Thursday, January 26, 2017

Duterte Factor Could Make the Philippines To Hit 7.5% Economic Growth in 2017

A group of Metro Manila Development Authority employees washing dishes following a communal lunch as traffic is seen past Manila's financial district in the background.PHOTO: AFP

Philippines 'highly likely' to hit 6.5-7.5% growth target for 2017: Minister

The Philippines is "highly likely" to achieve its 7.5 per cent economic growth target this year, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said on Thursday (Jan 26).

"The government will remain steadfast in its work and make sure economic growth is built on people-centered and people-powered policies, stable macroeconomic fundamentals and strong partnership with other countries," Mr Pernia told a media briefing.

The Philippine economy grew a better-than-expected 6.6 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, the national statistics agency said on Thursday, bringing full-year growth for 2016 to 6.8 per cent.

Annual growth was 7 per cent in the September quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the economy would expand an annual 6.5 per cent in the last three months of 2016.

Growth for October-December on a quarterly basis will be released later. The median forecast in the poll was for the economy to have expanded a seasonally adjusted 1.6 per cent, picking up from 1.2 per cent in the previous quarter.

Rising Tiger Philippines Posts Some of the World's Fastest Growth in ASEAN Region

With the World Bank forecasting expansion of more than 6 percent for eight years until 2019 -- unparalleled in the nation’s history -- the Philippines is mimicking gains seen in Malaysia and Thailand in the 1990s as they industrialized. Growth in the Philippines was 6.8 percent in 2016, faster than China’s, data released on Thursday showed.

The region’s former powerhouses are giving way to newcomers like the Philippines and Vietnam, whose younger populations and rising middle classes help lure manufacturers. While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has alienated some with his anti-U.S. rhetoric and deadly drug war, his ambitious $160 billion infrastructure plan and push for greater investment from China, Russia and the Middle East are strengthening the outlook.

“We are seeing a transformation to a stronger, more developed economy,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong. “Recent administrations worked hard to ensure macroeconomic stability which serves as its anchor.”

By 2020, the Philippines can achieve upper middle-income country status with per capita income of at least $4,126, the Asian Development Bank forecasts, joining the likes of China, Malaysia and Thailand.

Even with the strong growth outlook, financial markets have been mixed. While the government last week sold $2 billion of global bonds at the tightest spread ever, the peso is among the worst performing Asian currencies in the past six months and stocks have faltered.

Manufacturing, FDI

The ADB has said that boosting manufacturing is key to creating more jobs. The Philippines is among the least reliant on exports in the region, depending instead on a youthful and growing consumer base. Household spending, which makes up about 70 percent of gross domestic product, rose more than 6 percent for an eighth quarter.

“The economic takeoffs of countries like Thailand and Malaysia were built on their manufacturing prowess and this is where the government must redouble their efforts,” Neumann said. “This is a tough nut to crack. It will require infrastructure improvements and attracting more foreign direct investment to turn that into a reality.”

FDI to the Philippines surged more than five times to $5.8 billion between 2010 and 2015, but that still pales in comparison to Thailand’s $9 billion and Malaysia’s $11 billion.

To compete, Duterte is planning to boost infrastructure spending to 7 percent of GDP from the previous administration’s goal of 5 percent. He is also pushing for changes to tax laws to boost revenue and amend the Constitution to shift to federalism.

“If they manage to push through tax reforms and boost infrastructure spending, manufacturing will now become its next leg of growth, adding to remittances and outsourcing,” said Michael Wan, an economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in Singapore. “This will boost the growth potential to at least 7 percent in the years ahead.” (With report from Blomberg and Reuters)

Philippine Authority Statement for the 6.8% Economic Growth 2016

Building construction fast growth in the Philippines. Photo: Rappler

NEDA statement on Philippines’ Q4 2016 GDP growth

Below is the statement of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia on the performance of the Philippine economy for the fourth quarter of 2016 and full year 2016:

Friends from the media,

Colleagues in government,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

The 6.6 percent growth in the last quarter of 2016, backed by higher investment and consumption, is testament that our economy remains robust and is growing at a healthy and steady pace. Although this is lower than the 7.0 percent growth in the third quarter of 2016, this is higher than the 6.3 percent growth recorded during the fourth quarter of 2015. Let me note that the last quarter growth of an election year is usually slower than the first half due to the transition of government, and as investors adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Economic growth from the first to the last quarter of 2016 has been very encouraging, with an average full-year growth of 6.8 percent. This is along the high-end of the government’s target of 6.0 to 7.0 percent growth rate for 2016. This also brings the seven-year moving average of real GDP growth rate to 6.3 percent - the highest since 1978.

We are likely either the third or fourth fastest growing major Asian emerging economy in the fourth quarter after China’s 6.8 percent and Vietnam’s 6.7 percent. For the full year of 2016, we could be the second fastest, with China growing at 6.7 percent and Vietnam at 6.2 percent for the whole year.

Domestic demand, in terms of investment and consumption, continued to fuel growth for the fourth quarter of 2016.

There was continued robust expansion in investments, which grew by 15 percent. Public investment in infrastructure remained strong with public construction expanding by 23 percent, faster than the 20.1 percent growth in the third quarter. Private consumption grew, though slower than the previous quarter, to a still respectable 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter. This is attributed to high consumer confidence, modest inflation and interest rates, and improving labor market conditions.

External demand improved with exports in goods rising by 9.6 percent in the fourth quarter from 7.8 percent in the previous quarter. Growth in imports likewise accelerated to 18.6 percent, supported by sustained increase in purchases of capital and durable goods, which indicate business and consumer confidence, and sustainability of growth.

In terms of sectors on the supply side, growth in services improved to 7.4 percent and industry grew by 7.6 percent in the fourth quarter. However, agricultural growth was a letdown as it returned to negative territory, reeling from the effects of typhoons “Karen” and “Lawin” during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Let me also add that the total factor productivity of the Philippines has been the fastest in ASEAN, growing at 2.3 percent. Additionally, capital efficiency has been improving.

To provide an outlook:

The industry sector is seen to stay vibrant. The construction industry, in particular, will be in the limelight following the government’s aggressive commitment to approve and implement critical infrastructure projects.

The services sector is also expected to remain strong, supported by moderate inflation, expected influx in inbound tourists, expansion in retail trade, a healthy financial system, sustained growth of remittance, and the continuing growth of the IT-BPM sector.

Domestic demand has so far remained buoyant, and should continue to provide support to economic growth in the near to medium-term. Improved employment prospects and favorable income conditions will underpin the growth in household consumption.

Overall, given this growth in 2016, we believe that the target of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent for 2017 is highly likely. In the medium-term, we expect growth to strengthen further towards 7 percent to 8 percent. This would mean that, over the next six years, the economy will expand by about 50 percent in real terms, and per capita income will rise by over 40 percent. This should bring us to the upper middle income category standing by 2022. More importantly, we hope to reduce the poverty incidence to 14% by 2022, thereby lifting about 6 million Filipinos out of poverty.

To achieve these goals, we must not underestimate the risks that lie ahead. For now, our biggest roadblock is extreme weather disturbances like that of the El Nino. The country remains vulnerable to very strong typhoons. There is a strong call to develop our agriculture sector and make it resilient to such shocks. We are deeply concerned about the contraction of the crops sector in the fourth quarter following a contraction the previous year. More disturbing is the performance of the fishery subsector that remained in negative territory for almost 7 years now (except only in 2013).

Reducing the cost of food, especially of rice, is important in reducing poverty. At the same time, we need to raise productivity in the agricultural sector by helping farmers transition to higher value crops and making technology easily accessible.

Other potential downside risks also include possible policy shifts in the US, greater volatility in capital flows, and geopolitical risks. Thus, the government needs to remain vigilant and consider potential repercussions to the Philippine economy.

We need to nurture entrepreneurship and attract investments to produce higher-paying, higher quality jobs especially outside of Metro Manila. In turn, such investments will require a truly secure and stable economic and political environment. This will require that policy statements are consistent and predictable with each branch of government, or at least not logically inconsistent across the three branches of government.

Moreover, we need to ensure that our sectors are resilient and diversified in both of products and markets. In particular, we need to champion innovation and diversification in the industry sector as it is still heavily dependent on external demand. In the services sector, there is a need for a policy environment that makes it easier for firms to set up and operate businesses, as well as to comply with regulations. In this respect, we need to make our regulatory system much more efficient and transparent.

As you may be aware, we are now in the final stage of crafting the Philippine Development Plan or PDP for 2017-2022. This PDP provides a holistic and comprehensive approach to equipping the economy to accommodate higher growth in the following years. Importantly, this PDP is people-centered, as it is anchored on the people’s aspirations for the long-term, as articulated in AmBisyon Natin 2040. Among the government’s priorities are infrastructure development, human capital investment, regional development, social protection and humanistic governance in order to lay the foundation for inclusive growth, a high-trust society, resilient communities, and a globally competitive knowledge economy.

Also, we are happy with the development of President Duterte signing Executive Order 12 that mandates government to support modern family planning for mothers across the country. With the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, we can be assured of a healthier workforce, well-prepared for employment. Also with the right social development policies, we can develop the Filipino workforce to be both competent and adaptable. It will also greatly help our aimed-for poverty reduction target.

As we start the New Year, I am hopeful that we will maintain strong economic growth for the following four quarters and subsequent years. The government will remain steadfast in its work, making sure that economic growth is built on people-centered and people-powered policies, stable macroeconomic fundamentals, and strong partnerships with other countries.

For now, we can expect an eventful year ahead. Aside from the Philippines hosting the 2016 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant this January, this too is a significant year because of the Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN 2017 Summit. Through the Summit’s series of multilateral and bilateral meetings to be held all throughout 2017, we anticipate more opportunities to partner with our neighbor countries, and we hope to forge new alliances, too, in the process.

Also expect the release of the PDP 2017-2022 next month, which makes for a very quick turnaround from the previous PDP. This is because we want to shorten the transition and bring to a close this “wait-and-see” period. As you know, the PDP is the blueprint of government policies and strategies. With the new Plan, the private sector, including those in business, will know exactly how government intends to steer the country’s development towards achieving for all a “matatag, maginhawa at panatag na buhay.”

It has been a good first year for the Duterte administration, and we are thankful for the cooperation between and among citizens, the government, and the private sector in ensuring a smooth transition from the previous administration to the current administration. More than just economic gain, indeed, achieving our collective aspirations is within reach if there is unity among sectors in working towards real, inclusive, and sustainable growth.

Thank you and have a good day.

Published at Business World Online

Chinese Visa Applicants to Visit the Philippines Jumps up to 250%

IMPROVED RELATIONS. Ties between the Philippines and China strengthen following President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit to Beijing in October 2016. Rappler file photo

Visa applications of Chinese to PH surge by 250%

The number of Chinese applying for a tourist visa to the Philippines rises to 1,400 daily

With the country's friendlier ties with China, more Chinese tourists are coming to the Philippines.

The chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) revealed on Thursday, January 26, that the number of Chinese applying for a tourist visa to the Philippines has surged by 250% to 1,400 daily.

"We were informed in China by the Philippine Embassy that applications for visa to the Philippines has really shot up from 400 a day now it's about 1,400 a day, meaning that Chinese tourists are going to be coming in groves starting with the warming of relations and at least throughout the Duterte administration and hopefully beyond," NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia said in a briefing.

Pernia attributed this to the improved diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China since Duterte's state visit to Beijing in October 2016, leading to the lifting of Chinese restrictions on travel to the Philippines.

Latest available data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) show China is the 3rd largest contributor of foreign visitors to the country, totalling 630,327 in November 2016, trailing behind Korea's 1,331,701 and the United States' 771,849. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Philippines-China relations)

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua had said in a statement that he expects one million tourists from China to visit the Philippines in 2017.

Philippine Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said Zhao's forecast is consistent with the DOT's goal to attract at least 7 million international visitors this year.

More infra partnerships

Aside from the rising number of Chinese tourists in the country, another effect of the improved ties between the Philippines and China is the increased loan assistance for several infrastructure projects. (READ: Ties with China to fill infra spending gap, pose risk to PPP)

A Philippine delegation led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has submitted a total of 40 "large and small" infrastructure projects to China for possible loan financing and assistance in conducting feasibility studies. Further talks on these proposals will take place in Manila in February.

Dominguez said the meeting of the high-level Philippine team with officials of China's Commerce Ministry was a "productive first step towards achieving the desire of (Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping) in further reinforcing ties between the two countries."

Of the 40 projects, 15 are being proposed for loan financing, while another 25 are for feasibility study support.

Because of this policy direction, Philippine contractors are eyeing up to $100 billion worth of infrastructure deals with Chinese companies. –

Philippines Ranks 2nd Asia's Fastest Economiic Growth in 2016

The Metro Manila skyline with its towering commercial and residential buildings, depicts a photo of continued economic progress. (Photo by Jacqueline Hernandez) | Manila Bulletin

PH now Asia’s 2nd fastest-growing economy, expands by 6.8% in 2016

The Philippine economy advanced 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, on the back of higher investment and consumption, bringing the full-year growth to 6.8 percent.

Last year’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate makes the country the second fastest growing major Asian emerging economy, with China growing at 6.7 percent.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Ernesto Pernia said this is near the high-end of the government’s target of 6 to 7 percent growth rate for 2016.

While the U.S. and the European Union have criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war and investors have balked at his anti-U.S. rhetoric, his ambitious $160 billion infrastructure plan and push for greater investment is strengthening the growth outlook.

According to NEDA, expansion in investments grew by 15 percent. Public investment through public construction expanded by 23 percent, faster than the 20.1 percent growth in the third quarter.

Private consumption also thrived to 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter, though slower than the third quarter. The growth has been attributed to high consumer confidence, modest inflation and interest rates, and improving labor market conditions.

The World Bank forecast expansion will exceed 6 percent until 2019, among the fastest growth in the world this decade. (With a report from Bloomberg and Manila Bulletin)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Philippines tells outsiders not to use ASEAN as 'proxy' for USA -China Power rivalry

Philippine Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana addresses the Fullerton Forum at the Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in Singapore on January 23, 2017. (Photo: AFP / ROSLAN RAHMAN)

Philippines tells outsiders not to use ASEAN as 'proxy' for rivalry

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Philippines told countries outside Southeast Asia on Monday not to use the region as "a proxy for their rivalry" as it wanted to preserve unity and establish a mechanism to resolve disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is chairman of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year and will host its annual meetings, some of which are joined by outside powers including China and the United States.

The issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea pitting China against several Southeast Asian countries has in recent years emerged as a source of friction in the bloc.

Some ASEAN countries have taken positions on the issue in line with China, while others have been more suspicious of China's assertiveness, reflecting U.S. thinking.

Philippine defense minister Delfin Lorenzana told delegates from more than 20 countries at a security conference in Singapore that outside powers should not pursue their competition in the region.

"As the host to the leaders of the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and India, we will have to remind our friends, firmly if necessary, not to use ASEAN as a proxy for their rivalry," Lorenzana said.

"We will reaffirm the unity and solidarity of ASEAN amidst this emerging super-power competition."

ASEAN is drawing up a code of conduct in the hope of making sure all claimants follow legal and diplomatic processes in settling territorial disputes.

Lorenzana said he hoped the code would provide the framework for lasting solutions to the disputes over the waters. About $5 trillion worth of goods passes through the South China Sea every year.

"We want a rules-based, lasting solution to this issue," he said.

China has built several artificial islands in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, which an arbitration tribunal last year ruled unlawful.

With billions of dollars of potential Chinese trade and investment at stake, the Philippines has a difficult balancing act in upholding its sovereignty claims while staying on the better terms President Rodrigo Duterte has established with historic rival China.

On Monday, China agreed to cooperate with the Philippines on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion focusing on poverty reduction, the two countries said after a meeting in Beijing.

It marked the first announcement from a two-day visit by a Philippine cabinet delegation to China that comes three months after President Rodrigo Duterte visited Beijing to pave the way for new commercial alliances. [L4N1FD207]

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the waters.

(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Additional reporting by Karen Lema in MANILA; Writing by Anshuman Daga; editing by Robert Birsel)  - Business Insider

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ilo-ilo City Sights and sounds of Dinagyang Festival - Must Experience!

Ilo-ilo City Dinagyang Festival 2017 - JAY GADONG/CONTRIBUTOR

Sights and sounds of Dinagyang

The streets of Iloilo turn festive today as street dancers liven up the celebration in honor of Sto. Nino

ILOILO CITY—It’s the merriest time of the year in this capital of Iloilo province as about a million Sto. Niño devotees, spectators and revelers poured into the streets for this year’s Dinagyang Festival.

The festival highlights the Kasadyahan contest—a showcase of festivals, products and history of participating towns—that was held yesterday and the Ati tribe competition slated Sunday.

The Dinagyang, one of the festivals held in January in honor of the Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus), is known for the colorful brisk performances of Ati tribes in a street dance competition.

The groups and tribes competing in the two major events performed in five judging areas: Freedom Grandstand, in front of the Iloilo provincial capitol, corner Mabini and Delgado Streets, corner Quezon and Ledesma Streets, and in front of the Maria Clara stage.

Ten groups joined the Kasadyahan Regional Cultural Competition Saturday. These were Tribu Salakayan of Miag-ao town in Iloilo province, Tribu Tatusan (Caluya town in Antique province), Tinabu-ay Festival (Murcia town, Negros Occidental province), Pintados de Pasi (Passi City in Iloilo), Tribu Manog-Gama (Maasin town in Iloilo), Tribu Patabang (Tapaz town in Capiz province), Hubon Ninagtong sa Manggahan (Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras province), Tribu Haw-as (Dumangas town in Iloilo), Tribu Dos Once (San Carlos City in Negros Occidental) and Masskara Festival (Bacolod City), a noncompeting guest performer.

Ten tribes are competing for the championship in the Ati tribe competition Sunday.

These are Paghidaet of La Paz National High School, Obreros of Barrio Obrero National High School, Pan-ay of Fort San Pedro National High School, Amihan of Mandurriao National High School, Buntatalanit of Tiu Cho Teg Ana Ros Foundation Integrated School, Salognon of Jaro National High School, Dagatnon of Ramon Avanceña National High School, Panayanon of Iloilo City National High School, Ilonganon of Jalandoni Memorial National High School and Abiador of Asian College of Aeronautics.

Two guest tribes are also performing Sunday.

Security measures had been tightened in the city. Police said they asked telecommunication companies to shut down mobile phone signals during the festival’s main events, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Security risk assessments

Senior Supt. Remus Zacharias Canieso, chief of the Iloilo City police, said specific security measures depended on the local police’s security risk assessments.

“We had not received reports or monitored threats,” he said.

Cell phone signals were shut down in specific areas, lasting for several hours, in Cebu City during the Sinulog Festival last weekend as part of the security measures against explosive devices detonated through mobile phones.

The move came after the twin blasts in Hilongos town in Leyte province on Dec. 28, which left 32 people watching a boxing match in the town plaza wounded. Police said two improvised explosive devices were used in the bombing.

The Iloilo police have banned canned and bottled drinks during the Dinagyang Festival to ensure the safety of spectators.

Police have also implemented a three-day gun ban, starting Friday, as part of security measures. All permits to carry firearms outside of residence had been suspended in the city during the festival period.  – Philippine Daily Inquirer

Pia Wurtzbach tears up after Shugart calls her 'a hard act to follow'

Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach reacts as she was announced as the new Miss Universe at the Miss Universe pageant. Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez was incorrectly named as Miss Universe before her crown was taken away. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The outgoing Miss Universe queen Pia Wurtzbach was reduced to tears when she learned that the Miss Universe organization President Paula Shugart believes she was one of a kind.

In an interview with Boy Abunda at “Bottomline” Saturday evening, the Philippines bet that won the Miss Universe title in 2015 tried to fight back tears when Abunda told her what Shugart had said about her.

“Pia is a hard act to follow, because she defined this. She made it her own, and I’m definitely going to miss her. I will be crying,” Abunda quoted Shugart as saying.

“I’ll be crying too,” Wurtzbach said, trying to dab away her tears.

“Oh my gosh, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry!”

Wurtzbach won the most controversial Miss Universe title after host Steve Harvey wrongly crowned Miss Colombia as the queen, only to correct himself after and announce that the Philippines’ bet won the crown.

Wurtzbach has led an advocacy for HIV awareness during her one-year reign as the queen who ended the 42-year title drought for the Philippines.

She said Shugart’s words were the best compliments she has ever heard since she won the crown, and it made her feel that she has done her part as the Miss Universe.

“That’s the best compliment for me, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do during my reign,” Wurtzbach said.

She said she wanted to be her own instead of copying the footsteps of other queens before her.

“I didn’t want to copy any former Miss Universe title holder. I just want to be myself,” Wurtzbach said.

She said she did not want to be remembered as the typical beauty queen, and that she wanted to make her personality shine during her reign.

“I want to be remembered as a different kind of beauty queen, na hindi very rehearsed and robotic. I just want to be myself. And to hear that … it’s really the best thing,” Wurtzbach said between sniffs.

“I”m going to miss them, too. And I’m so happy and grateful, that they took care of me,” she added.

Wurtzbach said she wanted to return the favor to the Miss Universe organization by doing her best even after she turns over the crown.

“I’m going to make them proud. I feel like that’s the best gift I can give back to them,” Wurtzbach said.

“The way I can think of giving back is just continuing her legacy that she taught me,” she said of Shugart.

After her reign, Wurtzbach would be serving as a Miss Universe ambassador, and was also set to appear as special guest in the fifth cycle of the model search “Asia’s Next Top Model.”  JE/rga – Philippine Daily Inquirer

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Japan's Abe pledges $8.7 billion USD a 5 year public-private package for Philippines Infrastructure projects

Japan PM Abe at Duterte home in Davao, the Philippines on Jan. 12. Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

MANILA (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a 1 trillion yen ($8.7 billion) aid package, including government aid and public investments, for the Philippines over the next five years to help its infrastructure development, in a bid to strengthen strategic ties with the key nation in the Asia-Pacific region amid China's growing presence.

"We will leverage Japanese technology and know-how to the fullest extent to positively cooperate for the improvement of infrastructure in Metro Manila and the whole of the Philippines," said Abe in a joint press conference in Manila after meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Abe is the first foreign head of government to visit the country since Duterte took power last June and met Duterte for the third time.

Abe and Duterte said they agreed to enhance maritime and security cooperation in their talks at the Malacanang Palace. Abe said China's military buildup in disputed waters of the South China Sea influences regional peace and stability, and is a global concern.

"We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region," Duterte said. "As maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind."

The two countries agreed to establish a joint committee to expedite Japan's involvement in infrastructural development in the fast-growing Southeast Asian nation, Abe said. Such an effort by Tokyo is also apparently aimed at thwarting China's growing influence on the Philippines.

Abe also said Japan will provide support for rehabilitation facilities for drug addicts in the Philippines.

The Philippines is Abe's first stop of his four-nation tour since Thursday. He will also visit Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Abe hopes that the Philippines, a key maritime nation in the Asia-Pacific region, remains committed to an alliance with the United States in maintaining regional peace and stability, and countering the growing assertiveness of China at sea, Japanese officials said.

Duterte, a former Davao mayor and prosecutor, has reacted angrily when Washington aired concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

Duterte has also resumed talks with China, the world's second-largest economy, to boost cooperation and signaled he is prepared to set aside territorial disputes with the nation in the South China Sea.

Abe's meeting with Duterte at Malacanang Palace in Manila comes ahead of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20. It is unclear whether the Philippines' relations with the United States will mend under the incoming Trump administration, analysts said.

Abe also promised Japan's full support for the Philippines in chairing a series of meetings involving the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, expecting their efforts to address the South China Sea issue will be high on agenda.

Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes between China, the Philippines and four other governments, but it is concerned about China's rising military presence in the resource-rich area and busy shipping lanes.

Tokyo also faces challenges from Beijing related to China's claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

During the Abe-Duterte summit, Japan and the Philippines exchanged papers on Japan providing high-speed boats to the Philippine Coast Guard in a bid to enhance maritime safety. The offer was announced by Abe when Duterte visited Japan last October.

Tokyo will also aid flood prevention work in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao where Duterte is from.

Abe and Duterte will meet for breakfast at the Philippine president's home in Davao in Mindanao on Friday, the officials said, as Abe seeks to build a close personal relationship of trust with him. Abe will become the first sitting foreign leader to visit Davao, the officials said. – The Mainichi

Nickelodeon to open in 2020 a 400 Hectares Dora the Explorer, & Underwater Sponge Bob Park in Palawan Island Philippines

El Nido, Palawan Island in the Philippines

Philippine environment Minister Gina Lopez vocally rejected the Dora the Explorer underwater theme park plan as the concept of the “name underwater park” could destroy the environment but it seem just a misunderstanding as the project which is expected to open by year 2020 is just a common resort except that there are some futurist feature such as underwater restaurant and underwater lounge.

A 1,000 acre or 400 hectares area is referring to land and not underwater. The kiddy TV program “Dora the Explorer” which teaches the kids about nature; animals, mountains and plants could not be realistic to be built under the water.

SpongeBob the Squarepants does not need hectares wide area underwater to looks realistic so the vocal objection of the Philippines minister could be just misunderstanding about the concept of the controversial wide underwater area of the whole project.

Recently, environment minister says she will not allow US TV network Nickelodeon to build park on pristine Palawan Island.

Hidden lagoon in Palawan Island, the Philippines

The Philippine environment minister has said the US children’s television network Nickelodeon will not be allowed to build an underwater theme park on one of the country’s most pristine islands.

Nickelodeon’s parent firm announced on Monday it would build a themed attraction inspired by its cartoon characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants as part of a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) development on Palawan, generating alarm from environmentalists.

The environment secretary, Gina Lopez, said on Wednesday she would reject the project.

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“Lopez says she won’t allow the underwater theme park in Palawan,” the environment department tweeted.

“Dora the Explorer animated kiddy TV show”

In an interview with ABS-CBN television, Lopez said she would not allow any project that would damage the environment and the welfare of local communities.

“That’s our wealth. It’s not allowed. You can’t kill the corals. For a theme park? No. No way, man,” said Lopez, who has been a vocal opponent of mining projects in Palawan.

“The commitment of the government is first and foremost and always, always to the benefit of our people.”

Conservation groups call Palawan the country’s “last ecological frontier” because of its relatively untouched coastlines and forests, which are among the oldest and most diverse in south-east Asia.

Palawan is home to two UNESCO world heritage-listed sites, a subterranean river and the Tubbataha coral reefs.

Tubbataha coral reefs, Palawan island in the Philippines

Monday’s statement by Nickelodeon’s parent firm, Viacom International Media Networks, said its resort would open in 2020 and feature restaurants and lounges six meters (20ft) below sea level.

It also said the Palawan project would “take its place alongside” other Nickelodeon-branded attractions such as Wet’n’Wild in Australia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Land in Russia and IMG Worlds of Legends theme park in Dubai.

An online petition organized by local environmentalists calling for the project to be stopped attracted more than 125,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Viacom’s Philippine partner, Coral World Park, issued a statement on Wednesday insisting the development was not a theme park and emphasized that it would not all be underwater.

The statement also highlighted the project’s “ocean conservation focus” and said it would help fund environmental protection in the area.

It referred to plans for a marine sanctuary and said the Coral World Park would “be the largest coral reef conservation program in Asia”.

“There has never been any form of communication from our side mentioning a theme park,” said Susan Lee, Coral World Park’s marketing and communications director.

Palawan Island rank as the best island in the world for already 2 consecutive years.


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