Saturday, 23 July 2011

Google taps Filipino appetite for text messaging

Virgil Lopez/Sunnex

MANILA — Users of leading search engine Google can now send and receive text messages from within Gmail to local mobile phones for free.

Dubbed “Gmail-to-SMS,” the company said the service will allow for seamless integration between mobile and desktop communication and make it more convenient for over 70 million Filipino mobile phone users to send each other messages.

The company partnered with the country’s leading telecommunication firms Smart, Globe, and Sun Cellular for the latest service, which is seen to rival other free messaging service entities such as Chikka and Yahoo!

Past reports cited the Philippines as the world’s text messaging capital, accounting for at least two billion messages per day.

With SMS in Gmail Chat, Gmail users can send a text from the desktop interface directly to a mobile phone through SMS, as if they were simply sending an instant message.

In return, the recipient can respond to the text message and the response will appear in the sender’s Gmail interface.

The message can be stored and archived just like any other chat message. Standard network charges will apply for any communication from the phone to the desktop.

To avail of the service, a user will have to type a phone number and a short message into the new SMS box in Gmail’s chat window on the left-hand side of the screen, then click send.

Contact phone numbers can be stored in the Gmail address book, which allows for faster access anytime an SMS needs to be sent.

SMS in Gmail Chat is automatically enabled for Gmail users, but in the event that it is not active in an account, the Google user can activate it in Gmail’s settings window.

Every user can initially send up to 50 messages continuously and every reply back from a mobile phone refreshes the counter by five messages, up to a maximum of 50.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Inexpensive light from a bottle

"Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light), is a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulb to disprivileged communities nationwide. Designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Solar Bottle Bulb is based on the principles of Appropriate Technologies – a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies that address basic needs in developing communities."

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The piso-piso for the bishops’ vehicles---symbol of people’s outrage

Belinda Cunanan
Political Tidbits

Last Friday at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, which has been the traditional sumbungan ng bayan, people high and low came to donate their piso-piso or their checks to the group of former Mayor Lito Atienza, famous election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and Dr. Ed Capulong. The three lay leaders are raising the sum of P8 million to replace the vehicles that the bishops had returned to the Senate or to PCSO agencies in Mindanao after last Wednesday's Senate hearing. The Quiapo vendors donated small sums from their day’s earnings, while a man came in a taxi all the way from Quezon City as he had heard of the fund-raising over radio. Some businessmen donated checks running into a couple of hundred thousands and to date over a million pesos have been raised.

Stulta Haec Lex Sed Lex

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — Thanks to my friend and professional colleague, Dr. Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics, I have found the perfect phrase to refer to the economic provisions in the Philippine Constitution that unreasonably restrict Foreign Direct Investments into the Philippines.

I am referring to the provision prohibiting foreigners from owning land in the Philippines. I am referring to all the equity restrictions in public utilities, the exploitation of natural resources, education and mass media. I am referring to the restriction imposed on foreign professionals such as medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other knowledge workers.

All these provisions, which resulted from an overpowering presence of leftist and ultranationalist ideologues in the rainbow coalition that composed the Constitutional Commission during the presidency of the late Corazon Aquino, are now seriously constraining economic growth and job generation in the Philippines.

Using a phrase from a recent column of Dr. Fabella in the Business World entitled "SC decision on foreign ownership", those provisions in the fundamental law of our land should be labeled "Stulta lex sed lex" (Stupid law but law).

Because of the presence of these provisions in the 1987 Constitution, the Philippine Supreme Court recently had a heyday discombobulating the Philippine investment climate by a majority decision to interpret the constitutional foreign ownership limit as applying to 40% of common shares of a company and not to total shares (preferred and common).

Although it appears that it is only meant to apply to the Philippine Long Distance Company (PLDT), it is clear that it will have repercussions in all the industries in which there are limits to foreign equity ownership, such as mining, water, electricity distribution, toll roads and other public utilities.

These are exactly the most important areas where we have to attract foreign direct investments because domestic funding, no matter how abundant it may appear now, is very short-term. Only some forms of foreign direct investments can have terms as long as twenty five or more years, usually the period it takes to recover investments in infrastructures and public utilities.

In a recent roundtable discussion held by the Center for Research and Communication on constitutional amendments, I pointed out that the Philippines is the least attractive country for foreign direct investments in East Asia, which is right now the most attractive region for foreign capital coming from all the world.

I cited data from a publication of the World Bank entitled Doing Business Report, 2011, that showed the Philippines at the bottom of the list in "Ease of doing business, 2011." Singapore is no. 1; Hong Kong no. 2; South Korea no. 16; Thailand no. 19; Vietnam no. 78; China no. 79; Indonesia , 121; India, 134 and the Philippines an abysmally low 148.

Examining the other indicators, I have come to the conclusion that our very low ranking is not due corruption (there is corruption in all East Asian countries except probably in Singapore). Neither is it due to bureaucracy (Vietnam, India and Indonesia can be very bureaucratic).

From reading especially the Arankada Philippines report of the seven foreign business chambers, the main factor for the low level of foreign direct investments is the institutionalization of anti-FDI provisions not only in our very own Constitution but also in other laws, rules and regulations based on a protectionist, Filipino-First and ultranationalist mindset developed among our government agencies and officials during the first thirty years of our industrialization efforts.

As pointed out by some of the discussants, there are restrictions against foreign participation even in industries not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, such as in construction and shipping. These arbitrary restrictions are actually illegal.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We need not look far in demonstrating the harmful effects of these anti-FDI provisions. In 2010, China got US $105 billion of FDIs; India, $37 billion; Indonesia, $13 billion; Vietnam, $7 billion and the Philippines $1.8 billion.

This has been going on for at least the last five years when annually, the Philippines always got the smallest amount of FDIs among our East Asian peers. By serendipity, I was flying from Jakarta to Manila via Singapore last June 29, 2011 and read a column by Senior Writer Bruce Gale in The Straits Times of Singapore. The title of the column was "To draw foreign investors, Manila must up its game."

Like Mr. Gale, it is not my intention here to belittle the great achievement of our excellent team of economic managers led by Secretary Cesar Purisima in receiving from Moody's Investors Service an upgrade in the Philippine credit rating to just two steps below investment grade. Such an improvement in credit rating will reduce the interest rate we are paying on our foreign loans and may make it easier for us to obtain more foreign borrowing, if we have to resort to it.

But, as Mr. Gale, pointed out, such a positive news had practically no impact on the level of foreign direct investment in the Philippines. As reason, Mr. Gale cited the Investing Across Borders report of the World Bank which stated that "Among the 87 countries covered by the Investing Across Borders indicators, the Philippines imposes foreign equity ownership restrictions on more sectors than most other countries.

It also noted that it took 17 procedures and 80 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company in Manila, much slower than the average for East Asia and the Pacific. Another problematic area was arbitration, where it took around 135 weeks to enforce an arbitration award."

President Benigno Aquino IV has to exercise his strong leadership in working with Senate President Enrile and Speaker Belmonte in fast tracking the removal from our Constitution all semblances of "stupid law but law."

Let us allow foreigners to own the land on which they build their residences, factories, and other business establishments. Let us remove all restrictions on foreign equity in any Philippine business. If circumstances should warrant our limiting foreign ownership in some strategic industries in the future, let it be through legislation, not a constitutional provision. Let us allow foreign professionals to practise in the Philippines if their home countries allow Filipino professionals to practise in theirs.

Both Senator Enrile and Speaker Belmonte have already started the process. What they need is a strong indication from the President that he is in favor of amending the economic provisions in the Constitution. I remember distinctly that this was one of his promises during the election campaign. He can fulfill his promise with the cooperation of the present Congress that will listen to him as they did in the case of the postponement of the ARMM elections.

It is impossible for the Philippine GDP to grow at 7% or more in the next five years without large amounts of FDIs at least equal to what Vietnam is getting ($5 to $7 billion a year). It is not only the long-term capital we need. With FDIs come advanced technology, best practices in management and productivity improvements, access to markets, and greater competition to the oligopolies and cartels that exist in Philippine industries.

President Aquino has the unique opportunity to slay under his watch the protectionist, ultranationalist and paranoid dragon that has kept the Philippines economically backward all these years. For comments, my email address is

Unified IDs ready for mailing

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — The first batch of 5,000 single identification (ID) cards that will help holders facilitate transactions among four government agencies included in the unified system will be released by mail within this month.

Social Security Systems (SSS) president and CEO Emilio de Quiroz Jr. said that the Unified Multipurpose Identification System (UMID) will also protect the members and the four concerned government agencies from fraud.

Aside from the SSS, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig) are part of the unified system.

De Quiroz said that the UMID is a single format and one look card for all transactions of the SSS, GSIS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig where each member is given a lifetime common reference number (CRN) that will enable the individual to use in conducting business with the mentioned agencies.

However, de Quiroz said that UMID should not be mistaken for the proposed national ID system since this is not mandatory and involves only the four government agencies as of the present.

He stressed that the UMID is an inter-agency effort that will provide reliability and convenience in government transactions.

The SSS hopes to distribute UMID cars to 25-million members in five years as the first batch of 5,000 cards presented before the media will be up for scrutiny and quality checking and will eventually be distributed by mail within two weeks.

De Quiroz said that his office will give priority to members with no SSS cards and will be given for free, clarifying that the agency will be charging P300 for each of the lost UMID cards.

With the current production of 5,000 UMID cards per day, De Quiroz noted that he hopes to produce 20,000 UMID cards daily in the near future to meet the 607,000-card backlog of the SSS.

He noted that the UMID is equipped with a card reader for each of the concerned agencies that will aid its member-users in their dealings.

Another aim of the SSS, De Quiroz said is for the members to obtain their loans and other benefits using the UMID cards avoiding long queues and anxious moments of waiting during transactions.

As part of moving forward, De Quiroz is also entertaining possibility of other government agencies joining the UMID system with the card also to be used for post-paid transactions within the year.

He noted that the UMID card system also cuts on government financial costs as the concerned government agencies share in the expenditures of producing the UMID card.

OF Remittances in First Five Months at US$7.9 Billion

Bangko Sentral
Media Release

Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) coursed through banks reached US$7.9 billion in the first five months of 2011, registering a year-on-year expansion of 6.2 percent from the year-ago level. For the month of May alone, remittances rose by 6.9 percent to reach US$1.7 billion, the second highest level since December 2010 when a record-high level was realized, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. announced today. The steady inflow of cash transfers from overseas Filipinos was due to increased remittances from both sea-based and land-based workers, which rose by 21.4 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. For the period January-May 2011, the major sources of remittances were the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that Filipino workers continued to be deployed abroad, offsetting the job losses resulting from social unrest in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region and the disasters that occurred in Japan. This, combined with the growing presence of bank and non-bank money transfer channels both locally and internationally as well as the expanding variety of products and services offered by the remittance networks, have enabled overseas Filipinos to send a higher value of remittances using more innovative financial services in the market.

In particular, POEA data indicated that the total number of deployed overseas workers for the period January-December 2010 grew by 3.4 percent to 1,470,826 from 1,422,586 in the same period a year ago. Of the total deployed overseas workers (new hires and rehires), 76.4 percent were land-based workers. In addition, prospective employment opportunities are expected to rise as the POEA also reported that for the period 1 January - 30 June 2011, approved job orders reached 330,498, of which 33.3 percent (110,018) were already processed while 66.7 percent (220,480) are still to be filled up. These job orders were intended for the manpower requirements in UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Taiwan and Hong Kong, among other countries for production, service, professional, technical and other related workers.

Meanwhile, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Saudization program will have a minimal impact on the existing and future deployment of Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia. Large Saudi companies are already eighty percent compliant with the Saudization program. Only OFs who are employed by small establishments will likely be most affected, as they have largely been non-compliant with the program to-date. To support OFs who will be displaced by the Saudization program, the government is exploring job opportunities offered by other countries such as Australia and Canada.

What is the Aquino confidence factor?

Business Mirror

The number of trained, academic economists whom I have respect for their judgment I can count on one thumb. That person is Dr. Cielito F. Habito, director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development.

Dr. Habito is a rare academic who has a practical, reality-based perspective in his economic analysis. While I am sure he brings incredible performance to Ateneo, I have always been surprised that some huge multinational conglomerate is not paying him megabucks for his wisdom.

In a newspaper column for the Inquirer last month, Dr. Habito talked about “Aquinomics,” what that has meant to the country but, more important, what Aquinomics truly is.

The confusion of economic policies under the Aquino administration makes it difficult to figure out actually what the broad Aquino economic policy is. The public-private partnership is a campaign slogan, not a program. Policy contradictions between critical departments like finance and the central bank are common. The fiscal policy of government spending against fiscal policy of a balanced budget seems to go in circles.

Yet, Dr. Habito tries to make sense of Aquinomics by characterizing it as “economics of business confidence.” Government spokesmen would like to make this connection: if the government pushes for good government, this creates a climate of business confidence.

There is some validity to that view. However, when you look at the practical aspects of this newly found “good governance,” the theory may fall apart. Reviewing the 2004 election might be an interesting mental exercise. But I am sure one defeated presidential candidate from 1992 would like that election examined also. And there are probably those who would like a recount from 1986. While the administration makes a point of noticing new judicial cases filed against smugglers and tax evaders, I wonder how much confidence-building can come from the government simply enforcing the laws that it is elected to enforce.

With respect to Dr. Habito’s “economics of business confidence,” confidence is a two-way street.

Business and the public can have confidence that the government will do the right thing, policy-wise. But also, “confidence” can mean that we believe the government will not do anything seriously bad.

Dr. Habito points out that local investment and capital spending have been “consistently surging.” Yet at the same time, foreign direct investment (FDI) is falling, this year already down by 15 percent.

Those who focus on FDI have plenty of excuses: Middle East turmoil, Japan’s earthquake, the general global economic condition. But all that is really just nonsense. Foreign portfolio (buying Philippine stocks and government debt) investment is up 244 percent over last year.

I believe that locals are convinced, have confidence that the administration is not going to do anything terribly wrong to hurt the economy. Note: that is not the same as having confidence that the administration is going to do anything very good for the economic situation.

The flow of foreign money seems to echo that idea. FDI is a longer-term commitment that is based in part on longer-term confidence. The foreign money does not have that kind of confidence level to come in with a few billion dollars to buy corporate infrastructure and set up for the long haul.

Foreign money does have enough confidence to send in billions of dollars for the stock market and to purchase government debt “that they can turn into cash almost immediately” and then get out of the Philippines, if need be.

Foreign money is happy to buy local mining company stocks on the Philippine Stock Exchange and make a healthy profit. Foreign money is not willing to invest in setting up mining companies here in the country since the Department of Environment and Natural Resources refuses to give permits under President Aquino’s leadership and the administration is thought of as antimining.

It is as if both local and foreign money is saying, “We are willing to go out on a date but we are not confident about a permanent relationship.”

The administration has done little to arouse positive confidence and has also done little to force a feeling of “negative confidence.”

But here the country is after a year of the administration. The current situation cannot continue indefinitely. Local business spending has more than offset the fact that foreign money is not investing in the Philippines. But that is an impossible condition for the longer term.

At some point, the government is going to have to present a clear and concrete vision and specific proposals for the Philippines’ economic future. This must come sooner than later. The country is suffering, not from a lack of confidence in government, but from a lack of confidence that government can provide economic leadership.

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