Saturday, 24 April 2010

Mass Repatriation of Distressed Overseas Filipino Workers

The Working President (448)

GPS installed on police vehicles transporting PCOS machines


Global positioning system (GPS) tracking equipment have been installed on Metro Manila police vehicles that will transport the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and other election paraphernalia to be used in the May 10 elections.

A report on dzXL radio said Metro Manila police Chief Director Roberto Rosales expects the transporting of the election paraphernalia to start April 28.

The Metro Manila police will provide security to the Commission on Elections in transporting the paraphernalia from the Comelec warehouse to 743 polling precincts in Metro Manila.

Expected to be transported are 7,555 PCOS machines, and 6.13 million ballots.

Rosales said the Metro Manila police's Strike Force and Regional Public Safety Management Battalion will form the security convoy team.

Police in Metro Manila cities were also ordered to deploy tactical teams in key routes. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Video update: LRT-MRT--closing the loop

Closing Ceremony of the 31st National Conference of Employers Speech

Meeting the demand of hotels and restaurants

Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS BOTH DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN TOURISM grow at more rapid rates in the next 10 years, there will be an expanding demand for workers in the hotel and restaurant industries. The pressure on our technical training institutions to produce highly-qualified hotel and restaurant workers will be greater, considering that our local tourism industry will have to compete with foreign establishments that have gotten used to hiring Filipino workers. A large portion of our OFWs are actually working as chefs, waiters, food attendants, dining supervisors, bartenders, etc. in both land-based and sea-based tourism establishments all over the world. We have to produce for our own needs and those of the outside world. Filipinos are among the most sought-after workers in the international tourism industry.

A model technical school producing hotel and restaurant workers is the Punlaan School in San Juan, Metro Manila. It is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and has produced hundreds of very high-quality workers for the top hotels and restaurants. It is a Tesda-certified school and has a track record of 100-percent passing rate of all graduates in the four competencies of Commercial Cooking NCII, Housekeeping NCII, Food and Beverage Services NCII, and Baking/Pastry Production NCII.

What is highly appreciated by its partner institutions is not only the attention to details of the students and graduates of Punlaan, which makes them excel in their respective specialized skills. Even more appreciated are the work attitudes and values inculcated meticulously by the faculty and staff of Punlaan, which is a project of the Foundation for Professional Training Inc. and whose spiritual direction is entrusted to the Prelature of Opus Dei. One of the many testimonials about the work attitudes of graduates of Punlaan comes from Martin Lorenzo, president of Pancake House Inc. In the school’s 16th commencement exercises, Lorenzo said in his keynote speech: “Punlaan is a unique choice because this institution imparts not only technical training. It also places an equally strong emphasis on character-building and work ethics which will serve you well as you move on to the next phase of your life. The lesson for us all in whatever field or industry we may choose to participate, our work must be directed towards a happy and fulfilled life with our families and loved ones.”

Those who are trained at Punlaan come from the lower-income households in the country. Thanks to the generous assistance of corporate and individual donors, all the students are on scholarship. To get a flavor of the type of students and the training system of Punlaan, let me quote extensively from one of the graduates, Doriegail Medel, who is now dining supervisor of the Chesa Bianca Swiss Restaurant in Manila: “I am the second among five siblings. My mother is a housewife and my father is a driver. My parents earned just enough for us to eat three meals a day. Unfortunately, my father got sick of tuberculosis so he had to stop working. Being the eldest daughter, I had to stop studying and look for a job to help with the expenses at home and for my father’s medication.

“In 2004, my father passed away. That saddest year of my life, God opened a window by showing me an opportunity to continue my studies through Punlaan School. Luckily, I qualified to be a scholar. In school, though I had difficulty coping with the intensive program, my vision to finish the course inspired me to persevere.

“At the moment, I am employed at Chesa Bianca Swiss Restaurant with the designation of dining supervisor—a challenging role for me .... I am now the breadwinner and pay for family expenses and help send my younger siblings to school. With this achievement and opportunity given to me, I am thankful and see myself serving the industry for a long time.”

This story has been multiplied scores of times with individuals in similar circumstances—like Lorielyn Stanislao (Hyatt Hotel and Casino), Josephine Torate (pastry chef, CAV Wine Shop), Teresa Mendoza (captain waitress in Manila Peninsula), Maribel Zamora (cruise liner), and many others. Young girls coming from families with meager economic means have received training, human and spiritual formation so that they have succeeded in obtaining dignified employment in one of the most promising industries in the coming decades. Punlaan’s dual training program, which combines classroom and theoretical instruction with actual on-the-job training at cooperating enterprises should be a model for other technical schools under Tesda’s supervision. This training method assures an ideal match between the curriculum of schools and the actual needs of industry. Those who are interested to know more about Punlaan can go to the website or call 727-0581 or email

Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific. For comments, his email address is

Friday, 23 April 2010

Links on Russian Antonov-12 crash in the Philippines

Cargo Plane Crashes In The Philippines; 3 Dead

Last minutes of cargo plane, on video

Black box of Russian-made plane recovered

Impact of PGMA’s economic reforms will still be felt years after – business leaders

The country’s business leaders today said the full benefits of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s economic and social reforms will continue to be felt in years to come.

“While we are already reaping the benefits of the President’s economic and social reforms at this time, the full result will be felt by generations to come,” said Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Francis Chua.

Chua said the President’s economic and social reforms were made “even at the expense of political capital,” but which preserved and sustained jobs and attained industrial peace, while businesses and investments continued to grow despite the global crisis.

The President was the guest of honor and speaker at today’s closing of the two-day 31st National Conference of Employers (NCE) conducted by the Employer’s Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) at the Manila Hotel.

Dr. Alfonso Uy, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc (FFCCCII), said these reforms helped Philippine business cope with and overcome difficulties during the global crisis.

Uy said the peso is strong, exports are up for the fourth straight month, foreign investments are up, and the tourism industry is booming.

In her speech, the President thanked business leaders for their support since 2001 when she assumed the presidency, particularly in her reforms to pump prime the economy and make the Philippines more globally competitive.

With the full support of the local business industry, the President said the Philippines attained a record 37 consecutive quarters of growth while creating nine million new jobs during her administration.

To date, the President said business and investments continue to grow while the country achieved an improved credit rating, having an acceptable debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio at a time when other countries agreed that it is not yet time for an exit strategy from the global crisis policies.

The President said both the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) have also exceeded their targets for the first quarter of this year, while self-rated poverty this year stood at 43 percent, the lowest in 23 years. (PND)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Manila and Athens

Manila Times

THE continued growth of Philippine exports, the return of foreign investments, and the resilience of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances provide a boost to the country’s economic prospects at a time when the after-shocks of the global crisis are still felt in what are the most unlikely places. Take Greece, for example. A cradle of ancient society, it is one of the bulwarks of the Euro Zone, whose currency is a rival to the US dollar’s dominance.

The Athenian society is now amid a debt crisis, similar in some respects to what the Philippines endured during the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship.

But the two countries have little else in common.

Besides being a stable modern democracy, Greece is a developed country belonging to a region that—before the recent global financial crisis—was attempting to challenge the economic hegemony of the US.

The European Union—with some help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—has assembled a bailout, even as Greece is tapping more loans to avert a fiscal meltdown.

That European country’s problems are unsettling financial markets across the globe, including the Philippines.

However, Manila’s strong external payments position—thanks to OFW money, and recently, exports and foreign investments—has kept the peso and the local bourse from succumbing to the volatility generated by external developments like Greece’s fiscal crisis.

Over the past few weeks, economic data have shown that the Philippine economy is regaining its footing—indeed, at a faster pace than earlier forecast.

The most dramatic improvement has been the country’s exports.

The Philippines’ heavily weighted electronics shipments at 60 percent of overall merchandise sales abroad—pilloried for its lack of diversification—suddenly has turned into a source of strength.

Consumer demand in rich countries—that put off new purchases amid the global crisis—has returned with a vengeance.

Westerners are lapping up the latest gadgets, ranging from netbooks to mobile phones and flat-screen TV sets.

This has led to inventory stock-outs among electronic device makers, and in turn to a surge in investments in additional capacity.

Since the start of the year, we have been witness to several expressions of interest among existing economic zone locators to ramp up their production in the Philippines.

Nidec of Japan was the biggest so far, announcing additional investments to increase the output of its Philippine operations.

A few days ago, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced that foreign direct investment (FDI) registered net inflows in the first month of the year.

Although the amount was smaller than in the same month last year, first-quarter data on foreign portfolio investment (FPI) showed a big improvement in inflows year-on-year.

Unlike FDI—which is used to establish new business or expand existing ones—FPI pertain to investments in peso-denominated financial assets, and so create no new jobs.

But FPI is also called “hot money,” which is a precursor of the job-generating FDI. Ergo the surge in FPI inflows in the first quarter is likely to cause an equally huge increase in FDI in the coming months.

Lastly, remittances have not let up even during the depths of the global crisis when everyone thought that recession in OFW host-countries would lead to huge cutbacks in jobs.

True, some lost their jobs, but demand for OFWs kept coming, leading to what the government called a net creation of jobs abroad, especially for skilled Filipinos.

The latest round of the BSP’s Consumer Expectations Survey indicates that households—many of which are recipients of OFW money—are likely to increase purchases of durables on top of the usual non-durable purchases and necessities.

Having said the above, the El Niño remains a threat to a fifth of the economy—the farming sector. With this, the government (the Arroyo administration and the incoming one after the May 10 polls) should still not let up mitigating measures to ensure that the impact of the lingering dry spell won’t offset the expected benefits from the improving external sector.

Aurora ecozone acquires P220-m solar power plant

by Ferdie G. Domingo
Manila Standard

A P220-million solar power plant that can generate enough electricity to power up to 1,000 households will be built in Casiguran, Quezon, with the service contract between the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and the Department of Energy already signed.

The ecozone in Casiguran would be the first ecozone to get a solar power plant developed by Apeco which was pre-qualified by the energy department as a developer of renewable energy, Vitaliano Sabalo Jr., Apeco administrator, told reporters late Monday.

The DOE is convinced that Apeco is legally, technically and financially qualified to enter into such contract. As a developer of renewable energy, Apeco may tap sub-contractors to service the various phases and needs of the project.

The six-month construction of the 1-megawatt solar power plant would start next August in an 81-hectare site in Barangay Esteves, Sabalo said.

The service contract, signed last month by Sabalo and the then Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes at the DOE Energy Complex in Taguig City, was the first to cover solar energy in the country since Republic Act 9513, or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 authored by Senator Edgardo Angara, was passed. Angara, Assistant Energy Secretary Mario Marasigan and Apeco business development chief Althea Acas witnessed the contract signing—one of the last official acts of Reyes as energy secretary.

Apeco is the progeny of the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority or Aseza, renamed to underscore the first and only economic zone in the Pacific, and is the first green ecozone in the country that follows the tenets of all things green such as architecture, urbanism, technology, energy and sustainable community development, according to Acas.

Pinoy student develops cheap oil technology

Manila Bulletin

In a bid to produce cheaper oil as a solution to the increasing cost and harmful effects to the environment of fossil fuel, an 18-year-old student from the University of the Philippines (UP) has developed a technology that uses recycled plastic to harvest algae for oil production.

Janella Mae Salamania, a student of Applied Physics in UP-Diliman, whose project plan on renewable energy “Oilgae Harvesting Using Plastics” that deals on cheaper method of growing and harvesting algae for the production of oil has caught the attention of the Finnish government.

Salamania is among the 30 talented students, and the only Filipino, who was selected recently from 995 students from 65 countries to participate in the Millennium Youth Camp in Helsinki, Finland from June 6 to 13.

She said the applicants for the Youth Camp were asked to produce a project plan as the basis for the selection of the 30 students. Other selected participants came from countries such as Finland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, the United States, Costa Rica, Argentina, India, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In Salamania’s project plan, recycled plastics and other plastic materials will be utilized to harvest algae instead of the expensive method using stainless steel for oil production.

With the use of recycled plastics, “we can actually harvest oil from algae as a source of renewable energy,” Salamania told the Manila Bulletin.

“The harvested oil from algae will serve as an alternative to the expensive and harmful fossil fuel. By using recycled plastics for harvesting oil from algae, we can also help solve the problem on the disposal of non-biodegradable plastics,” Salamania said.

“Algae biofuel has not yet replaced fossil fuel and remains uncommercialized in the country because the mass production of oil from algae remains expensive,” she added.

She said that given the chance, Salamania would present her study to the government “to further study and invest on this kind of renewable energy source.”

“It would be good if the government will help research other cheap materials, aside from plastic, to harvest oil from algae,” she explained.

Salamania pointed out that the use of algae as alternative source of fuel is better than planting jatropha and converting it to fuel.

“When we plant jatropha, we tend to compete with the farmers’ lands instead of helping them with their livelihood,” she said.

“There are plenty of algae in the Philippines where we can get our source of oil. If we develop harvesting of algae and set up a production of oil, we don’t just help the environment, but we also generate a source of income for the fishermen,” she added.

Salamania, an Oblation scholar, plans to pursue graduate studies, either a masteral in Physics or Geology, when she finishes college.

“When I finish my studies, I would like to work with the government, probably with the PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) or work in prestigious institutions abroad like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration),” she said.

Election thoughts

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

The one thing that I have noticed about the upcoming election is the lack of passion. Most of the people I talk with are only inclined toward a candidate but few are excited. I think most are excited to get the process over and done with and move on.

Perhaps people are suffering from “politics fatigue.” Or perhaps they have heard the same old campaign promises and speeches just too many times with few, if any, new ideas or wisdom from those who wish to lead this country.

I am little surprised that there is a lack of passion since the contrasts in the top contenders for the presidency are clear. What I mean is that the top candidates have gone to great lengths to brand themselves in a particular way, and it seems to have been successful. But I am not sure whether this candidate-branding is having the desired effect on the voters. We will know in a few weeks.

Again, the thing that disturbs me is that we still do not have a clear concept of what is going to happen on Day One, Week One, Month One, or even Year One of the new administration.

Again, the general statements are but campaign rhetoric. One adviser for a leading candidate says an administration under this person would spur and attract investment. Maybe so, but the question is, how and why? Foreign and domestic investors do not invest just because a particular person is nice. The missing sentence is, “More investments will come in because I will do this to make investing in the Philippines more profitable, convenient or whatever.” That is the line that is missing from the campaign speeches.

India and Indonesia are monumentally corrupt and both nations are greater foreign-investment magnets than the Philippines. Africa in general is corrupt, lacks infrastructure, and has other terrible social and political problems, and yet China cannot spend its money fast enough there. Thailand is a political nightmare and yet tourists are still flocking to the country.

But soon, general campaign promises and speeches are going to have to give way to real ideas, and those ideas are going to have to come quickly.

For example, peace and order is a major problem in Mindanao, but adequate electricity is much more critical right now. Sitting down with or shooting at the insurgents is not going to solve the economic problems. Even broad concepts like “economic prosperity will bring peace to Mindanao” are only noble but empty words unless there is an adequate power supply. And all the talk of attracting investments is hollow if there is no power to run those foreign-funded operations.

I researched statements of the candidates on the power situation, and what I read is not encouraging. Interconnection of the nation’s power grid and alternative energy generation is totally unrealistic for the longer term. Privatization of National Power Corp.’s power plants is a financial issue, not a power-supply issue. I fear that this problem of inadequate electricity supply will not be addressed, as happened in the past, until brownouts become common throughout the country. As I said before, the nation will cope with this, but you can put foreign investment on the back burner until there is a viable solution on the table for power. Right now the table is sitting empty.

When it comes to the global financial crisis and the potential for worse yet to come, I have a hard time even finding a candidate that speaks to the issue. I guarantee you that before 2010 is finished, we are going to see a currency and sovereign-debt failure unknown in our lifetimes.

I suggest the next President prepare right now for one of the following two things to happen. What is going to be the policy and action of the new administration if crude oil goes over $150 per barrel or the peso appreciates to 35 to $1? You think that I am dreaming and this is wild imagination?

Even if those might be worst-case scenarios, we had better be ready for worst-case situations as delicate as the financial world is right now.

The Bank for International Settlements released a study last month about the global debt problem that is so incredibly staggering for its implications, it should be required reading for every official in the next administration. From the abstract: “Our projections of public-debt ratios lead us to conclude that the path pursued by fiscal authorities in a number of industrial countries is unsustainable. Drastic measures are necessary to check the rapid growth of current and future liabilities of governments and reduce their adverse consequences for long-term growth and monetary stability.” The bottom line: “This is a crisis with the potential for destruction at least as great as during the Great Depression.”

I question which candidate, if any, is qualified and prepared to lead this country successfully though a situation that could cause financial and economic chaos as severe or even worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And note this: History has proven that great financial and economic turmoil does not have a happy ending. Wars are more easily entered into when domestic economies are under extreme stress from bad conditions. We have never seen a time in modern history when so many countries and so many people are under so much economic pressure on all sides.

We live in interesting times.

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

Spanish investors eye RP as their production hub in Asean region

Max V. de Leon
Business Mirror

Delegations of Spanish businessmen will be visiting the country in the coming months to explore possibilities of making the Philippines their production hub for the region, Trade Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

The interest of Spanish investors in the Philippines, Lapus said, was spurred by the visit of President Arroyo to Madrid last week, where she met with business executives.

Lapus said the President was able to persuade Spanish businessmen to take a closer look at the country’s abounding opportunities. “The President encouraged Spanish companies to invest in the Philippines and use the country as manufacturing base to serve the Asean region.”

Lapus said expected to come to the Philippines this year are the delegation from the region of Catalunia and the Confederation of Employers and Industries of Spain, the top Spanish businessmen’s organization with a large membership of private and public companies.

Also, Lapus reported that during the Madrid business trip, Grupo Leche Pascual firmed up its investment commitment to establish a €20-million yoghurt and soy-drink facility that will serve as a base for exports to Southeast Asia.

The company will be sending its executives in the second quarter of the year to meet with local companies that could become its joint-venture partners.

The products of Leche Pascual, one of Spain’s biggest dairy-product manufacturing companies, are nonrefrigerated with a shelf life of six months. The products will be priced affordably and are ideal to low-income communities where access to milk is scarce.

Lapus said Leche Pascual also offered its high-quality yoghurt products to public-school children in selected poor regions as part of a parallel social-assistance program.

Spain was the Philippines’ 33rd trading partner last year. Total bilateral trade reached $187.67 million, with Philippine exports to Spain amounting to $71.94 million.

Philippine top exports to Spain are coconut (copra) crude oil valued at $16.64 million, and marine and aquaculture products at $8.50 million.

Lapus said Filipino exporters should look into Spain’s increased demand for fishery and other marine products, auto-replacement parts, fashion jewelry and WiFi-/WiMAx equipment.

Allied Bank profit more than doubled to P1.2B in 2009

Erik de la Cruz
Business Mirror

TYCOON Lucio Tan’s Allied Banking Corp., which may soon be swallowed by Philippine National Bank (PNB), posted a 139-percent increase in net income to P1.2 billion for 2009 on double-digit growth in both interest and noninterest income.

Allied Bank, in its latest annual report—which could be its last in its 13 years of operations—said profit last year was more than double its 2008 bottom line of P501 million.

Net interest income swelled by 24 percent to P6.7 billion.

Noninterest income rose 36 percent, reflecting improved foreign-exchange gains and the turnaround in trading and investment securities from a loss of P458.2 million to a gain of P134.4 million.

The bank ended 2009 with total assets of P188.1 billion, representing a 7.5-percent expansion from a year ago.

Total liabilities, which comprised 87 percent of total assets, grew 5.5 percent to P164 billion, with deposit liabilities up 4 percent to P147.6 billion after the bank’s offer of long-term negotiable certificates of deposit in October raised P3.5 billion.

Last month Allied Bank said it was in talks with a potential buyer of its 28-percent stake in California-based Oceanic Bank, the sale of which will pave the way for its merger with PNB.

The two Philippine banks are looking to merge within this year, with PNB as the surviving entity.

The merger will create the fourth-largest private bank in the Philippines.

PNB was seventh biggest by assets as of end-2009.

Allied Bank was ninth biggest in terms of deposits

PNB and Allied Bank had a combined network of 629 branches as of end-2009, much bigger than Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.’s network of 338 branches, currently the fourth biggest.

Under US banking regulations, Allied Bank must first dispose of its equity interest in Oceanic Bank if it is to merge with PNB.

Oceanic Bank, which was previously estimated to be worth $30 million, has two branches in California and one in Guam.

PNB posted net income of P2.2 billion for 2009, double the previous year’s bottom line, amid strong gains in core businesses and improvement in asset quality and in operating efficiencies.

It ended 2009 with total assets up 3 percent at P284.5 billion.

Aside from increased asset allocation toward loans, it built up other earning assets, including a P2.8-billion equity investment in Allied Commercial Bank in Xiamen, China.

The asset growth of PNB came from the 7-percent expansion in deposit base and 9-percent increase in stockholders’ equity.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Palace orders Agra to review decision clearing 2 Ampatuans

With a report from Ron Gagalac, ABSCBN News; Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the President on Wednesday ordered Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to review with state prosecutors his controversial resolution absolving 2 members of the Ampatuan family from the Maguindanao massacre.

In a written statement from Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, the Palace directed Agra to confer with prosecutors and ascertain "if any important evidence was not considered, presented, or available when his ruling was made."

After meeting with prosecutors, Malacañang said the "Secretary of Justice should publicly justify the final decision."

Agra's resolution absolving Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and Maguindanao vice-governor Akmad Ampatuan from the November 23 mass murder has been assailed not just by the opposition but even by state prosecutors and administration bet Gilberto Teodoro.

Families of the victims also publicly condemned Agra's decision, with some saying that the dropping of the charges could be part of a wider plot to rig the May 10 national elections.

'PGMA supports me'

On Tuesday, Agra said he believed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo backed his decision to absolve 2 members of the powerful Ampatuan clan of any involvement in the massacre that left 57 people dead.

Agra had said he has yet to hear from Mrs. Arroyo since he issued the decision to drop murder charges against cousins Zaldy and Akmad.

"In this case, silence means approval unless there is an explicit directive to resign or report. I'd like to think that I haven't done anything wrong, there is no basis for me to be reprimanded or removed from my position," he told reporters.

The justice chief said he expected to reap heavy criticism for his decision to absolve the 2 Ampatuans. He added, however, that he feels hurt by rumors that he was bribed to issue the resolution.

"I don't know where that is coming from. Nobody ordered me. Masakit sa akin dahil yung pangalan ko na iniingatan ko ay nabahiran," he said.

He said he is considering filing charges against individuals who accused him of taking bribes.

Agra backtracks

Interviewed on Wednesday over ANC's Dateline Philippines before the Palace ordered him to revisit his resolution, Agra backtracked on his statements about the President.

On his statement that President Arroyo supports his decision, Agra said what he meant was that "she approves of my performance" as acting justice secretary, but not necessarily his resolution.

Agra said he would submit a formal memorandum to the President on his resolution absolving the 2 Ampatuans from the crime. He also said it was within his jurisdiction to rule on the motion for review of the accused, and that he was not required to seek the approval of the President in his ruling.

Agra said he would await the motion for reconsideration on his resolution, and that he may modify or reverse his ruling depending on the reasons and evidence in the appeal.

He said the lawyers representing the families of the massacre victims had 5 days within which to file a motion for reconsideration.

Agra also denied receiving a gag order from the Office of the President, saying Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza wants him to continue to reply and defend his position absolving the 2 Ampatuans.

The alibi

In his resolution, the justice secretary cited documents backing the 2 Ampatuans' alibi that they were not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. The documents include plane tickets, phone records and affidavits that showed the 2 were not at the massacre site.

The Ampatuan clan was closely allied with President Arroyo until she was forced to publicly disown the family after the massacre.

Arroyo's spokesman Gary Olivar on Sunday rejected any allegations of impropriety over the dropping of the murder charges.

"It is obscene to insinuate that the president would interfere in the legal proceedings of a heinous crime like the Maguindanao massacre as a mere political accommodation to anyone," Olivar said in a statement.

JG Summit records P8.55B in profit for ’09 due to mark-to-market gains

N. J. C. Morales

PROFITS OF Gokongwei-led JG Summit Holdings, Inc. ballooned to P8.55 billion last year on the back of mark-to-market gains in financial instruments.

The latest figure is a turnaround from a P690-million net loss in 2008, JG Summit told the local bourse yesterday.

The holding firm said “we recognized gains in mark-to-market valuation in 2009 as financial markets improved from a loss in the previous year.”

Consolidated revenues went up by 9% to P107.96 billion from P99.07 billion year on year, while cost of sales barely moved up to P64.4 billion from P64.23 billion.

Assets, meanwhile, rose to P277.88 billion as of end-2009 from P250.89 billion as of end-2008.

From operations alone, profits stood at P15.2 billion last year, up from P11.3 billion in 2008.

Units of JG Summit, one of the most diversified conglomerates in the country, include snack and beverage giant Universal Robina Corp., budget carrier Cebu Air, Inc. and property and mall developer Robinsons Land Corp.

Profits of Universal Robina, which will spend P4 billion in the fiscal year 2010 for expansion, jumped to P3.89 billion from P381 million given higher sales.

Cebu Air, which plans to list on the local bourse after the elections, ended the year with a P3.26-billion net income, turning around from a P3.25-billion net loss in 2008.

Robinsons Land, which plans to open two new malls and budget hotels, increased profits by 3.8% to P3.27 billion last year.

Digital Telecommunications Phils., Inc., operator of the Sun Cellular mobile phone service, turned around to a P259.7-million net income last year from a P1.98-billion loss in 2008.

Robinsons Savings Bank -- which will buy RBS (Philippines), Inc. from The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group Plc and the Royal Bank of Scotland N.V. -- recorded a 41.2% rise in net income to P143.59 million.

Shares in JG Summit dropped to P9.30 each yesterday from P9.60 on Monday.

Cebu Pacific to spend $1.4B for 22 new Airbus A320 planes

Emilia Narni J. David

CEBU PACIFIC will expand its fleet over a five-year period to meet growing demand for low-cost air travel, its top executive said yesterday.

Lance Y. Gokongwei, president of Cebu Pacific operator Cebu Air, Inc., said in a press briefing yesterday the airline would purchase 22 brand-new Airbus A320 until 2014.

“We are buying 22 more new aircraft and by 2014 we will have a fleet of 51 aircraft and the largest A320 fleet in the Philippines. The aircraft will start arriving between 2010 and 2014. The reason is that the demand for our services has been very good so we want to increase our capacity,” Mr. Gokongwei said in a press briefing.

Cebu Pacific will spend $1.4 billion for the new aircraft. The company also has the option to buy seven more airplanes, he said.

Cebu Pacific has a fleet of 33 aircraft ranging from A320s to propeller planes.

Mr. Gokongwei said the new aircraft would be deployed to existing routes of Cebu Pacific as well as to new domestic and international routes being planned.

The airline will be flying to Pagadian soon and is awaiting official notice for more flights in the Asia-Pacific region, executives said.

Cebu Pacific said the purchase of new aircraft would be covered by internally generated funds and export credit.

Proceeds from a planned initial public offer (IPO) may also be tapped but the aircraft purchase won’t depend on stock exchange listing.

“The purchase doesn’t depend on the IPO. It’s actually a combination of funding strategies. We will reconsider the IPO after the elections but there really isn’t a definite timeline on that,” said Mr. Gokongwei.

When Cebu Pacific receives all 22 new aircraft, the airline will become one of the largest low-cost fleets in the region.

Cebu Pacific carried 8.7 million passengers in 2009 with a load factor of 79%, or an increase of 30% from 6.7 million passengers carried in 2008. For the first quarter of the year, the carrier was able to fly 2.4 million passengers.

The firm earned P3.26 billion in profits last year, wiping out P3.25 billion in losses the previous year.

“We are well on our way to exceed our target of 10 million passengers for this year with the strong demand we are seeing for both domestic and international flights and we are also expecting an increase in revenues,” said Mr. Gokongwei.

Last month, Cebu Air decided to delay its P12-billion IPO to after the May 10 national and local elections, to assuage nervous investors.

Cebu Pacific is eyeing almost P12 billion in net proceeds by listing 235.562 million shares at a maximum price of P95 each.

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

Cebu Pacific’s press conference came a day after Lucio C. Tan-led Philippine Airlines, Inc. announced the retrenchment of 3,000 ground workers under a plan to outsource three “non-core” units to cut burgeoning losses.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

North Harbor operator advances P100 million to pay past labor claims

April 19, 2010, 4:27pm

To ensure labor peace and comply with the terms of its government contract, the new North Harbor operator, Manila North Harbour Port Inc. (MNHPI), has advanced over P100 million payments to port and transport workers for their past services.

MNHPI, the joint venture between Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI) won the P14.5-billion Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) contract to modernize and operate the port. Already, the consortium absorbed more than 1,000 port workers after signing an agreement with the Association of Transport and Port Workers North Harbor (APTW-NH) last March 30.

“Technically, workers formerly under the employ of port users are now MNHPI employees under our agreement with labor and daily operations of the port are back in full swing,” according to MNHPI spokesperson Tricia Sandejas.

MNHPI took over North Harbor this month, on April 11, 2010 and started paying salaries to the workers they have absorbed four days after. The development came after MNHPI announced that operations of the port will be on a 24-hour basis with port users enjoying a 10 percent reduction in tariff rates. MNHPI reduced tariff rates so that port users can be competitive in terms of lowering their cargo and passenger fees.

Now, only legitimate port users are allowed entry inside the terminals to ensure the smooth entry and exit to and from the Manila North Harbor, as well as the safety of all cargoes, workers, employees and the general public. MNHPI explained that the new security measure is needed to protect passengers and merchants from criminal elements which have been regular fixtures at the port for several years now.

MNHPI officials stressed that the government will not spend a single centavo for the project and that the modernizing the port would not only boost intra-regional trade in the county but would also attract overseas visitors in the coming years. Based on this agreement, the PPA would also retain its sovereign right to regulate the fees and charges at the piers.

The project will raise more than P6.8 billion in revenues for the PPA over 25 years and decrease port rates at an average of 10 to 15 percent. Aside from the absorption of existing port workers, MNHPI is set to hire an additional 5,000 to 10,000 workers for the project.

Pacific Online reports 15% rise in Q1 income to P78 million

Manila Bulletin

Pacific Online Systems Corporation reported a 15 percent growth in net income for the first quarter to the year to P78 million from P68 million in the same period in 2008.

The firm said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that higher earnings came on the back of sustained level of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office lotto and scratch ticket sales.

Pacific Online has been focusing on making PCSO’s product lines readily available in the market. However, the firm registered a one percent dip in consolidated revenues to P252.2 million from P254.9 million in the same period last year.

In February 2009, the firm recorded its highest monthly lotto sales due to the highest accumulated jackpot of 6/49 lotto game. Pacific Online noted that this once unprecedented experience has almost been achieved in the first quarter of 2010.

Pacific Online expects to surpass its financial performance in 2009 through the continuous roll-out of terminals for both Lotto and Keno on-line lottery, introduction of new games, more aggressive marketing and distribution of instant ticket sales, and wider network of retail lotto outlets.

In a separate disclosure, Pacific Online said it expects to get a boost in its revenues with the launching by the PCSO of the GrandLotto 6/55 last Sunday.

Pacific Online said the newest PCSO product is a single matrix on-line lottery game that was designed to replace the double matrix Powerlotto 5+1 game.

The GrandLotto 6/55 being a single matrix game (i.e., the player simply chooses 6 numbers out of the 1-55 matrix), is envisioned to attract more players with the minimum bet price of P20 per 6-digit combination and the minimum guaranteed jackpot prize of P30 million.

This game will be drawn thrice weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Pacific Online said this new game is expected to contribute substantially to the sales of PCSO which could reach up to P60 million per draw after the first month of its launch.

“This will definitely redound to increased revenues for Pacific Online being the PCSO’s network and equipment supplier (for Visayas and Mindanao),” said Pacific Online chief financial officer Rhederick Inciong.

Baguio ecozone exports rise 73% in Q1

Manila Bulletin

Exports of Baguio City Economic Zone (BCEZ) in the first quarter this year went up 73.11 percent in the first quarter this year to $895 million from $517 million in the first quarter last year.

BCEZ Zone Administrator Dante Quindoza said that BEPZ robust exports indicated a strong recovery of the electronics sector which registered a steep decline in 2009 due to the global financial crisis.

Quindoza said that of the $895 million exports in the first quarter, TI Philippines accounted for 95 percent for a total of $857 million. Despite the crisis last year, total exports of BEPZ still managed to grow to $2.86 billion from $2.74 billion in 2008.

Employment also has been up to 9,000 from 8,060 last year as companies have been hiring again.

In the mood for expansion this year are 6 BPO companies, which could expand in the IT buildings being built by the Ayala-owned Hillsport Property Corp. Quindoza said that more companies would like to locate in BEPZ but they have no more space for expansion. The 6.5 hectares that BEPZ was able to secure from the nearby property of Bases Conversion Development Authority have been occupied by the expansion of Moog Corp.

Camp John Hay is also registered with PEZA but locators are limited to light industries not manufacturing operations. “Companies just love to locate in Baguio,” said Quindoza.

BEPZ has a total of 63-hectares, 20 hectares of which have been occupied by TI.

$1.36-B BOP surplus posted in Q1

Jun Vallecera
Business Mirror

THE country’s balance of payments (BOP) swung from a deficit of $125 million in February to a surplus reaching $255 million in March, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Monday.

This pushed the three-month balance to a surplus of $1.36 billion and was seen to strengthen further the country’s external sector.

“Strong foreign-exchange inflows from overseas Filipinos, portfolio investments, the national government’s foreign borrowings and merchandise exports supported the overall BOP position,” BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said in a text message.

Much of the surplus was owed to proceeds from the samurai bond sale of $1.1 billion offered to investors in February but forming part of the inflows only the following month.

“This healthy external position intensifies our buffer against potential external vulnerabilities,” Tetangco said of the BOP’s significance.

He earlier forecast the BOP to attain a surplus ranging from $3 billion up to $4 billion this year, a rather conservative view of this aggregate indicator which attained a surplus reaching $5.29 billion just last year.

Tetangco said the surplus state should get support from the remittance of overseas Filipinos, also seen earlier to expand by at least 6 percent this year to more than $18 billion.

The remittances, he said, should continue to expand this year given continued demand for Filipino labor in much of the world’s workplaces such as the Middle East countries, the United States, Italy and Japan, among others.

There is optimism of continued high remittance flows this year, essentially because the global economy continues also to show signs of a return to growth following a period of difficult economic conditions, Tetangco said.

He noted global inflation, which contracted during the recession phase, has moved back to positive territory and has forced countries as Australia, China, Vietnam and Malaysia to make appropriate monetary-policy adjustments.

The Philippines, Tetangco said, was not expected to follow suit till at least later this year.

Investor fraud, here and abroad

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission has charged financial giant Goldman Sachs with fraud in the conduct of its business of selling a particular investment package to their global clients.

It is unfortunate that the local press has not followed this story in depth because this will be the financial story of 2010. If the allegations are true, and I will bet hard-earned money that they are, this is one of the most blatant examples of investor fraud in recent memory.

In 2007, Goldman put together an investment package of subprime loans. As a normal practice, Goldman hired an outside firm to select the actual investments for this package. However, unknown to investors and never disclosed by Goldman, another firm, Paulson and Co., paid Goldman for the privilege of helping select which mortgages go into the investment portfolio. Now here is where it got interesting and exciting.

Paulson and Co. is a major hedge fund and they paid Goldman to structure another investment vehicle, based on the mortgages that Paulson selected for the first investment package, so that they could bet against it.

In effect, Paulson paid Goldman $15 million to select investments for Goldman clients and then Paulson immediately turned around and paid Goldman again to put together a deal so that Paulson can bet against the investments that they chose for Goldman’s clients in the first place. Guess what? Goldman’s clients lost $1 billion and Paulson earned $1 billion in profits.

When I became a New York Stock Exchange stockbroker in 1975, and having returned to Los Angeles from New York after passing the examinations, the senior broker in my office called me in. Jim Walraven was a hard-drinking old-timer who, incidentally, was married to a Filipina. He said, “Congratulations kid. You are now a stockbroker. And you now have a license to steal. Whether you decide to use it or not is up to you.” Investor fraud is nothing new and there are a hundred ways of separating hard-earned cash from investors to benefit someone else. In the 1970s, every morning, thousands of brokers for Merrill Lynch had a “recommended list” of three stocks they were expected to have their clients and prospective clients buy. Unknown to the clients and most of the brokers was that these were issues owned by large institutional clients of Merrill that were looking to get out of. They needed the little guys to provide a liquid market. Or these were shares that Merrill itself had in inventory that they wanted to dump. Or these were issues that big Merrill clients already owned and they needed retail buying to push the price up.

By definition, securities fraud, stock fraud or investment fraud is a practice that induces investors to make purchase or sale decisions on the basis of false or incomplete information.

Investor fraud covers a wide range of activities, from your average pyramid scheme down to seeing the company president drunk and looking very worried at a party and then using that “information” or “insight” to sell the stock.

The current Goldman situation does not fall into this category, but most investors are victims because of what W.C. Fields supposedly said: “You can’t cheat an honest man.” And by honest, I mean a person who is not motivated by greed.

Ultimately, most investor fraud can only succeed by playing on and to the greed most investors hold so strongly.

By global standards, fraud on the Philippine Stock Exchange is child’s play, unsophisticated and small in the big local picture. Having said that, I could probably write a book about all the incidents in the last 15 years where investors have lost money, lots of money, because someone smarter knew how to play their greed.

How do you avoid being a victim? I guess I should start by telling to you not be greedy or at least to keep your greed under control. But we both know that is not going to happen. We are all greedy and we will continue to be greedy. Fact of life.

But maybe what we can do is make our greed a little smarter to avoid being burned.

Most every case of investor-stock fraud starts with you (and your greed) being attracted to a certain issue. Like the Bible says, you need to keep yourself from the sweet words and smooth tongue of the stranger; from the seductive talk of some tempter.

The easiest way to attract attention is to show a sudden increase in volume traded. The price does not even have to go up. It is the volume spike that attracts attention. Your greed immediately thinks somebody knows something that you don’t. Big increases in price attract the attention of the regulators. Big increases in volume attract the attention of investors.

Company news attracts many investors to buy. And some companies seem to have significant news stories three or four times a year. One easy way to check if the news is valid or is simply stock-market propaganda is to look at the past. There are several local companies that have had dozens of big deals being announced over the years, none of which has ever come through. The latest news item may just be another sweet word to get you to buy so that someone else can sell.

There are dozens of other things that can be done to you that will cost you a fortune and you won’t even really know how it happened.

But this advice might help you avoid being hurt. The next time you want to buy a stock because of that news story, big volume or hot tip from a friend, ask yourself this: Would I have bought the stock without this new information? If the answer is no, it is probably better to stay away unless you are a large and sophisticated stock-market investor.

E-mail comments to mangun@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by Inc.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Prosecutors defy Agra over order to clear 2 Ampatuans

Government prosecutors on Monday challenged the decision of acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to clear two Ampatuan clan members in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last year, saying it dishonors the institution’s mandate to dispense justice.

Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano led the protest over Agra’s order exonerating detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and cousin Akmad Ampatuan Sr., mayor of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

"We are deeply concerned that the resolution will all the more convince a long skeptical public that our criminal justice system is impotent when the accused are politically influential," he said in a statement read before Justice reporters in Manila.

Arellano said it pained them to publicly disagree with their superior’s order, but noted that while the Justice chief has the final say on cases filed at the department, they on the front line believed there is probable cause to indict Zaldy and Akmad.

"We pray and hope that… justice will ultimately be served to the victims of this tragedy. It is along this line that we earnestly and respectfully request Acting Secretary Agra to revisit this resolution," he said. "Otherwise, we dishonor the primary reason for which our institution exists and its very name: the Department of Justice," he added.

State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon said Agra had not consulted them, as a matter of courtesy, before he ordered the dropping of multiple murder charges against the two Ampatuans.

They only learned of Agra’s order through a newspaper report last Saturday.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and private prosecutor Harry Roque, legal counsel of some of the victims’ families, earlier slammed Agra for the exoneration order.

Clear conscience
Earlier on Monday, Agra said his conscience was clear, adding that he was not afraid to face the victims’ kin to defend his move.

"Anyway you look at the evidence presented to me, it will lead to the same decision," Agra said in Filipino in a radio interview on Monday.

He noted that while his department had found probable cause in the multiple murder charges against Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Sr. and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr., there was "no evidence" that Zaldy and Akmad had conspired in the killings.

Agra said documentary evidence had shown that Zaldy was not at the crime scene when the massacre took place, while witness Kenny Dalandag had not implicated Akmad.

Andal Sr., Andal Jr., Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan are detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, along with several other suspects.

Agra lashed back at his critics, saying his decision was based on an objective review of records and not on politics and emotions.

But Arellano disputed Agra’s claim, saying a witness had positively identified the two as among those who had conspired to murder 57 people, 31 of whom were journalists.

He said the Rules of Evidence provide that positive identification by a witness prevails over a negative assertion.

"Interestingly and ironically, while Secretary Agra basically implies that witness Kenny Dalandag is very credible as to his positive identification of the other accused during the planning of the murders, he is not at all credible when he identified Zaldy Ampatuan," Arellano said.

He said it is for the courts to decide, not the Justice secretary, whether the evidence submitted by Zaldy to support his alibi was strong. — Sophia M. Dedace/NPA, GMANews.TV

Inauguration of the Dasmariñas Community Affairs Building

Windshield Inspection of the Bayanijuan in Laguna

Palace: Stop Comelec attacks and poll failure talk

Statement of the Presidential Spokesperson Ricardo Saludo, 16 April 2010

We join former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod in calling for an end to heckling the Comelec and unfounded speculation about deliberate election failure. We have always maintained that the May elections will not fail since it will use an automated counting system which is far less prone to failure than the past manual system that itself had never led to failed elections. The opposition should stop stirring undue alarm over the polls just to grab headlines.

Tama na ang walang basehang panira sa Comelec at sa paggamit ng kompiyuter sa halalan. Ayon sa survey, 80% ng mamamayan ang naniniwalang mas mahusay at mas madali ang automated elections kaysa sa manu-manong bilangan. Walang dahilan upang mangamba at maniwala sa mga kalaban ng demokrasya na handang sirain ang tiwala ng publiko sa halalan kung sakaling matalo sila.

Chairman Monsod's call is made even more pertinent and timely by the tragic death or wounding of dozens in Thai protests over election concerns. Our media and public figures are right to raise issues and call for solutions. At the same time, the Comelec should always be given the time and space to immediately address criticism and correct mistaken reports. Let us beware baseless predictions of election failure, and work together to strengthen our elections and our people's faith in our democratic processes. Palakasin at pagtiwalaan natin ang ating demokrasya. (PND)

Medical City buys Iloilo-based chain of hospitals and clinics

Francis Allan L Angelo

ILOILO CITY -- A Metro Manila-based hospital will invest more than P700 million and the latest technology in health care as it embarks on an expansion to Iloilo City.

In a statement, Alfredo R.A. Bengzon, The Medical City president and chief executive officer, said the expansion to Iloilo City and other parts of the country would bring “world-class” medical services to the rest of the country.

The Medical City has assumed management and operations of the Great Saviour International Hospital in Molo, Iloilo City and the Global Medical Network in anticipation of a full purchase before the year ends.

It has also acquired sister sites of Great Saviour and Global Medical Network in Luzon which includes the Mercedes Medical Center in Pampanga and a network of outpatient clinics in Dagupan, Olongapo and Cavite. These clinics are accredited by Tricare, the worldwide health care program that services retired US military servicemen and their dependents.

The acquisition brings the number of Medical City locations to 18. Its main complex is located on a 1.5-hectare property on Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City.

The Medical City has 40 years of experience in hospital operation and administration, serving some 40,000 inpatients and 380,000 outpatients a year.

Mr. Bengzon said they found the Great Saviour network, headed by Evangeline C. Johnson, was ideal for Medical City’s expansion plans.

Initially, the Medical City has allocated P150 million for the upgrade of the Iloilo hospital building.

Some P600 million will be spent for the acquisition of equipment such as a 4D CAT scan and construction of additional wards. “Some P400 million will be set aside for the Iloilo hospital while the rest will be spent on sister facilities in Luzon,” Mr. Bengzon said.

Great Saviour is a tertiary hospital with a 100-bed capacity. Its sister hospital in Angeles City is a level-two facility with a capacity of 50 beds. Mr. Bengzon said the capacity would be expanded to 200 beds with the construction of another building.

Mr. Bengzon also said the acquisition of Great Saviour’s five clinics in Iloilo City and Luzon would allow the Medical City to serve retired US military servicemen under the Tricare system.

The Medical City will bring to Iloilo a regenerative medicine program which uses stem cell technology in curing cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Meanwhile, Ms. Johnson denied reports she had sold Great Savious because it is bleeding financially. She said it was the Medical City that approached her.

“No, we’re not losing. Just like any entity, we also experienced birth pains but we hurdled past them. Would a top corporation like the Medical City buy a bankrupt hospital?” Ms. Johnson said.

Mr. Bengzon said the Medical City also looked into controversies such as the alleged Tricare and Philhealth claims scams involving Ms. Johnson and her medical network but said his group was convinced the hospital and its management had nothing to do with them.

Mr. Bengzon said Ms. Johnson would remain as consultant.

Metrobank unit secures power contracts

Francis Allan L. Angelo

ILOILO CITY -- Metrobank’s power generation unit Global Business Power Corp. has signed electric power purchase agreements with six cooperatives belonging to the Panay-Guimaras Power Supply Consortium.

Global Business Power President Jesus N. Alcordo said the new 164-megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant being built by subsidiary Panay Energy Development Corp. will supply to the cooperatives.

Panay Energy is also wrapping up negotiations with Panay Electric Co. or PECO, the sole power distributor in Iloilo City. Mr. Alcordo said a power purchase agreement with Panay Electric will be signed next month.

“We expect to sign an [agrement] with PECO early May when we have concluded our negotiations with them. PECO’s baseload demand is more than 60 megawatts,” Mr. Alcordo said.

Panay Energy signed the agreements with the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco) 1, which will buy 4 MW; Ileco 2, 10 MW; Ileco 3, 7 MW; Antique Electric Cooperative (Anteco), 7 MW; Aklan Electric Cooperative (Akelco), 12 MW; and Capiz Electric Cooperative (Capelco), 8 MW.

Aside from Mr. Alcordo, other signatories were Global Business Power Senior Vice-President and Chief Finance Officer Jaime T. Azurin and Panay Energy Director Felipe A. Uygongco.

Mr. Alcordo said the firm expects demand for power in Panay, particularly Iloilo City, to surge when the coal-fired power plant operates.

“There is a lot of suppressed demand in Iloilo City and Panay because of high prices of power. But when the coal plant operates, which will bring down electricity rates, we expect more call centers and investments to enter the island which will cause a spike in demand for power,” he added.

Mr. Alcordo said the generation charge or cost of producing electricity will go down by at least P2 per kilowatt-hour once the coal-fired power plant goes on line later this year.

“Our generation rate in the coal-fired power plant in Cebu is even lower than the rates of the newest entrant,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Aklan Electric Cooperative or AKELCO said it expects the coal-fired power plant to bring down electricity rates and provide stable power to Aklan and its prized Boracay Island.

Chito R. Peralta, Aklan cooperative general manager, said the utility has been dependent on diesel-fired plants in Aklan which supply expensive power. The utility had contracted the biggest volume of electricity from Panay Energy, amounting to 12 MW.

“AKELCO’s peak demand is more than 33-34 MW with Boracay Island accounting for 40% of that demand,” Mr. Peralta said.

Panay Energy expects to commission the first 82-MW unit of its coal plant in Brgy. Ingore, La Paz, Iloilo City in October this year. The second unit will be “on line” three months later.

Pope Benedict's Election Anniversary today--VIVA IL PAPA!!

Hong Kong -- Nurses may be hired from the Philippines

Territory losing 800 government nurses each year to private sector and overseas
John Carney
South China Morning Post
18 April 2010

The Hospital Authority, which is suffering from a serious shortage of nurses, is prepared to hire those in the Philippines. It will also consider former Filipino nurses now working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong if they meet the qualifications.

There is a global shortage of nurses and the authority, which has 20,000 nurses, is losing about 800 a year to the private sector and overseas.

The authority wants to recruit at least 1,300 nurses in this financial year but expects fewer than 1,200 posts will be filled. It is setting up a high-level task force to find ways to plug the brain drain and one solution is to recruit from the Philippines.

"Whatever nationality you may be, you are all welcome to sit for the Nursing Council of Hong Kong's practising certificate. It's open to everyone," Joseph Lee Kok-long, the chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, said.

Nurses from overseas must pass a test certified by the council before they can be accepted as a registered nurse in the city. The test is in two parts--one written and one practical. It can be done in English.

The applicants must also have recognised qualifications from their home countries before they take the test. They will then undergo interviews to assess their suitability, experience, knowledge and skills, an authority spokesman said.

Many former Filipino nurses are already working in Hong Kong as domestic helpers. Some are working essentially as carers for the elderly in the families.

The language problem is an obvious stumbling block. The authority said that as patients in public hospitals are predominantly Cantonese speakers, knowledge of the dialect would be a preferred attribute in the selection process.

"One obvious criteria is that nurses speak Cantonese," Lee said.

Many former Filipino nurses have learned Cantonese while working as domestic helpers. One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that because she was classified as a domestic helper, she had not applied to work as a nurse.

"There's no guarantee you will get a job as a nurse, and it's easier to find work as a domestic helper," she said. "I don't know of anyone from the Philippines who has applied to be a nurse here and got the job."

Another issue is that Hong Kong's import policy for professionals is strictly enforced, with the number of migrants allowed under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme tightly controlled.

Although the employment of overseas professionals may seem a labour matter, it is the Immigration Department which makes the decision. The department said each individual case for employment is judged on its own merits.

In Japan, the government has in recent years allowed the employment of up to 1,000 Filipino carers to help look after the elderly, with Filipino doctors and nurses in great demand. Applicants are required to undergo only a few months of language training.

"With some Cantonese training, Filipino nurses can be just as valuable in Hong Kong," Cynthia Tellez, a director of the Mission for Migrant Workers Organisation in Hong Kong, said.

"If it's a professional requirement to speak Cantonese, then why not create a basic course for those who want to nurse here like in Japan. It will make sense to tap into this source of professionally trained individuals."

Since the American colonial period in the Philippines, an educational system has been in place that includes full medical training. Filipinos have always received a high standard of nursing training and continue to do so. For financial reasons, many of these trained nurses invariably end up in hospitals in the United States and Britain.

In the past week, allegations were made by the Hong Kong Non-Public Organisations and Private Nursing Staff Association chairwoman Irene Leung Yuk-han that nurses at a leading private hospital in Kowloon, St Teresa's Hospital, are having to sign false clinical records because they were too understaffed to complete their duties.

The Department of Health and the polic are investigating the claims and the hospital has denied any irregularities.

On top of this, the nursing shortage at public hospitals is also putting the lives of blood cancer patients at risk, prompting the authority to consider urgent measures to cope.

Waiting time for a bone marrow transplant at Queen Mary Hospital, the main centre for the procedure in Hong Kong, has doubled from two months to four since late last year, with the hospital failing to cope with a surge in demand because of a shortage of nurses.

The most pressing problem in Hong Kong is a serious shortage of experienced nurses. Attractive salaries offered by private hospitals, which pay HK$5,000 a month more for a newly graduated nurse, have seen an exodus from public hospitals.

Even if the public sector gets 200 fresh graduates to replace the 200 lost to the private sector, the quality of the services will be affected as the new nurses need to be supervised.

Nurses in highly specialised disciplines such as surgery, cardiology, neonatal and intensive care, are most in demand in the private sector.

In a study conducted by Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff last year, it found that one government nurse cared for 10 to 12 patients compared with the international standard of one to four or six.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Michael Christian Martinez -- golden boy of Philippine ice-skating

The Working President (447)

GMA will step down in June, VP asserts

Manila Times

With less than a month to go before the Philippines’ first automated elections, Vice President Noli de Castro has allayed fears that President Gloria Arroyo is hatching a failure of elections scheme so she can stay in the highest office of the land. De Castro urged the voting public to dismiss such speculations against the President; saying that the Chief Executive only knows too well that there is a Constitution to be followed.

“We have a Constitution in place. If anybody plans to take it down, people will stage a revolt,” de Castro said Tagalog during his radio program Para Sa ‘Yo, Bayan aired over dzMM on Saturday.

“I believe that the President is not thinking of sabotaging the elections to stay in power and I don’t think she will do such a thing because she knows what would the people do if she does so,” de Castro added.

Moreover, the Vice President assured that he wouldn’t allow failure of elections to happen.

“I won’t join people who are planning to do that and the people won’t let it happen. When my term ends in June 30, I’ll step down, I’ll give chance to others,” de Castro, also the Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers and chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council said.

Prior to de Castro’s refusal to be presidential bet of the ruling Lakas-Kampi CMD in September 2009, President Arroyo described de Castro as someone as a leader imbued with the decency, capability, dedication to public service and a genuine sensitivity for the Filipino masses that will make the Vice President a good president.

De Castro ran for Senate as an independent candidate in 2001 and sought the vice presidency the running mate of President Arroyo during the 2004 elections.

OFWs now tax-exempt

New law scraps DST, travel tax, airport fee for migrant workers
Manila Bulletin

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are now exempted from paying documentary stamp tax (DST) on their remittances as well as travel tax and airport fee.

This is contained in the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.

The law exempts migrant workers from the payment of travel tax, DST, and airport fee upon showing of proof of entitlement from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

“The remittances of all OFWs, upon showing the same proof of entitlement by the OFW beneficiary or recipient, shall be exempted from the payment of documentary stamp tax,’’ Section 22 of Republic Act 10022, stated.

Former labor undersecretary and now Nacionalista Party (NP) senatorial bet Susan Ople immediately urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Department of Finance (DoF) to immediately issue the new law’s implementing guidelines.

“The DoLE and the DoF should promptly issue the new law's implementing rules and regulations so that OFWs would immediately benefit from reduced remittance charges,’’ Ople said in a statement.

She said that the scrapping of the DST is very timely because it could help the OFW beneficiaries here recover some of the buying power they lost due to the peso’s surge against the dollar.

“OFWs can now count on some P1.3 billion in extra savings with the abolition of the DST on all their remittances,’’ Ople said, as she cited DoF’s projection at $19 billion worth of remittances this year.

“The removal of the DST on all funds wired home by OFWs would help drive down money transfer charges, and put more cash in the pockets of those receiving remittance,’’ she added.

Prior to the passage of RA 10022, all money transfers from abroad and payable in the Philippines, including those wired home by OFWs were subject to the DST at a rate of P0.30 for every P200.

Ople said that local banks and non-bank money transfer agents such as The Western Union Co. and Moneygram International, Inc. collect the DST before the funds sent home by OFWs are actually paid out to their beneficiaries here.

This means that OFWs pay a DST of P33.27 for every $500 or P22,180 (at $1:P44.36) they send home. The amount is on top of foreign and local bank fees, plus the P0.50 to a dollar margin domestic banks that are allowed when paying out remittances in pesos.

Various OFWs and labor groups and even an administration senatoriable had called for the scrapping of the tax imposed on remittances, saying it will severely burden the overseas workers and their families.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) had said the government has been raking in money from OFW remittances through the DST, reaching to over P1.3 billion.

Migrante International believes the government has had enough from the billions of dollars of OFW remittances it received yearly.

“OFWs have been the country’s economic saviors for over three decades already; it is therefore high time for the government to do the saving,’’ the group said.

Given the contribution of OFWs in helping keep the economy afloat, Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial bet Atty. Raul Lambino also said it is not wise fiscal policy to require DST payment for OFW remittances.

An estimated 10 million Filipinos, migrants and contract workers are working abroad. OFWs remit around $17 billion annually, it was learned.

BPO without a twang

Manila Bulletin

I had occasion to listen to Mr. Fred Ayala, Chairman of the Business Processing Association Philippines, address a group of young, highly motivated professionals about the prospects of the BPO Industry in the next decade or so. Mr. Ayala also heads the group of companies engaged in IT-related services of the Ayala group and is one of the most knowledgeable Filipino executives about this fast growing industry that in 2008 already earned for the Philippines over $6 billion. In 2011, total revenues of the BPO industry will exceed $10 billion and can be employing more than 500,000 highly skilled professionals.

I was glad to learn from Mr. Ayala that my optimistic forecast of a 20% growth in 2010 is actually not optimistic enough. The industry is confident in attaining a 26% growth this year, accelerating to 27% next year. This is one of the sectors that make me bullish about the Philippine economy in the coming three to five years, as the emerging markets recover from the Great Depression. Even if the advanced countries suffer a double-dip recession, I am not worried that the BPO sector will suffer a slowdown. In fact, as was demonstrated in 2009—the worst year of the crisis--companies in the developed countries tend to outsource more of their business process activities when times are bad. To be competitive, they actually do a lot more outsourcing than in good times. That explains why in 2009 in which most industries where having a hard time just growing, the Philippine BPO industry grew at a still hefty 20%.

Mr. Ayala enumerated the most exhaustive list of competitive advantages the Philippines has in this sector I have every heard. It has a very scalable talent pool, being the third largest English speaking country in the world and the twelfth most populous country with a more than 90 million people and a work force of some 36 million. It has a US-patterned educational system, with 400,000 college graduates annually, 28% in business and accountancy and 21% in engineering and IT. Its literacy rate is above-average for a developing economy at 93%. It has strong cultural affinity with the West, especially with the U.S. since it was the only sizeable colony of the U.S (1898 to 1946). There are 1.4 million Filipino immigrants in the U.S., the third largest immigrant group. Especially among the youth, American pop culture is pervasive ("They get it"). Filipinos are very service-oriented, being warm and patient ("They answer the phone with a smile.") There is a cultural bias against conflict. Filipinos have a high degree of empathy, always eager to please and not to disappoint. As regards communications skills, most of them have a neutral accent, acceptable to American and British customers. They are familiar with U.S. slang and accents and have natural rapport building skills. Attrition rates are relatively low compared to its main competitor, India (less than 50% in the Philippines compared to more than 100% in India). Unlike India, there are few other growth sectors competing for talent.

Among university graduates, there is generally still a positive perception of BPO careers not limited to fresh college graduates.

Among the strictly economic advantages, cost competitiveness shines out: labor costs for English speaking professionals are among the lowest in the world. All-in costs are also among the lowest in the world. The telecom infrastructure is among the best in Southeast Asia, thanks to the deregulation move that started in the mid-1990s. The cost of bandwidth has dropped over 85% in the last five years (from $14K in 2001 to less than $1.5K for E1 lines to U.S. Real estate is abundant and low-cost in alternative urban areas. There will be 1.1 million sq.m. in new supply in 2009 to 2010 of which less than 10% is committed. BPO enterprises are given four to eight years tax holiday, after which the tax rate is at 15%. There is a strong partnership between the Government and the private sector. In total revenues, the Philippines is catching up with India: $4.1 billion in 2008 vs. $4.8 billion in India.

Leading global corporations have positive experiences with BPO workers in the Philippines. Among them are Dell, JP Morgan, Citi and outsourcers like Accenture, IBM, Teletech, Convergys.

In the ensuing discussion after the talk of Mr. Ayala, questions were raised about the long-term sustainability of the BPO sector in the Philippines. One major threat is the possibility that this sector may follow the path of the electronics and semiconductor industry that has failed to go higher-value production, prompting the likes of Intel and other companies to transfer their operations to lower-cost places like China and Vietnam. The voice-oriented sector (contact centers) accounts for 67.6% of the total exports. The other sectors Back-office/KPO (non-voice) account for 13.6%; IT (software development, application maintenance) for 9.9%; engineering and design processes for 3.8%; transcription (non-voice) for 3.0%; animation for 2.0% and game development for 0.5%. There must be a conscious effort of industry leaders to expand the non-voice sectors to prepare for the day when millions of Chinese and other Asians can match the English-speaking proficiency of Filipinos. I personally think that the Philippine BPO sector based on voice has at least another 20 years of continuous double-digit growth, after which there will be a decline. By that time, we should be ready to move up to the higher-value services like accounting, research, legal documentation, medical transcription, animation, engineering and design processes. We have to continue improving the quality of our university graduates who will be working in these non-voice fields. As quickly as possible, we should give more importance to "BPO without a twang."

In the meantime, let us capitalize on our competitive advantages in contact centers. As discussed with Mr. Ayala, we must find ways of having a very close cooperation between academic institutions and the BPO Industry in training teachers who can improve the English proficiency of university graduates who do not make the grade the first time they take the test. In order to lower the attrition rate, it may be advisable to recruit more people from vocational or technical courses, especially those that attract the children of the poor households. Graduates of two-year vocational schools may stay longer in contact centers because they may have fewer alternative employment opportunities as compared with university graduates. The officials of the BPO Association may suggest to the TESDA curricular offerings in selected technical or vocational schools that can focus on training call center workers. I suggested to Mr. Ayala to study how to transfer to the BPO industry the well-tested approach of the Dualtech School in training electromechanical workers. Under the Dualtech system, there is very close cooperation between the school and industry. The students already work for specific companies as they are still being trained in the classroom. The term "dual" precisely refers to the simultaneous exposure to classroom instruction and actual work experience in a factory.

For comments, my email address is