Saturday, 16 October 2010

DFA Reiterates Warning Against Passport Fixers

22 September 2010-The Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Consular Affairs (DFA-OCA) reiterated its warning against unscrupulous and enterprising individuals who charge exorbitant fees in exchange for a passport appointment.

It also warns the public against those who mislead passport applicants by telling them that they need to bring passport photos.
The DFA-OCA clarifies that getting a passport appointment for passport processing is free and may be done through calling 737-1000 or logging on at

There is also no need to bring passport photos, as applicant's photos and their biometric information (thumbprints and signature) will be taken at the ePassport enrollment center.

The DFA-OCA does not authorize any of its personnel to offer passport-related services to the public inside or outside its premises, particularly on securing appointments.

The public is also advised not to deal or transact any business with people or even offices near the DFA offering passport-related services, such as charging exorbitant fees for passport photographs.

Any inquiries, urgent concerns or requests may be directed to any of the DFA-OCA Public Assistance personnel.

In cases of emergency or urgency to travel, the DFA-OCA even waives the appointment requirement so as to facilitate the processing of passport applications.

This applies to such cases like overseas Filipino workers who already have job contracts, persons who need urgent medical attention abroad, and students and professionals who are to attend seminars and/or fellowship, among others, as long as the passport applicant can show supporting documents that he or she needs to travel overseas as soon as possible.

They may immediately visit the Office of the Passport Director in DFA-OCA in Aseana Business Park, Paranaque City for proper evaluation of their requests.

The DFA-OCA also asks the public to report any suspicious or anomalous offers regarding passports to the Office of the Passport Director at 836-7759 to 60 or 834-2411.

OF Remittances Grow by 9.8 Percent in August; Level for First Eight Months Reaches US$12.2 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks rose by 9.8 percent year-on-year to reach US$1.5 billion in August 2010, BSP Officer-in-Charge Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. announced today. The near double-digit expansion in August was the highest monthly growth of remittances recorded during the year. With sustained inflows since January, cumulative remittances for the first eight months of 2010 amounted to US$12.2 billion, higher by 7.4 percent from the year-ago level. Increased remittances were noted from both sea-based (by 11.3 percent) and land-based workers (by 6.5 percent). By source country, remittances continued to originate largely from the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the U.K., Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany. The combined flows from these countries represented 84.0 percent of the total remittances reported by the banks.

Even as the pace of global economic recovery remains uneven, remittances from overseas Filipinos remained steady due to the diverse skills of deployed workers and their geographical distribution across the globe, continued increase in demand for skilled Filipinos abroad, and efficient network of bank and non-bank remittance channels established worldwide to service the remitters’ needs.

Preliminary data obtained from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated that the total number of deployed overseas workers for the first six months of 2010 grew by 5.7 percent year-on-year to 787,777 from 745,147 in the comparable period a year ago. The POEA also reported that land-based workers classified as new hires with processed contracts and are awaiting deployment rose by 2.4 percent to 252,443 for the period January-August 2010 from 246,637 in the same period last year.

Moreover, for January-September 2010, approved job orders aggregated 478,400, of which 37.2 percent were comprised of processed job orders for service, professional, technical as well as production and related workers. The report also indicated that land-based workers were mainly deployed in countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and America. By skills category, service workers (at 41.7 percent) accounted for the bulk of new hires deployed in 2009, followed by production and related workers (35.5 percent) and professional, technical, and related workers (14.4 percent). However, over the past three years, the share of professional workers (particularly nurses, doctors and engineers/engineering technicians) to the total number of deployed new hires has been increasing.

The sustained demand for skilled Filipino workers is further supported by continuing hiring agreements forged between the Philippine government and some host countries, namely: (a) the renewal of Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Labor and Immigration of the province of Manitoba, Canada, which aims to sustain the recruitment and deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that started in 2008; and (b) the deployment of the second batch of caregivers to Japan under the Japan-Philippines Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

The global remittance network of banks and non-banks also continue to widen through strategic alliances and tie-ups. Recent reports cite a money transfer agreement between a local universal bank and a U.S.-based bank as well as a tie-up between a private remittance company and a government pension fund offering insurance benefits to overseas Filipinos. Another private remittance firm likewise increased the number of its branches in Europe in line with its overseas expansion program. These initiatives are expected to generate broader capture of remittances through the formal channels.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Megaworld sales jump 81% to P36.6b

by Jenniffer B. Austria
Manila Standard

Condominium builder Megaworld group sold P36.6 billion worth of real estate projects in the first nine months of the year, up 81 percent from P20.2 billion in reservation sales registered for the whole of 2009.

The Megaworld group comprises three brands catering to different market segments, namely Megaworld, Empire East and Suntrust.

SMC lifts Tampakan

by Alena Mae S. Flores
Manila Standard

San Miguel Corp.’s investment in the Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato province will speed up the development of the $5.2-billion mining project, government officials said Monday.

South Cotabato banned the open-pit mining method, stalling the development of the largest untapped copper and gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

“The entry of San Miguel [in Indophil Resources NL] changes the landscape in Tampakan. Since San Miguel is Filipino, this will probably address the issue about foreign participation...,” Leo Jasareno, Mines and Geosciences Bureau director, told reporters Wednesday.

“We have always advised foreign investors that the key to successful mining projects is having local partners,” he said.

Indophil of Australia said on Friday that San Miguel would buy a 10-percent stake in Indophil for $40 million. Indophil agreed to a binding exclusivity period with San Miguel until Jan. 10, 2011 in which the food and beverage conglomerate will complete a due diligence.

San Miguel has the option to buy out the rest of Indophil’s shares.

“There is an indication that San Miguel will buy more of Indophil, there is speculation that eventually San Miguel will take the entire 37.5 percent of Indophil in [Tampakan],” Jasareno said.

He said San Miguel’s entry was an opportunity “to improve social acceptability” of the project. Indophil owns 37.5 percent of the Tampakan copper-gold project, with Xstrata Queensland Ltd., the copper unit of global miner Xstrata Plc holding the balance of 62.5 percent.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said President Benigno Aquino III was supportive of mining projects because of their contribution to the country’s economic growth.

“Local government units cannot issue orders that go against national policy,” he said.

Mining investments in the Philippines hit $2.8 billion since 2003 and the government hopes to increase the level to $13.5 billion by 2013.


Solita Monsod

What is the point of having independent fact-finding commissions, only to disregard their recommendations? What is the point of constituting an investigation and review committee, only to take someone else’s advice?

I ask the questions, because three days ago, PNoy effectively scrapped the recommendations of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) regarding the August 23 hostage crisis, and then two days ago, he granted amnesty military coup plotters, in total repudiation of the recommendations on the matter of both the Davide Commission (1990) and the Feliciano Commission (2003). His actions give rise to legitimate concern as as to the competence and/or integrity of the decision-making processes in his administration.

Take the IIRC, which was formed by the President to make, in its first phase, a comprehensive account of the sequence of events leading to the killing of the hostages and the hostage-taker, evaluate police action and the response of offices and private entities to the incidents, and recommend the filing of appropriate actions against those found culpable as intermediate actions to focus on the hostage-taking incident. With the DOJ secretary as its chair, IIRC completed its work as scheduled, holding marathon hearings, working on weekends. It submitted its report on September 17, which the President immediately transmitted to the Chinese government.

At the same time, however, while he had the main body of the report posted in the Official Gazette, the President did not allow the publication of its recommendations, on the ground that these still had to be reviewed by his executive secretary and his legal counsel. While he was certainly within his rights to do so, the decision to subject the review committee’s work to a second review raised a lot of eyebrows -- just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. In any case, this action left the President wide open to doubts and suspicions about what that Review of the Review signified -- because while IIRC recommendations were just that -- recommendatory -- its members could not be said to be either incompetent or with any partisan political axes to grind (which is presumably why he appointed them in the first place). Was the President being extra careful? Or was he having the report reviewed because he did not like its recommendations (which were being kept from the public ) with respect to some of his closest friends or allies? Was there going to be a whitewash?

I chose to give the President the benefit of the doubt, even as the Ochoa review took more time (23 days vs 15 days) to complete than the IIRC’s work. But now, with the release of the Ochoa report, together with the publication of the complete IIRC report (including recommendations), allows a comparison between the two; and taking them together with the President’s announcements, there is no more room for doubt. The Ochoa report was effectively a whitewash. And PNoy adopted it in toto over the IIRC report.

What it whitewashed was effectively the culpabilities of presidential sidekick Rico Puno, close friend and ally Mayor Alfredo Lim, and (then) PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa (to whom Aquino thinks is owed a debt of gratitude because Verzosa did not allow his police to be partisan during the last elections. Vice Mayor Isko Moreno was also cleared, but his case can be considered as a collateral benefit (as opposed to collateral damage).

A side-by-side comparison of the Ochoa and the IIRC recommendations shows glaringly where (and how) the whitewash takes place.

The recommendations of the IIRC and the Ochoa reports were almost identical with respect to Police Chief Superintendent Magtibay, Police Director Leocadio Santiago Jr., Police Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and the media: gross incompetence and serious neglect of duty; less grave neglect of duty; gross incompetence; referral to the House of Representatives for possible impeachment; and referral to the KBP for possible sanctions for the violations of their code of ethics, respectively.

Then there were recommendations regarding which the two reports had superficial differences, to wit: a) in the case of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales, the IIRC recommended that its findings be referred to the Office of the President for determination of possible administrative offenses, while the Ochoa report (being in the OP) recommended that he be charged with gross neglect of duty and possibly gross misconduct; b) the Ochoa report included Gregorio Mendoza in the list of those to be charged, and mediaman Jake Maderazo in the list of those to be referred to the KBP for sanction -- while the IIRC did not include Mendoza (as he was already facing charges at the time of their report) nor Maderazo (it had determined that the latter was just a spokesman for RMN, who they were after was the radio station manager of RMN’s DZXL); c) and the final superficial difference was with respect to Police Superintendent Orlando Yebra, who the ES/CPLC considered only an ad-hoc negotiator, which presumably carries less culpability, while the IIRC maintained he was chief negotiator, whether ad hoc or not, and therefore was fully culpable. I leave it up to the reader to decide which report had the right of it when it came to these superficial differences in recommendations. PNoy, as earlier mentioned, chose Ochoa.

Which leaves the recommendations where there were major-major differences between the two reports. First, the IIRC recommended, for all the government and police officials involved, that preliminary investigations be conducted by the appropriate government agencies, for any possible criminal liability arising out of the administrative offenses. The Ochoa report gave a blanket absolution from any criminal liability. Which gives rise to the questions: did Ochoa and Presidential Legal Counsel de Mesa conduct their own preliminary investigations? If so, when?

The second major-major difference is where the whitewash comes in. Where the IIRC recommended charges of less grave neglect of duty for Versoza, gross negligence for Puno, and negligence for Moreno, Ochoa cleared them all. And where IIRC recommended that not only administrative but criminal charges be brought against Lim for dereliction of duty and gross negligence, Ochoa gave him a figurative slap on the wrist -- simple neglect of duty and misconduct in office.

How, when they were based on the same set of facts, did the two sets of recommendations differ as night from day? In the case of Versoza and Puno, they were cleared because Ochoa considered the hostage-taking a local crisis rather than a national crisis, so the perceived inaction/indifference of Versoza and Puno were actually the correct behavior! Ochoa didn’t quite put it that way, but that is certainly the gist. The IIRC considered it a national crisis (and obviously so did PNoy).

With respect to Lim, Ochoa had to go through logical hoops to show that Lim’s sins of omission and commission were only simple neglect -- one felt, on reading it, that it was a legal defense brief. And obviously, if Lim was almost not guilty, Isko Moreno, who was merely his subordinate, had to be cleared. So the ingenious Ochoa found a lusot: even though both Moreno and Lim had testified that Moreno as vice mayor was vice chair of the Crisis Management Committee, Ocho insisted that the crisis management manual did not clearly designate him as such. So Moreno, having no responsibility, clearly could not have made any mistakes.Whitewash? What do you think?

Fortune favors the bold

Business Mirror

Receiving e-mail saying how wonderful it is that I am so positive about the Philippines is very kind. However, it makes me feel a little silly. Maybe I am giving the impression that my analysis about the Philippines is similar to an old parish priest talking about how he sees the good in every person. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The average Filipino is an industrious person with a strong entrepreneurial drive, possessing a survivor instinct uncommon in many cultures. The Filipino is able to adapt and is creative and independent-thinking while still able to work in a cooperative environment. The Philippines is a country with a huge untapped natural mineral wealth. This is a much more balanced economy than most nations. Businesses in the Philippines are among the most profitable on the planet.

Aside from too many Filipinos being apologetic about the nation and the people’s normal shortcomings and human flaws, what is there not to like? What is so strange and out of touch about being positive about this nation?

However, the Philippines is a country that wasted so many economic opportunities since the overthrow of the Marcos government in 1986.

President Cory Aquino did not understand the leverage that the Philippines had at the time, particularly with the Americans, and her government never exploited and took advantage of the favorable climate that the Philippines had after Edsa. Her administration operated in seeming total ignorance about the geopolitical world at the time. Half of the Philippine national debt could have been repudiated and forgiven. The amount of long-term soft loans for infrastructure development could have been enormous.

But Aquino chose to convey a “business-as-usual but with a democratic/people-power face” to the world. The events of Edsa seemed to be much more extraordinary to the rest of the world than to the first Aquino administration and as a result, we never capitalized on that part of Philippine history.

President Ramos, on the other hand, well understood the world and firmly believed that if the Philippines acted like a competent and responsible global player, it would be treated that way. But that was not the case. As the Philippines responded to trade and economic issues as an “adult’ nation,” the ones that whined and complained like children were the countries that received the trade breaks and benefits. The Philippines was left behind in the era of globalization.

President Estrada tried to be the chief executive of a nation using the same skills and methods he had employed as the chief executive of a city. He seemed out of place and was never given the respect he needed, either here or abroad to be able to lead economically as the President of the Republic. We should have jumped ahead from the Asian crisis. Instead, the country was not taken seriously.

President Arroyo’s ascent to Malacañang was tainted and always left a slightly bitter taste, which was never fully washed away. Government economic policy, although sensible and prudent, was continuously hampered by the ghost of Edsa 2. Domestic and foreign investment could never quite fully embrace this quasiconstitutional transfer of power.

“Fortes fortuna adiuvat” (Fortune favors the bold)—Publius Terentius, ancient Roman playwright.

Perhaps with the exception of Fidel Ramos, the one quality that has been missing from the government and yet is naturally found in the individual Filipino, is the capability to act with courage, daring, with a risk-taker’s attitude.

Filipino children are taught the exploits of Rizal, Mabini, Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino, and others of the revolutionary period. Surely, these are proud Filipino examples of risk-takers, those who were brave and bold.

Yet, one does not need to look back a hundred years for that type of bold attitude and behavior that fortune may have smiled on for exceptional success. Contemporary Filipinos of extraordinary accomplishments, in part because of their courage, would certainly include Efren Reyes, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, Lea Salonga and, of course, Manny Pacquiao.

It becomes annoying to hear over and over that the Philippines could have, would have, should have been more successful if only “fortune” had smiled a little more brightly on it. Spanish colonization, American occupation, martial law, El Niño, an Asian crisis, or a thousand and one other events kept things from being different.

Ever played tong-its? Getting up from the table with a hand full of money depends more, not on the cards you hold, but the way you play them.

Only the ignorant or the foolish would believe that the Philippines is not in an enviable position in light of the global financial situation. A strong banking sector; a solid real-estate industry; good, steady foreign cash flows from remittances and outsourcing; attractive interest rates and currency; profitable businesses; a very manageable public and private debt load. This is the type of a firm foundation from which a nation’s economy can easily expand.

The country’s negatives, too-high poverty, a problematic education and health system, underemployment, massive wealth inequality and the like are the nation’s critical problems. However, these are not problems that must be solved before the economy grows. In fact, these are the problems that cannot be solved until the economy grows.

The contemporary national leaders who created successes for their countries were the bold. Mahathir of Malaysia reacted to the Asian crisis by doing exactly the opposite of all the “expert” opinions by imposing strict capital controls and saved his country from the worst effects. Korea’s President Park Chung-hee created Korea’s mighty manufacturing sector by getting the then-hated Japanese to invest in Korea. Deng Xiaoping led China toward the previously unthinkable market economy.

The Philippines needs policy-makers who are willing and able to show some creative, enterprising, even fearless, initiatives to take advantage of the times. This is not the time to simply go for the tie. This is the time to take the three-point shot, while being up four points in the last two minutes, to put the game away.

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Philippines stands on its own…finally

Business Mirror

It has taken more than 60 years since independence, but, finally, the Philippines has weaned itself from the economic breasts of the United States.

The first dramatic attempt to become a truly sovereign nation happened in 1991, when the Philippine Senate, despite then-President Cory Aquino’s literally marching in opposition, rejected the US bases treaty.

Over the next 15 years, there were little steps taken by the Philippines to pull away, but something always seemed to get in the way of truly breaking away from Uncle Sam. The 1997 Asian crisis was a major stumbling block to economic independence. If not for the American consumer buying Asia out of the crisis, countries such as Thailand and South Korea would have economically marched backward several decades. Japan used the US consumer through the 1980s and ’90s to keep its status as an American economic “colony” to avoid making hard domestic economic choices. And China would still be a backwater, nothing country if not for the US allowing most of its goods to be produced in places they cannot even pronounce like Shenzhen, Jiangmen and Zhongshan.

While our Asian neighbors were getting fat and strong feeding on Mother America, the Philippines was always the runt of the litter, getting only what was leftover after the others had their fill. The Philippines never fought very hard to get to the front of the line, thinking for some reason that we were Mama’s favorite when, in fact, Mama did not care at all.

But it was easy 20 years ago. All our government officials and business leaders had to do was go to the US, where crumbs and scrapes were given by the Americans to their special brown-skinned trading partners who never complained much. It must have been a wonderful break dealing with the Filipinos unlike with the “real” Asians with slanted eyes from China, Korea and Japan who fought tooth and nail for concessions into the American market. And they got those trade concessions unlike the Philippines.

But it is now 2010 and, finally after 60 years, the Philippines is no longer a colony of the United States.

We have talked so long about the Philippines “delinking” from the economy and financial markets of the US. We really never did anything about achieving that goal though, probably because we were not sure if that was what we wanted. It was almost like a young man dreaming about the big house he will buy someday, but really glad to be able to eat Dad’s food and Mother’s cooking at dinnertime. It was easy to let the ultimate responsibility for the economy, the peso and the stock market fall on the shoulders of the Americans instead of the Filipinos.

Even as recently as 1996, 35 percent of all Philippine exports went to the US. What a glorious time for our exporters. Guarantee the US market and the company would stay viable was their business model. And Japan was always a great backup, taking nearly 20 percent of the goods we sold overseas. Why should they care about China at 1 percent?

For the first half of 2010, the picture is quite different. The United States now accounts for less than half that 1996 amount; 16 percent. China imports 9 percent of our exports. Japan is down to 13 percent. Which is the growth winner in buying Philippine goods and now our largest buyer? Singapore, at 17.5 percent from less than 5 percent in 1996.

While our export sector is still whining about the peso appreciating against the US dollar, they should be looking at the movement of the Japanese yen, which is at a 15-year high against the US dollar. Also of note is the fact that with our largest trading partner, Singapore, both currencies are tracking the US dollar decline closely, offering little negatives to the peso.

Speaking of the Philippine peso, the nation’s currency has always functioned in the mind of locals, as almost the tail of the US dollar dog. Want to know which way the peso was going? Watch the dollar. But that was understandable, with the US being the only important trading partner. Remittances from overseas workers were dollar-focused, and Filipinos tended to convert excess pesos into dollars as a safe haven or may be safe heaven, for buying those condos in California.

But again, it’s 2010, when the dollar is not the currency of choice any place in the world. Seeking to diversify from a currency that may be in its death throes, now the peso is actually becoming the currency of choice for Filipinos for once. And that is a very good event.

The confidence that a people show in the national currency is an important part of creating confidence in the economy, and the Philippines is finally beginning to show both confidences. Never again will you hear, “When the US sneezes, the Philippines catches cold.” Losing that little, silly phrase may be the most significant psychological change for this economy in 60 years.

While the old-time stock-market experts and watchers will never lose the Dow Jones connection to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), in truth, that connection is broken, hopefully forever.

The New York stock market is currently going up because there is little value to the US dollar. The Philippine stock market is going up because there is great value to both the peso and the PSE.

To compare the PSE to the NYSE is to insult and disparage the Philippine stock market. This is a market that is reflecting all aspects of the Philippine economy; the corporate profit growth, the validity of its currency in the global system and the future economic activity. The New York market reflects only the weakness of the dollar and the worthless Obama bailouts to the financial sector.

It has taken much blood, sweat, and tears, but now, finally, the Philippines stands on its own and stands well and strong.

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Honor and Excellence (Prof. Monsod's last lecture to her class)

jedoenriquez | October 05, 2010

On October 5, 2010, Professor Solita Monsod delivered her last lecture for the semester to our Econ 100.1 class. This is no doubt one of the most moving [and entertaining] pieces of public lecture I've heard from a professor, and is definitely something that every Filipino must hear and watch.