Saturday, 10 April 2010

Comelec: Overseas absentee voting in Singapore 'generally successful'

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Overseas absentee voters in Hong Kong find the process 'fun and simple'

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Comelec: No irregularity observed in OAV, so far

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Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) for Filipinos in Hong Kong and Singapore started smoothly around 8 a.m. (Manila time) Saturday and was going smoothly, so far, a Commission on Elections commissioner said.

“The [PCOS] machines have already been opened. [The voting process] is [already] starting," Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said in an interview on radio dzBB.

Larrazabal is in Hong Kong, which has 95,355 Filipino absentee voters. Singapore, on the other hand, has 31,851.

“It’s all systems go here, and we are excited," Larrazabal said, adding that the members of the Filipino committee and consulate officials in Hong Kong are assisting voters, who he said have started arriving at the Philippine consulate office there to cast their votes.

Larrazabal also assured that elections officials were equipped with UV lamps to be used to authenticate the ballots. “All teachers and volunteers have UV lamps. When we came here to train the officials, mayroon nang UV lamps dito sa Hong Kong. Kumpleto na definitely," the commissioner said.

Larrazabal said that automated counting will only be done at the end of the voting period on May 10, the scheduled start of the automated elections here in the Philippines.

“All election data will be sent electronically on May 10. There will be no everyday counting. The election returns will be generated only then, and canvassing will be done in Manila," Larrazabal said.

Earlier, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting chair Henrietta de Villa expressed confidence that the overseas absentee voting would proceed smoothly. PPCRV is the accredited citizen arm of the Comelec. [See: HK, Singapore all set for start of 31 days automated OAV]

Meanwhile, radio dzBB cited Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, chair of the department’s absentee voting committee, as saying that they are expecting a high voter turnout on Sunday, as most of the OFWs are on day-off from work. — LBG, GMANews.TV

First vote cast in Hong Kong goes to Villar

MANILA, Philippines - The first official votes fed into the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) in Hong Kong went to members of the Nacionalista Party (NP), led by its standard-bearer, Sen. Manuel "Manny" Villar Jr.

ABS-CBN correspondent Michael Vincent reported that the first votes were cast by Rowena dela Cruz, member of a migrant workers' group Migrante, at the Bayanihan Kennedy Center in Hong Kong.

Vincent said that according to Dela Cruz, he voted Villar for president and Sen. Loren Legarda for vice-president.

Dela Cruz told ABS-CBN's correspondent in Hong Kong that she voted Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza for senators. Both candidates are also running under the NP ticket.

Vincent said voting started at the Bayanihan Kennedy Center around 7 a.m..

He said several overseas Filipino workers stayed overnight at the center to make sure that they would be the first ones to participate in the Philippines' first automated elections.

Vincent said around 3,000 Filipinos are expected to troop to the center to cast their votes on Sunday.

He said members of the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, led by Consul General Claro Cristobal, have also cast their votes.

The month-long overseas absentee voting (OAV) officially started on Saturday.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expecting more than half a million Filipinos abroad to participate in the OAV.

Those in Hong Kong and Singapore would be the only overseas Filipinos who will be able to use the PCOS machines. There are more than 126,000 Filipino voters in the 2 countries. – Report from Michael Vincent, dzMM

Philippine Elections: find your name in the overseas absentee voters' lists



For Hong Kong voters: how to check if your name is on the list


P1.2-billion package for war vets

Japan envoy sorry for Death March
Manila Bulletin

President Arroyo Friday arrived with good news for at least 18,000 living World War II veterans, mostly residing in the United States.

Marking the celebration of the Valor Day, she authorized the release of P1.2 billion worth of benefits for their selfless service during the war. Some 200,000 Filipinos fought alongside with their American troops during the war.

She asked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) to work hand in hand to immediately pay the veterans.

“I return to Manila today, the Veteran’s Day with good news. I have directed DBM and PVAO to pay this month P1.2 billion worth of benefits to war veterans, in payment of the arrears of their total administrative disability to war veterans,” the President said.

As this developed, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura expressed his heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the damage caused by the Japanese military in the Philippines during World War II, including the tragic Bataan Death March.

He said that after the war, “Japan was reborn as a peace-loving nation, and post-war Japan has firmly resolved to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world, without allowing the terrible lessons of the war to erode.”

Thousands of qualified war veterans also received their checks from the US government after US President Barack Obama signed in February last year the Stimulus Law or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that provided lump sum payments of $15,000 and $9,000 to Filipino veterans living in the United States and in the Philippines, respectively.

In commemorating the valor of Filipino war veterans who fought during World War II, Malacañang paid tribute to the valuable contributions of at least 8 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) worldwide.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Atty. Charito Planas said on the occasion of Araw ng Kagitingan, the executive extended the same recognition and tribute to the “new breed of heroes.”

“Many of our OFWs are actually unsung heroes who, in the course of their tasks abroad, have aided and rescued victims of calamities and disasters…and some even lost their own lives in their attempt to save others,” she told reports.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) attributed the country’s strong momentum during the global downturn to the continued flow of OFW remittances.

Speaking during the Araw ng Kagitingan rites at the Dambana ng Kagitingan in Bataan, Katsura said, “In this context, I am deeply moved by the Filipino people’s noble spirit of reconciliation and sense of fairness. Indeed, the Filipino people have been appreciating Japan as we are today – a peace-loving nation that shares the fundamental values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.”

He noted that Filipinos have also been taking a future-oriented attitude with a view to deepening the friendly relations between the two countries.

“On our part, we have been trying our best to assist the Philippines’ nation-building efforts as the largest donor of Official Development Assistance (ODA). In trade and investment fields too, we are one of the largest partners for the Philippines,” the Ambassador further stated.

Katsura recalled that during the official visit of President Arroyo to Tokyo in 2009, it was agreed at the summit meeting to foster a “Strategic Partnership for the Future” between the two countries, based on the entry into force of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) in December 2008.

According to the Ambassador, Japan’s deep commitment to peace and development in Mindanao has been further enhanced, stating that the recent resumption of the peace negotiations between GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a most welcome development.

Meanwhile, De Castro, who noted it will be his last time to stand in front of the Dambana ng Kagitingan as Vice President of the country, expressed the nation’s eternal gratitude to the courage and valor shown by the Filipino soldiers in World War II, even as he called on candidates in the coming elections to pause from their hectic campaign schedule and “reflect for a moment on the lessons and spirit of the historic moments we recall today.”

The Vice President apologized not less than 10 times to the heroes of the second world war – both living those who have departed – for the times the Filipino people and the nation, and the politicians and those in government in particular – have forgotten or failed to recognized and give respect to their sacrifices for the freedom and democracy that we are all enjoying today.

De Castro said we now live in times that call for similar valor and courage shown by Filipino soldiers in the second world war.

Friday, 9 April 2010

All set for first automated overseas absentee voting in Hong Kong, Singapore

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

Photo update: STAR-SLEX


Metro Manila Mayors Formally Approves MMDA Housing Project

Metro Manila mayors on Thursday formally approved the immediate construction of the housing project of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in Cavite, boosting the hopes of thousands of MMDA rank-and-file employees who have no financial means to have their own decent homes.

The 17 mayors of Metro Manila composing the Metro Manila Council (MMC) unanimously approved MMDA Resolution No. 10-03 Series of 2010 empowering the agency to use its funds for the construction of the PGMA-MMDA Village in Sitio Paligawan Matanda in Carmona, Cavite.

MMC is the policy-making and governing body of the MMDA.

“This is good news for our beloved employees. With the support of the council, we can now begin construction works and hand out land titles to qualified employees,” MMDA Chairman Oscar Inocentes said.

The MMC, Inocentes said, recognized the need to provide affordable housing units to low-salaried MMDA employees, majority of whom have no house of their own.

The PGMA-MMDA Village is to be constructed at a 65.9 hectare property of the agency in Carmona, which used to be a sanitary landfill. The MMDA has submitted the required landfill closure plan to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

At least 53.8 hectare portion of the property has been determined to be suitable for a residential village, according to Inocentes.

The then Metropolitan Manila Commission (MMC) acquired the land on December 23, 1985, and which was utilized as a sanitary landfill from May 23, 1993 to March 31, 1998.

Last March 15, the agency has started handing out Certificates of Award to employee-beneficiaries. Job Order employees are entitled to 50 square meter lot each, permanent employees, 75 sqm, and ranking officials, 100 sqm each.

The MMDA has about 8,000 employees.

The PGMA-MMDA Village is the first socialized housing program in the agency’s history and was fast tracked by Inocentes upon his assumption to office last November.

Inocentes said he initiated the implementation of the housing program for MMDA employees in line with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s vision of providing low-income state workers with decent and affordable housing.

“President Arroyo has time and again said that socialized housing for the urban poor and low-salaried government employees should be prioritized,” the MMDA chairman said.

While the PGMA-MMDA Village is still being built, the MMC also authorized the MMDA to award 50-square meter lot to every qualified employee provided the lot shall not be sold or transferred to anyone except the legal heirs of the awardees.

Inocentes said the PGMA-Village will have complete facilities such as school, church, and medical clinic. At present, the MMDA has paved the access road leading to and from the site and is currently installing water and power connections.

Meanwhile, the Metro Manila mayors also approved the agency’s proposed P3.5 billion budget for 2010, which will be submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for review and approval.

The appropriated funds will be used for the operation of the MMDA in 2010, according to Inocentes.

The agency’s Solid Waste Management Office (SWMO) and Traffic and Transport Management Office (TTMO) will get the biggest share in the proposed budget, with P1.2 billion and P1.1 billion, respectively.

SWMO manages garbage disposal facilities of the MMDA while TTMO is the agency’s central traffic management arm.

Inocentes said the personal services, maintenance and other operating expenses of all the MMDA departments have been carefully studied by the Committee on Appropriation of the MMC.

“To accelerate the socio-economic growth of Metro Manila, we need to properly tap all available sources of revenue and that funding support shall be given to our priority programs and projects,” Inocentes added.

Condoms not fail-safe in Preventing HSV-2 Acquisition

A Pooled Analysis of the Effect of Condoms in Preventing HSV-2 Acquisition

Emily T. Martin, MPH; Elizabeth Krantz, MS; Sami L. Gottlieb, MD, MSPH; Amalia S. Magaret, PhD; Andria Langenberg, MD; Lawrence Stanberry, MD, PhD; Mary Kamb, MD, MPH; Anna Wald, MD, MPH

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(13):1233-1240.

Background The degree of effectiveness of condom use in preventing the transmission of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is uncertain. To address this issue, we performed a large pooled analysis.


Cooling to Global Warming

Climate Catastrophe
A Superstorm for Global Warming Research

By Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and Gerald Traufetter

Plagued by reports of sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations, climate research is facing a crisis of confidence. How reliable are the predictions about global warming and its consequences? And would it really be the end of the world if temperatures rose by more than the much-quoted limit of two degrees Celsius?

Life has become "awful" for Phil Jones. Just a few months ago, he was a man with an enviable reputation: the head of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, an expert in his field and the father of an alarming global temperature curve that apparently showed how the Earth was heating up as a result of anthropogenic global warming.

Those days are now gone.

READ MORE (,1518,druck-687259,00.html)

Bank lending grows 6.1%

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE banks proved more than willing to extend loans in February when their portfolios grew 6.1 percent to P2.084 trillion, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Thursday.

The central bank said continuing improvements in domestic economic activity have driven the growth in bank lending. The growth does not include those made by the BSP to banks on overnight basis at its reverse repurchase or borrowing window.

The numbers corroborate what is happening on the ground as what witness Home Guarantee Corp. president Gonzalo Benjamin Bongolan said, that banks “remain willing to deploy more loans, particularly to the real estate sector.”

On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, commercial bank lending in February grew by 1.2 percent for loans inclusive of RRPs, and by 1.1 percent for loans net of RRPs, BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said in a statement. So-called production loans, which make up 80 percent of total loans, grew by 5.8 percent in February from 4.4 percent a month ago.

“This was driven mainly by lending to the following sectors: real estate, renting and business services [which expanded by 17.3 percent]; transportation, storage, and communication [34.0 percent], and agriculture, hunting and forestry [9.3 percent]. Other sectors that contributed to the growth in lending were wholesale and retail trade
[8.8 percent]; hotels and restaurants [46.6 percent]; public administration and defense [9.65 percent]; mining and quarrying [63.3 percent]; electricity, gas and water [2.0 percent],  and health and social work [11.2 percent],” said Tetangco.

Loans to the manufacturing sector, he added, contracted at a slower rate of 6.4 percent from 15.5 percent in the previous month. Similarly, the contraction in construction loans decelerated to 1.4 percent from 3.7 percent in January.

Loans for household consumption grew at a broadly steady pace of 12 percent at end-February from 12.5 percent in the previous month. This reflected the relative stability in the expansion of credit card and auto loans.

He added that banks could take advantage of the improved financial-market conditions to further strengthen their capital base, and in the process increase their capacity to extend credit to support a self-sustaining and durable economic growth.

The still-expanding deployment of bank loans was noted in the same period that peso liquidity growth, or M3, rose 9.9 percent year-on-year in February from 8.1 percent in January.

On a monthly basis, seasonally adjusted M3 expanded by 0.8 percent in February from a 0.2-percent decline posted in the previous month. This, Tetangco said, was driven by the growth in both net foreign assets (NFA) and net domestic assets (NDA).

NFA grew at a slower pace of 14 percent from 23.2 percent in the previous month. The expansion in the NFA of the BSP decelerated to 15 percent from 19.7 percent due to the slowdown in the growth of foreign assets and the continued decline in foreign liabilities.

Similarly, Tetangco added, there was a reduction in the pace of growth in the NFA of banks to 9.1 percent from 45.2 percent in the previous month, as the growth in foreign assets slowed down while that of foreign liabilities reversed to positive territory.

NDA growth, on the other hand, increased 5.9 percent, reversing the 2.9-percent decline in the previous month. “This developed following the double-digit growth in credit extended to the public sector by 13.8 percent on the back of increased lending to the national Government, which mostly took the form of investments in government securities. Credit to the private sector also continued to increase by 10.1 percent in February from 7.2 percent a month ago, consistent with the continued growth of bank lending.”

Gov’t alarmed by tour cancellations due to EU ban on carriers


THE CIVIL Aviation Authority of the Philippines should promptly resolve the European Union’s (EU) ban on Philippine air carriers, since the move has already triggered "an alarming number of tour cancellations from Europe," the Tourism department said in a statement yesterday.

Last March 31, the EU included the Philippines in its 13th updated list of countries with carriers banned from that region’s airspace, as a precautionary step based on the US Federal Aviation Administration’s downgrading of the country’s safety rating to Category 2 and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s concern on aviation safety regulators.

"Major European travel operators from Germany, UK and France have regretfully informed us their booking cancellations. The entire industry is affected, as European arrivals account for a significant percentage of our target in the first quarter. In January 2010, air arrivals from European countries already posted an 11% growth," the statement quoted Tourism Secretary Joseph "Ace" H. Durano as saying.

The department noted that tourist arrivals from Europe started the year on a promising note last January, with those from the United Kingdom increasing 18% to 7,837 from last year; those from Germany rising 0.6% to 5,161; France, up 11.9% to 2,537; Sweden, up 15% to 2,048; the Netherlands, up 12.4% to 1,579; Denmark, up 3.5% to 1,401; Austria, up 17% to 1,249; Spain, up 8.7% to 912; and Belgium, up by a fourth to 763.

Tours which were cancelled were mainly for the April-August period, the department noted. "The longer we remain in the blacklist, the harder it would be for us to recover from these significant losses. If we resolve this matter by the second quarter, we can expect a recovery in the third and fourth quarters," Mr. Durano said.

While Philippine carriers have not been flying to EU states since 1999 even before the ban, the EU’s prohibition has prompted travel insurance firms in Europe to advise travel operators that tour packages to the Philippines which include domestic air travel will not be covered. Hence, tour operators had to cancel bookings due to the difficulty of selling travel packages to the country which include inter-island travel by air.

"It’s a very sad day for us. All our blood, sweat and tears in building up the European market in your country are all down the drain," an executive of a major French travel operator said in the same statement.

Auto sales surge 35.5% in first quarter, CVs account for 41%

Manila Bulletin

Auto sales grew 35.5 percent in the first quarter this year as sales hit 38,709 units versus 28,563 units in the same period last year on strong commercial vehicle sales, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (CAMPI) reported.

CAMPI data showed that sales of commercial vehicles (CVs) account for the bulk of the sales as it grew a whooping 40.6 percent to 25,700 units as against 18,280 units sold in the first three months last year.

The CV sales continue to dominate with 66.4 percent market share backed by strong sales of Asian utility vehicles and light commercial vehicles.

The passenger car segment grew by 26.5% year to date selling a total of 13,009 units over 10,283 units in the same period last year for a market share of 33.6 percent.

"The strong first quarter result augurs well for the whole auto industry. We will have to revise our original forecast upwards given the first quarter trend. We are looking forward to continued strong sales in the coming months compared to the same period last year" said CAMPI president Elizabeth H. Lee.

CAMPI’s sales forecast for this year is 137,000 units from 132,000 units sold last year.

Among the CV categories, the light commercial vehicle (LCV) category posted the biggest increase of 48.9 percent as sales shoot up to 16,809 units from 11,292 units in the January-March period last year.

The LCVs account for the bulk of 65.4 percent share of the total vehicle market.

A total of 6,370 units of LCVs were sold in March alone or 21 percent higher than the February sales of 5,263 units. LCVs are comprised of pick up trucks, vans, and compact wagons.

This was followed by the Asian utility vehicles (AUV) with a remarkable 32.5 percent increase to 8,385 units from 6,329 units in the first quarter last year to corner 32.6 percent of the market.

A total of 3,141 AUV units or 19.1 percent increase than the February sales of 2,638 units.

Sales of trucks and buses also posted a modest 6.4 percent increase to 166 units from 156 units sold in the first quarter last year.

The only sore figure was that of the light trucks, which posted a significant 32.4 percent drop in sales to 340 units sold from 503 in the first quarter of 2009.

In terms of ranking, Toyota Motor Philippines still continued to lead the pack with 12,341 units or 26.3 percent more than 9,772 units in the first quarter of 2009.

Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. followed with 7,184 units or 47.8 percent more than the 4,860 units sold in the first quarter of 2009.

Running third was Hyundai Asia Resources Inc. with 4,572 units or 107.3 percent increase from 2,206 units in the same first quarter period last year.

"Stronger consumer confidence is partly reflected on strong vehicle sales—vehicles, being an asset and an integral part of the country’s growing group of entrepreneurs’ businesses,” Lee said.

Lee also noted that continued robust sales of dual purpose vehicles such as AUVs and LCVs reflect the majority of Filipino buyers’ penchant for value-for-money purchases.

Ford Phils. posts 20% gain in quarter sales

Manila Bulletin

Ford Group Philippines (FGP) posted a 20 percent growth in sales in the first quarter sales over the same period last year as sales hit 1,926 units supported by a 14 percent increase in sales of Ford vehicle models and 38 percent improvement in sales of Mazda vehicles.

FGP president Rick Baker noted that both Ford and Mazda vehicle sales rose 26 percent in March over February sales.

“The strong performance was powered by a refreshed FGP portfolio featuring products that are leading in fuel economy, quality, safety, smart design and value,” Baker said.

In April, Baker said the company expects to exceed its 72,000-vehicle sales mark, surpassing both our 60,000- and 12,000-vehicle sales milestones for Ford and Mazda respectively.

The Ford Everest continues to be FGP's top performer, with March sales up 26 percent over the previous month and first quarter sales that increased 3 percent versus a year ago.

Sales of Ford Focus rose an impressive 68 percent in March year-over-year while Ford Escape’s robust sales performance continued, increasing 17 percent in March versus the same month last year. The nameplate also performed impressively in the first quarter with an increase of 43 percent compared to 2009.

In February, FGP upgraded the standards of luxurious driving with the introduction of the 2010 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer EL, Ford E-150 Club Wagon and Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer.

On the other hand, Mazda Philippines continues to make significant contributions to the FGP business with the new Mazda2 that helps enhance its growing product line-up.

Reflecting a promising start for the company’s entry to the fast-growing B-Car segment, the Mazda2 has already sold 136 units after being officially launched just last month.

The Mazda3 has also been a consistent sales leader in the Mazda portfolio, reflected by a 7.5 percent increase in first quarter sales versus the same period last year.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Tan to build more mini-dams

with Othel Campos
Manila Standard

Tycoon Lucio C. Tan has pledged to build more mini-dams and water basins to help mitigate the impact of El Nino in Northern Luzon, a major source of tobacco leaf supply for his cigarette-making company.

Tan, 76, made the commitment during the inauguration of his latest water impounding project in Casilagan Norte, Banayoyo, Ilocos Sur on Good Friday, his company said in a statement it issued Tuesday.

In another development, the National Irrigation Administration plans to waive the irrigation fee on drought-hit farmers or those whose farms yield lower than 40 cavans of unmilled rice per hectare. The El Nino has destroyed P9 billion worth of crops, according to official estimate, prompting the administration to embark on remedial measures such as building of mini-dams and diverting river water to irrigation systems.

The eighth mini dam restored by the tycoon in the last five years, the Casilagan Norte diversion dam is capable of storing 60,000 cubic meters of water. It was designed to serve 120 hectares of rice and tobacco farmlands even through the dry summer months.

“I have instructed our team of soil and water experts to design and build eight more of such dams,” Tan told a group of local officials, Ilocano farmers and their children.

From Banayoyo, Tan flew to San Juan, also in Ilocos Sur to inspect the site of a new water catchment basin which will soon be constructed by his cigarette-making companyFortune Tobacco Corporation and Tan Yan Kee Foundation in partnership with the San Juan municipal government.

After Ilocos Sur, Tan and his team proceeded to Batac, Ilocos Norte to inspect the Quiling Norte-Abkir Diversion Dam in Batac, hometown of the late president Ferdinand Marcos.

Although encouraged by the success of his water dam projects, Tan said he wants to see proper water utilization and better designs for the water catchment basins to prevent water seepage and too much evaporation. He said based on expectations, stored water in the mini dams were supposed to last until end March but it was already depleted as early as February.

“We need a better lining of clay and stones to prevent water seepage. I also want our engineers to study whether we need a protective cover to reduce evaporation levels,” said Tan.

The tycoon said he is building and rehabilitating mini dams to set an example that it doesn’t take much to store water that will enable farmers to plant even during the dry season. More importantly, he said his project teaches water conservation, helps farmers enhance productivity and provides extra sources of livelihood.

Onboard two helicopters, Tan and his project advisers flew from his summer home in Baguio City toward Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.

Manila Water eyeing Indonesia next for expansion

Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

Manila Water Co. Inc., the water utility unit of conglomerate Ayala Corp., is considering Indonesia as the next area for expansion after ventures in Vietnam and India.

Manila Water group director Virgilio Rivera Jr. told reporters during the fifth listing anniversary of the company at the Philippine Stock Exchange Tuesday that Indonesia was a likely area for expansion because it had the same water situation as the Philippines.

“Indonesia has always been in our radar screen. It is a very big market with 200 million population,” Rivera said.

He said Manila Water, which serves the eastern section of Metro Manila, would likely seek a local partner in Indonesia for the expansion project.

“Within the year hopefully we can start talking to potential partners,” Rivera said.

Manila Water is interested in handling bulk water supply and distribution in Indonesia.

Manila Water is in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and has recently teamed up with Jindhal group for its planned venture in India.

Rivera said Manila Water was looking at between six and 12 water projects in three states in India and had pre-qualified in one of them.

Manila Water earlier said it would explore opportunities in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra in India.

Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services Inc., which serves the western section, meanwhile, are in the preliminary stage of forming a team that would do a comprehensive study on the potential water sources of Metro Manila.

Manila Water president Jose Rene Almendras said the two utility firms were seriously considering other water sources like Laiban, Sierra Madre and Marikina

“Instead of developing one major source of water, we want to develop not so big water sources, which would not result in without significant spike in water rates,” Almendras said.

Manila Water and Ayala Land Inc., the property unit of the Ayala group, meanwhile, agreed to form a joint venture company that will serve as the water and wastewater planning, developing and operating vehicle for real estate projects.

Manila Water said it signed a memorandum of agreement with the Ayala Land group composed of Avida Land Corp., Alveo Land Corp., Ceci Realty Inc., Aurora Properties Inc. and Vesta Property Holdings Inc., to jointly develop and operate a water and wastewater utility service company that will serve projects south of Manila, including Nuvali.

Nuvali is a 1,700-hectare mixed use development of Ayala Land and the Yulo family in Alabang, Laguna.

Drama from Philippines to the world

Isah V. Red
Manila Standard

In the most recent past, the Filipino television audience have been hooked on drama series from countries in South America, particularly Mexico and Argentina, Asia, most specially Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

Now, it’s the Philippines’ turn to show the world what this small country in the Pacific can offer.

While Filipinos around the world have been enjoying drama series from the Kapamilya network, little many Filipinos in the archipelago know that ABS-CBN programs have become hits in other nations as well.

Recently, Pangako sa ‘Yo was telecast on China’s national television and, believe it or not, it rated second over all local and foreign programs airing in the country. Ten years after Filipinos became so attached to the Kristine Hermosa-Jericho Rosales tandem, the now classic teleserye still appealed to the Chinese audience and even hit the Top 30 list in the national weekly ranking, covering over 2,000 channels and capturing 1.3 billion viewers.

Prior to China, the love story of Angelo Buenavista and Yna Macaspac have mesmerized people in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and even Africa. As Cambodian Nai Hiu Mei recounts, “The teleserye, broadcast here dubbed in Khmer, was so popular that many Cambodian babies have been named Angelo.” The Times of Zambia writer Meluse Kapatamoyo wrote, “The series has become a topic of discussion among families, friends and even neighbors who daily ponder on how the show would end.” René Lötter of One Africa Television said, “When is Pangako sa’Yo coming back?’ I wish I could get a dollar each time I get that question. From teenager to grandma, from household organizers to tax consultant—it’s gripped people across all genders.”

Aside from Pangako sa ‘Yo (known internationally as The Promise), several other homegrown entertainment programs have been brought to a broader global audience through the pioneering efforts of ABS-CBN Global’s International Sales and Distribution (ISD).

Carried by the biggest state television broadcaster in China, Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin (a.k.a. Only You) aired on primetime, alongside Pangako sa ‘Yo. Meanwhile, Sana Maulit Muli (a.k.a. Chances), Maging Sino Ka Man (a.k.a. More Than Love) and Gulong ng Palad (a.k.a. Stand for Love) are expected to be aired in the Republic soon.

Also earning international recognition worldwide is the Angel Locsin-Piolo Pascual starrer Lobo (a.k.a. She-Wolf: The Last Sentinel). In the recently concluded 2009 International Emmy Awards, She-Wolf was recognized for the stellar performance of Angel Locsin who received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress. This recognition is second for the show, which won the Best Telenovela award at the 30th BANFF World Television Festival in Toronto, Canada last year. Currently, the program is enjoying wide viewership in Brunei and is anticipated to be released in other countries in Indo-China, Asia, Europe and Africa this year.

ABS-CBN shows are subtitled and dubbed in several languages, including English, Turkish, Khmer, Mandarin, and French.

One of the programs dubbed in French is Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay (a.k.a. La Longue Attente in French and The Long Wait in English) will cater to French-speaking viewers in Africa and Europe. According to International Sales and Distribution Head Reena Garingan, ABS-CBN programs are easily bought because they resonate to the African audience. “Our writers, directors and actors are able to capture real-life experiences on screen. Our stories show pain and suffering but in the end, give viewers a glimpse of hope. As we demonstrate that obstacles and fear may be overcome, we help mend the broken African spirit,” Garingan said.

For more than a decade, ISD has been the premier source of top quality programs from the Philippines, making ABS-CBN Global the first and the biggest Philippine content distributor in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia-Pacific and the leading Asian distributor in Africa.

Through ISD, Kapamilya shows have become so popular among non-Filipinos that ABS-CBN is now regarded as a market mover and thought leader in the field of broadcasting in Africa. In fact, Garingan recently attended a content and distribution forum to speak in front of leading journalists and broadcasters in Africa and discuss the social and ethical responsibilities of media professionals.

Indeed, ABS-CBN has made its mark in the global market. Through the efforts of ABS-CBN Global’s International Sales and Distribution group, homegrown Pinoy entertainment has been given a chance to shine on the global stage.

No-fly zone

Philippine Daily Inquirer

NO PHILIPPINE CARRIER HAS FLOWN DIRECT TO Europe since 1999, but it doesn’t matter. The ban imposed by the European Union on all airlines based in the Philippines, effective on April 1, is a body blow to Philippine investment and tourism prospects, as well as to the reputation of Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and other carriers.

A story carried in the Jakarta Globe, read in a country that only recently had a similar ban on its main carrier lifted, drew a vivid picture. “Philippines’ airlines whacked by European ban,” the headline read. (As that headline also proves, PAL has an additional image problem abroad, because of its generic name and flagship status.)

The ban, contained in a “legal notice” dated March 30, applies to “all air carriers certified by the authorities with responsibility for regulatory oversight of the Philippines.” It names 47 air carriers, including the industry leaders PAL and Cebu Pacific, as well as strictly corporate fleets, including Ayala Aviation Corp., Aerowurks Aerial Spraying Services and F. F. Cruz and Co. But as the scope of application makes clear, the real concern of the European Union is the quality of the certification process supervised by the country’s regulatory agency. The EU ambassador to the Philippines, Alistair MacDonald, explained it thus: “In view of the significant safety concern identified by ICAO [the International Civil Aviation Organization] in relation to the supervisory authority and pending the implementation of adequate corrective actions, including those drawn up in response to our concerns in 2008 but not yet implemented, the [European] Commission considers that the supervisory authority is currently not able to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards, and decided therefore to ban from EU airspace all air carriers licensed in the Philippines until these deficiencies are corrected.”

The legal notice does include the advice that, “Where an airline . . . deems itself to be in conformity with the necessary technical elements and requirements prescribed by the applicable international safety standards, it may request the Commission to commence the procedure for its removal from the list.” MacDonald also said, “The Commission... is ready to examine any information demonstrating progress in the implementation of corrective actions and compliance with international safety standards.”

The government, together with carriers like PAL and Cebu Pacific, must insist on this examination, posthaste. It is possible that a carrier’s safety record will override the EU’s concerns about the regulatory agency, as happened with certain Indonesian airlines. Some two years after a ban on all Indonesian airlines, the country’s flagship Garuda and three other airlines were taken off the list.

EU officials blame lax compliance with international safety standards as the reason for the country’s inclusion in its blacklist. But there is also something amiss in the EU’s decision to limit its focus mainly to African and Asian air carriers. Indeed, the March 30 notice reconfirms the earlier ban on (very) many African carriers, but adds Sudan and the Philippines to the list. This is unfortunate, because airlines with a recent history of accidents, such as Qantas of Australia, or which have suffered an unpardonable security breach, such as Northwest Airlines, the carrier on which the so-called Christmas bomber flew from Amsterdam to Detroit, are not included in the list.

To be sure, the EU holds that “The fact that an airline is not included in the Community list does not, therefore, automatically mean that it meets the applicable safety standards.” Yes, but mere inclusion has already damaged the reputation of the likes of PAL and Cebu Pacific, which adhere to international safety standards.

Rising inflation

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

It is time to throw a little cold water on some of the good feelings about the economy. Yes, there is some bad news that requires some caution for the future. Well, not caution exactly, but some careful thought.

The March 2010 inflation numbers for the Philippines showed prices rising 4.4 percent. Normally I would not even care about that number because I know that inflation in the Philippines is not driven be the “normal” factor of poor government monetary policy and action. The government always keeps a very sensible and prudent approach to the printing of money, unlike in the West.

However, I also know that inflation in the country is driven by high fuel prices, and that is exactly why the March inflation number was over 4 percent. The fuel, light and water component of the inflation index went up 14.6 percent because of higher charges in electricity as well as gasoline and diesel.

There is an absolute truism about the Philippine economy. Inflation rides on oil prices. Oil prices have been going higher. Since the end of 2009, oil has risen from $70 per barrel to $85 per barrel, an increase of about 20 percent. Not good for our inflation rate.

To put things in peso terms, a barrel of oil in late 2009 cost us about P3,255; based on the latest peso exchange rate, that same barrel is priced at P3,820. That is an increase of about 17 percent in peso pricing.

It must be remembered that the primary mandate of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and its policies is to keep inflation under control and manageable. Further, the BSP is committed to price stability.

While the most common method that central banks use to try to manipulate prices and the economy is through moving interest rates higher and lower and by printing or not printing money, the BSP uses the manipulation of the peso exchange rate as its primary inflation-control mechanism. And it works well.

I have the highest regard for the professionalism, intelligence and competency that the BSP has exhibited over the last 15 years or so. The policy implementation by the BSP in conjunction with the Department of Finance has kept this economy from going down the drain on numerous occasions. Too bad the rest of government is not run the same way.

As oil prices have gone up (an economic killer), the BSP has allowed the peso to appreciate, although a little late in the oil-price increase run.

I know that the BSP has been hoping that the oil increase up to $75-78 would be only temporary. But now the oil-price increase cannot be ignored and the peso is going higher. The BSP must balance the needs of all sectors of the economy with regard to the peso. But even with all the complaining by the export sector of a rising peso and the potential loss of export-price competitiveness, the BSP knows that the exporters (and remittance receivers) will be just as badly hurt if gasoline goes 20 percent higher as it easily could if the peso is too low.

The BSP has refrained from allowing the peso to appreciate because there is no supply/demand reason for oil to be at $85. What you read in the newspapers about oil going higher because the US economy is getting better is pure nonsense. Fuel inventories continue to be high in the West because consumption is down.

What has caused higher prices is a growing mistrust in the value for paper money.

The dollar has been going up. That should bring oil prices down or at least keep prices flat. But the only reason the dollar is going up is that the euro has been crashing because of the knowledge that billions of euros are going to have to be printed to bail out Greece and the rest of the failing economies in Europe.

Yet the European situation is just the beginning of the bailouts and the massive printing in large quantities of more paper currencies. The state of California, were it not part of the US, is the eighth-largest economy in the world. And the California state government is bankrupt with about $68 billion in debt. That is nothing when compared to Greece with some $400 billion of problem debt.

But when you factor in all the US states with debt- paying problems and all the major cities, the debt bailout will potentially be huge, creating another wave of dollar weakness. Now this scenario may or may not happen over the next months, but oil is pricing a risk factor in, just in case all currencies, including the dollar, weaken against general commodity prices like gold and oil.

Commodity prices look like they are ready for a substantial breakout to the upside. This would mean the attractiveness of the major currencies is poor. Smaller currencies like the peso would trade almost like a commodity, trending higher, which would offset the dollar price increase of oil.

Over the next few months, we will probably see rising world oil prices to $100 and perhaps higher. The peso will continue to go up. The stock market will continue its rally.

It is also likely the Chinese will slightly appreciate the renminbi, causing more dollar weakness.

Rising oil and a weakening dollar will put great pressure on the US economy which, could bring another round of sovereign-debt failures, a bursting of the Chinese bubble, and a rush to safety which could be very favorable to less-affected nations like the Philippines.

There is not any substantial bad news on the horizon for the Philippines. But some caution may be warranted.

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End-March 2010 GIR Hits US$46.0 Billion Mark

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

The country’s gross international reserves (GIR) level as of end-March 2010 rose to US$46.2 billion, higher by about US$400 million than the end-February 2010 level of US$45.8 billion, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today.

The increase in the preliminary GIR level was due primarily to inflows from the foreign currency deposits by the National Government (NG) and authorized agent banks (AABs) as well as income from the BSP’s investments abroad. The NG’s deposits consisted mainly of proceeds from the issuance of Samurai Bonds and other foreign borrowings. These receipts were, in turn, offset by outflows arising from the payment of maturing foreign exchange obligations of the National Government.

The current GIR level could cover 9.1 months of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It is also equivalent to 11.5 times the country’s short-term external debt based on original maturity and 5.2 times based on residual maturity.1

Net international reserves (NIR), which include revaluation of reserve assets and reserve-related liabilities, likewise rose to US$46.2 billion as of end-March 2010, up by US$400 million from the previous month’s level of US$45.8 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP’s GIR and total short-term liabilities.


1 Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Sayles pitch for RP

Filmmaker feels it’s vital to shoot in Bohol
By Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

TAGBILARAN CITY, Philippines—It was Bohol or bust, as far as US independent filmmaker John Sayles was concerned.

Sayles, who just finished his 33-day shoot of the historical drama “Baryo” in the Visayan province, told Inquirer it was important for him to shoot his film in the Philippines.

After all, it was about the Philippine-American war at the turn of the 20th century.

He said he couldn’t see how Queensland, Australia or Shanghai, China could’ve doubled for the Philippines, as was the case in the World War II film “The Great Raid.”

The fiercely independent Sayles insisted on shooting in the actual country that was the setting of his screenplay inspired by his yet-to-be-published nonfiction book “A Moment in the Sun.”

“I felt I could only make this film here,” he said. “Plus, the Philippines has a real movie industry. Our cast and crew are film professionals who’ve experienced working in every type of movie.”

Government assistance

The Film Development Council of the Philippines was also helpful, he related. “The government facilitated getting people and things in and out of Bohol … and also helped in some tax structures.”

Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. was also accommodating.

“There’s a municipal ordinance that seeks to promote film production and arts and culture in Maribojoc (the film’s main location),” Evasco said.

Safe to shoot

Sayles asserted that it’s safe to shoot in the Philippines, contrary to the common impression in Hollywood.

“It’s just crazy. Insurance companies get paranoid and generalize,” he said. “They don’t realize that the Philippines is composed of thousands of islands.”

When something happens in Mindanao, it doesn’t necessarily affect Bohol, he explained.

Not that Sayles would turn his back on a challenge.

He shot in Mexico (“Men with Guns”) at a time when the military was battling with rebels. “There was a small revolution 15 miles away from us,” he quipped. “But I’m very careful about things like that.”

Rediscovering RP

After “Baryo,” he hopes more foreign productions would consider the Philippines as location.

“I think people will start rediscovering the Philippines,” he said. “A lot of American movies were shot here in the 1970s. My friend (and Oscar winner) Jonathan Demme shot here. So did Oliver Stone.”

According to producer and partner Maggie Renzi, Sayles has decided to stay in Bohol to edit “Baryo.”

Peso breaks into ‘44’ territory

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

THE peso jumped into the 44-per-US dollar territory on Tuesday, hitting its strongest in nearly 20 months, as funds continued flowing into Asian markets amid growing optimism about economic- growth prospects in the region.

Investor interest in Asian currencies was further lifted after the Reserve Bank of Australia lifted interest rates by 25 basis points on Tuesday, and by upbeat data suggesting the US recovery from recession was intact, traders said.

The Philippine unit rose 0.2 percent to 44.93 against the dollar, from Monday’s close of 45.01. It hit a high of 44.82 early in the session.

A total $1.026 billion changed hands on the electronic trading platform of the Philippine Dealing & Exchange Corp., 29 percent higher compared with the previous session’s volume of $796.29 million.

Traders said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas was rumored buying dollars from the market on Tuesday to slow the peso’s rise. The central bank was recently seen intervening with substantial dollar purchases.

“I think the peso appreciation trend will continue given the improving Philippine economic fundamentals and the onset of the remittance season,” said Marcelo Ayes, senior vice president and head of the financial-markets group at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

Overseas Filipinos are expected to send home more money for the expenses of their children before schools open in June.

“The peso is supported by inflows,” he said.

Investor appetite for risky but high-yielding assets in Asia continued to rise, with sentiment lifted by Friday’s upbeat US employment figures and better-than-expected data on services and home sales released on Monday.

Jose Arnulfo Veloso, head of treasury at HSBC Philippines, said Asian currencies were further boosted by the rate-hike move of Australia.

The rate hike, analysts said, suggested that economic growth in the region was gaining momentum. Other central banks in Asia have also lifted interest rates this year, including those of Malaysia and India.

DBS Bank of Singapore said the upward surge in industrial output in Asia that has been underway for more than a year now shows absolutely no sign of letting up.

The rest of the world is recovering and that adds some gas to Asia’s fire, both in terms of fundamental demand and improving confidence, DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, said in a note.

“The market may test 44.70. If that is breached, the next key level is 44.50,î Ayes said. We see the peso hitting a high of 43.75 by May.

San Miguel entering expressway, train projects

E. N. J. David

DIVERSIFIED conglomerate San Miguel Corp. yesterday confirmed it had begun the process to acquire shares in the proponents of the North Luzon East Expressway (NLEE) and the Metro Rail Transit 7 (MRT-7) projects, in a bid to gain a foothold in the infrastructure sector.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, San Miguel said it was in talks with Ausphil Tollways Corp. to acquire 67% of the company.

San Miguel was previously reported to have acquired a majority stake in Ausphil Tollways, and would supposedly be involved in securing land for the expressway.

The NLEE will run from Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to Bulacan. The first phase of the project involves construction of an 18.9-kilometer road from Quezon City to Norzagaray in Bulacan. The second phase involves the construction of a 36.9-kilometer road from Norzagaray to Nueva Ecija.

San Miguel also disclosed it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Universal LRT Corp. for a majority stake.

“The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr. Salvador Zamora III for the purchase of a majority stake in the [MRT-7] Project,” the food-to-power conglomerate said.

Universal LRT is the main proponent of the MRT-7. Previously, it said financial adviser Morgan Stanley had approached San Miguel to be a part of the project.

The MRT-7 will be a build, transfer, operate, maintain, and manage project for a rail transit line that will extend from North EDSA or Epifanio de los Santos Avenue at the end of the MRT Line 3, to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan with 14 stations: North EDSA, Quezon Memorial Circle, University Avenue near the University of the Philippines, Tandang Sora, Don Antonio, Batasan, Manggahan, Doña Carmen, Regalado, Mindanao Avenue, Quirino, Sacred Heart, Tala and San Jose del Monte.

A transport terminal for buses will also be built in San Jose del Monte.

The proponent of the MRT-7 is seeking a 25-year concession, and expects to complete the line by 2013. Universal LRT is a consortium of the Tranzen Group, EEI Corp. and SM Prime Holdings. The consortium was granted the right to proceed with the project in 2008.

San Miguel also confirmed that it had secured the option to increase its stake in Private Infrastructure Development Corp. (PIDC) to 51% from 35% through subsidiary Rapid Thoroughfares, Inc. PIDC is a consortium of construction companies set to build the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway.

San Miguel’s “A” shares closed at P74.00 apiece in yesterday’s trading, up by 0.7% from its previous close of P73.50. “B” shares remained at P74.00.

RP is No. 2 outsourcing nation in the world

Manila Bulletin

Although the Philippines remains largely unknown to many global clients, it was the Number 2 offshore outsourcing nation in the world next to India while the National Capital Region (NCR) of Manila ranked number 4 among outsourcing cities after Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, confirmed the 2009 Global Services/Tholons Top 50 Emerging Outsourcing Cities report.

While the Philippines has only a tenth of India’s population, it has taken 15 percent of the offshore Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) market, just under one third of India’s offshore BPO market.

Even as businesses reeled from the global recession, the country’s BPO sector has continued to post double digit growth every year, stressed Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) CEO and President Oscar Sanez. “We have seen the strength and resilience of this industry despite the crisis.”

Last year, the contact center sector grew 20 per cent in revenues versus its 14 per cent growth in 2008. Overall, the BPO industry grew 19 per cent and hauled in $7 Billion revenues. “We are employing 442,000 people, of whom 70,000 entered the workforce in 2009. The industry currently contributes to 5 per cent of the Philippines Gross Domestic Product.”

For 2010, the BPO sector targets 26 per cent growth and projects revenues will total $9.5 Billion, according to the BPAP President. “We are back to our ratio of conducting three to four investor meetings a week. Some of those we win, some we don’t, but overall, we have seen the opening of many delivery centers last year. Now, there’s a surge of new inquiries about the Philippines.”

Significantly, investors believe that the BPO industry is “part of the solution to the crisis”, he underscored. “Many of them, under pressure to reduce their cost structure, have considered outsourcing and offshoring to boost their competitiveness.”

RP financial system resilient, says IMF

Manila Bulletin

The International Monetary Fund said the Philippines' financial system appears resilient to a broad range of macroeconomic risks, helped largely by the considerable strengthening of local banks that dominate the financial sector.

"Since the Asian crisis of the late 1990s, a benign economic environment, bank restructuring and consolidation, and the shedding of non-performing assets have all helped improve bank soundness," the IMF said in an update to its Financial System Stability Assessment for the Philippines, released Monday.

"Partly as a result, the impact of the current global crisis has thus far been milder than initially expected. Although macroeconomic risks remain elevated, the banking system is well-capitalized and liquid, and asset quality is generally high," the IMF said.

Banks account for about two-thirds of the Philippine financial system's assets.

Stress tests suggest that the 10 largest banks are resilient to a wide range of credit, market and liquidity risks, the IMF said.

Still, it said that asset quality of thrift, cooperative and rural banks is weaker and provisions are low.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Trains to Alabang; New bus scheme eyed on C-5

Jeremiah de Guzman and Rio N. Araja
Manila Standard

Philippine National Railways commuter service up to Alabang kicks off today to complete phase one of the NorthRail-SouthRail Linkage while C-5 gears up for the bus rapid transport to avoid the pitfalls of Edsa.

In an interview, general manager Manuel Andal said trips would cover the stretch from Tutuban in Tondo, Manila to Parañaque City.

“We’ll start our operation up to Alabang with 36 trains a day or 18 trains back and forth,” he said, noting that six sets of trains or 18 coaches will be fielded.

The first trains leave Tutuban and Alabang simultaneously 6 a.m.; the last trains leave their respective terminals at 7 p.m. daily.

Executive director Angelito Vergel de Dios, of the Metro Manila Development Authority, said the 19.7-kilometer C-5 road would make use of lessons learned from the Organized Bus Route Scheme of Edsa and its different bus firms competing for riders.

“We will be conducting a feasibility study to determine the viability of a bus rapid transit,” he said.

Then Chairman Bayani Fernando visited Latin America to observe the BRT system, which involved non-reliance on commissions as basis for setting the take-home pay of drivers and conductors.

The model has inner lanes devoted to the BRT with both outer lanes used by regular traffic.

“We have to regulate C-5,” De Dios said, calling for MMDA’s control of the circumferential route that joins the Coastal Road road to Cavite, along with South Luzon and North Luzon expressways.

He said Edsa gridlock was mainly due to the clutter of 90 bus operators doing business on limited space.

The $50-million initial NorthRail-SouthRail phase was bankrolled by Korean Export-Import Bank.

In March last year, 39th National Economic Development Authority Board confirmed the Investment Coordination Committee’s approval of a supplemental loan of $15 million or P645 million for the project.

The 34-km linkage’s delivery in November 2009 was delayed given a completion of around 90 percent at the time.

“Phase II of the Linkage Project is still pending with the [National Economic and Development Authority] Board,” Andal said.

At least $80.23 million would be needed for the rehabilitation and double tracking of the 27-km Alabang to Calamba of the PNR South Commuter Line along with the purchase of five train sets of three coaches each.

Biz outlook at 14-yr high

MV de Leon
Business Mirror

WITH the upcoming elections bringing hopes for a “fresh wind of change,” optimism of the country’s top businesses in the economy soared to a 14-year high, according to the latest Executive Outlook Survey of the Makati Business Club (MBC).

In the survey conducted last month, 89 percent of the respondents, who all belong to the MBC, believe that economic growth will be better this year compared with the 0.9-percent gross domestic product (GDP) expansion recorded in 2009


“This percentage of optimistic respondents is the highest in 14 years, surpassed only in July 1996 when 93.9 percent of respondents believed economic growth would be higher than the previous year,” the MBC said in a statement.

Alberto Lim, MBC executive director, said that besides the base effect considering last year’s 11-year low GDP growth, businesses are also anticipating a “fresh wind of change” with the May elections.

However, Lim said this optimism could easily be erased if businesses are not satisfied with the outcome of the elections.

“The assumption is there will be change, so the underlying reason for the confidence [lies in] the changes that will be brought by the elections. If the result of the election is not good, then that confidence will change. At least right now, there is hope because there is opportunity for change unlike last year,” Lim told the BusinessMirror.

In the 2009 survey, only 2 percent expected the 2009 economic performance to surpass the 2008 GDP growth rate.

This year, majority of respondents foresee a more favorable trend in 2010 for most of the other major economic indicators.

These include a stable peso (36.5 percent), higher levels of investments (66.2 percent), exports (74.3 percent), and imports (73.0 percent). M.V. de Leon

Second-quarter thoughts

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

As we enter the second quarter of 2010, it might be helpful to look back at the first quarter, creating some sort of a report card for the economy and the nation.

But that would be completely boring and would simply be repeating all the things that you already know. The stock market is up. The peso is up. Remittances are up. Exports are up. Imports are up. Foreign fund inflow is up. Investment is up. What else do you need to know?

Maybe it would make more sense to look at what the second quarter might hold for the nation.

The big event for the next three months will be the election and inauguration of a president and countless other national and local officials. Unfortunately, again the election focuses on character rather than competency, on popularity rather than policy.

Almost everything connected to the political process makes the election for president a beauty contest. Although it seems that everyone complains about that fact, everyone encourages the beauty-pageant mentality. The media breathlessly announce the latest opinion polls on the candidates. And the survey itself does not do anything to enhance the political discussion or help change the way voters choose a candidate. The only question asked is “If the elections were held today, whom would you most probably vote for?”

Voters are the most important and least respected part of the political process. If the surveys were honest, they would ask questions like “What do you think of Candidate A’s singing?” or “Which candidate has the best campaign colors?”

Why not ask the voters “Which candidate has the best ideas for improving the economy?” or “Which candidate has the best ideas for improving peace and order in Mindanao?”

Two things would then happen. The voters might start thinking about issues and policy and not about popularity. Further, if the candidates received a low rating on “The Issues,” they might start addressing the issues with solid and precise policy ideas instead of thinking about which starlet would better dress up their campaign sorties.

When it comes to policy, we get general statements that “Government must do more to improve the economy.” When they move into specifics, worst case is to form some sort of committee to talk about it, hold hands together, and hope real hard for an effective agenda. The best case of policy discussion goes only a little farther. “We need to help small and medium enterprises with additional government funding and assistance.” Okay, what exactly does that mean and how do we do it efficiently and effectively, and how is it paid for?

Electing government leaders based on something other than clearly stated policy ideas and programs is fine. However, then no one has the right to complain when the elected official does not have any ideas or when those ideas are a failure. You get what you pay or vote for.

On to a more enjoyable topic. The Philippine stock market is poised and getting ready to reach to and break above the historic high. It is clear in the last three months that the economy has generated an abundance of excess cash that is finding its way into the stock market. Forget all the expert nonsense of whether or not stock prices are too high or too low. This rally is not about current valuation. It is all about future corporate value. It has taken hundreds of millions of pesos of investment in the Philippine Stock Exchange to raise prices this high and it will takes hundreds of millions more over the next months to go even higher. But it is going to happen.

Why is money flowing into the stock market? Well, excess cash is not going overseas to buy condos in San Francisco, that’s for sure. In spite of the poverty problem, overall per-capita income is rising in the country. More money in the broad economy means more money in the stock market. Investors are looking not only at future corporate earnings, but they are looking at companies increasing their return on equity and their return on investment. What that means is that local Filipino firms are making more money based on the amount of worth of their company. As a company makes more return on the amount of capital in the company, the value of that company becomes greater reflecting in a higher stock price.

Finally, investors are looking at the amount of confidence local companies have in their own future. When you see large companies increasing their capital expenditure and making significant reorganizations in their structure, these are companies that are optimistic about the months to come.

Having said all these nice things about the Philippine economy, there is one factor that has been slow to rally, and that is bank lending. Interest rates have been very low this past year. Conventional wisdom would say that if the banks can borrow at low rates, then they would tend to be aggressive lenders. Not in the Philippines.

Bank lending has been stagnant in light of the increasing economic activity. While local banks are out of the internal financial markets for the most part, neither have they increased lending activity domestically. I believe that over the next three to six months, banks will move to put more money into the economy through their lending.

Bank earnings have been fine but not growing because of their restrained lending. The banks need to increase their business activity to keep pace with the general economic growth. Increased lending by the banks will in turn increase overall business activity.

The first quarter is history and it was a good beginning to 2010. The second quarter should be a continuation of this established trend.

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Razon enters Pagcor ‘Bay Shore’ project

ENJ David

BUSINESSMAN ENRIQUE K. Razon, Jr., head of multinational port operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), has bought a gaming company that will build a casino at the Bagong Nayong Pilipino project.

State-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. expects to start construction at the Bagong Nayong Pilipino project later this year. Four firms have already been given casino licenses, including Bloombury Investment Holdings, Inc.

In a statement, Mr. Razon said he had acquired a controlling stake in Bloombury Investment Holdings, Inc. from Jose Ch. Alvarez, owner of Columbian Motors Corp.

“[Mr. Razon] has acquired a controlling interest in Bloombury from fellow businessman Jose Ch. Alvarez, and is set to infuse fresh equity of P5 billion or $100 million,” the statement said.

Bloombury is one of four companies granted a provisional license by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to operate and establish gaming and entertainment facilities at the Bay Shore Bagong Nayong Pilipino Entertainment City project at the Manila Bay Reclamation Area in Parañaque.

Other companies granted licenses were Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., the partnership between the Andrew L. Tan-led Alliance Global, Inc. and casino-resort operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd., SM Investments Corp. and Universal Entertainment Corp. (formerly Azure Corp.), the leading manufacturer of gaming machines worldwide and co-investor in the Wynn chain of casino-hotels in Las Vegas and Macau.

Rafael Butch A. Francisco, president and chief operating officer of Pagcor, earlier said construction at the Bay Shore Entertainment City was expected to begin in the latter part of the year.

Mr. Razon’s entry into the Pagcor project came after his exit from the power transmission business. Last month, Henry Sy, Jr.’s OneTaipan Holdings, Inc. bought Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. from Mr. Razon’s group for $350 million.

Monte Oro owns 30% of National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, the private utility that runs the country’s power transmission highway.

Mr. Razon’s statement said Bloombury was in the final stages of design development for its project in Bay Shore.

“Construction is expected to commence by the third quarter of this year,” at an estimated cost of $400 million for the first phase.

Upon completion, “the complex will include two five-star luxury hotel towers of over 1,000 rooms within a world-class entertainment and convention facility,” the statement read.

The complex will be “fully operational in two years and is expected to stimulate growth not only in the hotel and restaurant sector, but also in the construction and services sectors.”

Mr. Razon’s ICTSI operates the Manila International Container Terminal. Other key operations are in Brazil, Poland, Ecuador and Madagascar.

At the end of 2009, ICTSI’s revenues dropped to $421.7 million, or 9% from $463.1 million in 2008. Net income fell by 15% to $54.9 million in 2009 from the $64.2 million in the previous year due to the decline in global trade.

Shares in ICTSI closed at P23.50 apiece in yesterday’s trading, up 1.07% from the previous close of P23.25.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Presidential, Vice Presidential bets visit NPO, Smartmatic warehouse (March 11, 2010)

Voters Education Animation Project



First Pacific’s Philippine investments last year adds up to about $1.3 billion

Miguel R. Camus
Business Mirror

HONG KONG-based conglomerate First Pacific Co. Ltd.,  led by  businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan,  invested $1.3 billion or almost P60 billion in the Philippines last year after snapping up key power and mining assets.

In a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last month, First Pacific said the bulk of the capital spending was used to make its ownership debut in power retailer Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and to strengthen its hold over gold and copper miner Philex Mining Corp.

In particular, First Pacific invested the lion’s share, or $934 million, to enter Meralco through Pilipino Telephone Corp. (Piltel), a unit of telco giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) unit and Metro Pacific Investments Corp., after it bought shares equivalent to 34.5 percent in the country’s largest electricity distributor.

First Pacific is a part owner of PLDT and is also the parent company of Philippine holding firm Metro Pacific, which has interests in toll road, hospital, water supply and port operation businesses.

Along with local affiliate Two Rivers Pacific Holdings Corp., First Pacific also spent $313 million to buy an additional 20.6 percent of Philex, almost half of which was acquired through a block sale from  a group led by former trade minister Roberto V. Ongpin.

The foreign conglomerate likewise spent another $69 million to boost Philex’s ownership in the Silangan Mindanao Mining Co. Inc. in Northern Mindanao and to increase its stake in Pitkin Petroleum Plc. to a fifth.

The buying spree last year was bigger than the $1 billion spent on Philippine-based investments in 2008.

“Following a period of significant investment activities, the company’s focus remains intently on improving performance of the group’s businesses and delivering higher profits and value in 2010,” First Pacific told the Hong Kong bourse.

This, as the group said it will  “continue to explore investment opportunities in existing core businesses across the region.”

Just three months into 2010, acquisition hungry First Pacific further bolstered its ownership in Philex and Meralco.

In late January, First Pacific, through Two Rivers, secured another 5.9 percent of Philex from state-run pension fund Government Service Insurance System for P6 billion.

The transaction brought the group’s ownership to 46.6 percent, sealing its place as the single-largest shareholder in the country’s largest miner.

In addition, Metro Pacific last week also concluded a P22.4-billion deal to buy another 6.6 percent of Meralco from Lopez-led First Philippine Holdings Corp. This brings the First Pacific Group’s holdings in the power retailer to over 41 percent.

Rival San Miguel Corp., which is also diversifying into power, mining and infrastructure, owns 27 percent of Meralco.

As part of the plan, the group plans to transfer most of its Meralco shares this year to newly formed holding company, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings Inc.

Beacon Electric already holds a fifth of Meralco and plans to raise this to 34.8 percent, or just shy of the tender offer rule, when Piltel transfers a 13.7-percent Meralco stake in May this year.  

The consolidation of shares under one company will allow the holding firm to access debt financing for any potential Meralco purchases in the future, using its own shares in the power retailer as collateral.

First Pacific said recurring profit grew 20 percent last year to $286.6 million. This was primarily boosted by the $205.3 million contribution of PLDT to the group.

First Pacific also owns Indonesia-based PT Indofood Sukses Makmur Tbk, a listed food manufacturer and distributor.

The company is presently chaired by Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim.

Smart allots P16.4 billion for capex

Lenie Lectura
Business Mirror

SMART Communications Inc. has programmed P16.4 billion for capital expenditures (capex) this year, 3.8-percent higher than last year’s P15.8 billion.  

The cellular firm said capital spending this year will be focused on expanding and upgrading the company’s transmission network facilities to meet increased demand for cellular and broadband services.

Smart’s capex forms part of its parent firm’s P28.6-billion allotment for spending this year. The budget of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) for consolidated capex requirements is approximately P28.6 billion. Of this amount, approximately P16.4 billion is allocated to Smart, about P10.8 billion to PLDT and the remaining amount is for the phone giant’s other subsidiaries.

Smart reported that due to its access to PLDT’s network assets, the cellular firm has been able to achieve significant capex than its current competitors. This, it said, translates to an improved ability to price competitively and target the mass market subscriber base, while retaining profitability. Based on existing equipment purchase contracts, Smart expects incremental capex per net additional subscriber to amount to less than $50.

“For 2010, we expect that cash from operations should enable us to increase the level of our capex for the continued expansion and upgrade of our network infrastructure. We expect to make additional investments in our core facilities to maximize existing technologies and increase capacity to accommodate expected continued increases in call volumes as a result of unlimited voice offerings and other promotions,” PLDT said.  

The phone giant said capital spending may be adjusted depending on “future strategic initiatives.

“We may be required to finance a portion of our future capital expenditures from external financing sources, which have not yet been fully arranged. There can be no assurance that financing for new projects will be available on terms acceptable to us or at all. If we cannot complete our development programs and other capital projects, our growth, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected,” PLDT reported.

The cellular business faces challenges given the high market penetration, the increasing preference for unlimited offers and multiple SIM ownership, as well as competition from social networking and broadband.

The PLDT Group’s total cellular subscriber base for 2009 grew to 41.3 million subscribers, a 17-percent growth year-on-year. Smart added 6.1 million subscribers, compared with 5.2 million in 2008. Smart Buddy recorded net additions of over 1.6 million subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2009 to end the year with 24.2 million subscribers while Talk ‘N Text added approximately 500,000 subscribers to end 2009 with 17.1 million subscribers.

A large part of the PLDT Group’s total revenues is currently derived from cellular services. Wireless service revenues rose to P95.8 billion in 2009, 2-percent higher than the P93.6 billion reported in 2008.

The cellular penetration rate is estimated to have reached about 83 percent, counting multiple SIM card ownership.

“The growth of the cellular communications market depends on many factors beyond our control, including the continued introduction of new and enhanced cellular devices, the price levels of cellular handsets, consumer preferences and amount of disposable income of existing and potential subscribers. Any economic, technological or other developments resulting in a reduction in demand for cellular services may harm our business,” PLDT said.  

Smart continues to invest in its cellular and multi-platform broadband networks while upgrading its existing transmission, core and access facilities.

Smart’s 3G (third generation) mobile services and high-speed packet access networks now cover 50 and 44 percent of the country’s population, respectively.

The 3G network revolutionizes mobile technology by providing more capacity, faster data rates and richer data and video applications. Smart has been deploying its 3G network in urban areas where there is a demand for mobile broadband applications and where 3G mobile units are more likely to be available. Spectrum constraints, said the cellular firm, will not affect Smart’s expansion plans for GSM (global system for mobile communications) in the future.

Smart was awarded a 3G license by the NTC in 2005 and received the largest radio frequency allocation of 15 megahertz (MHz). Smart chose the 1920-1935 MHz and 2110-2125 MHz spectrum, the range that would best enable it to rapidly deploy its 3G network nationwide and at the same time offer the highest quality of 3G service.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Greetings from Pope Benedict XVI


Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra! The resurrection of Christ is our hope! This the Church proclaims today with joy. She announces the hope that is now firm and invincible because God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. She communicates the hope that she carries in her heart and wishes to share with all people in every place, especially where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith and their commitment to justice and peace. She invokes the hope that can call forth the courage to do good, even when it costs, especially when it costs.

Today the Church sings “the day that the Lord has made”, and she summons people to joy.

Today the Church calls in prayer upon Mary, Star of Hope, asking her to guide humanity towards the safe haven of salvation which is the heart of Christ, the paschal Victim, the Lamb who has “redeemed the world”, the Innocent one who has “reconciled us sinners with the Father”. To him, our victorious King, to him who is crucified and risen, we sing out with joy our Alleluia!

--Easter 2009

Seair nears 3-M passenger mark as it turns 15

By Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

What should a company do when bread and butter business is encroached upon by larger rivals with more money to burn?

Specifically, what should an airline do when the lucrative route that it specializes in is invaded by rivals that can deploy more flights with larger aircraft that can carry more passengers?

For niche carrier Southeast Asian Airlines, the answer is simple: find new markets and new routes to develop, while retaining as its core business, its dominance in the Manila-Boracay air service.

“What we’re doing is developing other tourist routes to areas that are either underserved or those that have been ignored altogether,” says Seair co-founder and co-owner Nikos Gitsis.

“At the same time, we continue to focus on Boracay which is really our most important market at this time,” he adds.

Helping tourism

Gitsis cites the airline’s flights to Basco, Batanes—the northernmost province of the Philippines—which has long been neglected by other carriers, but is now slowly coming back to life as a tourist destination with Seair’s help.

“We do serve a critical service to the Philippines which is to provide service to these smaller, niche destinations,” he says. “That’s where we continue to use our strength.”

Gitsis—a Greek national who founded Seair 15 years ago with German Iren Dornier and a group of Filipino investors led by Tomas Lopez Jr.—conceded that the airline’s business model is not a cheap one to operate, often involving a significant amount of capital and energy to develop new routes.

“We have to spend money [to create interest in new destinations],” he says. “And when we do break open the market, everyone comes in. That’s our advantage and disadvantage as a niche carrier.”

According to Dornier, the case of Basco is a prime example of a Seair-style operation that is simultaneously an important business proposition and a vital part of the overall tourism development program of the country.

“We are working with various stakeholders here, from the national government, the local government, as well as the private businesses in the locality,” he says.

No smooth sailing

Nonetheless, things haven’t been smooth sailing for Seair in the recent year, just like all other players, as the airline industry struggled with the high cost of fuel and the decline in air travel brought about by the global financial crisis.

“We’re happy that we got past the last couple of years which were very difficult for all airlines,” Gitsis says. “Now we’re the second oldest airline in the Philippines. We’ve turned 15.”

According to the company, it posted record-breaking ticket sales from January to February of 2010, more than 40 percent than what it generated for the same period in 2009. The growth was attributed to an enhanced online ticketing system, the longest continuous—and more importantly, reliable—direct flight to Caticlan, improved passenger services such as complimentary transfers, and the development of new destinations.

“It looks very promising now,” he says. “The last few months have been very promising for Seair. Moving ahead, we’re looking forward to maintaining that strength and maintaining what we’ve achieved.”

Boracay still strong

Despite the “encroachment” of larger carriers into its lucrative main route, the airline’s founders believe that the Manila-Caticlan service will remain its main revenue driver for the foreseeable future.

“Boracay is the heart of our operation so we serve it with zeal,” Gitsis says. “For other airlines, it’s just another route. They have many others. They provide a mass market approach while we provide specialized service.”

From its humble beginnings as a company ferrying passengers and cargo on two nine-seater aircraft to Boracay and Palawan in 1995, it now operates four Dornier 328 turboprop aircraft and six LET 410s, while maintaining two hangars at the Clark Special Economic Zone.

Seair flies to 12 local destinations and, to date, has flown almost three million passengers -- a big number for a small airline flying to “small” destinations.

P164-million vital projects eyed for Samal Island

Manila Bulletin

ISLAND GARDEN CITY OF SAMAL (Igacos), Davao del Norte (PNA) – The local government here is set to implement some P164 million worth of environmental projects that will make sure the island is able to maintain its clean environment despite the influx of tourists and establishments.

Igacos Mayor Aniano Antalan said the Environmental User’s Fee (EUF) which will be collected from all visitors going to the island is expected to raise funds for these projects from various sources.

Antalan said City Ordinance No. 156, Series of 2009, created the EUF – a sustainable revenue-generating mechanism that allows the local government to manage, develop, and protect the environment by charging fees to tourists and visitors in exchange for enjoying the area.

The EUF is appropriately called the “Blue-Green Ticket” which was implemented this Holy Week.
This means that tourists, scuba divers, mountaineers, and mountain bikers who visit the island will have to pay P5 each. However, local residents here will not be charged the EUF.

“We expect to collect at least P1 million from the EUF during that time,” City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Edward Sisor said.

Antalan said they need at least P91 million for the city’s sanitary landfill project, P11.5 million for the waste water treatment facility, P1.5 million for the slaughter house, P6.5 million for the coastal park, P3.5 million for the Penaplata Park, and P50 million for a treatment facility.

He said that local government environmental protection is one of the goals of his administration but they can only do this if they have enough resources to protect the environment, considering the influx of tourists in the area.

Davao Gulf is one of the key biodiversity areas in the world and it could be the last frontier in this part of the globe, he added.

Resort owners and operators on Samal Island are in full support of the environmental projects being implemented by the local government, knowing that it would ultimately benefit the island’s tourism industry.

The island’s business sector is aware of the ecological threats faced by the Gulf as a result of solid waste and wastewater pollution, illegal fishing, and pesticide residues.

The threats were confirmed by Dr. Victor S. Luis, Jr., a consultant of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Philippine Environmental Governance Project Phase 2 or EcoGov.

Meanwhile, Davao City Councilor Leonardo Avila, who is also the chairperson of the Davao Gulf Management Council, said they are aware of the risks being faced by Davao Gulf because of the development in and surrounding the area.

“Davao Gulf is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world and it hosts 17 species of mangroves, 44 species of seaweeds, and at least five species of marine turtle,” Avila said.

He said this alone should convince the local governments and the private sector along the area to be concerned about protecting the environs of the Davao Gulf.

One indication of the increasing pollution in the Davao Gulf area, Avila said is the declining bangus catch which used to be a major livelihood in nearby Panabo City, Davao del Norte.