Friday, November 30, 2012

Philippine navy rescues 100 sea turtles from Chinese poachers in Palawan

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines - Philippine sailors rescued more than a hundred sea turtles from poachers but Chinese nationals who were allegedly buying the endangered animals escaped, the navy said Friday (November 30, 2012).

At least 123 turtles were recovered from three fishpens off the western island of Balabac on Tuesday as part of a campaign against such illegal activities, the navy statement said.

"At least six Chinese nationals were sighted fleeing the area using a speed boat when the raiding party arrived in the area," regional naval chief Commander Rostum Joseph Pena was quoted as saying.

It took two days to remove all the turtles from the fishpens and six of them were found to be dead, he said.

Residents have reported that Chinese financiers were paying local people to gather the turtles for 5,000 pesos (US$120) each, so they could be shipped abroad, the navy commander said.

The turtles were released in a marine reserve, the navy said.

Sea turtles are protected under Philippine law and catching them is punishable by at least 12 years in jail.

Chinese poaching in Philippine waters has become a thorny issue in recent months.

In April, Philippine authorities tried to arrest Chinese fishermen taking sea turtles and other protected species from Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, triggering a standoff with Chinese ships that still continues.

China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, which includes major shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in mineral and oil resources. (http://is.gd/mYSnjN)

Asiaone 

2 new Sokol Combat utility Helicopters delivered to Philippine Airforce; now 6 Sokol

 The "Sokol" helicopters were purchased from Augusta PZL Swidnik of Italy and Poland. Photo: diversityhuman.com

Second batch of Sokol choppers delivered to Philippines Air Force

Philippines – The second batch of Sokol combat utility helicopters, aimed at boosting the military's operations were delivered to the Philippine Air Force.

The two additional Sokol choppers were in addition to the first four choppers delivered in February, a statement from the supplier PZL Swidnik in Poland said early this week.

The contract, as part of the modernization program, involves the delivery of eight choppers and ground support equipment, spare parts, support services and training for aircrew and maintainers. The remaining two will be delivered in early 2013.

"This delivery marks an important program milestone for both PZL-Świdnik and the Philippine Air Force. The outstanding capabilities of the Sokol helicopter and its ability to perform a wide range of roles will further enhance the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force" said Nicola Bianco, Managing Director, PZL-Świdnik S.A.

The Sokol choppers were transported from Jasionka Airport near Russia to Clark Air Base in Manila.

The choppers arrived in the country on Monday morning via an Antonov cargo plane, the PAF said.

It added that the Sokol choppers would be turned over to the 505th Search and Rescue Group, where other four delivered earlier.

The helicopters, which have enough space for two pilots, two crewmen, three medical attendants and six rescued survivors, will be used for search and rescue missions. (http://is.gd/rgcFex)

Inquirer 

China police prepares to takeover Philippine Naval Ships patrolling in West Philippines Sea

China plans to board Philippine ships

THE commander of the military's Western Command yesterday protested a reported plan of China to board and search ships that will enter its claimed territories in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

"That's a violation of the international passage," said Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of Wescom which is in charge of protecting the country's interest in the disputed area.

"That's too much. While we are exerting all peaceful means (to solve the territorial dispute), that is what they are doing," he also said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

"We need to get more information on that. There are details that we need to find out before we could comment on that," said DFA Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

"If it is true, it will pose a concern to the Philippines and the international community," he also said.

He said media should ask the Chinese Foreign Ministry or the Chinese embassy.

The Chinese Embassy usually does not immediately answer questions. If it does, it comes in the form of a statement that is issued days later.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Chinese national government should be asked if the position of the Hainan provincial government is the position of Chinese national leadership.

"Instead of asking the Philippine government to comment on a position taken by a local Chinese government official, why doesn't the press ask the Chinese Foreign Ministry or the Chinese Embassy here and confirm if that is also the position they are adopting?" Lacierda said, asking the same question asked by Hernandez.

The China Daily yesterday said that starting January 1, police in Hainan will board and search ships that China considers its territorial waters in the South China Sea, seize control of the ships and order them to change course or stop sailing. Hainan administers China's claims to the islets and atolls in the South China Sea.

China is claiming the whole Spratly Islands, a chain of islands and islets believed in the South China Sea, which is believed rich in oil and minerals deposits. The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam are claiming parts of the islands and have stationed their troops.

Philippine troops are occupying nine islands including Pag-asa which is about 200 nautical miles of Puerto Princesa City.

Sabban, asked how the military would secure ships that may pass the territorial waters being claimed by China, said, "We have regular patrols (there). We have the Navy and the Coast Guard in the area."

Last week, Sabban visited the troops stationed at the nine Philippine-occupied areas in the Spratlys. It took Sabban four days to complete the visit of the nine islands, the first time for any Wescom commander.

He told the troops "to keep our flag flying mighty. (http://is.gd/8EiHIl)

Malaya

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Global Distrust to China Mount: Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia rejects Passport – USA Speaks Up!

New china passport depicting territories of Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and India:  China said - Translation: Shut up, and take it.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China's latest diplomatic train wreck, this time involving new passports containing watermarked maps of Beijing's hotly contested territorial claims, prompted the familiar protests of its oft enraged neighbors.  

It's just too bad nobody was at home to hear them.

"The aim of China's new electronic passports is to strengthen its technological abilities and make it convenient for Chinese citizens to enter or leave the country," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing on Wednesday.

"The issue of the maps in China's new passports should not be read too much into. China is willing to remain in touch with relevant countries and promote the healthy development of the exchange of people between China and the outside world."

Translation: Shut up, and take it.

"The Chinese are disingenuous. The maps are the latest example of them trying to fabricate a new precedent, but when countries protest, they pretend that everybody is delusional or overly emotional," said an official from Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Beijing attempted to cushion the diplomatic blow earlier this week by arguing the maps were "not made to target any specific country."

If that's true, they've done a pretty poor job of it. They've also done a pretty poor job of making it "more convenient for Chinese citizens." The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Chinese travelers to Vietnam and the Philippines were encountering waits of "a few hours" at immigration checkpoints.

Vietnam and the Philippines — who along with Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia claim parts of the vast South China Sea — will not issue visas for Chinese nationals using the passports because they say it would be tacit acknowledgment of China's claims. Both countries are issuing visas on separate pieces of paper.

The maps, depicting China's demands of the entire resource-rich sea, Taiwan and parts of Indian-controlled Himalayas is just the latest spat involving the Asian superpower and a growing clique of its increasingly distrustful neighbors.

Distrust is mounting.

Taking a page out of China's book, India is stamping visas for Chinese nationals with its own competing map of the Himalayas. The US and Asean's top diplomats have said they will raise the matter with Beijing.

"We do have concerns about this map which is causing tension and anxiety between and among the states in the South China Sea," US State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told a media this week. "We do intend to raise this with the Chinese in terms of it not being helpful to the environment we all seek to resolve these issues."

Taiwan, which mainland China considers a rogue province and has threatened to use force to annex the island republic, doesn't recognize Chinese passports and  issues visas to Chinese tourists on a separate travel document.

"It's unclear what Beijing's motivation was. It seems to be a hasty decision made by hardliners within the government. Given the strong reactions from several neighbors, it's apparent that the move has backfired," said Zhiqun Zhu, an expert on Chinese politics at Bucknell University.

Zhu says hawkish elements within China's military and the ruling Communist Party used the maps as a tool to "take advantage of the leadership transition to attempt to set the tone of China's foreign policy."

China unveiled a once-in-a-decade power transition earlier this month that ushered in Xi Jingping as paramount leader of the world's second largest economy.

Beijing argues its fishermen plied the South China Sea and established outposts on its rocky outcrops centuries ago, and as such, it is theirs by "historical right," despite much of it being within the exclusive economic zone of other countries. 

This year marked a rapid escalation of tensions in the region — with China taking a front row seat for all of it. China and the Philippines engaged in a naval standoff at a shoal close to the Philippine island of Luzon early this year.

In June, a state-owned Sino oil company called for foreign exploration rights bids for blocks close to the Vietnamese coast. A month later, it angered claimants further when it announced it would station troops on a South China Sea island it had seized from Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War.

"This is not a domestic issue any more. Beijing may have to reflect upon this: What has it achieved by issuing the new passport?  And how should it remedy the prickly situation and pacify its infuriated neighbors," said Zhu.

In other news, the Voice of America reported Thursday that China will permit its border police to board and search foreign ships that enter waters in the sea. According to the Voice of America, "police in the southern island province of Hainan will soon be authorized to land on, check, seize and expel foreign ships that enter the area illegally." (http://is.gd/f2Dxxg)

Global Post

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Philippine economy shines in third quarter, highlights Southeast Asia resilience

A worker counts one thousand pesos bills inside a money changer in Manila November 28, 2012. The Philippine peso hovered around its strongest level in more than 4-1/2 years on Wednesday after stronger growth data, while most other emerging Asian currencies slid on worries about the looming U.S. fiscal crisis and doubt on the Greece debt deal. Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

(Reuters) - The Philippine economy accelerated more than expected in the third quarter, defying the global downdraft to post the fastest growth in Southeast Asia, where robust domestic demand and strong government spending are helping offset export weakness.

A sharp jump in farm output and construction, higher public and private consumption and a late rebound in exports helped boost Philippine growth by 1.3 percent in July-September from the previous quarter, three times as fast as economists had predicted.

The Philippines, once known as "the sick man of Asia", also posted the second strongest annual economic growth in Asia of 7.1 percent in the third quarter, lagging only China and outpacing the 6.2 percent expansion of Southeast Asia's biggest economy, Indonesia.

The 7.1 percent annual expansion was the strongest in two years.

"There is no denying it, the Philippines is having a fantastic year despite strong global headwinds," HSBC said in a note to investors.

"This is largely due to the fact that policymakers took timely measures to counterbalance an anticipated slowdown of demand from China and the euro zone, as well as the resilient nature of the services-oriented economy."

While Southeast Asia has not been totally immune to the global downturn -- slowing exports are weighing on industrial production -- strong private and public spending is driving robust growth in most of its economies, making the region a magnet for foreign investors.

"A strong performance all around (for the Philippines) and this stellar number continues to paint an overall positive growth picture for Southeast Asia, following the positive surprise out of Malaysia and the sustained momentum seen in Indonesia and Thailand in Q3 as well," said Gundy Cahyadi, economist at OCBC in Singapore.

STRONG CONSUMER SPENDING

In Manila, strong remittances from overseas Filipinos and renewed confidence among consumers and businesses in the economy and the reform-minded government of President Benigno Aquino are fuelling a property boom described as the best in two decades.

The Philippines expects to exceed its growth target of 5-6 percent this year after a strong performance so far that brought its annual growth in the first nine months to 6.5 percent. Indonesia, for its part, expects growth to reach 6.3 percent this year.

Domestic demand from new middle-class consumers, and investment to feed it, are now key growth drivers in Indonesia, with retail sales surging 22 percent in September.

The Indonesian government said on Tuesday it was targeting $40.6 billion in total investment next year, up around 25 percent from this year to take advantage of surging consumer demand.

L'Oreal, the world's top cosmetics firm, opened its biggest factory globally in Java this month and is seeing 30 percent sales growth as it expects Indonesia's beauty market to become the third biggest in Asia.

Consumer confidence in Indonesia was at its highest this year in October, helping push car sales up nearly 24 percent, while the Philippines posted its second best reading in September since the index was introduced in 2007.

Malaysia and Indonesia grew an annual 5.2 percent and 6.2 percent in the third quarter, respectively, although the economy of tiny, much more export-dependent Singapore contracted on an annualized basis.

Thailand grew 1.2 percent in the third quarter from the previous three months and 3.0 percent from a year earlier as factories returned to normal after last year's heavy floods.

With more foreign funds flowing into the region, stock markets in Indonesia and the Philippines both closed at record highs on Monday, with Manila's key share index .PSI hitting a fresh record high after Wednesday's GDP data. The Thomson Reuters South East Asia Index .TRXFLDANPU has climbed some 20 percent so far this year.

Foreign investors have also been snapping up debt issued by Southeast Asian government as they scour the globe for higher yields. Manila's recent sale of global peso notes attracted orders approaching $6 billion, nearly eight times the size of the offer.

But inflows have been a two-edged sword, pushing most regional currencies higher against the U.S. dollar and further undermining the attractiveness of the region's exports. The Philippine peso has appreciated more than 7 percent so far this year, making it emerging Asia's best performing currency and complicating policy decisions for its central bank.

MIXED OUTLOOK

Analysts have mixed views on how much of the region's momentum can be carried into 2013, noting much depends on how long the euro zone's fiscal and economic mess drags on, and whether recoveries in the United States and China continue to gather pace.

"The (growth) outlook for Southeast Asia will be mixed because we have markets with large consumer bases like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. What could also drive growth in these countries are investment and government spending," said Enrico Tanuwidjaja, economist for Southeast Asia at RBS in Singapore.

"The rest of the region might be facing a growth slowdown because of external factors," he said.

Unlike many advanced economies, the region's governments have relatively low debt levels, which leave plenty of room for more stimulus if conditions deteriorate further.

Manila has set a record infrastructure budget of over 400 billion pesos ($9.89 billion) next year as it pursues major upgrades of roads, ports, bridges, and airports to speed up growth and boost private investment.

The Philippines has to raise its investment-to-GDP ratio from 20 percent, and match Indonesia's investments of at least 25 percent of GDP, to push growth to 7 percent or higher in coming years, said Tim Condon, regional economist at ING Bank in Singapore.

Central banks in the region also have far more ammunition left to deal with slowing growth than their Western peers, which in some cases have already cut interest rates to near zero.

Indeed, if regional and global growth does pick up, higher inflation may start to kick in towards the second half of 2013, which may put pressure on central banks of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia to hike interest rates, said Euben Paracuelles, economist at Nomura in Singapore.

But Condon said there were no major demand pressures and rates could remain steady next year in most of the region after central banks eased policy this year.

(Additional reporting by Erik dela Cruz in Manila and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Kim Coghill) (http://is.gd/nwKegf)

Reuters 

Philippines says will not stamp visa in new Chinese passport, will issue separate visa form

New printed China Passport includes the Territory of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and India

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has become the latest country to say it will not stamp visas in a new Chinese passport because it includes a map of the South China Sea that Manila says shows its territory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that the visas will be stamped in a separate visa application form.

It said the move reinforces its protest formally conveyed to Beijing last week against China's "excessive claim over almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea."

It said stamping the passport could be seen as "legitimizing" China's claims.

Vietnam has already said it will not stamp the passports, while Taiwan has protested against the map's maritime borders and India has rejected the map's depiction of its northern border with China. India has retaliated by issuing Chinese citizens visas embossed with New Delhi's own maps.

The United States, which is taking no side in the territorial disputes but wants to ensure safe maritime traffic in one of the world's busiest sea lanes, has said it will raise its concerns over the map with Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry says putting the map in the passport was not directed at any particular country. (http://is.gd/J3MYyE)

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3rd Quarter 2012 Philippine Economy Growth 7.1% higher than expected - $17 billion of investment in roads and airports

Pedestrians walk past a billboard outside a shopping mall in central Manila, the Philippines. Photographer: Julian Abram Wainwright/Bloomberg

Philippines 7.1% Growth Surprise May Herald End of Rate Cuts

Philippine growth unexpectedly accelerated last quarter to the fastest pace since 2010 as government spending and investment increased, easing pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates further. Stocks rose.

Gross domestic product increased 7.1 percent in the three months through September from a year earlier, compared with a 6 percent gain in the previous quarter, the National Statistical Coordination Board said in Manila today. The pace exceeded all 22 estimates in a Bloomberg survey, whose median was 5.4 percent.

President Benigno Aquino is increasing spending to a record this year while seeking more than $17 billion of investment in roads and airports. The Southeast Asian nation is forecast to be among the 10 fastest growing economies in 2012, according to a Bloomberg survey, making it less likely that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will cut its benchmark interest rate again in December.

"The Philippines is going to rock," said Trinh Nguyen, a Hong Kong-based economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. "The central bank and the government have made timely policy adjustments that are boosting trend growth. With momentum so strong, we think BSP will hold rates and mark the end of the easing cycle."

The Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PCOMP) erased earlier losses and rose 0.7 percent as of 11:44 a.m. in Manila trading. The Philippine peso was little changed at 40.86 per dollar. It has risen more than 7 percent this year, the best performer among Asia's 11 most-traded currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Preserving Firepower

Some Asian officials have restrained their stimulus efforts as global expansion slowed, with others refraining from interest-rate cuts to preserve firepower should Europe's debt crisis worsen. Thailand may hold borrowing costs today, economists said, after a manufacturing production index rose in October for the first time in five months. Meanwhile, India may report on Nov. 30 that GDP rose 5.3 percent last quarter.

Bangko Sentral "will be careful to calibrate the use of its enhanced policy tool kit to help ensure" domestic demand price pressures and risks from capital flows are managed, central bank Governor Amando Tetangco said today.

"In the near-term, our policy stance appears to remain appropriate," he said. Full-year growth may be 6 percent to 7 percent, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said.

Moody's Investors Service raised the country's credit rating to one step below investment grade in October, luring more pledges from companies including Alliance Global Group Inc. and First Gen Corp. The government signed a peace deal with Muslim guerrillas in the mineral-rich south last month, and said it expects about $1 billion of commitments in Mindanao.

Philippine exports rose 22.8 percent in September from a year earlier, as data signaling a recovery in the U.S. and China boosted the outlook for Asian goods. Inflation eased to a four- month low of 3.1 percent in October, while remittances, which make up the equivalent of about 10 percent of GDP, surged to a record $1.8 billion in September.

The Philippine economy expanded 6.5 percent in the January- September period, today's report showed. Public construction in the third quarter climbed 23.7 percent from a year earlier, while government spending gained 12 percent and household spending advanced 6.2 percent. (http://is.gd/XY5vxv)

Bloomberg 

The Philippines set to led the World for Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) by 2015

Philippines is set to led KPO in the world by 2015. Philippines is the 3rd - largest English Speaking country in the world. 

By: James Grundvig - Epoch Times Contributor

The Philippines, the World's New Call Center Capital

Interview with Gillian Virata of Business Process Association Philippines

Quietly, with little advertising, the Philippines by has surpassed India as the number one call center in the world.  Now this South China Sea nation of 7,000 islands, 39 million people workforce, and 470,000 English-speaking college students graduating every year is going to overtake India in non-voice (back office) business process outsourcing (BPO) by 2015.

More than an inexpensive labor pool—one quarter of what it costs in the U.S.—has drawn many Fortune 1,000 companies, including Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, HP, Oracle, Cisco, and dozens of others, to the Philippines to outsource parts of their operations to gain a competitive edge.

Beside the Philippines being the third largest English speaking country in the world, with 93 percent literacy rate of 100 million people, its close ties to the United States is also a big draw.  With a good technical education system, a large and diverse talent pool, from animators and software developers to health IT and CPAs, the Philippines is the next Asian tiger on the rise.

Another plus is there's little turnover of employees at Philippine call centers and BPO organizations, which has plagued India's outsourcing.  The reason: the Philippines has a system of meritocracy.  Add the "night differential" pay for those working the graveyard shift and the youngest 25-and-under workforce in the world over the next decade and the Philippines will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

It's the merit system, in which a graduate Filipino can work at call centers, excel and rise up the ranks to the executive office based on performance.  This golden carrot is a key driver for the retention of their employees.

From Business Process Pool to Flourishing Delta

By 2016, healthcare outsourcing in Business Process Management (BPM) is expected to grow to $1 billion in revenues and employ 100,000 people, according to Healthcare Information Management Outsourcing Association of the Philippines.

The expansion into other BPO segments has just begun.

In coming to the Philippines, this author, who has worked more than 25 years in the engineering-construction industry, recognized a building boom when he saw one.  Like U.S. cities during real estate boom of the 1980s, commercial and residential office towers have sprouted up in a half dozen micro-cities in metro Manila,  including Makati City, Pasig City, Quezon City, and Bonifacio Global City.  Viewing the growth on top of a Makati City office tower helipad, I saw the robust growth in terms of new buildings and tower cranes.

How and when did this third world country change into an emerging, business-first nation?

To learn the answer, I sat down with Gillian "Gigi" Virata, Senior Executive Director of Business Processing Association of the Philippines, at its Global City headquarters.

Professional, astute, and well versed in the past, present and future of the Philippines as the next hub in outsourcing, Ms. Virata knew the growth her country was experiencing had deeper roots than many people realized.

The Asian Miracle as Dance

In typical Asian fashion it began with a dance.  It was a ritual dance between two opposing forces.  The modern version of that dance came center stage in the 1980s when the good intentions of politicians met the craftiness of real estate developers. Almost by accident, an edict launched an era of perennial growth.  A nation with 90 percent of its population poor saw the first glimmers of hope.

Manila politicians offered vast stretches of real estate to developers, sweetened with various incentives, to build projects by hectare (1 hectare is 2.47 acres or 107,639 square feet) across the open, flat land around Manila Bay.

Knowing an opportunity when handed one, the real estate developers built vertically, not horizontally as the politicians had imagined. They erected tall buildings to achieve the hectares of space, by adding the accumulative square foot of all the floors for each office tower. They built upwards instead of outwards.  Other developers followed suit and the race was on its way with residential buildings to follow.

During that time, the consulting giant Arthur Andersen (pre Accenture), one of the Big Five accounting firms, came to the Philippines to begin outsourcing many of its back office operations. This was the mid '80s, pre-Internet, pre-email, and little bandwidth. Once they setup shop, other U.S. conglomerates came, too.  By the 1990s, Pixar, Disney, and Hollywood studios, focused to control runaway production costs, courted Filipino animators, not just to save on labor costs, but also to tap into a creative pool of artists.

Interview with Gigi Virata

After rattling off statistics on growth, Ms. Virata's explanation of the dance continued: "During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the government began breaking up the telecom monopoly and small call centers were setup by Sykes, the American company.  By 2001, startups and small developers arrived.  The government erected economic zones and more high-rises came.

"With the office towers we needed residential buildings.  Access to the work place had to support the mass hiring of new employees.  Soon we had a highly accessible work force with a great public transportation," she said.

"So we came up with a proposition to unlock those valuable assets on healthcare."

—Gillian Virata, Senior Executive Director of BPAP

"Is healthcare outsourcing the next phase of the Philippine outsourcing story?" I asked.

"We have 200,000 nurses in the Philippines that today can't find work overseas.  They have the skill set and education, but are in debt with student loans.  So we came up with a proposition to unlock those valuable assets on healthcare.  We have employed them to tag insurance codes for injuries and illness, and to do medical transcriptions.  It wasn't what they planned for, but they adjusted," Ms. Virata said.

What makes the Philippines a success as an outsource center is its ability to be flexible and continually fine-tune its business model.

"In 2004, BPAP was established.  We were the pioneers that setup Filipino companies for the BPO sector.  Two years later it was growing so fast that the growth needed a roadmap for filling up the buildings.  We also needed to keep the best graduates from moving overseas," she said.  "While the BPO sector is expected to grow 20 percent CAGR for the next five years, healthcare management and information systems, from Accenture and Cognizant to smaller Filipino companies, will grow even faster to serve the global market."

Ms. Virata paused, perhaps to take in how far her country has come in the past decade, and said, "BPAP has over 300 members.  The Philippines Software Association 200 members.  Call centers is the largest segment, with the next being IT."

After the interview, she sent a slide deck she presented on behalf of a half dozen outsourcing associations in October, titled, Experience the Excellence: The Philippine Advantage.

The deck showed the unique dance between government support and private partnerships has morphed from office towers to tax holidays, VAT exemptions, and other incentives to achieve the 20% YOY comprehensive growth as outlined in the BPAP Roadmap 2016.

With the Philippines being number one in outsourced voice—customer care, sales, collections, financial services, and technology—their BPM operations are a mature growing industry.  Today, it services IT, finance and accounting, human resources, healthcare BPO, procurement, banking, utilities, and telecom.  They are fast growing an analytics and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) capabilities.

"We have work to do as we move ahead," Ms. Virata emphasized. "We need to beef up the associations, put together more funding for real estate and telecom suppliers, attract more foreign investment just to keep pace of the growth."

To serve a global market starved for growth, she grasps how important the dance will become over the next few years. (http://is.gd/b6oE1S )

The Epoch Times

Philippines top 4th Best Market in FORBES Top countries to do business: ahead of China, India

The Philippines placed 87th among 141 countries in the Forbes' Best Countries for Business List, beating China and India but still behind most of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The Aquino government welcomed reports that the Philippines placed 87th among 141 countries in the Forbes' Best Countries for Business List, ahead of China and India, a Palace official said on Tuesday.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail said during the regular press briefing in Malacañang Palace on Tuesday that the Forbes listing is a positive indicator of renewed business confidence in the Philippines.

The Forbes' list which ranks countries based on different factors such as trade freedom, monetary freedom, property rights, innovation, technology, red tape, investor protection, corruption, personal freedom, tax burden and market performance showed that the Philippines was a better place for business than China at 96th and India at 97th.

The list showed that Singapore was the fourth best country for business, while Malaysia was 31st.

The list also showed Thailand in the 67th spot and Indonesia on 76th.

The Philippines, meanwhile, was better positioned than Vietnam at 109th place and Cambodia at 112th.

The Philippine ranking was the same as last year during which 130 countries were in the list.

Out of 11 factors considered in the report, the Philippines' ranking in five has dropped.

In terms of tax burden, the country's position dropped 21 places to 110th. In terms of trade freedom, the Philippines saw its ranking fall by seven places to 86th this year.

The country also fell five places to 128th in terms of red tape, while it declined two places to 112th in terms of corruption.

In personal freedom, the Philippines placed 67th compared to last year's 63rd.

The country, meanwhile, saw its ranking improve in monetary freedom to 61st spot from last year's 62nd.

The country also improved in terms of innovation to 62nd spot from last year's 69th.

In terms of investor protection, the country went up three places to 105th, while it jumped 11 notches to 4th place in terms of market performance.

The country's ranking was unchanged for property rights (84th) and technology (77th).

The 10 best countries for business this year were New Zealand, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and United Kingdom.

The countries at the bottom of this year's list or those considered the worst for business were Cote d'Ivoire, Yemen, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Haiti, Cameroon, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Chad and Guinea.

"It's good that we've managed to maintain the ranking considering that there are now more countries that are being considered for the Forbes list," Valte said.

"We are satisfied for the time being. But, moving forward, we hope to see the improvements in the ranking. We also note that the ranking went up in terms of monetary freedom and in innovation, and this is very important. Likewise, we went up in terms of the ranking for investor protection," Valte said.

"And, as you know, that is one of the things that concerns the President when it comes to doing business in the Philippines. We've always said that the President has always been pushing that we level the playing field when it comes to, not just foreign investors but to domestic investors as well," she added.

"We've also gone down in some and we're trying to look at everything that contributes to the ranking," she said.

With report from Asian Journal and PhilSTAR

With balls: BIR Kim Henares Equipped with Gun; rap cases ₱5.5 billion tax evasion to businessmen

Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares. Photo: PhiSTAR

Philippine tax sheriff takes aim at cheats to hit target

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines' chief tax collector is constantly thinking about targets. Sometimes she picks up an assault rifle and hits them.

In July 2010, newly-elected President Benigno Aquino made Kim Henares commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) because he wanted a tough tax sheriff - and he got one who's taking aim at the country's legion of tax cheats.

Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares fires a 45-calibre pistol during target shooting inside a firing range in Mandaluyong city

Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares inspects her target board during target shooting inside a firing range in Mandaluyong city

Aquino gave Henares presidential guards, but the tax lawyer and accountant said "I should know how to shoot their guns, just in case".

The president, a gun enthusiast, gave her lessons at shooting ranges. The 52-year-old Henares, who packs a pistol, now can wield an M-16 and SG552 Commando.

Her no-nonsense approach appears to be helping pull in more tax, which is pivotal to meeting a government goal - getting rating agencies to award the Philippines investment-grade status.

Historically, tax collection has sometimes been a "let's make a deal" game between taxpayers and bribable officials.

Henares, BIR's deputy commissioner from 2003 to 2005, has been chasing evaders and crooked bureaucrats to clean up collection and the image of the bureau, perceived to be one of the country's most corrupt institutions.

She is also trying to make tax-paying synonymous with patriotism. The chief, who amended BIR's vision statement to call it a partner in nation-building, makes sure her staffs attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies. She often wears a T-shirt sporting BIR's 2012 slogan: "I love Philippines. I pay taxes."

FEAR FACTOR

Her approach isn't just touchy-feely.

"We are changing ourselves from being primarily a customer service institution to a law enforcement institution," said Henares. "We were collecting taxes at the pace the taxpayer dictates."

Now, the bureau - which collects nearly 70 percent of all government revenue - is taking the initiative, and it wants taxpayers to be afraid of ignoring laws. "If you look at the psyche of the Filipino, if you do not put fear in them they will not obey," Henares said.

She does scare people, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. "They fear her, rightfully," he said.

Headway is being made in plugging leakages. In January-October 2012, BIR collected  858.6 billion pesos ($21 billion US Dollars), nearly 14 percent more than a year earlier and 28 percent above the same period of 2010. In 2011, when the economy grew only 3.9 percent, total collections rose 12.3 percent from the previous year.

Progress is still needed. In 2011, the Philippines had a tax revenue-to-GDP ratio of 12.3 percent, well below Malaysia's 15.3 percent and Thailand's 16 percent, according to the Asian Development Bank. But last year, the Philippines was ahead of Indonesia's 11.8 percent, which has won investment-grade ratings from two agencies.

CLOSE TO INVESTMENT-GRADE RATING

Aquino aims to get tax revenue to at least 15 percent of GDP by the end of his term in 2016. Helped by Henares's efforts with legislators, he is nearing approval of a "sin" tax bill that should lift cigarette and alcohol tax revenue by 40 billion pesos the first year.

Fitch, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service have all raised their Philippines ratings to one notch below investment grade, thanks to the government's improving finances.

"The tax ratio has been improving and that indicates they are getting somewhere to an extent," said Philip McNicholas, Fitch's Hong Kong-based director of Asia Pacific sovereign ratings.

"It is clearly a positive for the rating, but that's got to be sustained," he said.

To McNicholas, what's needed is a "structural uplift... you've got to change people's perceptions, change people's minds on these things, and get them to participate."

RUN AFTER TAX EVADERS

After taking the helm, Henares revived a BIR campaign to catch cheats and promised no let-up.

She quickly filed her first case, against a pawnshop chain owner who bought a Lamborghini for 26 million pesos during a year in which he and his wife allegedly did not pay tax. The case is pending in a tax-appeal court, with the accused out on bail.

The cases that Henares files at the Department of Justice can lead to arrests, but only a court can convict. To date, only five tax cheats have been convicted.

While Henares may have to wait years to get her first criminal conviction, she has filed 135 evasion cases so far. They include a 120 million peso suit against an impeached Supreme Court chief justice and a 5.5 billion peso claim against a billionaire businessman.

"I take pride in all the cases we file, they are fully backed by data and evidence," said Henares.

The tax chief said she isn't discouraged by how slow the legal process can be. For alleged cheats, "we can always attach their property, we can foreclose on them, and we can garnish their bank account," Henares said. "Don't push us to that point."

PLAYING HARD

The bureau is playing some hard-ball. Recently, it temporarily shut a hardware store in Davao which was accused of under-declaring sales by more than 30 percent.

Henares, who is married to a businessman, has an annual salary of only $17,000. Aquino gets paid about $20,000.

Abad, who was Aquino's campaign manager, said Henares long has had a reputation for being straight and firm.

"She is not very sociable, which actually is good because of the kind of work she does," Abad said. As she is incorruptible, people "don't even attempt to induce her with whatever form of inducement," he added.

In the office, Henares tries to make every minute count. She photocopied a newspaper article on places to get the tastiest roast pig in Metro Manila, not for eating-out tips but because she saw them as potential tax targets.

"I asked my people if they are registered and if they are issuing receipts," she said. (http://is.gd/E2LYKV)

($1 = 40.87 Philippine pesos as of November 27, 2012) 

Chicago Tribune

Israel Ask the Philippine to Lift Travel Ban and Welcome more Filipinos

Israel - Gaza War Scene. Photo: japanfocus.org

Israeli envoy seeks lifting of Philippines ban on workers in wake of cease-fire

Israel's envoy to Manila says he will ask the government to lift a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Israel following the end of heavy fighting between Israeli and Hamas forces.

Ambassador Menashe Bar-on said Tuesday that the ban is unnecessary because the situation in Israel was returning to normal after a cease-fire agreement last week.

Bar-on says there are more than 40,000 Filipinos in Israel, mostly employed as care-givers, who have access to bunker-like protection against rocket attacks. The Philippine government says there are also about 120 Filipinos in Gaza.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration banned the deployment of workers to Israel because of the conflict, but made its decision after Wednesday's cease-fire.

Overseas workers provide one of the largest sources of foreign revenue for the Philippines.

Filipino Workers Always Welcome in Israel – Ambassador

Filipino workers, particularly caregivers, will always be welcome in Israel because of their impressive skills, experience and work etiquette, according to a top Israeli diplomat in the Philippines.

"They are welcome. The way these (Filipino) caregivers work, they really know how to do it," Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Menashe Bar-on told Manila Bulletin in an interview. "They can speak English--so it's more easy to communicate between employer and employee."

Ambassador Bar-on said that ever since their government decided to give working visas for caregivers the number of Filipinos in Israel have increased despite the ongoing conflict with Palestinian militants.

There are about 41,000 Filipinos living and working in Israel, mostly in the caregiving sector.

But, according to Bar-on, the relationship between Israel and the Philippines does not depend merely on manpower.

"The Philippines and Israel also have very good trade relations and knowledge exchange," he said.

The Israeli envoy noted that more than 200 Filipinos are studying in Israel.

In addition, every year at least 40 Filipinos participate in higher education training, particularly doctors, to gain new skills and to be able to use different equipment in their profession.

Also 300 Filipino students have studied in Israel on how to use greenhouses and other technology related to agriculture.

"It is knowledge, and you cannot measure it in money," said Ambassador Bar-on.

Trade between the two countries has reached $200 million the previous year with Israel importing semiconductors and agricultural products such as dried mangoes from the Philippines.

Bar-on said Israel also extends assistance to the commercial sector in the Philippines "as we do business with them."

The Philippines and Israel have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations since the latter was established in 1948, but their relations predate this, he said.

President Manuel L. Quezon espoused a policy of "Open Doors" which facilitated the issuance of visas for Jewish refugees who are escaping the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Bar-on pointed out that the Philippines opened its doors to 10,000 Jews escaping Nazi Europe from 1936 to 1939, but only 1,200 made it.

The Israeli embassy is coming up with a project to show Filipinos "the wonderful part of history related to the Holocaust."

The project aims to show the generosity of the Filipino people who gave these refugees an opportunity to start a new life in the Philippines.

He said they plan to include it in the curriculum of De La Salle University with the support of the Department of Education.

"Part of wonderful history of the Philippines, we want to raise it to the knowledge of Filipinos today," Ambassador Bar-on said.

With report from Foxnews and Manila Bulletin

Spratlys - Kalayaan Islands SCHOOL Construction pushed – hurdles red tape and corruptions

Kalayaan Island Group, Province of Palawan, Philippines. Photo: jibraelangel2blog.blogspot.com

A municipal official and a lawmaker disclosed Monday that they were battling red tape in their effort to build a schoolhouse in Kalayaan Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as China insisted the Philippines' territorial claims in those waters were based on an erroneous interpretation of the international law of the sea.

A Chinese national newspaper has called President Aquino "rude" for pressing for the "internationalization" of the Philippines' territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea at the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last week.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. urged Malacañang to expedite the release of funds for the construction of a two-classroom school building on Pag-asa Island, the largest in the Kalayaan Group, to solidify the Philippine claim to that part of the Spratlys archipelago.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of Act Teachers was also at the news conference and he said he set aside P4.3 million from his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to help finance the construction of the proposed Pag-asa Island Elementary School.

The PDAF is a pork barrel that channels funds to congressional districts for project development.

Real schoolhouse

Bito-onon opened a single-classroom elementary school on Pag-asa in June. He built it from materials he had scrounged from the area to give the island its first learning center for children.

But his dream, he said, is a real schoolhouse for the small community on the island. The schoolhouse must be built to specifications laid down by the Department of Education, including at least two classrooms and toilets.

Tinio came to the island's aid, proposing to finance the construction of a real schoolhouse from his pork barrel allocation.

But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is taking too long in approving Tinio's proposal and releasing the funds.

Bito-onon called on Malacañang to speed up the release of the funds.

"If the project of Congressman Tinio pushes through, it will be a big help for us,"

Bito-onon said. "That will set a landmark for the history of Kalayaan. I'd like to make it a centerpiece program," he said.

Tinio said the construction of the schoolhouse would be significant amid tensions between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea.

He called on the Palace and the DBM to release the funds immediately so that the construction of the schoolhouse could begin.

Contested Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands) Province of the Philippines - invaded by neighbors . Photo:aurorametropolis.files.wordpress.com

Sovereignty

"It's not just a symbolic action, certainly it's not a military action," Tinio said. "But by building a [schoolhouse] in Kalayaan, we are showing the world that the government of the Philippines exercises actual, real sovereignty over citizens in the Spratlys," he added.

Pag-asa is the only inhabited island in the Kalayaan Group, located 684 kilometers west of the southern end of Palawan province.

The island has a population of about 300, 100 of them soldiers.

Bito-onon said there were only seven schoolchildren on the island—six in kindergarten and one in Grade 1.

But more children could be taken to the island to study there once a schoolhouse is built, he said.

At present, he explained, people on the island entrust the education of their children to relatives in other provinces where there are schools.

But once a real schoolhouse opens on Pag-asa, those children can be taken back to study right on the island, he said.

Pag-asa has a 1.3-km airstrip used by both the military and civilians. Bito-onon said the island could be developed into a tourism and fishery hub.

China angry

That will surely raise the hackles of China, which warned the Philippines in June not to proceed with the opening of the makeshift schoolhouse on Pag-asa, but was ignored.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao got into an exchange with Southeast Asian leaders during last week's ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea and the East Sea.

China got a boost from ally Cambodia, which tried to picture the ASEAN summit as agreeing not to "internationalize" the disputes, but President Aquino intervened, publicly rebuking Cambodian Premier Hun Sen for the attempt.

Mr. Aquino stated that ASEAN leaders had no agreement not to "internationalize" the territorial disputes and that the Philippines would press ahead with its search for a resolution of its dispute with China in accordance with international law.

Countering Mr. Aquino's pronouncements in Phnom Penh, China on Monday said the Philippines' claim to Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) was based on a "misinterpretation" of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In a statement issued Monday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila cited the China National Institute for South China Sea Studies' analysis debunking the Philippines' claim to Panatag Shoal based on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) provision of UNCLOS.

The institute reiterated China's historical ownership of the shoal, known to the Chinese as Huangyan Island.

"Clearly, the Philippines here has misinterpreted and misapplied UNCLOS on the basis of its own interests, which is contrary to international law and to UNCLOS," the statement said.

"It has been an established basic principle of international law that 'the land dominates the sea.' Coastal states derive their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over EEZs from their territorial sovereignty. Hence, UNCLOS cannot serve as a basis for a country to claim sovereignty over China's Huangyan Island," the statement said.

 Aquino 'rude'

China Daily criticized President Aquino for insisting on drawing other countries into discussions of the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea and East Sea, a reference to the United States.

"[I]t was very rude of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to interrupt and rebuke Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, alleging that no such consensus had been reached and he would continue to speak out on the global stage," the paper said in an editorial, titled "A rude Manila helps no one," published on Friday.

"Aquino's undiplomatic move was ill-advised, and will not help solve the issue in peace," the paper said.

The paper also criticized the Philippines' for inviting claimants Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam to four-way talks on the disputes in Manila next month.

DFA replies

Responding to the Chinese Embassy statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) insisted the Philippines' sovereignty over Panatag Shoal was based on the EEZ provision of UNCLOS.

"The Philippines has sovereignty over [Panatag Shoal] on the basis of effective occupation and effective jurisdiction," DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.

"Philippine sovereign rights over the EEZ and continental shelf of [the shoal] are government by UNCLOS," he said.

Hernandez reiterated the Philippines' call to China to "respect the territory of maritime domain" of the Philippines.

Echoing a statement by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Hernandez described China's claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, an "excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law."

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