Thursday, 12 May 2011

Impressive agricultural numbers

Business Mirror

The numbers are good, the data important.

From the BusinessMirror: “The country’s farm sector posted a seven-year high growth of 4.1 percent in the first quarter on the back of a record-high palay output for the January-to-March period, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

“The growth of the agriculture sector in the first quarter was the highest since the first quarter of 2004, when the sector grew by 7 percent, the DA said on Tuesday. It attributed this growth to palay output, which registered an all-time high growth of 15.63 percent. Other contributors were corn, which grew by 19.5 percent, sugar cane, 26.73 percent, and banana, 2.72 percent, in the first quarter.”

From the Inquirer: “Philippine agriculture grew 4.1 percent in the first quarter of the year on the back of strong crop output, including an “unprecedented” palay (unmilled rice) harvest, the DA said Tuesday. The rice sector expanded to 4.03 million metric tons in the first quarter, “the highest rice volume we have seen since Filipinos started planting rice,” Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told the media. “This was unprecedented.”

Why these increases? Secretary Alcala continued, “The biggest contributor here was our fast action in irrigation repairs. We gave priority to the repairs or rehabilitation of the irrigation systems.”

Twenty years ago it was easy to predict the Philippine gross domestic product (GDP). Take the percentage increase in agricultural production and multiply by 1.5. A 3-percent increase in the agricultural sector equaled a 4.5-percent increase in GDP. Almost like clockwork.

The reason for this direct correlation between the agricultural production and total economic activity was that, according to some very reliable studies, the total direct and indirect impact of agricultural on the economy was as high as 70 percent of the total economic output.

This is because of the Velocity of Money and the consumer spending multiplier effect. The Velocity of Money measures the rate at which money in circulation is used for purchasing goods and services. From Investopedia: “The rate at which money circulates, changes hands, or turns over in an economy in a given period. Higher velocity means the same quantity of money is used for a greater number of transactions and is related to the demand for money.”

There are only two things we can do with the money we earn; we can spend it or we can save it. Investments of any type are a form of savings as we do not exchange our cash for goods or services.

The savings rate of individuals here in the Philippines is low in comparison to those in other countries and by common thinking, this is not necessarily a good situation. However, it is not necessarily a bad situation, either. The savings rate in the United States is virtually zero because excess funds beyond basic necessities are used to pay off consumer debt. Here in the Philippines, the savings rate is low because of two factors—a large lower-middle class uses excess money to buy goods and services to increase their standard of living, and the fact that the country has a low consumer debt, meaning we buy with cash not credit.

In the agricultural sector, income is absolutely determined by production. More rice means more money and that money is spent not only on goods like a new television set, but also on services like education. Farmers earn and then they spend. Therefore, an increase of agricultural production has a very positive multiplier effect on the economy as the velocity of the farmers’ income is fast and the multiplier effect is wide.

A friend who owns a biscuit- manufacturing company sells almost all of their large tins of product in the rural provinces. A 4-percent rise in agricultural output means he increases his production by about the same amount, thereby increasing his work force, raw-material purchases, and other associated production and distribution costs by the same amount as the agricultural output increase. While a shrinking percentage of GDP, the agricultural sector is crucial to the economy for the individual income that it produces, not only just to fulfill the need for food self-sufficiency.

Now back to what the secretary said: “The biggest contributor here was our fast action in irrigation repairs. We gave priority to the repairs or rehabilitation of the irrigation systems.”

Unfortunately, the Philippines has, in effect, centered its agricultural policy on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which has had some production successes but is not the jewel in the agricultural crown that its creators envisioned.

The key to Philippine agricultural is specific ground-level projects that will increase production and these can only be implemented through increased funding that requires increased funds. That is obvious.

Perhaps what is not so obvious is that there is a major problem with the way the Philippine government does business; there are too many overlapping areas of responsibility. Go to the DAR web site and you will read of the farm-to-market roads that agency has built. Go to the DA web site and read that this agency will spend some P5.3 billion on farm-to-market roads this year. Is this an overlap of reporting the same roads twice? If not, does the Philippine government truly need two agencies (or more, if the Department of Public Works and Highways is also involved) to handle the building of these roads?

The DAR offers farmer-training programs. The DA offers farmer-training programs. If “the Department of Agriculture is designated as the lead agency to boost farmers’ income and reduce poverty incidence in the rural sector,” wouldn’t it make more sense, be more efficient and less costly to make the DA the only agency “to boost farmers’ income and reduce poverty incidence in the rural sector?”

The agricultural numbers for this first quarter of 2011 are impressive and seem to indicate that the country is doing something right to achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2013. However, more needs to be done more effectively. The government needs leadership, genuine competent and visionary leadership at the highest levels.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

PH posts highest ever palay harvest in first quarter

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine agriculture grew 4.10 percent in the first quarter of the year on the back of strong crop output, including an “unprecedented” palay (unmilled rice) harvest, the Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.

The rice sector expanded 15.63 percent to 4.03 million metric tons (MT) in the first quarter, “the highest rice volume we have seen since Filipinos started planting rice,” Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told the media. “This was unprecedented.”

Agriculture’s expansion, although lower than the target of 4.5 to 5.5 percent, was a turnaround from last year’s negative growth and was the fastest first-quarter growth since 2004, as rains boosted corn and rice production, the agriculture department said.

Palay production was only 3.49 million MT in the first quarter of 2010 because of drought, data from the agriculture department showed.

Self-sufficiency by 2013

Alcala said the palay sector’s performance was a step toward rice self-sufficiency by 2013, a key midterm goal of the Aquino administration.

The increase in the production of the Philippine staple made it unlikely for the country to increase its rice imports to 860,000 MT, [just about a third of last year’s record volume of 2.45 million MT], the agriculture secretary said.

The country has become the world’s largest rice importer in recent years.

At current prices, agriculture output in the first quarter amounted to P347.2 billion, 12.72 percent higher than that recorded in the same period last year, the agriculture department said.

“We project even higher growth for the next two quarters that will put us on target as the programs and interventions show results in terms of still higher output and production,” Alcala said.

Crops, which expanded 8.19 percent, contributed heavily to the expansion of agriculture output, according to the agriculture department.

He said palay production accounted for 52.99 percent of the total farm output in the first quarter.

Despite the specter of stronger storms in the second part of the year, the agriculture department still expects palay production to hit about 17.46 million MT in 2011, more than 10 percent higher than last year’s harvest.

“We won’t be able to project how intense these storms will be, but we have factored them in the projections,” Alcala said.

Corn yield up

Corn yield grew 19.50 percent to 1.9 million MT, while sugarcane expanded 26.73 percent.

“Improved production performances were also reported for banana, cassava, cabbage and rubber. [Crops] grossed P206.1 billion at current prices and recorded a 26.69-percent increase from the 2010 level,” the agriculture department said.

Alcala said he expected crops to continue to post higher double-digit growth in the next three quarters, with peaks in the second and third quarters.

Bigger trading posts

The government will continue to help vegetable and rice farmers so they can sustain the growth, he said.

“We will increase the trading posts in the country,” the agriculture secretary said.

He said the government would build a bigger trading center in Benguet province, the country’s main vegetable grower.

“This trading center is four times bigger than the current one. It will be on a 4-hectare property behind the strawberry fields. We will also put up a processing plant,” he said.

Livestock, poultry, fishery

The livestock and the poultry sectors registered minimal growth and their values went down.

The livestock sector barely moved in 2011, posting a 0.59 percent growth. Its value declined 3.04 percent to P49.70 billion at current prices.

The poultry sector expanded 3.92 percent but its value went down 4.35 percent to P39 billion.

Of the four subsectors, only the fisheries industry declined. Output fell 3.49 percent. The subsector grossed P52.40 billion at current prices, 1.67 lower than last year’s.

Alcala said the decline in fisheries output was due to the damage sustained by the industry from the typhoons last year. Some fishermen also slowed down after years of overfishing, he said. With a report from Reuters

2 House committee endorse 2 GMA bills for approval

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — Former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is on a roll as a lawmaker.

Barely two months after the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading her bill criminalizing drunk driving, Arroyo won the backing of two House committees that endorsed the approval of two more measures she filed.

The House committee on transportation batted for the enactment of House Bill 4571 regulating the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving.

On the other hand, the Committee on Trade and Industry also endorsed House Bill 1224 institutionalizing social responsibility and granting incentives for firms that pursue voluntary social and economic development programs.

Co-authored by her opposition colleagues including Reps. Aurelio D. Gonzales Jr. (Lakas-Kampi, Pampanga); Augusto Syjuco Jr. (Lakas-Kampi, Iloilo) and Diosdado Macapagal-Arroyo (Lakas-Kampi, Camarines Sur), HB 4571 prohibits the use of mobile cellular phones while a person is driving a private or public motor vehicle.

The former chief executive said other mobile communication devices that cannot be used while driving are two-way radio transceivers, walkie-talkie, pages, and I-phones.

The prohibition does not cover motorists using mobile communication devices with the aid of hand-free device to communicate.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

BSP says peso to go up

Business Mirror

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) raised interest rates last week by one quarter of a percent, putting the overnight lending rate to 6.50 percent from 6.25 percent. This is good news. In March rates were also raised by 0.25 percent, bringing the total interest-rate increase for the year to a half-a-percentage point.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said, “With these considerations, the board deemed it prudent to rein in inflation expectations further.”

That statement by Governor Tetangco is not completely true. Interest rates are traditionally raised to counter inflation if the inflation is caused by an imbalance in supply and demand. If, for example, chickens are in short supply and the price is going up, when interest rates are low, dealers will theoretically borrow money to buy more chickens to take advantage of rising prices. This borrowing, in turn, creates more of a supply/demand imbalance, causing prices to go even higher. The central bank raises interest rates to discourage buying, thereby reducing demand and this, in turn, will lower prices.

Except, current inflation has very little to do with supply/demand imbalances. The greatest part of global inflation, including in the Philippines, is “currency-induced cost-push inflation.”

Remember the good old days of 1997? When the peso/dollar exchange rate went from 26 to 36, prices went up because the cost of imported components such as milk, oil and other imported goods was more in peso terms. The “cost” of imported goods “pushed inflation” higher because the “cost” of the dollar was increasing.

Today, we have a similar situation, a much more serious situation of “currency-induced cost-push inflation.” The dollar drops 7 percent, making oil exporters increase their prices by 7 percent. But inflation is as much psychologically caused as by the actual financials. The oil exporters correctly believe the dollar is going to fall more so they raise prices faster to keep ahead of the falling dollar.

The real purpose behind the latest BSP interest-rate increase is to justify an appreciating peso, which is good. What was not said by the BSP in the original announcement came later. From the BusinessMirror: “Monetary authorities said they would rather have the exchange rate approach the consensus rate P42 per dollar and manage the external sector a tad more difficult than usual instead of having inflation average above forecast at 5.6 percent this year—which may happen if they didn’t increase policy rates.”

Let me finish the rest of that statement: “because of currency-induced cost-push inflation.”

The BSP is setting up the public and business for more peso appreciation.

Over the last six years or so, the BSP moving interest rates have not seen a good correlation with inflation rates. Granted, the BSP must walk a thin line between keeping interest rates high enough to stop inflation and low enough to keep economic activity moving.

Local banks are experiencing good times now. Nonperforming loans are at a very low level, around 3 percent of total portfolio. The average capital adequacy as of end-June 2010 remained healthy at 15.2 percent, exceeding the 10 percent level set by the BSP and the 8 percent set by the bank for International Settlements.

Bank lending grew in January 2011 at the fastest rate in almost two years since the recovery after the 2008 financial crisis hit the world. One key to that number is that production loans, used for project financing rather than just paying the ordinary bills was up over 12 percent. Consumer loans went up at a slower rate but that is not necessarily a negative. Consumers are still buying, as witnessed by the 8-percent to 10-percent increase in retail sales in the first months of 2011 and people have the cash to buy without borrowing.

Peso appreciation is an important factor for this economy as I have been saying constantly. The perception that the peso will appreciate even further over the next months has a psychology also. Dollars from both domestic and foreign sources will go to pesos believing that there will be increased trading profits from being in pesos. The fact that interest rates are up will encourage more dollars to flow into the country as deposit rates are higher at the banks than in other nations. It is a win-win situation for going into pesos.

The downside of a peso appreciation has been talked about enough. However, the positive effects of peso appreciation on the total economy will offset the negatives. If the government’s economic policymakers would ever get creative, these negatives could be mitigated, if not eliminated. While an increase in interest rates will increase the cost of government domestic borrowing, the cost of dollar borrowing and debt service will go down.

This move by the BSP is an indication to me that the BSP has taken the action that they knew was inevitable; appreciate the peso. The positive effects of more dollar inflow, a reduction in the overall cost of imported products like oil, somewhat higher profitability for the banks and reducing inflation makes this year look better for the economy.

In last week’s column about the Weiss rating of the Philippine sovereign debt, I included the wrong web site address. This is the one where you can read the country results:

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Monday, 9 May 2011

Hanjin delivers three new bulk carriers

Business Mirror

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp.-Philippines delivered on Friday three capesize bulk carriers to Belgium-based shipping conglomerate Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB), sealing a business deal made in 2009 that pushed through despite the global economic crisis.

Officials of CMB and subsidiaries Bocimar International and Delphis NV unveiled the three Subic-built bulk carriers during a vessel-naming ceremony at the Hanjin shipyard here.

The ceremony was attended by guests of honor Vice President Jejomar Binay, Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., CMB Group managing director Marc Saverys, Bocimar International managing director Benoit Timmermans, and Delphis NV managing director Alexander Saverys.

Catherine Cauwe, Michelle Lyttle and Florence Zajac, wives of executives in the CMB Group, served as sponsors in the ceremony and respectively named the vessels M/V Mineral Manila, M/V Mineral Subic and M/V Lake Dolphin.

Hanjin Heavy Philippines president Jin Kyu Ahn said the naming ceremony was very meaningful to the company as it marked the first time that Hanjin delivered three vessels in one day since starting the Subic venture in 2006.

“Most importantly, this occasion highlights not only the mutual support and cooperation between CMB Group and Hanjin but also our company’s commitment to nation-building,” Jin added.

According to Hanjin, each of the three capesize bulk carriers has a capacity of 180,000 deadweight tons and a net tonnage of 59,082 tons. The ships all have a length of 292 meters, width of 45 meters and depth of 24.75 meters.

M/V Mineral Manila was purchased by Bocimar International, CMB’s flagship firm in dry bulk cargo transport while M/V Mineral Subic and M/V Lake Dolphin were acquired by Delphis NV, which specializes in multimodal container transport.

Jin said the new shipbuilding projects were conceived in February 2009, when Delphis and Hanjin both agreed to transfer the production of N-240 series vessels to the Subic shipyard to overcome difficulties brought about by the global financial crisis.

“Relying on Hanjin’s world-class competency during the economic crisis, the CMB Group boldly made additional orders of one 180,000-dwt and three 205,000-dwt bulk carriers, and four 3,800-TEU [twenty-foot equivalent units] container carriers to our Subic shipyard,” Jin also said.

“This gesture of great confidence by CMB Group on Hanjin has greatly motivated us to even work harder to be innovative in terms of technology and manpower investment,” he added.

Jin also said with the continued support of stakeholders, including various agencies of the Philippine government, “Hanjin will keep on achieving milestones in shipbuilding, thereby permanently placing the Philippines on the map of the world’s top shipbuilders.”

For his part, Binay said the delivery by Hanjin of three more ships from its Subic shipyard “is proof of the country’s progress in shipbuilding.”

“Today’s ceremony is a concrete manifestation of how far the domestic shipbuilding industry has advanced and how it is making a mark in our national development,” Binay said, recalling that it was only a few years ago when the Philippines made the decisive step in creating the legal environment to let foreign investors invest in joint ventures with local shipyards.

He also noted complementary efforts of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority in promoting the local shipping industry and attracting investors in maritime-related businesses.

“By the end of 2010, it was projected that the Philippines will have ranked fourth in the world in ship building. This is a great achievement for developing countries, like the Philippines, as compared to those industrialized nations that have long been prominent in ship construction,” Binay said.

Hanjin officials said the company, which now employs 22,000 skilled workers, has already delivered 20 vessels to foreign clients since 2008 when it unveiled the first Subic-made ship, the M/V Argolikos.

After completing its shipyard expansion project two years ago, which gave birth to the two largest drydocks in the world, Hanjin has revved up its shipbuilding program further to complete new shipbuilding projects that have been booked until 2013.

Two more firms vie for P15-B deal to operate MRT-3, LRT-1

Two more firms vie for P15-B deal to operate MRT-3, LRT-1
Kathleen A. Martin
BusinessWorld Online,-LRT-1&id=30948

AN ITALIAN railway contractor and a local infrastructure firm are the latest companies that firmed up their interest to bid against Philippine conglomerates for the P15-billion contract to operate two existing train lines serving Metro Manila, data from the Transportation department showed.
The two firms, Finmeccanica and Kempal United Corp., join 10 others that have similarly purchased bid documents for the four- to five-year maintenance and operations contract for the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) and the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) ahead of the July 11 deadline for bid proposals.

Finmeccanica, with headquarters in Italy, is a manufacturing firm involved in aeronautics, defense and security electronics, energy and transportation sectors, according to its Web site.

Its subsidiary Ansaldo STS “designs, develops and produces rail and metro signaling and traffic monitoring systems and services.”

The firm’s AnsaldoBreda unit, on the other hand, is involved in the construction of rail and metro works.

Kempal United, meanwhile, is a local firm involved in the supply and trading industrial, electronics and electrical systems, including rail and locomotive equipment.

Its previous projects include the liquefied petroleum gas piping system for Petron Corp. in 2005 and the Dagat-dagatan sewage treatment plant project for Maynilad Water Services, Inc. in 2004, according to its Web site.

The other 10 firms who had earlier bought bid documents are: Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Investments Corp., conglomerate Ayala Corp., construction giant DM Consunji, Inc., Ramon S. Ang-chaired Optimal Infrastructure Development, Inc., Japanese firms Sumitomo Corp. and Marubeni Corp., UK-based SERCO, Abratique and Associates, Philippines, Inc., Ecorail Transport Services, Inc., and Autre Porte Technique Global, Inc.

In a text message last Friday, Ruben S. Reinoso, Jr., Transportation undersecretary, said the department is still expecting more firms to purchase the bid documents.

“Twelve firms [have already bought bid documents] but many went to the Department of Transportation and Communications to examine the bid documents in the data room,” Mr. Reinoso said.

These 12 were among the 45 firms that submitted their expressions of interest to bid in the project last month.

Last week, the cost of the project was increased to P15 billion from P14 billion due to the inclusion of power cost, Mr. Reinoso said in a previous interview.

Since potential investors should have completed a similar contract with a value of 50% of the approved budget for the deal, this requirement has also increased to P7.5 billion from P7 billion as a result of the increase in project cost.

A pre-bidding conference is slated for May 18.

A site inspection is also being prepared for the potential investors.

The LRT-1/MRT-3 project is the first public-private partnership this year for which the government issued bidding invitations.

Other public-private partnership deals set to be offered within the first half of this year include the Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway link, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport expressway, and the North Luzon and South Luzon expressway link, according to earlier reports. -

End-April 2011 GIR Level Climbs to US$67.8 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Releases

Preliminary data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed that the country's gross international reserves (GIR) rose to US$67.8 billion as of end-April 2011, higher by US$1.8 billion compared to the end-March 2011 GIR level of US$66.0 billion, BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today.

Foreign exchange inflows that contributed to the significant increase in the end-April 2011 GIR stemmed from the foreign exchange operations and income from investments abroad of the BSP as well as revaluation gains on the BSP's gold holdings on account of rising gold prices. These inflows were counterbalanced by payments by the National Government (NG) of its maturing foreign exchange obligations.

The preliminary end-April 2011 GIR could cover 10.4 months worth of imports of goods and payments of services and income. It was also equivalent to 10.8 times the country's short-term external debt based on original maturity and 6.1 times based on residual maturity1.

Net international reserves (NIR), which include revaluation of reserve assets, stood at US$67.8 billion as of end-April 2011 compared to the previous month's level of US$66.0 billion. NIR refers to the difference between the BSP's GIR and total short-term liabilities.


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

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Adult decision-making

WEDNESDAY, 06 APRIL 2011 20:29
Business Mirror

Local television newscasts are often more about reacting to the events of the day rather than reporting what happened. While watching the day before yesterday, I thought one anchor’s head was going to explode as he talked about the electricity-rate increase due next month.

It would not be so bad if there was some actual analysis and explanation, but too often it is like watching a child throw a tantrum when told he cannot have a piece of candy.

Instead of mentioning that crude- oil prices have increased 53 percent in the last year, the announcer whines and complains and then cuts to a story of how some “poor” person is going to be affected.

Trying to be patient with people who display their ignorance and stupidity is not something that I do well.

For those who are unhappy with the high prices for electricity, stop whining and do something about it. The choices are clear. Stop using electricity. Do without all those modern conveniences that use electricity and burn coir for lighting from indigenous, natural, renewable coconut trees. Do not mention “alternative” energy sources like solar and wind. Those technologies work very well in villages of mud and bamboo huts. There is not a single example of a so-called alternative-energy project that produced reliable power or was economically feasible. Every example that you may find shows large government financial subsidies to keep the projects alive.

The second choice is to continue to buy imported crude oil at whatever high price, and make sure that you have the money to pay for it. I know I have said this over and over. Yesterday both the Inquirer and the Philippine Star ran headlines about this issue. Since the Philippines is sitting on untapped reserves of at least 100,000 tons of gold, maybe a better headline would have been about the gold price hitting a historic high of nearly $1,460 per ounce. To put that in money terms, there is at least $4 trillion worth of just gold waiting to be extracted from under Philippine rock and soil.

You know, if I had a money tree sitting in my front yard, I would not be thinking or complaining even for one moment about high prices. I would spend all my time making sure that money tree was healthy and productive. But here in the Philippines I think policymakers are, for some reason, afraid to allow the country to become richer.

The present administration is proving to have the worst track record in attracting foreign direct investments. And its policies on mineral extraction are even worse.

From “The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines expects mining investments this year to reach $1 billion, Chamber president Benjamin Philip Romualdez said.” Pardon me if I do not get excited. That $1 billion is only slightly more than what the call-center business generates in one month. If the government had treated the call-center business the way it does the mineral- extraction industry, you would be ordering your Jollibee Chicken Joy delivery by talking to someone in Bangladesh.

If the current policies continue much longer, the mining industry will be dead in the Philippines. There is a seven- to 10-year lead time before a mine can go into commercial production. Now, companies that complied with all the rules over the last 10 years and are ready to start commercial operation are being told by this government to wait. And the waiting period has been defined as “indefinite.” It is an absolute disgrace and the highest levels of government apparently are clueless about the policies being promulgated by its departments.

The third option for cheaper electricity is to use other indigenous fuel sources like coal. The Philippines here again is sitting on a huge untapped wealth. It is estimated that the Philippines has in excess of 250 million tons of coal. It is not the highest quality of coal available but it works and it is cheaper than crude oil. But the same people who think you can get power from moon rays are fighting coal-power development.

The same people who ride dirty diesel-fueled vehicles to the anticoal rally are also clueless. This, from the high-profile environmental group, the Sierra Club: “Despite the industry’s hype, there’s no such thing as “clean coal.” But new technologies and policies can help reduce coal plants’ deadly emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen oxides.” Nothing is perfect. Coal-fueled power-generation plants being built today have greater than 90-percent removal of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury. If you are going to protest, it might be wise to know some of the information available here in the 21st century.

It is about time, and long overdue, for policymakers to start taking adult responsibility and making adult decisions for the problems that face the Philippines. The latest childish decision is the fuel subsidy for public transportation. This is ridiculous. Crude oil is going to a historic high price. If the government is going to spend P450 million to help jeepney and tricycle drivers when oil is $120 per barrel, how much is the subsidy going to be when crude rises to $180 per barrel?

The purpose of the subsidy is to help avoid the jeepney and tricycle operators having to raise their fares to the commuting public. But all those commuters work for companies that are also faced with rising fuel prices. Is San Miguel Corp. going to get a fuel subsidy to operate its hundreds of vehicles so that it does not need to raise the price of beer?

These are perilous economic times that require competent, thoughtful and comprehensive decision-making. The only questions are: From whom is it going to come? When is it going to happen?

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Mother finds redemption behind bars

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — Many jail inmates waiting for their cases to be decided in court spend their days behind bars sulking over their predicament. Not Jacqueline Aban Torrefiel.

Forty-nine-year-old Nanay Jacky, as her fellow detainees and staff at the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory call her, is the picture of someone who has faced down the odds and is driven by a strong commitment in life.

Nanay Jacky was arrested in 2000 on a drug possession charge. “It was the most painful experience in my life,” she recalled, speaking in the local Cebuano dialect. “For the first time, I was away from my children and all I could do was cry and cry for days.”

After her husband Virgilio, an army officer, died, Nanay Jacky survived by accepting orders sewing clothes in her house in Barangay Pasil, Cebu City. It was backbreaking work but she persevered for the children’s sake.

“But despite my meager income, I always see to it that I bond with my kids. I bring them to the malls and buy them whatever my extra money can afford,” she said.

Being separated from kids added to Nanay Jacky’s anguish while in jail.

But it was also there where she found the spiritual strength that she had lacked.

“I thank God for bringing me here. It was a wake-up call for me,” she said.

The frequent visits of her children Jane, now 23, Ria, 13; Bryan, 12; and Lian, 6, also boosted her determination to make something of her life.

Capitalizing on her sewing skills and a penchant for learning new things, Nanay Jacky is spreading the message of hope to the inmates of the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory.

She is involving them in worthwhile ventures like dressmaking, accessory making, culinary arts, and physical exercises.

Nanay Jacky continues to sew dresses, including wedding gowns with detailed beadwork, and costumes for parties. Her first bulk order inside the facility was for a dozen blazers for the security personnel at the Cebu City Jail Male Dormitory, for which she earned P250.

Nanay Jacky also repairs worn out clothing of other inmates for P10 to P30. “I understand that they do not have money so whatever amount they give is fine by me, as long as I am able to do what I am passionate about,” she said.

She earns P400-P500 per week from outside job orders, which she sends to her children.

She is also training 15 other inmates to be seamstress.

But Nanay Jacky didn’t stop there.

When she was about 15 years old and a third year high school student at the Cebu Institute of Technology, she had been forced to drop out. Instead, she took up vocational courses in dressmaking, tailoring, cosmetology and culinary arts.

Even while in jail, Nanay Jacky was determined to earn a college degree. She enrolled in the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a course launched by the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Cebu City Jail and other jails nationwide.

The ALS gives drop-outs, out-of-school youths and those who are beyond school age but who have not been to school at all a chance to complete their education.

The ALS uses interactive modules and learning sessions are conducted at any available space at an agreed schedule between the learners and the learning facilitator.

In jails, sessions are held three to four times a week. Inmates are taught basic subjects. Nanay Jacky’s favorites are English, Filipino and Mathematics.

Sometime this August, Nanay Jacky is expected to graduate as valedictorian at the class of 19 ALS students. She has earned a Certificate for Basic Computer Literacy and wants to take up advanced classes soon.

“Apart from my children, I dedicate my graduating in high school to my father, Epifanio ‘Boy’ Aban, whose dying wish was for me to finish school,” she said.

Aban passed away almost a year ago.

“By finishing secondary education, I will have the motivation to teach my children the importance of education,” Nanay Jacky said.

She said she is very proud of her children who are themselves honor students and special awardees. “I consider it a very big blessing that my kids grow up valuing their studies.”

Chief Inspector Corazon Noel, the warden of the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory, described Nanay Jacky as “industrious and a person who loves to learn new things.”

In her spare time, she pores through her notes or researches at the facility’s library.

“Nanay Jacky is someone we all look up to inside the dorm because of her infectious optimism and dedication to learn and share what she knows to her other inmates. She is very dependable,” Noel said.

After graduating from the ALS program, Nanay Jacky is eyeing a bachelor’s degree in fashion design, a step closer to her dream of becoming a couturier.

Nanay Jacky hopes that her accomplishments in jail would count when her case is finally decided in court.