise is the supply and procurement management sector.

Supply management, he said, refers to the identification, acquisition, access, positioning and management of resources an organization needs or potentially needs in the attainment of its strategic objectives.

Hernandez explained that the procurement and purchasing aspect of a business operation is a relatively new sector in outsourcing that can be done competitively in the Philippines.

Instead of a company putting up warehouse facility and have a full manpower complement to do the job, the company can outsource this to a third party.

“This means no warehouse maintenance because the supply management services provider just have to deliver the goods per instruction by the client,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said this would considerably reduce the cost of transport and logistical needs for the company resulting in efficient and better bottomlines.

Malacañang Tribute to Cerge Remonde

PGMA's Speech in the Inauguration of the $3B Alphaland Southgate Tower and Mall

Farewell Call and Conferment of the Order of Sikatuna on H.E. Kristie Kenney

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Teachers to get P4,300 for poll duties

P30-M fund set up for poll-related casualties

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) on Thursday announced that public school teachers who serve as members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in May will get P4,300 each.

"Our teachers need to be fully compensated as they perform central roles in this political exercise," DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus said in a statement.

The statement followed the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between Lapus and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo.

Lapus said the MOA signing for teachers's compensation is only part of a "series of cumulative measures" to ensure clean, honest and peaceful automated local and national elections on May 10.

The DepEd said that even before the MOA signing, Education Undersecretary Franklin Sunga and Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal had come up with an agreement on the teachers' compensation package last December.

Based on the MOA signed, teachers who will serve as election inspectors will receive P3,000 each, plus P300 transportation allowance.

Another P500 will be given for inspection, verification, and sealing of book of voters, plus another P500 for inspection, verification, and sealing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

The MOA also provides that team leaders, including school heads, principals and education supervisors who are not members of the BEI, but will supervise certain precincts will receive P3,000.

Even school janitors and messengers who will be assigned in voting precincts during the elections will also get P1,500 each while members of the board of canvassers in the municipal, city and provincial levels will get P5,000.

Aside from the allowances, the DepEd said the Comelec has pledged a P30-million fund for "election-related deaths or injuries" that may involve teachers while performing their poll duties.

It said that each family of a "deceased" teacher or DepEd employee will receive P200,000.

Poll machines to undergo lab, field tests starting Thursday


The electronic machines that will be used in the May elections will undergo a series of laboratory and field tests to ensure their efficiency in counting votes, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the "end-to-end" lab tests of 75 units of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines would be conducted from January 21 to 25 at the warehouse of poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Larrazabal said the Comelec would follow " test (the) accuracy, security, and functionality of the system." Also involved in the tests are representatives from Smartmatic-TIM and the Department of Science and Technology.

Among the devices that will be used during the tests are blank laptop computers or those with only the operating system and Web browser on their hard drives, as well as blank poll machines that will be installed with the needed computer software, according to Larrazabal.

Also during the tests, ballots will be filled out and will be counted manually. The ballots will then be fed into the poll machines to test if these would be able to accurately count the votes and transmit data.

Meanwhile, the simultaneous field tests of 10 other PCOS units will be conducted nationwide on January 27. Larrazabal said the tests would be done to show the public that the automated voting system would work not only in the urban centers, but in rural areas as well.

The tests will be conducted in the following areas: National Capital Region (in Pateros town and Taguig City); Luzon (in Bakun town in Benguet province); Visayas (in Naga City and Cebu province); and Mindanao (in Lake Cebu town in South Cotabato province).

One PCOS unit will be tested in every area, according to Larrazabal.

Mock elections will also be held on February 6. "We will be conducting mock election the field...not in controlled environment (with the) actual conditions on election day," the Comelec commissioner said.

Meanwhile, Larrazabal said the certifications of the computer software and the hardware that would be used in the May polls were still being processed in Colorado.

The poll machine supplier was supposed to initially deliver 42,200 PCOS units last November. However, the schedule of delivery was moved to December. At the end of the year, only 7,200 units were delivered due to costly shipping and traffic problems, according to the Comelec.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said Smartmatic-TIM had since committed to deliver about 9,600 machines weekly.

The Comelec expects to have in its custody 50,000 PCOS machines by the end of this week, according to Melo. He assured the public that all the 82,200 PCOS machines needed for the May polls should have been manufactured and delivered by February. All the machines will be tested by the Comelec.

The poll body chief said that as stated in their contract with Smartmatic-TIM, the consortium should deliver all the poll machines before February 28.

The supplier will be forced to pay a P7.5-million fine for every single day it misses the deadline, said Larrazabal.

Cagayan Freeport being primed for shipbuilding business


BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Officials are grooming the Cagayan Freeport as the country's next world-class shipyard, with several shipbuilders having expressed interest in its expansion plan.

The 54,000-hectare business hub in Port Irene, Sta. Ana is undergoing upgrade, including the lengthening of the pier to accommodate 20,000 deadweight-ton vessels, while its container yard is being redesigned to handle large containers.

Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) Deputy Administrator Jose Aldeguer said the shipyard would likely take off this year, as soon as a breakwater to fortify Port Irene's shoreline is completed.

"With the upgrade of the container yard and upcoming construction of a shipbuilding facility, we expect a lot of activities this year," he said in an interview.

Jack Enrile, Cagayan's provincial economic consultant, said the shipyard is part of the free port's expansion program. "It's in the planning stage. We could not reveal details yet because there are many interested investors," he said.

The CEZA in Port Irene, Sta, Ana is the fastest-growing industrial, logistics and tourism hub in the country. It manages the Cagayan Freeport, which has generated investments in port operations, aviation, real estate, banking, tourism and resort services, agro-industries, leisure, international fishing, telecommunications, software development, management services, trading and imports.

Enrile said the construction at the Subic Bay Freeport of a $68-million Turkish owned commercial ship by South Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp. showed that the Philippines can build world-class ocean-going vessels. The vessel is the biggest oil tanker made in the country.

"We are a maritime nation and we should improve our competence… not just by providing a third of the world's seafarers but also by building ships ourselves, and this we can start doing at Port Irene," Enrile said.

The port's advantage is its proximity to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea and North America, he pointed out.

"It is only 45 minutes away by jet and less than four hours by boat from Taiwan's main shipping and industrial center of Kaoshiung. It is about time that we use our geographical advantage by further developing Port Irene into a world-class shipyard," he added.

Enrile said Dong Feng — the second largest car part maker and assembler in China and a subcontractor for Honda, Nissan and Toyota — will export semi-knockdown vehicles to the Philippines to allow the entry of more affordable automobiles priced $10,000 or below.

In March 2009, Chinese-manufactured cars started arriving at the port, signaling the expansion of bilateral trade between the Philippines and China.

A National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) report showed that the expansion of the Cagayan Freeport has changed the investment climate in the region.

In an interview, Cagayan Governor Alvaro Antonio said taxes paid by locators have helped Cagayanons in terms of more infrastructure, livelihood and educational opportunities.

"If the port will push through as the country's next important shipping hub, then it will be Cagayan's gift to Filipinos," he said.

The CEZA has attracted millions of investments from offshore companies and generated millions more from tourists here and abroad. It employs thousands of skilled workers from and outside Region II.

Statement by the Office of the Press Secretary on the passing away of Secretary Cerge M. Remonde

The Office of the Press Secretary wishes to announce, with profound sorrow, that Secretary Cerge M. Remonde succumbed to a heart attack shortly before noon today at the Makati Medical Center. He was 51 years old.

Earlier this morning, the Secretary was discovered unconscious in the bathroom of his residence in Makati. He was brought to Makati Medical where efforts were made to revive him, but to no avail. The news of his passing was first broken by the Executive Secretary, Eduardo Ermita, at the hospital premises.

Secretary Cerge leaves behind his wife, Mrs. Maret Remonde, who is presently en route to Manila by private plane from his home in Cebu. His remains will lie in state at the Heritage Memorial Park in Fort Bonifacio, pending final disposition by his wife upon her arrival here.

Cerge Remonde traced his roots to Argao, Cebu where he grew up. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from the University of the Visayas in Cebu City. Later he took up Cooperation and Development Studies at the Afro-Asia Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1986, and also attended an International Visitors Program hosted by the US State Department in Washington, DC in 1992.

From his initial days as a radio reporter and commentator, Cerge carved out a distinguished career in radio, television, and print. He served as anchor of the highly-rated DYLA Interaction, a primetime show that set the benchmark for public affairs programming. He was also the first ever to rise from the ranks of provincial reporters to become the national chairman of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), a position that he held for an unprecedented six terms.

In January 2001, only three days after President Arroyo first took office, Cerge Remonde was appointed Press Undersecretary in charge of broadcast. In 2004, he was named head of the Government Mass Media Group (GMMG), a Cabinet-level position which oversees all the various government owned media entities. He also served concurrently as Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

In October 2006, Cerge Remonde was appointed to head the Presidential Management Staff, and in February 2009, he was named the Press Secretary to the President. Among the many positions he held concurrently, he served as senior adviser to the GRP-NDF Peace Panel, commissioner of the Communications Committee of UNESCO, and chairman of the Advertising Board of the Philippines, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, and the Appeals Board of the MTRCB.

Secretary Remonde was lavished with many awards and distinctions, among them the Most Outstanding Visayanian in the field of Mass Media in 1998, and, together with former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, the Most Outstanding Cebuano in 1999.

But as any one of his multitude of friends and admirers well knows, it was their friendship and high regard that he valued most highly. This esteem was something that in turn was given easily to a man with his admirable qualities—professionalism at work, solicitude for the plight of others, loyalty to his President and to the high ideals of public service, and most of all, devotion to his Church and to his God.

Secretary Cerge Remonde will be sorely missed by his colleagues, his friends, and all who grieve his passing today, even as he will continue to be an inspiration to them and a shining example of a life well-lived in the service of his fellow man and for the greater glory of the Creator above. (PND)

Gov’t execs, media members troop to Makati Med

From the huge crowd gathered at the main entrance of Makati Medical Center, including members of the Malacañang Press Corps and high government officials, people could sense that something big was afoot.

Seen among the people milling around were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Presidential Counsel for Election Matter Romulo Macalintal, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Secretary Ricardo Saludo, Press Undersecretary Romeo Junia, Assistant Secretary Maribel Dario, and senatorial aspirant Rey Langit.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde had been rushed earlier to the hospital after he was found unconscious in his house in Bel-Air, Makati City; an apparent victim of heart attack.

Ermita told reporters that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had already been informed of the press secretary’s demise.

“I could not say her exact reaction, but she was silent, apparently shocked,” Ermita said. “Definitely she will prepare a special honor for him,”

The Malacañang Press Corps members, including Marie Peña Ruiz of Radyo ng Bayan with whom Remonde used to hold regular Saturday interviews on DZRB, could not hold back their tears. Reporters of private and government radio stations and television channels felt the same. Most were of the opinion that the death was “a great loss to the Arroyo administration and to the Philippines.”

“He was a very dedicated civil servant, prayerful, humble in so many ways and always jolly even under pressure,” were the usual remarks heard among them.

For his part, Junia said Remonde was planning to host a party on Feb. 1 to mark his one year as press secretary, a belated birthday blowout (he turned 51 last Dec. 21) and Christmas party.

“He was to start the day with a mass at the nearest church, either San Miguel or St. Jude, and then treat the gang to a merienda cena at the grounds of the New Executive Building,” he said.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, an organization he headed for more than a decade, held during its private lunch meeting, a silent prayer on hearing of his death. (PND)

PhilPost to get wired, to hasten remittances

Ronnel Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The money remittance system of the Philippine Postal Corp. may finally go electronic, enabling the state firm to offer the same convenience that private money forwarders do at just about a fourth of the fees charged.

This is made possible with a P1-billion loan that the Social Security System is extending PhilPost through a partnership related to the unified multi-purpose identification (UMID) system.

Top officials of PhilPost and SSS Tuesday inked a pact that widens the coverage of the UMID system.

Before the partnership, the planned UMID covered only four agencies, providing a single ID card for members of the SSS, Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) and the Home Development Mutual Fund.

SSS is the lead agency in the implementation of the UMID project, which was spelled out in Executive Order No. 420 that was issued in 2005.

The UMID project is supposed to “enhance the integrity” of state-issued ID cards, ease government transactions, cut costs and minimize redundant databases.

Romulo L. Neri, SSS president and chief executive, said the partnership “widens the usage of the UMID card and also paves the way for electronic remittance services for overseas workers through the PhilPost” network, Neri said.

He added that when the UMID system rolled out, SSS members would be able to get payments for pensions, loans and benefits through PhilPost’s nationwide web of some 2,200 post offices.

RP may double Samurai bond issue to $1 B

Manila Bulletin

The Philippine government may sell yen bonds worth up to $1 billion next month and the final amount will be determined by investor interest and state finances, the Department of Finance said Wednesday.

The country will also hold a non-deal roadshow in Europe in March to gauge appetite for Philippine assets. While it has no specific plans for a eurobond issue, such a deal is an option, said Rosalia de Leon, head of the finance department's international finance group.

News of a yen bond sale and a potential euro deal pushed up domestic bond prices slightly on relief the government would tap the offshore market rather than the local market for funding.

The Philippines wants to meet its offshore debt needs ahead of May national elections, which may raise uncertainty about government policy and the fiscal outlook and therefore prompt investors to demand higher returns for risking their capital.

PAL takes delivery of 2nd Boeing 777


Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is expecting the delivery of its second Boeing 777-300ER aircraft today.

In a statement, the airline said the leased aircraft would be rotated among the Brisbane, Hong Kong and Tokyo routes, like the first one.

The airline ordered six Boeing 777 in 2006 to beef up its fleet but later delayed the delivery of the four remaining aircraft. The first Boeing 777 was delivered in November last year and has been deployed to PAL’s Hong Kong and Tokyo routes. It will be deployed to the Brisbane route soon.

PAL is expecting a slowdown in international travel this year amid the lingering effects of the global economic downturn.

PAL Holdings, Inc. the airline’s parent company, had said it foresees a loss for the fiscal year of 2009-2010 due to the slowdown in international travel. Revenues for the fiscal year ending March 2009 went up to P75.3 billion from the P66.3 billion in 2008 due to higher passenger revenues for the domestic market.

The airline, meanwhile, will slash ticket prices of its flights until Jan. 25, for travel from Feb. 1 to March 15. Fares for one-way flights on economy class between Manila and Luzon or the Visayas and between Cebu and Davao would only be at P777.00. One-way flights between Manila to Mindanao are at P1,777.00

Flights to Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Jakarta, Osaka, Shanghai, Tokyo, Los Angeles and San Francisco will range from $128 to $798 round-trip.

Fewer bank franchises, more branches a good sign–BSP

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE number of bank franchises has steadily dropped from 2000, when the universe of bank names totaled more or less 950, to 795 as of latest count by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The decimation, BSP Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. said on Wednesday, was due to continued consolidation and mergers.

While it is easy to conclude the system is under some threat, Espenilla said this was not the case if the yardstick used is the proliferation of bank branches that have grown by leaps and bounds—from around 6,000 in all in 2000—to more than 7,100 at present.

“As far as the consuming public is concerned, there are more bank branches now than before. The bank closures notwithstanding, bank service availability based on the number of branches continues to grow,” Espenilla said.

Thirty-eight of their number or 4.8 percent are classified as either regular commercial banks, or expanded license or so-called universal banks; 73 or 9.2 percent were thrift banks.

A total 684 or 86 percent are rural or cooperative banks.

Espenilla would not say how many rural banks were ordered closed last year but unofficial estimates place their number at more or less 30.

He said this number was irrelevant if taken from a broader universe of 645 rural banks, of which 50 were the big-name banks in the business and the rest are so many small rural lenders.

Like their big-brother counterparts, the only number not growing among rural banks was their head-office count—also a result of continued consolidation and mergers. But their asset base, capital, deposits and branches are on the up and up, Espenilla said.

“To us, the growth in the number of bank offices serving the public is more important,” Espenilla reiterated.

He also noted the number of delivery channels through which the services are delivered keeps growing as well.

For instance, there had been a relentless growth in the number of automated teller machines (ATMs) of more or less 3,680 in 2000 to 8,207 as of the moment.

So-called nontraditional bank service-delivery channels have also expanded because in addition to the proliferation of ATMs, so-called electronic wallets have become more common in recent years.

Forty-nine local banks offer the service while two foreign banks offer it as well.

Internet banking is offered by 19 locals and 17 foreign banks while phone/PC-based or non-mobile banking services are now offered by 14 locals and five foreign banks.

Mobile cell-phone or laptop-computer bank services are now available in 14 local banks and seven foreign banks, while cash and remittance-card services are available from 14 local and seven foreign banks.

Espenilla said the proliferation in number and type of bank service available to the public really took off after 2005 when the BSP liberalized its bank branching rules.

The overall system is not only very liquid but its capital adequacy or ability to remain afloat despite financial reverses is well above the regulatory 10 percent set by the BSP, he said.

Ayala Center redevelopment expected to cost P20 billion

Miguel R. Camus
Business Mirror

LISTED Ayala Land Inc. is betting that the property sector will continue its strong rebound as it plots a P20-billion plan to redevelop a chunk of Ayala Center into what officials have touted as among the firm’s “most ambitious” projects to-date.

The plan, to be carried out over the next five years, involves the construction of a high-end residential tower, two office buildings, a hotel and a new mall over what used to be Glorietta one and Glorietta two in Makati City.

“This [redevelopment] has been in the works for the last three to four years as we tried to see how to take Ayala Land to the next level,” said Ayala Land chairman  Fernando Zobel de Ayala in a press briefing late Tuesday.

“If you look at Ayala Center from the 1960s, this is now the third major redevelopment that we are going through. I think what is very exciting in the real estate cycle that we are going through now is the much higher level of affordability the Filipino consumer has,” he added.

He cited growing overseas remittances and low interest rates as main drivers of the confidence in the property sector. Zobel added that Ayala Land expects to sell 9,200 residential units this year from 2,500 units in 2009.

For his part, Ayala Land president Antonio Aquino noted that the redevelopment project will be funded with a combination of internal cash and borrowings. He said the firm is also anticipating the upcoming rules and regulations of Real Estate Investment Trust Law as another source of funding.

The new project will be anchored by the launch of the three-tower Park Terraces, the latest residential project under Ayala Land Premier, the company’s high-end brand.

The towers, to be built over a 1-hectare area, will start construction by the second quarter this year with turnover to clients beginning in early 2015.

The first tower will stand at 49 stories and will offer 370 units, of which a quarter will be allotted to studio and two bedroom units each, 40 percent for one-bedroom cuts and the remainder for the larger three-bedroom and penthouse units.

Prices start at P5 million for a 37-square meter studio room to P40 million for a larger 272-square meter unit.

“The configuration mix for the [succeeding towers] will depend on client preferences to be gauged [from] the first tower,” noted Tom Mirasol, head of sales and marketing of Ayala Land Premier.

Other developments are seen to complement Park Terraces, said Aquino. “This is going to be one of the of most ambitious projects that Ayala is going to be doing in terms of dramatic expansion in leasable area for our offices as well as in hotel and mall development,” he said.

Aquino said the planned office towers are seen to offer another 40,000 square meters of space while the mall will provide an additional 20,000 square meters of retail space. The hotel, which Aquino described as a businessman’s “Holiday Inn-type” of project, will offer between 250 and 300 rooms.

The company president noted that less than half of the P20-billion budget will be spent on Park Terraces and the remainder going to the retail, commercial and office space components.

On being a columnist

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

It is said that you read what you want to hear; that is, you listen to the commentaries that support the opinion that you already hold.

I suppose then that you might read my words because overall, perhaps I tend to see the Philippines a little more positively and optimistically than other columnists in the local newspapers. And, of course, all pundits will swear on a stack of Bibles that we are not biased but are only relaying the truth, backed by our brilliant, thoughtful wisdom. But it is the truth as we see it, filtered through our own personal bias, whether we will admit it or not.

I do not have problems reading a prejudiced opinion which displays complete partiality. In fact, sometimes it is sort of fun when a columnist declares that his/her political choice can nearly walk on water. You know where the heart lies, emphasis on the word “lies.” Besides you can always find some other opinion that will assure you that the candidate in question is obviously the tool of the devil.

You might think that talking about the economy and business would be free of opinion and center only on “the facts.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, opinions on “the economy” are probably filled with as much intrigue, half-lies, and false gossip as any show-biz column.

You also might think that economic numbers are just numbers and, therefore, should always be factual. The fact is that the gross domestic product (GDP) numbers from every country are right up there on the truth scale with political advertisements and weight-loss remedies. Every government plays with the GDP numbers to its political advantage. We never know the truth until several months and several revisions after the first estimates are released.

But the moment the data are revealed, everyone jumps to give his opinion of what the inaccurate numbers mean. And I am as guilty of that as the next person.

Yet often, there is not a lot of intellectual honesty in the opinion columns because of that old technique of telling half-truths. The other day a respected “expert” whose predictions for the Philippines in 2009 were almost 100-percent wrong, ventured that poverty had dramatically increased during the Arroyo administration. That is certainly true in terms of absolute numbers as the population naturally grows. What is more important is the percentage of the population living in the poverty category and the definition of poverty change too often as the political winds blow one way or the other.

Grant for a moment that there are more people living in poverty in the Philippines since 2000 and also grant that the percentage of the poor has increased. But what is an accurate measure of “poverty”? Income? Stored wealth? Possessions?

The factors that you use to measure something like “poverty” can support almost any conclusion. For example: Using the data of the respectable World Resources Institute (WRI), poverty has decreased in the Philippines by 23 percent since 1990. Do you believe that? Allow me to “prove” it to you.

Based on the minimum daily calorie intake necessary to keep a person from being undernourished, 21 percent of Filipinos were underfed in 1990. That number dropped to 16 percent by 2005 and is probably lower now. That is a drop of over 20 percent in 15 years, proof positive that the government’s poverty-reduction programs are working.

And look at this fact to show poverty has dropped. Per-capita consumption of beef, higher priced than chicken, pork, or fish, is up over 50 percent since 1992. Obviously that could not happen unless overall poverty is down. Or not.

We all, writers and readers, tend to take information, solid, reliable information and make conclusions that cannot be properly taken from that information even though it seems to make sense. Take this, for example: The United Nations 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report says that in the Philippines, there is a four-year education gap between the richest and poorest households. The gap in India is seven years, meaning rich households study seven years longer. That is a fact.

From the Times of India: “India had over 300,000 call agents in 2007 when the Philippines had just half of that. Today, India and the Philippines have an equal strength of 350,000 people in voice BPO. Raman Roy, regarded as the father of India’s BPO business, says that ‘Quality suffers because of the lack of proper educational and training platforms.’”

What conclusions can we make? One columnist degraded the Philippines outsourcing business by saying that the rise of BPO shows that call-center agents come from the “richer” families having more education, therefore, BPO does not help the “average” Filipino. Another says that our rise in the BPO business, which requires basic English, shows how our educational system is failing in that if you were smarter, you would not work in a call center. Yet another says that we are smarter but settling for lower-quality employment in the call centers.

Commentators about the economy tend to speak as if their analyses were science. Not a chance. The information we use is biased and frequently faulty. Our opinions are often just as agenda-driven as any political opinion. Our conclusions are regularly what we want to believe and not what actually is.

A journalism student recently asked me about being a columnist and what a potential journalist should avoid. I replied that the day the columnist believes his words and ideas are more important and better than anyone else’s is the day he begins writing editorial fiction and propaganda.

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

P150 coffee causes bad thinking

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

It is an issue that I have complained about for many years: economic analysis done from the coffee shop of a five-star hotel. When you are discussing the Philippine economy while drinking a P150 cup of coffee and eating a P200 doughnut, just maybe, you do not have a clear perception of what is going on in the real world.

It is sort of like the politician driving through the streets of Metro Manila with two police motorcycle escorts up front and two more in the rear mentioning that he doesn’t think traffic congestion is a big problem in the city.

In this case, however, that coffee-and-doughnut conversation, for some reason, usually leads to the conclusion that all is bad and probably getting worse.

Viewing and analyzing the Philippine economy requires both a peek inside the five-star coffee shop but also at the local carinderia. You cannot get the big picture without looking at both ends of the economic spectrum. In addition, there are many more street-side eateries than places that serve P100 coffee, and the people who patronize these little establishments add more to the economy than those in the coffee shops.

Banking giant—which may not be a compliment these days—HSBC says the Philippine economy will have the slowest growth of any of our Southeast Asian neighbors.

From HSBC’s Macro Asian Economics First Quarter 2010 report entitled “They say it may get bumpy”: “A crucial harbinger of the current state of the economy is fragile exports, which is projected to contract 21 percent in 2009 and may recover only gradually, given sluggish consumer demand in the West.” By contrast, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia are all expected to do better. That will probably be true. But the analysis is faulty since all of those countries are more dependent on exports for growth than the Philippines. The analysis does not make sense.

Further, all those nations went into recession in 2009, so of course, any comparative grown in 2010 will look enormous considering where they came from in 2009.

I am firmly convinced that there is a universal mindset among the “experts,” both local and foreign, that is the same as Floyd Mayweather Jr. who cannot believe or accept that Pacquiao is the best. The economic experts just cannot believe or accept that the Philippines can achieve any level of economic success.

The comments from the experts in the newspapers seem not to connect with the real world in the articles right next to their bashing the Philippines. While the commentary says “No investments for the Philippines,” the articles say things like “Kuwait’s Al-Mal Investment Co. said it has bid for a tender to develop an airport in the Philippines, valued at about $1.2 billion.” Or “Foreign-portfolio investments yielded a net inflow of $388 million in 2009, a reversal of the $1.8-billion net outflow recorded in the previous year, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.”

But the disconnect reaches much farther down into the economy in stories that will never reach the business pages.

There is a large outsourcing zone in Muntinlupa called North Gate. In fact that is where HSBC does its customer-service business, along with several other multinational companies, employing thousands of Filipinos in jobs that did not exist five years ago.

I was talking to a taxi driver the other morning at about 1 a.m. He had just dropped off a call-center employee who was starting his workday. The driver mentioned that at this time, he and all other cab drivers charge two or even three times the metered rate to bring these employees to work. Business from these employees is so active and profitable that he has changed his shift to work only nights to service the call-center personnel. Further, the man who owns the taxi intends to buy one more unit, again to service this nighttime trade.

Buses and shuttles arrive 24/7 at the Mall of Asia also to service call-center agents. This is business that did not exist a few years ago, never mentioned by the experts and is not affected by politics, corruption, peace and order and all of the other negatives that the experts cite as a reason for the Philippines being the last place on earth to make any money.

The experts also seem to want to ignore the macroeconomic issues that they should be aware of, showing the activity occurring every day in this country. From “The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported last Friday that the Chinese renminbi or Chinese yuan (CNY) transactions of Philippine banks have been growing rapidly. The settlement bank for renminbi banknotes trading in the Philippines posted remarkable expansion of CNY-denominated assets from CNY 0.5 million as of December 2008 to CNY 174.6 million at the end of 2009.”

This is a significant story as this is money coming in from China, not going out to buy imports. Further, “Five local banks launched their renminbi deposit products in the last quarter of 2009.”

Despite what you read in the newspapers, 2010 is going to be a very positive year economically for the Philippines. The stock market is going to boom again. Foreign investment is going to dramatically increase. Hopefully the people will finally elect a president who understands the needs of business and the economy, and more important, the proper relationship between government and the private sector that can produce positive results.

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RP economy seen growing 4.2% in 2010

HSBC economist urges BSP to hike rates
By Doris Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--BRITISH BANKING GIANT HSBC SEES THE Philippines growing at a much faster pace this year on the back of strong remittance inflows and election-related spending, but sees the need for the local central bank to tighten monetary policy soon to curb emerging consumer price pressures.

In a briefing yesterday, visiting HSBC economist Frederic Neumann added that a key challenge for the next President would be to reform the country’s tax system to prevent a runaway budget deficit.

Neumann sees the Philippines posting a higher gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4.2 percent compared to last year’s 1.1 percent—also better than the market consensus forecast of 3.6 percent—but noted that the growth rebound won’t necessarily benefit the government’s tax collections.

He said the government’s budget deficit would likely expand to P370 billion or 4.4 percent of GDP this year from an estimated P305 billion in 2009, noting that it had historically been difficult to shore up revenues during an election year.

“A deficit of P370 billion is still manageable, but it’s very important that the incoming administration continues the policy of the previous administration to make sure the budget deficit doesn’t go the way of the Estrada administration’s,” Neumann said.

He added that the taxation system of the Philippines was structured in such a way that revenues do not necessarily track economic growth. As such, he said the next Congress under the new administration may draft new tax measures to stabilize the government’s fiscal position.

“If there’s one thing that the Philippines needs, it’s a stable budget deficit. You can afford a higher budget deficit now than a few years ago but going forward, to have credibility, there must be lasting improvement in the budget deficit,” Neumann said.

On the other hand, Neumann said the higher GDP growth rate for the Philippines this year, which could further accelerate to 4.6 percent next year, would be still underpinned by remittance flows, which could grow more than 5.8 percent as demand from emerging markets help perk up a global recovery.

But he said the policymakers in the Philippines and the rest of the Asian region should watch out for two key risks. One is the resurgence in food and fuel prices which in turn were starting to drive up inflation in the region. The other is the growing risk of a financial bubble as the loose monetary policy in the West push out more funds to higher-yielding emerging markets.

He said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas may have to raise interest rates by a total of 75 basis points this 2010 beginning at the end of the second quarter and by 25 basis points each during the third and fourth quarters.

He said the BSP may also have to tolerate a further peso appreciation against the US dollar such that the exchange rate may end this year at P43:$1.

DPWH progress report on SONA promises

VG Cabuag
Business Mirror

SEVERAL road projects promised by President Arroyo during her previous State of the Nation Address (Sona) will not be completed before she steps down from power in June, a report from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) shows.

According to the data, only five of the agency’s 23 Sona projects will be completed, and all of these are in Luzon, which have a total funding of P11 billion.

According to the agency’s estimates, the projects will only be 90-percent complete by June, but most of the infrastructure will be finished within the year.

Some of the access road projects are also vital to the completion of some of the country’s airports and seaports, including the Dingalan Port and the Bacolod Airport.

The said projects exclude build-operate-transfer and flood-control projects.

Data show that 18 Sona projects in the Visayas and Mindanao, worth P44.2 billion, will only be 81-percent and 95-percent complete, respectively, by June.

The said projects include the New Bacolod (Silay) Airport Access Road and Samar Pacific Coastal Road Project.

DPWH said those projects completed in Northern Luzon are mostly in the Mountain Province, including the 95.3-kilometer Halsema Highway, the 108-km Bontoc-Tabuk-Tuguegarao Road, and also the 27.27-km Baler, Aurora-Casigura Road.

For the Luzon Urban Beltway, DPWH was able to finish the 120.6 km Tarlac-Nueva-Ecija-Aurora-Dingalan Port and the 109-km Marikina-Infanta Road projects.

DWPH, however, has its hands full as there are several projects still underway, most of which are vital to the movement of goods in the country.

These are the expansion of Circumferential 5 in Quezon City and Valenzuela, which will serve as link to North Luzon Expressway operated by the Manila North Tollways Corp., and the P8.78-billion North Luzon East Expressway, in which Ausphil Tollways Corp. submitted its unsolicited proposal to the government way back in 2005.

According to the proposal, the expressway will start from Commonwealth Avenue at La Mesa to San Jose del Monte City to Norzagaray in Bulacan province.

DPWH is also set to finish its feasibility study of the proposed P39.19-billion Circumferential 6 Road Project. The said study is being funded by Korea International Cooperation Agency and Japan External Trade Organization but the government is still looking for funding for the entire road project.

DPWH said projects in the Visayas that will not be completed by June include road infrastructure in Palawan linking the Rio Tuba mine, Cebu North Coastal Road Project, and the P1.19-billion New Bacolod (Silay) Airport Access Road, which is funded partly by the Korean Economic Development Fund.

In Mindanao DPWH said it would finish the P303-million Dapitan-Dakak Road in Zamboanga del Norte within the month.

Elnora Gongob, district engineer of DPWH 3rd Zamboanga Engineering District Office, said the lone access to the two tourist spots of Dapitan City’s Rizal Shrine and the Dakak Park and Beach Resort is already 95.21-percent complete.

“Classifying and recommending the road network as a national highway will surely boost the economic stability of this coastal part of the area and maximize the impact of tourism since beautiful beaches and tourist, national parks are found along the shore,” she said.

“This will, likewise, provide a wider market for marine agriculture products through accessible farm-to-market road,” Gongob said.

$5.3-B BOP surplus to blunt external risks

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE country’ balance of payments (BOP) exceeded expectations and ended 2009 as a surplus totaling $5.295 billion or about 60 times larger than the previous year’s surplus of only $89 million.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. reported the sharply higher surplus against a backdrop of weak global environment and a local economy that many initially expected to fall into a recession.

In the end, the Philippines generated far more foreign-exchange earnings than it paid for trade, transfers and investments, helping insulate it further from a wider weakness.

“The full-year cumulative BOP came in higher than forecast due to the higher-than-projected overseas Filipino remittances and better-than-expected income from the BSP’s investments abroad as well as from capital flows,” he told reporters in a text message.

This, he said, will help “fortify our defenses against external vulnerabilities” such as sharply higher oil import prices or the need to borrow from the global debt markets.

There was a sharp rise in the BOP surplus in December alone totaling $1.215 billion and a reversion from the previous month’s deficit of just $93 million.

There were only two other months last year when the balance stood as a deficit—in March when this totaled $42 million and again in May, when the deficit stood at $55 million.

“The outlook for 2010 is for such a favorable external position to continue, which could then yield opportunities to further beef up our international reserves,” Tetangco said.

The New York-based think tank Global Source has credited the country’s healthy external sector for making up for the weakness of the fiscal sector looking down at the likelihood of a very large budgetary deficit for 2009. “Fortunately, healthy external accounts make up for fiscal weakness while sound monetary management keeps inflation perils at bay,” the think tank said in its latest readings of the macroeconomic situation of the Philippines.

The BSP previously reported OFW remittances totaling $15.8 billion in the first 11 months, or 5.1 percent higher than last year.

According to Global Source, the full 2009 OFW remittance level could grow by 5.2 percent instead, or by some $17 billion.

“Remittances grew above 5 percent despite a slump in major markets in 2009, and we have even higher hopes for the New Year, when inflows sent home by overseas Filipinos workers may rise by over 6 percent as prospects abroad improve.

“This means easily over $18 billion in OFW money coming in this year. A continued high unemployment rate in the US may remain a dampener to this scenario, however.

“Also, we cannot rule out possible lagged effects of the global crisis on employment in the Middle East, also a major market,” Global Source said.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Salceda’s prescriptions

J.A. de la Cruz

Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda never fails to impress. Having had the opportunity to discuss and debate with him on a number of issues, including this administration’s economic policies, this top- notch analyst, three-term congressman and PGMA’s economic adviser always comes up with factual, thought-provoking analyses of seemingly intractable problems and concerns.

Amid the clutter of all kinds of facts and figures given all kinds of spin by all kinds of analysts from all kinds of persuasions, Salceda provides a fresh view, a new paradigm, so to speak. Such was his grasp of the clutter, as it were, that when he guested at our regular Kapihan sa Sulô forum on Saturday he almost floored all the critics, not to say the cynics, among us journalists into believing that this administration’s economic legacy is second to none among all the past five administrations. Of course, we got our bearing just in time when our other guests, former senator Kit Tatad and his fellow “senatoriables” JV Bautista and Raul Lambino, and our resident constitutionalist, former University of the Philippines Law dean Froi Bacungan, and, of course, the ever-prescient interrogators, the Inquirer’s Mang Neal Cruz and Times’ Dan Mariano, pounded him with all kinds of questions. To his credit, he managed to issue factual, credible answers, except on two or three points which we would rather discuss some other time. For now, we have to give space to him and his former college professor, President Arroyo.

The facts and nothing but...

Saying that critics will always be critics, Salceda debunked the popular view that this administration’s legacy after nine years in office is more people below the poverty line, a debauched trade-and-investment regime, a bankrupt treasury, overweening corruption and regulatory capture and, yes, the highest incidence of joblessness in living memory. For one, the Albay governor noted that we are one of only four countries in the Asia-Pacific region which registered growth from 2007 to 2009 within the time that the world went through severe recession and financial meltdown. That by itself is evidence of our resiliency and, of course, PGMA’s solid and firm handling of the economic tsunami which came our way. If only for that Salceda, said PGMA deserves a pat on the back, not shrill protestations that she had not done well enough. He noted that over the period 2001 to 2008, the average gross domestic product growth was 4.86 percent, higher than Estrada’s two-and-half-year average (4.7 percent), Ramos’s six-year average (3.6 percent) and Aquino’s seven-year average (3.3 percent). On top of that, average inflation was lowest under PGMA’s watch, i.e., 5.37 percent from 2001 to 2009 versus Aquino’s 10.4 percent, Ramos’s 7.6 percent and Estrada’s 6 percent; and the foreign debt, in relation to GDP, decreased considerably, allowing us to borrow at lower interest rates for our strategic needs. He also advised that our gross international reserves jumped from $15.06 billion in 2000 to $45.03 percent in 2009, boosted no less by the increase in our overseas Filipino workers’ remittances to $14.3 billion from January to October 2009. Ranged against the bleak economic standing of our Asean neighbors and even most of the Group of 20 countries, these figures are reasonably impressive, indeed. The problem, as one of our interrogators noted, is that these rosy economic figures never dented the wretched state of our “poorest of the poor.”

Salceda has an explanation to that as well. While he acknowledged that, indeed, the number of poor Filipinos has not decreased a bit (it may in fact be increasing), he placed the blame squarely on our flaccid population policy. Salceda advised that for the seven-year period 2001 to 2007, we added about three-and-a-half Singapores to our already booming population with 17 million Filipinos born over the term. That is a wrenching 2.8-percent annual increase requiring billions of pesos in basic services and, of course, jobs for millions more. That adds even more pressure to a slowing economy which already has to contend with at least 2 million unemployed and close to a million new entrants to the labor force annually. In other places and other climes, Salceda contends, those figures alone would have brought down any ordinary Third World country to its knees. But to our and PGMA’s credit, we remain standing and even able to squeak a certain level of growth. Thus, coming to terms with our population growth comes first in Salceda’s prescriptions. That prompted a reply from senator Tatad who noted that the state must creatively figure out how to implement the constitutional mandate to “protect life” and secure the best interests of every human being. It must not dictate; rather, it must consult and manage that growth responsibly.

The Albay governor then noted that this administration faced the question of declining revenues squarely by passing the expanded value-added tax and other tax measures and plugging the leaks, so to speak, in our revenue-generating units such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Customs, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Land Transportation Office, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and other government-owned and -controlled corporations. He noted, and we agreed, that even as we should all be heated up against profligate spending, corrupt and wayward practices, we should give equal, if not more attention, to revenue-enhancement measures which can generate billions of pesos annually. He mentioned that our forgone revenues from all sources alone amount to P274 billion which is already our budget deficit and, mind you, our allocation for debt servicing this year. Revenue enhancement for sustainable growth is at the heart of Salceda’s prescriptions, and nobody can quarrel with that. Such has always been our dream—to be able to draw in much-needed revenues by simplifying the rules, making the rules more transparent and predictable including the “reward and punishment” terms to which all citizens must subscribe.

Which brings us to what Salceda noted as the third prescription for a good presidency—a sustained and sustainable anticorruption plank. That means leading by example, simplifying the rules of the game, so to speak, and using all tools, including technology, to make all of us, in our public or private lives, accountable and merit-oriented. Without such a strategy and a firm commitment to do better than “business as usual,” we will never be able to limit, if not overcome altogether, the curse of corruption, which has taken roots all over the place, including the lowliest barangay.

So there. We now have the duty to review whether Salceda’s prescriptions and, of course, his glowing endorsement of PGMA’s economic policies and, yes, accomplishments, deserve commendation or condemnation. It bears noting that as a caveat, Salceda advised that quite apart from having good policies is proper and responsible implementation, which requires, at the same time, popular support to have any impact on the lives of the broad masses of our people. That is the curse which has continued to hound this administration. It may be true that it has put the necessary sustainable policies in place and that to a certain degree, it has been able to hold the fort, so to speak, but it continues to be shelled and lambasted due to all the negatives which have come its way, principally, in its fight against corruption. Having been bombarded with loads of corruption complaints, high-profile or otherwise, consummated or not, the perception remains that this administration is so immersed in this unwinnable fight even its good deeds have been shaded by such reports and stories. Sayang. Anyway, who among the candidates can stand up to the pressures and take the Salceda prescriptions to heart to test if, indeed, this analyst’s “best buys,” as it were, can carry us through the tough times ahead? Each one of us must make that choice soon and it’s good we have people like Salceda to help us make such an informed and responsible one, not whimsical and arbitrary. Sana na nga....

San Miguel eyeing gov’t stake in SLEx

Kristine Jane R. Liu

Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. will face competition in its bid to operate the two main entry and exit points north and south of Metro Manila after San Miguel Corp. said it was also interested to buy state-controlled Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC)’s stake in South Luzon Expressway (SLEx).

San Miguel President Ramon S. Ang said his firm would seek the PNCC’s 20% stake in South Luzon Tollway Corp., the joint venture that upgraded the SLEx, if there would be a public bidding.

PNCC had said it would sell its stake in South Luzon Tollway to pay for P5 billion in debts to the government, build a road that will connect SLEx near the Susana Heights interchange to the southern end of the Daang Hari Road in Cavite, and help the government ease the budget deficit.

The sale of PNCC’s 20% stake in South Luzon Tollway will come in a package, where the buyer will also be required to buy the government-led company’s 40% stake in Manila Toll Expressway System, Inc. (MATES), the operation and maintenance firm for SLEx.

But PNCC’s Malaysian partner in South Luzon Tollway and MATES, MTD Capital Bhd, holds the right of first refusal over PNCC’s stake, which means that Metro Pacific Tollways and the San Miguel camp would only be able to buy the government’s stake if MTD Capital is not interested.

PNCC had said that if the Malaysian firm is not interested to buy the government’s stake, it would go to the Department of Finance to seek an opinion on whether the PNCC should hold an auction for the stake.

MTD Capital, which holds an 80% stake in South Luzon Tollway and a 30% stake in MATES, was the sole funder of the SLEx rehabilitation which began in 2005.

South Luzon Tollway won the right to rehabilitate, expand, operate and maintain the SLEx under a concession agreement approved by Malacañang in 2006.

The project has three components -- the rehabilitation and widening of the 1.2-kilometer (km) Alabang Viaduct which was completed in 2007; the rehabilitation and widening of the 27.3-km expressway linking Alabang to Calamba in Laguna province; and the construction of a 7.6-km extension from Calamba to Sto. Tomas in Batangas province.

Acquiring a stake in SLEx will be a realization of Metro Pacific Tollways’ goal to operate a network of tollways. Metro Pacific Tollways operates the North Luzon Expressway and holds a minority interest in the Skyway 2 project, an extension of the elevated expressway over SLEx from Bicutan in Taguig to Alabang.

Metro Pacific Tollways is a subsidiary of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., the Philippine unit of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd., which partly owns the Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Co.
Meanwhile, acquiring a stake in SLEx will make San Miguel a major player in the infrastructure sector.

The diversifying food and beverage conglomerate has already partnered with Star Tollway Corp. to establish Northlink Toll Management, Inc., one of two companies participating in the bidding for the 93.77-km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway. The other bidder is Metro Pacific Tollways.

Last year, San Miguel became the single biggest shareholder in Private Infrastructure Development Corp. after unit Rapid Thoroughfares, Inc. acquired a 35% stake in the consortium that will build the 88-km Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Toll Expressway project.

San Miguel had said it plans to increase its stake in Private Infra to at least 51%.

Mediaquest Holdings, Inc., a unit of the PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund, has a minority stake in BusinessWorld.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pasig river rehab tops $1-B USAID projects

By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

LOOKING into the trash-filled canals that wind through crowded communities and open markets and then empty their murky waters into the Pasig River, it is hard to imagine that the district of Sta. Ana was once a center of agriculture, trading and the arts.

Sta. Ana is one of the country’s richest archaeological sites, being “one of the most historic districts” along the Pasig River where Chinese merchants came in their junks bringing metals, silk and fine porcelain to trade with the residents.

The Sta. Ana Church, founded by the Franciscans in 1578, was the first mission to be built outside the Intramuros Walled City.

The once flourishing community, however, has fallen prey to decades of neglect, just like the historic river that runs beside it.

But starting this year, private groups are working to reverse what went wrong—one public market at a time.

Market makeover

The Sta. Ana public market will undergo a makeover this year under the USAID-Rotary Pasig River Improvement Project.

Launched last week, the project is aimed not just at reviving the Pasig River but also at alleviating poverty by boosting tourism in the historic district of Sta. Ana through a cleaner environment.

The sad story of the Pasig River is a “combination of years and years of not investing in the necessary infrastructure,” said acting USAID mission director Elzadia Washington.

Improving the Pasig River is just one of the five projects of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rotary Club International that address this need to build proper infrastructure in the Philippines.

The projects in the Philippines of this international collaboration are worth $1.1 billion.

One of 3 world sites

Still struggling to recover from floods that devastated many communities late last year, the Philippines was selected as one of three sites in the world by the partnership because of its pressing and clear need for water sanitation, Washington said.

The two other countries are the Dominican Republic and Ghana where the five projects, focusing on water supply and sanitation, are estimated to benefit 9,500 people with piped water supply and 168,000 others with improved wastewater treatment services.

“If we can reduce the amount of solid waste, flooding because of clogged drainage systems will be minimized,” said Washington.

The Pasig River Improvement Project was launched last week on board one of the vessels of the Pasig River Ferry Service that took off from the Sta. Ana Ferry Station at the back of the public market.

The project will start with the putting up of a small wastewater treatment facility at the Sta. Ana public market, said Lisa Lumbao, head of the USAID Philippine Sanitation Alliance.

The market has a septic tank where wastewater from the stalls flow, but then the septic tank just empties the dirty water into the Pasig River.

There is a need for a treatment facility to clean the water before it is released into the river, said Lumbao. Construction will begin soon and will take about five months.

The public market has about 300 stall owners, according to Olympia Bitchara, 66, the president of the vendors’ association.

But keeping the environment clean also involves changing people’s attitudes and behavior, Lumbao said. Thus, the project will also institute solid waste management not only in the public market but also in six surrounding barangays as well as promote proper hygiene in the schools.

Reducing poverty

This will include providing clean toilets and sinks as well as teaching students the proper hand washing techniques. Schools will also be provided with drinking stations.

“To reduce poverty in Sta. Ana through tourism, (we) need to reduce the amount of garbage in the back of the market and open defecation and urination,” Lumbao said.

These will not only help save the Pasig River but will also help save people from illnesses, she said.

These initiatives will be replicated in Paco, Manila, and Baesa in Quezon City.

Four other projects are to be implemented in the country under the USAID-Rotary Club partnership—sewerage and wastewater management in San Fernando, La Union, and potable water and hygiene education in the cities of Zamboanga, Dipolog and Davao.

“The cost (of pollution) is extremely high, in terms of health care and of children kept out of schools,” said Washington.

“If we can improve water quality, we can improve health and the economy,” she added.

Tourism seeks early open-skies in Manila

by Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

THE Philippines is ready for an open-skies agreement that it will sign in April with other members of the Asean, the Tourism Department said Friday.

“Discussions on this agreement among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries could finally lead to the signing of the policy around April 2010,” the department said.

Open skies refers to the liberalization of air space between member countries, including the lifting of tariffs and other add-on costs.

Asean, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Asean open-skies agreement is set to be signed by Asean transport ministers during their next meeting in April, although limited open-skies agreements have already been ratified within sub-groups such as that of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam; and that of Singapore, Brunei and Thailand.

Outside the bloc, Singapore has already signed several open-skies agreements with other countries outside the Asean, while Malaysia is promoting itself as a hub for low-cost carriers in Asia.

The liberalization of air services was a part of Asean’s vision to establish an Asean Community by 2015. Member-countries started talks on the Asean open-skies framework as early as 2003, which includes phased plans for liberalizing intra-Asean freight and passenger air services by 2015.

The April meeting among Asean transport ministers is expected to result in the opening of the capital cities of the signatories to regional carriers by 2010, before all airports in the region are covered by open skies by 2015.

Under the open-skies schedule, regional air carriers will be allowed to make unlimited flights in the group’s 10 capital cities.

For the Philippines, that would draw more airlines to land in the country, increasing flights and providing more options for passengers, the Tourism Department said.

“We are taking positive steps towards the signing of the agreement, as the benefits of air space liberalization for the country signal a region-wide increase in cooperation and tourism,” Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said.

“Our country is prepared to welcome more tourists from the Asean region, and this is only the beginning of an even more vibrant tourism and economic relations with each other.”

Industry analysts are convinced the deal will boost regional tourism, trade, and aviation-related investments.

“The sealing of this deal strengthens not only tourism but [also] economic relations between the country and our Asean counterparts,’’ Durano said.

“We see this as a welcome development contributing to the growth of the airline industry through increased availability for more passengers.”

Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque Jr. said other Asean members had already seen the benefits of the open-skies agreement.

“We hope to replicate the same success here,” he said.

He noted that Malaysia decided to support a further restructuring of its domestic air services, including support for their local carriers. This resulted in “a veritable explosion” of new low-cost carriers across the region, he said.

Singapore now has the most liberalized aviation sector in the region, which contributes as much as 9.2 percent to the island state’s gross domestic product.

In 2004 Singapore signed Asean’s only open-skies agreement with Brunei and Thailand, which allowed unlimited flights among the three countries. These examples showed that other Asean countries could achieve similar growth, Jarque said.

Day of sanctity and protection of human life

Manila Bulletin

To highlight that human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection, “The Sanctity of Human Life Day” is celebrated on January 18 each year.

Many governments and individuals spend huge amounts on services and products that seem to protect life when the same amount spent more wisely on preventing deprivations from happening would save far more lives from human suffering.

Human life is a gift of God and we should respect it above all else. If not, we belittle the gift and proclaim that this God-given gift is based on the economics of the day.

People are continually educated on the threats to human life posed by abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and embryo-killing experiments and cloning. Think how different we would be as a society if we proclaimed that human life has value and worth our time to save. Think how different our world would be if we just loved people for who they are and value them for just being them.

We should hold the dignity and protection of human life as the highest of our endeavors. The loudest voices should be the rights of all human life. We must set aside the socio-economic and cultural realities of human life, and affirm that all human life is higher than any value placed upon it.