Saturday, 19 March 2011

26,823 Korean students top SSPs list

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — Students from South Korea topped the list of foreigners who took up elementary and high school education and short-term courses in the Philippines last year, statistics from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) showed Friday.

Statistics from the BI student desk section disclosed that a total of 26,823 Koreans students have valid special study permits (SSPs) issued by the bureau.

Existing BI rules require foreigners who wish to take up elementary, high school and special courses in a Philippine school to apply for an SSP.

“The SSP is different from the student visa or so-called 9(f) visa, which is issued to a foreigner taking up tertiary education in a Philippine college or university,” Teodulo Estrada, chief of the student desk, explained.

Estrada said he expects the number of SSP applicants to shoot up further in June when the next school year opens.

“There has been a steady increase in the number of SSP applicants since we launched a crackdown against foreigners illegally studying in the country a few months ago,” he noted.

BI- Alien Registration Division (ARD) chief Danilo Almeda said that the same statistics showed that Japanese SSP holders are second in the list with 1,041, followed by 336 Indians and 262 Chinese nationals.

There are also a few hundred SSP holders from Taiwan, Indonesia, United States, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Iran.

“As a result of the upsurge in SSP applicants, the government earned more than P54 million from fees paid by the foreign students, compared to the P42 million it generated a year ago.” Almeda added.

Data from ARD also showed that Koreans also topped the list with over 6,000 9(F) visa holders or foreigners enrolled in various colleges and universities nationwide. Also included in the list are 3,395 Chinese nationals, 2,980 Iranians, and 1,004 Americans.

Families take up fight vs RH bill


Picking up where the embattled Church leaders left off, a nationwide organization calling itself Families Against the RH Bill is taking the offensive in the lobby against proposed legislation on government-funded distribution of contraceptives.

The group is holding a simultaneous sticker campaign in various parts of Metro Manila, Bataan, Pampanga, Baguio, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro City today. Follow-up activities will be done on April 2 and April 16.

Aside from the group’s main message, “No to RH Bill,” catchy slogans like “The Pill Kills,” “If you are not afraid, then you are not aware,” “It’s easy to be pro-choice when you’re not the one being killed,” will be distributed in strategic venues.

TV personality and former national athlete Christine Jacob-Sandejas, one of the convenors of Families Against the RH Bill, said initial funding for the stickers was contributed by the members. To sustain the campaign, the organization will ask recipients for donations of P5 per sticker. The member-families will bring along their children in offering stickers to motorists in various parts of the country.

Why I Am Against the RH Bill

Jesus P. Estanislao

(Dr. Estanislao holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he was also a Teaching Fellow and Research Fellow. He obtained his MA in Economics from Fordham University in Economics and Ph.B. (summa cum laude) from the University of San Carlos. He has been conferred honorary doctoral degrees from Angeles University, Xavier University, St. Paul University, and Manila Central University. He holds the title of University Professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific. He was Finance Secretary during Pres. Corazon Aquino’s administration. Currently, Dr. Jesus Estanislao is head of Institute of Corporate Directors and Institute for Solidarity of Asia.)

  1. The bill, in its present “consolidated form”, dissimulates. It is far from transparent: it purports to be for reproductive health. In fact, by its aim, it is dangerous not only to the health, but even the life, of unborn babies. It can also be dangerous to the health—both physical and psychological—of women.
  2. The bill aims at fewer babies being born in our land, under the premise that the fewer they are, the better off the Philippines would be: fewer mouths to feed, fewer children to educate, fewer people to care for. This premise looks at children—indeed at people—as mere liabilities. It turns a blind eye on the other side, that they can be—indeed often are—great net assets.
  3. The bill claims to make the road to development much easier: the fewer babies we have to provide for, the more resources we free up for investments, particularly for infrastructure. It forgets that the best investment we can make is on people, on a big natural base of human resources.
  4. The bill ignores one of the most pressing development issues now confronting Japan and a few other countries as well, including many European countries and soon also South Korea and China. Ageing of the population, arising from too few babies being born, is bringing about a demographic winter, which considerably darkens the long-term prospects of the economies concerned.
  5. The bill is simplistic in its view of development: one shaped and determined mainly by lowering birth rates and population growth rates. It fails to give due importance to the key determinants of development, which include the following top five factors: “good governance; openness to knowledge; stable finances; allocation of goods and services principally by markets; high rates of savings and investments” (Michael Spence).
  6. The bill expands the role of government considerably, expanding it into areas that are best left to individual choices and responsible decisions of married couples. It violates the key governance principle of leaving to individuals, institutions, and other lower bodies those decisions and duties that they can and should take up on their own. It disregards the maxim that governments govern best by refraining from over-reach.
  7. The bill proposes to spend tax money on population control programs, featuring artificial methods of family planning, which many citizens find offensive to their conscience and objectionable on the basis of the constitutional protection of the unborn. Indeed, many citizens are asking: what business does the government have dispensing contraceptives and condoms and spending public funds on items that are supposed to be a matter of individual “choice”?
  8. The bill is not only intrusive; it is also coercive. It tramples upon the right of conscientious objection on the part of individuals and institutions by threatening jail and other punishments to those who refuse to promote and observe its anti-life orientation and propagation of artificial methods of birth prevention.
  9. The bill offends the basic dignity of human sexuality so essential for strong families as the foundation of a strong society. While proposing to improve the condition of families, it can easily lead to a fools’ paradise, characterized by “more premarital sex, more fatherless children, less domesticated men, more crimes, more social pathology, more single mothers, and therefore more poverty”, as has actually occurred in some countries that have taken the path the bill proposes (George Akerlof).
  10. The bill promotes a mind-set that weakens the ethical fiber of our people. It devalues human life. It fosters short-term enjoyment of “freedom” without instilling a deep sense of duty to take on its corresponding long-term responsibilities. It views personal relationships and social processes from a narrowly pragmatic, materialistic perspective without giving due consideration to ethical and spiritual values, the bedrock foundations for the genuine development of our people.

The Chosen People

By Roberto de Ocampo

(Roberto F. de Ocampo is a former finance secretary and was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.)

EVERY NOW and then I find myself invited by various groups—civic, business, or academic—to give talks or briefings on the state of the Philippine economy. More often than not, particularly during the last decade or so, these talks would inevitably be burdened with bad economic news rather than brightened by tidings of joyful ones. Even with the usual “hope springs eternal” or the wistful stock praise of the “resilience of the Filipino” to end such talks on a positive note, the overall picture could not shake the reality from the minds of the audiences that things weren’t going as well as they should.

I would thus end some of these briefings with a rhetorical question, “I suppose you are now all sufficiently depressed?” and proceed with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek statement that there was really nothing to worry about since little of what I had said during the talk had to do with the “real” economic strategy of the Philippines. Noticing the audiences’ immediate surprised and quizzical look, I would then proceed to say that the “real economic strategy of the Philippines is to populate the rest of the world”—and we would all have a good laugh to lighten things up.

But is this really just a laughing matter? Maybe, not entirely.

Consider that, according to some researches, “in order for a culture to maintain itself for more than 25 years, there must be a fertility rate of 2.11 children per family. With anything less, the culture will decline. Historically, no culture has ever reversed a 1.9 fertility rate.”

The 2011 fertility rate estimate for Spain is 1.47, Italy 1.39, UK 1.91, France 1.96 and Germany 1.41, to name a select few. The average fertility rate of all Western Europe is about 1.5. In short, these nations are either on are perilously close to what population experts call an irreversible demographic decline. To put it more starkly, for example, by 2020 (or just nine years from now) more than half of all births in a country like, say, the Netherlands (1.66 fertility rate) will be of non-European Dutch origin. Furthermore, with the birth rate dropping below replacement, the population of such countries ages and the problems facing an aging population are numerous and startling enough to deserve a separate treatise.

Western Europe is not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. The US fertility rate is, at 2.0, just below replacement and Japan is at a worrisome level of 1.2. For Japan, this means a population decline of about 60 million in the next 30 years and an aging population that will have one out of every five Japanese at least 70 years old by 2020.

However, with the exception of Japan, the overall populations of the above-mentioned countries are not declining. The overwhelming reason for that is immigration (to which Japan is by comparison with others, still somewhat resistant). Guess who comprise one of the larger immigrant populations. Yes, dear—Filipinos!

With a 2011 fertility rate of 3.2, we are nowhere close to demographic doomsday. And we all know that the Philippines’ main industry is the production and export of Filipinos. Estimates of the number of Filipinos overseas come close to 10 million, not counting TNTs (Tago nang Tago) or illegal immigrants. This is more than the population of Sweden. Add to this the fact that about 3,800 Filipinos daily or about 1.4 million yearly leave as OFWs and you’ll know why many get the sense that Filipinos are everywhere. Great masses of Filipinos cover the entire park of Central Hong Kong and the famed Spanish steps in Rome every Sunday. About 30 percent of all seafaring ships’ manpower are Filipino seamen.

Even I sensed this omnipresence early on when, as a then World Bank loan officer (in 1978) on a mission visit to Yemen, a country I knew little about at the time, I learned to my surprise that the power plants, airport, hospitals and hotels were run by Filipinos. A year later, during a visit to Oman, I was invited to dinner by a minister who proudly asked his two kids to recite English poems. They did—with an Ilonggo accent! Their “nanny” was from Aklan and she passed on to them not only the accent but also appreciation of aswangs and adobo. Well, you know the saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”—and there are thousands of cradles worldwide being rocked by Filipino hands.

Now we have begun to creep into the world’s bloodlines. The 2010 World Series winning pitcher Tim Lincecum, 2011 best supporting actress Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, and R&B star Bruno Mars are all Fil-Ams. It may only be a matter of time before nearly every race on earth has some Filipino blood.

The icing on the cake is that just about every major Catholic church, particularly in predominantly Christian Europe, Hong Kong and the Middle East would be almost empty without devout Filipinos. Perhaps, after several more years of wandering in our self-inflicted political-economic desert, we may yet emerge to find ourselves as actually, The Chosen People.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Top direct-selling firm arrives in PH

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The popularity of the direct selling business, its young and growing population as well as bright economic growth prospects have combined to make Stanhome World, the top direct selling home-care brand in Europe, decide to launch its expansion to Asia, starting with the Philippines.

German Martinez, Stanhome World International director general and chief executive officer, told the Inquirer during his recent visit to the country that the plan is to first establish a major presence in the Philippines then move to other countries in Southeast Asia within the next five years.

Martinez said the France-based direct selling company, which is owned by Groupe Yves Rocher—one of the top beauty companies in the world—considered the Philippines the ideal market from which to start its Asian expansion because there are many Filipinos looking to earn extra cash and there is widespread acceptance of the direct selling business model.

Martinez said that he realizes that there are many other direct selling companies in the Philippines offering similar products, but he believes there is more than enough space in the market for Stanhome’s unique line of personal and home-care products that is backed by the expertise of Groupe Yves Rocher.

Stanhome started in the United States during the Great Depression and Groupe Yves Rocher took over 12 years ago. The commitment to producing high-quality goods has remained.

“Our international direct selling company is committed to high quality home care, family care and beauty care solutions. We have earned the trust of millions of women and mothers in Europe. We intend to do the same in the Philippines and in Asia,” he said.

Stanhome, which got television personality Carmina Villaroel as product endorser, will start off with some 300 products for cleaning and freshening up homes; protecting family health and wellness and enhancing beauty.

Stanhome has also decided to invest in an intimate apparel line exclusively for the Philippines. And if sales come in as expected, there are plans to introduce the products in other markets with the Philippines as a main source.

Aside from Stanhome products, Stanhome World will also bring to the Philippines Kiotis, a French cosmetic brand based on essential oils developed by Jacques Rocher, the youngest son of Yves Rocher.

The company kicked off operations last February 28 with the opening of three service centers in Metro Manila and one in Cagayan de Oro. Novaliches and Davao will soon open.

It won’t be long before other service centers are added to the list, making it easier for direct sellers—most of whom are women—to earn a good income

Megaworld profits up 25% on strong rental sales

Neil Jerome C. Morales

MEGAWORLD Corp. profits hit a record P5.1 billion in 2010 after growing a quarter from year-ago levels due to strong revenue flows from its rental divisions, the Andrew L. Tan-led developer said in a statement yesterday.

Net income rose to P5.085 billion last year from P4.07 billion in 2009, the company said in a statement yesterday.

It also topped the P3.79 billion earned in 2008 before the financial crisis hit the real economy.

This, after consolidated revenues grew 16% to P17.8 billion in 2010 from the year before, Megaworld said.

Rental sales -- generated from the firm’s spaces for retail and business process outsourcing offices -- comprised P2.7 billion of the revenues, up by roughly a third from P2 billion in 2009.

As of end-December 2010, the company boasted of 384,000 square meters of office space in its portfolio. It is expected to complete another 78,000 square meters of space this year, earlier reports show.

The rise in revenues offset the 13% hike in expenses to P15.46 billion which Megaworld attributed to costs for real estate sales, operating expenses, interest and other charges, tax expenses and hotel operations.

It went on to claim an improvement in efficiency and profitability, noting that the firm ended the year with P22 billion in cash, up 6% from 2009.

Moving forward, Megaworld said it was upbeat about performance this year given improved prospects for the property sector and the wider Philippine economy.

The property firm “remains very bullish about the prospects of the Philippine economy, as well as the Philippine real estate industry,” said Mr. Tan, chairman and chief executive of Megaworld.

“Our township developments that follow a live-work-play-learn model has become very popular among buyers because it offers a lifestyle of convenience,” Megaworld First Vice-President Francisco C. Canuto added in the same statement.

“On top of that, Megaworld has a proven track record in the industry as it has delivered more than 220 buildings to its customers over the last two decades,” Mr. Canuto added.

The company is currently developing seven projects within Metro Manila including residential developments in Makati and San Juan.

Megaworld accounts for the bulk of earnings of listed conglomerate Alliance Global Group, Inc., whose net income is projected to surge by 38% to P6.62 billion last year, according to earlier reports.

Alliance Global holds the local McDonald’s fastfood franchise through its unit Golden Arches Development Corp. The holding firm also owns Emperador Distillers, Inc., which produces brandy labels Emperador, Generoso and The Bar.

Alliance Global has a joint venture with Genting Hong Kong Ltd., the third-largest cruise line operator in the world” Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., which is developing the eight-hectare Resorts World Manila complex in Pasay.

Shares in Megaworld, which has a market value of P55.38 billion, closed seven centavos lower at P2.09 each yesterday.

Ayala Corp buys into country’s sole wind farm

N. J. C. Morales

AYALA CORP., the country’s oldest conglomerate, has purchased a 50% interest in the country’s only wind farm as part of plans to diversify into the power business.

The acquisition of the NorthWind Power Development Corp. stake marks Ayala’s bid to build a portfolio of over 1,000 megawatts (MW) from both renewable and traditional energy sources, company president Fernando Zobel de Ayala said in a statement.

"We believe there are opportunities to make early stage investments in the renewable energy space, which may have the potential to grow over time given the need to develop alternative sources of energy," he said.

"In addition to our wind and solar initiatives, we are also developing platforms for hydroelectric power."

NorthWind owns and operates the 33-MW wind farm in Bangui Bay in Ilocos Norte, which sells electricity to the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative. The facility, the first commercial wind farm in Southeast Asia, operates 20 turbines.

The acquisition, accomplished through Ayala subsidiary Michigan Power Inc., cost "approximately P500 million plus ... depending on performance indicators," Emily C. de Lara, Ayala corporate communications head said in a phone interview yesterday.

Ayala said the purchase was part of an "initiative to enter the power sector and comes after the company’s recent joint venture with Mitsubishi Corp. on solar power."

Last November, Ayala infused P112.5 million into Michigan Power, which had entered into a joint venture with Diamond Generating Asia, Ltd., a subsidiary of Mitsubishi. The partners formed solar power firm PhilNewEnergy, Inc.

Analysts were mixed on the development.

For Astro C. del Castillo, managing director of brokerage firm First Grade Holdings, Inc., said Ayala’s entry into the power sector could help increase available supply and lower prices.
"You have high costs of electricity already so the challenge is to lower electricity prices," Mr. del Castillo said.

But Jose Mari B. Lacson, head of research at stock brokerage Campos, Lanuza & Co., said other local conglomerates had gotten ahead in the race to diversify into power.

"It is good because they have gone ahead with their plans but a lot of other conglomerates are already in the game," Mr. Lacson said.

San Miguel Corp., for example, now has four power plants with a combined capacity of 3,165 MW.
Shares in Ayala, which is valued by the market at P172.43 billion, closed P6.40 lower at P349 each yesterday.

The conglomerate, which was founded in 1834 and incorporated in 1968, posted saw profits rise by 37% to P11.2 billion last year on the back of strong performances by its real estate, banking, water, and car dealership businesses.

‘Pocket open skies’ okayed


FURTHER OPENING UP of Philippine airspace has been ordered by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, who said the move would spur competition, promote investments and trade, and provide travelers more choices.

Sec. Ricky A. Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office told Palace reporters that the intent of the so-called "pocket open skies" policy was to "liberalize the entry into secondary airports."

Two executive orders (EOs) dated March 14, 2011 have been issued by Malacañang: EO 29 authorizing the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and negotiators to "pursue more aggressively the international civil aviation liberalization policy" and EO 28 which again splits the country’s negotiating panel into two.

Philippine carriers lost their membership in the negotiating panels, with Mr. Aquino relegating their status to "observers."

Airline representatives contacted yesterday reserved comments on the adoption of the open skies policy. Some questions were raised, however, over flag carriers losing the right to have their say in aviation talks and whether liberalization would have its intended effect.

EO 29 allows negotiators to offer foreign airlines third, fourth and fifth freedom rights, plus frequencies and capacities, to Philippine airports other than the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Waivers to frequencies/capacities under existing air services agreements (ASAs) will also be allowed.

The freedoms -- part of a set of commercial aviation rights also known as the nine "freedoms of the air" -- involve, in numerical order, the right to fly from one’s own country to another; fly from one country to one’s own; and fly between two foreign countries while the flight originates or ends in one’s own.

In no case should cabotage rights -- involving the transport of goods and passengers between two or more points within the Philippines (covered by the eighth and ninth freedoms) -- be granted to any foreign carrier, EO 29 states.

The three freedoms, Section 2 of EO 29 states, will be offered "without restriction as to frequency, capacity and type of aircraft and other arrangements that will serve the national interest" as may be determined by the CAB.

Section 3, meanwhile, states that the CAB can "grant any foreign air carriers increases in frequencies and/or capacities in the country’s airports other than the NAIA..." These will be subject to approval by the president and will operate as a waiver of existing ASA restrictions.
CAB director Carmelo Arcilla said the country had 10 secondary airports, all of which stand to benefit in terms of tourism.

"This policy will benefit our developmental routes ... the tourist destinations are outside Manila, so with direct flights to these areas, it will be more convenient for prospective tourists to fly there," he said in an interview.

EO 29 is an expansion of EOs 500 and 500-A, issued in 2006 during the Arroyo administration, which provided unlimited third and fourth freedom rights to foreign carriers operating in the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark and the Subic Bay International Airport in Subic.

Philippine carriers have objected to pocket open skies -- their outcry led to the issuance of EO 500-A which took back fifth freedom rights granted under EO 500 -- but Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim said the latest orders were a "good compromise" given NAIA’s congestion. Mr. Carandang insisted that "domestic aviation will still be primarily in the hands of local carriers."
Representatives of domestic carriers said they were reserving comment on the new policy.

"We haven’t seen a copy of the EO yet ... we will have to study it," Cebu Pacific corporate communications manager RG Orense said.

Joey de Guzman, vice-president for corporate communications at Philippine Airlines (PAL) also said that the directive needed further examination.

He pointed out, however, that EOs may not achieve their purpose of boosting air travel as foreign carriers had yet to maximize the use of available frequencies.

"Why are they not coming droves? It’s a function of the market ... It’s not just the ability to fly there," Mr. de Guzman said.

EO 28, meanwhile, recreated the Philippine Air Negotiating Panel and the Philippine Air Consultation Panel, dropping a 2001 reorganization under EO 32 -- also issued by the Arroyo government -- that had merged the two into a single entity.

The Foreign Affairs secretary was named chief of the negotiating panel, with the chiefs, or their duly authorized representatives, of the Trade, Transportation, Labor and Tourism departments, and the CAB as members.

The country’s official air carriers, named members of the two panels in EO 219 issued in 1995 during the Ramos administration, can now merely "participate in the proceedings as observers."
PAL’s Mr. de Guzman said he was concerned over the carriers being relegated to the background but Tourism’s Mr. Lim said the new composition was consistent with international standards.

Initial talks leading to the conclusion of ASAs will be handled by the negotiating panel.

Succeeding talks regarding these ASAs will be handled by the consultation panel, which will be headed by the Transportation secretary or his representative. The CAB executive will sit as co-chairman, with the secretaries of the Trade, Tourism, Foreign Affairs and Labor departments as members.

EO 28 does allow the chairman of the consultation panel to name new members with the approval of the president.

No such provision applies for the negotiating panel.

The CAB -- which can form as many air panels as needed -- will act as a secretariat and will be responsible for preparing negotiation and consultation talks.

Both Palace orders take effect next month after having been published yesterday. The CAB was directed to draft implementing guidelines of EO 29 within 30 days from the directive’s effectivity.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

BoI: Investment pledges jumped 185% to P28.2b

by Julito G. Rada
Manila Standard

The Board of Investments approved P28.24 billion worth of investment pledges in the first two months of the year, up 185 percent from P9.917 billion year-on-year.

BoI executive director Lucita Reyes said the agency approved 36 projects, 64 more from the 22 projects cleared a year ago.

“The first two months’ performance showed us we are on the right track of surpassing the BoI investment target this year of P258 billion,” she said.

Employment to be generated from the investment commitments, however, fell 16 percent to 4,225 from 5,007 on year because many of the projects were registered in the renewable energy sector that required automation and less workers.

The BoI earlier projected lower investment pledges of P258 billion this year, a 10-percent drop from last year’s P285 billion, because independent power producer administrators, which comprised half of the total commitments in 2010, would no longer be qualified for fiscal incentives.

Trade Undersecretary and BoI managing head Cristino Panlilio said the IPPAs comprised the bulk of investment commitments last year. Investment pledges in 2010 rose 5.6 percent to P301 billion.

“Investment approvals for independent power producer administrators alone in 2010 hit almost P150 billion. So we projected a lower target for this year,” Panlililo said.

But he said the expected surge in investments in infrastructure projects this year under the public-private partnership initiative could fill up the void left by IPPAs.

“We should get at least five PPP projects this year to compensate what would be lost,” Panlilio said. The BoI in September last year excluded applications of IPPA projects from the grant of incentives. Independent power producer administrators are companies with the right to sell the contracted output of power plants.

The BoI and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority contribute about 90 to 95 percent of the country’s overall investment pledges. The rest come from Clark Development Corp., Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, Philippine Retirement Authority and other investment promotion agencies.

Panlilio expressed optimism that the business environment would be stronger this year with the implementation of the PPP projects.

Govt posts budget surplus

by Elaine R. Alanguilan
Manila Standard

The government registered a budget surplus of P13.4 billion in January, the second in three months, as spending fell, tax collection beat targets and dividends from state agencies boosted revenue.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima attributed the favorable fiscal performance to much- improved revenue collections and the windfall from the remittances of state companies amounting to P24 billion.

“The trend improvement in cash collections of Internal Revenue and Customs since the last quarter of 2010 clearly shows that the reforms implemented by the Aquino administration to improve processes and fight corruption at both agencies as well as the intensified campaign against tax evaders and smugglers have started to produce good results,” said Purisima.

“We are determined to win our fight against tax evaders, smugglers and corrupt government officials. It will be a long fight and there are no shortcuts but we are firmly resolved at tackling this from all fronts and win our battle step by step.”

Revenue collections in January reached P135.9 billion, up 47 percent from P92.3 billion a year ago while expenses fell 5.3 percent to P122.5 billion from P129.4 billion on year.

Internal Revenue and Customs bureaus exceeded their respective monthly targets and registered double-digit collection growth year-on-year.

Internal Revenue collections in January rose 15 percent year-on-year to P74.6 billion from P64.6 billion and were higher by P2.6 billion than the P72-billion target for the month.

“Meeting the target for the first time on the first month of the year is a good signal for Internal Revenue. However, I have to stress that it is still early in the year and we will continue our efforts to collect from everyone what is due, so the country will have enough to fund vital projects that will support future economic growth,” said Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares.

“I’m confident that the government will be able to meet their deficit target for this year,” Angeline Sia, a fixed-income trader who helps manage the equivalent of $12 billion at BPI Asset Management Inc., said before the report. “What’s crucial is to improve revenue collection to be able to cut the deficit without hurting spending.”

On the desirability of a young population

Other lessons from Japan
Business Mirror

The images coming out of Japan show a nation that seems stuck in time from last Friday while the rest of the world attempts to go about its business. However, we all know that we are witnesses and perhaps part of a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Governments around the globe try to react in some way to show that they are “doing something”—from Asian countries testing Japanese imports for radiation to Germany shutting down seven nuclear reactors to the Philippines reviewing disaster plans. All of these efforts look somewhat foolish and futile when compared to the pictures of hundreds of thousands of Japanese disaster refugees struggling without proper shelter, food and water, like inhabitants of the worst possible “Third World” country.

And we ordinary citizens are all asking “why” and “what if” and, in the end, saying, “Thank God, it was not us.”

Yet, a year ago, it was Haiti and, more recently, Chile and then New Zealand that experienced devastating earthquakes, giving us all the same kind of pictures and videos of helplessness and desolation.

Now, though, with Japan in our focus, we realize that no one, no country, no economic class is immune from these kinds of events. All the development and money in the world ultimately cannot stop the forces of nature. We saw here in the Philippines during Typhoon Ondoy that the multimillion-peso SUV floated away in the floodwaters just as easily as the fishball vender’s pushcart.

There are lessons to be learned from Japan applicable to every nation and perhaps every person, since we all live each day under one threat or another that can change or even take life away.

The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, made a startling comment before reporters. From the CNN religion blog: “On Monday, Ishihara had told reporters, ‘I think (the disaster) is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for the disaster victims,’” according to Kyodo News, which translated Ishihara’s remarks from Japanese. “Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism. We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time.”

John Nelson, the chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, said Ishihara’s remarks about divine retribution hark back to Japanese Buddhist ideas that fell out of favor decades ago. He said the Japanese term tembatsu could also be translated as heavenly punishment. “The way [Ishihara] used it was a prewar understanding of the will of heaven or the gods to discipline the Japanese people.”

If Ishihara is correct about divine retribution (and who are we to question the mind of God one way or the other?), then all governments and all people are under judgment. Which government official, including in the Philippines, does not lead with ego believing that the people, the sheep, are fed only because of his or her efforts. Which politician does not make a supreme attempt to pander to and please all groups for political expediency?

However, there are consequences for a nation and people that become arrogant with too much ego that has become “rusted” onto the national mentality.

In the 1980s Japan was the country that had risen from the ashes of World War II to become the dominant economic force on the planet. Nothing could stop “Japan, Inc.” Traditional ways and beliefs were cast aside in favor of a new Japan that the “New Japanese” person would create. The marriage rate dropped almost in half from only a decade earlier and having children was an unnecessary burden. Besides, having children was for less fortunate people who could not afford the finer things in life.

Japan is now faced with a historical rebuilding of their country. But who is going to do it, and who is going to pay for it?

Nearly 25 percent of Japan is over 65 years of age. The median age (as many people below and above) in Japan is 45. Only 13 percent of the population is under 16 years old. The current population growth rate is a negative 0.3 percent. Japan will have nearly twice as many people die as are born this year.

The numbers for the Philippines are the opposite. Over 65 years makes up 4 percent of the population. The median age is 23, and the birth growth rate comfortably replaces those who die at 1.9 percent.

We have all seen the pictures of the damage. It will take years to repair and replace the thousands of miles of roads, the hundreds of bridges and the hundreds of thousands of buildings. Japan does not have the young labor force and will rely on workers from countries like the Philippines to do the work. It is estimated by the UN Population Division that Japan will need to “import” 1 million workers per year over the next two decades to supplement its labor force.

Japan has the highest public debt burden ratio to gross domestic product of any major country at more than 200 percent. The Philippines debt is 50 percent. Japan will be forced to borrow more money to rebuild, and how is it going to pay that debt in the future? The most productive earning years are between 40 and 50. Over the next 20 years as government and private-sector debt is repaid, there will be nearly 50-percent less “peak-earning-years” workers as there are now. More and more of employees’ wages will go for debt servicing government taxes.

In literally less than one hour, Japan saw a portion of what it has built in the last 60 years swept away. Perhaps, Governor Ishihara is at least partially right about too much pride and arrogance and the consequences, what we might call karma. That is something we all need to learn.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

PPP picks up pace

Business Mirror Editorial

The new British ambassador to Manila recently described the Philippines as a “key emerging power in East Asia.” The country’s “very impressive” 7.3-percent growth in 2010, Ambassador Stephen Lillie noted, has been accompanied by a marked increase in bilateral trade, with 2010 total trade between the Philippines and Britain expected to reach P70 billion.

While the British ambassador’s description of the country as a “key emerging power in East Asia may be viewed by some as overly optimistic, this isn’t the first time the Philippines has been considered a potential regional power. With its huge population, said a private think tank not too long ago, the country can attain the status of a regional power. But then, a big population does not necessarily mean a huge productive capability, especially when nearly half of our population lives on the edge of poverty.

Nevertheless, the British ambassador has expressed support for the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, saying that the British embassy is “actively encouraging more British companies to participate in the bidding of Philippine PPP projects.”

“More bidders mean a more competitive bidding process that would present the Philippine government with a wider range of partnership choices,” Lillie said.

Support for the PPP program is also forthcoming from other countries in Europe and the Middle East, according to the Board of Investments (BOI).

BOI Managing Director Cristino Panlilio, who recently embarked on a two-week visit to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Doha in Qatar, and some parts of the European Union, said business executives from France, Spain, Switzerland and the UK will visit the Philippines before the year ends, possibly to participate in big-ticket infrastructure projects of the government.

Within this year, businesses from Europe will likely inject some $1 billion (around P43 billion) for their expansion projects and fresh investments in the Philippines, Panlilio said.

Meanwhile, businessmen from the Middle East want to invest at least $500 million in government projects, Panlilio said. “We just have to nudge them to send in more FDI [foreign direct investments] sooner,” he said. Getting more foreign funds to come in, however, may not be as simple as nudging investors to sink their money into Philippine projects.

When President Aquino was in Singapore last week, his hosts were likewise optimistic about investment prospects in the Philippines, but emphasized that for the country to draw in Singaporean investments, there must be improved security and transparency. The cochairman of the Philippines-Singapore Business Council, Choo Chiau Beng, said that “for Singapore companies investing in the Philippines, it is very critical that the law and the courts have credibility. And I would urge the President to ensure that.”

To create a probusiness environment in the Philippines, Mr. Aquino said, curbing corruption is the first order of business. That this should be the priority is borne out by the 2010 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which rated the Philippines as “highly corrupt,” ranking 134th out of 178 countries.

Encouraging private-sector participation in infrastructure development through the PPP program may be easier said than done, however, with the country’s serious peace-and-order problems. Armed rebellion, exacerbated by criminality, serves to dampen investments, especially in the countryside.

The country definitely needs more roads, railways, airports and energy projects that will open up more opportunities for foreign investments. But the government must see to it that investments are amply protected, if we want to attain the goal of becoming a “key emerging power in East Asia” in the near future.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

BSP: Hot money still rising

by Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

Gross inflows of foreign funds temporarily parked in local stocks and government securities nearly tripled in the first two months of 2011, sustaining the extraordinary growth seen last year.

Bangko Sentral reported over the weekend that gross inflows of foreign portfolio investments, also known as hot money, amounted to $2.971 billion as of Feb. 25 this year, up sharply from just $1.076 billion year-on-year.

This allowed the country to attract net inflows of $762.22 million in foreign funds during the period, up 147 percent from $308.71 million a year ago.

Gross outflows also surged to $2.2 billion as of Feb. 25 from $768 million booked during the same period last year, data showed.

The Philippines last year recorded a net inflow of $4.6 billion in foreign portfolio investments, as gross inflows reached a record $13 billion.

The higher inflows contributed to a balance of payments surplus of more than $14 billion in 2010 that helped push the gross international reserves past the $60-billion mark for the first time.

Despite its efforts to buy foreign exchange, the peso still managed to appreciate by around 5 percent against the US dollar last year.

ING Bank N.V. Philippines said if the shadow reserves from foreign portfolio investments were included in the official tabulation, the country’s total gross international reserves should top $80 billion.

Joey Cuyegkeng, chief economist of ING Bank N.V. Philippines, said Bangko Sentral embarked on a strategy to come in and out of the swap market in a bid to limit the impact of the foreign portfolio investments on liquidity.

“The Bangko Sentral with all its wisdom set aside it all these money and did not include them in official reserves. Bangko Sentral set aside something like $23 billion as of October 2010,” he said.

“So, our reserves are quite in the area of $80 billion,” he said. “Inadvertently, Bangko Sentral is liquifying the system, but not in the way that would affect inflation. They reduced the reason for the hot money to come in.”

A net inflow in foreign portfolio investments contribute to the appreciation of the stock index as well as the peso against the US dollar.

Most foreign funds are invested in shares listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange while others go to peso government securities and peso time deposits.

The Philippines and the ‘Big One’

Business Mirror

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Japan, it is perfectly normal that people question the government’s ability to respond to a similar disaster in the Philippines. However, the answer to the question of the government to be able to effectively respond is simple: it cannot. Further, it should not.

Japan has spent a generation preparing for the “Big One.” Mass earthquake drills are conducted on a regular basis. Building codes for all types of structures are the strictest in the world and are upgraded regularly. Supplies are stockpiled and the government constantly revises and improves disaster plans. However, at the end of the day, the government does not and will not ever have the capability to protect its citizens from this sort of event.

Japan was ready for this “Big One.” And yet even after decades of planning and preparation, all the efforts were not enough. While no major buildings were destroyed in this largest earthquake to hit Japan, all the planning could not prevent a tragic disaster.

The tsunami hit with such speed and ferocity, the waters were impossible to escape for tens of thousands. In hindsight, the only solution would have been to keep large populations from living within miles of the coastline.

Japan’s nuclear-energy industry, too, has been one of the most regulated and monitored in the world. Although the Japanese government has at times been less than truthful and not fully honest about past plant failures, Japan is currently operating nearly 60 reactors as does France. South Korea and India each run more than 20. Russia generates electricity from more than 30 plants while Canada has 18, Sweden with 10, and the United Kingdom has 19. The US runs over 100 nuclear plants. There are more than 400 nuclear plants around the world. Overall, in spite of this current event and what nuclear-power gloom and doomers want you to believe, nuclear-power generation has a positive track record. By the way, China has 27 nuclear-power plants under construction and is planning to build 100 more during the next decade.

The Japanese nuclear plants that have gained world attention survived the earthquake with minimal damage. But they could not survive unscathed through the loss of commercial power and the tsunami that destroyed back-up generators. The infrastructure damage prevented a quick enough response to keep the situation from going critical.

The Philippine government, through its various agencies and with the help of the responsible media, did an excellent job of informing the public about the potential of the Philippines experiencing problems from the Pacific-wide tsunami. Very cautious evacuations along some coastal areas progressed without apparent problems. Yet, in spite of these admirable efforts, irresponsible citizens, along with some irresponsible media, created more anxiety and worry than was necessary. The cell-phone companies made extra profits on Friday as text messages flew around the country with foolish and silly words of impending doom.

While the government did a good job, too many people reacted like uneducated savages experiencing a solar eclipse. So, too, some of the media. When the tsunami warning was first broadcast from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the Philippines was told to expect under the worst-case scenario, increased water levels of .25 to .50 of a meter along the Pacific coastal areas. Yet, to hear some people and media talk, Davao was destined to be totally consumed by water and we in Manila would have been fighting for a safe spot at the top of the Philippines’ tallest PBCom Tower. All foolish talk.

The town of Otsuchi, north of Tokyo, in Iwate prefecture, saw thousands of its citizens killed.

Within minutes after the initial earthquake stopped, the mayor of Otsuchi and other town officials did what government people are really good at; they had a meeting. Unfortunately, while they were discussing “safety measures” on the ground floor of a two-story building 1 kilometer from the ocean, the tsunami hit and they have not been seen since. Common sense would have dictated to “Run for your lives,” but public leaders are not often elected for that characteristic.

So what should the Philippine government do to protect the people? The most sensible comments came from the BusinessMirror editorial, “Government must get a grip on the big ‘what-if?’” Instead of calling for a master disaster plan, the BusinessMirror spoke of the need to provide opportunities and jobs for the overseas workers who may be sent home from the “disaster” areas of the Middle East and now Japan. The only thing I would have added is that the government should be making major plans to deploy thousands of Filipino construction workers to rebuild Japan.

Every nation, even countries like Japan, has a limited amount of financial resources, capital, and the winners are those that use that capital most effectively and efficiently. I am sure that over the next weeks, Congress will hold hearings and appropriate large sums for new “disaster preparedness,” perhaps like the town officials of Otsuchi were discussing when they were swept away.

Yet any funds allocated for preparation and planning should be looked at in the bigger picture, not some sort of “feel good” newspaper headlines.

Already, the foolish are talking about the possible effects on the Philippines of a Japanese “nuclear fallout.” More stupidity. But that is human nature. As a side note, I was staying in Europe during the Chernobyl nuclear facility catastrophe. And all of the dire health predictions following Chernobyl—increased cancer rates and deaths—have been proven to be completely wrong.

While our prayers go out to the survivors and the dead, the Philippines needs common sense and a proper perspective. Yes, a major earthquake in Metro Manila is the worst thing that could happen to this country. But there is not a lot that we can do if it happens. As individuals though, we need to protect ourselves (some reasonable stocks of food and water at all times) and depend less on a government that honestly, should have other, more important priorities.

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Dangerous transactions: Abortion-inducing tablets sold online

Business Mirror

JEANNE sat with her two-month-old baby at a fastfood restaurant in a mall in Caloocan City, looking like a regular customer. In reality, she was there to make a sale, and waiting for a client to pick up the merchandise.

The client walked in, approached her and forked over P1,250. Jeanne then handed over a small plastic bag containing the merchandise the client ordered from her through a web site.

As the customer was checking the contents, Jeanne nervously begged that the bag be opened discreetly. Moments later, the customer walked away, satisfied the goods were in order: Five tablets of Pfizer’s Cytotec purchased for a younger sister who had gotten herself pregnant.

Cytotec (generic name: Misoprostol) is a drug to prevent gastric ulcers, treat miscarriages or induce labor. But the Bureau of Food and Drugs (Bfad) restricted its sale in 1994 amid reports that women were using it to do away with unwanted pregnancies. It is now delivered clandestinely, with the transaction taking place mostly online.

Cytotec is often used together with Methergine, originally developed to treat after-pregnancy bleeding and improve the uterine tone, which is now prohibited from being sold without a prescription.

Following Bfad’s order, law enforcers launched operations against illegal peddlers of Cytotec and Methergine, mostly in places like Quiapo, Manila, a famous haven of herbs and drugs touted to induce abortion.

But as the transaction at the Caloocan mall shows, the unregulated sale of Cytotec and Methergine through the Internet is just as rampant. The reason: Access to the drugs is easy, and the risk of getting caught is low as the government is hardly aware of or doing much about the online sellers.

The sale of Cytotec and Methergine through the Internet has been taking place below the radar of the Bfad, which is clueless that these online transactions are taking place.

Lawyer Emilio Polig Jr., chief of Bfad’s Legal, Information and Compliance Division, said it was the first time his agency has heard that Cytotec and Methergine were being sold online and asked for help in gathering evidence.

“Puwede mo bang maibigay sa amin [ang ebisyensya] para maimbestigahan namin [Can you give us the evidence so we can investigate this]?” he said.

Cytotec’s attraction to Filipinos as an abortifacient comes as little surprise. The National Demographic and Health Survey found 16 percent of pregnancies to be unwanted. Abortion is a crime in the Philippines, yet every year, as a result of these unwanted pregnancies, half-a- million Filipino women induce abortions.

The Bfad’s 1994 order limited the sale and dispensing of Cytotec to tertiary hospital pharmacies and big drugstore chains.

In August 2002, however, the Bfad further tightened restrictions because the drug was no longer registered with it. This means the government could not assure the drug’s safety, efficacy and quality.

The bureau’s 2002 advisory reminded the public that the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution or transfer of any unregistered drug and device with it is a violation of Republic Act 3720, the Food, Drug, Devices and Cosmetics Act. It also urged the public to report to the Bfad and police information that would lead to the arrest of persons dealing with Cytotec.

Polig confirmed that Cytotec remains unregistered with Bfad.

Mercury Drug, the country’s leading drugstore, said it does not carry or sell Cytotec. Pfizer’s local office said it does not manufacture or supply Cytotec in the country.

But online sellers have ignored the ban, offering Cytotec and other abortifacient medicines through web sites such as six popular sites that were tracked for this report. (VERA Files is withholding the domain names to discourage readers from visiting the sites.)

The medicines are being sold in a package for P2,900 to P3,400, or singly—P250 for Cytotec and P100 for Methergine.

Stacey sells the drugs as package for P2,900 a kit through one site. The package includes Cytotec, Methergine and Mifepristone (Mifeprex) that is used to treat spasms. (VERA Files removed the exact quantity of the tablets.)

She requires a customer to buy the whole package, saying Cytotec alone will not terminate the pregnancy. She said Mifepristone should follow the use of Cytotec because it discharges the fetus after this has been detached from the womb. Methergine, on the other hand, cleans up the uterus to prevent infection and helps stop the bleeding, she said.

Stacey even offers instructions on how to take the medicines in the proper way to achieve the intended result.

“May kasama pang instruction galing kay doktora na OB-Gyne. At ka-text mo din ako para alalayan ka sa pag-inom ng gamot [I even have instructions from an OB-Gyne doctor, and you can text me so I can guide you through the medication],” she said.

Stacey markets her products as “genuine drugs” as opposed to those sold in Quiapo. She said she gets the drugs from Dubai and the Netherlands.

Because most online sellers know the consequences of selling prohibited drugs, they send the medicines through LBC or Air21, and advise their buyers to pay them through Globe G-Cash, LBC or a Banco de Oro account.

But they also do agree to meet persistent clients in person, as Jeanne did at the Caloocan mall.

Lyn, who bought the medicines over the Internet, said she was assisted by her supplier while taking the drugs.

One online site even runs a forum thread called “Post-Abortion Experiences” to allow users of Cytotec and Methergine to share their experiences.

Zeni started the thread when she kept bleeding for two weeks after she took Cytotec and Mifepristone. The bleeding was unlike a menstrual flow. The blood she was discharging, she said, was like “jelly ace,” a gel-like candy.

Advice and comments came pouring after she posted her fears on February 7, 2010.

Lizbeth told Zeni that she, too, had experienced bleeding after downing Cytotec and Mifepristone. She was only convinced the combination was effective when she saw the fetus come out with blood clots.

She then advised Zeni to undergo an ultrasound to make sure no tissues were left inside her womb.

“Malamang sa iyo meron pang mga tissues na naiwan sa loob. Better pa-ultrasound ka para malaman mo kasi possible na mabulok iyan sa loob and very dangerous po ’yun [There might have tissues left in your womb. You better have an ultrasound to avoid infection because it’s dangerous],” she wrote.

These conversations form the bulk of the discussion. But there was one post inviting readers to visit well-known hospitals for abortion services, or contact the secretary of a doctor for a consultation appointment through a mobile-phone number.

Because the services at the supposed hospitals are advertised, this gives buyers the impression that abortion through the use of Cytotec is not only legal but also safe. It is not totally safe.

A report published in September by Reuters Health online cited studies showing that Cytotec, usually obtained on the blackmarket for about $2 a dose, can indeed achieve complete abortion between 70 and 94 percent of the time.

Researcher Rachel Jones of the New York City-based Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health, the relative case, told Reuters the effectiveness and low cost of the drug make it appealing to a woman seeking to end her pregnancy.

But Jones warned that the improper use of Cytotec can result in an increased risk of complications, including severe bleeding and incomplete abortion. If the pregnancy persists, birth defects are possible, she said.

Many women suffer the consequences of unsafe abortions. In the Philippines about 79,000 are admitted to hospitals for complications and 800 die from them.

The Bfad, meanwhile, consistently warns consumers against using fake or unregistered medicines since these do not contain pharmaceutical ingredients or may indicate wrong dosages. Worse, some unregistered drugs may even contain toxic ingredients, it says.

In the case of Cytotec and other abortion-causing drugs sold through the Web, Polig said existing laws, such as RA 3720 (Food, Drugs and Cosmetic), RA 8203 (Laws on Counterfeit Drugs) and RA 4729 (Law on Contraceptive Drugs and Devices), cover online sellers.

“It does not matter how you sell it. It might be through online or whatever medium. Regardless, it is prohibited for any person to export, sell, offer for sale a product that is not registered from a person who is not licensed,” he said.

Lawyer JJ Disini of the University of the Philippines’ Law Internet and Society Program said all laws on prohibited drugs indeed apply to online sales of pharmaceuticals, but he pointed out problems in enforcing the laws.

“It’s just more difficult for law- enforcement agencies to identify the perpetrators. If they wanted to, the cops can track down the cellular telephone numbers. Maybe it’s not a priority with them,” he explained.

Polig said the Bfad is also stumped on how to regulate online sellers of prohibited drugs like Cytotec.

“It’s really hard because we are not sure with their locations. We are not sure if they live here in the country or not. Unlike with retail drugstores or establishments, we can easily track them,” he said.

Polig said the importation of unregistered drugs also falls outside the Bfad’s ambit.

“It’s not our concern anymore; it’s the customs bureau’s responsibility,” he said.

(Ed Sitjar, a masteral student at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, wrote a longer version of this report for his Investigative Journalism class under VERA Files trustee Yvonne T. Chua. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)