Saturday, December 29, 2007

DepEd recognizes outstanding SPED teachers, centers

The national winners for the Visually Impaired Category are Arlene Ranile from Mandaue City Central School SPED Center, Edgar Sagun from Candelaria CS SPED Center in Zambales

DepEd recognizes outstanding SPED teachers, centers

In celebration of 100 years of Special Education (SPED) in the country, the Department of Education (DepEd) recognized the outstanding SPED teachers who have made the department's SPED programs successful.

Held at Great Eastern Hotel in Quezon City, the awarding ceremony was part of a three day conference on SPED themed: "Celebrating 100 Years of Special Education." The conference sought to review the policies, current approaches, and strategies in Special Education. Best practices were also highlighted in line with SPED's centennial celebration.

"In our efforts to provide education for all, DepEd has been implementing various educational programs for those with special needs," DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

The national winners for the Visually Impaired Category are Arlene Ranile from Mandaue City Central School SPED Center, Edgar Sagun from Candelaria CS SPED Center in Zambales, and Thelma Guarino from Bagong Silang SPED Center in Caloocan City.

For the Hearing Impaired Category, Brenda Ebreo of La Union SPED Center, San Fernando City won the first place, followed by Phoebe Santiago of Legazpi City Division SPED Center and Estrella Bautista of San Fernando ES for the third place.

Meanwhile, Estrela Sartiga of Lipata CS SPED Center, Marife De Guzman from La Union SPED Center, and Maurina Jerusalem from Midsayap Pilot ES SPED Center in Cotabato ruled the Children with Autism Category.

On the other hand, Edvin Cabrera from Integrated School for Exceptional Children in Iloilo City bagged the first place in the Children with Mental Retardation Category. Virginia Amanon of Midsayap Pilot CS in Cotabato and Rosario Santos of Sta. Ana ES SPED Center in Manila were in second and third place, respectively.

Lastly, for the Gifted and Talented Children, Nora Amowas of Baguio City SPED Center won the first place, followed by Efremelia Caronan of Tuguegarao East CS in Tuguegarao City and Ma. Fe Teresa Penaflor of Dinalupihan ES in Bataan who won second and third places, respectively.

The best SPED Centers were also acknowledged. The national winners are La Union SPED Center in San Fernando City for the first place, Zapatera ES SPED Center in Cebu City for the second place, and Paaralang Pag-ibig at Pag-asa from San Pablo City for the third place.

The department's programs and projects on SPED are inspired by the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Education by UNESCO member-countries which states that "the fundamental principle of inclusive schools is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or difference they may have."

The Special Education Division, which is under the Bureau of Elementary Education, prepares instructional materials specifically designed for children with special needs. It also establishes linkages with agencies concerned with the education and welfare of these children

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Piecework workers entitled to 13th month pay -- DoLE

Piecework workers entitled to 13th month pay -- DoLE

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) reminded employers that workers paid on piecework basis, along with all the other rank and file employees, are entitled to the 13th month pay.

In a statement, DoLE Secretary Arturo Brion said Presidential Decree 851 mandates all employers to pay their rank and file workers the 13th month pay regardless of the nature the workers’ jobs and irrespective of the methods by which their wages are paid provided they worked for at least one month during a calendar year.

Brion said the law entitles all full-time rank and file workers, as well as those who are paid on piecework basis, or a fixed or guaranteed wage plus commission, to receive the 13th month pay.

Workers paid on piece-rate basis are those who are paid a standard amount for every piece or unit of work produced that is more or less regularly replicated without regard to the time spend in producing each piece or unit.

He added that employees working part-time in two or more firms are also entitled to the 13th month pay from each of their employers.

He said that the 13th month pay should not be less than one-twelfth (1/12) of the total basic salary earned by an employee in a calendar year whether he or she is paid on a full time, part-time, or piecework basis, or paid with fixed salary plus commission.

He also said that the benefit should be paid not later than December 24 of every year. An employer, however, may give his or her employees one-half of the 13th month pay before the opening of the regular school year and the remaining half on or before December 24 of every year.

Exempted from the 13th month pay are workers who are paid on purely commission, boundary, task basis, or pakyaw (wholesale), or those who are paid a fixed amount for performing specific work. Household helpers and persons in the personal service of another are also not entitled to the13th month pay.

Brion said giving 13th month pay to these workers depends upon the discretion of employers. He, nonetheless, enjoined employers of household helpers and those who provide them personal services to give these workers the 13th month benefit.

“These workers deserve benefits as they perform domestic chores and attend to the needs of our families at home, thereby, allowing us to attend to our jobs and businesses,” Brion said.

Friday, December 21, 2007

2009: UN International Year of Astronomy

Agence France-Presse

PARIS -- The United Nations has proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy to mark the 400th anniversary of observations by Galileo that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) said here on Thursday.

The initiative, to be hosted by the IAU and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was approved by the UN in response to a request by Italy, where the great astronomer was born, it said.

Ninety-nine countries and 14 organizations have so far signed up to participate in the scheme, which will seek to promote public involvement in skywatching, especially by the young.

"IYA 2009 will highlight global cooperation for peaceful purposes -- the search for our cosmic origin and our common heritage which connect all citizens of planet Earth," the IAU added.

In 1609, Galileo used a primitive telescope to discover spots on the Sun, craters and peaks on the surface of the Moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter.

His findings confirmed Copernicus's theory that the planets orbited the Sun rather than the Earth, but he incurred the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church by going against its doctrine of celestial mechanics.

Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and was forced to recant his findings to avoid being burned at the stake. He spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II, after a 13-year investigation, said the Church had erred but argued that 17th-century theologians were working with the best knowledge available to them at the time.

Solon pushes stiffer penalties for crimes of indecency

By Maila Ager

MANILA, Philippines -- To help curb, if not eradicate, crimes of indecency, a member of the House of Representatives has filed a bill seeking to impose stiffer penalties for perpetrators of “highly scandalous crimes against decency.”

Aside from longer jail sentences, House Bill 2856 filed by Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco also seeks to increase the fines provided for in the Revised Penal Code for such offenses as grave scandal, indecency and pornography, among others, to between P100,000 to P2,000,000, among others.

Currently, such offenses carry sentences of only six months or less.

“The current law seems to be taken lightly by offenders since its penalties are minimal compared to the gravity of crime,” Cuenco said in a statement Thursday.

“There is no justice if we let the criminals responsible for the grim days ahead of these victims walk away unscathed -- only to be incarcerated be for a mere six months or less,” he said.

Cuenco said crimes against decency continue to increase because perpetrators are “insufficiently punished, and some, even worse, [continue committing the crime] with impunity.”

The lawmaker also said there is a need to amend some provisions in the law “to curtail, if not totally eradicate the conduct of inappropriate and obscene behavior.”

Palace clarifies long holiday break

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer

So sorry. There will be no additional pay for employees in the private sector reporting for work on Dec. 22 (Saturday) and 23 (Sunday), as well as on Dec. 29 (Saturday).

“There’s no instruction from higher-ups to issue a presidential proclamation to declare these days as special nonworking holidays,” said Severo “Nonoy” Catura, an undersecretary in the Office of the Executive Secretary.

The option of granting long holidays to employees in the private sector rests with employers, said Catura.

Just like in the government, it’s up to employers or heads of offices to decide whether to come up with a skeletal force in the afternoon of Dec. 23, he said.

Special nonworking day

The government has declared Dec. 24 (Monday) a special nonworking day under Presidential Proclamation No. 1211.

Christmas Day is a regular holiday, so is Dec. 30 (Rizal Day) and New Year’s Day.

Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) is a nationwide special holiday under Republic Act No. 9492.

This clarification came after Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said at his regular press conference Wednesday that a long Christmas holiday and a long New Year holiday awaited employees.

Back to work Dec. 26

Ermita said that the long Christmas holiday—at least for state employees who do not go to work on weekends—would start on Dec. 22 (Saturday) and end on Tuesday (Dec. 25).

Employees in government and private offices are expected to be at work on Dec. 26 (Wednesday) until Dec. 28 (Friday), he said.

For government workers -- except those in vital departments and agencies -- the four-day New Year holiday begins on Dec. 29 (Saturday) and ends on Jan. 1 (Tuesday).

Under the Labor Code, employers must pay those who report for work on legal holidays 200 percent of the daily rate of their employees.

On special holidays, employers must pay an additional 30 percent over the regular rate.

The President may declare other special holidays from time to time.

The legal holidays are Jan. 1 (New Year), April 9 (Bataan Day), May 1 (Labor Day), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, June 12 (Independence Day), Aug. 31 (National Heroes Day), the end of Ramadan, Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day), Nov. 30 (Bonifacio Day), Christmas Day and Dec. 30.

Considered special holidays are Aug. 21 (Ninoy Aquino Day), Nov. 1, Election Day, Dec. 24, Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) and Black Saturday.

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez -

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is prepared to veto the 2008 budget if the House of Representatives insists on taking P17 billion from automatically appropriated debt servicing funds and diverting this to various projects, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said Thursday.

At the same time, Andaya denied claims by some senators about the supposed P30-billion presidential pork barrel, saying it does not exist.

What the president has been allotted is an P800-million contingency fund, a standby fund for emergency expenditures that is subject to audit, Andaya said.

Andaya said allowing the House insertion would incur "legal problems and fiscal risks because you don’t have the cash to pay for the P17 billion. Where will you get the money for this?"

He did not say where the P17 billion is supposed to go to, only that it was intended for various projects.

"Malacañang has nothing to do with this," he said, adding that he has already communicated the Palace’s request to take out the insertion to the respective finance committee heads of the House and the Senate.

But if Congress insists on the insertion, he said Arroyo might be forced to veto the budget.

"This early, we are giving the signal already about what action [Malacañang] might take if they insist,” Andaya warned the two chambers, which are meeting to reconcile their respective versions of the budget.

Because of the automatic appropriation of funds for such items as debt servicing, the Internal Revenue Allotment of local governments, and life insurance premiums, Andaya said what Malacañang is actually asking for is only about P770 billion of the proposed P1.277-trillion 2008 budget.

Andaya said the government will have to operate on a reenacted budget, at least for the first quarter of 2008, after Congress failed to pass the budget before going on Christmas break Wednesday.

But he said Arroyo wants a new budget to fund key projects and increase appropriation for social services.

He also said that, contrary to the claims of some senators, the administration has increased funding for health, by P5 billion, and education, by P17.8 billion.

‘Nothing illegal about bonuses’--Andaya

By Christine Avendaño, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Saying the House of Representatives has fiscal autonomy, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Thursday said that the House can grant each congressmen the P200,000 in staff bonuses this Christmas.

Andaya said the House did not violate anything by granting the bonuses to its employees.

“They’re fiscally autonomous. The funds for these are strictly from their own,” Andaya told reporters in Malacañang.

Because of its own system, the House like the national government can grant bonuses, he explained. He said, recently, the Palace granted up to P10,000 in performance bonuses to all government employees.

Asked how the House will get its funds for the bonuses, the budget secretary said: “Remember that when you are fiscally autonomous, you have the power to realign, you have power of savings, power of recommendation.”

“So you can actually readjust your budget to suit the needs of your members but of course within your ceiling,” Andaya said.

Meanwhile, Andaya said his department had already released the P7,000 the national government will shell out as performance bonuses to government employees.

“Government employees should get their bonuses by now,” he said.

In late October, only members of the majority allegedly received cash gifts of as much as P500,000 each when they went to Malacañang for a breakfast meeting with President Macapagal-Arrroyo.

But this time even members of the House opposition also received the P200,000 in staff bonuses, a member of the militant bloc confirmed Thursday.

Cheaper meds battle shifts to bicam

By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- With half of the job done, House members are gearing up for a much tougher fight at the bicameral conference committee over the much-awaited bill promising cheaper medicines for poor Filipinos.

Iloilo Representative Ferjenel Biron, principal author of House Bill 2844, on Thursday said he was expecting a clash between his group and its Senate counterpart over a provision in the House version requiring the establishment of a drug price regulatory board.

The board will be tasked to establish price ceilings on medicines based on factors such as retail prices of similar drugs abroad, currency exchange rates, and the cost of production and labor.

The bill prescribes that “no retailer may sell drugs or medicines at a retail price exceeding the maximum retail price fixed by the board.”

Biron said the House contingent could not strike a compromise with the Senate which wanted the provision dropped from the reconciled version of the measure.

At most, he said congressmen would be willing to place a time cap for the duration of the regulatory board to allow both chambers to assess if the strategy actually made drug prices more affordable.

Biron said the House panel would be open to a time frame of perhaps two years, with a condition that the bill be fine-tuned before the 14th Congress ends in 2010.

“Beyond this, the provision cannot be bargained [away],” he said.

“We need a drug price regulatory board if we really want to bring down the prices of medicines in our country. We can’t give our people false hopes,” Biron said.

Unfortunately for Biron and company, Senator Mar Roxas, the author of the Senate version of the bill, is strongly opposed to a regulatory board.

Roxas, a former trade secretary and investment banker, argues that the idea of a price regulatory board goes against the spirit of free enterprise besides opening the process to intense lobbying and manipulation.

The two chambers clashed over the same issue during a “pre-bicam” toward the end of the previous Congress. Roxas was implacable and only sent representatives to deal with his counterparts.

Roxas is again heading the Senate panel this time.

The House team will be composed of Representative Antonio Alvarez, chair of the committee on trade and industry, Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, Rep. Janette Garin, Representative Edcel Lagman, Representative Jack Duavit, Representative Junie Cua, Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr., and Biron.

As provided by HB 2844, the board will be headed by the health secretary or by his designated undersecretary, with the trade secretary as vice chair.

Members will include the head of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, the president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., a faculty member of a health sciences school, and two representatives from the consumers’ sector.

Developing countries to get climate change fund in 2009

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Developing countries like the Philippines will have to wait until 2009 to access the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol, a climate specialist said Thursday.

World leaders agreed to operationalize the long-idle fund to help developing countries adapt to global warming at the recently concluded climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

Dr. Lourdes Tibig, a member of the Philippine delegation to the summit, said the Philippines could access the fund as early as 2009 once the mechanism has been established.

``The money is already there. It's just not being distributed because there's no mechanism yet,” she said in an interview.

Tibig is a supervising weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration’s (PAGASA).

At the summit's end last Saturday, world leaders agreed to set 2009 as the deadline for a new treaty to tackle global warming, three years ahead of the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

An Adaptation Board, composed of representatives from developing countries, was created to draw up the mechanism on the fund allocation, while the World Bank's Global Environmental Facility was tapped to disburse it.

The fund is financed by a levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. Since 1997, it has grown to $67 million and is seen as a major contributor to adaptation financing for developing countries.

The fund was designed to finance concrete adaptation programs in developing countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at cutting down greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

The CDM is a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol which helps developed countries achieve their emissions reduction targets, and developing countries attain their sustainable development goals.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Jasper Inventor, also a member of the Philippine delegation, however, said that the fund won't come "onstream" until 2012, when the Protocol expires.

``Under the framework, it's still 2012, unless we're able to negotiate a position that we should be able to access this fund after the negotiations,” he said in an interview.

Like Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, PAGASA’s Tibig and Inventor said the agreement to operationalize the fund was laudable.

``This, together with technology transfer, is a very important mechanism to help developing countries adapt to climate change,” Inventor said.

``This means further mapping, improving forecasting, disaster management and prevention -- things that will ensure that we move forward and adapt to a changing climate.”

Inventor, however, clarified that projects to be financed by the fund were not limited to CDM projects.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Electricity bills to go down — ERC

ELECTRICITY bills may go down next year.

Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Rodolfo Albano Jr. yesterday said customers of the National Power Corp. may expect a cut of 16 centavos per kilowatthour starting early next year.

“Power rates are expected to go down by 12 centavos to 16 centavos per kWh. This is because of first, the appreciation of the peso against the dollar, and second, the efficient operation of some of the generating assets of Napocor –which were utilized to its full capacity. We expect this to be filed within the first quarter of next year,” Albano said.

He said the ERC is evaluating the Napocor rate applications under the generation rate adjustment mechanism or GRAM and incremental currency exchange rate adjustment or ICERA.

Albano said the ERC is also set to approve a possible average reduction of eight to 10 centavos per kWh for Napocor’s 8th ICERA and 9th GRAM applications for June 2006 to Dec. 2006.

The cut will be reflected in the Feb. 2008 bills of power consumers.

Napocor has a pending application for a reduction of 12 to 16 centavos per kWh for the 9th and 10th ICERA and GRAM. Albano said the Napocor applied for a rate reduction for its GRAM because the firm utilizes less oil-fired power plants. Journal Online

Jobless rate down in ’07, says survey

By Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent of the total labor force in October from 7.3 percent in the same month last year, in what the government said was a natural consequence of a robustly growing economy.

Based on the Labor Force Survey released Tuesday by the National Statistics Office, there were some 2,261,700 unemployed persons in October out of a total labor force of 35.9 million, or 6.3 percent of all workers.

Conversely, the number of employed persons was 33,638,300 for an employment rate of 93.7 percent.

Myrna Asuncion, head of the National Economic and Development Authority policy and planning department, said the drop in the unemployment rate meant there was an increase in the number of people generating income. This supported the earlier report on the growth of the Philippine economy that beat most forecasts, she said.

“More people are now earning income. This is a reflection of the economy’s performance,” Asuncion said in an interview.

The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), grew by 7.1 percent year-on-year in the first three quarters of 2007. This has kept the economy on track to surpass the official growth target rate of between 6.1 and 6.7 percent for the entire year.

The GDP, the most common yardstick of a country’s economic performance, is the sum of all goods produced and services rendered within an economy during a period.

The NSO said nearly half, or 48.8 percent, of all employed persons in October belonged to the services sector. The sector, which recorded the fastest growth among key sectors of the economy so far this year, includes the booming business process outsourcing (BPO) industry which counts call centers.

The latest data showed the services sector, boosted by the income generated by the BPO industry, grew 8.2 percent year-on-year from January to September this year, up greatly from the 6.1 percent recorded in the same period last year.

The agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector grew by 4.6 percent from January to September, while the industry sector (which includes manufacturing and mining) grew by 6.8 percent.

The NSO said that of the employed persons in October, 35.1 percent were part-time workers while the larger 64.9-percent share were full-time workers. Full-time workers are those who work at least 40 hours a week.

Employed persons looking for additional work are considered underemployed, according to the NSO. In October, the agency said, 18.1 percent of the labor force were underemployed.

Asuncion said the government had generated about 800,000 new jobs so far this year, still short of the target of 1 million jobs annually.

She said the government would work on meeting the million jobs a year target in 2008.

The government expects the economy to grow between 6.3 and 7 percent next year.

Asuncion said the government hopes this would translate to one million new jobs next year.

She said that if the growth would be in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, the target of 1 million new jobs would be attainable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

207 of 236 solons back English as medium of instruction

207 of 236 solons back English as medium of instruction

By Christian V. Esguerra - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--A BILL SEEKING to reinstate English as the medium of instruction in Philippine schools is gathering steam at the House of Representatives.

The so-called “English Bill” of Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas has attracted 206 coauthors, a number its principal proponent said all but assured its passage. There are 236 congressmen.

As House Bill No. 305, it seeks to supersede the government’s existing “bilingual” policy, which allows the use of English and Filipino as the mediums of instruction.

The bill instead assigns English as the sole medium from Grade 3 to fourth year high school, while keeping the current language policy for college students.

Under the measure, schools will be given the option of using English, Filipino or a regional language to teach subjects from preschool to Grade 2.

It also prescribes the teaching of English and Filipino as separate subjects throughout elementary and high school, while seeking to “enliven” English as the “language of interaction in schools.”

RP kikilos para sa climate change

TINIYAK kahapon ni Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza na itutuloy ng bansa ang mga proyekto at pangako nito na makakapagbawas ng greenhouse emission para maiwasan ang mga delubyo at kalamidad na posibleng tumama sa bansa tulad ng pagbaha, kakulangan sa tubig at pagkasira ng pananim at lamang dagat dulot ng global warming.

Sa talumpati niya sa 12-day UN Conference on Climate Change sa Bali, Indonesia kung saan pinala-kpakan siya bago at matapos niyang ihatid ang pahayag ng bansa, sinabi ni Atienza na kahit hindi masisisi ang Pilipinas sa epekto ng global warming, gagawa pa rin umano ng hakbang ang pamahalaan na makatulong dahil ang Pilipinas ay madalis maapektuhan ng matinding sama ng panahon tulad ng bagyo, baha, landslides at iba na nakakapinsala sa pamumuhay ng tao at ari-arian.

Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring nabubuong commitment mula sa Estados Unidos ang 190 nasyon na kasama sa konperensya na bawasan ang emission level ng 25 hanggang 40 percent sa 2020. Nilala-yon ng Bali conference na magkaroon ng usapin na palitan ang Kyoto Protocol na nakatakdang mag-expire sa 2012. Ginawa ang protocol noong 1997 kung saan nire-require ang mga bansa na bawasan ang greenhouse gas emissions at ang mayayamang bansa ang magtutustos nito.

“We have accelerated our shift to renewable energy sources. We are one of thr few countries with mandatory vehicle emission testing mandated by law. We have banned open burning. We just passed the biofuels law that provided for its mandatory use and incentives,” ayon kay Atienza na kumatawan kay Pangulong Arroyo sa konperensya.

Sinabi pa niya na naroon ang malaking paghamon na pakilusin ang lahat at makiisa para sa climate change na mangyayari lamang kung meron malawakang information campaign.

“We have less thatn 10 years to effectively address climate change or it will cause irreversible ecological disasters if temperature increased by 3 to 4 degrees centigrade. Some 340 million people will be displaced and 1.8 billion people will be deprived of drinking water. Climate change will condemn our people to poverty,” ayon pa kay Atienza.

Friday, December 14, 2007

‘No rigging in Transco auction’--justice chief

By Margaux Ortiz

MANILA, Philippines -- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is challenging opposition senators who described the National Transmission Corp. (Transco) bidding process as a charade to substantiate their allegations.

“Monte Oro Grid Resources was the highest bidder. How can it be lutong macao (a charade)?” Gonzalez said in an interview with reporters on Thursday.

The winning consortium, which counts among its partners Enrique Razon, treasurer of the administration Team Unity in the May senatorial elections, won the right to operate the strategic national power transmission grid with a $3.95-billion bid on Wednesday.

Opposition senators said they would seek a Supreme Court injunction to stop the awarding of the assets of National Transmission Corp. (Transco) to the consortium.

Gonzalez stressed that the allegations were unfair to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction.

“It was important that the PSALM board provided for a minimum floor price, but the offered bid of the winning bidder was very, very much more,” the Department of Justice secretary said.

“If that was lutong macao, [the people behind Monte Oro] would not offer a price because they are already sure that they would win,” he added.

Asked to react to allegations that Razon’s consortium won the bid because of his alleged close ties to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gonzalez said the businessman was just part of the group that participated in the bidding process.

“Does it mean that just because he was there, you would have to disqualify the highest bid?” Gonzalez pointed out, stressing that the consortium was not a sole proprietorship.

When asked about the plan of opposition Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal's to file a class action suit against the auction, Gonzalez said there was no way to stop the bid.

“Well the opposition can always file anything. They will never be satisfied anyway,” the justice secretary said.

Madrigal said the victory of Razon, head of port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSCI), should prompt the Senate blue ribbon committee to act immediately on her resolution calling for an investigation of the Transco bidding.

Madrigal has also linked Arroyo's brother, Diosdado “Buboy” Macapagal Jr., and the Aboitiz family, a known administration ally, to Monte Oro.

Gonzalez said he would not see anything wrong about Arroyo’s brother being part of the consortium, if indeed he was.

"He is a legitimate businessman," Gonzalez pointed out. "It was the corporation that participated and the personality of the corporation is different from the individual's. Assuming that he participated, it is unfair [to conclude there is a conflict of interest] just because he is the brother of the President."

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. earlier said Jose Ibazeta, president of Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction, was in a conflict of interest situation, “being a current director of companies in Razon's empire.”

The sale of Transco assets has been described as the biggest privatization in Philippine history, involving power transmission lines with optic fiber broadband capability.

Senate passes 5 of 9 LEDAC priority bills

By Veronica Uy

MANILA, Philippines -- The Senate has approved five of nine bills that had been prioritized by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), Senate President Manuel Villar said Thursday.

Apart from the P1.227-trillion proposed national budget for 2008, Villar said the Senate also passed the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises, Cheaper Medicines Bill, Personal Equity and Retirement Account Act, and the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF), the last one being passed Wednesday night with 12 affirmative votes.

ACEF, sponsored by Senator Edgardo Angara, seeks to ensure more benefits to Filipino farmers with more agricultural infrastructure, post-harvest facilities, research and development, and training.

It also provides that 10 percent of the fund be used to support scholarships in agriculture and fisheries, and in courses such as veterinary medicine.

“Next week we are set to ratify the bicameral report on the national budget and present it to the President for her signature. We will also work on the passage of the bill creating the Credit Information Bureau and bills for the benefit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Villar said.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan said the bicameral conference meeting that would thresh out the differences in the versions of the two Chambers was scheduled next week.

Villar said this showed that the Senate honored the commitment it made during the LEDAC meeting to pass more priority bills before Congress adjourns for Christmas.

With these bills and the ratification of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Treaty between the Philippines and Spain, Villar said the Senate had approved 14 measures “after only four months of holding plenary sessions.”

“The passage of these bills indicates that the Senate recognizes the real need to institute reforms in governance. This feat belies allegations that the Senate engages in too much politics at the expense of its legislative work,” he said.

The other priority bills specified at the LEDAC meeting were: amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, Civil Aviation Authority bill, amendments to the University of the Philippines Charter, and the Credit Information System.

“The Senate is willing to extend a hand of cooperation to the administration in order to fast-track the enactment of laws needed by the people,” Villar said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

3.67 million Filipino kids malnourished -- officials

By Kristine L. Alave -- Inquirer

Eat your vegetables and do better in school.

This was the message of officials from the education and health departments on Monday as they launched a food awareness program to encourage schoolchildren to eat nutritious meals and not junk food.

Some 3.67 million children in the country, or about a quarter of the total number of students in the elementary level, are malnourished, officials said.

The Department of Education and the Department of Health, along with Nissin-Universal Robina Corp., kicked off the project at the Eulogio Rodriguez Elementary School in Mandaluyong City.

The initiative is part of the joint campaign of the two departments to inculcate healthy eating habits among schoolchildren.

Every year, the DepEd and the DoH, along with a private partner, conduct a school-to-school nationwide campaign that seeks to institutionalize nutrient supplementing and feeding activities.

Health Undersecretary Ethelyn Nieto talked to elementary students about the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables and doing regular exercises.

According to Nieto, the junk food that most children eat contains too much sugar and other chemicals that lead to lifestyle diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

“That’s why the older generations live longer. They didn’t have junk food,” she told the students.

Renee Yabut, Nissin-Universal product manager, said her company and the government agencies would bring health experts and nutritionists to the various schools to discuss food intake with the children

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gonzalez’s son stumps Justice ‘mafia’

The “guardian angel” of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez monitors not only his health but also all documents, including the “work of evil”

of the so-called mafia in the department.

Gonzalez’s son, Dr. Marigold Gonzalez, checks on the health of his father every time he works at the Executive Lounge of the Department of Justice.

A source of The Manila Times said Dr. Gonzalez serves as the sentinel inside the Office of the Secretary to weed out the mafia. The shadowy group is said to be composed of civilians and employees engaged in large-scale case-fixing for huge fees.

The Secretary’s visitors are “sanitized” by his son to ensure that he is not infected with virus. The justice chief recently underwent a kidney transplant.

It was learned that the mafia cannot penetrate anymore the inner office of Gonzalez and make him sign dubious documents since Dr. Gonzalez is guarding his father.

Another person watching thoroughly the documents of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is Undersecretary Fidel Exconde, Gonzalez’s chief of staff.

“With Marigold and Undersecretary Exconde around, the DOJ mafia cannot get their way to feed wrong information and erroneous resolutions to the Secretary. They have abused the confidence of the good secretary but not with Marigold and Exconde around,” said a source who declined to be identified.

Dr. Gonzalez serves as the “muscle” inside the department, and Exconde the “skeleton.” The department’s regular procedure in review of cases is now back. Before, the mafia bypassed it to pull off its racket.

Under Memorandum Circular No. 7, Sec. Gonzalez is implementing the “bar code” system just like Malacañang. Without the bar code, a document from his office is considered unofficial and will not be released. The system was said to be Exconde’s brainchild.

Gonzalez returned to the department on November 16.

Supposedly, the mafia includes a Filipino-Chinese lawyer, whose clients are Chinese and South Koreans; a “Zambales-based fixer” passing himself off as an Immigration official; another fixer, a woman, known for “sneaking” cases into the department; and one from a political clan who, recently, was able to “fix” a big-time drug case.

By Jomar Canlas, Manila Times Reporter

Indians show the way to forest conservation

By F. C. Payumo - Inquirer

Recently I read in a travel magazine about how the Amazon Indians are using Google Earth, Global Positioning System (GPS) and other technologies in protecting their rainforest and preserving their history and cultural traditions. Curious to know more, I logged on to Google and learned that the Surui Indians and other tribes are aided by improved satellite images not only in keeping tabs on loggers and miners but also in cataloguing medicinal plants, hunting grounds, ancestral cemeteries and sacred sites.

“We want people to know that these territories are not just empty swaths of green as seen by satellite, but the homes, supermarkets, museums, libraries of a people who depend on these areas for their survival,” said Vasco van Roosmalen of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). “Google Earth is used primarily for vigilance. Indians log on and study images, inch by inch, looking to see where new gold mines are popping up or where deforestation is occurring. We offered the Google Earth team a list of coordinates where it would be helpful to have sharper images.”

I wondered if we could do the same thing in our country. So I clicked on Google Earth and zoomed in on the forest in Subic and Bataan. While I could see clearly the airport and buildings in the Subic Bay Freeport and had fun looking for the rooftop of my house, huge areas of the forest in Bataan province were a blur. And they were not real-time images (there was not even a trace of the ongoing Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway construction). But I am sure the government or the World Wildlife Fund can ask Google Earth for updated and sharper images just like ACT did for the Amazon Indians.

I also went to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to ask how we use satellite images. I was told that we have infrared maps that can be a powerful tool in protecting our environment. But we have not seen the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or the local officials use them. To begin with, the maps cover only certain areas and are not updated. It was only the Bataan forests that had images taken both in 1989 and 2002, but none in 2007.

Still, the snapshots show graphically what occurred over 12 years around Mt. Natib and Mt. Mariveles. The infrared images show the thick vegetation in crimson color. Since it takes a trained eye to spot the changes, I asked a helpful officer of NAMRIA to point out the areas of degradation by encircling them. He encircled a total of seven areas that had been deforested.

Wouldn’t these and similar images of the country’s protected areas serve the cause of environment protection if posted yearly in the provincial, municipal and "barangay" [village] halls, and published in newspapers rather than kept in government archives? More eyes watching -- from the public, the NGOs, etc. -- will put pressure on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local officials from the provincial down to the barangay level. A performance-based evaluation can be done more objectively with these images than with any self-serving reports from the forest rangers or ground patrols.

This can be a practical contribution to the Conference on Climate Change held in Albay province by Gov. Joey Salceda. Although the Philippines is not in the league of the United States, Europe or China in terms of carbon emission, it is one of the most threatened among the world’s biodiversity hotspots. And since, according to Conservation International, deforestation is responsible for one-fourth of all greenhouse gas emission -- more than double the amount from the world’s cars and trucks -- it is through forest conservation that we can contribute to the fight against global warming.

The Amazon Indians have shown us the way. Whether in harnessing the benefits of satellite, cyberspace or the airwaves, we can emulate how they employ technology. Our officials want to spend P16 billion for the National Broadband Network and P24 billion for Cyber Education, while the Amazon tribes make use of satellite services for their rainforest protection free. And Google Earth is more than happy because it reaps good publicity.

We read that the Department of Transportation and Communications, after having abandoned the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE Corp., is still bent on spending money for the broadband by inviting the telecom companies to bid. I thought the issue is precisely whether or not the government needs to have a dedicated connectivity, given that private communications backbones already serve 98 percent of the population.

With respect to the use of technology in education, why spend P18 billion of the total P24-billion Cyber Education budget for separate connectivity alone? Why not make use of the other NBN -- the government NBN-4 television station -- to broadcast the lectures of so-called expert teachers? An hour a day, five days a week should be set aside by the station to telecast such lectures not only to the students in schools but to the out-of-school youth and adults in their homes. If the content is anywhere close to the quality of the programs of Knowledge Channel, this distance-learning program would even help push the government TV channel’s rating one notch up!

In the areas not reached by NBN-4, there are the 1,501-strong cable TV operators to play the DVDs on their community channels. Finally, to the very few remaining schools that are too remote to be reached either by regular or cable TV, DVDs of the lectures can be sent.

Is this an Indian solution? Maybe, but that’s what we need.

New airline flies Davao skies

A new airline will soon serve travelers to Kalibo, Cebu, Subic and Manila from Davao City. Pacific Pearl Airways will start its operations in December with two Advanced Boeing 737-200 aircrafts with around 112-114 seating capacity.

According to Richard Ryu, vice president of DavKor International Group Corp, initial flights will be to Kalibo and Subic but the plan to serve other destinations in the country is in the pipeline.

International destinations will include Brunei, Kota Kinabalu and Palau. They are still finalizing permits to fly to South Korea from Subic.

Pacific Pearl Airways’ objectives are: provide its customers with efficient service and value for money in airline transportation; offer its employees and associates with professional corporate environment, opportunities for career development and just compensation; enable its stockholders to achieve optimum investment returns; and contribute to the economic, social and cultural advancement of the Filipino Nation.

The company is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with permits from the Philippines Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and Air Transportation Office.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

By Christine Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. - Inquirer

With the World Bank still not moving to lift its suspension of deliberations on the $232-million soft loan intended for Philippine road projects, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued a string of instructions to ensure that foreign-assisted and funded projects would be free of irregularities.

The instructions, which include a review of the road projects covered by the suspended WB loan, were contained in Administrative Order No. 210.

Cabinet officials, meanwhile, snubbed Monday the Senate probe of the suspended $232-million WB loan, due to corruption, as they pressed for more time to prepare their defense.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the committee on economic affairs, was visibly irritated by the last-minute decision by the Cabinet members to skip the probe but was relieved that they did not invoke Executive Order 464.

EO 464 prohibits government officials from testifying before congressional committees without the permission of the President.

But Legarda warned that she would hold the Cabinet officials in contempt if they fail to live up to their commitment to attend the next hearing scheduled next month.

Legarda said she received a call from Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde who cited the “lack of material time” and evacuation efforts for Typhoon “Mina” as the Cabinet secretaries’ main reasons for their absence.

AO No. 210

The President issued AO 210 on Nov. 22, the day Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and WB officials held a joint news conference wherein the WB affirmed its commitment to fund Phase 2 of National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP) but only after safeguards had been put in place to prevent the recurrence of irregularities.

Under the administrative order titled “Harnessing Government, Civil Society and Sectoral Groups for Transparency and Procurement Process,” Ms Arroyo directed the Pro-Performance System (PPS) and the Procurement Transparency Group (PTG) to review the road projects and “to report to the President.”

The PPS is under the Presidential Management Staff office while the PTG is under the Government Procurement Policy Board, which in turn is under the Department of Budget and Management.

No surprise

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said the AO came as no surprise because the President had already given him instructions to conduct a review of the road projects and his office was “coordinating with the WB on the procurement issue.”

“Whether it’s Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the NRIMP, it’s still the procurement process of the WB which would be looked into,” Andaya said in a phone interview, when asked what particular road project in the NRIMP would be subject for review.

Before the WB incident, Andaya said the President had given Cabinet officials instructions “months back” to refine and strengthen the implementation of the procurement law.

In her order, Ms Arroyo asked the Presidential Anti-Graft and Corruption to “report on the suspended road projects and consult with the World Bank and other funding agencies on other anomalies to investigate.”

And to ensure that foreign-funded projects would be free of irregularities, the President issued the following directives:

• The PPS and the National Economic and Development Authority must undertake regular consultations with foreign-funding agencies to minimize, uncover and address anomalies in foreign-funded projects;

• The PTG must submit a detailed plan for the deployment of civil society observers in bids and awards committees handling projects worth P100 million or more;

• The GPPB must review regulations, systems and procedures for Official Development Assistance and government-to-government projects and recommend integrity and transparency reforms;

• The DBM must source funds for the investigation of irregularities in foreign-funded infrastructure projects.

Kill the hero

presidential aspirants are auditioning for, in various guises: the man on horseback, the self-made man, the man of the market, the man from Subic

Kill the hero

By John Nery - Inquirer

A line connects “Beowulf,” the Medieval Old English saga now reincarnated on the silver screen, directly to our own epics, like those that sing of Lam-ang of the Ilocanos and Sandayo of the Suban-ons. That line continues, through the martyr’s narrative that Ninoy Aquino wrote with his own blood, right down to our day.

It is the quest for the hero-protector, or rather the stubborn notion, persisting over the centuries and across civilizations, that one man will emerge to save the people. “He is our hope,” the Suban-on guman sings, “To keep our waters,/ To watch over our springs.”

Lost in the howling wilderness that our politics has led us to, harassed by the Grendels of our own making, we feel that need more than ever: A man, “no one else like him alive,” will yet lead us.

* * *

Conversations about the sorry state of our politics these days often turn on the hope that someone will start a chain reaction of radical change. Perhaps Among Ed, the priest-turned-governor of Pampanga, will be the focus of a new politics of participation? Perhaps Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga can inspire politics with the power of example?

Even the hopes some oppositionists have nursed, that Speaker Jose de Venecia will turn against his political allies, starting with the President, tap the same deep vein in our thinking: One brave man, like Lam-ang, can inspire the defeat of legion: “Oh, so many were they/ Nobody could count how many!”

It is this role of “man for the people” that presidential aspirants are auditioning for, in various guises: the man on horseback, the self-made man, the man of the market, the man from Subic. Even Margaret Thatcher’s “the best man for the job is a woman” is making a comeback.

* * *

The troubling thing about all these epics (all the way back to Homer, in fact) is that, despite being the work of a collective imagination, they are elitist in nature. They celebrate the feats, to borrow from Seamus Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf,” of the “highborn and powerful.”

* * *

Robert Zemeckis own take on “Beowulf” is a diverting must-see, but mainly for the daring script, written by recent Manila visitor Neil Gaiman and “Pulp Fiction” screenwriter Roger Avary.

(The use of digital motion-capture is distracting, and in the case of Grendel’s evil mother, inexplicably de-eroticizing. Angelina Jolie’s idealized, tattoo-free nakedness is a daydreamer’s idea of sex.)

I think it was the Boston Globe that described the movie perfectly, as a “pulp epic.” In their retelling, Gaiman and Avary create a hero on a more human scale. He still does battle with fabulous sea monsters (like Lam-ang, who spears “the biggest crocodile”) and possesses supernatural stamina (like Aliguyon of the Ifugao, who fights his rival for a year and a half before taking a break). He still traffics in the marvelous (like Sandayo, who tames a river by forcing its waters back to its source). But like modern man, he has his own demons: He cannot tell a story without embroidering it, and he cannot resist temptation.

This is a hero more our size.

* * *

I was not one of those who went to the airport on Aug. 21, 1983 to welcome Ninoy home, but I can understand the appeal this exile held for those who did: He was the “man for the people,” returning at long last.

In one of the many instructive footnotes in “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines,” Benedict Anderson cautions us -- those of us who imagine the Filipino nation -- about “the current martyrology surrounding the assassinated senator.” He was writing in 1988, which makes me wonder why the great scholar misunderstood the place Ninoy held in the country’s heart. Ninoy is worth commemorating not because he was highborn and powerful, although in his single term in the Senate he did fascinate people with his cinematic use of a personal helicopter and his aura of easy entitlement. He is worth celebrating because he is, precisely, a martyr, not the hero of an epic.

What makes him the representative Filipino is the seven years he spent in prison and the three years he spent in exile, which utterly changed him. Without these years in the political and spiritual desert, his death wouldn’t have mattered as much. Indeed, without these years, I doubt whether he would have made the decisions that would lead to his death in the first place.

Already, we can see in Ninoy’s self-sacrifice the seeds of an anti-epic. Whereas the hero in “Beowulf” or “The Harvest Song of Aliguyon” saves his people or achieves feats of derring-do by becoming more of himself, a martyr saves by dying to himself.

To find our way out of the wilderness, we need more martyrs, not heroes.

* * *

A word about, well, the “word-hoard” of our own epics: They are wonderfully evocative. In Jovita Ventura Castro’s translation of the composite text compiled by Leopoldo Y. Yabes, for example, the Lam-ang epic includes this almost-throwaway line from a battle scene: “Like the rain in the evening/ The spears fell.” This sent me burrowing through my books, to recover two images it had reminded me of. First, a 50-year-old word-picture from Philip Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings,” with its unforgettable close: “there swelled/ A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower/ Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.” And then a page from the back of the breviary, where I found St. Augustine writing epistolary advice: “The monks in Egypt are said to offer frequent prayers, but these are very short and hurled like swift javelins.”

A writer, Borges once wrote, “creates” his own precursors. A reader too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Villar to malls: Stop using plastic bags

By: Bernadette E. Tamayo - Journal Online

ALARMED by the increasing volume of solid waste in the metropolis, Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. asked mall owners to reduce the daily garbage produced by their customers.

He urged owners of department stores, malls and commercial establishments to use “reusable” environment-friendly shopping bags instead of plastic bags.

“I understand there are grocery stores now that are providing their customers with earth-friendly reusable bags but for a fee. This practice will be more effective if they will give out these bags at no cost to customers,” Villar said.

He earlier filed Senate Bill 1802 which mandates all department stores, malls and commercial establishments to provide reusable ecologically-friendly bags.

“This approach will combine citizen discipline and responsible corporate management and hopefully will make a significant dent in the garbage problem,” he said.

Villar said the use of plastics should be reduced because these are non-biodegradable.

Once enacted into law, the measure will cover commercial establishments with three or more stores, sales offices or branches nationwide or those with capitalization of more than P5 million.

“Solving the country’s garbage problem has a lot to do with lifestyle. Every individual must participate and must be responsible in solving the perennial garbage problem,” Villar said.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Govt hospitals ordered to prescribe generics

By Joyce Pangco Pañares - Manila Standard Today

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the Department of Health to draft a circular requiring all government doctors to prescribe generic drugs pending the passage of a cheaper medicines law.

Mrs. Arroyo again slammed what she called “a cartel in the medicine industry” for refusing to release patents on their branded drugs as she reminded government doctors to do their share in the administration’s war against the cartel.

“The [health department] must draft this circular making mandatory for all government doctors to prescribe generic medicines, which are 50 to 75 percent cheaper but equally effective as branded drugs,” she told barangay officials as she discussed the “Half-Priced Medicines Program” aimed at cutting by half the cost of medicines by 2010.

Mrs. Arroyo also distributed to residents certificates to operate Botika ng Barangay outlets and 125 scholarship vouchers from the Technical Education Skills Development Authority.

The Botika ng Barangay serves as the health department’s distribution network for cheaper medicines from India, which are imported by the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp.

There are now over 10,409 Botika ng Barangay nationwide, selling amoxicillin, cotrimoxazole, paracetamol and multi-vitamins.

Earlier, the President called on lawmakers to scrap the price control provision under the Cheap Medicines Bill in an attempt to hasten its passage.

Mrs. Arroyo said an “acceptable minimum” must be reached to ensure that pharmaceutical companies did not succeed in delaying further the passage of the bill.

“During the last Congress, it was passed but it did not reach the bicameral panel. Now, there is a bone of contention as to price control and maybe we can remove some controversial provisions so an acceptable minimum can be reached,” she said.

She said the law would help destroy the industry cartel that she claimed controlled at least 70 percent of the market.

“At least 90 percent of our medicines now are off patent, but still 90 percent of the medicines circulating nationwide are branded and are more expensive than their generic counterparts. So I am encouraging all of you to prescribe generic medicines and support our vision of cutting the prices of medicine by half come 2010,” she said.

Also yesterday, Iloilo City Rep. Ferjenel Biron, the main author of the cheaper medicines bill pending in the House, said he supported the President’s proposal to bar doctors from specifying brands in their prescriptions. With Romie A. Evangelista

Neglect, abuse, graft are most common charges filed against barangay officials

Neglect, abuse, graft are most common charges filed against barangay officials

By Rommel Lontayao, Manila TimesReporter

Critical appraisal heaped on barangay chairmen and council-members’ conduct and performance range from negligent, lazy and incompetent to greedy, corrupt and murderous—just like those used to describe higher government officials.

Corruption, neglect of duty, and abuse of authority of officials at the barangay level are three of the most common reasons various groups are pushing for the abolition of the barangay elections and the elimination of the Sangguniang Kabataan itself.

Most of the cases filed against barangay officials are for—or related to—these offenses.

In the country’s capital city alone, many cases filed at the Manila Barangay Bureau are complaints of corruption and abuse of authority against barangay chairmen and kagawads (councilmen).

One complaint involving corruption is that filed by a former barangay councilman and a former barangay secretary against their chairman. This man had allegedly sold his own private vehicle to the barangay, but never changed the ownership of the vehicle afterward. He received the purchase payment but retained ownership of the vehicle.

Paid absentee kagawads

Besides this, complainants Johnny Balbona and Jesus Jacinto, residents of Barangay 816 Zone 88 District V, in Paco, Manila, complained that their chairman, Arturo Lantin, had continuously given honoraria to former barangay councilmen even if they had already transferred to residences outside and distant from the barangay. These kagawads were therefore unable to do their duties at Barangay 816.

Balbona further claimed that one councilwoman, Imelda Lantin, who is the wife of the chairman, had received her honoraria and cash gifts despite being out of the country for nearly 11 months.

According to Balbona and Jacinto, their barangay hall is not being used for barangay council meetings and other official purposes. It is instead now being leased to vendors for P30 a month. At night, Balbona and Jacinto said, the barangay hall becomes a “pot session room” for illegal drug and solvent addicts.

Included as respondents in the complaints filed by Balbona and Jacinto, who are backed by more than a hundred residents of the barangay, were councilmen Gemma Ordona, Nene Amaneo, Boy Caponpon, Alvin Franco, Merlita Manalo and Joenery Estillero. These had allegedly connived with the Lantins.

Denied barangay certificate

Another complaint was made by Loreta Godani. She was allegedly not given the barangay certificate she needed, when she approached Barangay Chairman Lantin.

You cannot apply for or be issued some government documents without a barangay certification. Barangay chairmen are obliged to issue these certifications when asked to do so by legitimate residents.

Meanwhile, in Barangay 142 Zone 12, a complaint charges that Belen Lariosa, barangay chairman; Rosanna Rubio, secretary; and Daniel Garde, councilman, committed grave abuse of authority and dereliction of duty. This case was filed by Carmelita Gardon, a resident of Barangay 143 Zone 12, Balut, Tondo, Manila.

Gardon had reported to the barangay authorities that certain persons destroyed her family’s water meter and steel gate. She then filed cases against these vandals. But her complaints were not acted on. She now charges Barangay Chairwoman Lariosa, Secretary Rubio and Councilman Garde of dereliction of duty in ignoring her requests for action on the cases she had filed against the vandals. She also accuses the three officials of using intimidation to stop her family from pursuing the cases she had filed. This clearly, if true, was grave accuse of authority.

Gardon also added in her complaint that the chairwoman even told one of her relatives that “she will not entertain nor issue any permit, clearances, or certification when it involves any member of the Gardon family.”

“It is evident that the respondents are using their influence and position in harassing and influencing the witnesses as well as preventing access to documents relevant for filing the appropriate criminal and civil charges against [those persons involved in the destruction of our water meter and steel gate],” Gardon added in her written complaint.

Humorous, scary and sad

The Manila Barangay Bureau-Complaint and Investigation Section also has the humorously interesting case of a barangay chairman reported to be squatting in the middle of a street, of a scary and grim case of another chairman charged with committing acts of lasciviousness and making grave threats, and of the sad case of still another chairman who had allegedly cheated the Meralco or the city government by illegally tapping an electricity supply line.

Investigator Teddy Remandaban of the Manila Barangay Bureau-Complaint and Investigation Section estimated that their office receives more than a hundred complaints annually. At present, he said, they are attending to some 30 pending cases.

Remandaban confirmed that most cases filed are those involving corruption, dereliction of duty and abuse of authority.

The barangay bureau, by itself, does not have the authority to suspend or dismiss any elected barangay official from his position. It can only endorse complaint charges against the barangay officials to the city council, which is vested with disciplinary and penal powers.

Perhaps except for those whose residents are severely terrorized by the barangay officials or where the barangay has very few residents (like the country’s smallest barangay, Quezon City’s Barangay Manga, with a population of only 494), there must be tens of thousands of similar complaints of abuse, corruption and dereliction and abandonment of duty throughout the country.

The many barangays throughout Metro Manila—like many in Pasay City where garbage is left uncollected and whose culverts are clogged—must be manned by derelict officials.

Those who allow their streets to be used as parking areas day and night by commercial trucks—despite no parking signs—must correctly be suspected of being both derelict and corrupt.

Meanwhile, nationwide very few officials accused of various crimes and offenses related to the October 29 barangay and SK elections have been punished by their town and city councils.

Most likely these criminal barangay officials did the wrongdoings they did on barangay election day with the approval and support (or at least the acquiescence) of the officials of their superior town or city and province.

Social scientists, politicians, youth leaders unite to kill SK

Social scientists, politicians, youth leaders unite to kill SK

OUTRAGED by the trapo-linked politics of candidates in the last barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, social scientists, politicians, youth and student leaders are moving to abolish barangay elections and abolish the SK itself.

The barangay and the SK are forbidden by the Local Government Code from being political and partisan.

Nearly everyone wants to kill the SK—including the creator of that body itself, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel.

Other politicians who want the SK abolished are former Iloilo congressman and now Vice-Governor Rolex Suplico and Batangas Vice-Governor Jose Antonio Leviste 2nd.

Besides the SK’s having become as bad as trapo politicians, Suplico is for abolishing the youth assembly because of its dismal performance.

Leviste was an SK official before he became a professional politician. He is also disgusted with the SK’s failures and present trapo-style behavior.

The sentiment in the House of Representatives is growing that SK should be abolished because it can never be kept pure from partisan politics and the manipulation of powerful political parties and individual politicians.

It seems that most of the mayors of Pan­gasinan also want the SK abolished. The Inquirer even reported League of Municipalities of the Philippines President Mayor Ramon Guico as having said, “The mayors do not openly speak [about the issue] because of political reasons, but they are for the abolition of the SK.” The Inquirer report also quoted Guico saying, “many SK presidents fail to attend the municipal, city and provincial council sessions held during school days because they need to go to their classes.”

A report by the Philippine Council for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) came out just after the October 29 elections. By Avigail Olarte, it had the title “Kickbacks and love gifts SOP for SK execs.”

The report details how corrupt the young trapo-clones of the SK have become.

Samar News of Catbalogan City ran a well-reasoned article, “The case against the Sanggu­niang Kabataan [SK],” by political scientist Antonio Morales. It is the most incisive and devastating paper written to support the death of the SK.

Several student groups have also registered their desire to see the SK abolished by Congress.

The National Confederation of Youth Advocates, however, insists that the SK merely needs to be reformed not abolished.
--The Manila Times staff

Sangguniang Kabataan creator: Abolish SK!


Sangguniang Kabataan creator: Abolish SK!

Senator Pimentel wants barangays converted into bigger and viable economic units

By Efren L. Danao, Manila Times Senior Reporter

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.,the “Father of Local Autonomy” and the lawmaker who “created” the Sangguniang Kabataan, are among the millions who are disgusted with the monster that the SK has become. He now wants the SK abolished.

He is also unhappy with the performance of some barangay officials and this most basic political and administrative unit’s failure to achieve its potential.

He wants the barangay to be converted from a political unit into a properly organized and therefore viable economic unit.

Pimentel told The Manila Times that he conceived of the SK as a vehicle for the youth to be actively involved in community development. Now he laments that this ideal has not been achieved.

“I now have very serious doubts in keeping the SK as such,” he said.

For him, the last straw was the conduct of the SK election on October 29. “The supposedly more idealistic youths were imitating their elders by engaging in cheating, vote-buying and intimidation. There was even a killing,” he said. “It was ugly before but now it is already a serious moral and social problem.”

SK monster created

It would seem then that Pimentel had created a “monster” in the SK where the youths get indoctrinated fast and early into the ways of the older, corrupt politicians of their localities. Very often, the SK chairmen are related to the powers-that-be in the local government.

Pimentel, however, has not given up his desire to involve the youth in development efforts. But this would have to be through vehicles other than the SK, which he hopes would eventually go. He said he is now consulting with acting Chairman Re­surreccion Borra and Commissioner Florentino Tuazon of the Commission on Elections to map out plans on how to accomplish this.

“One proposal is to elect at large a youth representative in the municipal or city council. This means that a youth candidate will run alongside those for councilors,” he said.

Under the Local Government Code, it is only the president of the SK in the entire town or city that becomes ex-officio member of the municipal or city council. Pimentel noted that vote buying is also resorted to in the election of the president of the local association of SKs.

Pimentel’s proposal for the conversion of barangays from political to economic units is a radical departure from the barangay as seen by the code he authored. The barangay is the smallest political unit but Pimentel said its potentials would be enhanced if it becomes a true to its ideal as an apolitical entity and becomes a true economic units instead.

He said that it is about time that barangays become financially autonomous and viable. He lamented that the continuing dependence of barangays, as well as other local government units, on their internal revenue allotments is keeping them tied to the strings of the power that disburses the IRA.

He pointed out that the Local Government Code had given the barangays the power to become true economic units by raising local taxes but most of them had failed to exercise this power.

Pimentel said that if barangays continue to depend on the IRA for their operation, they would remain subject to the dictates of higher local government units and this negates the autonomy envisioned for them under the Local Government Code.

“There will be consultations on how to convert the barangays into economic units. I am confident that concrete reforms would come out within the next three years, before the next barangay election,” he said.

He also called for a more rational creation of barangays by municipal or city councils to make them more effective in local development instead of being mere instruments for scheming politicians out to distribute largesse to their loyal followers.

He noted that among the country’s barangays are those with very small population and land area. Most of these barangays were created through a resolution that ignored the provision of the Local Government Code stating that a barangay should have a population of at least 2,000.

Thus, there is a big disparity between Barangay Commonwealth, the most populous barangay in the country with almost 180,000 residents, and Barangay 660 in Ermita, Manila, the smallest with a population of only 74. Despite its small number of residents, Barangay 660 gets an IRA of P260,000 a year. Barangay Commonwealth has an IRA of P24 million a year. The smallest barangay in Quezon City, Barangay Manga, has a population of only 494.

The most popular barangay in the country, Forbes Park in Makati , has a population of 3,420 and an IRA of P1,016,808.

Pimentel said that the people are not necessarily better represented by the creation of a big number of barangays. He lauded Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim for deciding to rationalize the city’s 897 barangays. (See related story tomorrow, “Barangay execs must remain elective–Lim.”)

“This means that a single street in Manila with very few residents would no longer be recognized as a barangay,” he said.

Gov’t scored over WB loans

THE Anakpawis party-list slammed the administration for its desperate move to settle World Bank loan agreements, amid reports saying the international financing institution has deferred its soft loan the country’s road projects.

According to Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran, the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo is pushing for the WB loan so it can replenish sources of funds for corruption.

Beltran added that the government needs money to keep its political alliances intact until 2010.

“Malacañang is desperate to settle the WB loan agreement so it can have a replenished source of funds to corrupt. With all other money-making schemes of the Arroyo administration exposed and almost depleted, Malacañang is eyeing all possible sources of funds to keep its beleaguered leadership afloat and keep all its political allies intact until 2010,” he said in a statement.

The refusal of WB to continue with the negotiations for the second phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program, is a test case for the administration to address the problem of corruption, Beltran said.

Earlier reports said that WB suspended the $232-million loan for the country’s road projects pending its investigation into irregularities in the bidding process and overpricing.

“This is not just a little incident. This will test the extent and seriousness of the graft and corruption record of President Arroyo,” Beltran stressed.

The militant solon added that Macalañang and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya are playing down the issue but they cannot deceive anti-corruption advocates and the Filipino people who are keeping a close watch on the administration’s corruption record.
Jester P. Manalastas - Journal Online

DILG schedules elections for execs of village groups

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has scheduled elections for officers of the Association of Barangay (village) Captains (ABC) and the Federated Sangguniang Kabataan (SK or youth council) in the city, municipal, provincial, and national levels for December and January.

DILG Memorandum Circular No. 2007-151 released on Wednesday sets the date and guidelines for the holding of ABC elections at the municipal and component city levels on December 11.

Winners of the municipal and city-level elections will then elect the league's president at the provincial or metropolitan level on December 29.

The election for president and other officers of the ABC national chapter will be on January 29, 2008.

The DILG also issued Memorandum Circular No. 2007-150 establishing the dates and guidelines for the election of the SK federation president and other officers.

On December 6, SK chairmen in the municipal and city level will hold elections. The winners will then elect the provincial or metropolitan federated president on December 17.

The SK national federation election is scheduled on January 17, 2008.

Federated presidents of the ABC and SK will sit as ex officio members of the legislative bodies of the municipalities, cities and provinces where they are elected.

In Eastern Visayas, the barangay and SK chairpersons in the region's 4,391 barangays are expected to be involved in the forthcoming federation elections, said DILG-8 Regional Director William Paler.

For the ABC elections, the municipal or city chapter president or, in his/her absence, the next highest ranking Liga ng mga Barangay (village league) officer would send notices to all reelected and newly elected Punong Barangay (village chief) for a meeting leading to the chapter election.

In the case of the SK Federation, the city or municipal DILG officer would write to all SK chairpersons at least five days before the scheduled elections.

Paler said that prior to the SK Federation elections at the local level, the DILG would conduct a three-day integrated SK Organizational Leadership and Reorientation Seminar on December 3-5 for municipalities and cities; December 14-16 for provinces; and January 14-16 next year for national officials.

The seminar would "provide SK officials an appreciation of their roles as youth leaders and understanding of the nature of local governance," Paler said.

The Board of Election Supervisors would be composed of the DILG provincial director, or the DILG officer in a city or municipality, as the case may be, and representatives of the Commission on Elections and a local people's or non-government organization (for the Liga) and the Sanggunian secretary (for the SK).

Paler said the Board of Election Supervisors is tasked to resolve any controversy that might arise during the elections at their respective levels.

Pagasa: What went wrong?

By Alcuin Papa - Inquirer

Was PAGASA wrong in predicting the path of Typhoon “Mina”? The weather bureau does not think so.

In a conference of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Saturday afternoon with President Macapagal-Arroyo in attendance, Science and Technology Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said that as early as Thursday, the weather bureau told the media that there were two scenarios on Mina’s path.

Yumul, a former officer in charge of Pagasa, said the first was that Mina would slam into Bicol and exit through Oriental Mindoro. The other was that it would hit Aurora and Isabela provinces, cut through northern Luzon and exit through Ilocos Sur.

“Is CNN right and was Pagasa wrong? No,” said Yumul, referring to the Cable News Network that predicted Mina would hit Aurora and Isabela instead of the Bicol region.

Yumul also said Pagasa had studied various models from other weather centers in Japan, Hong Kong and the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) run by the US Navy based in Hawaii.

The latter had predicted Mina’s present course.

“Other climate models use mathematical models. But Pagasa uses not only numerical but also real-time field station data,” he said.

Yumul said there was no use comparing the JTWC with Pagasa.

He also said Bicol would still experience heavy rains.

Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro earlier told reporters that other models had been studied for Mina.

“There are a lot of models, and Pagasa has its own model, and we compare. These models have different conclusions, but we have to buttress [a conclusion] with ground data,” she said.

Yumul said Pagasa forecasts were “official” and accountable. Other models did not have any accountability, he said.

According to regulations of the World Meteorological Organization, predictions of the official agency of the host country apply in so far as the host country is concerned, Yumul said.

“Pagasa looks at other models from other climate centers. Any layman looking at these models will not come up with an intelligent decision. But Pagasa has to make a stand. Our stand—that the storm would track a western direction—was based on available information of Pagasa,” he said.

Friday, November 23, 2007

City officials at odds over bid to buy luxury vehicles

By DEXTER A. SEE - Manila Bulletin

BAGUIO CITY – Officials of this mountain resort city are blaming each other for the allegedly railroaded appropriation of P19.6 million for the purchase of luxury cars which would serve as their service vehicles.

The members of the city council are now the subject of public criticism over their allegedly self-serving action.

Earlier, Mayor Reinaldo A. Bautista Jr. denied that he has knowledge of the council’s appropriation of funds for the purchase of vehicles for their official use.

Councilor Galo Weygan admitted having authored the ordinance appropriating the amount for the purchase of the vehicles, but he said it was with the knowledge and consent of the city mayor and the other members of the city council.

It was learned that the plan to buy service vehicles for all elected city officials was discussed during an out-of-town executive-legislative planning workshop held in Subic recently.

Subsequently, the matter was again deliberated at several meetings in the city and even in the mayor’s office, it was learned.

Under the controversial car plan, the city mayor’s office was allotted P4.6 million for the purchase of a brand-new service vehicle, while the members of the city council, including the vice mayor, were allotted P1 million each.

Earlier, various sectors in the city vehemently denounced the use of public funds for the purchase of luxury service vehicles for the city officials, calling the act "immoral and improper," and accusing the officials of abuse of authority.

The P19.6 million earmarked to buy the service vehicles of city officials was taken from the P25.2-million internal revenue allotment (IRA) surplus of the city government.

It was noted that only P5.6 million was appropriated by the city council for the implementation of infrastructure projects of some barangays.

Councilor Erdolfo Balajadja said that the city government no longer needs additional dump trucks to improve garbage collection.

The concerned sectors proposed that instead of buying luxury vehicles for local officials, the city government utilizes the fund for the purchase of five dump trucks to improve the collection of garbage in the city’s 128 barangays.

Bautista said that he was surprised to know that his office was allotted P4.6 million for the purchase of a new service vehicle, adding he does not know the intention of the council in including his office as a beneficiary of the controversial appropriation measure.

Certain City Hall quarters said some city officials are now trying to look for scapegoats to save themsevles from criticisms by the residents.

Inquirer exhibits Cannes Lions’ best creative minds

By Marlet D. Salazar, Ansbert Joaquin - Inquirer

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT ZONE -- In recognition of the creative minds in the marketing and advertising industry, the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday opened the Cannes Lions 2007 Winners Edition Exhibit and Screening at the 20th Philippine Advertising Congress (PAC) ongoing at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center here.

Inquirer president and CEO Sandy Prieto-Romualdez formally opened the exhibit and screening together with Cannes Lions executive chair Terry Savage. They were joined by Yoly Ong, 20th PAC chair, Andre Khan, president of the Advertising Board of the Philippines, and Merlee Jayme, president of the Creative Guild.

Said Romualdez: “The Inquirer will continually support the Cannes cause and promote better partnership between agencies and clients to achieve greater creative excellence at par with the rest of the world.”

The 20th PAC, which opened on Wednesday, runs until Saturday.

‘World’s coolest’

Neil Gaiman, the much-celebrated author of the “Sandman” graphic novel series and “Stardust,” opened the second day of the congress with a speech on “Imagination and Creativity in the Contemporary World.”

Gaiman praised the wealth and originality of Filipino folklore, which he described as “the coolest folklore in the world.”

He encouraged Filipino writers not to be afraid to explore their talents, and to just “write and finish it.”

On the usefulness of advertising, Gaiman said: “Advertising is incredibly useful when well done.”

The three-day Cannes Lions exhibit -- on view on the second floor of the convention center -- showcases the works of the world’s best creative people in advertising and marketing.

In 2004, the Inquirer was appointed the official Philippine representative to the Cannes International Advertising Festival. It was the first time a Filipino delegation took part in the prestigious advertising festival that gathers more than 8,000 delegates from 70 countries worldwide.


“One of superlatives” was how the organizers of the 20th PAC described the ongoing biennial event.

For one, the number of delegates -- 3,334, of whom 700 are students -- has surpassed that in previous congresses. There were 2,600 delegates in the 2005 PAC.

“We’ve made a record of sorts,” Ong told reporters shortly before the congress opened on Wednesday night.

This congress is also being held in the largest plenary hall, with the delegates having their meals in the largest dining area.

It likewise boasts the largest trade exhibit area.

“There are many firsts in [PAC] history, and they will all happen here. The sessions are the most interesting yet, as this is the first ad congress that has more than 20 speakers,” Ong said.

Also on Wednesday night, the Inquirer hosted a dinner during which it unveiled a new logo representing the merger of its other publications and printing press.

Dressed in a grass skirt in keeping with the luau-themed dinner, Romualdez announced that the Inquirer Group of Publications would now be simply known as the Inquirer Group.

Tycoon’s challenge

Chinese-Filipino tycoon John Gokongwei Jr. delivered the keynote address on opening night, retelling the story of his success in entrepreneurship and challenging Filipinos to think of the world as their market.

Gokongwei, chair emeritus of JG Summit Holdings Inc., urged the PAC delegates “to excel as entrepreneurs before the world” and to “create Filipino brands for the global market place.”

“With a world-class brand, we create pride for our nation,” he said, adding:

“Why serve 86 million when you can sell to four billion Asians? And that’s just to start you off. Because there is still the world beyond Asia.

“When you go back to your offices, think of ways to sell and market your products and services to the world … You can if you really try. I did. As a boy, I sold peanuts from my backyard. Today, I sell snacks to the world. I want to see other Filipinos do the same.”

Gokongwei first told his life story five years ago at the launch of the Ateneo de Manila School of Management, which was named after him. That was a few months before he embarked on mobile services.

His life story apparently continues to inspire, as proven by the standing ovation he received from the PAC delegates at the end of his speech.

34th richest man

Gokongwei, who is listed by Forbes as the 34th richest man in Southeast Asia with $425 million to his name, said that after five years of competing with two industry giants, his Digitel Telecommunications now counts on a 4-million subscriber base. He told of having to sell goods at 13 in the market in Cebu, where he was born. By then his father, whose empire was built on credit, had died, and he had become the man of the family.

“After this experience, I told myself, ‘If I can compete with people so much older than me, if I can support my whole family at 15, I can do anything!’”

Gokongwei’s trading business eventually branched out to Manila. He went up against two cornstarch manufacturing giants, also in Cebu, and into importation after World War II.

He ventured into food manufacturing and bought shares in San Miguel Corp.

The Gokongweis also own Cebu Pacific, Robinsons malls, Universal Robina Corp. and a beverage company that makes the C2 fun drink.

‘The man that I am’

“Looking back, I wonder, what would have happened if my father had not left my family with nothing? Would I have become the man I am? Who knows?” Gokongwei said.

He added: “I am 81 today. But I do not forget the little boy that I was in the palengke in Cebu. I still believe in family. I still want to make good. I still don’t mind going up against those older and better than me. I still believe hard work will not fail me. And I still believe in people willing to think the same way.

“Through the years, the market place has expanded -- between cities, between countries, between continents. I want to urge you all here to think bigger.”

The Money Trail

By Tony Maghirang

“WHERE has all my money gone?”

The typical working stiff usually asks this question after finding himself broke just days after payday. Policy-makers pose a similar question when trying to understand the state of the country's economy. Part of the answer lies in accounting for the inflow and outflow of money within the system: Where is our money coming from? How are we spending it?

The answers are especially significant at this time, since the last quarter of the year always means a spike in the volume of money coming in, says Dr. Ponciano Intal, Ph.D., executive director of De La Salle University's Angelo King Institute for Economic and Business Studies (AKI).

Much of the inflow comes from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), whose remittances are estimated at US$12B this year. Most of this amount ends up in personal consumption, housing, and children's education instead of domestic investments that, economists say, could have had a more positive impact on money supply.

Intal notes, however, that in the case of housing, OFW earnings are invested in durables - appliances, furniture and sports equipment. Another positive development is how Filipinos have learned to save whatever is left of their fixed and often skimpy salaries. Still, the overall gain in savings has been a low 35 percent compared to much higher rates in other developing countries.

Besides personal consumption, much of the money sent in by OFWs is spent on livelihood investments like passenger jeepneys and FX taxis, Intal observes. “OFWs must be making some form of investments, but there is no information on their magnitude,” he adds. “There is a need for government to keep track of how OFWs’ remittances are being used. It should be important enough to merit the attention of the national leadership.”

With OFW remittances playing a vital role in the inflow of money into the economy, there are fears that decreased overseas work would lead to less money circulating in the system. Intal remains unfazed. “I suspect this scenario may take another decade to actually happen.

There’s a construction boom in the Gulf States. Japan and other industrialized countries have graying populations that could spur increased demand for caregivers. There are also growing opportunities for Filipino IT professionals.” He adds that Filipinos are also the preferred worker overseas. “We adapt easily and are naturally gregarious. And we’re good at what we do.”

But even this anxiety over the decline in OFW placements could be a good thing if it leads to an improved business climate in the Philippines, contends Intal. Given a resurgent economy at home, prospective OFWs will choose to stay and find work here, he adds.

This has happened to South Korea, he notes. In the late ’70s and most of the ’80s, the South Koreans were a force to contend with in construction projects in the Middle East. After their economy heated up during the ’90s, it became increasingly difficult for the Gulf oil-producing states to import South Korean manpower.

Intal, however, cautions against putting the nation’s economy solely in the hands of OFWs. All that hue and cry about the valuable contribution of overseas workers to the economy should not diminish several developments in diverse local fronts, he says.

He describes the tourism industry to be “at the cusp of a major breakthrough the way Thailand was in 1984.” Tourism is a vital cog in national development since the industry is labor intensive and has multiple trickle-down effects on other sectors, from farming to handicrafts, Intal explains.

Just as promising is the agriculture sector on the rebound after years of neglect and low productivity. The AKI executive notes the improvement in the price of copra in the international market and the recent push for alternative energy sources like biofuels, which could energize the rural economy. The best performing jatropa seeds come from development-challenged regions like Maguindanao, he adds.

Intal also points to a massive ship-building project in Subic by South Korea’s Hanjin that could lead to potential employment opportunities especially for high-skilled laborers.

All told, there’s money going around, sums up Intal. And the immediate prospect is for more money coming in that would trickle down to all sectors in the near future, hopefully.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Subic Bay mega yard piles up the orders

Lloyd's Confirms that Hanjin's Subic Plant Will be 4th Largest in the World
Subic Bay mega yard piles up the orders.
Marcus Hand

WHEN Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction decided to invest in a $1bn shipbuilding yard in Subic Bay, it was a massive shot in the arm for country that had, in recent years, struggled to attract major inward investment.

The shipyard was one of the largest foreign investments made in the southeast Asian country in recent years, with its location being chosen over Malaysia and Vietnam, for what is set to be the fourth biggest shipbuilding facility in the world.

From officially signing the deal at the end of February last year, the yard has come up at an astonishing pace. The first steel was cut there earlier this year and its first dry dock will be completed by the end of the year.

The Subic Bay yard is already building up a comprehensive orderbook with orders for 34 containerships as well as a pair of bulkers and two aframax tankers. Although it is a greenfield site the South Korean shipbuilder is plunging right in, taking orders for ultra large containership tonnage.
With the new yard has come the demand for related infrastructure and the company is also building a condohotel.

There are continued stories that Hanjin plans a second shipyard in the south of the country, in Mindanao, although these have been denied by the South Korean firm.

Local reports say though that Hanjin plans to invest Pesos 20bn ($456m) in northern Mindanao at a 3,000 ha site in Phividec Industrial Estate. However, it is being held up by municipal governments concerned over guarantees of hiring local workers.

Another proposed mega-investment from the maritime sector that has hit a speed bump over its location is Cosco’s planned $3bn hub at the former US naval base at Sangley Point close to Manila.

The plan was announced when Cosco top man Wei Jaifu meet with Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June this year. Despite this fanfare, much of the groundwork remained to be done — including assessing whether the preferred site was actually feasible.

A few months later it is the suitability, or the lack thereof, that would appear to be the problem. A lack of supporting infrastructure and a need for major land reclamation could scupper the project.

“The first choice of Cosco is Sangley Point but there are many problems because there are no access roads,” Francis Chua, the Philippines government’s special envoy to China for trade and investments, told reporters on the sidelines of a business conference in early October.

Mr Chua also spoke of the 4,000 ha project’s need for major land reclamation.
“They need a few hundred hectares for the project,” he says. “If Sangley, a lot of reclamation must be done so it would take time.

“The Chinese would like to invest soon and they have to wait a long time for Sangley Point to be ready.”

The Chinese company is now reported to be looking at some areas in Cavite, Subic, Bataan, Quezon and a small island in the south. However, in a blow to the Philippines, Cosco is also considering other countries in the region.