Saturday, December 31, 2011

Philippines Stock Exchange hits record high in 2011 rising by 13.6% in 2012

MANILA, Philippines - Capital raised in the equities market reached a record high this year, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) said Thursday (December 29, 2011.

In a statement, the PSE said a total of 107.50 billion was raised from initial public, follow-on and stock rights offerings as well as private placements in the stock market.

Aside from being the highest generated in a single year, the amount was up 26.6% from what was raised in 2007, the previous record year.

Meanwhile, the main PSE index ended the year on a positive note, edging up 0.8% to close at 4,371.96 points on Dec. 29, the last day of trading. The PSEi was higher by 4.1% from last year's close of 4,201.14 points.

"We are glad to report that despite the uncertainties in the global market that hounded us throughout the year, your local stock market has closed 2011 with yet another set of significant milestones," PSE President & CEO Hans Sicat said.

Five companies debuted in the market in 2011, namely, Megawide Construction Corporation, Puregold Price Club Inc., Cirtek Holdings Philippines Corporation, Calapan Ventures Inc. and Touch Solutions Inc. They raised a total of 9.04 billion from the market.  Meanwhile, capital proceeds from private placement, stock rights offerings and follow-on offerings amounted to 42.85 billion, 40.61 billion and 15 billion, respectively.

Total value turnover for 2011 reached 1.42 trillion, 17.8% higher than the 1.21 billion registered in 2010. The PSE extended its trading hours to 1 p.m. in October this year as part of its efforts to increase liquidity in the market.  On January 2, 2012, trading hours will be further extended up to 3:30 p.m.

The combined market capitalization of listed issues in the PSE at year-end was 8.7 trillion.

Preliminary figures also show that foreign investors went into net buying territory in 2011 in the amount of 56.52 billion, higher than the net buying figure of 35.62 billion in 2009.

In terms of sectoral indices, the mining and oil index emerged as the best performer in 2011, surging 68.5%. This was followed by the holding firms' index, which grew 3.4%.

PSEi seen rising by 13.6% in 2012

Investment group CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets sees the main-share Philippine Stock Exchange index surging by about 13.6 percent to end at 4,900 next year.

This was based on expectations that corporate earnings will be aided by resilient domestic consumption, increased government spending and monetary easing.

In a research dated Dec. 9 titled "Looking Good in 2012," which was written by head of research Alfred Dy, CLSA added Robinsons Land Corp. to its list of favored stocks. Other companies in its "conviction picks" are SM Investments, Ayala Corp., Metro Pacific, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine National Bank.

"In spite of a tough global macro backdrop which is expected to continue in 2012, we remain positive on the Philippines. For one, the Philippines is one of the few countries around which has a relatively low export-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio of 25 percent, suggesting that the fortunes of the economy is not really that linked to what is happening in Europe and the United States," Dy said.

Dy said domestic consumption should continue to do well given favorable demographics and $3.245 billion in recurring cash inflows from overseas Filipino remittance, business process outsourcing and tourism.

The government, which has been widely criticized for the fiscal contraction in 2011, should have a better year next year in terms of infrastructure spending, privatization and monetary easing, he said.

"Sectors to watch out for are consumer, banking, infrastructure, construction, and gaming," Dy said.

More PPP projects

Dy expects a couple of public-private partnership contracts to be awarded. Aside from the 2-billion Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway, he expects the awarding of the 17-billion Connector Road (between North and South Luzon Expressway and the Department of Education's project involving the construction of 10,000 classrooms in regions I, III and IV-A.

"Like the power privatization program in recent years, a couple of awarded contracts could snowball to more contracts in the coming years," he said.

Dy said there would likewise be a couple of property deals given renewed corporate interest in assets like the Food Terminal Inc., Cebu Airport and parcels of land in Fort Bonifacio. "Of course, increased government spending and successful PPP launch should be positive for the construction sector," he said.

Stock picks

RLC was added to CLSA's "conviction picks" given its significant presence in shopping malls, hotels, office, and residential development.

"Among the property companies in our coverage, RLC has the biggest recurring revenue base at 72 percent followed by Filinvest Land at far second at 26 percent. In terms of earnings, RLC also has the biggest recurring earnings base at 80 percent which is followed by Ayala Land at 35 percent," Dy said.

The key drivers seen for RLC's earnings in 2012 were office rentals and hotels which were expected to grow in the mid-teens followed by residential development expected to grow by 10 percent.

Upbeat on RLC

"Given its presence in the shopping mall and hotel industry, RLC is also one of the best ways to play the country's emerging tourism sector where tourist arrivals are expected to double from 3.5 million tourist in 2010 to 7 million tourists by 2017," noting that the property company's stock valuation was likewise very "compelling."

On the banking side, CLSA expects the sector to remain "buoyant" but sees loan growth moderating at 12-14 percent compared with the growth over 20 percent in 2011.  "Unlike in 2011 where we saw net interest margins (NIMs) contracting by 50bps, we expect NIMs to stabilize in 2012," Dy said.

Apart from the Philippine National Bank-Allied Bank merger finally happening by the second half of 2012, CLSA believes that Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) is the best positioned among the big three banks in the Philippines to do a major acquisition given its relatively high tier one and capital adequacy ratios. CLSA also noted that Banco De Oro had intimated that it was open to do "bite-size" acquisitions that could add 50 to 100 branches to its existing 750 branch network.

Outside of the banking and property sectors, we expect some M&A (merger and acquisition) action in the ports and mining sectors. For ports, we understand that ICTSI continues to be on the prowl for new ports in the Mediterranean and Africa. In mining, we understand that Philex is open to do some acquisitions," Dy said.

Philippines lift workers’ Lebanon deployment ban for OFW workers

The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration says it is ready to lift a deployment ban to Lebanon adopted in 2006 when Manila signs a bilateral agreement with Beirut in January but has warned its citizens against travelling to Syria, the Inquirer Global Nation reported Thursday.

The news website quoted Carlos Cao Jr., chief of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), as saying that the ban on household service workers to Lebanon would be lifted when Beirut guarantees the rights of overseas Filipino workers.

"It is a labor cooperation agreement and the final draft is already finished. The signing will be done in Lebanon," Cao told the English-language website.

In 2006, Manila imposed a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Lebanon over concerns of poor working conditions and reports of abuse against workers, who, according to many rights groups, enjoy little legal protection in the country.

Despite the ban on workers, many Filipinos have reportedly still managed to work in Lebanon by traveling to multiple countries before reaching their destination.

The website also said that reports revealed some Filipino domestic workers in Lebanon and Jordan were treated like "slaves" and were denied their basic rights.

Recent studies estimate that around 40,000 Filipinos work in Lebanon.

The report also said that the country was working on a bilateral agreement with Jordan in a bid to lift the deployment ban in that Arab country.

Under Philippines law, workers are only allowed to be deployed to countries where their rights are ensured and protected by law, something that Lebanon does not yet provide.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has warned its citizens against traveling to Syria and the Philippine Embassy in Damascus is arranging the repatriation of 143 domestic workers.

"Before the end of the year, more than 60 Filipinos in Syria were scheduled to be repatriated to the Philippines. The Philippine Embassy in Damascus is also arranging the repatriation of another 143 OFWs [Oversees Filipino Workers] from that country," Raul Hernandez, a spokesperson at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

He also said that the department had been able to repatriate close to 400 of its citizens so far, adding that the government had begun the repatriation process since April.

Syria has witnessed escalating violence since mid-March, when anti-government protests were being met with a deadly crackdown by security forces. The United Nations has estimated that around 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising began.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rapes: BPO in Cebu’s growth 20% of 50,000 workforces annually

By Katlene O. Cacho

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will continue to propel Cebu's economy as the province's major economic driver, industry leaders said. The BPO sector is also poised to grow even bigger in the coming years, they said.

"In 2011, BPO companies accounted for 40 percent of positions posted in a jobs listing website. The expansion of BPO operations led to the rise in the demand for office spaces. This year, the region saw property developers putting additional investments in the leasing business," said Cebu Property Ventures Development Corp. (CPVDC) president Francis Monera.

The industry recorded a 20 percent annual growth rate.

CPVDC is the developer of Cebu IT Park. It currently has eight building under construction.

Workforce

Monera said BPO companies are continually drawn to Cebu City with its workforce and healthy fiscal environment. He said Cebu is supported by nine large universities that turn out many workers for IT and BPO companies.

"The BPO industry in Cebu is fast-growing because IT/BPO companies in the US have found a viable destination in Asia where they can relocate after the 2008 global economic crash. The industry will continue to offer a lot of opportunities and will become Cebu's main driver of economic growth," said Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) chairman for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Jerry Rapes.

This year, global outsourcing firm Aegis People Support unveiled its own Aegis Tower Cebu at the Cebu IT Park. The company said their decision to build in Cebu is a sign of their "commitment to and confidence in the country's booming BPO industry and Cebu's workforce."

Monera said they are anticipating an increase of 20 percent in the current 50,000 workforce with the completion of buildings within Cebu Park District.

CPVDC is looking at an estimated 11,000 additional seats with eBlock 2, Skyrise 4 and the Aegis Tower Cebu.

Stream Global, a major outsourcing company, was reported to be hiring between 60 and 70 employees weekly. Convergys, on the other hand, is also expanding with its new office in Cebu, according to Monera.

Some of the firms that expanded in Cebu this year include HP, Fluor Daniels, Dell, Convergys and JP Morgan & Chase.

Non-voice services

"Wide-spread employment is a by-product of these developments with a 35 percent increase in working population for both parks – majority in the BPO industry. (It strengthens) our bid of making Cebu the BPO capital in the Philippines next to Metro Manila," Monera said.

Rapes, meanwhile, said Cebu is not only well-positioned for voice services but also for Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), information technology outsourcing and non-voice services.

He said it is just a matter of preparing Cebu "to get to a higher level," particularly in terms of supplying the industry with skilled, competent and highly qualified workforce.

"There is not always enough people," said Rapes, the president of information technology outsourcing (ITO) company Exist Global.

He said companies now move out from major call center hubs like Metro Manila and open offices in "next wave cities."

Monera, who sits as the chairman of the board for Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology (Cedf-it) said the private sector, academe and local government have collaborated to improve the skills of potential workers for increased manpower pool via proficiency/certification, retraining and jobs-skills matching programs. The stakeholders are also intensifying programs that support infrastructure and tourism service to strengthen the investment climate in Cebu.

Scalability

Monera emphasized the need for talent scalability, not only in terms of available quantity of the workforce but also in training to match the skills required by companies.

Cedf-it announced last October it will get part of the P500-million stimulus fund committed by the Aquino government to facilitate "near-hire" training programs of IT-BPO companies. It said about P5 million worth of scholarships from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) will be used to conduct "near-hire" trainings for 1,000 prospective IT-BPO employees here.

Monera also cited Cebu's "big opportunity" in higher level services or KPO. He said although, manpower requirement for this category may not be as high as voice-related jobs, these are high-value services that mean higher average compensation for the Filipino talent.

While there is continued growth ahead in the BPO industry, Rapes said "being complacent" may threaten BPOs' rosy outlook for 2012.

"We need to create more people for the industry rather than compete with each other. We need to produce more skilled workforce for a bigger ecosystem," he said.

Rapes also announced that the outsourcing industry will soon start the second phase of the Cebu IT/BPO roadmap so it could further maximize the potential of IT/BPO services.

What to do

He said the study will "drill down what Cebu needs to get to higher level."

"We have to know where we are going and what to do next now that we know we have the capabilities to do more KPO," Rapes said.

He said that while waiting for the second phase of the study, entrepreneurs should start looking at opportunities in offering KPO services.

He said India has higher revenues than the Philippines because they do difficult services. "But if the Philippines will capitalize on its KPO potential and do its homework, the IT/BPO revenues will grow eventually," Rapes said.

The Business Process Association of the Philippines targets to grow the industry by $25 billion in revenues in 2016 and increase IT/BPO employment to more than one million.

A bill seeking to create a Department of ICT was also filed as a support to the growing industry.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 30, 2011.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Philippines warship arrive advanced Palawan islands where China eyed to drill in January 2012

The Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), the newest and most modern frigate of the Philippine Navy, arrived in Palawan islands in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) to provide a much needed boost in the maritime defense capabilities in the area.

Philippines' lone modern frigate would face a heavy challenged as china announced to start drilling around Palawan islands beginning January 2012.

In the map disclosed for china's new drilling prospected area remains a thrill as it is showing the area of Mischief reef under the Philippines' territory of 130 Miles from the Mainland Palawan but never mentioned the exact location.

Mischief Reef is under the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines according to the UNCLOS 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone.

China has claimed the islands under the Province of Palawan as their territory "We Owned everything" China quoted in previous comments.

In a local radio interview, Captain Alfred Cruz, Commanding Officer of PF-15, said the ship will conduct maritime security and sovereignty patrols to beef up protection of the country's territorial waters, as well as conduct search and rescue missions in the western front.

PF-15, commissioned as a warship of the Philippine Navy, will also augment naval security to the Philippines biggest investments of natural gas at the Malampaya Natural Gas project and other petroleum service contract areas under the Department of Energy (DOE) in the West Philippine Sea.

Cruz said that the ship is now the Navy's largest and fastest which can run with a speed of 40 knots per agility test. He said that it is equipped with helicopters, the first of which was donated by the Department of Tourism (DOT).

With a compliment of more than a hundred officers and enlisted personnel, the high-endurance Hamilton-class cutter can sustain a month-long mission without re-provisioning.

The home of PF-15 is the Ulugan Bay Naval Station in Barangay Macarascas, located about 45 kms northwest of this city.

PF-15 was acquired through the United Excess Defense Act using the Malampaya Natural Gas proceeds under the DOE. It was used by the United States Coast Guard for law enforcement and search and rescue missions. (DOS/VSM/PIA-Palawan)

China will start to drill oil forcefully in the Philippines Waters – January 2012

China will soon put its first deepwater survey vessel into use in the South China Sea, an official with China Oilfield Services Ltd (COSL) said, part of an effort by the world's top energy consumer to tap its underexplored deep waters.

Ocean Oil 708, with a capacity to work in water depths of 3,000 meters and a drilling depth of 600 meters below the seabed, is one of the deepwater equipment that leading offshore oil and gas developer CNOOC planned to expand its deepwater capability.

The vessel is owned by COSL, a specialized oil service unit of China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC).

The COSL official said the vessel will be used in early-stage exploration works such as geoprospecting, but declined to specify which area of the South China Sea the vessel would be firstly employed in.

CNOOC Ltd, which runs almost all of CNOOC's oil and gas production assets, is preparing to drill its first-ever deepsea well in the northern part of the South China Sea around the beginning of 2012 by using Ocean Oil 981, China's first home-made semi-submersible deepsea rig.

China has so far drilled less than 15 deepsea exploration wells, all of which have been done by CNOOC's foreign partners.

Baoji Oilfield Machinery Co, a unit of top Chinese oil firm CNPC, manufactured the drilling system for the Ocean Oil 708, the China Petroleum Daily reported.

Friday, December 23, 2011

No water, Now wives - China is dying soon

By: Dr. Philip Neches

Chairman, Foundation Ventures LLC

huffingtonpost.com 

When smart people with very different viewpoints come to similar conclusions, it's wise to take notice. In the Left corner: Dr. Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, Princeton professor, MSNBC regular, New York Times columnist. In the Right corner: Dr. Jack Wheeler, aide to President Reagan and both Presidents Bush, author, blogger. The Right loathes Krugman as a soft-headed sell out; the Left regards Wheeler as a self-aggrandizing nut. The subject: China.

In a post on his Website To the Point (subscription required, posted October 14, 2011), Wheeler summarized the situation in China tersely, "No water, no wives, no banks -- and a hyper-dangerous military." Wheeler's writing tends towards melodrama and exaggeration for effect. Still, consider each point in turn.

No water: China's population is about three times compared to USA, in a land area about the same as the 48 contiguous states. But almost 80% of China's land area is mountain or desert, unsuited for cities or farms. Try to imagine three times the population of the U.S. living in an area not much larger than the 13 original colonies.

Further, the headwaters of China's great rivers are not actually in China: they're in Nepal, Tibet, and Kashmir. Small wonder China gets touchy about any hint of losing sway in those areas: China would literally die of thirst.

In the U.S. are so abundantly blessed by nature that we find it difficult to imagine what a problem water is too much of the rest of the world. Nonetheless, water supply is the greatest threat to civilization in much of the world, including China. Not energy. Not food. Not land. Water.

No wives. Well, certainly a big shortfall: China has something like 100 million more young men than young women. Wheeler writes ominously of the political and military dangers from 100 million bachelors.

But China has an even bigger demographic problem, as I pointed out in my post "The Sun Also Sets". China constrained their birth rate through social policy only possible in a brutal dictatorship. But they also made the same strides in public health that the Western world made in the early 20th century, dropping their death rate by a factor of three and increasing life expectancy from 40+ to 70+ years in just a generation. With falling births and falling deaths, China's population is aging. China is in a desperate race to get rich before it gets old. They will lose.

No banks. Wheeler points out that the Chinese state banks are technically insolvent. Krugman provides more color and detail in his op-ed piece "Will China Break?" Krugman sees the classic signs of a bubble: rapid growth in credit, surging real estate prices, "shadow banking" systems without government regulation or guarantees, and huge increase in investment without corresponding increase in consumer spending. Even through the murky lens of official Chinese economic data, Krugman sees the bubble bursting.

We had our financial crisis in 2008. Experts agree that we still have a long way to go to recover from it, and that many of the vulnerabilities that caused that crisis persist in our economy. Europe seems to be still going into the depths of their problems. Again, experts expect a prolonged recovery.

Is China the next to fall? If so, they cannot expect much help from the U.S. and Europe. A rise in the Yuan, the likely first consequence of trouble in China, benefits the U.S. and Europe doubly: it makes our debt held by China worth less and easier to repay, and it increases the cost of Chinese goods to our consumers, providing a stimulus to local industry and employment. The trouble in the U.S. already shuttered numerous factories in China. But that could just be a fore-taste of what could come.

If you look at raw unemployment numbers, the current problems in the U.S. and some countries in Europe are almost as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the political and social consequences are no where near the same. The public and private mechanisms put in place since the 1930s feel the strain. But they are holding, in the sense that no one in the US or Europe seriously worries about armed revolution or anarchy, as was the case in the 1930s.

Without similar safeguards in place, China could be a different story. While the economic consequences can be calculated, the political and social results cannot. Speculation and imagination are our only sources of insight.

Dangerous Military. China's military establishment is second only to ours. If one looks at spending alone, it seems no contest: China spends about what Britain and France put together spend, and about 1/6 of what we spend. But China is actually far less militarized than the United States, with 3.4 active, reserve, and paramilitary per 1,000 population, versus 9.5 for us. Most advanced countries spend between 1.8% and 2.8% of GDP on their military. China's military budget is 2.1% of GDP, at the lower end of the pack. Compare that to 4.8% for us.

What is the upshot (pun and all) of these figures? Either the U.S. is spending too much on its military, or China has the capacity to spend a lot more than it currently spends. Maybe both statements are true.

Wheeler speculates on two possible paths for Chinese military adventurism. Asserting more control of the South China Sea represents a reasonably credible scenario, but also one that would quickly unite the maritime world (U.S., Japan, Europe, India, Southeast Asia or ASEAN countries , OPEC, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, etc.) to defend the nearly 50% of the world's shipping that goes through those waters. Wheeler offers a more nightmarish scenario: China invades Siberia to gain water, land, oil, and to divert its 100 million odd excess bachelors.

In the long lens of history, this may not be as far-fetched as it first sounds. Much of Siberia was the Maritime Provinces of China until the expanding Russian Empire seized control around 1860. The Russian Empire expanded from its start around Kiev around 950 AD to the height of the Cold War a thousand years later. Since losing in Afghanistan in 1987, the Russian Empire has been in incredibly rapid retreat, losing its Eastern European satellites and West Asian provinces to independence.

The world is full of danger spots: Pakistan, Iran, North Korea. But when I feel really grim about the prospects for the world, my thoughts turn to China.

Finally, my apologies for spiking your holiday eggnog with a few Sichuan peppercorns.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Surviving stories of the inland Tsunami – Typhoon Sendong Iligan-Cagayan de Oro City

 

HeroAzkal dog Saves drowning girl – Strom Sendong  Iligan City

A pregnant dog and two other 'Azkals', a local name for stray dogs, have done their share in saving the lives of their masters during the rampaging floodwater that hit low lying villages in Mindanao, Southern Philippines

As Tropical Storm "Sendong" ravaged low lying areas near rivers and streams in Mindanao, Southern Philippines, a young girl credits her family's pregnant dog for saving her life amid rampaging floodwater that wiped out the entire village where they were settled.

As floodwater overflowed from the river, seven-year-old Jennylou and her family have decided to climb the rooftop of their house, thinking the rising floodwater will not reach them.

But their house collapsed as speeding floodwater mixed with cut logs and debris battered their house, sending the entire family floating in the ocean of debris.

While afloat, Jennylou noticed the family dog swimming right beside her and was repeatedly scratching her back as if trying to communicate with her.

The young girl finally understood what her dog wants—her pregnant dog was trying to help her. So she decided to cling and let the dog do the swimming.

While frantically swimming in the water full of debris, the dog eventually brought Jennylou to a safe place by delivering her to a big floating log where she held on for safety.

As she clung to the floating log, Jennylou saw the exhausted family dog gasping for air and struggling in the swirling floodwater. Moments later the dog disappeared, never to be seen again.

Later in the day, rescuers found Jennlou and other survivors from the sea and was later reunited with her family, who also survived the ordeal.

"I would have died if not for our dog," Jennylou said in the evacuation center where her family has been temporarily staying.

In another heartwarming story about the "man's best friend", another family was saved from the debris-filled floodwater after two 'Azkals" woke them up form their sleep while floodwater was rising at an unprecedented speed at the height of Tropical Storm Sendong.

Marrietta Ardiente said she was awaken by two dogs barking and scratching the door of her house. When she looked to find out what was the reason for the frantic dogs, she saw floodwater rising very fast.

With the help of the two dogs, Ardiente's family was able to evacuate to safer grounds before floodwater razed her family home.

As her family moved out from their home, they brought the two stray dogs to the evacuation center. The two dogs were the ones that saved their lives, Ardiente said.

Iligan City couple left with only one Mike Herald of 5 – Typhoon Sendong

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines—Out of so many lives lost on Bayug Island at the mouth of a river in this coastal heartland, a boy's exceptional tale of survival is the only thing left that gives inspiration to his folks in their time of sorrow.

Eight-year-old Mike Herald Dela Gracia, who barely stands over a meter tall and cannot swim, will always be, to his parents, "the boy who lived"— the only one among five siblings to survive the horrors of December 16 and the difficult hours that followed.

Helen and Arnaldo Dela Gracia, who sell "balut" (boiled duck egg with embryo) for a living, grieve over the deaths of Shein, 7, and Aldrein, 2, and the presumed deaths of Hana, 4, and Aldrein's twin Aljon, who have not been seen since they were engulfed by the swirling waters sent down by Tropical Storm Sendong on Friday night.

But every time they look at their eldest, Mike Herald, an active, playful Grade 3 pupil, they are encouraged in many ways, his mother Helen, 29, said.

"The burden lightens whenever we see him. He's the one who makes us go on," she said in a mix of Cebuano and Tagalog at a cemetery in Barangay Pala-o, where they watched, weeping, as Shein and Aldrein were laid to rest in a mass grave.

"He is our last child. He's the only one who lived," Helen said of Mike Herald.

What follows is an account of this schoolboy's extraordinary escape from death's door, as narrated to the Inquirer by his parents:

At 11 p.m., the children were already asleep, but a worried Helen watched the Mandulog River, only 30 meters away from their house in the settlement of Purok 7-IS, as the wind howled outside and rains lashed at their window.

Out selling balut in the streets of the mainland, her husband Arnaldo, 29, sensed that the weather might take a turn for the worse and hurried home to the island to warn his family.

At past midnight, the flood waters had seeped into their house, up to their ankles. "We were hearing people outside screaming 'Tabang! (Help!)' so we decided to evacuate because we were afraid the house would not be able to withstand the flood," Arnaldo recalled.

Arnaldo shepherded the children out, along with Helen's mother, 66-year-old Purificacion, but when they opened the door, onrushing waves met them.

Arms linked together, they sought refuge at a relative's two-story house with concrete foundations and wooden walls. As the water rose quickly, they, along with neighbors, climbed the roof and hung on to each other, the children distributed among the adults.

They thought the flood water would not be strong enough to knock over the house, but just then, another house being carried by the current plowed into them, splitting the house and scattering those perched on its rooftop in different directions.

"I just hung on. I got snarled by a coconut tree and I hugged the trunk," Helen said. She recalled how horrified she had been when she saw a log rolling into Hana. The other children, except Mike Herald, had been thrown out of sight.

From his vantage point, Arnaldo, who had found a precarious foothold on another tree, said he could see Mike Herald as he was being dragged forward by the muddy waves.

The boy, he said, had grabbed a clump of weeds to stop getting tossed by the water. But his shirt got tangled up with the branch of a huge ipil-ipil tree.

Arnaldo said he had watched in horror as the tree started rolling until the boy fell out of view.

Helen and Arnaldo were eventually reunited several meters away from their house. As they looked around at the flattened plain of brown that used to be their village, they guessed the terrible fates of their children, as well as Purificacion, who has not been found. They were prepared for the worst.

"We thought they had all died," Helen said, her voice breaking.

Then Helen heard a familiar young voice calling out from a tree that was lodged into another some distance away.

"Ma, kuhaa ko.  gutom na ko" (Mama, get me. I am hungry), the boy had demanded. The muddy water below had not yet subsided and he could not get down.

Arnaldo swam to the tree and towed him to shore. Helen rushed to Mike Herald and gave him a good hug. "We were so relieved that one of them is still alive," Helen said.

But their joy was short-lived. They soon found Shein and Aldrein at a funeral parlor, one of several they visited in this city of 300,000 populations.

The two other children and Helen's mother are still missing, among the more than 400 unaccounted for in the city, according to Mayor Lawrence Cruz. The death toll in Iligan City, as of Tuesday, had reached just below 300, he said.

"The other children could not have survived. They are four- and two-year-old, what hope could they have?" Helen said.

Mike Herald, a scrawny youth with a direct gaze and dreams of becoming a soldier, never learned to swim, nor did his mother and siblings.

Asked how he had been able to pull through, Helen said it was probably his steely determination to live. "He just never let go from that tree," she said.

The Dela Gracias originally lived in Zamboanga del Sur, western part of the island of Mindanao with a distance of about 8 hours travel by car but the birth of twins two years ago forced them to move in with relatives on the island to be better able to make ends meet.

At the moment, they are staying at an evacuation center in Barangay Sta. Filomena with no plans of ever returning to Bayug Island, whose population of more than 300 people is believed to have been drastically reduced after the storm.

"I doubt if you'll find a family there who did not lose anyone," Helen said, relating stories they heard of entire families who perished together on another part of the island. "Nothing is left on Bayug," she said.

These two moving and heartwarming dog stories could be just a few of the many life-saving tales involving dogs who also fought with for their own lives during the flash floods devastation in Southern Philippines.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Philippines will buy 12 F-16 Fighter Jets from USA

December 21, 2011: The Philippines has asked the United States, its closest security partner, to give it at least a squadron of F-16 fighters to help upgrade its territorial defenses and two more military ships amid increasing tensions with China in the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the foreign secretary said on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he will meet with US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton and high officials of Pentagon in his visit to Washington, D.C., early next year  2012 to discuss the need to increase the Philippines's military presence in the area.

The Philippines has no air power to speak of, with its 40-year-old F-5A/Bs fighter jets retired from service several years ago. It has no bombers or surveillance aircraft and still flies Vietnam War-era UH-1H helicopters.

"We are just trying to restore our capability as it was before," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters.

He said he hoped the fighters would be acquired through excess defense articles, a U.S. military aid program.

"I think we are actually behind the curve ... we have been far more advanced many years ago in terms of military capability," he said.

The request for US military assistance was first discussed during the visit of Clinton in the Philippines in November.

"We're trying to get assistance from several countries [to strengthen military capability] and the US has expressed willingness to assist us as we work on a minimum, credible defense posture [in the disputed islands in West Philippine Sea]," said del Rosario in a press luncheon briefing on Wednesday at a hotel in Pasay City.

USAF F-16C block 30 #88-0152 of the 63rd TFTS is parked in the static display at an air show. [Photo by Mike Kopack]

Del Rosario said acquisition of the F-16 fighters would be among issues to be discussed in strategic talks in Washington in the first quarter of 2012, when Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin meet their U.S. counterparts.

He said Washington has agreed to give Manila larger ships and faster aircraft to patrol disputed areas in the West Philippines Sea, as well as assist in setting up surveillance stations to improve the military's "maritime domain awareness".

Earlier this year, Manila accused Beijing of intruding into its territorial waters and attempting to plant markers on uninhabited islands in the Reed Bank, an area the Philippines claims to be within its exclusive economic zone.

Last August, Washington delivered a Hamilton-class coast guard cutter, the largest ship in the Philippine Navy's fleet.

A similar vessel is due to arrive in the third quarter of next year and a third might also be acquired.

As was the case with the Hamilton-class cutter, del Rosario said he hoped the transfer of F-16s would be free of charge under the aid program.

Manila would pick up the cost of refurbishment and repairs, he said.

USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0767 of the 63rd FS from Luke AFB is spotted landing at NAS Fort Worth on July 28th, 2005. [Photo by Keith Robinson]

The Philippines has said it will spend 40 billion pesos ($941 million) over the next five years to upgrade its military, buying new helicopters, ships and surveillance equipment.

He said the Philippines will request two more Hamilton class cutters with the first one delivered mid this year and a squadron or 12 units of fighter jets to be deployed on the disputed islands that are believed to be rich in natural gas and marine resources.

Moves to strengthen the country's military capability came amid Chinese deployment of more navy ships in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. "We need to stand up and defend our territorial claims on what we think is ours," said del Rosario.

He also believes that the US foreign policy is to re-engage Asia to a greater extent as it believes that the region has taken the role as key driver of economic growth.

He said the US is also planning to station Marines in Australia and Singapore amid increasing tensions in the disputed Spratly Islands.

At the diplomatic front, del Rosario said the Philippines remains hopeful that the government's proposal to establish a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation that seeks to segregate disputed from nondisputed parts of the South China Sea will be integrated in the binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to adopt during the last ASEAN meeting in Bali.

He said the Philippines's proposal submitted for adoption by consensus of the 10 member-countries during the Asean Regional Forum was apparently not considered after two members—Laos and Cambodia—boycotted the maritime legal experts meeting in Manila that was intended to consider the adoption of the Philippine proposal.

Four ASEAN members—Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia—are claimants to parts of Spratly Islands, along with Taipei. China is claiming the entire Spratlys.

Other Asean members include Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Burma/Myanmar and Thailand.

US ready to arm Philippines amid China tension

The United States said it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to "stand up to any aggressive action" at the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) with China.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich West Philippines Sea have escalated  with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint."

USAF F-16C block 30 #85-1467 from the 457th FS releases a GBU-24 2,000-pound laser guided bomb over a target range near Eglin AFB during exercise Combat Hammer, hosted by the 86th FWS on November 7th, 2002. [USAF photo by SSgt. Sheila Salas]

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: "While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard."

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.

"We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you," del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from US colonial rule which was renewed recently in November 2011 during the visit of Secretary Clinton to the Philippines.

The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The United States gave the Philippines $15 million in military assistance in the 2011 fiscal year, with much larger sums devoted to development, according to official US data..

"The Philippines' relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources," he said.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Clark Philippines - NEw ASEAN 'Mother of all investments' destination


By MARK ANTHONY N. MANUEL

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga, Philippines – The Chairman of the three of the biggest companies in the country said that Clark Freeport would become the "mother of all investments" in the country if "relevant improvements in facilities and avionics as well as expansion of terminal buildings" will be erected inside the Freeport.

Kapampangan business tycoon Manuel "Manny" Pangilinan also said Clark is a great opportunity to be the center for call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO) services in the country as well as the hub for information technology for Central Luzon.

Pangilinan has compared Clark to Chenai and Bangalore in India, and Silicon Valley in California as an information technology center in the world.

Pangilinan is the chairman of the investment giant Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC), television station TV5, and Smart Communications, the biggest telecom company in the country.

He has also urged the national government to transfer the operation of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as the country's premier airport to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Angeles City, saying that the former airport will already reach its saturation level in about three years.

Speaking before the awardees of the Most Outstanding Kampangan, Pangilinan explained that Clark is a prime candidate as the new premier international airport "simply because it is ready."

"It's clear that an alternative international aviation gateway is needed sooner rather than later," said Pangilinan.

The businessman also disclosed that is companies are planning a public-private partnership for the development of the Pampanga River as a bulk water source.

"This plan is designed to help minimize flooding in the province," he said.

Pangilinan likewise announced his desire to establish a tertiary hospital in the province, "to upgrade medical services to the Kapampangan."

Pangilinan was reportedly in talks with Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation for the development of DMIA's Terminal 2 and a high-speed railway that will connect the airport to Manila.

"It is a positive development," said Mayor Marino Morales, noting that any development at the Clark airport will also redound to the overall progress of nearby Mabalacat town which plays host to the airport.

Morales said the presence of the Clark airport, the modern Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), and the eventual construction of the high-speed railway will speed up the development of the northern part of Mabalacat as "Makati of the North."

DMIA plays host to foreign and local carriers such as Tiger Airways of Singapore that flies Clark-Singapore, Air Asia of Malaysia via Clark-Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, Asiana Airlines via Clark-Incheon in South Korea with connecting flights to the US, China and Japan, Cebu Pacific Air via Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Macau while South East Asian Airlines (Seair) via Clark-Caticlan at the world famous Boracay Beach Island Resort.

Other carriers include Spirit of Manila Airlines via Clark-Taiwan and Jin Air a subsidiary of Korean Air with chartered flights to Incheon in South Korea.

It was remembered that top government officials in Central Luzon has urged President Benigno Simeon "PNoy" Aquino III to pursue the plans of developing the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here as a premier international airport in the Philippines, following reports of supposed glitches at the Ninoy Aquino international Airport.

The Metro Clark Advisory Council (MCAC), composed of representatives from business and concerned sectors in Central Luzon and of mayors of towns surrounding the Clark Freeport, has issued a resolution for the development of the Clark airport following the spate of diversionary flights in Clark.

 

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