Thursday, June 30, 2011

Philippines officials and most filipinos Hail the Performance of President Noy Aquino

Stressing that he is not used to praising himself, President Benigno S. Aquino III refused to give himself a performance grade as he marked his first 12 months in Malacañang Thursday.

He, however, drew praises from his officials.

Instead of grading himself, the President claimed his biggest achievement was that apathy of the people has been replaced by a renewed partnership with the government.

“My greatest achievement is the transformation in the attitude of the people. If there were resignation, dejection, and apathy before, many people are now taking part so we can achieve a better country. Many people are now helping to reach our goals as soon as possible,” he said in Filipino during a press conference in the Palace.

Aquino marked his first year in office with the signing of the law postponing the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the approval of the proposed 2012 national budget, and a launch of a campaign rallying volunteers.

His government reportedly made some progress in fighting corruption and poverty but encountered many setbacks, including criticisms of slow pace of reforms.

Before he assumed office, the President recalled that the people were indifferent to national issues because they could not expect anything from the government. People were also no longer shaken by scandals that were unearthed before, he said.

“I have listened and read in the newspapers about a passing mark etch. It seems they are asking me to be perfect and it is good that there are people who are pushing you to improve your efforts,” he said.

Asked what grade he would give his administration in its first year, Aquino said: “Hindi ko talaga ugaling magtaas ng sariling bangko. Sorry. (It’s not my attitude to praise myself. Sorry).”

While the President preferred to be silent about his performance, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Commodore Jose Miguel Rodriguez, AFP spokesman, hailed the President’s performance in his first year in office.

Ochoa noted that the government has made “significant strides” in promoting good governance, peace and justice, improved social services, and robust economic growth during its first year.

Ochoa, in an interview, said people view that the government is “performing better now than a year ago” based on recent opinion polls.

He said the government sought the swift approval of the 2011 national budget without delay using the zero-based budgeting approach. First steps were also taken “to put our house in order” as the government remains on track to meet its P325 billion deficit target or 3.9 percent of gross domestic product due to improved revenue collections and prudent spending. “We are the first administration to deal decisively with the abuses in our GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations), with the passage of the GOCC Governance Act of 2011,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa likewise cited the removal of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, saying “we have, for the first time in history, held the Office of the Ombudsman accountable in the performance of its functions.” The government also showed that it will not hesitate to mete out justice when it dismissed Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III for mishandling a case of the slain policeman involved in the August hostage crisis in Manila as well as suspended Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit for alleged involvement in the irregular plea bargain deal with a former military comptroller.

The government also made crucial reforms in the education sector, including free kindergarten education for Filipino children for the first time in history, according to Ochoa.

On economic development, Ochoa cited the launch of the first batch of Public-Private Partnership projects lined up for bidding in 2011. “With an estimated investment of more than a billion dollars, these projects will further boost the economy and provide opportunities for employment. Confidence in the country is also up, as shown by the country’s improved Moody ratings,” he said.

Commodore Rodriguez said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was re-energized in the first year of President Aquino as its Commander-in-Chief.

Rodriguez said the incentives and various programs given by Aquino in just a span of one year bolstered the morale of the military organization.

Among them, he said, is the housing program, doubling of both the combat and incentive pays of every soldiers assigned to conduct internal security operations in the field.

“The AFP stands invigorated by the first year of the President’s leadership as our Commander-in-Chief,” said Rodriguez.

$ 7.5 Billion Dollars for Oil and Gas Exploration in the Philippines - A1- A15 - DoE

The government is eyeing up to $7.5 billion in investments from the 15 new oil and gas exploration areas to be offered in the fourth Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR 4).

During the PECR 4 launch yesterday, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said they expect an investment of about $500 million for each of the service contracts (SC) to be auctioned off in the contracting round.

The PECR 4 comprises of three onshore and 12 offshore blocks with a total area of more than 10 million hectares located in Northwest Palawan, East Palawan, and Sulu Sea basins. This year’s contracting round will be the biggest yet offered by the Philippines.

Included in the areas offered under the PECR 4 are four cancelled SCs of one oil exploration firm in Sulu Sea.

Almendras said they expect to award the SCs by early next year after allowing the prospective investors about five months to conduct their respective due diligence studies.

Among those that attended the launching of PECR 4 are: Petro Energy Resources Corp.; PNOC-Exploration Corp.; Pitkin Petroleum; Philodrill Corp.; BGP Inc.; Polyard Petroleum Int’l. Co. Ltd.; Shell Philippines Exploration BV; Star Energy; Supply Oilfield Services Inc.; Tap Oil. Ltd; Venturoil Phil. Inc.; Palawan Sulu Sea Gas Inc.; Galoc Production Inc.; Gibeon Integration Systems Pte Ltd.; Great Treasures Alliances Int’l.; Logistics Marketing Phils. Inc.; Nido Petroleum Ltd.; Norasian Energy Ltd.; Oriental Petroleum & Minerals Corp.; Chevron Malampaya Phils. LLC; China Union Global Holdings Ltd.; Forum Energy PLC; Basic Energy and One Asia Oil & Gas Corp.

According to Almendras, the contracting round is expected to attract investments in oil and gas exploration activities which will contribute to the realization of the country’s energy self-sufficiency level target of 60 percent by 2011.

So far, only 10 percent of the potential oil and gas reserves of the country has been tapped.

The PECR 4 is envisioned to address the country’s energy supply through the exploration of local indigenous resources. Harnessing local resources will help the country meet its daily demand and reduce the importation of petroleum and petroleum products.

Independent and large-scale international exploration companies that have attended previous roadshows in Singapore and Australia have also expressed interest to bid in the various blocks for offer.

Energy Undersecretary Jay Layug said the Department of Petroleum and Energy of Papua New Guinea has also expressed support to PECR 4 and will encourage investors to consider the Philippines for exploration.

Almendras said they are overwhelmed by the response of potential investors in PECR 4.

Earlier, Layug said most of the investors are eyeing areas near Northwest Palawan,specifically Areas 3,4,5 where the presence of oil and gas have already been proven. The $4.5-billion Malampaya deep water gas-to-power project is located in NW Palawan.


the Philippines' president will visit China amid disputed claims over Spratly Islands

The Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III plans to visit China in coming weeks but the friendly gesture doesn’t mean the Philippines is backing down from its assertions Chinese forces intruded in its waters, an official said.

The Philippines alleges Chinese forces intruded at least nine times into Manila-claimed areas in the Spratly Islands since February, allegations that sparked an exchange of diplomatic protests and verbal jabs. Aquino has strongly criticized China, saying two weeks ago that his country would not be bullied by China in the disputed region.

The presidential trip will likely take place in late August or early September, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday.

The Spratlys, a chain of barren, largely uninhabited islands, reefs and banks in the South China Sea are claimed wholly by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and partly by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The islands are believed to be atop vast oil and gas deposits.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao has denied his government committed any intrusion but acknowledged that Chinese vessels were exercising Beijing’s sovereign rights in one incident at the Reed Bank near the Spratlys. Philippine officials complained the Chinese vessels harrassed a Philippine oil exploration ship into leaving the Reed Bank in March.

Just before he traveled last week to Washington, del Rosario said he was told that the Philippine military was verifying another foreign intrusion into a Manila-claimed Spratlys area.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave strong assurances that the U.S. is committed to the defense of the Philippines and would provide affordable weaponry amid mounting tensions in the Spratlys, del Rosario said.

Del Rosario said he separately gave U.S. defense officials a list of equipment the Philippines needs to improve its capability to monitor foreign intrusions in its territorial waters near the Spratlys.

Clinton assured del Rosario that the U.S. would honor its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines that calls on each country to help defend the other against an external attack by an aggressor in their territories or in the Pacific region, he said.

Del Rosario said he told U.S. officials that if the Philippines receives defense equipment, “we become a stronger ally for you.”

China says it has sovereign rights over the South China Sea. It has also criticized the U.S. for its involvement, saying disputes over sea claims should be handled by the parties directly involved.

Copyright 2011 the Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


USA & the Philippines will push for Spratlys issue in ASEAN forum agenda

The United States and the Philippines have urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) to tackle current tensions over the disputed Spratly islands when it meets later this month in Bali, Indonesia.

“As a significant security forum, the issue of South China Sea disputes will possibly be a primary topic in the ASEAN Regional Forum," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

American Ambassador Harry Thomas concurred that the ARF “is an excellent opportunity to tackle the conflict in the South China Sea / West Philippines Sea."

The ARF will convene in Bali from July 16 - 31 and bring together international security experts from ASEAN's 10 member-countries and the association’s dialogue partners. ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Among the dialogue partners are the USA, European Union, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Russia.

Six countries have territorial claims on the South China Sea. They are the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Approaches, solutions

Del Rosario said the issue can be approached from a maritime security perspective while Thomas urged the application of diplomatic solutions. “We don’t want to demonize China, we should not demonize China," Thomas said.

The Philippines sent to the Chinese embassy in Manila a diplomatic protest on recent incursions into the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario was in Washington D.C. last week, where he met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last June 23.

"As I have said many times before, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded, lawful commerce in the South China Sea. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members but with other maritime nations in the broader international community," Clinton said in her joint press conference with Del Rosario.

"The United States does not take sides on territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, but we oppose the use of force or the threat of force to advance the claims of any party," Clinton added.

Del Rosario responded by reaffirm the Philippines position on maintaining peace and enabling economic development of the contested waters and islands. " There is need to segregate the non-disputed areas from the disputed areas. What is ours is ours, and what is disputed can be shared," Del Rosario pointed out.

The Philippines and the US this year are marking the 60th anniversary of their Mutual Defense Treaty.

Clinton said the US in engaged in "discussions with the Government of the Philippines about what their needs are because it is up to them to decide how to deploy forces and what their highest priorities are... we certainly wish to do what we can to support the Philippines in their desires for external support for maritime defense."

Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines has committed resources "to protect our national borders and ensure freedom of navigation and the unimpeded flow of commerce. We thus welcome the assurance from Secretary Clinton of the US commitment to honor their treaty obligations."


Philippines' Beauty Queen Wins on Defense of Spratlys

Sarah Osorio, an 18-year-old resident of a South China Sea coral outcrop, was crowned beauty queen of the Philippines’ Palawan province after she backed her country’s claims in the disputed waters.

The win shows the popular appeal of the contest for control of the Spratlys that has sparked rising tensions between China, the Philippines and Vietnam, all vying for untapped oil reserves made more lucrative by the 24 percent jump in crude prices in the past year. The growing nationalism over the South China Sea islands has seen anti-China protests in Vietnam and Chinese gunboats firing at Philippine trawlers.

Osorio said at last week’s pageant she wanted to defend her home islands against aggression by neighboring countries. Her speech touched “the main issue right now,” setting her apart from her rivals, said Rem Divino, one of the judges.

Her victory also illustrates how governments use civilians to stake their claims to the dozens of islands, reefs and banks that make up the Spratlys -- and with them rights to surrounding seabed and any oil that’s trapped beneath it. Communities on islands are a way of asserting jurisdiction, analyst Earl Parreno said.

“There are many ways of letting everybody know your stake without flexing military muscle,” said Parreno, a fellow at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila. “They put up structures, they haul people to the islands. Some of these islands are basically uninhabitable. These are artificial communities.”

China’s Claims

China’s overlapped their claims to the South China Sea or also called as West Philippines’ Sea (WPS) to the Philippines Waters extend more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles or 864 Nautical Miles) south from Hainan island. Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims. Spratlys is just within 200 Nautical Mile or less (130 to 200 Nautical Miles) to the shore of the Philippines. UNCLOS International Laws of Sea guaranteed the Philippines not more than 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone; More than 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia is the called the Disputed Areas which all of those countries will contest in international court who could be the legal owner of each islands.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week reaffirmed U.S. commitment to defend its Philippine treaty ally, while China June 28 said disputes in the area were a matter for the countries involved.

“I’ve heard stories from my relatives of fishermen being harassed by the Chinese,” Osorio said in a telephone interview. “They don’t have the right to do that. We own Kalayaan,” as the Spratlys are known locally.

The Philippine Navy said this month it removed territorial markers placed by China on reefs near Palawan in May. Beijing- based China Mobile Ltd. (941), the nation’s biggest phone company, last month said it had extended cellular services to cover the Spratlys, which are known as Nansha and are deemed part of Hainan province.

Taiwan-occupied Dongsha islands, known internationally as the Pratas group, share the same zip code as the city of Kaohsiung, more than 400 kilometers east.

Vietnam Structures in the Spratlys

Vietnam has installed wind turbines and built roads and reservoirs on islands it occupies in the Spratlys, and this month announced plans to develop a marine tourism industry there. Soil is shipped in to grow food, according to state-run Vietnam News Agency.

Vietnam’s claim to the Spratlys dates back centuries, according to a government document. Still, the first recorded Vietnamese child to be born there was in 2009, Vietnamplus said.

China’s rising naval power has rattled its Asian neighbors, giving an opening for the U.S. to tighten military ties with allies such as South Korea, Japan and the Philippines, and forge new relations with former foe Vietnam. The U.S. began drills with the Philippines this week off Palawan and will carry out exercises with Vietnam next month.


Efforts by China, Vietnam and the Philippines to inhabit the islands are an attempt to prove they have occupied and demonstrated control over them to improve their legal claim, said Mark J. Valencia, a maritime lawyer and senior research fellow with the National Bureau of Asian Research, said by phone from Honolulu.

Even though most of the Sptralys islands are within the 200 Nautical Miles Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines; and legally within the Philippine territory based on UNCLOS and the historic fishing water since the ancients of Filipino locals, Still the Philippines tried to show more valid claim by actually human daily activities and presence of the islands.

Part of the problem is “you have to also show that at the time, or for a good period of the time, there was no protest by the other parties,” Valencia said. “That’s certainly not the case here over the last two to three decades.”

Sorting out the territorial claims “would become the most complex jigsaw puzzle on earth,” he said.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have troops stationed on the Spratlys. The islands and reefs cover 5 square kilometers of land, 1 1/2 times the size of New York’s Central Park, spread over an area roughly the size of Iraq.

Chinese studies suggest the waters sit atop more than 14 times estimates of its oil reserves and 10 times those for gas.

While the Philippine-occupied islands have around 200 registered voters, only about two dozen stay in Osorio’s home island of Pag-Asa at any one time, Palawan Governor Abraham Kahlil Mitra said by phone. Keeping people there is “of big significance that Kalayaan is part of the country,” he said.

Philippine Air Strip in Pag-asa island

Osorio said she stays mostly in the Palawan capital Puerto Princesa, 500 kilometers from Pag-Asa, the biggest of the occupied islands, which has an airstrip that juts out from either side. The youngest child of a municipal councilor father and accountant mother, Osorio said she stays in Pag-Asa during the summer holiday.

Protests erupted in Hanoi this month after Chinese ships cut survey cables of a Vietnam Oil & Gas Group vessel. Chinese ships in March chased away a boat working for U.K.-based Forum Energy Plc (FEP) that was surveying the area. A Chinese frigate fired warning shots at Philippine trawlers on Feb. 25.

“We don’t have the capability to fight with them,” Osorio said. “The solution to the problem is diplomacy.”


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Philippines takes the lead for the Renewable Energy in Asia

Contrary to what many think, it is the developing countries, especially those in Asia, not the developed countries, who are taking the lead in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

A recent working paper by the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental think-tank, called ‘Grounding Green Power” found that developing countries are at the forefront of renewable energy policies.

Already, the majority of installed renewable electricity capacity is located in developing countries. If all of the recently announced policies are implemented by 2035, developing countries will gain more than 1476 Gigawatts of renewable energy capacity; more than the projected 1,389 Gigawatts of fossil fuel-based electricity or 178 Gigawatts of nuclear power during the same time frame, according to projections by the International Energy Agency. This compares to just 851 Gigawatts of combined additional capacity from renewable, nuclear and fossil sources developed countries are expected to build, according to Pete Maniego, chairman of the National Renewable Energy Board of the Philippines, and Lutz Weischer, research analyst at the WRI and lead author of “Grounding Green Power.”

In a paper, they noted that the global energy system is undergoing a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and that there are clear signs that the pace of change is accelerating.

According to data from the United Nations, 2009 was the second year in a row that more money was invested worldwide in renewable electricity generation projects than in fossil fuel-powered plants.

Developing countries, especially in Asia, are taking a lead role in this transition. The Philippines is one of the countries on track to be a leader in Asia’s shift to clean energy, if it continues to pursue ambitious goals and makes the right policy choices, the paper emphasized.

It said that in the case of the Philippines, the pursuit of renewable energy is essential for energy security. The Philippines has very little fossil fuel resources, but is blessed with abundant renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, biomass, ocean, small hydro and geothermal.

The Philippines had surpassed Japan as having the highest electricity rate in Asia, according to International Energy Consultants, an Australian consulting firm. The cost of transmitting power and transporting fuel to the more than 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago and to isolated missionary areas is very high. Pursuing renewable energy development is essential for the Philippines to attain energy security and economic sustainability, while helping to mitigate climate change and its devastating impacts on vulnerable places like the Philippines.

Maniego and Weischer said that the Philippines could be considered one of the world leaders in renewable energy, with more than 30 percent of its power generation coming from renewable resources. The Philippines is the world’s second largest producer of geothermal power and was the first country in Southeast Asia to deploy large-scale wind and solar technologies.

The Renewable Energy Act passed in 2008 calls for new support mechanisms, including a feed-in-tariff and a renewable portfolio standard, which are expected to be implemented in the next months. Additionally, the Philippine’s Department of Energy launched the updated National Renewable Energy Plan this month, which aims to triple renewable energy supply by 2030.

To ensure success, Philippine decision makers have invested time and energy in figuring out the best way to implement the Renewable Energy Act, including establishment of the National Renewable Energy Board. In collaboration with other agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Board works to ensure that the National Renewable Energy Plan and the mechanisms foreseen in the Renewable Energy Act are implemented.

The Philippine example is consistent with WRI analysis, which shows that in order for countries to reach their renewable energy targets, they need to set clear and consistent policies, rather than simply pursuing a project-by-project approach. Increasingly, the challenge is not just to establish targets and policies, but to get the details right.

For example, feed-in-tariffs guarantee a fixed payment to renewable energy generators for every kilowatt hour that is fed into the grid; however, it is not easy for regulators to determine the appropriate rate at which to set the tariff. In Asia, 24 countries have feed-in-tariffs, so there is opportunity for countries to learn from each other in order to set the right policies.

The successful transition to renewable energy requires international support, including from institutions like the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In recent years, developing countries are taking a much more active role in determining the direction of their energy policies, moving toward renewable energy for their own good and defining their own strategies.

Donors, therefore, need to be responsive to a country’s demands and focus support on helping countries design and sustain the right policy environment. In the Philippines, the ADB should help by investing in energy projects that support the ambitious targets the Philippines has set for itself. This includes more investment in the replication and scale up of projects that use the wind, geothermal and biomass resources that have already been identified, instead of investing in fossil fuel and large hydropower projects, they added.

Institutions like the ADB have an important role to play in enabling data and knowledge exchange between policy makers and regulators from different countries. As a next step in the Philippines, the ADB’s support should focus on building the institutional capacity and training the engineers needed for a successful roll-out the feed-in-tariff. For instance, technical assistance for the National Renewable Energy Board would accelerate the implementation of the measures foreseen in the RE Act of 2008 and the planning of next steps, Maniego and Weischer said.

The Philippines already has ambitious renewable energy goals. With the right mix of clear policies and international support, it will achieve its targets and at even faster pace, they added.

For comments, e-mail at - HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes



At least 16 Foreign Firm Will Invest for Liquefied Natural Gas LNG in the Philippines

At least 12 foreign and four local firms have expressed interest in developing infrastructure for the storage and transportation of liquefied natural gas, official said.

Energy Undersecretary Jose Layug said the companies planning to build an LNG infrastructure terminal, pipeline, or gas-fired power plants include the following:

·        First Pacific Capital (Australia)

·        ENN Energy Holdings (China)

·        Synergy International (Hong Kong)

·        Korean Western Power (Korea)

·        BW Ventures (Nationality unspecified)

·        Hyundai Merchant Marine (Korea);

·        Energy World (Australia)


·        GN Power (PHILIPPINES)

·        First Gen Corp. (PHILIPPINES)

·        Abacus Consolidated Resources/ENI-Saipem (Italy)

Layug said three Indian companies have also expressed interest in building an LNG facility in the Philippines.

Government is now completing its master plan for natural gas through technical assistance by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the World Bank, It should be finished this year, the undersecretary noted.

“After we complete [the] plan and results are favorable, then we conduct public bidding [for] such infrastructures next year," Layug added.

Earlier, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the agency wants the program to kick off — soon — considering the number of major LNG developers interested in investing in the Philippines’ LNG industry.

Last week, the Asian Development Bank told Asian nations to “to take radical steps" to increase efficiency and invest in renewable energy amid a “looming" crisis.

The Philippines said Wednesday it would grant more permits to private firms to search for oil and natural gas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), where it has a simmering territorial dispute with China.

A total of 15 exploration contracts would be offered Thursday for mostly offshore prospects off the western island of Palawan, the Department of Energy (DoE) said in a statement.

The DoE did not give details beyond saying the blocks would include East Palawan—an undersea section of the West Philippine Sea—as well as Northwest Palawan and the Sulu Sea basins.

“The contracting round is expected to attract investments in oil and gas exploration activities which will contribute to the realization of the country’s energy self-sufficiency level target of 60 percent,” it said.

“Independent and large-scale international exploration companies… have already expressed their interest to tender their bid in the various blocks,” it added.

The scheduled tenders come amid increasingly assertive insistence by China on its territorial claims over most of the West Philippine Sea.

President Benigno Aquino this month called for US help in containing China’s ambitions in the area, saying his country was too weak to stand up to Beijing alone.

The plea was issued after his government accused China of inciting at least seven recent incidents in the disputed waters, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.

The Philippines has also alleged that a Chinese patrol ship shadowed a Philippine oil exploration vessel in the area.

China and the Philippines have overlapping claims over the Spratly archipelago, a reputedly resources-rich South China Sea chain, as well as over nearby shoals, reefs and banks and their adjacent waters.

The Spratlys are also claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Philippine Peso ₱ Rises From One-Week Low as Greece Concern Eases

The Philippine peso rebounded from a one-week low as European nations moved closer to an agreement that will help Greece avoid a default, boosting demand for emerging-market assets.

Most Asian currencies and stocks advanced as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou seeks approval from lawmakers for budget cuts and state asset sales in order to get further financial assistance. The Philippine government reported today that imports climbed 20.3 percent in April from a year earlier, slowing from a 21.8 percent increase in March.

"The developments in Europe would be the main driver of Asian currencies and also the movement in fund flows," said Lito Biacora, vice president for treasury at Bank of the Philippine Islands in Manila. "We might be seeing a tight range for the peso with a bias toward appreciation."

The peso advanced as much as 0.2 percent before closing little changed at 43.575 per dollar at 4 p.m. in Manila, compared with 43.593 yesterday, according to prices from inter- dealer broker Tullett Prebon Plc. The currency reached 43.615 yesterday, the weakest level since June 20.

The government delayed releasing the budget balance for May from today until July 1. The surplus was 26.3 billion pesos ($603 million) in April as revenue rose and spending fell. State expenditure was within target in May, Budget Undersecretary Laura Pascua said in a mobile-phone message yesterday.

The yield on the 9.125 percent bond due September 2016 fell one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 5.13 percent, according to Tradition Financial Services.

Cebu Pacific Air lowers fares anew to top local tourist destinations

The Philippines’ largest national flag carrier, Cebu Pacific offers a seat sale to top tourist destinations in the Philippines from June 28 to 29, 2011 or until seats last, for travel from August 1 to September 30, 2011.

Passengers can buy P488 seats from Manila to Naga. Naga is the nearest gateway to Caramoan Islands, and the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex.

Meanwhile, P688 seats are also available from Manila and Cebu to Caticlan (Boracay) and Puerto Princesa. CEB flies to Caticlan up to 12 times daily from Manila and twice daily from Cebu. It also flies four times daily to Puerto Princesa from Manila and Cebu.

P688 seats are also available from Manila to Kalibo, Dumaguete, Busuanga (Coron), Laoag, Tagbilaran (Bohol), and from Cebu to Siargao.

“CEB offers the most number of flights to the Philippines’ most popular tourist destinations, making it more accessible to local and foreign visitors. It will continue to provide more domestic flight options in support of the country’s tourism agenda, especially this October, with the arrival of our new aircraft,” said CEB VP for Marketing and Distribution Candice Iyog.

The airline earlier announced it will increase its flights from Manila to Dumaguete (2x to 3x daily), Manila to Boracay (86x to 91x weekly), Cebu to Dumaugete (3x to 7x weekly) starting October 7, 2011.

Effective October 14, 2011, it will also increase its flights from Manila to Busuanga or Coron (2x to 3x daily), Manila to Boracay (13x to 14x daily), and Manila to Naga (3x to 4x daily).

“We have always been committed to promoting our destinations and supporting nationwide events. For example, CEB will add flights to Naga and make it a 5x daily service on November 16 and 20, 2011 in time for the Philippine Ad Congress 2011,” said Iyog.

Guests who don’t have credit cards may also book online and conveniently pay through CEB partner banks and payment centers. Upon booking online, travelers can also select seats in advance and avail of CEB’s web check-in service for a faster check-in process.

CEB currently operates 10 Airbus A319, 15 Airbus A320 and 8 ATR-72 500 aircraft. By the end of 2011, CEB will be operating a fleet of 37 aircraft – with an average age of less than 3.5 years – one of the most modern aircraft fleets in the world. Between 2012 and 2021, Cebu Pacific will take an additional 23 Airbus A320 and 30 Airbus A321neo aircraft


Asian Football teams start on road to the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014

Asian football teams are on the qualifying rounds for the World Cup Brazil 2014.

June 29, 2011; The Philippines and Sri Lanka fights for the qualifying round which Sri-Lanka and the Philippines’ Azkals scored 1-1 a s of 3:00PM Colombo time.

Less than a year after Spain lifted the World Cup trophy in Soweto, teams from football's largest and most diverse confederation are embarking on qualifying for the 2014 edition in Brazil.

The sixteen lowest-ranked Asian nations are aiming to make it past the first round, with first-leg matches played Wednesday and the return matches on Sunday. Winners will progress to the second stage in late July.

The likes of South Korea, Japan and Australia, which all qualified for the 2010 World Cup, will not enter qualifying for Brazil until the third round begins in September.

This week features Afghanistan against a Palestinian team, Philippines against Sri Lanka and a Southeast Asian derby between Cambodia and Laos.

In other matches, AFF Cup winner Malaysia should be too powerful for Taiwan, Vietnam is expected to beat Macau, Pakistan takes on Bangladesh, East Timor travels to Nepal and Myanmar meets Mongolia.

It is unlikely that any of the teams from the first round will reach the final stages of qualification. For the likes of East Timor, Macau and Taiwan, dreams of Brazil are likely to end three years before the tournament even kicks off. There are other teams, however, which are desperate to keep their chances alive throughout this summer and beyond.

Palestine, the only one of FIFA's 208 members which is not a U.N. recognized state, will meet Afghanistan on neutral ground on Wednesday and then host the return leg four days later at Al Ram on the West Bank.

"When teams come to play on our land, it's a way of recognizing the Palestinian state. That benefits the Palestinian cause, not just Palestinian sports," player Murad Ismael told The Associated Press.

In the past, the Palestinians have struggled to play international games. Palestinian athletes need Israeli permits for most travel, either to cross Israel from Gaza or to enter or lave the West Bank — a hurdle that has often kept players from key matches.

This caused a World Cup qualifier against Singapore in 2007 to be forfeited as the Palestinians couldn't field a full team. The situation has improved and a strong squad is expected to play Afghanistan, with confidence growing after a narrow loss to Bahrain in an Olympic qualifying series earlier this month.

Neither team is expected to get far, though. The Palestinians are ranked No. 171 in the world by FIFA, just six spots behind Afghanistan. The winner will meet Thailand in the second round.

And with Afghanistan unable to play at home due to the ongoing turmoil since the U.S.-led invasion, the first leg will take place in the western Tajikistan city of Tursunzade.

In a south Asian derby, Pakistan captain Zesh Rehman expects his squad to have too much experience for Bangladesh.

Rehman, who played for English Premier League club Fulham before moving to Thailand champion Muang Thong United, is perhaps the best-known player to be in action this week.

"Every game is important but this one has an added incentive as were neighboring countries and it's the first round of the World Cup qualifiers," Rehman told AP. "It's important we take something away from the first leg but as captain I'm confident we can get a win and progress.

"At the moment we have pretty much a full squad to choose from. The good thing is we now have players playing in different countries across the world such as England, America and Denmark which can only be of benefit to the national team."

The winner will face Lebanon in the next round. Former Asian champion Kuwait awaits the winner of the clash between Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Philippines is not a traditional football country but after reaching the semifinals at the AFF Cup, southeast Asia's regional competition, there is an expectation that Sri Lanka will not cause them too many problems.

A number of overseas-based players, who are eligible to play for the team due to having one Filipino parent, have been added to the squad in recent season. Former Chelsea players James and Phil Younghusband have made an impact, Paul Mulders of Dutch club ADO Den Hag is set to make his debut and former German youth international Stefan Schrock is another new addition to the team. The improving results are having a positive flow-on effect in recruitment.

"I am confident that Philippines will beat Sri Lanka, though Kuwait is a different question," said Simon McMenemy, who recently left as Philippines coach. "The team is improving. Players who were qualified to play for the Philippines and playing in better leagues suddenly wanted to play for the country. In the past, they were not so interested in traveling long distances to lose 5-0 or 6-0."

A big game against China is the prize for the winner of the Laos-Cambodia series.

Cambodia's South Korean coach Lee Tae-hoon is two months into a one-year contract and is expecting a tight contest.

"Soccer in Cambodia needs to develop more and this is a good opportunity for us," Lee told AP. "We need to keep working hard with a common purpose.

"Laos are in a similar situation to us and this is a game that both teams will think they can win ... this is an important game, but more important than the result is how we play. If we can show that we are moving forward and moving in the right direction, then that is progress."

Malaysia won the AFF Cup, for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in December and should defeat Taiwan comfortably to secure a match against regional rivals Singapore in the next round.

"It will be easy for us in the first round as we play Taiwan and we can beat them easily," former coach B. Satiananthan said. "In the second round against Singapore, I see no problems. Singapore is in transition and depended too much on foreigners who are getting older. We will qualify for the final rounds but honestly we have to be at our best to get a positive result against the giants in Asia."


Development Bank of the Philippines sets up credit facility for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW)

The state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines has set up a financing facility called the “OFW Reintegration Program” to provide loans and other financial products to overseas-based Filipinos.

The facility is aimed at pursuing the national government’s plan of providing income and investment opportunities to overseas-based Filipinos, with a medium- to long-term goal of encouraging them to eventually go back to the Philippines and stay with their families for good.

The facility offers credit to OFWs and their families to fund their business plans. The facility also offers financial products that will help the target market grow their assets.

“The DBP hopes that through the OFW Reintegration Program, we shall be able to help nurture in our overseas Filipino workers and their families a culture of savings, investment and entrepreneurship, along with the values of honesty, discipline and hard work necessary for poverty reduction and economic empowerment of our communities,” DBP president Francisco del Rosario Jr. said in a statement.

Those who can avail themselves of the DBP’s program are OFWs registered with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)—with ongoing or finished employment contracts.

DBP said these workers could apply for a loan equivalent to 80 percent of the cost of a business venture and must range from P300,000 to P2 million.

Loans from the facility carry an annual interest rate of 7.5 percent, reviewable every year and payable over seven years.

“Loans may be used for construction, renovation, expansion or repair of building for use as business site; working capital for business venture; acquisition of equipment; and other business-related purposes,” DBP said.

DBP said the facility would give priority to investments involving the following industries: franchising, tourism and related industries, health care and allied industries, and agribusiness and related businesses.

Imelda Nicolas, secretary of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), earlier said the government, through the office she heads, has started drafting a road map that would create an environment that provides sufficient investment and income opportunities to OFWs and their families with the end goal of encouraging OFWs to go back home.

She said providing more income-generating opportunities within the country was necessary to allow migrants to go back home without worrying about the financial security of their families.




Monday, June 27, 2011

Philippines' Azkals National Football Team Could handle Brave Reds

THE Philippine Azkals national football team may have lost their last two tune-up games against two professional teams in Germany, but coach Hans Michael Weiss remained upbeat about their chances of beating the Sri Lanka Brave Reds on Wednesday.

“Our team is ready despite two losses against strong German professional teams. The team is tired, but we will have them in good shape for Wednesday,” Weiss wrote in his Twitter account a day after the Azkals arrived at the capital city of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

The Azkals’ popularity, though, appeared to have no boundaries as they were mobbed by fans while they were training in Duren, Germany and upon their arrival in Sri Lanka.

The first of two games in the World Cup qualifying matches between the Philippines and Sri Lanka starts this Wednesday at the Brave Reds’ own homeground—the Sugathadasa Stadium.

The Azkals and the Red Braves then complete their series on Sunday, 3 p.m., at the football pitch of the Rizal Memorial Track and Field Stadium in Manila.

In their last two tuneup matches, the Azkals bowed to second division squad FC Ingolstdat, 0-4, on Friday, and was also blanked by third division team SV Darmstadt, 0-5, last Saturday.

Overall, the Azkals won two of four test games. They beat by the same margin of 4-1 the Aachen-Duren selection and the SC Bonner under-19 squad.

Weiss said the team will review game tapes of the Brave Reds in their group stage game against Myanmar in the recent 2011 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.

The Brave Reds have actually undergone some changes when Sri Lanka announced the new lineup last week, but Weiss said the Azkals will be ready for anything that their foes will bring into their match.

Wess said the tune-up games improved the cohesion of the squad, as he observed that players stayed focused and fought hard together during their two-week stay in Germany.

In their last two matches, the Azkals played without key defensive players Ray Jonsson, Stephan Schrock and Jerry Lucena, along with ailing team skipper Aly Borromeo.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s coach Jang Jung expects the Brave Reds to play even better after he made some changes in the line-up


San Miguel Corporation - Engineering & Construction bid for 3 airport projects in the Philippines

Philippines—Diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. is investing about $300 million to modernize and set up new tourism amenities at the Boracay Airport; the main gateway to the world-famous Boracay Island.

The conglomerate also plans to participate in the public bidding for the public-private partnership airport contracts for Palawan, Bohol and Caraga (Agusan).

The three airport projects were cited by President Aquino on Saturday during the inauguration of the SMC-backed Caticlan airport rehabilitation.

“When we join the bidding, the price becomes reasonable, so we’ll participate in all of them,” SMC president Ramon S. Ang told reporters at the sidelines of the inauguration of the airport project. It was earlier reported that SMC was likewise interested in the NAIA 3 airport terminal privatization.

By the time the Caticlan modernization project is completed by December 2013, it will accommodate three million tourists a year from only 500,000 at present. “We invested here because we saw the potential that we can contribute to [boost] tourist arrivals,” Ang said.

Over the last seven months, SMC has spruced up the Caticlan airport but it would take at least two more years to complete the major upgrading, Ang said.

The $300-million investment will include not only the upgrading of the airport itself but the construction of new amenities like a 5,000-room budget hotel, a world-class convention center and a retail complex that will showcase local souvenirs and a row of seafood restaurants. The tourism amenities, Ang said, would be managed by local operators.

“The airport will make Boracay a more affordable holiday destination for many Filipinos,” Ang said. With the upcoming improvements, he said there would be more regional and domestic flights to Boracay, in turn pulling down airfare costs per passenger from as much as P16,000 during the peak season to as low as P1,500 to P2,000.

The Caticlan airport is envisioned to be at par with the best airports in the region, with its runway planned to be extended from 950 meters to 2,500 meters. The width of the runway will also be doubled to 60 meters, allowing Boracay to handle regional and night landing. Flight volumes are targeted to increase by at least 30 percent.

Airport systems will likewise be streamlined for bigger volume of passengers while departure lounges will be improved. Based on the blueprint, it will also have a jetty port that can handle two international cruise liners at a time, allowing a more efficient transfer to Boracay Island.

To support Boracay’s green initiatives, Ang said the conglomerate would invest in a major water-treatment plant.

Asked whether SMC would start collecting higher terminal fees to recover its investment, Ang said there was no plan to do so as investment could be recovered from other businesses like hotel and retail operations. “We’ll keep the terminal fee affordable,” he said.

He said many international carriers were very much eager to fly to Caticlan once the rehabilitation has been finished.

Millions North Korea soldiers out of post for Hunger and malnourished-report

North Korea is struggling to feed its army, according to new footage obtained from within the secretive state which shows a soldier complaining that his unit is weak from a lack of nutrition.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said the video was taken by an undercover North Korean journalist over several months earlier this year and smuggled out of the communist country to China.

It shows filthy, orphaned children begging for food in the streets and a party official ordering a vendor at a private market to give her a donation of rice for the army — once quarantined from food shortages.

“My business is not good,” complained the stallholder.

“Shut up,” replied the official. “Don’t offer excuses.”

One young North Korean soldier is filmed saying to the reporter’s hidden camera that “everybody is weak”.

“Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished,” he said.

Earlier this month, Seoul-based humanitarian group Good Friends reported that enlisted soldiers had been abandoning their posts due to a lack of food since April, with some troops forced to skip meals.

North Korea’s 1.1-million-strong military, under the regime’s “Songun” or “army first” policy, is usually given greater access to food than ordinary citizens.

The ABC said the exclusive video also showed labourers building a private railway track near the capital Pyongyang for ailing ruler Kim Jong-Il’s son and apparent heir Kim Jong-Un.

“This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-Il to comrade Kim Jong-Un,” the undercover journalist is told when he asks the building site supervisor what they are doing.

Asked why he risked his life to shoot the video, the journalist said he was fed up with how people were suffering.

“The life of North Koreans has hit rock bottom,” he said. “I feel very angry about the succession of Kim Jong-Un.”

Japanese publisher Jiro Ishimaru, who instructed the undercover reporter on how to use the camera, told the ABC the footage was important because it showed Kim Jong-Il’s regime weakening.

“It used to put the military first, but now it can’t even supply food to its soldiers,” Ishimaru, who edits a magazine featuring insider accounts of life in North Korea, said.

“Rice is being sold in markets but they are starving. This is the most significant thing in this video,” he said.

Ishimaru works for Asia Press, a Tokyo-based network of independent journalists, which has a team of 10 North Korean volunteers who cover news deep inside the country.

Impoverished North Korea has requested overseas food and relief groups have said that the state faces imminent shortages, saying people are again eating grass and tree bark.

The United Nations has pleaded with international donors to overlook political difficulties in the face of a humanitarian crisis, saying six million people are in danger of not getting enough to eat.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans died in a famine in the 1990s, with North Korea depending on foreign aid to help feed its 23 million people since then.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bank assets of the Philippines up 9.4% to ₱ 7.12 trillion as of Q1 2011

The Bank Assets of the Philippines up and remained stable and resilient as its total resources grew 9.4% in the first quarter of the year, data released by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) over the weekend showed.

Statistics showed that the total assets of the banking industry reached 7.12 trillion from January to March this year or 614 billion higher than the P6.506 trillion worth of resources booked in the same period last year.

Universal and commercial banks accounted for 89.2% of the industry's total assets while thrift banks cornered 8.3% and rural and cooperative banks shared the remaining 2.6%.

The central bank reported that resources of universal and commercial banks posted a double-digit growth of 10% to 6.35 trillion in the first quarter of the year from 5.77 trillion in the same quarter last year.

On the other hand, assets of thrift banks expanded 6.8% to 592.5 billion in the first three months of the year from 554.73 billion in the same period last year.

The BSP said the banking industry's assets continued to expand as more Filipinos turn to savings as a sign of the public's trust in the banking sector.

The industry's assets posted a double-digit growth of 11% to 7.23 trillion last year from 6.51 trillion in 2009 with Filipinos saving more while major players continued to mobilize deposits to fund new loans.

Data showed that resources of universal and commercial banks expanded by 11% to 6.42 trillion last year from 5.78 trillion in 2009 and accounted for about 89% of the industry's total assets.

On the other hand, assets of thrift banks grew by 13.1% to 629 billion last year from 556.1 billion and cornered a share of 8.7% of the total assets of banks.

Peso-denominated deposits increased by 11.2% to 4.02 trillion last year from 3.6 trillion in 2009 while foreign currency deposits climbed 4.2% to P1.1 trillion from 1.05 trillion. In all, bank deposits grew by 9.6% to 5.12 trillion last year from 4.67 trillion in 2009.

The BSP said the number of banks retreated by 27 to 758 last year from 785 in 2009 due to mergers as well as the closure of some banks. The number of universal and commercial banks was steady at 38 followed by thrift banks with 73 while the number of rural banks fell to 647 from 674.

The data showed that the operating network including branches of the banking system inched up by 2.9% to 8,869 last year from 8,620 in 2009 reflecting mainly the increase in commercial and rural banks' branches or agencies.

Monetary authorities led by BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. believed that 2010 was a banner year for Philippine banks contributing largely to the country's stronger-than-expected economic growth amid the fragile recovery in advanced economies led by the US as well as the debt crisis in Europe.

Tetangco earlier said that the country's sound, stable, and liquid banking system was one of the reasons behind the sustained economic growth after the industry posted healthy growth rates in lending, deposits, and profitability in 2010.



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