Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Culture: Million of Filipinos reuniting and partying with the dead in tombs and graves

Millions across Philippines visit their dead

 

Millions across the Philippines visited cemeteries Thursday to pay respects to their dead, in an annual tradition that combines Catholic religious rites with the country's penchant for festivity.

 

At Manila's Loyola Memorial Park, one of the city's biggest private cemeteries, families had camped overnight, pitched up tents and brought in food for a day-long All Saint's Day picnic by the graves and tombs of their dead.

 

In crowded public cemeteries elsewhere across the city of 15 million, police confiscated alcoholic beverages and banned gambling to maintain peace and order.

 

Hundreds of medics and volunteers also set up field clinics to provide medical assistance. Radio reports said many had fainted due to the extreme heat in densely packed cemeteries.

 

"This occasion serves as our family reunion," said Fely de Leon, a retired 80-year-old businesswoman as she laid out an assortment of food on small tables around the plots of her late father and brother.

 

"We will be here for the rest of the day, and we expect more or less 30 family members to arrive."

 

Nearby, loud music blared from a portable karaoke machine -- singing is a national past time -- as a family ignored appeals from the Catholic church to keep the occasion solemn.

 

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) meanwhile warned the public against fake priests roaming the cemeteries and reciting prayers for unsuspecting families in exchange for monetary donations.

 

And for millions of Catholic Filipinos overseas who could not come home to visit their dead, the CBCP said it had put up a special portal (www.undasonline.com ) where they could log on and request special prayers and masses.

 

The site also offers podcasts on the significance and liturgical meanings of All Saint's Day, it said.

 

MSN

Philippines offers ₱10.3 Million Aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy in the United States

This photo provided by 6abc Action News shows the Inlet section of Atlantic City, New Jersey, as Hurricane Sandy makes it approach, Monday. AP/6abc Action News 


The Philippine government has offered 10.3 Million ($250,000 USD) to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy which wreaked havoc in the US east coast.

 

"Thank you government of the Philippines which will donate 10.3 Million ($250,000 USD) to the American Red Cross to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. True partners and friends!," US Ambassador Harry Thomas said in his official Twitter account late Wednesday.

 

Sandy, the worst storm to hit the US region, has claimed more than 60 lives and left billions of dollars in damages.

 

The Philippine embassy in Washington in a statement urged Filipino victims of the super storm to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions as the dangers posed by the disaster were not over.

 

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia noted that although Sandy weakened since making landfall Monday evening, the "on-going disaster" continued to bring rains and strong winds that could pose serious threats to populated areas while making its way towards Canada in the next two days.

 

"We would like to remind our kababayans, particularly those in New Jersey and New York, to remain in their homes until such time that authorities say that it is safe for them to venture out," Cuisia said, warning that affected populations face risks from flood waters and downed trees and power lines.

 

He added that members of the Filipino Community in the affected areas should wait until basic services such as power and transport had been restored before leaving the safety of their homes.

 

The embassy and the Philippine Consulate General in New York also said they did not receive any reports of Filipino casualties in the region, but that an undetermined number of Filipinos were evacuated in Atlantic City, Jersey City, New Milford and other areas in New Jersey as well as in City Island and Staten Island in New York due to flood waters.

 

Consul General Mario de Leon, meanwhile, noted that reports from the leaders of the Filipino community also indicated that a large number of Filipinos were among the 8.5 million people in 13 states that suffered from power outages.

 

He said there were also reports several Filipinos sustained some damage to their homes in Nassau and Queens Counties in New York as well as in Hamden and Stamford in Connecticut as a result of violent winds and storm surges.

 

In Connecticut and Long Island, some Filipinos were also reported to be running low on potable water while many others in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, had no internet, telephone or cellular phone connectivity, said De Leon.

 

The embassy and the Consulate General in New York said they continued to monitor the situation on a 24-hour-basis and had placed teams on standby to assist Filipinos.  The two posts also remained in touch with leaders of the Filipino community in the affected areas.

 

The Philippine Consulate General in Chicago headed by Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim has also urged the Filipinos in Ohio and Michigan to make the necessary preparations as the storm continues to move towards the Great Lakes region and Canada.

 

Inquirer 

Holcim Philippines planning US$450 Million Cement manufacturing plant on strong Demand & 20% sale increase

Holcim Philippines Incorporated (PSE: HLCM) is a publicly-listed company that engages in the business of manufacturing, selling, distributing cement and clinker. Holcim Philippines is part of the Holcim Group. It is one of the largest cement manufacturers in the Philippines and one of the world's leading suppliers of cement. It is the first in the Philippine cement industry to receive ISO 9002 certification (Quality Management System Standards) from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Additionally, all of the Holcim Philippines' four plants are ISO 14001 certified (Environment Management System Standards) and OH&S 18001 (Occupational Health & Safety Management) certified.


Holcim Philippines to boost cement capacity

 

Holcim Philippines has announced that it is planning to invest US$350m-450m in a new 2Mta cement plant to meet long term domestic market needs.

 

Speaking at a press briefing, Holcim Philippines COO Roland van Wijnen said that the company has been in the process of increasing its capacity in line with recent strong gains in local consumption. It has begun reactivating its idle facilities beginning with its terminal in Calaca, Batangas last year and its grinding plant in Mabini will be operational by 3Q13.

 

"What follows would be to build a new cement plant, and we hope to be able to take the first important step next year," he explained adding that "we are now in the midst of preparing a proposal for a new cement plant to be submitted for Board approval in the first half of 2013," said van Wijnen.

 

Holcim incoming president Eduardo Sahagun said the plant will be built in Bulacan with a capacity of 2Mta. This will boost the firm's capacity to about 9.5Mta when it is completed in 2016. Van Wijnen said they looking at a brownfield project which would take less than three years to complete.

 

Higher sales offset by rising costs

 

The company, however, reported a 17 per cent drop in third-quarter net profit as a double-digit growth in sales was offset by higher production and other costs as it tries to keep up with market requirements. This company usually uses the rainy season as time for maintenance and repair. But, as demand exceeded expectations it had to import clinker to prevent insufficient supply.

 

Sales in the third quarter increased 20 per cent on year to PHP 6.39 billion  (US$155m), getting a boost from better prices, increased construction activity and more government projects. But sales growth was offset by a 27 per cent jump in cost of sales to PHP5.18bn due to higher sales volume and production costs.

 

In the nine months to September, Holcim Philippines posted a net profit of PHP2.53bn, up 23 per cent from the PHP2.07bn recorded in the year-earlier period. Sales climbed 23 per cent to PHP20.21bn from PHP16.50bn.

 

Van Wijnen remains confident though that the company expects to achieve double-digit volume growth this year and expects better performance in the months ahead, especially as the plants achieve full efficiencies following the completed maintenance and repair initiatives.

 

Consumption accelerates

 

For the first six months of 2012, cement consumption rose 20 per cent YoY to 9.45Mt, according to the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CeMap). The increase was attributed by CeMap president Ernesto Ordoñez to higher infrastructure spending comprising new infrastructure projects for 2012 and pent up demand from the year before.

 

For the remainder of this year, cement sales are expected to remain robust, according to Cemap, with the prevailing good investment climate seen further boosting construction activities in the country. Holcim continues to have an optimistic outlook on the industry, and is confident that growth will carry over to 2013 given the positive economic climate and as the impact of the Private-Public Partnership projects begins to be felt.

 

Lafarge and Cemex have also announced plans to increase their respective capacity in the Philippines. Cemex is to raise capacity at its plant in APO by 1.5Mta through an investment of US$65m. The project is expected to be operational by 2014. Meanwhile, Lafarge Republic plans raise capacity by 1Mta through a revamp a its Danao grinding plant in Cebu and debottlenecking its Norzagaray plant's mill in Bulacan. By the first quarter of 2013, Lafarge hopes to supply an additional 0.2Mta of cement to Luzon, 0.65Mta to Visayas and another 0.1Mta to Mindanao.

 

Cemnet 

Kingdom of Canada Prime Minister will fly to the Philippines for Trade, Investment, and Security pact

Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canada's Harper to travel to Hong Kong, Philippines

 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trade Minister Ed Fast will travel to the Philippines and Hong Kong November 10-11, officials said Wednesday (November 1, 2012).

 

While in Manila on November 10, Harper will meet with President Benigno Simeon Aquino to discuss bilateral trade and investment, security cooperation and regional issues.

 

The next day, the prime minister will travel to Hong Kong where he will meet with Hong Kong chief Chun-ying Leung "with a view to further strengthening an already deep and historical relationship," said a statement.

 

The Philippines is the top source of immigrants to Canada, with nearly 500,000 people of Filipino origin residing in the country. Canada is also home to half a million individuals of Hong Kong descent, second in numbers only to the United States.

 

AFP

Undecided Phl Air Force wide Ranging Modernization of supersonic speed Power- Eying British BAE Systems Hawk

Manila plans wide-ranging modernization of air force

 

The Philippines could issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for advanced jet trainers, transport aircraft and helicopter modifications within the next 12 months.

 

The Philippines air force has identified several capability gaps that it hopes to fill in the coming years, says an air force spokesman. Budgets have been approved for several acquisitions, but a competitive bidding process must be conducted for each purchase, with request for proposals to be issued before the end of 2013, he adds.

 

The highest profile acquisition planned is for 12 lead-in fighter trainer aircraft. Requirements for the type include radar, supersonic speed, and the ability to prosecute both ground and air targets - the latter with beyond visual range missiles.

 

"The [Korea Aerospace Industries] F/A-50 more or less fits our requirements, but we have not concluded it will be the F/A-50," says the spokesman.

 

Other types Manila could consider include the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, Yakovlev Yak-130 and the BAE Systems Hawk.

 

The Philippine Department of National Defence is in the process of drafting an RFP and the air force hopes to have the aircraft on the flight line as early as 2014-15, the spokesman says.

 

Although the Philippines retired its last Northrop F-5s in 2004, the spokesman says it has retained a foundation of jet pilots through the continued use of four Aermacchi S-211 jet trainers.

 

The 12 new aircraft would be used for both training and combat, and form a bridging capability for the future acquisition of a multi-role fighter, he adds.

 

With regard to airlift, the air force has two operational Lockheed Martin C-130Hs and a single C-130B. It hopes to obtain an additional C-130, as well as two medium lift transport aircraft and two light transport aircraft. All three acquisitions have been approved by air force leadership, with RFPs likely in the next 12 months.

 

In addition, the air force hopes to upgrade or refurbish 21 Bell UH-1 utility helicopters. The work would involve the modification of transmissions, improved engines and airframe improvements. Some of these aircraft are in service and some in storage. Manila hopes to start receiving refurbished UH-1s in 2014, the spokesman says.

 

Manila will also re-task its PZL-Swidnik W-3A Sokol helicopters to the search and rescue (SAR) role from the combat utility role. So far, the Philippines has received four Sokols from a 2010 order for eight examples of the type. It will receive the remaining four by the end of 2012.

 

"It was decided that the Sokols would be best to fill the SAR role," says the spokesman. "We are optimizing resources."

 

The Sokols will still be operated by the air force, but will be available for civilian SAR missions.

 

Fight Global (FG)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Philippines to get five French patrol boats

 

The Philippines will buy five patrol boats from France for about 90 million Euros ($116 million), partly to guard disputed areas in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), the coastguard said Tuesday.

 

Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, the chief of the poorly-equipped coastguard, said one 82-metre (271-foot) ship and four 24-metre (79-foot) patrol craft would be delivered by 2014.

 

Tuason cited the need for such ships to patrol the rough waters of the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

 

"When we patrol the West Philippine Sea, we encounter huge waves, turbulent waters so it will be better if we will use bigger ships," Tuason said in a statement.

 

Coastguard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo said the larger ship was a "heavy endurance vessel that can be deployed even in bad weather".

 

This is the first such ship to be acquired by the coastguard, he added.

 

The Philippines and China began a stand-off in April over the Scarborough Shoal, a group of islets in the South China Sea.

 

China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

 

Balilo denied that the new French ships were being acquired due to the territorial dispute and said the coastguard, which currently has only nine operating ships, needed new vessels to perform their duties.

 

He said the new vessels would be deployed throughout the archipelago and not concentrate just on the disputed areas.

 

AFP

Monday, October 29, 2012

US Approved! Exporting of Philippine banana to begin December 2012; Hoping for Russia, Europe and Mideast to Follow

US allows entry of 3,000 metric ton of local bananas

 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has effectively given its go-signal to the export of 3,000 metric tons of cavendish bananas to continental United States by December 2012.

 

"The workplan [for the export of bananas to the US] has been approved. US Ambassador [to the Philippines] Harry K. Thomas Jr. has expressed satisfaction [with our] preparations when he visited the Dole Philippines plant a few weeks ago," Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Clarito M. Barron said in an interview on Monday. The plant is located in Bukidnon province, in the country's southern Mindanao region.

 

According to Barron, the USDA's approval is welcome news for banana farmers who had to contend with lower shipments caused by a decision of China to subject Philippine bananas to more stringent sanitary and phytosanitary requirements.

 

Earlier this year, China impounded bananas from the Philippines purportedly due to the presence of scale insects in shipments.

 

The world economic giant is the second-biggest market for Philippine bananas, next to Japan. Banana exports to China reached 358,000 metric tons (MT) worth 4.75 billion in 2011.

 

In August the BPI declared that China had started to ease its restrictions on Philippine bananas. As of August 14, the Chinese quarantine office allowed the entry of 17,787 container vans equivalent to 356,092 metric ton of bananas valued at $71 million USD.

 

Despite this breakthrough, the private-sector led group of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association continues to conduct trade missions to the Middle East, Russia and Europe to promote Philippine bananas and develop new markets for its members' produce.

 

The BPI said the US government is reviewing the final work plan also for the export of cavendish bananas to US trust territories, which include Guam, the Marianas Islands and Palau.

 

With the opening of its market to local bananas, the US expects the Philippines to allow increased market access to its temperate vegetables.

 

Despite the restrictions imposed by China, banana exportation to china unstoppable - the National Statistics Office said in a recent report that the value of banana exports in January-August 2012 went up by 20.16 percent year-on-year to $309.16 million.

 

ABS-CBN News  

GLOBE LABS: Revolutionizing Smartphone Apps Development In The Philippines

We've all heard of big names that changed the world. Names such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, names that pushed lifestyle and technology an inch closer to things we only see in sci-fi films. And with today's technology and rich resources, it's only a matter of time when the next big name might appear real soon. Running for nearly five years now, great and passionate minds have been gathering in Globe Labs, a fast-growing community of geeks that strive to create a revolution through innovation.

 

Housed in leading telecommunications agency Globe Telecom, Globe Labs is geared towards building a community that intends to drive innovation forward. Through Globe Labs, aspiring and experienced developers alike will have the means as well as the resources to facilitate their ideas and have the opportunity to forge partnerships and promote their creations to a greater scale.

 

For smartphone owners, expect great new apps and claim bragging rights that your favorite mobile app did not come from Apple, Google, or Windows, but from a local developer, thanks to the Filipino talent, ingenuity, and creativity.

 

Greg Igaya, Head of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation for Globe Labs, shared the humble beginnings of the organization. "We started pooling together local Filipino developers who have big ideas, and are most willing to turn them into viable and tangible products. You don't have to be a large corporation; the only things you need are a great idea and try to build it using SMS/MMS, Location Based-Services (LBS) and Voice."

 

"There are a lot of gaps or issues that developers encounter, say for instance, how are their app creations going to be relevant to the end-user. That is our motivation for starting Globe Labs, to fill in these gaps and provide the best smartphone experience to Filipinos by letting them use world-class mobile applications for the Filipino by the Filipino."

 

Turning ideas into apps

 

With Globe Labs, developers learn and acquire the much-needed skills. "Upon joining our developer community, we can provide you the knowledge you need to hone your skills in application development. We provide technical documentation on the tools to help you build mobile applications that integrate with our core services. We also conduct regular trainings to introduce new developer technologies and platforms to help you keep your competitive edge."

 

Globe Labs also provides tools, resources, facilities, and enablers to pave the way for apps development. These come in the form of an official app registry or interface that allows sharing of application ideas and prototypes with the organization, various applications programming interface (API) or a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications, and different developer facilities.

 

Globe Labs supports its pool of developers with go-to-market strategies, enabling them to commercialize and monetize their applications.

 

"We really think that developers drive innovation forward, and all they need is access to markets, all they need is a little support," Igaya said. "We're not Apple or Google, but you get first-hand experience and know-how from people who engage fully in those spaces."

 

Anne Michelle Santos, Developer Relations Manager of Globe Labs added, "We really encourage more Filipinos to explore mobile app development. Globe Labs exists to back up local developer communities and support them until their ideas turn into actual services."

 

She later added that key developers have shared their experiences to the community. "We were so lucky to invite James Pearce, Head of Developer Advocacy of Facebook, to grace one of our sessions. He gave us an introduction on how to build apps using the Facebook platform. We also had Merci Niebres, one of the luminaries behind Google I/O, a big developer event in the United States, through their local developer community, Google Developer Group Philippines."

 

For exposure to User Experience Design and User Interface Design, Globe Labs invited Regnard Raquedan of the Philippine Web Designer Organization as resource speaker.

 

The makings of an app developer

 

Anyone can join the Globe Labs developer community with no specific IT background required. Whether you're a software developer, an IT student or professional or company, or even a techie with a passion for innovating and building applications, if your passion is creating and building applications, then you're welcome to join the geeky family of Globe Labs.

 

Santos shared that a nurse once joined the community and partnered with the developer responsible for MRT Trackr, and together they launched an app called "Where's My Doctor". Another couple joined Globe Labs and created an app especially for babies called Baby World of ABC's. The app is able to interact with a child similar to when showing picture flash cards complete with the parent's voice.

 

"We've encountered attendees that don't have an idea at all. And that's not a problem with us. Sometimes, it all starts with one is relevant to you, what are you likes and interests, what solutions can help solve your daily issues, what can give you fun and entertainment," said Igaya.

 

When asked how Globe Labs is doing so far, Santos said, "It's really showing a huge potential and a big rooms for further growth, starting from the rubrics of the Nokia era, here comes the explosion of smartphone apps. Apple has a couple of great apps we were able to support not just within our programs."

 

Challenges, but still opportunities

 

Igaya shared one of the key challenges they're faced with: "People want to engage in the experience of the technology, they're interested in the possibilities that it offers, but they can't do it full-time."

 

Santos backed this up: "Most of them are IT professionals who have day jobs and usually engage in mobile apps development only in their free time, so the level of engagement is not as consistent. But we see this as a room for growth and will definitely factor this in as we line up our plans for next year."

 

Another challenge is the quality of apps being published every day. Igaya shared that it's easy to "get drowned", and therefore, regardless whether the apps are produced for local content, they have to be competitive in a global scale to stand out.

 

"At the end of the day, it's all about passion and creativity. We can have you, even if you know little about the nitty gritty or the technical aspects of apps development. For as long as you have a good idea, then we invite you to be part of Globe Labs. It's a matter of finding who you can work with to put your idea into fruition.

 

"That's the reason why we organize community engagement activities, training sessions and tutorials, and sharing of best practices. We want to find spaces and opportunities where people can connect to each other to move something forward," Igaya said.

 

Globe Labs has a line-up of exciting events and activities where as an organizer or partner: International Game Development Association Meetup on October 29, Pre-Startup Weekend Davao Bootcamp on November 3, 2012 DevFest Bacolod on November 5, 2012 DevFest Cebu on November 7, 2012Pre-Startup Weekend Cebu Bootcamp on November 9, 2012Windows 8 Developer Day on November 14,  2012 Rails Girl Meetup on November 23 and 24, and the Code Challenge Cup on November 30, 2012.

 

For more information on Globe Labs, visit www.globelabs.com.ph or follow them on Twitter @globelabs.

TEMPO

Philippines' City Jail will rise to be the next CALL CENTER Hub in Asia

"Summary: Inmates may soon work as operators, thanks to an initiative to help convicts get a better chance in reintegrating back into society and finding employment."

 

Bilib I.T. or not: Prison call center eyed.  You've got to "BILIB I.T."

 

Call centers may soon be run in prisons with inmates as operators, thanks to a program initiated by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano that aims to help convicts get a better chance to resettle and reintegrate back into society.

 

The program, dubbed "BILIB I.T.," will grant information technology (IT) scholarships to qualified inmates so they can learn productive skills that will help them get back on their feet.

 

"We'll see if we can try building call centers inside jail facilities to help these detainees utilize their training and gain employment," Cayetano said in a statement released during the program launch at Taguig City Jail.

 

"I eventually want to get there because it's a step further toward better rehabilitation," he added.

 

Among the courses to be offered are Basic IT, Adobe Photoshop, computer hardware servicing and a finishing course for call center agents, which would include English proficiency and web design.

 

Among the inmates who were given scholarships during the launch were: Alvin Alison, 21; Ronnie Omanitu, 24; Belinda Pagulayan, 48, and Jenny Canlas, 28.

 

Cayetano said the scholarships will be granted to at least 200 inmates, and is expected to double with the help of the Technical and Education Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

 

Cayetano cited a similar program in the United States where "inmates do call center work for nonsensitive matters."

 

Who are eligible for the program?

 

"Those who have served their sentence but prefer to live inside the penal community due to lack of skills necessary to rejoin the work force, detainees who have minimum security and those inmates with sentences not longer than six years," Cayetano said.

 

"We should give them a chance to make a living and become productive members of society in the future," he added.

 

Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva, who was present during the launch, added that more than providing livelihood for the inmates after serving their sentences, it was also about removing the stigma associated with being an ex-convict.

 

The inmates will look better to prospective employers if they have done work in the detention facility, he added.

 

Cayetano expressed willingness to work with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Department of Justice to create guidelines that will allow inmates to be in a job that would enable them to be in direct commercial contact with the public.

 

The program was launched in cooperation with Tesda, IT school Informatics, BJMP and Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano.

 

INQUIRER 

Moody's Investors upgrade Philippine credit rating to Ba1; Gross Reserves at $81.88-Billion level

The Philippines' debt rating was raised to the highest level since the start of 2004 by Moody's Investors Service, bringing the Southeast Asian nation one step away from investment grade. The peso and bonds rose.

 

The new credit rating upgrade for the Philippines to a notch below investment grade, aligning its assessment of the country's debt quality with those of Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services for the first time since April 2003, that brings the Philippines on par with Turkey and Hungary. The ratings outlook is stable.

 

"The writing is clearly on the wall," said Roberto Juanchito Dispo, president of First Metro Investment Corp., one of the arrangers of the government's record retail bond sale this month. "The Philippines is definitely on its way to becoming investment grade in due course. This will bring numerous tangible economic benefits to the country."

 

Philippine officials welcomed Moody's action, which came 16 months after Fitch and four months after S&P lifted their ratings to just one step below investment grade. Fitch and S&P have stable outlooks on their assessments.

 

President Benigno Aquino has won ratings upgrades as he takes steps to contain the budget deficit and lure foreign investors to spur expansion in the $225 billion economy. Standard & Poor's in July raised the debt rating to BB+, one level below investment grade, citing improved prospects for growth, while an agreement with Muslim rebels this month to end a four-decade insurgency in the mineral-rich south has boosted the country's appeal.

 

Since S&P, Moody's and Fitch started rating the Philippines in 1993, 1995 and 1999, respectively, the country hasn't moved out of junk level. Earlier this month, S&P said that historically it takes around 2½ years before a BB+ rated country cracks investment grade, which for the Philippines could mean late in 2014 or early 2015.

 

Jeffrey Ng, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank, said that the Philippines could win an investment-grade rating if it pursues further fiscal reforms, including passing pending tax measures in Congress.

 

"We have been calling for investment grade around 2014. The country's strengths are in its economic fundamentals and stable political environment; the government is still working on investment and fiscal consolidation," he said.

 

Aninda Mitra, an economist with ANZ, said a demonstrable record of sustained economic growth, especially if it is investment-driven, would help the Philippines graduate from the junk-level rating.

 

"Moreover, the passage of the sin tax bill, which broadens the fiscal base for heightened spending on infrastructure and health, would also set the structural basis for further upgrades to the investment-grade space," Mr. Mitra said.

 

The Senate is now reviewing its version of the so-called sin tax bill—a measure that would increase excise taxes on cigarettes, liquor and beer—that as currently proposed will generate additional revenue of around 15 billion Philippine pesos ($363 million), just a quarter of what the government was seeking and half that of the revenue expected from the version of the House of Representatives.

 

Peso Gains

 

The peso erased losses, gaining 0.1 percent to 41.177 per dollar as of 2:06 p.m. in Manila, according to data from Tullett Prebon Plc. It is the top gainer this year among the 11 most- widely traded Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Philippine dollar-denominated bonds maturing in January 2037 rose after the upgrade, halting a four-day slide. The yield on 5 percent bonds fell one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 3.78 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

 

"Improved economic performance and continued fiscal revenue buoyancy in the face of deteriorating global demand" led to the upgrade, Moody's said in a statement. "In contrast to similarly rated countries, the country is poised to record a combination of faster growth, lower inflation, exchange rate appreciation, and an increase in foreign exchange reserves, while maintaining trend debt consolidation," it said.

 

Aquino is taking steps to reduce corruption while seeking more than $16 billion of investments in roads and airports to spur expansion to as much as 7 percent in 2013 to create jobs and reduce poverty. Gross domestic product rose 5.9 percent in the second quarter from 6.3 percent in the previous three months, which was the fastest expansion in Southeast Asia.

 

"This is another affirmation of the economic agenda of President Aquino," Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in a mobile text message today. "Good governance indeed is good economics. We will continue to focus on the fundamentals of fiscal sustainability and business environment enhancement."

 

Beneficial Effects

 

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas last week cut its overnight borrowing rate by 0.25 percentage point to a record 3.5 percent, bringing the total reduction in 2012 to 1 point. An investment- grade rating is possible next year, Governor Amando Tetangco told reporters today.

 

"Over the longer term, the landmark peace agreement signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may have wider beneficial effects on investment and economic growth in Mindanao -- the country's largest island -- which has untapped agricultural and mining potential," Moody's said.

 

The central bank lowered its inflation forecast for this year to 3.3 percent from 3.4 percent, and to 3.9 percent from 4.1 percent next year. Inflation unexpectedly eased in September to 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

 

Today's upgrade contrasts with recent actions on other Asian nations. Vietnam's government bond rating was cut last month by Moody's for the first time since 2010 as the nation grapples with rising bad debt in its banking system that has hurt growth, while S&P said this month India may lose its investment-grade rating within the next 24 months if growth slows and political opposition to policy overhauls increases.

 

"A stable outlook signals possible further upgrades in the future," central bank Deputy Governor Diwa Gunigundo said in a mobile text message. "The challenge for us is to sustain what we have been doing in strengthening the macro economy and enhancing good governance."

 

The local financial markets largely ignored Moody's rating upgrade, with the Philippine stock market's main performance barometer closing 0.1% lower, while the U.S. dollar was a tad higher against the peso.

 

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who had consistently argued that credit rating companies are trailing capital markets in rating Philippine debt, said that Moody's action is a recognition of "the significant progress that the Aquino administration has undertaken to improve the country's economic fundamentals."

 

He said that with the government's commitment to macroeconomic stability, enhanced fiscal stability and investment growth, "investment grade will definitely come sooner rather than later."

 

Philippines foreign reserves reach historic $81.88-Billion level in Sept 2012

 

Philippine foreign exchange reserves reached a new record high of $81.88 billion as of end-September, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported Friday, saying its dollar-buying operations in the market could still boost international reserves during the rest of the year.

 

The gross international reserves level was equivalent to 6.5 times of Philippines foreign debts, and enough to pay for about a year of the country's import requirements, the Bangko Sentral noted.

 

In August, the country's foreign reserves totaled $80.73 billion, and were recorded at $75.17 billion as of end-September 2011.

 

In a statement, Bangko Sentral revealed its dollar-buying operations – to help rein in a stronger peso against the US dollar – boosted September's foreign reserves.

 

The central bank would stay in the foreign exchange market buying dollars, especially if the peso continues to bear the brunt of speculative money in the stock market, said Bangko Sentral Governor Amando Tetangco Jr.

 

"If the peso would continue to appreciate because of temporary investments or hot money, the BSP will participate in the market and try to minimize strong fluctuations," he said.

 

Bangko Sentral would have no problem letting the peso appreciate if the pressure comes from long-term foreign direct investments, Tetangco added.

 

Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, GMA News

Sunday, October 28, 2012

China Invaded Palawan’s Mischief Reef right after Philippine Senate Ousted US base in Clark

The Philippines-China Disputes In The South China Sea: The US Factor – Analysis

 

The Philippines' decision to engage the US in an attempt to balance against China's growing military power, especially in the disputed South China Sea, is anchored on a bitter episode in the past – China's occupation of Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in 1994, two years after the removal of the US bases. To merit the distinction of being a responsible power, China has to reassure the Philippines that its rise to power will usher benefits and opportunities for the region and that China's ascendancy will not pose as a threat to the security of its neighbours.

 

United States involvement or attempts by the US to get involved in the South China Sea (SCS) disputes is seen by some as a major factor in intensifying tensions in one of the world's most critical regional flashpoints. China, as well as some ASEAN countries, does not welcome US participation in resolving the impasse over conflicting maritime and territorial claims in the strategic semi-enclosed sea. As such, countries like the Philippines, as well as Vietnam, have been perceived by some as aggravating the already tense situation by openly inviting US intervention and internationalizing what some see as a purely regional matter. This argument had long been played and, while it may make sense, certain historical circumstances raise questions over its indisputability.

 

As a long time US colony, the Philippines hosted the largest US bases in East Asia, enabling Washington to project naval and air power in the then Far East, as well as in the Pacific. This made the Philippines a necessary military target for Japan during World War II. These US bases continue to operate even after the country's independence, providing the US with the wherewithal to check the spread of communism in the region, in turn providing external security for the Philippines. Unfortunately, this reliance on the external defense blanket provided by the US also stunted the growth of a self-reliant national defense establishment for the Philippines, which was exposed with the removal of the US bases in 1991.

 

The Senate decision leading to the termination of the US bases agreement was passed with a rather slim margin. The issue of sovereignty and complete independence from the US were among the principal rationales cited by solons who voted for ending what many consider as the last vestiges of American colonialism and control over the Philippines. This was a low point in Philippine-American relations, and it would take about two decades to revitalize ties once more, with Philippine support for the US-led war on terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.

 

Looking back further in time, the end of the Cold War following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was welcomed by many with optimism. Vietnam pulled out of Cambodia in 1989, the Russians began gradually moving out of Vietnam in 1990 and peace in Indochina was within sight. However, what may be true in land is not true for the waters, as clashes in the South China Sea intensified with China and Vietnam exchanging fire in 1974, 1988 and 1992.

 

The discovery of oil and gas in the area only added fuel to the disputes. China became a net oil importer in 1992 and both Beijing and Hanoi began issuing exploration contracts in waters they both claim. In February 1992, Beijing passed the Law on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone laying claim to 80% percent of the SCS. Taiwan, Philippines, and Malaysia also began occupying features, if not fortifying or garrisoning already occupied features in the SCS. Seeing the writing on the wall, ASEAN issued a Declaration on the South China Sea in 1992 in Manila.

 

Both Vietnam and China expressed support for the Declaration. In addition, Indonesia, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, also began informal workshops in managing potential conflicts in the SCS in the 1990s drawing participants from claimant, as well as non-SCS claimant, countries.

 

However, despite efforts to stem the brewing tensions in SCS, the Mischief Reef (locally known as Panganiban Reef in the Philippines) occupation happened in 1994. This was a significant watershed in Philippines-China relations. It marked the first time that China occupied a feature claimed by an ASEAN country, the Philippines (Vietnam only became a member of ASEAN in July 1995). It was also the first time that China physically challenged the claims of another claimant besides Vietnam.

 

A Filipino fisherman held by the Chinese in the said Reef for weeks informed Philippine authorities about the occupation. Was it to teach the Philippines a lesson for being a US proxy or was it precisely because of the absence of a US deterrent that China was emboldened to make such a move, knowing the state of the Philippines' armed forces? Irrespective of the answer, this incident led to a re-assessment of the Philippines' perception of a China threat; particularly with respect to the Kalayaan Island Group. It also gave momentum to the country's defense modernization. Finally, the Mischief Reef incident also raised doubts as to the correctness of removing the US bases at a time when the country's military capabilities are still weak.

 

Whether the occupation of the Mischief Reef was deliberate policy from the top, an initiative of some rogue PLA Navy elements operating without Beijing's blessing or the adventure of Chinese fishermen from Hainan, the fact remains that what started ostensibly as fishermen's shelters in 1994 eventually became a fortified military base by 1998. This is despite protests and calls for the removal of the said structures aired by Manila and the signing of a bilateral code of conduct between Manila and Beijing in 1995.

 

In sum, it became apparent that by 1991, as signaled by the termination of the US bases, the Philippines began developing a more independent foreign policy. China could have seized this opportunity to constructively engage a country that it had long perceived as a bulwark of US imperialism in Asia. Beijing could have even replaced the US as the dominant partner for the Philippines. The presence of ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, which is among the most tolerated and economically prosperous overseas Chinese communities in the region, could have served as a bridge towards this end.

 

But far from encouraging the Philippines' tentative steps, China's action, as exemplified by the Mischief Reef occupation, only served to reinforce a negative image of China to many Filipinos, some of whom discarded the stories about MV Karagatan and other arms shipments to communist NPA rebels by China as hoaxes. Hence, the Mischief Reef episode, instead of making the Philippines accept the idea of a Pax Sinica in the region, produced the very effect that China detests – closer US-Philippine relations and the prospect of Manila being used as a proxy to contain China. A recent SWS survey revealed that many Filipinos have little trust in China. As many Filipinos remain critical of US military presence in Philippine soil, they would surely be observing the next Chinese moves, eager to see the sincerity of China's charm.

 

Eurasia Review

 

About the author:

Lucio Blanco Pitlo III

Lucio Blanco Pitlo III is an MA Asian Studies student from the Asian Center, University of the Philippines. His commentaries have been published in Forging a New Philippine Foreign Policy, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, East Asia Forum, and Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. His research interests include Philippine-China relations, ASEAN-China relations, territorial and maritime disputes, and energy security. Lucio may be reached at lucioatacup@rocketmail.com

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