Saturday, 13 March 2010

Visit to Monreal National High School, Masbate

PGMA orders DBP, LBP to finance firms in solving power crisis in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, March 13 (PNA) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) the green light to finance projects that will help solve the power crisis in Mindanao.

DBP president and chief executive officer Rey David said in a forum here recently, that the President had instructed DBP and LBP to make available funding to support power companies in the procurement of generating sets.

“We will make funding available for the purchase or lease of generating units with capacity up to 100 megawatts,” David said.

Although saying in a slight quipping manner, David said power rates might markedly soar to as high as P18 per kilowatt hour compared to the current rate of P3 per kilowatt hour. “It might even go higher to P21,” he further said.

David, however, did not elaborate further on the said development even as he noted that financing power corporations was among DBP’s commitments in Mindanao.

In his presentation, David said DBP has P75.4 billion available funds. “This is too much to influence and accelerate sustained growth in Mindanao,” he said, adding that this is part of the big ticket projects in Mindanao, including the agriculture sector and banana exports.

DBP’s net worth is P37.7 billion with a net income of P6 billion in 2009.

Earlier, Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (DCCCII) president Engr. Robert Quinto said that the acquisition, or leasing of generating sets, was proposed and discussed by the Mindanao Electric Power Alliance (MEPA) with Presidential adviser and Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Secretary Jesus Dureza.

He said availing the financial assistance of LBP and DBP in the purchase or lease of additional power generating sets was also proposed in said discussions.

Quinto said MEPA believed it was the most immediate and doable option to address the power crisis in Mindanao, which has reached critical level.

Quinto also agreed to speculations that if pushed, through, power rates are expected to increase.

At a public hearing on the power situation in Mindanao by the House committee on energy in Davao City last Thursday, first of the recommendations reached for short term solutions is the usage or lease of power barges.

However, the corresponding tariff on barges should be offset by a government subsidy component and the contract period of use of expensive power barge should be limited to three months.

With an anticipated expensive power in the coming days, Mindanaons are expected to pay bigger power rates.

Philippine Air Lines (PAL) senior assistant vice president for Mindanao Domingo Duerme said he was in favor of suggestions that government should subsidize monetary consequences of the power shortage problem in Mindanao to ease the consumers from paying anticipated costly power rates. (PNA)

Profits of San Miguel food unit jump to P2.7B

Neil Jerome C. Morales

THE FOOD subsidiary of diversified San Miguel Corp. bucked last year’s financial crisis as profits ballooned to P2.7 billion on the back of lower input costs and efficiency.

San Miguel Pure Foods Company, Inc. is looking at booking more than P5 billion from the sale of shares, company officials said on Friday.

"Against a climate of slower economic growth and sluggish market, San Miguel Pure Foods Co., Inc. posted a record-breaking performance for 2009, registering a 17-fold increase in net income from P149 million in 2008," the firm said in a statement.

San Miguel Pure Foods President Francisco S. Alejo III told reporters the gains were due to "lower [cost of] inputs and raw materials. We were also able to increase our distribution."
Revenues hit a record P75 billion, up by 6% year-on-year, while income from operations rose by 152% to P4.6 billion from P1.8 billion last year.

The poultry, feeds and flour businesses took advantage of stable pricing and soft prices of raw materials.

San Miguel Pure Foods had set P5.3 billion in investments for the next few years, out of which P1.5 billion was spent in 2009. "We are very optimistic about this year. The first two months already indicated a good year. We think that is going to continue," Mr. Alejo said.

In a special stockholders meeting Friday, shareholders approved the de-classification if San Miguel Pure Food’s class "A" and "B" shares and the increase in authorized capital stock by P1 billion to P2.46 billion. "The declassification will facilitate a broader investor base and greater public participation in the company," Mr. Alejo told the shareholders.

To date, only 0.1%. of the firm is held by the public. San Miguel Pure Foods Chief Finance Officer Zenaida M. Postrado said more than P5 billion would be raised from the sale of 75 million shares within the year.

Also yesterday, San Miguel Pure Foods declared an 18% stock dividend.

San Miguel Pure Foods has tapped J.P. Morgan as financial adviser.

Class "A" shares in San Miguel Pure Foods were last traded on Jan. 7 at P55.00 each while "B" shares were last traded on May 26, 2005 at P74.50.

Meanwhile, parent firm San Miguel Corp., Southeast Asia’s largest food and beverage conglomerate, will continue diversifying this year.

"We will stick to what we said before. We will concentrate on mining, infrastructure, power generation and energy," San Miguel Chairman Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. told reporters.
San Miguel has diversified from slow but stable core businesses of food and beverage into high growth sectors like power, infrastructure and telecommunications.

Cebu Pacific to fly 12.1 million passengers annually by 2013

E. N. J. David

BUDGET AIRLINE Cebu Pacific expects to reach a capacity of 12.1 million passengers annually by 2013 as low fares continue to expand the market for air travel.

In a statement, Cebu Pacific said it would be carrying nearly the full capacity of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) which indicates the need to expand the airport.
"By 2012 alone, we expect to carry 13 million passengers system-wide as we take delivery of 10 new Airbus A320 aircraft in the next three years and expand to new domestic and international destinations," said Candice A. Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and distribution in the statement.

NAIA-3’s full capacity is 13 million.

Ms. Iyog said Cebu Pacific would not have grown if it had stayed in the old domestic terminal. "Transiting passengers, for instance, could catch their connecting flights with ease since our domestic and international operations are under one roof, as are other airlines, which put everyone on equal footing," said Ms. Iyog.

Officials of the state-owned airport operator, Manila International Airport Authority, could not be reached for comment.

All three terminals of NAIA and the domestic terminal have a total capacity of 33 million passengers a year. Last year, 24.5 million travellers passed through the four terminals.

Cebu Pacific’s total domestic traffic going through Manila reached 6.1 million last year, up by 33% from the previous year’s 4.6 million. International traffic rose by 29% to 1.2 million passengers in 2009 from 1.1 million passengers in 2008.

The airline expects to carry more than 10 million domestic and regional passengers this year.

Inmate's daughter is RP outstanding student

Manila Skyline


Philippine Megaprojects for 2010


More poll machines ready – Smartmatic

By Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines – More poll machines have passed laboratory tests and are ready for use in the upcoming elections in May, the automation partner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Thursday.

Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) president for Asia-Pacific Cesar Flores told that 18,000 more precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines have passed the stress, security and laboratory tests, bringing to 78,000 the total number of poll machines ready for the elections.

The machines will now be configured and loaded with voters’ data specific to its designated clustered precinct, Flores said.

When poll machines have passed the testing and have been loaded with the precinct-specific data, they would then be loaded with the automation software duly certified by international certification agency Systest Labs, Flores added.

Only 4,000 poll machines are now left for testing, he said, adding that they are expecting that the remaining machines would be tested by the end of March and installed with automation software by early April.

“Right now about 78,000 PCOS machines have passed the testing and this already includes the 77,000 poll machines to be deployed on May 10. We expect the testing to be done very soon, as early as the end of the month,” Flores said.

Around 800 employees are testing the machines daily at Comelec-Smartmatic-TIM’s warehouse in Laguna.

During the testing, the poll machines are fed with hundreds of marked paper ballots to ensure they can read and scan all the shaded ovals opposite all pre-printed names of candidates and, after scanning, that they can print the Election Returns (ERs), said Smartmatic warehouse manager Louie Campos in an earlier interview.

All 82,200 machines arrived in the country Feb 27, a day before the shipment deadline.

Meanwhile, the National Printing Office has already printed at least 12 million ballots to be used for the country’s first ever nationwide automated elections.

PCOS is a technology that uses an optical scanner which reads marked ballots fed into the machine. At the close of polls on May, the PCOS units are expected to count votes, generate ERs and electronically transmit the consolidated results to Comelec servers.

Coast Guard requests seven choppers

by Joel E. Zurbano
Manila Standard

THE Coast Guard wants to buy seven helicopters and more equipment worth P5 billion to reinforce it capabilities in securing the country’s 36,000-kilometer coastline under the newly approved modernization law.

Commandant Wilfredo Tamayo said the proposal to buy new choppers, using a combination of soft loans and grants, was submitted to the National Economic and Development Authority Investment Coordination Committee, the Cabinet-level body that will approve the plan.

The Coast Guard needs to buy the helicopters fast, which will be used to save lives in sea mishaps, that Neda would have to fast track its approval, Tamayo said.

Apart from paying for the choppers, the money will pay for equipment, spare parts and pilot training. “We will build our hangars, and have our new aircrafts stationed in Northern Luzon, Manila, Romblon, Mactan, Laguindingan, Davao and Palawan,” he said.

The acquisition would be programmed to happen in phases within two years. “We are looking for the best package and the better loan interest to maximize our investments,” he said, adding that the financial side of the project would be made final after the Neda-ICC approval.

Tamayo earlier said his agency would need more boats to patrol the coastal waters and for search and rescue operations. The Coast Guard also plans to hire 25,000 men and women in a 10-year program from 2010 to beef up its 6,000 employees in securing the country’s 5,000 coastal barangays and 60 coastal provinces.

After Malacañang’s approved Republic Act 9993, or the Coast Guard Law, last month, the agency now has a better chance of ensuring a safe, clean, and secure maritime environment, Tamayo said.

Cloud-seeding brings rains

Magat Dam, 2 other plants shut down; Binga operating under critical condition
Manila Bulletin

The Department of Agriculture (DA) in the Zamboanga Peninsula said the initial cloud-seeding sortie last Sunday has yielded positive results as heavy rains fell in the watersheds of the city.

As this developed, Magat Hydroelectric Dam in Ramon, Isabela temporarily stopped operations due to the continuous decline of water level which now below its normal operating depth.

The shutting down of the Magat Dam lessened the power reserves of the Luzon grid by approximately 360 megawatts, the total power output of the facility.

DA-Region 9 Executive Director Dr. Oscar Parawan said the cloudseeding operations were conducted to induce rainfall in areas severely affected by the El Niño phenomenon and to improve the water levels in reservoirs of the city.

Parawan said strong rain fell few hours after the cloud-seeding operations in the city.

“Our report here indicated that heavy rain fell at the watershed areas of the city and in the adjacent barangays on Sunday,” he said.

The team, led by Teddy Bersabe, is based in Zamboanga and is expected to conduct about 10 cloud-seeding sorties.

The team is composed of personnel from the DA's Bureau of Soil and Water Management has been on standby at the airport hangar since Saturday waiting for “seedable” clouds in coordination with the local weather bureau, PAGASA.

A Cessna plane, PR-9000, is ready at all times and is loaded with several sacks of salt for dispersal above seedable clouds.

DA secretary Bernardo G. Fondevilla allocated some P2.7 million for cloud-seeding operations in Zamboanga and some parts of the region to help cushion the impact of the dry spell here.

The Zamboanga City Water District also vowed to infuse some funds should the DA cloud seeding operations turn out successful.

Magat, 2 other power plants shut down

But while cloud-seeding is a success in parts of Mindanao, power reserves of the Luzon grid was lessened with the shutdown of Magat Dam.

The management of the SN Aboitiz Power Corporation (SNAP), the operator of the Magat Hydroelectric Dam, disclosed the temporary stop in operations Friday.

Aside from the absence of power production, the non-operation of the Magat Dam will also result in the depletion of the irrigation water being provided to the vast tracts of agricultural lands in the Cagayan Valley which will worsen the losses of farmers in the coming months.

Lawyer Mike Hosillos, SNAP external affairs manager, said the latest water elevation in the dam’s reservoir dropped to 153.5 meters above sea level which is way below the 160 meters critical water level.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) also reported the shutdown of the Sta. Rita Module 20 facility of First Gen Corporation and the Units 1 and 2 of the Malaya Thermal Plant. The temporary stop in operations of the two facilities has resulted in the power deficiency of 440 megawatts.

With the shutdown, Luzon grid customers are now experiencing anew one-hour rotating brownouts from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

Binga Dam critical

The Binga Dam in Itogon, Benguet, meanwhile, is still generating at least 25 to 50 megawatts of power during peak hours even with the water level already in a critical situation.

While it rained in some portions of the Cagayan Valley Friday morning, Hosillos said the rainfall was not enough to bring back the plant’s operation although it helped increase the water level.

In 1992, the Magat Dam was still able to operate and generate power even though its water level was 156.2 meters above sea level.

Earlier, SNAP officials projected the shutdown of the dam’s operation on March 21, 2010. But because of the fast depletion of water, the closure was done earlier than expected.

SNAP manages the Ambuclao and Binga dams in Benguet and the Magat dam which is located in the boundary of Ifugao and Isabela.

In the Visayas, NGCP noted that it “will still have limited power supply of 1,136 MW and a deficiency of 45 MW” despite the grid synchronization of Cebu Energy Development Corporation last week.

For Mindanao, the system operator’s advisory will be for it to “have a deficiency of 650 MW due to the reduced capabilities of hydro-electric power plants.” As of March 12, the grid’s total available capacity was at 807 MW with a peak demand of 1,457 MW.

Apart from generation deficiency, there are also reports that supply interruptions are being aggravated by transmission networks and towers which have been breaking down at times.

Friday, 12 March 2010

PGMA places Mindanao under state of calamity

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today placed Mindanao under a state of calamity to enable the national and local governments to cope with the crippling power crisis caused by dry spell attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The emergency move was recommended by National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) chair Norberto Gonzales, who is also the secretary of national defense, following meetings by a crisis group in the Cabinet tasked by the President to evaluate options in the Mindanao power problems, other than invoking presidential emergency powers or emergency measures under the so-called EPIRA law of 2001.

Among the options under consideration were:

• enjoining companies and their workers to operate at night when power usage is low;

• sharing of generating capacities among generator sets owners;

• continuous conservation measures and rotating brownouts (a form of managing demand);

• importing gen-sets and even power barges that have higher wattage; and

• mobilizing and releasing of calamity funds.

A declaration of a state of calamity allows mobilization of calamity funds from both the national and local governments to address crisis and would include the imposition of price controls on basic commodities.

But Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar said at a Malacañang briefing that price control is not an option in Mindanao.

The declaration of a state of calamity for Mindanao was also recommended by the Department of Energy (DoE) which earlier had sought emergency measures available under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, which would require Congress approval. However, the move to invoke crisis powers under EPIRA was deferred.

The DoE, Department of Justice (DoJ) and NDCC are meeting today to flesh out the implementing measures of the calamity declaration.

“The crisis has a definite period and we want to hit the ground as quickly as possible to give the problem a timely solution,” Olivar said.

“Although the rains are expected to come in late June, the recovery of water level may take a little longer and the tight supply of power will stay as long as water levels start to recover,” Olivar said.

The calamity funds will be used primarily to lease power generation capacities needed in Mindanao, Olivar said.

Highly dependent on hydro power, Mindanao has been experiencing power shortfalls and rotating blackouts since 2009 when the dry spell caused water levels in reservoirs to go below normal levels. (PND)

PGMA wants 24/7 work on P4.3B Zambo road project

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE (PND) -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today ordered “round-the-clock” work by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on the P4.3 billion Zamboanga West Coast Road project to complete it by June 30

The President reiterated her desire to have the project finished before she bows out of office in June as she inspected the 175.724-kilometer road which is considered a significant project vital to the development of this province.
The Zamboanga West Coast Road will complete the circumferential road of the Zamboanga Peninsula and is expected to influence the economic growth of the municipalities of Sibuco, Sirawai, Siocon, Baliguian, Gutalac, Labason and Liloy. The road project ends at the junction of the Sindangan-Ipil National Road.

“Before, there is no inspiration to local production because there were no roads. Zamboanga Peninsula’s bounty marine harvest like squids, lobsters and fish could not be transported to nearby towns and provinces,” the President pointed out in a speech at the Jose Rizal Memorial State University here.

“Productivity is important to progress,” she said, adding that the road project, locally called “Triple S B Road”, will make the difference in people’s lives and benefit many municipalities especially Sirawai, Sibuco, Siocon and Baliguian.

Public Works Secretary Victor Domingo said the first 100 kilometers of the Zamboanga West Coast Road have been paved and the remaining 75.7 kilometers will be asphalted by June 30. By then the road project will be complete except for one bridge that will be finished a month later.

He said the road project was funded by the national government. “It’s Katas ng VAT,” he said, echoing what the President has said.

In a related event here, the President told students of the Jose Rizal Memorial State University that quality education must be backed up by technology as she stressed that technology is important to agriculture and the development of Mindanao as the country’s food basket in the south.

“There must be proper methods of agronomy, agricultural technology,” she said.

The President pointed out that connectivity—through roads, bridges, ports and communication -- will pave the way to a very progressive agricultural Mindanao.

Public Works Secretary Victor Domingo, in an interview, said the first 100 kilometers of the Zamboanga West Coast Road have been paved and the remaining 75.7 kilometers will be “asphalted” by June 30, except for one bridge that will be finished a month later. He said the road project was funded by the national government. “It’s Katas ng VAT,” he said.

Mindanao supplies 40 percent of the country's food requirements and contributes more than 30 percent to the national food trade. Agribusiness Mindanao covers Regions 9 to 12, CARAGA except Siargao, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

PGMA legacy project extends to far Tawi-Tawi

PANGLIMA SUGALA, Tawi-Tawi (PND) – Even in this faraway province down south, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is making sure her legacy projects would leave an indelible imprint among the local constituents.

On or before her term ends in June, locals here would see the realization of their dream linkage with the island of Sanga-Sanga, where their provincial capital Bongao is located.

This, the Department of Public Works and Highways assured the President today as she inspected the status of the Tawi-Tawi Road Bridge partnership Project (TTRBPP) that would link the province’s remote barangays and boost socio-economic activity.

The P342-million legacy project in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, forms part of the President's Bridges Program that aims to spur growth and progress in remote areas.

Once completed, the bridge will provide residents a better and much cheaper way to transport goods, services and people in and around the province.

It will spur economic growth to this 3rd class province of 156,000 people as they will soon be provided with a means to conduct business more effectively and efficiently.

DPWH Assistant Secretary Erwin Sadain, who heads the program, told the President that the agency had come up with a revised work plan to overcome inevitable delays in construction and was certain the TRBPP would be completed in three months time.

The scope of work needed to complete the TRBPP include the construction of three sectional bridges of varying lengths and its respective approaches and road improvements from both sides of the bridge.

Phase I and Phase II of the project consists of the construction of 39.62 linear meters and 100.58 ln.m. bridges, respectively on the Sanga-Sanga (Bongao) island side while Phase III consists of the construction of a 152.40 ln.m. bridge from the Lapid-Lapid side (mainland Tawi-Tawi).

After the DPWH briefing, the President was ushered to the nearby municipal hall where she met with local officials led by Tawi-Tawi governor Sadikul Sahali.

Joining the President were Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez, DPWH Secretary Victor Domingo and Agricultural Reform Secretary and CORD-ARMM Nasser Pangandaman.

Rail firm says no deal yet on $1.3-B project

Lenie Lectura
Business Mirror

UNIVERSAL LRT Corp. (ULC), the main proponent of the Metro Rail Transit 7 (MRT7), said there are many firms—including diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. (SMC)—that have expressed interest to take part in the $1.3-billion railway project but no agreement has been reached as yet.

“To set the record straight, ULC has not sold its shares to SMC. While it is true that Morgan Stanley has approached SMC to be part of the project, there are other interested parties who are also in talks with our financial advisor,” said ULC vice chairman Roberto de Ocampo in a statement.

The company has tasked Morgan Stanley to be the financial advisor for its $1.3-billion railway project. The financial services firm will assist ULC in raising equity and debt needed to finance the construction of the ambitious project.

De Ocampo added that “rest assured that ULC remains steadfast in its commitment to start the project the soonest possible time.”

SMC, in an earlier disclosure to the local bourse, said it has been offered a majority stake in the project and that negotiations are ongoing with the members of the consortium. It added that due diligence audit has also started.

Businessman Salvador “Buddy” Zamora owns 63 percent of the consortium that built the MRT7. Private entities control the remaining 37 percent. Zamora acquired majority control of the consortium from its original proponent Israeli businessman Eli Levin in 2008.

The project consists of a 23-kilometer rail transit system with 14 stations that will be connected to the MRT-3 North Avenue station in Quezon City, stretching all the way to Commonwealth Avenue, Regalado Avenue, Quirino Avenue extension up to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan with a 22-kilometer access road component.

Eight of the stations will be elevated, three will be at street-level and the rest will be underground.

MRT7 is envisioned to transport 500,000 passengers daily although it can handle as much as 800,000.

RP tops global outsourcing industry in job openings

E. N. J. David

MAJORITY OF new jobs opened in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry around the globe last February were in the Philippines, an industry expert said yesterday.

“There were 25,700 new job openings for the sector in the month of February alone. Of these jobs, 72% were in the Philippines,” said Jon E. Kaplan, president of TeleDevelopment Services, Inc., a consultancy, recruitment, and training outfit for call center agents and supervisors.

Mr. Kaplan told reporters at the sidelines of a TeleDevelopment call center and BPO training event that the new jobs created by the sector were all for voice services.

The number was culled from the industry’s top 40 firms, which generated 100 to 3,000 jobs. An example is Stream Global Services.

Mr. Kaplan noted that some of the new call center jobs were created as a result of expansion activities of many companies.

“It could be that a company built a new 2,000-seater facility. It could also be that the company merged and is expanding which can be a bit misleading. This is the case with Stream Global, which acquired e-Telecare and is expanding its business and facilities so it opens more seats,” said Mr. Kaplan.

Smaller companies in the Philippines are also expanding, he added.

The Philippine BPO industry was able to create an additional 70,000 jobs in 2009. The contact center sector had the most employees last year, with around 280,000 agents.

For 2009, the Philippine BPO industry was able to generate revenues of $7.2 billion. This represented a 19% growth over 2008 revenues of $6.06 billion. The entire outsourcing sector employed around 442,000 employees.

But growth for 2009 was slower than 2008, which saw a 24% increase.

Slower growth last year was mainly due to low business confidence in the first half of 2009.

Metrobank net income up 37% to P6 billion

Manila Bulletin

The Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company's (Metrobank) net income grew 36.8 percent last year to P6 billion from P4.4 billion a year ago due to improved revenues and efficient operations.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange Thursday, the country's second biggest bank in terms of assets, said that Metrobank's net income doubled to P1.4 billion in October to December alone.

“The full-year results reflect our continued earnings strength and more efficient operations. Our strategies continue to prove effective. We were able to take advantage of the recovery from the financial turmoil of the previous year, and we are proud to show a consistent performance throughout 2009,” Arthur Ty, Metrobank president said.

Last year, the bank's revenues increased 23 percent to P43.7 billion, while operating expenses grew at slower pace 6.8 percent to P25.8 billion.

With revenue growth surpassing the rise in costs, Metrobank's efficiency ratio further improved to 60.4 percent from 70 percent in 2008.

Net interest income, meanwhile, rose 15.6 percent to P26.7 billion driven by sustained margins and better funding mix.

Non-interest income also expanded by 36.2 percent to P17 billion due to strong fee-based income and financial market sales and trading.

Metrobank said its efforts to improve asset quality have also shown positive results, as gross non-performing loans gone down 20.6 percent last year. Consequently, the NPL ratio dropped to 3.5 percent from 4.5 percent.

At end-December, its consolidated assets stood at P854.3 billion, while capital adequacy ratio was strong 14.3 percent, which is well above the minimum required by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Metrobank currently has a network of 723 local and 35 foreign branches, and over 1,200 automated teller machines nationwide.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

5,000 ballot boxes shipped in

Bernice Camille V. Bauzon
Manila Times

Some 5,000 ballot boxes that will be used for the automated elections on May 10 have arrived in the country, a high-ranking official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Wednesday.

According to Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, the first batch of the ballot boxes, which were manufactured by Smartmatic Corp., came from Taiwan.

Smartmatic is also the manufacturer of some 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines together with a Filipino company, Total Information Management (TIM). The poll body ordered 77,000 ballot boxes.

The Comelec decided to also award the manufacturing of the ballot boxes to the Barbados-based firm to make sure that the ballot boxes match the electoral forms that will be used for the PCOS machines.

“We have now 5,000 ballots and we expect 5,600 ballot boxes to arrive also tomorrow [Thursday]. We’ll have the ballot boxes arriving every so often,” Larrazabal said.

He added that the Bureau of Customs cleared the first major shipment of ballot boxes. The contract for the ballot boxes is about P200 million and is on top of the P7.6 billion for the PCOS machines.

“This is a purchase, not a lease. After the elections, we get to use the ballot boxes as storage for the ballots and for other uses in coming elections,” the commissioner said.

Unlike the ballot boxes, the 82,200 PCOS machines are leased from the joint venture of Smartmatic-TIM with an option to purchase them by the end of the elections.

The poll body decided to lease first the election machines since it wants to make sure that the PCOS units work as expected in automating the elections on May 10.

No spare ballot boxes

Larrazabal said that there is no need for spare ballot boxes even if the commission ordered a total of 77,000 of which 1,000 are considered spare.

“You don’t need extra ballot boxes because you just need the extra machines to slide into the ballot boxes,” he added.

“[But] in case something happens, you have to ensure that there are spare [ballot boxes],” Larrazabal said.

About 76,000 out of the 82,200 PCOS machines will be deployed nationwide during the polls. The 6,000 spare machines will be used as backup for units that would bog down.

Larrazabal said that the ballot boxes would be stored at the Philippine Post Office although they are thinking of bringing them to the poll body’s warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, where the PCOS machines are also stored.

“The ballot boxes will be [delivered] together with the PCOS machines, so before they will be shipped out, we will be calling the political parties to inform them of the shipping schedule. [This way], they will be able to track the delivery,” he added.

Larrazabal said that the delivery must be done a few days before the polls since the testing and the sealing of the machines will be done three to four days before May 10.

“So, three to seven days before elections, they [boxes and machines] should be there already in the polling places. In some areas, we will be distributing [them] direct to the polling places [while] in some areas, we will be distributing [them] through a hub,” he added.

Ayala Land’s Alveo eyes P4B in sales from biggest project so far

Neil Jerome C. Morales

PROPERTY giant Ayala Land, Inc. is expecting to book P4 billion in sales for its P2.1-billion high-rise condominium at the Bonifacio Global City until 2015.

The 40-storey, 717-unit Meranti, the third of four towers in the Two Serendra project of Ayala Land’s Alveo brand, marks the biggest single-tower project of Alveo to date, officials said in a briefing.

The company eyes launching up to four more projects this year to cater to increasing demand.

“We will reach the P4-billion mark for Miranti in terms of total sales,” Alveo President Dante M. Abando told reporters. “In as far as single tower is concerned, it is the largest development in eight years.”

“[Priority sales last week was] close to P750 million... We are expecting that to go over the P1 billion in the launching [next week],” Ayala Land Senior Vice-President Rex A. Mendoza said.

In last week’s “priority selling” to previous customers, Alveo sold 90 units, executives said.

There will be 178 36-42-square-meter studio-type, 424 51-61-sq. m. one bedroom, 83 two-bedroom and 32 three-bedroom units, each costing about P110,000 per sq. m.

Meranti targets the middle to upper income segments.

Turnover will start in the fourth quarter of 2015.

“Based on our experience in Aston and Red Oak, the one-bedroom unit is the most sought after,” Mr. Abando said.

The first two towers in the two-hectare Two Serendra, the Aston and Red Oak, have 400 units and 520 units, respectively.

But Mr. Abando said: “[The fourth and last tower] is going to be the tallest tower. We are still in the drawing board for that but we envision that to be the tallest tower.”

Last year, Alveo launched three projects. Projects of the eight-year-old brand includes the four-hectare boutique townhouse Ametta Place in Pasig , the 60-hectare upscale subdivision Treveia in Laguna, towers and residential units in Celadon Manila, The Columns in Ayala Avenue, and Two Serendra.

Last year, Alveo contributed P655 million or 16% to the total net profits of the residential business group, Mr. Mendoza said. In terms of property value, Alveo accounted for about 30%.

Ayala Land is operating under three major brands -- Ayala Land Premier for the high-end segment, Alveo Land for the middle-income segment, and Avida for the “affordable” market. Ayala Land will launch its economic housing unit Amaia this year.

Ayala Land is aiming at selling 9,000 residential units this year with a total sales value of roughly P40 billion.

Moving forward, Ayala Land will concentrate on the Alveo and Avida brands.

Mr. Mendoza noted that the share of Ayala Land Premier in terms of value dropped to about a third from 80% a few years ago.

Ayala Land saw profits decline by more than a tenth last year, as the global economic downturn dampened the real estate sector.

Shares in Ayala Land dropped by P0.25 yesterday to P11.00 each.

On Millennium Development Goals

RP has improved from Marcos years
Manila Bulletin

The Philippines, financially bankrupt and mired in poverty after the ravages of Martial Law, has improved in many aspects.

This is gleaned from the monitoring done on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as set by the United Nations in 2000 aimed at reducing poverty and the worst forms of human deprivation by 2015. (Figures monitored by NEDA).

In terms of poverty, Filipinos below the threshold of poverty ($1.00/day income) has decreased from 45% (1990) to 33% (2006).

This is validated by a child malnutrition ratio that showed the rate of underweight Filipino children (below 5 years old) dropped from 34% (1990) to 26%The Philippines, financially bankrupt and mired in poverty after the ravages of Martial Law, has improved in many aspects. (2008).

In education, although primary school enrollment ratio remained the same, those who completed primary (elementary) school hiked from 64% (1990) to 73% (2003).

Touching on gender equality for women, the ratio of female: Male students attending primary, secondary and tertiary levels was similar.

The improvement is shown in the share of women employed in non-agricultural sector which rose from 40% (1990) to 42% (2007). More women now help their husbands keep the household afloat financially.

It is in politics where “woman power” is at its dramatic best when in (1982) there were only 10% females in Congress, by 2007 2 of 10 Congressmen/Senators are from the fairer sex.

In health matters, children dying under 5 years of age slipped dramatically from a terrifying 80% (1990) to only 33% (2008). Death at childbirth also decreased from 57% (1990) to 25% (2008).

The latter statistic can be partly explained by the fact that the proportion of births attended by skilled health workers improved from 59% (1990) to 73% (2007).

In treating prevalent diseases, the use of condom (only “sure” defense vs. AIDS) increased only slightly from 1.0% (1993) to 1.8% (2009) owing to the lack of education and the conservative Catholic culture.

However, deaths caused by malaria from 1.5% (1990) slipped to only 0.3% (2008) while deaths due to TB, still a killer disease, slightly dropped from 39.1% (1990) to 33.0% (2003).

The Tropical Disease Foundation, led by Dra. Thelma Tupasi, has been at the forefront of the anti-TB fight nationwide in this decade. TB patients cured by monitored treatment in RP jumped from 73% (2001) to 83% (2006)-signaling a breakthrough in TB treatment.

Of late, the issue on the environment has likewise taken center stage globally. How has RP fared in this regard?

Mercifully, with the log ban and the reforestation programs, the ratio of land area now covered with forests in RP moved from just 20% (1990) to 53% (2006).

Awareness has also resulted in the hike in protected areas for biodiversity from 8.5% (1990) to 13% (2006) while consumption of ozone-depleting CFs dropped significantly from 2981 (1990) to only 681 (2006). Filipinos are now also using less solid for fuel at 42% (2008) from 66% (1990).

On the other hand, people with access to clean water went up from 73% (1998) to 88% (2004).

It is in the areas of getting security of tenure for slum dwellers where the picture is getting worse.

Those with secured tenant tenures are now only 81% (2000) from 91% (1990). This ratio could also mean that rapid population growth and poverty have pushed more Filipinos to become slum dwellers.

Finally, in terms of the economy, the silver lining lies in the fact that debt service of RP as a proportion to exports has been reduced markedly to only 9.6% (2006) from a high 27% (1990).The black mark remains in the unemployment rate of Filipinos aged 15-24 which worsened from 11% (1990) to 17% (2008).

One can perhaps conclude that amid massive unemployment, poverty incidence has slowed down primarily due to the huge US$18-billion OFW inward remittances.

Though the 2015 United Nations benchmark targets appear daunting in some areas, the return of democracy and laissez faire are on the side favoring the improvement of the plight of many impoverished Filipinos reeling from the effects of the debilitating Marcos’ years.

The MDG goals are a “must- know“ agenda that ought to be mastered by all candidates running for office in May 2010.

Lopez-owned solar firm in P1 billion expansion

Manila Bulletin

First Philec Solar Corporation (FPSC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPHC) of the Lopez group will be coughing up $20 million (roughly P1.0 billion) for the Phase 2 expansion of its silicon wafer-slicing facility in Laguna.

According to FPSC chief executive Dan Lachica, the planned expansion has been built upon the company’s target to keep pace with “global growth for the solar industry,” which has been projected to be at 30 percent.

The phase 2 facility expansion, he noted, will cover a new building and equipment, and cash infusion will be undertaken through combination of loans, internally-generated funds and additional equity.

Since the company’s operations take-off in 2008, it already earmarked investments totaling $100 million – half of which has already been expended since then.

The output from FPSC’s facility is primarily allocated for the demand of American solar firm Sunpower Corporation, of which local subsidiary SunPower Philippines Manufacturing Ltd. is First Philippine Electric Corporation’s partner in the FPSC venture.

Lachica albeit clarified that with the capacity expansion, the company has the leeway to offer to other buyers, since its deal with SunPower is not necessarily exclusive.

"From our standpoint, we're still bullish about pursuing expansion projects because the demand is there,” the company executive said.

At full scale production utilizing 100 highly-automated wafer slicing machines, FPSC’s factory can churn out up to 240 million silicon wafers annually. Output of such proportion can already meet the requirements of two SunPower plants as well as those of other customers; and these may already underpin the need of about 720 megawatts of solar energy generation.

Exports surge 43% to $3.58 billion in January

Manila Bulletin

The country’s exports surged in January, sustaining the double-digit rise that started in December, on a strong recovery in electronics shipments.

The National Statistics Office said Wednesday that exports in January rose 43 percent from the year-earlier to $3.58 billion, and expanded by 8.0 percent from the $3.31 billion in December.

In January last year, exports plunged 41 percent on year to $2.49 billion. Electronics products, the country's main export item, rose 51 percent from a year earlier to $2.03 billion in January, accounting for 57 percent of total exports for the month.

Other exports that showed strong year-on-year gains were coconut oil, ignition wiring sets for vehicles and aircraft, petroleum products and metal components.

The export recovery bodes well for the wider economy, possibly countervailing the risk posed by the El Niño-induced drought to the expected strong rebound this year. The government has warned that farm output, which accounts for a fifth of the country's gross domestic product, may contract in the first quarter due to the drought.

"What it (export recovery) does is help offset the negative impact the El Nino on the economy," said Luz Lorenzo, economist and market strategist at ATR-Kim Eng Securities. "We can have respectable (economic) growth despite the drought because of export recovery."

Japan was the main export market for the Philippines in January, accounting for $579.9 million of total sales for the month, up 50 percent from the $387.0 million total a year earlier.

The US was the next biggest market in January, with total exports at $574.9 million, up 26 percent from $456.9 million in the same period last year. Germany, China and Singapore, which complete the top five export markets for the Philippines in January, all recorded strong growth from the year-earlier period.

Electronics investments up 20%

Max V. de Leon
Business Mirror

FRESH investments in the Philippine electronics and semiconductor industries increased by 20 percent in 2009 to $480 million, from only $400 million in 2008.

With this growth in investments, plus the significant increase in orders from customers abroad, the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (Seipi) said its exports for the year could grow by 15 percent to 20 percent.

Ernie Santiago, Seipi president, reported that 84 companies registered new investments last year, with 78 of them totally new projects. The rest are expansion of existing facilities.

Among the companies that registered fresh investments in 2009 are Hoya Glass Disk, Toshiba Information Equipment, HPOI, Ibiden, STMicroelectronics, Temic, Taiyo Yuden and Numonyx.

The industry, Santiago said, would now also be on a hiring mode after undertaking workforce rationalization as a result of the global financial crisis.

“More than 12,000 skilled engineers, technicians and operators are expected to be directly employed and hired by the industry due to these investments,” Santiago said.

Based on an industry study, Santiago said every direct job created also spurs seven other indirect jobs.

With this, he said close to 100,000 new workers would be employed because of these new investments in the industry.

Seipi is the largest organization of foreign and Filipino semiconductor and electronics companies in the country. Its member-firms account for almost two-thirds of the total Philippine merchandise exports.

Santiago said Seipi decided to upgrade its target exports growth for 2010 from the original range of 10 percent to 15 percent, to 15 percent to 20 percent, as several of its members reported record-high orders from customers abroad.

“Ramping up of production of many projects were delayed in 2009 but were reported to be all rolling out now. With the recovering global economy, it is expected that more investments would come into the country this year,” Santiago said.

1,000 Olongapo families get running water after 30 years

Henry Empeño
Business Mirror

OLONGAPO CITY—Until not too long ago, water in two of this city’s villages was considered “gold.”

Now, more than 1,000 families in the hills of Kalaklan and Barretto villages finally have access to running water after waiting 30 years to have the precious commodity flowing through their tap.

This modern-day miracle finally took place after mayoralty candidate Vic Magsaysay mobilized his team of engineers and plumbers to install in the three areas of Dumlao, Skipper and Abra St. about 8.5 kilometers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes that carried water to the hillside homes.

Connected to a series of large water-storage tanks and several public water stations, the system taps a spring source in the Kalaklan Ridge, a stony spine of land flanking Olongapo to the west and separating Barretto and the upper parts of Kalaklan from the rest of the city.

The new water system was formally opened in an emotional ceremony on Feb. 28, when the beneficiaries told their benefactor of their long wait for water service.

Ligaya Fredericks, 39, said she has lived all her life at Abra St. in Barretto, where a daily bath was a luxury for residents, as the nearest water source was more than 1 km away.

“We used pail and dipper for our shower and we saved the bath water for the toilet. I am quite old already, but it’s only now that I can take a shower at home,” a teary-eyed Fredericks said.

The hilly terrain had made it difficult—and expensive—for the residents to avail themselves of a steady source of water, explained Danny Elayda, a barangay councilor.

“At the water-filling station near the highway, we can buy a drum of water for P13. However, if you hire a water carrier all the way to your house, the drumful of water would now cost P100,” he said. “During summer days when water is scarce, the price goes higher. We sometimes fetched water at the barangay hall, but that is about 5 km away from here.”

Carlito Baloy, a two-term village chief of Barretto, said residents have exhausted all means to convince the city government and the local water utility to provide tap water to these hillside communities.

“We wrote letters, pleaded with officials, and explored all possible ways in the last 30 years so that we could avail ourselves of water service, but all came to naught. This was why we brought our problem to Govic [Magsaysay],” Baloy said.

“Much to our surprise, Govic said he’s going to do it,” Baloy recalled. “And indeed, the following day the pipes arrived, and in one week, there was already water flowing at Dumlao, Skipper and Abra.”

Magsaysay, who served as Zambales governor for several terms before setting his political sights on the mayoralty of Olongapo, told residents during the inauguration of the project that problems in the community “must be solved quickly.”

”We don’t need a lot of documents to implement projects. You need water? There, you have it already,” Magsaysay said, vowing that he would do the same in other areas in the city that still lacked water supply.

“When they told me about the problem, I immediately said I will solve it,’ Magsaysay said. “So I told my engineers, do it in five days. These people have already waited 30 years for this.”

Elayda said she knew Magsaysay would deliver on his promise, but she did not expect it to be ready in five days.

“We were really amazed,” Elayda said. “But we are really glad that some people still keep their promises even to poor people like us.”

The US is broke

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

MANY people living in places like the Philippines or California or Japan have, in the back of their mind, “The Big One.” That refers, of course, to a major catastrophic earthquake not unlike those that recently occurred in Haiti and in Chile.

There is really nothing that can be done to mitigate that sort of disaster. You know it may come virtually anytime but that anytime could be now or in the very distant future. Any preparations that a single individual might make are actually insignificant since all personal preparedness would not counter the consequences of destroyed infrastructure and the prolonged loss of basic services.

Personal and public financial disasters often come the same way an earthquake does: unseen and unexpected. It is unlikely that many went home from work on Friday, June 6, 1997, expecting that the value of the peso would drop some 30 percent by the time they arrived back at work on the following Monday morning. But it did happen. Those who had stored US dollars for a rainy day were happy. Those who had borrowed in dollars were not.

However, the current global financial situation does not resemble an earthquake. It is more of a great storm that is building and building, ready to do more damage. Through the last 18 months we have seen this financial typhoon move with increasing intensity around the world, destroying the value of assets and consuming wealth. Yet with every new unleashing of its harm, whether from the housing market in the US to the sovereign-debt crisis in Europe, people are reacting as if this were a financial earthquake that came about by surprise.

Make no mistake: This financial tempest is far from over. The worst is yet to come. It is not an earthquake. It is an increasing, constant storm that is wearing away at the foundations of modern wealth and standards of living.

How significant is the US economy? The total world economic output in 2008 was $60.5 trillion. The euro zone accounted for $16 trillion. The US produced $14.2 trillion. Therefore, nearly half of the world’s economy rests with Europe and the US. But what about Asian countries? Minor players in the big picture. Japan ’s output was $5 trillion, followed by China with $4.8 trillion. India and Russia are far behind, each at $1.2 trillion. You get the point.

We know that the Great Global Meltdown is a result of nearly all the wealth created by the West in the last two decades being an illusion. Borrowing money, buying assets with that borrowed money and then falsely increasing the value of those assets can only lead to a bubble.

Imagine taking a million-peso cash advance on your credit card, using that money to buy a P3-million car with 30 percent down payment, and then valuing the car at P5 million. You go out and tell everyone you are richer by P5 million (the value of the car) when, in fact, you are poorer by the P1 million you originally borrowed. That is the way the West has operated for years.

How bad is the situation in the US?

According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent report on wealth in September 2009, America ’s private net worth was $53.4 trillion. But the US debt and unfunded liabilities totaled at least $120 trillion, or 225 percent of its citizens’ net worth. Even if the government confiscated every dollar of private wealth, every private asset in the nation, it would still have a deficit of $66.6 trillion, equal to $215,000 for every man, woman and child in the US, and roughly 500 percent of the US annual gross domestic product. The size of those numbers is almost beyond comprehension. But the reality of what those numbers mean is beyond terrifying.

Imagine a family so far in debt that they would have to sell everything they had, down to the clothes on their backs, and still have to work another five years using all their income to pay off their remaining debt.

The government in the US has been and continues to be so badly managed that it is spending $4.83 billion a day more than what it takes in through taxes and other revenues. The only way it can do this is by borrowing even more money from the world.

In the past year alone the US government has spent $20 trillion for bailouts, government subsidies and government-loan guarantees equal to roughly 40 percent of the total private wealth created since the US was founded more than 200 years ago. It is estimated that in order to keep the current level of spending for “normal” programs like defense, education and other social services, the US government will run a budget deficit for the next 70 years. And you thought the Philippine government had a budget-deficit problem.

The United States and its economy is bankrupt, insolvent, financially worthless. It is impossible and unrealistic to expect that the world, primarily China and Japan, can continue to fund this size of US debt repayment.

The US government’s only solutions are either formal bankruptcy and outright debt repudiation coupled with the dismantling of bankrupt government programs like Social Security, or unprecedented American monetary inflation and debt monetization by printing more and more dollars. If the government chooses to inflate its way out of this fiscal catastrophe, the United States dollar will essentially become worthless. If it stops paying its debts, the global banking system will fail and we return financially to the 19th century.

On a personal note, if you would like a sample of our Weekly Stock Market Update and subscription details, send me an e-mail.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

My Country, The Philippines


Cebu Pacific to use IPO funds to buy 20 planes

E. N. J. David and N. J. C. Morales
Business Mirror

GOKONGWEI-LED Cebu Air, Inc. will use the bulk of funds to be raised from a planned initial public offering (IPO) to buy up to 20 more aircraft within five years, an executive of the budget airline’s parent said yesterday.

Cebu Air, which operates as Cebu Pacific, has yet to set the date for the IPO, which will raise P12 billion, but had secured clearance from regulators.

“It’s going to be for capital expenditures for purchasing airplanes. We have a purchase order from Airbus for 15 Airbus A320 in the period of 2010-2015 and an option to buy five more,” said Bach Johann M. Sebastian, senior vice-president for corporate planning of listed JG Summit Holdings Philippines, Inc.

Documents showed the carrier needed to make P9 billion in advanced payments to increase its fleet to 49 by 2014.

Mr. Sebastian however said going public was only one option, and that funds could also be raised through loans from export credit agencies.

Cebu Pacific can also tap the lease market, he said.

The airline is planning to list 125.3 million new common shares with a par value of P1.00 each, which would be offered to the public at a maximum price of P95.00 apiece. A total of 110.3 million secondary shares will be listed at the same price.

JG Summit will list 35.3 million shares it owns “subject to the over-allotment option granted to the stabilizing agent under the same terms and conditions as the primary and secondary offer.”

An additional 18.4 million shares will also be listed as part of a stock option plan for executives.

The company originally planned to go public in 2008 but postponed the IPO due to difficult market conditions.

Cebu Air turned around last year by recording a net income of P3.184 billion, from a net loss of P3.259 billion in 2008. Operating income almost doubled to P3.164 billion from P1.727 billion in 2008.

Shares in JG Summit closed P0.60 higher at P8.00 apiece yesterday.

Getting more Europeans as tourists

Manila Bulletin

The Department of Tourism, under the able leadership of Secretary Ace Durano, has discovered a tourism attraction that could bring many more Europeans to come to the Philippines. It has not been easy to get Europeans to travel 14 to 15 hours to come to our beaches, which have to compete with those of the Mediterranean countries like Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal. If they have to travel farther, they have found Thailand a lot more accessible because of the numerous direct flights and better infrastructure. That is why we have to present to the Europeans some more unique attractions. One of them is bird-watching.

As reported in this newspaper last January 17, 2010 by Jacky Lynne A. Oiga, bird-watching has become the fastest growing outdoor activity in the United Kingdom and North America. Fortunately, a number of the most sought-after species can be found in the Philippines. Recently, The DoT welcomed a bird-watching delegation led by two of the United Kingdom's Members of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke QC, Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Hon. Mark Pritchard MP, Chairperson of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The MPs were impressed with their sightings of endemic birds like the rare Philippine Duck, the Philippine Serpent-Eagle, the Philippine Falconet, the White-eared Brown Dove, the Sooty Woodpecker and the Coleto.

The Hon. Mark Pritchard was so enthused with what he saw that he promised to come back and bring the whole British Parliamentarians with him. Another noted group that visited the Philippines was the Britishbased Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's fact-finding team that studied four wetlands that are being conserved as bird-watching sites and possible water resources. The exploration was part of the WWT Patron partnership Program which was signed by the London Wetland Center and the DoT during the international launch of the country as a premier bird-watching site in the World Travel Mart held in London. According to DoT Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque Jr., we first attracted the attention of the British bird-watching community when the Cebu Flowerpecker received the Bird Life Species Champion award in the British Bird-watching Fair 2009 in Oakham, Rutland, UK.

In this regard, let me quote extensively from an email I received from Mr. Tim Warren, who resides in London. He has been coming as a tourist to the Philippine since his eldest son has been working in Manila for the last two years. He is very sympathetic to the Philippines as a very attractive destination but he suggests some challenges we have to overcome. I quote from his letter:

"Ask most people in the UK what they know about the Philippines and they will tell you the following: Imelda's shoes, the 'Thriller in Manila', Manny P., volcanic eruptions, landslides, government corruption, sinking ferries and very little else! Indeed as a recent well-publicized insult from a US star will remind you, the general perception of Filipinos from those who haven't been there is unjustly low, another reason for some positive PR. Tourists forget that Thailand, one of the Philippines' main competitors for tourism, has many domestic problems, a high level of crime against tourists, many corrupt officials, an unstable government and a propensity to attract many of the undesirable Western tourists!

"However when I sit in front of my television in London I am bombarded with advertisements for tourism in India, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and even remarkably Cambodia and Vietnam! When you consider where the Philippines was situated on the world stage whilst those two countries were undergoing their tribulations it simply highlights the steady decline of the Philippines and not only in respect of tourism!

"You and I fully appreciate what is on offer there, stunning and varied scenery, beautiful beaches, relatively low costs, English-speaking people who are some of the most charming and friendly in the world. From my varied travels in the Philippines, I sense that slowly some of the smaller and middle-range hotels are coming up to speed and the cuisine and communication facilities are also improving so that generally these places are obtaining better reviews from customers.

"I think it's fair to say that the undoubted cultural heritage there isn't so widely renowned as in other Asian countries and yet one thing in particular amazes me. You do possess some glorious historic churches especially in the provinces and in most other civilised countries these would be restored and tendered with loving and dutiful care. I'm astounded that when I visit these churches I see saplings growing from the exterior masonry, peeling paintwork and badly damaged historic murals inside and more often than not birds flying around in the church and nesting inside! Would it be the Government of the Roman Catholic Church who is responsible for the upkeep?"

After giving us these very constructive criticisms, Mr. Warren ends by suggesting what we should be asking the Presidentiables: "It will be interesting to see if any of the presidential candidates embrace the many advantages of promoting tourism for there is a vast untapped market to be lured!" I can only say Amen. I hope that whoever is elected President will appoint as Secretary of Tourism someone who can meet the very high standards set by Secretary Ace Durano. For comments, my email address is

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

2nd Go Negosyo

6 million land jobs in SME lending programs - PGMA

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said today that her administration has loaned out some P340 billion through various lending schemes to micro, small, medium entrepreneurs and these helped generate some six million jobs.

In her message during the 2nd Go Negosyo Women Entrepreneurship Summit held today at the World Trade Center, the President said that of the total loans granted, 90 percent were availed by women.

“Women, indeed, are successful entrepreneurs,” she said.

“In 2004, I said I will create three million enterprises during my administration but with Secretary Favila’s report, we have doubled our target,” the President said.

The President said that the Arroyo administration is very supportive of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through loans given by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and with the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) giving guidance to make beneficiaries good managers.

This, she said, she is doing because “we want to create a stronger middle class.”

To ensure the continued support of the SMEs, the President announced that Favila will move to the Monetary Board from the Trade Department. Education Secretary Jesli Lapus will take over Favila’s present post.

Recognizing the Summit as part of the celebration of the “International Women’s Day,” the President stressed that the Arroyo administration has always been guided by the principle that empowering women will pave the way to building a stronger nation.

The President said the Arroyo administration has identified three core concerns for development: human rights, economic empowerment, and gender responsive governance.

“Our achievement in gender imbalance is truly remarkable,” the President said, adding that for three years now, the Philippines remains the leading Asian country in the top rankings of the Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum.

The President also led the launching of the fifth book of Go Negosyo—“Tagumpay,” a compilation of success stories of 100 entrepreneurs.

The President also led the awarding of nine women who serve as inspiration to Filipinos. They are Leonarda Camacho of the Metro Manila Linis Ganda; Singer/Entrepreneur Pilita Corrales; Linda Legaspi of Marylindbert International; Regina Paz Lopez of ABS-CBN; Lecturer Solita Monsod of the UP School of Economics; Marixi Prieto of the Philippine Daily Inquirer,; Esther Vibal of Vibal Publishing House, and Rosalinda Wee of the Philippine Federation of Local Councils of Women. (PND)

Aussie firm to develop Palawan oilfield

Manila Bulletin

SINGAPORE, March 8 (Reuters) – Kairiki Energy, an Australian firm drilling for oil in Southeast Asia, expects to announce partners for development of the Gindara field in offshore Palawan before end-2010, seeking to expand fledgling production and strengthen its foothold in the Philippines, executives said on Monday.

Kairiki foresees reserves of more than 200 million barrels of oil will be recoverable from Gindara, out of a mean estimate of 634 million barrels of oil in place. That is more than triple the total of 201 million in place for the rest of Kairiki's prospects.

''Gindara is a game changer for us,'' Kairiki managing director Mark Fenton told Reuters.

Kairiki and Gindara majority-owner Nido Petroleum Ltd, also from Australia, plan to woo larger partners by offering them a stake in the oilfield in exchange for financing the first well, Fenton said.

The drilling cost will amount to between $20 million and $30 million, he added.

Oil firms are showing more interest in the Philippines after Galoc, an oilfield partly owned by Nido, in 2008 began production of up to 14,000 bpd of light sour Palawan crude, similar to Abu Dhabi grades.

Galoc was the first major field to come on stream in the archipelago nation since the 1990s.
Crude production in East Asia remains low at around 8 million bpd, versus demand near 25 million bpd.

Kairiki owns 40 percent of Gindara, located north of Palawan island at a water depth of more than 300 metres (984 ft), while Nido owns the rest. Production from the field could take between two and three years to commence after the first well is drilled by mid-2011, executive director Laurie Brown said.

''It is a high-risk, high-impact project where we need the participation of bigger oil companies,'' Brown added in the interview.

This year Kairiki expects to produce oil for the first time, pumping as much as 15,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the shallow-water Tindalo field also in the Philippines, starting from early in the second quarter, or ''within weeks,'' Fenton said.

Nido owns 50 percent and is the operator of Tindalo, while Kairiki holds a 35 percent stake. The remaining 15 percent is held by European oil trader Trafigura, which will market the oil.

Kairiki expects to recover Tindalo investment costs after about six weeks of production, Fenton said.

Higher value BPO exports to hit $12 billion

Manila Bulletin

The business processing and outsourcing (BPO) sector is expecting a slowdown in employment growth with an average of 100,000 jobs a year additional jobs generation until 2011, but said the value-added exports reaching to $12 billion by 2011 would make up for the slower jobs data.

Oscar Sanez, president and CEO of the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P), told reporters at the launch of the BPA/P National Competency Test (BNCT) program that they have already dropped the 900,000 jobs reference data aimed to be attained by 2010 until the BPA/P Roadmap.

As of 2009, the BPO sector employs 436,000 people only. Starting this year, Sanez said the industry expects an annual average additional employment of 100,000. This means, 520,000 by end this year and 620,000 by 2011.

“Because we have moved up to the higher level of BPO functions, we only need 600,000 workers to reach the export revenue target of $12 billion by 2011,” Sanez said. He explained that the industry’s number one goal is the export revenue side.

Vista Land sets P10 billion for 30 new projects

Manila Bulletin

Anticipating stronger medium-term growth in the country’s real estate sector, publicly listed holding company Vista Land and Lifescapes has earmarked P10-billion investments this year for 30 new projects, according to chief financial officer Manuel Paolo A. Villar.

In a statement, Villar said the new developments will bring the Vista Land group’s portfolio of projects to a total of 157, distributed among 19 provinces and 46 cities and municipalities.

The bulk of capital expenditures will be allocated for the construction and development of projects, with a minor portion for land acquisition. Most of the new projects are intended for the affordable to mid-range housing market, where Vista Land has a strong brand and marketing presence.

“One of our competitive strengths, unique to the group, is the breadth of our presence nationwide. We are building homes and communities in more provinces all over the country, compared to other real estate developers,” the CFO of the Vista, which is owned by presidential bet Manuel Villar.

“Another unique strength of Vista Land is our Camella brand, the best known brand in the affordable housing segment, where most of the demand and sales volume are generated,” Villar said.

Camella, a landmark brand in the industry with an unmatched 33-year track record, is a pioneer in building affordable housing.

He noted that the Vista Land group has built the largest number of homes among all local developers, a total of more than 200,000. Other companies in the group are Brittany, which builds high-end communities; Crown Asia, focusing on the mid-range category; Communities Philippines, which develops projects in the provinces; and Vista Residences, the newly launched company and brand name which consolidates all of the group’s residential condominium projects.

How to achieve poverty reduction

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Poverty reduction is potentially one of the most important economic issues for a country like the Philippines. Unfortunately, it is also a topic that is always discussed with the heart and emotions and not enough with the brain.

And, of course, during the election season, speaking of poverty is a no-lose situation for the candidates because, on one hand, they might pick up some “poor” votes and, on the other, it makes them look friendly and properly sympathetic to the ears of the “rich” voters.

It is also a topic that is boring to talk about because there does not seem to be a positive solution. We who are “rich” feel a bit guilty for our poorer citizens and yet are somewhat as clueless what to do about poverty as much as the “experts” in and out of government. Yet we all know that in both the short and long term, poverty and poor people cost each one of us as well as the nation. We all pay for too much poverty in many ways. There is no question that increased poverty equates with increased crime in the urban areas. A nation with a high level of poverty is unhealthier than richer countries, and that causes both increased illness throughout the population as well as increased taxpayer cost to provide for a sicker population.

Poorer people are less educated, thereby straining the work force to find acceptable employees. A nation which has too many poor people usually suffers from an education system of lower quality.

Regarding education though, the “chicken-or-the-egg” argument arises. Is the nation poorer because its education system is bad? Or is the education system bad because there are simply too many people who must rely on public education in a country like the Philippines?

This is important since, for example, Indonesia is cited as a neighbor that has done a better job of reducing poverty. Yet, Indonesia spends $110 per student per year, compared to $491 in the Philippines.

The traditional approach to talking about poverty reduction is to blame the rich. If the rich did not have so much wealth, there would be more for the “poor.” This is incredibly false because it assumes that there is a limit to the total amount of wealth and, therefore, wealth needs to be redistributed, the “Robin Hood” or steal-from-the-rich-to-give-to-the-poor idea.

It also assumes that the rich got their money from a secret “money tree” that apparently the poor do not have access to, instead of through labor. And there has never been an example of wealth redistribution doing anything to successfully relive long-term poverty trends and incidence. Yet that is always the easy, lazy and incorrect solution to poverty reduction.

It is almost impossible to find an unbiased, objective, scientific study that does not reach the same conclusion about poverty reduction; there is a direct correlation between economic growth and reducing poverty. Every success story of a country which has made great inroads into poverty reduction was also a nation that created high, sustained economic growth. From a study by Arne Bigsten and Jörgen Levin, Department of Economics, Göteborg University: “Poverty can be reduced if there is sufficient economic growth.”

For the last several months, expert after expert has lamented the fact that despite increased economic growth in the Philippines over the last decade, poverty has not gone down to acceptable levels, and the incidence has actually increased. But here again, without any basis in fact, the rich are to blame. The latest is from one of the government’s economic advisers who says that only the rich and the powerful have benefited from this economic growth. That is an emotionally driven nonsense, but there is still too much poverty in light of the economic growth. Because these experts are intellectually lazy, they always call for either direct wealth redistribution or increasing government antipoverty programs, both of which are failures, as proved by the poverty numbers.

But the answer to poverty reduction is available. From a study by Anuradha Joshi Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mick Moore, The Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex: “Antipoverty interventions in poor countries will tend to work better if intended recipients can increase their influence over the implementation stages through collective action of various kinds. Antipoverty programs should be designed and managed such that they either [a] positively stimulate among intended recipients the collective action that is needed to make the programs more effective or [b] less ambitious, at least do not discourage and frustrate collective action.”

In simple terms, Poor People Power. Government programs fail because of the same elitist mentality that says that government and the “experts” know how to do things better than the average person, especially the poorer person. This liberal-elitist attitude says you are poor and stupid and we know how to help you better than you know how to help yourself.

Those programs that give power to the recipient always work best. Witness the “Adopt a School” and “Adopt a Barangay” programs from local corporations and service groups. These work well. Microfinancing programs that give poor individuals control along with direct financial and technical assistance have proved to be an unqualified poverty-reduction success story.

I know this topic is boring. But it is critical to every hard-working man and woman and company. A nation is only as economically strong as the weakest in that nation’s society.

The religious, political, academic and government liberal elites have failed miserably to make the Philippines a better nation through their poverty-reduction ideas. It is vital that the majority who are not in poverty demand that more practical and sensible solutions be implemented.

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Monday, 8 March 2010

ePassports only by appointments from March 8

By Veronica Uy

MANILA, Philippines—Starting tomorrow, March 8, all applications for electronic passports (ePassports) will only be accepted and processed via the appointment system at the new consular building on Macapagal Boulevard, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a news release.

Applicants may set an appointment by going online through its dedicated website ( or by calling 737-1000. Travel agents can secure an appointment at the DFA website ( or email at They may also call 834-4961, 834-4855, and 834-3707 for other details.

The new 7,000-square meter, four-story Office of the Consular Affairs (OCA) building is located at the corner of Macapagal Avenue and Bradco Street, Aseana Business Park.

“This appointment system will be strictly implemented to enable DFA to pre-process information submitted in advance by an applicant, thus avoiding long queues, as experienced by walk-in applicants at the DFA-OCA main office in Roxas Boulevard,” OCA Assistant Secretary Renato Villapando said.

He reminded applicants that they are no longer required to bring photographs since they will have their pictures taken using ePassport data capturing machines at DFA-OCA.

However, Villapando said applicants still need to bring other necessary requirements such as the application form that is available for download at the DFA website and at the reception desks of the new consular building.

The OCA chief said the new ePassport technology has built-in capacity to detect fraud by capturing biometrics, signature, and fingerprints of applicants. He also advised applicants to submit only genuine documents.

Meanwhile, to avoid being victimized by fixers, he also advised applicants to deal only with DFA-OCA personnel inside the building. “No escorts are allowed to accompany individual applicants,” he said.

The new OCA building is part of the ongoing modernization program initiated by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo to further improve the DFA’s frontline services which include harnessing new technologies in passport and visa issuances and streamlined procedures in the authentication of documents.

“It is part of our dream for the Filipino people to have a world-class passport and consular services. We have done it through the Machine-Readable Passport and the ePassport, and now the dream is complete with the new DFA-OCA building,” Romulo said.

MMDA in need of 200 new employees

By Miko L. Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Looking for a job? The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has around 200 vacancies in different departments which it wants to fill up.

MMDA General Manager Robert Nacianceno said yesterday that applicants should go to the agency’s office on Orense Street corner EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue) in Makati City with their resume so that they could check out what jobs were available.

As for skills requirements, Nacianceno pointed that the agency offers free training so this should not deter unskilled workers from applying.

“We train our employees to do different tasks like electrical [work] and carpentry, among others,” he said, adding, “They should take advantage of the free training the MMDA [conducts].”

Among the vacancies were for kamineros (road workers) who should be aged 18 to 50 years old. No educational attainment is required although this is a must for those applying to become traffic enforcers, Nacianceno said.

To qualify as a traffic enforcer, applicants should have at least two years of college. College graduates, on the other hand, could be upgraded to traffic officers who are entitled to higher pay.

Skills and educational background aside, Nacianceno said there was one thing they required of all applicants.

“The applicant must have the willingness to work,” he told the Inquirer over the phone. “In addition, they should also be physically capable of working.”

Workers could sign on to work with the agency on a three-month contract but Nacianceno said this would be renewed if the MMDA found the worker’s performance satisfactory, if not exemplary.

He added that they were continuously looking for new workers because the agency was constantly weeding out the incompetent and corrupt from its ranks.

“We fire people because of incompetence and other illegal acts like extortion, as well as tardiness and inefficiency,” he said. “We do this regularly because we don’t tolerate these [kinds of offenses].”

SMEC to put up coal power plant in Mindanao

Paul Anthony A. Isla
Business Mirror

SAN Miguel Energy Corp. (SMEC), the power arm of food-and-beverage giant San Miguel Corp., is looking at building a coal-fired power plant in Mindanao.

“We are now in the process of filing and securing needed permits such as environmental compliance certificate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies,” Ramon Ang, SMEC chairman and president, said in an interview.

He added that San Miguel is building the plant to take advantage of its coal mine in General Santos City, which has the capacity to generate electricity by as much as 2,000 megaWatts (mW).

Ang clarified that the plan is to build the power facility in several phases.

“Initially, we plan to put up a 150-mW to 300-mW mine-mouth coal power plant, which is projected to be relatively cheaper than other conventional coal-fired power plant. However, we plan to develop the project slowly, as well, as we also have to study the demand,” said Ang, adding that there is a need to build based on demand projection.

He said San Miguel can build 150 mW to 300 mW per stage.

The San Miguel executive said SMEC decided to put up the mine-mouth coal-fired power plant to make it more cost-effective for the company. “As a rule of thumb, it usually costs a little over a million dollars, but I think since what we plan to put up is a mine-mouth facility, then it should be cheaper,” he said.

A mine-mouth power plant refers to a power plant built near the source of coal to save on the cost of transporting the fuel to the facility.

Ang added that SMEC has already identified the ideal sites where it could build its green-field coal facility.

Ang declined, however, to reveal the plant’s possible locations. He said SMEC would be able to reveal details in the next two to three weeks.

The San Miguel executive added that SMEC is optimistic it would be able to start the construction phase within the year. “Within the year, we plan to start this project. And this green-field project could take 24 months to construct,” he said.

A coal-fired power plant is deemed critical for Mindanao, according to Ang, since the island-region already suffers from power shortfall due to its reliance on hydroelectric power plants.

“The coal-fired power plant would be a great help and alternative to hydroelectric power facilities in Mindanao,” he added.

“This is a way for us to help in alleviating the power supply problem of the country. Our company believes that we need this kind of project as part of our corporate social responsibility,” Ang said.

Ayala to spend P6B to expand Bataan leisure development

Neil Jerome C. Morales

PROPERTY GIANT Ayala Land, Inc. is looking at spending an additional P6 billion to expand its first leisure project, an executive said on Saturday.

Additional investment will allow Ayala Land to launch more projects and further develop the 320-hectare Anvaya Cove in the town of Morong in Bataan.

“Anvaya development cost could reach around P10 billion. For the existing projects, we have already committed to spend P4 billion,” said Ayala Land senior vice-president Rex A. Mendoza.

Ayala Land wants to get 300 hectares of additional land for expansion, he said.

Anvaya Cove is a joint venture with property owner Subic Bay Development and Industrial Estate Corp. or Sudeco, a private real estate holding firm. Ayala Land has developed as much as half of the 320-hectare property, costing around P1.5 billion.

Funds to be used to fully develop the area would be on top of the total P27.17-billion capital expenditures set by Ayala Land this year, he said.

Additional land from Sudeco will allow Ayala Land to double the existing 545 units owned by 1,700 members.

Residential lots range from 1,200-1,500 square meters in the Cliffside area and about 400-420 square meters in the Mango Grove.

“We came in late because we thought the leisure market in the Philippines is going to be thin,” Mr. Mendoza said.

This year, Ayala Land will launch an indoor sports club and the Seascape Ridge, a 4.6-hectare community that will have 14 multiple dwelling units. Turnover will start in December 2011.

“From [houses and lots], we will be moving to low-rise condominiums,” Mr. Mendoza said. “We realized that the big chunk of the foreign [market] does not want the construction hassles.”

Asked if the exclusive Anvaya Cove will be opened to the public by putting up a hotel, Mr. Mendoza said: “It is being contemplated but that is not going to be part of the beach club. If we will make that, it will be outside.”

Ayala Land, meanwhile, had brisk sales in the first two months of the year, the executive said.

“Total sales of Ayala Land Premier is less than P5 billion for the full year. This year, until February, it is already P5.3 billion,” Mr. Mendoza said.

Projects such as the Santierra in Laguna and Park Terraces in Makati were “choking up [sales] very well” as a result of good timing in project launches, he added.

Ayala Land will also launch economic housing unit Amaia this year. Its first project will involve units priced at P600,000-P1.2 million each in the town of Calamba in Laguna.

Ayala Land expects the ratio of its sales from overseas Filipinos to rebound this year to 28%-30%.

The ratio was 28% in 2009, 18% in 2008, and 33% in 2007.

“[Sales from Filipinos in] Abu Dhabi and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are very strong,” he said.

Ayala Land saw profits decline by more than a tenth last year, as the global economic downturn dampened the real estate sector. In its financial report, Ayala Land said net income dropped to P4.681 billion last year from P5.382 billion in 2008 and P5.095 billion in 2007.

Shares in Ayala Land rose to P11.25 each on Friday from P10.75 apiece on Thursday.

Cebu opens doors for new nuclear plant

Manila Bulletin

CEBU CITY – The provincial government of Cebu has formally opened its doors for consultation with stakeholders on the proposed siting of a nuclear power facility should the Philippine government clinches a deal for the nuclear facilities which may be auctioned off by Korea Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

A government-to-government deal is being pursued for the purchase of the KEDO nuclear facilities, prompting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to formally write South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak on the Philippine government’s interest on the assets should these be set for auction or sale. The correspondence was reportedly channeled through Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

The meeting with stakeholders last Thursday spearheaded by the provincial board of Cebu was attended by Pangasinan Representative Mark O. Cojuangco, the well-recognized proponent of the revival of nuclear power development program in the country.

The first site proposed for a nuclear facility in the country, besides the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, has been the lawmaker’s home province in Pangasinan.

According to Cojuangco, the proposed acquisition of the KEDO equipment and parts will enable the country to put up nuclear facilities in two sites with aggregate capacity of 2,080 megawatts which may command total investment of $5 billion. This could be for two plants of 1,000 MW capacity each to be anchored on Korean Standardized Nuclear Plants (KSNPs).

“With that investment cost for 2,000 megawatt capacity, you will already attain economies of scale.

And this will save the government time and resources as compared to building up a new nuclear plant,” he stressed.

Cojuangco disclosed that Cebu province, even prior to the planned technology transfer from Korea, has already been making its own studies on the possibility of hosting a nuclear power facility.

“Governor (Gwen) Garcia is very open-minded about nuclear power development and she told me of the studies they have been undertaking way before the proposals of reviving nuclear power development in the country. There are concerns raised about social impact, that’s why we already started explaining how some of these concerns be addressed, especially to the business sector in Cebu,” he said.

The major points being weighed by Cebu’s provincial government in considering the nuclear option had been the devastating effect of the brownouts; and the ensuing opportunity losses or cost impacts, primarily to businesses.

The deal being eyed by Philippine government would be to enter into a deal with the South Korean government for the former to purchase the KEDO technology, which were originally planned for nuclear power facilities of North Korea. Since the time that the facilities’ construction been halted in 2006, the KEDO facilities have been placed under the care of the Korea Electric Power Corporation, by government edict.