Friday, October 06, 2006

US embassy in Manila issues new rules for visa application

By Veronica Uy
STARTING November 1 this year, applicants for non-immigrant visas to the United States would be required to use an electronic visa application form available for free on the Internet, the US embassy in Manila said in an advisory.

“The US Embassy will no longer accept handwritten or typed applications after November 1,” it said.

The new rule, the US embassy said, would speed up the interview and application process, and save time for the applicants. About 1,000 Filipinos apply for US visas every day, one of the highest visa applications in the world.

“[Applicants] will spend less time in the consular section on the day of their interview since they won’t have to wait for embassy staff to manually collect information from handwritten or typed applications,” it said.

Instead of writing their information by hand, applicants may download and complete the form via the Internet, They will be required to bring a printout of the completed three-page form with bar code to their interview. “When printed, each [form] has a unique 2-D bar code that US Embassy staff can electronically scan in order to input the applicant’s information. Use of the [form], which has been available online for more than three years, allows for quicker and more accurate data entry,” the advisory said.

The embassy said all other processes and requirements for applying for a non-immigrant visa remain the same.

To make a visa interview appointment, applicants are advised to call 1-909-101-7878 (accessible only within the Philippines through a PLDT or Smart landline) Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Philippine and American holidays.

“You can also schedule an interview via the Internet using the VisaPoint™ system, a web-based appointment and information system available at,” it suggested.

More information about the new system is available at, the US Embassy Consular Section at (632) 528-6300 or fax (632) 523-1356, while information on the non-immigrant visa application process can be found on the US embassy’s Web site at

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fast-forward to Subic

By Gabby Libarios
Manila Standard Today

WHICH one do I get?” I asked with a huge smile on my face, hoping that the tone of my voice conveyed my overflowing eagerness to drive one of the swish cars parked infront of us. A girl from Honda pointed to the maroon car, handed me the key, and said, “enjoy driving.”

But of course. I was seconds away from driving the eighth generation Honda Civic, who in their right mind would not be thrilled? Besides, it would be a great chance for me to get my hands on a brand new car. My relationship with the beatup car my father handed to me had been giving me headaches for the past week.

All was going swimmingly well, until I learned all the cars had been taken by the other teams. “You can drive Honda Jazz instead,” ad and promo supervisor Apple Ting from Honda said.

My mouth hung open. Owen Bautista, my navigator teammate from Manila Bulletin that day, looked at me with sad, sorry eyes. I could not believe it. We were about to embark on a treasure hunt/race to Subic and the people from Honda were giving us the subcompact car, as compared to the others who were getting Honda’s all-new power sedan.

It simply wasn’t fair.

But instead of sulking like a kid who just found out none of his friends was coming to his birthday party, I picked up my bag and told Owen, “Let’s go.”

There was no point in complaining to Amiel Cabanlig, the organizer of the event, either. He’d simply laugh at us, or blame me for being terminally slow.

We knew there was one thing to do and that was to pull off a surprising win. We thought of proving them all wrong, that despite driving a supermini, the smallest class of car, we could win.

What Owen and I did not know was we’re in for the biggest surprise.

Power with a capital P

What Honda Jazz lacked in size, it made up for in performance. The moment I laid my hands and felt that soft dimpled surface of the steering wheel, I felt that the car was trying to tell me something.

It was no ordinary car. I patted the wheel, grinned, and thought, “we could do this.” I knew that Owen, who was sitting quietly beside me, was thinking the same.

We were in Watty Piper’s little engine that could.

So after stuffing ourselves full at Jollibee in Petron North Expressway—the starting point of the treasure hunt/race—we did not waste any second dillydallying with the controls or the meters on the dashboard. I just stepped on the gas and let Jazzy do its magic. Owen, too, grabbed the roadbook and read the clues faster than saying money in a bank.

Thanks to its electrically assisted power steering, the car responded to my every turn with ease. Even road imperfections were peanuts, posing no threat to our smooth driving.

With Jazz’s 1.5-liter VTEC engine, my competitive spirit, and Owen’s knack for recognizing roadside clues without second glances, we cruised down the wide road with a big smile on our faces. We were the perfect team.

By the time we reached San Fernando exit, whizzing past tricycles and rusty old trucks, we had forgotten about the race. We were enjoying ourselves too much to care about the other teams that were ahead of us.

So it did not bother us when we learned that we were the third team to reach the finish line (The Subic Tollway), losing the race to the teams of Rome Jorge of Manila Times and Michael Kho Lim of The Daily Tribune, and Lazslo Lim and KanKan Ramos of We’d had our fill of stories, jokes, and laughter for the whole day that winning the race and an Asimo doll would not have had made a difference.

Being in Subic, which was in a celebratory mood because of a Mardi Gras, was enough for us. We were miles away from Manila and worlds away from work.

One big party

Honda promised us a weekend of partying and pampering. And that’s exactly what we got.

Some of us had a taste of heaven at the La Rossa Spa. At the well-appointed relaxation hub of the Subic Bay Yacht Club, they indulged in luxurious treatments and massages, one of which was the “Synchrotherapy Spa,” a technique administered by two therapists working simultaneously. Interestingly, it’s one of the services that got many tourists, local or foreign, coming back for more.

I opted for the Chakra Hot Stone Massage, a centuries-old technique that made use heated basalt stones. While the therapists applied long, gliding strokes from the neck down to the legs, these hot stones were placed on the “energy centers” along the spine, creating a soothing and relaxing sensation throughout my entire body. It was a piece of heaven, indeed.

After freshening up at the Binictican Housing Area, we headed for The Legenda Hotel, the only five-star hotel in Subic. There we partook of the hotel’s sumptuous buffet, made even more special by the friendly conversations with hotel manager Cheryl Singzon. It was a long, tiring day, so a few of us had second, third, and fourth helpings of each dish.

When dinner was over, we all opted for a night cap. Our tour guide, Leo Aluso of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority tourism department was more than happy to take us around Boardwalk, Subic’s version of Manila’s Baywalk. There we saw a beauty pageant, endless band performances, standup comics, and droves of merrymakers, who all came to take part of the festivities.

We were all having a great time. That’s why when it was time to go back to Manila, we could not hide our frustration.

Back to reality

It was a good thing I had something to look forward to. Before we left Subic, the people from Honda promised me that no matter what, I’d be driving back to Manila in a Honda Civic. So I was in high spirits again. Fortunately, the car that eluded me for almost three days did not disappoint.

It was everything that I expected to be. Equipped with a 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine, which I later learned was a progression from its predecessor’s 1.7-liter engine, it was a lumbering piece of pure metal and muscle, making me feel as if I owned the road.

The large cabin makes the unit perfect for a large family, with enough leg room to accommadate small luggage, thanks to its ingenious flat floor.

The dashboard was a thing of beauty and convenience. Designed to improve driving safety, the the digital speedometer is set ahead of the driver, allowing him to check his speed without ever having to leave his eyes off the road.

Everything is designed for leisurely and stress-free driving. The handbrake lever is strategically placed not in the center, but closer to the driver for easier lifting. Even the gas, brake, and accelerator pedals are mounted on the floor, reducing the risk of foot slippage. Dual map lights in front came in handy, especially at night when we could not find our way back to our accommodations.

The weekend in Subic was good, but driving back to Manila in Honda’s all-new Civic was way better.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

FedEx Focuses On China

Robert Malone,

Fedex came to China in 1984 and has come to consider it one of the two anchor points of a growing global economy. The other of course is its home base of the U.S.

FedEx (nyse: FDX - news - people ) developed its air and ground express service with its founding in 1971. It became FDX in 1998 and FedEx in 2000. Today it consists of a network of companies whose philosophy is "operate independently, compete collectively and manage collaboratively."

FedEx's growth as a commercial carrier and transportation solutions provider has matched the growth of international and national trade. The company sees a rapid acceleration of the supply chain. Service does not stand still, and what was fast yesterday is not fast today for FedEx.

Over the past 22 years, since it first launched its China operations, there have been many milestones, including the 1999 launch of its industry simplified Chinese Web page and the company's first direct flight from southern China to North America with next-day service launched in 2003. In 2005 it launched flights to Europe from China.

Its job is to integrate services globally through control, strategy and technology. It now has plans to increase service to 100 more cities in China over the next few years. The FedEx country headquarters is now in Shanghai.

"China is a major piece of business for FedEx. I have been based over here for 18 years," says David Cunningham, president of FedEx Express Asia Pacific, who is in Hong Kong.

As for doing business within China for China. "We are not in that business now, but it is something we are interested in because of the size and the scope of the market," says Cunningham. "The dynamism of the market is evolving very rapidly. The size of the domestic cargo market is one of those that is growing and is forecast to be the fastest growing for the next 20 years."

FedEx's Asian operations launched with a hub in Subic Bay in the Philippines back in 1995. "It was essentially an ex-military base and empty when we moved in," says Cunningham. "This helped us serve intra-Asia movements. It connected Japan and Singapore and all Asia and the Philippines, Taiwan, Australia."

Cunningham says that Subic Bay was a hub and spoke system and is the type of network that FedEx uses today. That facility was a victim of its own success: It has grown so rapidly that it will shortly reach capacity. Now FedEx is looking for a facility to continue to grow.

"If you are looking to locate a hub, an intra-Asia hub, you have to look at the regulatory environment," says Cunningham. "You have to have the right airfield; you have to have it in the right geographical location. You also have to the air services agreement."

That is why FedEx has decided to find an airport for the expanding business environment of the Pearl River Delta, which serves 40% of China's export volume. The Bao'an Airport is just such a facility, and it will allow FedEx to increase capacity as business moves ahead.

"One of the problems you have in Asia is having the capacity to keep up with the growth," says Cunningham. "With its centrally controlled economy, China has been making substantial investments in their infrastructure that includes port facilities, airports, roads and cargo terminals. This is what makes it possible for them to continue to support their ever-increasing economic growth."

"Hong Kong resonates six inches off the ground," says Michael L. Ducker, president of FedEx Express International. "It is a city that energizes, and the national sport is business. We have five different regional offices with our U.S. office in Memphis and our European office in Brussels and our Asian office in Hong Kong."

FedEx's China strategy is simple: having a robust business in Asia's largest nation. It is also a key for FedEx worldwide, according to Ducker, since the company considers itself one big global network. Their business is as much a network business as a telecom company. Every pipe they add on to the network increases the utility to the user.

"When people ask what the next growth market is going to be, I say eastern China, middle China and western China," says Ducker. "They are great growth markets. These large economies are keys to us because they come at the headwaters of the supply chain if you will."

Ducker suggests that FedEx's priorities in China consist of continuing to expand international business in three networks: a trans-Pacific network to the U.S., a transcontinental network to Europe and an intra-Asia network to the rest of Asia.

And finally FedEx plans to expand its portfolio, as customers have different requirements. This translates into expanding forwarding capability, service territory and improving cycle times.

Ducker see FedEx's innovation to be in implementing its power pad handheld technology, which gives instantaneous shipment information to customers in China. The second application is electronic interface and liberalized customs procedure. FedEx has applied new technology to the process of customs clearance.

"We see globalization as using the Internet to connect people large and small to the global economy. People are now able to source for themselves globally," says Ducker.

FedEx has built its business on the basis of moving fast with new technology and service. It appears that it's extending the corporate strategy to include the relatively new focal point called China that is bursting with energy and business--making it a primary node within its supply chain network service.