Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bloodshed blame on glory seekers

Three Red Cross workers held hostage by Islamic militants in the southern Philippines are believed to have survived deadly clashes between security forces trying to rescue them and their captors.
But Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon lashed out at the military for what he said was an ill-conceived operation that had led to the deaths of three soldiers and two militants - without freeing the three hostages.

Gordon said "buckeroos" from the military on the ground should be investigated for an "irresponsible effort to attain glory."

Fierce fighting erupted on Monday and Tuesday in remote jungle on the island of Jolo as security forces came up against members of the Abu Sayyaf.

The military later reported finding tents and other equipment belonging to the kidnapped Red Cross workers - Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

"As far as I know they are alive, but tired," Gordon said.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf commander holding the three had tried to slip through a cordon around a jungle area, which triggered the clashes - though that claim was questioned by Gordon.

It was also said that a leading militant was killed and several other Abu Sayyaf members wounded.

Gordon said he had asked the military to refrain from any rescue attempt at a time when the rebels were already isolated, and talks were continuing to free the captives.

Gordon, a former Olongapo City mayor who is also a Philippine senator, said he had spoken by phone with a man who claimed to be Albader Parad, the presumed leader of the kidnappers.

He had initially been reported killed.

Gordon said that during the conversation the militant had said hostages might be killed or injured in crossfire if troops continued their advance.

"If the military will not stop its operation and pull out there will be no more negotiations," Parad said, adding that his men were prepared to fight.

Armed forces deputy chief Lieutenant General Rodrigo Maclang insisted the fighting could not have been avoided because the rebels were trying to escape.

The Red Cross team was abducted while on a humanitarian mission. Local officials trying to secure their release have cited a ransom demand of US$1 million (HK$7.8 million).


Racing legend Ramirez crosses finish line

Jose “Pocholo” Ramirez Jr., long acknowledged as the “Living Legend” of Philippine car racing, died early yesterday after two years of battling cancer. He was 76.

The bearded racecar driver left behind a family of racers in sons Jose Andre (Kookie), Georges, Louie, Miguel and daughter-in-law Menchie. He has a grandson who now races regularly at the Subic International Raceway, a racetrack Ramirez himself built right after the Americans left their Subic Naval Base in the early 1990s.

Ramirez’s remains lie in estate at the Christ The King Church in Green Meadows, Quezon City. According to his son Kookie, there will only be two days of wake for their father. A private ceremony will be held before the remains are cremated on Saturday.

As a young man in the 1950s, he went to New York to work as a hotelier for Waldorf Astoria. It was in the United States that the racing bug bit him. He came back to Manila in the 1960s and met Arsenio “Dodjie” Laurel who lent him a go-kart and influenced him to take racing seriously.

His early career saw him joining the Shell Car Rally which Laurel himself pioneered. He won this on-time-all-the-time rally in 1966 as team captain of the Renault squad.

Unknown to many, Ramirez almost died in a major vehicular accident in the late 1960s. He was trying to overtake a slow-moving bus on Highway 54 (now EDSA) when he hit a parked truck. He sustained a broken jaw and was in coma for two weeks. The long scar on his jaw was the reason why he decided to grow a beard.

Yet despite the accident, Ramirez continued to race. He even holds the distinction of being the first to be issued a Racing Driver’s License by the Philippine Motor Association.

In 1969, Ramirez served as the poster boy for the first circuit race in the country – the first Philippine Grand Prix held in Cebu. He drove for the new Toyota team managed by his neighbor Dante Silverio. It was the start of a partnership that would last for more than 20 years.

In the 1970s, Ramirez ruled the races in newly developed Greenhills subdivision. He was declared Driver of the Year five times. When the races transferred in the BF subdivision area in Las PiƱas, south of Manila, Ramirez continued to show his winning ways, until that fateful day in 1977 when he figured in a major crash that killed a spectator and injured dozens.

But Ramirez will forever be remembered for putting up the Subic International Raceway, which, to him, was the perfect and safest place for racing. AAP president Gus Lagman said the entire Philippine racing community mourns the death of Ramirez.== The Philippine Star

Monday, March 16, 2009

RP has dirtiest seas -- Loren

“WE are known as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Now, we are also known as a country with one of the dirtiest and most littered seas. I am ashamed for all of us.”

Thus declared Senator Loren Legarda, one of the Philippines’ fiercest advocates for a clean environment, upon reading a report of the Ocean Conservancy listing the Philippines as one of the countries whose seas are heavily infested with garbage and waste.

Loren appealed to the national government and local governments to take decisive and effective action to clean the Philippine seas by fully implementing environmental laws, such as Republic Act No. 9003, known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which she authored.

“The just released report from the Ocean Conservancy is very troubling,” Legarda, author of R.A. 9003 and Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Climate Change said yesterday.

The report states that of the 11.4 million items of sea wastes gathered by the Conservancy in a one day clean-up in 104 countries, 1,355,236 items of garbage were gathered from Philippine waters. Of this total, the highest number of garbage items gathered were 679,957 plastic bags and 253,013 paper bags.

Other items gathered from Philippine waters were 103,226 food wrappers and containers, 68,421 straws and stirrers, 38,395 clothes and shoes, 34,154 cigarettes and cigarette filters and 20, 238 beverage bottles.

Loren pointed out that garbage wastes in the seas destroy the marine ecosystem, killing fish, crustaceans and corals, thus damaging the livelihood of thousands of fishermen’s families, ravage the beauty and atmosphere of once emerald shores, and undermine the local and foreign tourist industry, while spreading disease among shore populations and visitors.

“There are laws to prevent this from happening,” Loren fumed. “We just need to implement these laws. I also challenge the National Solid Waste Management Commission (formed under R.A. 9003), the lead agency in the fight against trash, to immediately address this issue. We cannot allow our seas to become trash bins. We are slowly but surely killing our greatest natural resource.”

R.A. 9003 imposes the primary enforcement and responsibility of solid waste management with the local government units in cooperation with the the national government, other local government units, non- government organizations, and the private sector.

It also calls for the proper segregation, collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of solid waste through the formulation and adoption of the best environmental practice in ecological waste management excluding incineration.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources should closely oversee the implementation of the law, Loren declared.

“I also challenge every Filipino to help clean up our country’s seas. We as individuals, all have a responsibility towards the environment. The waste which finds its way to our seas come from all of us,” said Legarda. Journal online

Hire displaced workers

Seek out the workers who lost their jobs and hire them.

President Macapagal-Arroyo gave this order to the labor department, saying displaced workers should get priority in the government’s emergency livelihood and employment program.

Press Secretary Serge Remonde said the DoLE was ordered to trace these workers “para makuha yung mga pangalan at addresses ng mga nawawalan ng trabaho.”

He said the government will give priority to displaced workers from the export-related industries, who are taking the brunt of the global crisis.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto earlier said some 800,000 Filipinos are in danger of losing their jobs this year as the global economic slowdown hits the export sector including the key electronics industry.

Remonde said the President also reiterated her directive for the government to tighten its belt to be able to pay subsidies for the poor and provide emergency employment for those who lost their jobs.

The President earlier issued an executive order for all government agencies to reduce by 1.5 percent their respective maintenance, overhead and operating budgets. She said the savings translate to P7 billion that can be used to pay the salaries of workers that can be accommodated in government offices for at least six months.

The government is hiring 180,000 contractual workers for six months. By: Tess Bedico - Journal online


Employment program editorial
MANY quarters fear that more and more members of the Philippine labor force, including overseas Filipino workers, face the specter of losing their jobs this year due to the expected deepening of the international financial crisis.

The fear is not without basis since the hard-pressed working class, the creator of wealth in society, is the major victim of this economic meltdown, which continues to terrorize millions of people in both the industrialized and developing nations across the globe.

This is the problem that United States-educated Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has reached the apex of her colorful political career, faces as she nears the end of her six-year term as President of the Philippines.

Without doubt, the Arroyo administration is up against one of its major challenges: Meeting the employment needs of the rapidly-expanding population at a time when manpower-importing nations are laying off their migrant workers.

This is where we add our voice to persistent calls that there’s now an urgent need to support the government move to allocate some P10 billion for the country’s emergency employment program.

The public applauded when the House of Representatives expressed its full support to the Arroyo regime’s program to put in place mechanisms to create new jobs because private businesses are now generally holding back their investments.

President Arroyo instructed Cabinet members to fast-track the implementation of government programs designed to strengthen the country’s economic competitiveness and ensure new jobs and livelihood opportunities for workers affected by the economic turmoil.

Whatever her critics say, there’s now this snowballing move to make the Comprehensive Livelihood Emergency Employment Program a permanent fixture of the government’s social reform and poverty alleviation policy with or without the global economic meltdown.

But what is needed to ensure the success of CLEEP, which is being administered by the National Anti-Poverty Commission? It is for concerned government authorities to spend the funding wisely and judiciously.

We are all for this. And we will be drawing the ire of the people, notably the poor and other unfortunate members of society, if we allow the money to end up in the deep pockets of unscrupulous public servants.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Keppel Cebu rationalizing work force to focus on shipbuilding; workers holed up in shipyard

CEBU CITY — Keppel Cebu Shipyard, Inc. is streamlining its work force as part of its new thrust to focus on shipbuilding and divert all ship repair activities to its shipyards in Batangas and Subic, Zambales.

The job rotation scheme, which started this week, and the voluntary reduction program offered to workers are expected to cut the Cebu shipyard’s 414-strong work force by 70%, union President Roger Igot said.

To protect their jobs, Mr. Igot and other members of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Baradero at Keppel Cebu have been holed up inside the shipyard in Mactan since Tuesday night.

More union members who reported for work yesterday were also expected to stay inside the compound even after their three-day shift ends.

Under the job rotation scheme, workers were divided and given three-day shifts.

"The management had told us that if we don’t resign voluntarily, our positions will be declared redundant. Any day now, we expect that announcement so we’re not going to leave the shipyard to protect our jobs," Mr. Igot said.

Most of the union’s 279 members were expected to join the group and will stay inside the shipyard, he added.

In a statement, Keppel Cebu said it was rationalizing its work force in preparation for shipbuilding, a thrust announced in the middle of last year because of declining domestic repair demand.

The Keppel Cebu shipyard is being upgraded to prepare it for shipbuilding.

"As certain specialized trades and skills in ship repair are no longer needed for shipbuilding, the company intends to rationalize its work force," the company said.

"Discussions were held with its workers’ union to offer a comprehensive separation package for the affected employees," it added.

Displaced workers will be given the opportunity to join other shipyards under Keppel Philippines Marine, Inc. or Keppel Offshore & Marine.

The workers, however, have not bought the management’s explanation about declining demand for ship repair.

Mr. Igot said there had been ship repair jobs diverted to the Batangas shipyard in January.

Presently, only one ship is drydocked at the Mactan shipyard, which normally can accommodate up to five vessels.

The workers also do not believe that the company is bleeding financially due to the global economic crisis. Mr. Igot said the management had announced the release of their profit-sharing bonuses, an average of P31,000 per employee, on Friday. Their incentive bonuses were also released just recently.

"We have never run out of jobs at the yard. Last year, there was always a ship to work on. We don’t believe there are redundant jobs here," Mr. Igot added.

He accused the management of union busting and of trying to replace regular workers with contractual workers who are paid less.

Regular employees are paid an average of P1,100 daily, including benefits, while contractual workers receive only the daily minimum wage of P250, or less, he added. — Marites S. Villamor - Business World

OFWs: From belly of luxury ship to top deck

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo - Philippine Daily Inquirer
FROM BOILER room to ballroom, from stage to spa, from poolside to pantry, from bar to fine dining. From the belly of the luxury ship to the topmost deck where one could see forever and behold the azure sea and sky of the Mediterranean.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rule the roost, so to speak, aboard the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas because of their sheer number and also because of their skills, talent, dependability and graciousness. Filipinos comprise about 60 percent of the 853-strong crew that is composed of 51 nationalities.

“Here I earn the combined salaries of four teachers and three security guards in the Philippines,” reveals Jerry Dioneo, 36, who works in the dining section. Dioneo who hails from Silay City in Negros Occidental has been on the ship for about three years and is on his fourth contract. Only the Filipino nationals, Dioneo adds, are compelled to allot and remit 20 percent of their earnings to their folks back home. This is stipulated in their contracts.

And what is work like on cruise days? “Every day here is a Monday,” Dioneo chirps as he replenishes the cornucopia of food for the guests.

Victoriano Camacho, 46, of Calamba, Laguna, has been with the cruise company for 16 years and is now the sous chef (assistant of the executive chef). He started out at the Nikko Hotel in Makati. Now he earns $2,600 a month.

$1.7 billion of the total $10.8 billion remitted by OFWs in 2005 came from the sea-based OFWs. The number of Filipino seafarers working abroad as of 2005, is about 250,000 or approximately 20 percent of the world’s total.

‘White List’

The rise in the number could be attributed to the inclusion of the Philippines in the International Maritime Organization’s “White List” of 72 accredited countries. Being on the list means the country has continuously complied with the standards required for competent seafarers.

Being a Filipino seaman or seafarer does not necessarily mean working in cargo ships sailing drearily on a gray sea and being cooped up, fighting ennui until land appears on the horizon. A good number of the sea-based OFWs work in cruise ships. These luxury liners cater to vacation-bound, fun-loving, adventure-seeking humans, people who work hard and play hard, or who just want to be out of reach and listen to the music of the ocean, heeding the cruise logo catchphrase that says, “Get out there.” One could also choose to get holed up in the ship’s library.

The three-year-old German-built Brilliance of the Seas belongs to a fleet of cruise ships of the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) that sails in Europe, North America and the Caribbean. It has a passenger capacity of 2,500.

The Filipino seamen and women working on board are there to help make good things happen. The job is demanding as cruises involve service, hospitality, food, fun, travel, safety and, most of all, people.

Earning from tips

Bar server Vergie Mompil, an education course graduate, has spent eight years working on several cruise ships. Her husband, Edwin Vicero also works in another cruise ship, Jewels of the Sea.

Those in food service are not paid the fixed salary rate that workers in other sections receive. Food and drink servers like Vergie receive only $50 per 12-day cruise but the tips (provided for in the bill) earn her about $1,000. Two cruises per month or more than ten cruises in a six-month contract mean a lot when remitted to the Philippines. “After six months, we go on a two-month break,” Vergie adds.

Vergie is stationed at the bar in the main lobby ballroom at the foot of a luminous stairway where guests in formal wear linger to chat or dance to music provided mainly by—you guessed it—Filipino musicians.

Vergie and her husband have a three-year-old child who is being cared for by two aunts. The couple is building a home south of Manila and planning for a hardware store.

Not everyone is in the direct employ of RCI. Hoffman Roscano, 27, married, works as a photographer of a photo agency that operates aboard the ship. He and several photographers have their hands full during formal dinners and evening activities as well as land tours. During special occasions, they set up a mini studio where guests in their glittering “Titanic” finery could go for a formal shoot. Guests snap up the photos the morning after. Roscano also receives commissions from the sales.

‘Better than 5-star salary’

Karen del Carmen, in her 20s, works as a beauty therapist in the Brilliance Day Spa operated by an agency. A tourism graduate of a college in Bacolod, she had a work stint in a hotel in the Philippines after which she applied in a maritime agency. The spa company hired her and sent her to London for training.

“Better than a five-star salary,” is how del Carmen describes what she earns. After every 12-day cruise she gets two days off. “It’s fun working here,” she says as she looks up from her desk in the spa’s lavender-scented receiving area.

Nights are busy for the musicians who play in different venues aboard the ship. John Neri, 24, regales the night owls with violin music. As a child he studied music under a scholarship program for the musically gifted.

Neri met his wife in another cruise ship. Married for four years now, the couple is building a house in Kalookan City.

‘Oye como va’

Although now US-based, Vicky Gallarde of Vicky and The Holding Company band still calls the Philippines home. It’s a rollicking night when the band plays for a crowd with itchy feet.

Vicky switches without a hitch from lusty “Amor, amor, amor” to a staccato “Oye como va” while husband Chris and the rest segue from rhumba to disco beat. The band is a ship mainstay.

The couple has a room for two of their own at the crew quarters. The standard rooms for two for the crew have TVs and computers with e-mail capabilities. The Filipinos also have a daily two-page news digest called “Philippines Today.” There is a bar as well as games and exercise facilities.

Edgardo Villarino, 42, studied music in the University of the Philippines and sang with the UP Concert Chorus. He is married with three kids. The Inquirer chanced upon Villarino playing soothing classic guitar music by the poolside.

He was in the Caribbean several months earlier and he remembers the day a hurricane blew around there. There are less “sea days” in the Mediterranean, he says, meaning, the ship docks often in tourist havens.

Selling the Philippines

On his fifth contract now, Villarino says their own families could enjoy cruise privileges when there is space available. And could the entertainers have some fun during the day? “If there are less than five guests using the pool, we could take a dip,” Villarino says.

He dreams of cruises on Philippine waters that could rival those elsewhere. “We try to advertise the Philippines. Subic is so beautiful.” He talks of an island in Haiti that Royal Caribbean had developed.

Great workers

Bill Brunkhorst, American cruise director who makes sure entertainment is at its peak, has only good words for the Filipinos. “They are so talented and they learn very quickly,” he says. “They’re great workers.”

The Greek ship captain Michael Lachtaridis, a seasoned sea voyager who has been sailing the seas for 33 years says he has been working with Filipinos since the 1980s. “They get along well with other nationalities,” he says. “They are very educated and they are a happy lot.”

Whether it is instructing on wine tasting, giving beauty massages, serving at formal dinners, making omelets at the buffet breakfast, playing music, snapping photos amidst the Greek ruins, ensuring security and swiping cards at entry and exit points, disposing garbage or keeping staterooms clean, Filipino seamen and women are doing their best. And why not a Filipino guest chaplain or morgue attendant?

The least seen

The least seen but perhaps the most important because they make the ship sail the distances are those who work in the belly of the ship or the engine room. The lives of those on board are practically in the hands of these experts in ship engineering.

The Inquirer descended to the grime-free hard hat area and met some of the Filipinos there. Jessie Hervilla, Estefanio Joel, Steve Flores, Ramon Cerio, Percival Dilag and so many more. Chief Junior Engineer Rasmus Norling of Sweden has only high praises for the men who are seldom seen on deck.

But life for the OFWs on board these cruise ships is surely not problem-free, as life anywhere is not. Are the OFWs on these so-called floating four-star, five-star hotels better off than their counterparts in cargo ships and oil tankers? What lies beyond those glittering nights and sunny days at sea? What awaits them in their homeland? What awaits Edward Pampis, Joselito Benito, Cipertino Apil, Arlene Salon, Susan Gatmaitan, Arthur Pernia, Julius, Mijares, Juanito Embolori, Edwin Miranda, Enrico Sabido, Victor Amuyang, Ronaldo Carreon, Ernita Villanueva, George Tardo, Joselito Benito…

Don’t they feel resentful when they see food and drink flowing endlessly, people having so much fun and spending so much money for this kind of voyage, while they work so hard to keep these people thrilled and while the pine for home?

“Oh no,” says a food server without a tinge of resentment. “Many of them have worked hard too. And because of them we have our jobs. Someday we too could enjoy something like this.”

This Inquirer reporter was a regular paying guest on this cruise. The ship sailed from Barcelona and back and stopped in several key places on the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

400 shipyard workers' jobs on the line

Ship repair firm plans to cut jobs

By Cris Evert Lato - Cebu Daily News
About 400 workers of a ship repair company in Lapu-Lapu City are in danger of losing their jobs as the management decides to focus resources on shipbuilding.

Keppel Cebu Shipyard Inc. president David Loh said in a memorandum to the workers that the company has to reduce its workforce due to continuing market decline.

The company offered an early retirement program for the workers on a voluntary basis. The program could be availed from March 2 to March 14.

But Roger Igot, president of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Baradero (Keppel Shipyard)-Nation Federation of Labor, said yesterday that the company is “using the global crisis as an alibi to destroy the union and replace regular jobs with contractual workers.”

“The real issue is that management wants to squeeze more profit by making labor costs cheaper. Management pays a regular Keppel worker much higher wages and benefits compared to a contractual laborer who makes do with below minimum wages and no benefits,” said Igot.

Igot and about 280 union members stayed inside the shipyard facilities overnight last Tuesday to protest the firm’s work reduction plans.

In a statement sent to , Keppel Cebu said the company's decision to focus on shipbuilding was reached in mid-2008 due to declining domestic repair demand.

Keppel Cebu said substantial investments were made to enhance its shipbuilding facilities. Facility upgrade is expected to be completed within the year which will enable the company “to build specialized ships for both the local and international markets.”

“As certain specialized trades and skills in ship repair are no longer needed for shipbuilding, the compnay needs to rationalize its workforce,” said Keppel Cebu in the statement.

Igot however said the shipyard management told them during their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations in June 2008 that more workers will be hired as Keppel turns to shipbuilding.

Igot said they do not believe that the company is losing.

He cited the ongoing shipyard development project worth P300 million and the incentive bonus released last February as proof that the company is still earning.

Jennifer Macairan, corporate affairs manager of Keppel Cebu Shipyard Inc., denied accusations that the company is using the crisis as an excuse to remove workers.

Macairan said that the firm has been affected with the global economic crisis.

She said that the company is practicing job rotation and energy conservation as cost cutting measures.

She said the early retirement program offered by the company was triggered by the financial crisis.

Keppel Cebu, formerly the Cebu Shipyard, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Keppel Philippines Marine Inc. (KPMI). It is also a member of the Keppel Group of Singapore, an international marine and offshore services. /With correspondent Jully Venus Cuizon.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Senate approves poll automation budget

Senate approved late last night (Wednesday) the P11.3-billion budget that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) needed to fully automate the May 2010 presidential elections.

Independent Senator Richard J. Gordon, principal author of Republic Act (RA) 9369 or the Amended Automated Elections Law, lauded the Senate's approval of the budget, saying that this sends a strong signal that the Philippines stands firm in protecting and safeguarding the sacred votes of its people.

"We owe it to the Filipino people to have clean, honest and orderly elections. Automation will bring back our people's confidence in the elections," he said.

"With automated elections, our people can rely on the fact that their vote will be counted, and that their vote will mean change for the country, then they will stop being cynical. And once they stop being cynical, perhaps the focus will now be on the common good," he added.

Automating the electoral system to get rid of massive electoral fraud that often marred the country's electoral exercises and ensure clean, honest and orderly elections has been the promise of every president.

But it was not until Dec. 22, 1997 that RA 8436, the law that authorized the Comelec to use an automated election system, was passed.. However, the election modernization law was not implemented.

Gordon, who had been pushing for automated elections, authored RA 9369, which was passed into law in 2007.

RA 9369 was supposed to be implemented in the May 2007 elections but the Comelec sought a postponement, citing the lack of sufficient time for the necessary preparations needed.

To ensure that the provisions of the law would be met, such as the need to hold partial automation before fully automating the next regular national and local election, or the May 2010 elections, the senator pushed for the automation of the 2008 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) polls.

The success of the ARMM automated elections signaled that Filipinos are ready to modernize the country's antiquated electoral system and elevate it from third to first world class.

Gordon said the Senate would exercise its oversight power to ensure that the automation is aboveboard and fully implemented for democracy.

"Now all we have to do is implement the automation law and implement it well," he said.

"I am optimistic that the Comelec is keeping to its time-table. We already passed the law and allotted the appropriations. It is now up to the Comelec to ensure that the nation's quest to modernize our electoral process is enforced," he said.

Senate ratifies Tourism Bill

The Senate on Thursday dawn ratified the consolidated report of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the tourism measure that would grant incentives to tourism industry players, generate more jobs and increase revenues of local government units (LGUs).

Independent Senator Richard J. Gordon, principal author of the Tourism Bill, hailed the ratification by Congress of the measure, which aims to boost the country's tourism industry.

"After a long day's work, it is great to have the tourism bill finally approved by both Houses," he said.

The measure is a consolidation of Senate Bill 2213 and House Bill 5229, an act declaring a national policy for tourism as an engine of investment, employment, growth and national development and strengthening the Department of Tourism (DOT) and its attached agencies.

Gordon, a former tourism secretary, said President Arroyo is expected to sign the bill into law within the Lenten break, stressing that the measure could ward off possible effects of the global financial crisis to the country's economy.

He explained that tourism is the fastest and most efficient way of generating foreign exchange, investments and employment. Once the measure is signed into law, it will spur the creation of jobs and open additional channels for the infusion of the much-needed investments in the country's economy, he added.

"This measure will definitely boost domestic tourism as it will provide the needed infrastructures to reinvigorate local productivity. An increased productivity means more jobs for the people and more revenues for the government," Gordon said.

The senator said the measure also seeks for the establishment of "tourism enterprise zones" in strategic areas in the country to lure foreign investors and tourists to visit places rich with history and culture.

He added that LGUs would take a major role in developing these tourism enterprise zones, which will enable them to spur economic productivity and achieve higher levels of economic growth.

"With the faithful implementation of this measure, the nation can have a better institution to regulate and promote tourism and install the necessary infrastructures to make our country truly world-class," Gordon said.

"We can have more jobs for our people, who will no longer have to find for their future in foreign shores, but right here in our native Philippines," he added.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Having no RH law is pro-abortion


The absence of framework on reproductive health in the Philippines is anti-poor, anti-women, anti-children, anti-development, and pro-abortion, said Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the Philippines.

At the Reproductive Health Forum, the ambassador reiterated the call of the European Union at last year’s Philippine Development Forum for access to family planning methods for Filipinos.

In that statement, the EU said the country’s continued rapid population is exhausting its resources and slowing economic growth.

“It also threatens the sustainability of rural livelihoods and is inexorably destroying the remaining natural forest and marine habitats. The poor are paying the highest price, both individually and collectively,” it said.

“The European Union therefore calls for the effective implementation of a comprehensive national family planning policy, promoting access to family planning methods,” it added.

MacDonald prefaced his speech on the topic saying that while he is not a Filipino citizen but a friend of the Philippines, the “grim statistics” are known by many advocates of the RH bill. He also noted that the while reproductive health is a sensitive issue here, his views appear to be supported by the average Filipino, as results of survey on the topic show.

“I am a friend of the Philippines, a friend of development and the fight against poverty in the Philippines, and I hope that you might therefore be interested in the comments which I would like to offer,” he said.

MacDonald explained that the continued absence of a reproductive health law affects the poor more than the rich, pointing out that while the total fertility rate of the richest 20 percent of the Philippine population is two, the rate for the poorest 20 percent is 5.9.

He said women, particularly mothers, suffer without a law ensuring their health.

“The maternal mortality ratio in the Philippines has fallen only very slowly, to reach 162 in 2008, still three times the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) target of 52 by 2015,” he said.

Like the United Nations, the EU diplomat said he thinks the Philippines is unlikely to meet its MDG commitment under the present set-up.

MacDonald said children die in large numbers because of unplanned pregnancies.

“It is frightening to think of the opportunities which children here are being denied because of the strain on health services, on education services, and the lack of employment opportunities, in a country which is straining at the seams,” he said.

The EU ambassador said that as a development strategy, having more people only promotes exploitation, trafficking, and misery.

“Cheap labor and low wages, associated with a rapidly rising population, are not a way to promote development, to encourage higher-skilled employment, to allow families to give their children the opportunities that they deserve,” he said.

MacDonald said a high rate of abortion is the real-world effect when the state does not provide such services. He said latest estimates show that of 3.6 million total pregnancies in the Philippines in 2007, more than half or about 1.9 million were unplanned; and 25 percent of these unplanned pregnancies, or 500,000, ended in abortions.

“Here in the Philippines in the 21st century, these high if often invisible rates of abortion are a direct and ineluctable consequence of the unavailability of modern methods of contraception,” he said.

The EU envoy congratulated the advocates of the RH bill in Congress for their efforts to get the measure passed. He said that if they become successful, the Philippines would be on the right track to solving poverty, promoting maternal and child health and family

“When you succeed, you will have done a tremendous service for the people of the Philippines, and for the voters of the Philippines,” he said. By Veronica Uy -