Tuesday, 23 December 2008

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PGMA doubles allocation for govt’s pro-poor programs to P10 billion

Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, Malacanang said today that the P5 billion allocation for the government’s pro-poor subsidy programs will be raised to P10 billion next year in an effort to soften the impact of the global economic whiplash especially on the poorest of the poor Filipino families.

The Cabinet reached the decision to double the budget of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Pantawid Pamilya Program at its meeting this morning amid projections that the full impact of the worsening global economic crunch will be felt next year.

In 2006, or two years before the Wall Street collapse triggered the current global crisis, the President launched the Pantawid Pamilya Program in response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Briefing newsmen covering Malacanang after the Cabinet meeting, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the additional allocation of P5 billion released last week for the Pantawid Pamilya Program would double the number of beneficiaries from 320,000 households or one million children to 640 households are nearly two million children attending school.

Cabral said the President has given her until the first quarter of next year to identify the beneficiaries of the program who will be given cash assistance.

“We were directed by the President to saturate the 20 poorest provinces in the country if we can cover 100 percent of the poor households in the provinces with available resources. If there is money left, we will go to other provinces,” she said.

Under the program, a household that has three children in school will receive a grant of P1,400 a month, P500 for health and P300 each for 10 months for each child in school, day care or high school or up to a maximum of three children.

Cabral said the subsidy program now covers 40 percent of the 4.9 million poorest households, “a significant number of people.”

She said that under the government guidelines, the poverty threshold is P1,200 a month per person. If there are five persons in the family the total income is P6,000 a month. “Yun ang poverty threshold. Consider na poor ka if that is the only income you have.”

Cabral explained that children covered the government’s subsidy program should log at least an 85 percent school attendance, otherwise the assistance would be terminated.

But she added that so far, beneficiaries have complied strictly with the guidelines of the assistance program.

Earlier today, Malacañang said that while its strong anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs were in place, the “past months have been difficult for us.”

The “President has made it her personal mission to help the poorest among us survive this global financial meltdown,” Deputy Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said in a statement.

“The DSWD, for one, will get a P5B budget increase to support its pro-poor programs, particularly the 4 Ps, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, a flagship project of the President which provides subsidies to poor families and is expected to help 321,000 households,” Fajardo added.

DA to craft 2009 high-impact projects blueprint vs global crisis

MANILA (PNA) -- Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has given marching orders to DA officials to craft a comprehensive blueprint that would ensure the effective and speedy implementation of the agency’s “high-impact” projects in 2009, in sync with Malacanang’s plan to pump-prime the economy and preserve as well as create jobs in the midst of the global economic meltdown.

Meeting with key DA officials and regional executive directors (REDs) during last Monday’s Management Committee (ManCom) session, Yap said these “high-impact” projects are topped by those that are “labor-intensive” and can be quickly implemented as soon as the Palace has frontloaded funds for its economic stimulus program for 2009.

He said that these upcoming projects should be able to preserve jobs and generate new employment opportunities, given that “job creation is the first line of defense against the global financial meltdown”.

Projects that are encountering problems such as those with right-of-way issues or are difficult to implement will be set aside until they can be resolved, Yap said.“We should hit the ground running in 2009,” Yap said.

“Our goal is to award and implement 60% of our hard infrastructure projects by the first half of 2009 so that we can create more jobs and rev up the economy, especially in the countryside.”

Yap’s directives came as Malacañang moved to improve the ‘absorptive capacity” (or ability to utilize budgetary allocations) of government agencies in 2009 by baring plans to slash the allocations of offices that are slow in implementing projects and rechanneling such funds to other agencies able to deliver on their program commitments for the year.

“The DA family will draw up this master plan on the implementation of its high-impact projects in consultation with industry leaders in the agriculture and fisheries sector, so that the Department can pinpoint where the government will have to invest its resources and where the private sector can provide funding and other forms of assistance for other economic stimulus initiatives.

Yap pointed out the need for the Department to “synchronize” its investments with the private sector to optimize public spending in response to this suggestion by industry leaders from the various agriculture subsectors during an executive session or consultative meeting at the BWSM that was held prior to the ManCom meeting.

At the same time, Yap also stressed that the DA will monitor closely the implementation of its high-impact projects to ensure the judicious disbursement of funds particularly to its program partners in the private sector.

This objective dovetails with Yap’s earlier order on the creation of national and regional monitoring teams to conduct “periodic field validation and rapid appraisal” of the Department’s intervention measures under its banner program Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA), and the adoption of stringent guidelines on the release of funds to program partners like nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs).

To maximize the use of DA funds, Yap said the DA is also shifting its focus on hard or “big-ticket” projects covering irrigation maintenance, postharvest facilities, farm-to-market roads (FMRs) and rural extension work, in lieu of “soft” projects like fertilizer support to farmers.

For instance, he said, instead of the fertilizer discount coupons that the DA has given out in 2008 to farmer-beneficiaries in partnership with local government units (LGUs), the Department will instead provide organic fertilizer manufacturing support to farmers in 2,600 clusters or sites where the DA will channel a bulk of its funds for intervention measures in 2009.

These clusters of adjacent or neighboring farms are spread out across 48 provinces, mostly in rainfed areas, where per-hectare yields are below the national average of 3.8 tons per hectare.

Organic fertilizer manufacturing support and other intervention measures will be channelled to these 2,600 clusters as a way to rapidly boost palay harvests by raising their per-hectare yields to the national average, he said.

Moreover, the DA will give priority to areas where the local government units are willing to provide counterpart funding for farm-friendly programs, as a way to funnel more funds into the countryside, stimulate rapid growth and create more jobs. (PNA)

FIELDS program cited for increase of Camiguin agriculture production

CAMIGUIN – The government’s FIELDS program has resulted in a significant increase in agricultural production in this province, thereby raising the income of the farmers.

Camiguin Gov. Jurdin Jesus Romualdo said today the benefits of the FIELDS program to the farmers tops the list of his report to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she leads the Christmas gift-giving event for indigent residents at the provincial capitol grounds here tomorrow (Dec. 24).

FIELDS stands for fertilizer, irrigation and fertilizer; equipment, education and extension; loans, dryers and post harvest facilities; and seeds.

President Arroyo launched the enhanced agriculture productivity program in keeping with her administration’s to make food available, accessible and affordable especially to the poorest of the poor who are hardest-hit by the global price increases.

The six food production assistance package was unveiled by the President during the National Food Summit held last April at the Fontana Convention Center at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.

Governor Romualdo said Camiguin’s palay production posted an 11 percent increase; corn by 2 percent this year as a result of the implementation of the FIELDS program.

Romualdo said other Camiguin products that posted better yields were banana, root crops, coconut, and the province’s famous sweet lanzones.

“We have managed to raise farmers’ production and profit. Increasing the productivity and income of small farmers and fisherfolks is the major weapon by which we can fight hunger and poverty in the province,” he said.

Romualdo said the FIELDS program underscored the President’s desire to ensure national food sufficiency in the coming years, especially in the face of the global economic uncertainties that are expected to persist until next year.

PGMA plays Santa Claus to indigent residents of Camiguin tomorrow

CAMIGUIN – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will play Santa Claus to about 3,000 indigent residents here tomorrow (Wednesday) a mere hours away from the traditional “noche buena” celebration on Christmas eve.

The President will lead the distribution of Christmas gifts to indigent residents at the provincial capitol grounds here.

To assist the President in the distribution of family food packs are Camiguin Gov. Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, Camiguin Lone District Representative Pedro Romualdo and Mambajao Mayor Ma. Luisa Romualdo.

Governor Romualdo said Camiguin residents are very happy and privileged to be with the President a day before Christmas Day, considering her hectic schedule.

“We are much privileged to be with the President on the eve of the noche buena. The distribution of Christmas food packages really shows her concern for the poor residents in our province,” Romualdo said.

He said that by Dec. 29 a total of some 6,000 poor residents of the province would receive family food packs.

In the spirit of the Christmas season, the President had also spearheaded a medical and dental mission, and distributed family food packs to 2,000 indigent residents in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.

Composition of GRP peace panel that will resume talks with MILF is out

Malacañang officially named today Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis as the new chairman of the government peace panel that will resume negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process chief retired general Hermogenes Esperon made the announcement in a press briefing this afternoon a day after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reiterated her commitment to peace through negotiations in her speech at the 73rd founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) last Monday.

Esperon said that the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel would be headed by Undersecretary Rafael Seguis whose members would include Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, General Santos City Mayor Adelbert Antonino, and sectoral representative Ronald Adamat from Maguindanao.

He said Secretary Pangandaman role is to provide continuity of the peace negotiations and to represent the Muslims while Mayor Antonino is to represent the local government and the Christian community and congressman Adamat is to represent the Lumads.

"We have almost all sectors represented now...but we will weigh it thoroughly so [that] all sectors would have strong representation in the panel," said Esperon.

On Dec. 1, the President already named Seguis to head the new GRP peace panel in order to resume peace negotiations with the MILF.

Seguis, who is currently the DFA undersecretary for Special Concerns, will head the new government negotiating panel with the MILF after the dissolution of the one which was headed by retired general Rodolfo Garcia.

He also served as Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia, East Timor, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq and to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Dureza: Malacanang respects Aquino’s decision to seek Estrada’s forgiveness

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said today that Malacañang respects the decision of former President Corazon Aquino to seek the forgiveness of former President Joseph Estrada for helping the anti-Estrada movement that led to his ouster in Jan. 2001.

In a press briefing in the Palace this afternoon, Dureza described Aquino’s public apology to Estrada as a reconciliatory position.

He said it should be noted that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself had “made the supreme reconciliatory move by exercising her presidential prerogative” of granting pardon to Estrada.

In the same new briefing, Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Aquino’s mea culpa was a “good development” for the unification of the contending political groups in the country.

“We should make every effort to reconcile with one another. Unity, not division, should be the order of the day. In that sense, we congratulate the former president for making the gesture of reconciliation as what President Arroyo has done,” Puno said.

“Hopefully, this will open the way to calming down political fires that rage in the country,” he added.

PGMA’s anti-poverty projects launch in Sarangani

MAASIM, Sarangani (December 23, 2008) – The early Christmas visit of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Malacaňang's top officials here aims to jumpstart anti-poverty efforts in communities affected by recent atrocities by Moro rebels.

The Department of National Defense (DND) started its infra and livelihood programs for the communities with the President leading a ceremonial repair of a two-classroom building worth P250,000 in Maasim Elementary School on December 17.

The DND is providing a total of P12 million for school repairs, barangay halls, water systems, farm-to-market roads, and seawall to Maasim and Kiamba towns.

"We will expand the projects as it is proper to do so, to the poorest of the poor in our communities and those who need our immediate assistance," Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said.

Teodoro said the local government units identify the projects where the department can effectively give assistance.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will work hand in hand with the local government in implementing and supervising livelihood assistance for the communities.

"Ito yung mga tindahan na sinabi sa atin ng local government na susuportahan natin (These are the small enterprises according to the local government that we need to support)," Teodoro said.

In Maasim, 300 families are targeted to benefit from the livelihood projects and a hundred families more in Kiamba town.

During the visit, the DSWD turned over 2,000 food packs to the local government for the communities.

"The President, I believe, is genuinely happy since the people here being the beneficiary has something they understood that they will benefit from," Teodoro said.

"The governor here and the local government executives have the capacity, with experience, and the integrity. It is really an honor because it makes our job easier.

"Teodoro said communities are thankful with the presence of the military in their area to ensure their security.

Armed conflicts between some Moro rebels and government forces erupted in the neighboring towns of Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum during the past few months, displacing thousands of families from their homes.

Army troops from the 28th Infantry Battalion have overrun a camp of the so-called LMG in Maitum town following a chance encounter in the hinterlands of Tuanadatu two days before the President arrived.

"Whenever there is a threat to our civilian communities, we will not hesitate to take action not only against the Lawless Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Groups (LMG), but also other groups who will violate the law and threaten our civilians," Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Alexander Yano said.

The government declared a unilateral ceasefire for December 24, 25, 31 and January 1, according to Yano.

"Although we have a suspension of offensive military operations, it's still be an active defense against any possible attacks or any atrocities that they may do," Yano said.

On the other hand, President Arroyo congratulated World Boxing Organization Oriental Flyweight champ and Maasim's pride Richie Mepranum for winning over Cesar Lopez of Texas under the Pacquiao-dela Hoya Dream Match recently.

Arroyo proceeded to Glan town in the afternoon to inaugurate a P20-million limited international port for Sarangani-Indonesia business route through the Jose Abad Santos-Glan-Sarangani Cooperation Triangle (JAGS-CT). (Sarangani IO/PIA-SarGen)

Expansion of newly-rehab Glan port in Sarangani proposed

GLAN, Sarangani (December 23, 2008) - To further develop the emerging cross-border trading and people mobility between JAGS-CT (Jose Abad Santos-Glan-Sarangani Cooperation Triangle) member municipalities and Indonesia, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is proposing additional three phases expansion of the newly-rehabilitated Glan Port over the next nine months.

This is a follow-through activity from its P20M repair and rehabilitation job which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo inaugurated on December 17.

The repair job completed in April this year consisted of demolition of the existing reinforced concrete wharf, the driving of new piles to strengthen its bearing capacity and the wharf's superstructure.

Glan Mayor Enrique Yap Jr. said expansion of the port would enhance economic activity thru the exchange of local trade within the neighboring JAGS municipalities and Bitung, Indonesia.

JAGS-CT and Bitung formalized a sisterhood agreement in 2006 to foster better relations and cooperation.

The port expansion would include the extension of 30 meters on the left side, the Roll on-Roll off (RoRo) ramp at the right side and the repair of the existing causeway.

Mayor Yap said the RoRo ramp was proposed due to the existing RoRo ramp also of the Port of Mabila, Sarangani, Davao del Sur to provide linkage between these two towns thru the expanded Strong Republic Nautical Highway.

This would offer efficient port facilities as the future expansion, according to Yap, also includes the construction of the PPA field office, the establishment of a perimeter fence and the main entrance gate.

Yap saw the advantage of his municipality being the trading point since Glan is much nearer to Indonesia.

The prioritization to develop Glan Port came after JAGS officials called on President Arroyo in 2005 to support the improvement of Glan Port and to declare the same as Limited International Port.

A trade link was established the following year and a maiden voyage of a vessel carrying commercial goods from Glan was sent off to Tahuna and Bitung, Indonesia. (SARANGANI IO/PIA-SarGen)

Maasim pilots Laban sa Kahirapan in Sarangani

MAASIM, Sarangani (December 23, 2008) - The municipality of Maasim is the pilot area for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Laban sa Kahirapan Program in this province.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the piloting of Maasim is just an introduction to more projects to be replicated in other areas in Sarangani.

Teodoro had inspected Maasim days before President Arroyo arrived December 17 for the ceremonial start of the P250,000 rehab project of a two-classroom building in Maasim Elementary School.

Packaged under the Laban sa Kahirapan Program is the cash-for-work to rehabilitate the school building and the self employment assistance to help finance a beneficiary's livelihood project in the amount of P5,000.

Teodoro said these projects are very important in areas like Maasim where conflict had occurred, so livelihood in the area must continue.

"Kasabay ng pag-protection sa inyo, ituloy natin ang normal na kabuhayan at magprogreso tayo," he told a crowd of teachers, government security personnel and civilians.

Governor Migs Dominguez is hopeful the program would inspire communities in Maasim to collaborate with the government in promoting peace and progress.

While there are children who could not go to school and while there are families that have not yet enjoyed assistance from the government, Dominguez said leaders in government are to give them inspiration and hope.

He likewise stressed the investments in education the program could provide for his constituents.

"We have to start investing in people," he said, revising the saying that Mindanao is not the land of promise. "Hindi po ang lupa ang promise. Ang promise po ay nasa ating lahat ng tao." (SARANGANI IO/PIA-SarGen)

PIA Dispatch - Monday, December 22, 2008

Communist, Abu, Al Khobar terrorists are on the run in RP, says PGMA

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today congratulated the men and women of the Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the big drop in the number of the Communist rebels fronts, the neutralization of Abu Sayyaf and Al Khobar operators and three foreign terrorists.

Speaking at the 73rd Founding Anniversary of the AFP at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, the President, who is also the commander-in-chief of the AFP, said:

“The communist guerilla fronts have dropped to 63 from 107 in 2005. this year alone, our troops neutralized 150 of the most notorious communist insurgents, 58 Abu Sayyaf and Al Khobar operators and three foreign terrorists. Congratulations to all our soldiers.

The President also cited the men and women of the AFP for their role in time of calamity like typhoon, floods, typhoid outbreak, repair of roads, bridges, school houses and sea disasters.

“Mga sundalo ang una nating tinatawag tuwing may sakuna dahil sa bagyo, baha at iba pang mga kalamidad: Noong lumubog ang barkong Princess of the Stars sa Romblon. Noong kasagsagan ng bagyong Frank. Noong nagkaroon ng typhoid outbreak sa Quezon at sa pagtulong sa mga pamilyang apektado ng bayo’t mga kaguluhan sa Mindanao,” President Arroyo said.

The President also said that the national government is committed to bring peace in Mindanao and restart the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

She pointed out that in order to pursue these objectives, the military should bring stability, regain order, and bring the renegade elements responsible in the bloody attacks against civilian populace to justice.

But before doing that, the President stressed the need for the MILF to regain lost confidence and show its sincerity for the reactivation of the peace talks with the national government.

“The peace process must proceed. We are assembling the pieces to get the peace process started again in a way that upholds our commitment to peace, to the strong sentiments of the communities, and to the rule of law,” she said.

“The key to resolving peace in Mindanao is for all sides to be committed to peace, progress and prosperity. This must include reaching out to all sides and hearing the voices in the community,” the President noted.

“We must all be willing to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and understand various points of views and be willing to give and take to bring permanent peace to the island,” she added.S

he also lauded the leadership of the armed forces for keeping themselves away from politics, which according to AFP Chief of Staff Alexander Yano, is the number one enemy of the military.

She thanked Yano for crushing "the enemy that is called politics" within the military.

The President said that while other countries fell into recession, the Philippine economy grew by 4.6 percent.

"This is a time when our nation’s leadership must give all its attention to managing the impact of the global crisis so that it does not become a Philippine crisis. The national leadership attention must not be on politics but on the economy," she stressed.

The President also assured the soldiers that the upgrading of the country’s defense capabilities shall continue, including the purchase of new helicopters, squad automatic weapons, inflatable boats and other facilities and equipments.

"Upgrading will continue particularly in the training of the soldiers,” she said. “We will make Philippine defense work to stop insurgency by 2010."

She also informed the soldiers that additional benefits, including doubling their hazard pay and increasing their subsistence pay, are also the main concern of her leadership.

As Christmas approaches, she urged the Filipinos to remain optimistic.

"This Christmas, let us all count our blessings and look at the future with hope, confidence and optimism," she said.

Pacquiao, 15 others receive awards at AFP founding anniversary celebration

Sixteen soldiers, including boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, a master sergeant in the military reserve force, were awarded medals by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this morning in recognition of their gallantry in the performance of their duties to advance peace, freedom, development and human security.

The President personally handed the medallions to the awardees during the celebration of the 73rd Founding Anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) held in Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The Distinguished Service Medals were awarded to BGen. Rommel Gomez (AFP), Capt. Edgar Abogado (Philippine Navy - GSC) and Col. Richard Siga-an (PAF, GSC) for “eminently meritorious and valuable service rendered in a position of major responsibility.”

The Gold Cross Medal (GCM) awardees were 2Lt. Kenneth A. Gutleng, Philippine Army (posthumous); and Sgt. Ricky M. Villar of the Philippine Navy (PN).

The President also awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor (PLOH) to Lt. Gen. Cardozo M. Luna AFP, the First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH; Lt. Gen. Rodrigo F. Maclang, First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH in the Degree of Officer; M/Sgt. Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, PLOH Degree of Officer (as Reservist in AFP); and Dr. Emilio T. Yap, First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH.

Pacquiao, an army reservist, and 15 soldiers were cited for bringing pride to the country through sports.

Pacquiao is the first Filipino and Asian boxer to win four world titles in four different weight divisions. He is now considered as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

On Dec. 6, Pacquiao stunned the boxing world when he battered American-based ring superstar Oscar de la Hoya to submission in eighth rounds of “The Dream Match” held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Outstanding Achievement Award was given to LTC Rizaldo A. Limoso PA (GSC) and T/Sg. Hercules L. Regis, PA; while the Distinguished Aviation Cross Medal (DAC) was awarded to Capt. Jonathan C. Ybanez (PAF), while the Bronze Cross Medal was given to Lt. Victor J. Ramos, PN.

The Kagitingan sa Barangay (Category of Datu) was given to CAFGU AA Nonito A. Cabarles Sr. Cabarles received the award while sitting in a wheelchair and escorted by two lady nurses.

T/Sg Antonio O. Domingo, PA, was cited as the AFP Enlisted Personnel of the Year, while Dr. Luz S. Quintana and Dr. Marie Antonnette A. Castanos won recognition as the AFP Civilian Supervisor/Employee of the Year.

The AFP ROTC Cadette and Cadet of the Year award was given to Cdt Maj Farvy O. dela Cruz 1CL and Cdt Maj. Josephil J. Nestor 2CL, respectively.

The AFP CMO NGO Awardees of the Year 2008 were Aniceto Sobrepena of the Metro Bank Foundation, and Raul Ibrahim Ibus of the Mindanao Tulong Bakwet Inc.

Statement of Deputy Spokesperson Lorelie Fajardo on SWS

The administration has strong anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs in place, but the past months have been difficult for us and the President has made it her personal mission to help the poorest among us survive this global financial meltdown.

The DSWD, for one, will get a P5B budget increase to support its pro-poor programs, particularly the 4Ps, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the flagship project of the President which provides subsidies to poor families and is expected to help 321,000 households.

Over 200,000 households have benefited from the program since January 2008.

Gov't workers thank PGMA for performance bonus

Tacloban City -- It will not be a bleak Christmas after all for the government workers as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued AO 250 granting the release of performance bonus for government employees.

The government workers in Region 8 welcomed the good news and expressed their appreciation to the President for taking cognizance of their plight and their contributions to national development through the responsibilities they fulfill and the quality service they extend to their countrymen.

What makes the President's Order more welcomed is the fact that the performance bonus will be awarded to all employees, may they be permanent, temporary, casual or contractual, of all national government agencies, including personnel of government owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions.

Manager Flordeliz Menzon of the Region Eight Administrators League, said that the President's performance bonus for the government workers will really brighten their Christmas season.

President Arroyo issued on December 12, AO 250 authorizing the one time grant of performance bonus for 2008 in the amount of not more than P10,000 each to be given not earlier than November 15.

Workers serving less than four months will be entitled to a pro-rated performance bonus. Those who worked for three months will be entitled to 40 percent of the P10,000, or P4,000 while those who served for two months get 30 percent. Those who have worked for a month get 20 percent, while those who have worked for less than a month get 10 percent.

For the funds needed to implement AO 250, additional funds will be released by DBM to cover P7,000.00 for each government personnel chargeable against savings from unreleased appropriations under FY 2008.

The remaining P3,000 will come from the savings in the respective agency allotment.

It is hoped that the government workers will see the President's gracious gift as an inspiration to work even harder and provide better service to the people in the coming year.

For those government employees who have not been really giving good service to the clients and have not been performing well, may this President's move, rekindle their enthusiasm to work according to what they are being paid by the government for. (PIA 8)

Gov’t issues pay rules for long holiday

MANILA (PNA) -- The government on Monday reiterated the pay rules for the regular holidays on December 25 (Christmas Day), December 30, 2008 (Rizal Day) and January 1, 2009 (New Year’s Day), as well as the special non-working days on December 26, December 29, and December 31, 2008 (Last Day of the Year).

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque said that based on Proclamation No. 1463 issued by President Arroyo on February 18 this year, she declared December 26 (Friday) and 29, 2008 (Monday) additional special (non-working) days throughout the country, “in order to enable our countrymen to have a more meaningful observance of Christmas and New Year, to strengthen their ties with one another.”

At the same time, Roque said that the President, in her Proclamation, maintained that Christmas Day on December 25 (Thursday), and Rizal Day on December 30, 2008 (Tuesday) are regular holidays.

Furthermore, the Labor Chief said, New Year’s Day on January 1, 2009 (a Thursday), by virtue of law, remains a regular holiday nationwide.

Roque, in a Labor Advisory consistent with the President’s directive to the DOLE to promulgate the implementing guidelines for Presidential Proclamation No. 1463, said that pursuant to the provisions of the country’s Labor Code, as amended, the rules for pay on the said regular holidays and special non-working days shall apply as follows:

A. For the regular holidays on December 25 (Christmas Day) and December 30, 2008 (Rizal Day), and January 1, 2009 (New Year’s Day):

1. If it is the employee’s regular workday:

¨If worked, [the employee] is entitled to 200 percent of his [or her] basic wage for the first eight hours and, for work in excess of the eight hours, an additional 30 percent of his hourly rate on the said day;¨

If unworked, he is entitled to 100 percent of his daily rate, provided he was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

2. If it is the employee’s rest day:

¨If worked, he is entitled, for the first eigth hours, to 200 percent of his daily rate plus 30 percent and, for work in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his hourly rate on the said day;¨

If unworked, he is entitled to 100 percent of his daily rate, provided he was present or was on leave with pay on the workday immediately preceding the holiday.

3. Where the day immediately preceding the holiday is a non-work day in the establishment or the scheduled rest day of the employee, he shall not be deemed on leave of absence on that day, in which case he shall be entitled to the holiday pay.

B. For the special (non-working) days on December 26 and 29, and December 31, 2008 (Last Day of the Year):

1.If worked, the employee is entitled to 130 percent of his [or her] daily rate for the first eight hours, and to additional 30 percent of his hourly rate on said day for work performed in excess of 8 hours;

2.If unworked, he is not entitled to any payment, unless there is a favorable company policy, practice or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) granting payment for special days even if not worked;

3.If worked and falling on the employee’s rest day, the employee is entitled for the first eight hours to 150 percent of his regular daily rate, and for work performed in excess of eight hours, plus 30 percent of his hourly rate on the said day.Any clarifications regarding the holiday pay rules may be made with the DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC) at tel. nos. 920-2381 and/or 920-2482. (PNA)

Fertilizer prices down by as much as 53%

Fertilizer prices have dipped further at the onset of yuletide, with retail rates now as much as 53% lower than their month-ago levels as crude oil costs continued to decline in the world market, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has reported.

Agriculture Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras said low crude oil prices abroad and the nonstop DA efforts to have such a positive trend impact on the domestic cost of petrochemical-based fertilizer have led to the steady drop in the market rates of popularly used farm inputs like Urea, Triple 14, 21-0-0 and 16-20-0.

In his report to DA Secretary Arthur Yap, Paras said that as of last week, the prices of Triple 14 fell 40.7% from P1, 940 to P1,150 per bag, while 21-0-0 dropped 53% from P1,065 to only P499 per bag. The cost of 16-20-0 declined 18.4% from P1,410 to P1,150 per bag.

The week before, the prices of Triple 14 was P1,399 a bag, which means that its cost had dropped 17.8% as of mid-December. The price of 21-0-0 dropped 16.6% from P599 a bag; and 16-20-0 fell 17.8% from P1,399 a bag.

In response to Yap ’s call for private sector assistance in providing cheap fertilizer to farmers, the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp. said it will also subsidize up to 50% of the trucking delivery cost from its designated warehouses to drop-off areas nearest the sites where farm producers purchase their fertilizers.

“Each Philphos warehouse will display the regular trucking rates to specific areas and the corresponding subsidy,” said Philiphos executive vice president Dennis Mate in his letter to Paras dated Dec. 17.

The trucking subsidy program will be valid until Feb. 14 next year.

Earlier, Mate informed Paras that urea, which will be available in Philphos warehouses by Jan. 8 next year and will cost only P999 per bag compared with its price of P1,900 per bag last October, which translates to a 47.4% drop.

Paras reported to Yap that Philphos warehouses in Poro Point, Bulacan, Naga, Puerto Princesa, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cebu, Leyte, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, and General Santos are already selling petrochemical-based fertilizers at these lower prices.

He said that an aggregate volume of 143,994 bags of Triple 14, 115,006 bags of 16-20-0, and 90,180 bags of 21-0-0 are available and ready for sale in these warehouses.

Paras noted that the decline in the prices of petroleum-based fertilizers was the result of the DA’s call to suppliers to make available at the lowest possible cost, these farm inputs amid the sharp drop in crude oil prices in the world market.

Last November, Yap said that the downtrend in the prices of oil-based fertilizers was good news for the agriculture sector, especially with palay farmers having started planting for the 2009 dry or summer crop.

To ensure that the costs of petroleum-based fertilizers remain low as a result of the decline in world crude oil prices, Yap directed the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) last November to keep a tight watch over the prices of these farm inputs and check against the “price gouging” activities of certain dealers and retailers who refuse to slash their retail prices.

FPA data also show that the import prices of major grades of fertilizer have sharply dropped as of the last week of October. For instance, the import price of urea plunged to $330 per metric ton from $702 per MT in September, while the cost of 18-46-0 fell from $1,270 to $950 and 21-0-0 from $390 to $366.

Fertilizer prices almost doubled this year as a result of the nonstop jump in oil rates in the world market and big demand by other countries during the first three quarters of 2008, touching off a DA-monitored 30% decline in fertilizer usage by farmers during the wet crop as a result—and leading to a corresponding drop in per-hectare yields for those who have scrimped on this input.

FPA data bared that the average retail price of urea spiraled from P1,036.95 per 50-kilogram bag to P1,797.58 during the same January-June 2008 period; that of 14-14-14, from P1,013.04 to P1,921.21; of 21-0-0, from P725.94 to P993.80; of 16-20-0 from P956.02 to P1,874.04; of 18-46-0, from P1,645.52 to P3,138.40; and of 0-0-60, from P1,102.85 to P1,881.68.

Oil prices breached the $100 per barrel level earlier this year, reaching an all-time peak of $147 last July. But world market prices have since retreated following the US-induced global financial contagion, with the per-barrel cost falling recently to below $40. (DA-PRESS OFFICE)

DA trains more agri-technicians

The Department of Agriculture has thus far trained eight batches comprising 235 agricultural technicians at the local government level as part of its program to teach rice technologies, organic fertilizer manufacturing and other environment-friendly farming practices and technologies to over a half-million farmers nationwide by the end of the 2009 wet crop.

In a report to DA Secretary Arthur Yap, Agricultural Training Institute director Asterio Saliot said these eight batches are on top of the four batches of agricultural technicians earlier trained by the ATI under this new program.

These agricultural technicians, will, in turn, serve as trainors on these organic farming technologies in farmers’ field schools.

Saliot reported that the latest batches of trainors come from the provinces of Cagayan, Rizal, Albay, Sorsogon, Iloilo, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Basilan.

The ATI is targeting to train 1,800 of these agricultural extension workers in 60 batches this year, and 144 more batches comprising another 4,320 technicians starting March till July 2009.

Saliot said these remaining 4,320 trainees make up the bulk of the 6,120 agricultural technicians covered by this DA program to help educate over 500,000 farmers in new environment-friendly farming technologies.

These technicians, in turn, will serve as trainors to some 500,000 farmers in field schools located in the 2,600 clusters or sites where the DA will channel a bulk of its funds for intervention measures in 2009, he said.

He said the training of these farmers in the field schools began this December and will go on till October 2009.

The ATI conducts its hands-on training workshops in its centers as well as in the facilities of the DA and the local government units (LGUs) throughout the country.

Besides providing training on organic fertilizer manufacturing, Saliot said the ATI is also teaching trainors on new technologies to boost the production of palay such as “Palay Check,” vegetables and root crops.

The 1,800 agricultural technicians who completed training in 2008 will, in turn, train 80,997 participants in farmers field schools during the December 2008 to March 2009 Dry Cropping Season, and another 439,123 in 2009 under this program, which is in line with the new DA policy, as laid out by Yap, to funnel most of its funds into “hard” projects like irrigation maintenance and postharvest facilities rather than on “soft” initiatives like fertilizer or seed support.

As part of this policy overhaul, the DA is also training small farmers in 48 below-average, palay-producing provinces on how to produce their own organic fertilizer needs starting next year.

In lieu of the fertilizer discount coupons that the DA has been giving out this year to farmer-beneficiaries in partnership with LGUs, Yap said that the Department will provide organic fertilizer manufacturing support to farmers in 2,600 clusters or sites where the DA will channel a bulk of its funds for intervention measures in 2009.

Organic fertilizer manufacturing support and other intervention measures will be channeled to these 2,600 clusters as a way to rapidly boost palay harvests by raising up to the national average of 3.8 MT—or higher—the per-hectare outputs in these relatively low-yielding provinces.

These clusters of adjacent or neighboring farms are spread out across 48 provinces, mostly in rainfed areas.

Yap said this major shift in farm production support is in step with one component of the DA reform program, which is the intensified promotion of ‘balanced fertilization’ as a long-term, calibrated approach to wean Filipino farmers away from expensive, imported petrochemical fertilizers.

“Balanced fertilization” means the use of a combination of chemical and organic fertilizers in crop production. (DA-PRESS OFFICE)

BI delisted from list of top 10 red tape-plagued agencies

MANILA (PNA) -- The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has been removed from the top 10 list of government agencies plagued by problems of red tape and delays in the processing of documents.

This was based on an update submitted by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) which showed the BI is no longer in the list of the top 10 agencies with business problems.

The BI was previously ranked third in the list due to the lengthy period that it had taken the agency to process the working visas of expatriates.

Formed in October 2006, the NCC is a public-private task force that aims to improve the country’s business competitiveness from the bottom third of the rankings to the top third by 2010.

It is co-chaired by Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila for the public sector and Ambassador Cezar Bautista for the private sector.

The council focuses its efforts on improving the country’s competitiveness in the areas of human resources; public and private sector management; access to financing; infrastructure; energy cost and self-sufficiency; and in the Congress, Ombudsman and judiciary.

According to the latest NCC update, the BI was dropped from the list as the problem of delay in processing working visas was already addressed with the launching of the bureau’s visa-issuance-made-simple (VIMS) program.

The VIMS succeeded in reducing the processing time for visa applications by 80 percent and documentary requirements by 40 percent.

Also dropped from the list aside from the BI were the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System, Philhealth, and Bureau of Food and Drugs.

Earlier, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) also cited the BI for its success in cutting red tape because of the VIMS’ implementation.

The PAGC even elevated the BI’s rank from seventh to third place in the list of the 100 government agencies that are periodically evaluated by the commission for their performance in fighting corruption.

The BI is also an active participant in the performance management system – the office performance evaluation system (PMS-OPES) project of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) which aims to institute meritocracy in the bureaucracy.

Then CSC Chairperson Karina David had proclaimed the BI valedictorian in the program when she visited the bureau early this year. (PNA)

Govt implements pro-poor programs in Central Luzon thru DepEd

MANILA (PNA) -- In line with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s directive to implement pro-poor programs in all regions, the Department of Education (DepEd)-Region III on Monday implemented the Emergency Employment and Livelihood Projects in the region.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said that the projects shall target to benefit the middle, lower middle and poorest families in the divisions of Angeles City, Pampanga, City of San Fernando, Tarlac province and Tarlac City.

Under the emergency employment projects, the target divisions shall employ utility workers to be fielded in public elementary and secondary schools.

For livelihood projects, DepEd shall implement the cash for health care program which will engage families and out of school youths (OSYs) in the target divisions in producing herbal soaps.

Lapus said that the herbal soap making shall start in January 2009.

He said that the schools superintendents of the target divisions are directed to coordinate closely with the Regional Office and the Office of the Secretary, through the Assistant Secretary for special Programs and Projects for speedy delivery, effective implementation and monitoring of the projects.

With this, Lapus earlier said that Christmas will be brighter for OSYs of Pampanga and Tarlac this year as the government undertakes a massive P56.5 million employment and livelihood program that is expected to benefit them. It is expected that some 14,000 OSYs will benefit from the program.

Under the Out-of-School Youth Serving Towards Economic Recovery (OYSTER), OSYs are given employment in schools and livelihood opportunities to ease their financial needs.

"This program will have a multiplier effect on the local economy as it will lead to the creation of more jobs and the generation of additional income," Lapus said.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assigned Lapus as steward of Region III.

DepEd employed nearly 14,000 OSYs beginning Monday last week. More than 12,300 of them were employed in soap making and the 1,500 will be deployed as utility workers in public schools.

Under the cash-for-health-care livelihood project, 12,300 OSYs are trained in producing bars of Citronella, Acapulco/Guava, and Calamansi soap. Each OSY is expected to produce 2,000 bars of soap per day and will be paid P2.00 for every bar or about P200.00 pesos per day. The 20-day production period will put out about 24.6 million bars.

The soaps produced will be given to public elementary school pupils who will receive their year's supply of four bars of Citronella soap for their head lice, four bars of Acapulco or Guava soap to combat skin diseases, and 20 bars of Calamansi soap for personal hygiene. Each bar will cost the government only P7.00 compared to existing market price of pharmaceutical products.

“We are hitting two birds with one stone here," said Lapus. "We provide income to out-of-school youths and at the same time address the health and hygiene needs of our schools and students. There is great possibility of sustaining this livelihood project, considering the minimal cost to keep our school children free from head lice and skin diseases and the opportunity to develop hygienic habits among them.

"Meanwhile, under the emergency employment program, one utility worker will be hired for elementary schools with less than 1,000 students, two for schools with population of between 1,000 to 2,500 and three for those with above 2,500. A P7.5 million budget has been earmarked for the program.

In secondary schools, two additional workers will be hired in schools with 1,500 – 2,500 enrollees, and three additional workers for those with enrollment above 2,500.

The workers, who will be paid P200 per day, will be hired from within the districts or barangays where the schools are located.

The utility workers will be deployed in 1,200 elementary and secondary schools under the Divisions of Angeles City, Pampanga, San Fernando City, Tarlac and Tarlac City.

Studies showed that 46 percent of the more than 1.2 million children in Region III have pediculosis or head lice while 40 percent have skin diseases.

The OYSTER program of President Arroyo is implemented by cabinet secretaries in the regions where they are assigned as stewards. (PNA)

PhilHealth extends coverage of maternity care package

Cebu City -- PhilHealth launched the expanded coverage for the Maternity Care Package this year which would cover up to the fourth normal spontaneous delivery as per Circular No. 20, series of 2008.

This new benefit applies to normal (uncomplicated) deliveries, and may be availed in PhilHealth accredited hospitals and non-hospital facilities such as birthing homes, lying-in or midwife-managed clinics.

Normal delivery/birth would mean spontaneous onset of labor; low risk at the start and during labor, and delivery. It also indicates a 37 to 42 weeks of completed pregnancy, with the infant in vertex position.

However, maternal age under 19 years old, first pregnancy of patients aged 35 and older, and placental abnormality are some of the conditions that are excluded in availing of benefits in non-hospital facilities.

The Maternity Care Package will take effect for admissions starting January 1, 2009. (PIA7-Cebu/PHIC)

14.5-M Filipinos benefit from Tindahan Natin outlets

Iloilo City -- Some 14.5 million Filipinos have benefited from the Tindahan Natin outlets established nationwide.

n its year-end report, the DA said it has already set up around 14,585 Tindahan Natin outlets nationwide as of December 15, 2008.

The Tindahan Natin outlets which sell basic food items like rice noodles at prices lower than those in regular retail outlets are part of the government's efforts to reduce hunger and poverty amongst the poorest of the poor.

To further ensure the sufficient supply and stable prices of goods, the DA has also established "bagsakan" centers or drop-off centers where farmers and fishermen can directly sell their produce to seller without going through middlemen.

The same year-end report showed that 189 barangay bagsakan or food terminal and 37 bagsakan centers or drop-off points for agricultural goods have been set-up during the same period.

Some 397, 683 families have benefited from the barangay bagsakans set up in Metro Manila while 583,690 households from bagsakan centers established in the metropolis and the regions.

DA also reported that regular dialogues are held with industry leaders to find ways on how to pull down the costs of prime commodities as part of its efforts to keep prices of basic goods within the reach of Filipino consumers.

For instance, according to DA, it convinced major players in the hog industry to pull down the cost of prime pork cuts ahead of the Christmas season by agreeing on a "reference price" ranging from P140 to P150 per kilo of choice cuts like pigue, kasim and liempo. (PIA)

Sunday, 21 December 2008

PIA Dispatch - Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Added kick" in RP economy in last quarter amazes PGMA

The resilient Philippine economy is enjoying an unexpected “added kick” this last quarter despite the recession descending on two-thirds of the world.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo revealed this good news during the launching this morning (Dec. 20, Saturday) at the Amoranto Stadium of the Quezon City government’s LPG Conversion Program for tricycles.

“Gaya ng sabi ni (QC Mayor) Sonny Belmonte, nakakagulat! Ang Philippine economy had an added kick for the last quarter, at itong added kick ay sa kabila ng kahirapan sa mundo.

“Two-thirds of the globe is now in recession pero ang Pilipinas, hindi,” the President pointed out.

In her speech that was televised live by NBN-4, the government’s television station, President Arroyo called on the Filipino people to set aside political differences: “Kaya kailangan magsama-sama ang taungbayan nitong pasko… pamilya at ang ating pamayanan ay dapat magsama-sama at isantabi na yung pag-aalitan at pagkakaiba sa pulitika.”

“At itukoy natin kung ano ang maganda at positibong magagawa nating lahat magkasama para pag-ibayuhin ang ating mga buhay.

“Napag-usapan ni Sonny yung nakakagulat, dahil sa gitna ng krisis -- hindi mapagkakaila na may krisis ang pandaigdigang ekonomiya -- ang hamon sa atin ay huwag maging krisis sa Pilipinas ang krisis ng daigdig.”

The President – who said the conversion of trike engines to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) will be funded from expanded value-added tax (EVAT) collections – stressed that it is government’s responsibility to help the masses tide over the difficulties brought about by the world-wide financial meltdown.

“… Sa panahon tulad nito, tungkulin ng pamahalaan na tulungan ang taungbayan na makaraos sa mga pahirap na dala ng inflation at humihinang ekonomiya ng ibang bayan. And during this troubled time, it is the role of government to help insulate the Flipino people from shocks and economic pressures.

“Kaya ginagawa ng inyong pamahalaan -- executive, legislative, national, provincial at city -- ang lahat na makakaya upang may pagkain sa bawat mesa, at bigyan proteksyon ang kinikita ninyo, pati mga tricycle drivers, to put food on the table and protect your earnings.”

The President also committed to continue her government’s health, education and social services for the citizenry, stressing that the country is surviving the economic crunch because of the unpopular economic reforms that her administration had instituted long before the meltdown.

“At ituloy-tuloy natin ang ating pamumuhunan sa ating sistema ng kalinga sa kalusugan, edukasyon, serbisyo sosyal. At yung sinasabi na suwerte. Siguro suwerte tayo dahil nagsikap tayo para maging suwerte.”

President Arroyo also thanked bus and jeepney drivers in Metro Manila and Central and Southern Luzon for agreeing to roll back their fares since Dec. 15 when world fuel prices started going down.

“Pero ngayon at bumaba ang presyo ng LPG, gasolina at krudo, ayaw ko naman pabayaan ang pagkakataon na magpasalamat naman muli sa mga drivers ng bus at jeep ng Central Luzon, Southern Luzon at Kamaynilaan, dahil nung bumaba ang presyo ng langis, krudo at LPG, itong mga bus at jeep ay pumayag agad na bumaba ang pasahe mula noong ika-15 ng Disyembre.

“Pasalamatan natin lahat ang mga bus at mga jeepney. Ito na ang kilos ng taungbayan -- ng private sector, ng transport sector -- ay nagbibigay sa atin ng buong-loob tungkol sa ating kinabukasan, at tunkol sa pag-asa optimism, ang resilience ng taungbayan Filipino.”

In the launching were Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte and QC Rep. Nanette Daza who had earlier sought the help of Malacanang for the funding of the LPG conversion of tricycle engines in the city.

Quezon City has a total of 149 transport operators and drivers associations (TODAs) with a total membership of 24,222.

PGMA pays tribute to brave men, women of Armed Forces on AFP's 73rd

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will pay tribute to the brave men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who have dedicated their lives in the service of the people on the occasion of the AFP’s 73rd anniversary celebration tomorrow (Dec. 22).

The distribution of awards to AFP officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees, who have distinguished themselves for their outstanding contribution and support to the overall mission of the AFP, will be the highlight of the anniversary celebration to be held at the AFP’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The celebration will also feature the traditional parade-in-review and the revival of the “flyby” of Philippine Air Force (PAF) aircraft. The “flyby” had been shelved for several years as a feature of AFP anniversary celebrations in keeping with the military’s austerity program.

The Distinguished Service Award will be awarded to BGen. Rommel Gomez (AFP), Capt. Edgar Abogado (GSC) and Col. Richard Siga-an (PAF, GSC) for “eminently meritorious and valuable service rendered in a position of major responsibility.”

The recipient of the Gold Cross Medal (GCM) will be 2Lt. Kenneth A. Gutleng PA (Posthumous) and Sgt. Ricky M. Villar (PN).

The Philippine Legion of Honor (PLOH) will be awarded to LtGen. Cardozo M. Luna AFP, First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH; LtGen. Rodrigo F. Maclang, First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH in the Degree of Officer; Msgt. Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, PLOH in the Degree of Officer (as Reservist in AFP); and Dr. Emilio T. Yap, First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the PLOH.

The Outstanding Achievement Award will be given to LTC Rizaldo A. Limoso PA (GSC) and Tsg. Hercules L. Regis PA.

The Distinguished Aviation Cross Medal (DAC) recipient is Capt. Jonathan C. Ybanez PAF while the Bronze Cross Medal awardee is Lt. Victor J. Ramos PN.

The Kagitingan sa Barangay (Category of Datu) award will be handed out to CAFGU AA Nonito A. Cabarles Sr.

The AFP Enlisted Personnel of the Year is TSG Antonio O. Domingo PA while the AFP Civilian Supervisor/Employee of the Year are Dr. Luz S. Quintana and Dr. Marie Antonnette A. Castanos.

The AFP ROTC Cadette and Cadet of the Year awardees are Cdt Maj Farvy O. dela Cruz 1CL and Cdt Maj. Josephil J. Nestor 2CL, respectively. Meanwhile, the AFP CMO NGO Awardees of the Year are the Mindanao Tulong Bakwet Inc. and Metro Bank Foundation.

PGMA fetes 2008 TOYM awardees headed by Durano

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today led the awarding ceremonies in Malacanang for the 50th batch of winners of the annual search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the country for the year 2008.

The President handed the individual medal and trophy to each of the five winners headed by Tourism Secretary Ace Hotchkiss Durano for “ecological tourism” and under whose leadership “the Philippines’ tourism machine is now rated as the best-improved and (best) performing in Asia.”

Since assuming the (Tourism) post in 2004, the former Cebu congressman who is now the youngest member of the Arroyo Cabinet “has rationalized the country’s tourism drive, formulated well-focused campaigns, and launched ecological tourism programs that market the vibrancy and natural endowments of Philippines travel sites,” added the TOYM brief about Durano who credited the President for his success as chief of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

“There is only one person who empowered me and that is President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo who continues to inspire with her indispensable support” for the tourism industry, Durano said as he thanked the President for the latter’s “trust and confidence” in his leadership of the DOT.

The DOT chief – who delivered the response for his TOYM batch – stressed that “all five of us share a common spirit and deep longing to be a positive influence in our communities.”

The four other TOYM 2008 honorees are Antonio Andres Alfonso for Science and Technology, Rex Avidoso Bernardo for Community Service, Christian Joseph Rili Cumagun for Agricultural Science, and Kristin Karen Lising Davila for Broadcast Journalism.

Durano added that the five of them “share a sense of humility that in the largest scheme of things… service to humanity is the best work in life.”

The awarding was held at the Rizal Hall of the Palace with the President staying on for more than half an hour as she talked to the latest and former TOYM awardees and Jaycees officers who requested to have their photos taken with her.

The TOYM was started out in 1959 by the Manila Jaycees as a chapter project during its 11th National Convention in Baguio City.

In 1973, the Gerry Roxas Foundation started co-sponsoring the project “due to the similarity of its goals to promote leadership and exemplary innovation among the youth to address our nation’s development.”

OFWs urged to seek healthcare, education jobs

MANILA (PNA) -- The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) on Sunday said it now sees only two job markets overseas -- healthcare and education -- defying a prolonged and deep global economic downturn and offering new employment opportunities to Filipinos looking for greener pasture abroad.

TUCP secretary-general and former Senator Ernesto Herrera said Filipino professionals and other workers still have an excellent chance of getting engaged abroad if they possess skills suitable for employment in the healthcare and education sectors.

"If we examine closely the recent employment trends in North America and Europe, only their healthcare and education sectors are actually creating new jobs. The rest of their economic segments are either slashing jobs, or have ceased hiring," said Herrera, former chairman of the Senate labor, employment and human resources development committee.

He said teachers, nurses, pharmacists, medical technologists, physical therapists as well as trained caregivers would still be able to obtain gainful employed abroad.

Herrera made the statement shortly after the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) warned that millions of migrant workers face layoffs and deteriorating conditions as the global economic crisis takes its course in the countries where they are employed.

"Past experience makes us painfully aware that migrant laborers, especially women workers and those in irregular status, are among the hardest hit and most vulnerable during crisis situations," ILO director-general Juan Somavia said.

Even before the ILO chief made his remarks, Herrera had warned of an impending "reverse migration" by a large number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

He said unskilled OFWs such as domestic staff as well semi-skilled laborers in construction, semiconductors and electronics, and the travel and hospitality industries are "exceptionally susceptible" to job cuts.

Herrera stressed the need for aggressive programs to ease the reintegration of returning OFWs back into the local economy through highly responsive skills retooling and adequate alternative livelihood support.

Herrera, meanwhile, urged Filipino nurses looking to seek employment in the US and other English-speaking industrialized countries to consider acquiring post-graduate training for them to qualify to teach overseas.

"In the US, the highest paid Filipino nurses there are those in teaching posts. They receive emoluments considerably higher than hospital staff nurses," he said.

More than 20,000 Filipinos strive to enter America's nursing profession every year, according to the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing Inc. (PNA)

DA promotes production of native rice for Cordillera

Baguio City -- The Department of Agriculture (DA-CAR) is promoting the production of native rice not only for the domestic consumption but also for export.

According to DA-CAR Director Cesar Rodriguez, through the initiatives of DA Secretary Arthur Yap, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo already approved an initial seed subsidy fund of P1 M for farmers in the rice terraces in Cordillera, as they are now looking for a seed that is acceptable and adaptable to the region and of quality that is also acceptable to the foreign market.

He also revealed that he had a talked to Mountain Province Gov Maximo Dalog on the idea of naming the native rice from Mountain Province and Benguet as "Igorot rice", Rodriguez added.

With the onset of the dry season, which started November and will last until April, Rodriguez announced that they will be giving certified rice seed subsidy to rice farmers in the lowland areas in Cordillera - of 40kg bag per hectare that is worth P1,200.00 per bag. For farmers who wish to plant Hybrid rice, they will also be providing a subsidy of P1,500.00 per hectare of rice farmland.

Rodriguez explained that they want better or more rice production this dry season, so as the surplus in production can offset whatever effect the rainy or typhoon season would bring to the rice production next season. He assured though that there is enough supply of rice this season, due to better productions in the last harvest period. This he said is also the reason for the lower price of commercial rice.

Rodriguez announced that they will be actively working more towards organic production in Cordillera for 2009, as he cited that they already started putting-up "bio-ends" or biological fertilizer enducers, in Kalinga and Abra, as it enhances the use of Nitrogen present in the atmosphere, which is beneficial to rice and corn crops.

DA also promotes the use of organic fertilizers, saying he is advocating that veggies from Cordilleras are safe to eat and fertilizers are only used when needed. DA will be having capacity building programs for LGUs and farmers cooperative, to promote the idea for farmers/LGUs to produce their own organic fertilizers, "as the government can't give all of their needs as we are only banking on the resources we have, it should be a partnership", he added.

In relation to this, Rodriguez explained that it has been his policy that we use our own resources, so that not only users of organic fertilizers will benefit, but Cordillerans, through their cooperatives and LGUs, will l also derive income from producing organic fertilizers. (PIA)

DA gives tips to protect crops from "frost", as temperature in the region continues to fall

Baguio City -- With the temperature dropping to less than 10 degrees Celsius in the past few days especially in Baguio and Benguet, the Department of Agriculture is reiterating practical solution for farmers to avoid damages on vegetable crops.

In a radio interview in a local radio, DA-CAR regional director Cesar Rodriguez said with frost experienced in the past, a practical recommendation is to use water sprinklers, for those areas with pressurized water, to immediately wash the frost from the plants.

Rodriguez explained that if ice or frost is not immediately washed out from the vegetables or its leaves, it could develop frost burn and could affect the photosynthesis activity on the leaves. It could block the oxygen from coming out of the veggies which could result to the drying-up of the veggies.

He also revealed that DA is also introducing the use of simple greenhouses to help protect the generation or settling of frost on vegetables crop. According to Rodriguez, even only a simple plastic roofing or rain-shelter could protect veggies from frost. DA also built some simple greenhouses, worth P60,000 in some identified areas in Atok, Benguet, though they only shared half of the expenses so as the farmers would also protect the greenhouses.

For water sprinklers, Rodriguez said farmers could use the small farm reservoirs and spring developments projects of the DA. Rodriguez though expressed that it was saddening that the public hardly recognizes these projects, but the DA funded P20,000 for the materials of small farm reservoir and P75,000 to P100,000 on spring developments, depending on its costing.

These simple tips against frost are included when they do briefings an trainings to farmer groups and cooperatives, in partnership with the LGUs.

The DA has already sent monitoring teams to assess the effect of the cold weather to the vegetables crops in the region, Rodriguez added. (PIA)

DA Yearend Report

Philippine agriculture and fisheries grew fairly well in 2008, notwithstanding the double whammy of a food and oil crises that pummelled farm productivity, drove commodity prices to historic peaks and unsettled scores of governments across the globe during the year.

This sector, which accounts for a fifth of the Gross Domestic Product, posted 4.19% growth in the year’s first three quarters, owing in part to the key measures carried out by the Arroyo government to cushion the impact on farmers and consumers alike of unprecedented price spikes in farm production inputs like fertilizer and in food staples such as rice and corn.

Over the January-September period, the crops subsector grew by 6.1%; followed by the poultry subsector, 4.8%; fisheries, 3.55%; and the livestock subsector, which contracted 1.97% due to the decline in hog output.

Food riots swept capitals from Mexico to Morocco, especially during the first half of the year, as supplies tightened and prices of basic goods like rice doubled or even tripled from year-ago levels. In rice, for instance, its cost rose three times to over $1,000 per metric ton (MT) at one point during the year, driving up retail prices even in Thailand and Vietnam , which are the world’s two biggest exporters of the grain.

With palay being a “political crop” in countries where it is the staple food, pundits initially thought the Philippines would go the way of Haiti , where massive street protests triggered by food shortages had toppled Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, Haiti . Such a doomsday scenario did not happen, though, as the Arroyo government rolled out bold measures to check wild price swings in the short term and ensure rice sufficiency in the long run.

Rice Sufficiency Program

As the Department of Agriculture (DA) put in place a five-year rice sufficiency program and jumpstarted its intervention programs to boost yields and stabilize supply, the government was able to tame retail prices during the traditional lean months—when market rates normally go up—and induce respectable growth driven by the crops subsector, led by palay and corn.

Besides focusing on its primary task of empowering small farmers and fisherfolk to achieve the country’s food security goals, the DA also actively took part in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Western Visayas, which was heavily battered by super typhoon “Frank,” and in Romblon, where a fishing ban was imposed following the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars along with its toxic cargo of Endosulfan.

Government efforts to further raise farm spending enabled the crop subsector to expand well enough to offset production setbacks in fisheries, the top growth driver in recent years, which was saddled in 2008 with prohibitive fuel costs that hurt commercial fishing.

Affordable Rice

As the linchpin of the “aggressive procurement and distribution” strategy drawn up by DA Secretary Arthur Yap, the National Food Authority (NFA) beefed up its inventories with imports and then flooded the market with affordable rice stocks costing P18.25 per kilo, and were sold to the “poorest of the poor” families under a joint project with local government units (LGUs), Church-based groups and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The DA-NFA also sold rice at P25 to P35 for middle-income consumers, kept tabs on rice millers and grains traders, and run after hoarders and profiteers, thereby pulling down prices to P32 from the range P40 to P50 during the height of the crisis. Rice was even more expensive at that time in Thailand and Vietnam , where the respective per-kilo rates where at an equivalent of P56 and P67.

Domestic rates have fallen further since then, with the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) reporting an average price in Mega Manila markets of P30 a kilo and even dropping to as low as P23 in certain outlets.

As of October, the total rice stock inventory was estimated by BAS at 2.18 million MT, surpassing the previous month’s and last year’s levels by 13.2% and 58.3%, respectively. Stocks in the household and commercial sectors posted respective increments over their September levels by 22.1% and 11.2%.

Compared to their 2007 records, the household, commercial and NFA stocks were higher, respectively, by 9.5%, 20.8% and 241.0%. Around 39% of total rice stocks were in households, while 18% and 43% were in commercial warehouses and NFA depositories, respectively.

Corn Crash Program

The total corn stock inventory as of October was recorded by BAS at 344, 500 MT, or 1.1% higher than the previous month’s level and 4.3% from last year’s level. Inventories in the commercial sector registered respective increments of 30.9% and 45.9% compared to last month’s and last year’s records.

The DA invested in 75,000 hectares of new corn fields, mostly in Mindanao, in the second and third quarter of 2008 under a ”crash program” geared to further boost production of this cereal by at least 250,000 (MT) this year.

This included a massive hybrid corn program in Aurora , where an additional 5,000 hectares were devoted for yellow corn production and projected to give an incremental output of 25,000 MT. The DA and the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation Inc. (UPLBFI) also teamed up on a program to deliver P15 million-worth of high-quality, open-pollinated white corn seeds and other legumes to small farmers in time for the wet planting season last May.


Anticipating this year’s global food crunch, President Arroyo convened a special Cabinet meeting in December 2007 to tackle short- and long-term measures to boost farm productivity. This led to the President’s P43.7-billion centerpiece farm agenda dubbed FIELDS—Fertilizer, Irrigation and other rural infrastructure, Education and extension work, Loans, Dryers and other postharvest facilities, and Seeds—which she unveiled during the DA-sponsored National Food Summit last April.

While the Palace and the DA were putting together FIELDS and the two-year rice sufficiency program, the President laid out other measures to expand farm productivity and stabilize domestic prices, including raising the palay support price from P12 to P17 per kilo along with subsidies for NFA-sold rice stocks. Corn support prices were also hiked this year from P8.50 to P13 per kilo of white corn and from P7 to P11.50 for yellow corn.

The rice subsidies, projected to reach P20 billion by yearend, were sourced mainly from Mrs. Arroyo’s “Katas ng VAT (Value Added Tax)” subsidy program.

To reduce the country’s dependence on rice imports beginning 2009, Yap had ordered the NFA to shift its aggressive procurement program to the domestic sector after securing Cabinet approval for the food agency to purchase at least one million MT of palay from local rice farmers, up from its purchase volume of 33,000 MT in 2007. NFA will probably buy upwards of 650,000 MT in 2008 when all figures are tallied.

Moreover, he also instructed the NFA to field more mobile palay-buying stations, particularly in faraway farms; raise the moisture content level of the grain that farmers are allowed to sell from 24% to 30%; and offer a cash incentive of P1,800 for every 50 cavans or bags of palay that farmers sell to the food agency.

Corporate Farming

The DA has likewise teamed up with the Departments of Agrarian Reform (DAR), of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and of Finance (DOF) and the Board of Investments (BOI) on developing a package of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to help promote a corporate farming program as spelled out under Executive Order No. 721-A, which will allow large corporations to either produce rice or import the staple to supply the rice requirements of their employees.

In a bid to attain rice self-sufficiency by 2013, the DA crafted a five-year rice self-sufficiency plan along with seven former agriculture secretaries and two ex-science secretaries; one ex-agriculture undersecretary, and two former administrators of the National Food Authority; and scientists from the International Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute and the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna.

Under this intensified palay production program, annual harvests are projected to surpass last year’s record volume of 16.24 million MT, with yields hitting 17.81 million MT in 2009 and 18.63 million MT the year after.

On top of these efforts in response to the food crisis, the DA also launched an array of measures to avert potential losses to the agriculture sector as a result of the adverse effects of high oil prices on farm production costs, which has led to among others, a 30% decline in fertilizer use among palay farmers this wet or main planting season.

To offset the projected drop in per-hectare yields this quarter as a result of steep fertilizer costs, the DA moved to expand by 7.5% the total area devoted to palay to 2.58 million hectares this wet crop, hence buoying hopes for the Department to meet its revised 2008 harvest volume of 16.7 million MT, or 9.2 million cavans more than the 2007 output.

Reform Agenda

Wide-ranging reforms are also being carried out by the DA to ensure the judicious disbursement of funds to its program partners as part of continuing efforts to correct systemic lapses in its project monitoring system at the local level.

These reforms thus far effected by Yap are topped by the creation of national and regional monitoring teams to conduct “periodic field validation and rapid appraisal” of the Department’s intervention measures under its banner program Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA), and the adoption of stringent guidelines on the release of funds to program partners like nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs).

For a better system of coordination with Commission on Audit personnel assigned to the DA, this set of guidelines adopted last month includes COA Circular No. 97-001 and 94-013, which respectively cover government-fund disbursements to NGOs and POs and to LGUs.

Such measures are designed to correct systemic lapses in the monitoring of projects, arising mainly from the devolution of powers to LGUs, which had stripped the Department of its operational control and administrative supervision over provincial, municipal, city agriculture officers and farm technicians.

Yap had entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the League of Provinces of the Philippines for the detail to the DA’s regional field units (RFUs) of agricultural officers hired by the provincial governments, and ordered an increase to P2,000 of the monthly allowances of these LGU workers who will help implement the rice self-sufficiency program.

Systemic Overhaul

As part of the systemic overhaul being carried out within the DA, Yap had announced that starting next year, the Department will focus funding on hard or “big-ticket” projects covering irrigation maintenance, postharvest facilities, farm-to-market roads (FMRs) and rural extension work, in lieu of “soft” projects like fertilizer support to farmers.

For instance, instead of the fertilizer discount coupons that the DA had given out this year to farmer-beneficiaries in partnership with LGUs, the Department will provide organic fertilizer manufacturing support to farmers in 2,600 clusters or sites where the DA will channel a bulk of its funds for intervention measures in 2009.

The DA is also considering phasing out seed subsidies to farmers in favor of hard projects like water and processing facilities for cooperatives and private companies producing high-yield and certified seeds, to help pull down the costs of this farm input.

Organic fertilizer manufacturing support and other intervention measures will be channeled to these 2,600 clusters as a way to rapidly boost palay harvests by raising up to the national average of 3.8 MT—or higher—the per-hectare outputs in these relatively low-yielding provinces.

These clusters of adjacent or neighboring farms will be spread out across 48 palay-growing provinces, mostly in rainfed areas.

Balanced Fertilization

With petroleum prices plummeting to below $40 per barrel in December (after soaring to a record high of $147 last July), Yap subsequently directed the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority to keep tabs on the domestic prices of inorganic fertilizers, with an eye on running after “price-gouging” suppliers and retailers who fail to pull down their prices despite the corresponding drop in the world market rates of this petrochemical-based input.

As a result, prices of the popularly used types like Urea and Triple 14 fell by as much as 44% early this month, as reflected in the prevailing rates in 11 major warehouses of the Philippine Phospate Fertilizer Corp. across the country. Yap has described this trend as positive news for farmers, especially at this time when many of them have started planting already for the 2009 dry crop.

But despite the softening fertilizer prices, the government is still making a more aggressive push for organic fertilizers from hereon, in step with one component of the DA reform program, which is the intensified promotion of ‘balanced fertilization’ as a long-term, calibrated approach to wean our farmers away from expensive, imported petrochemical fertilizers. “Balanced fertilization” means the use of a combination of chemical and organic fertilizers in crop production.

In line with this new pro-environment thrust, the DA has formally agreed with the Alaminos City government and two nongovernment organizations—Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and La Liga Policy Institute (LLPI)—to pursue this dry crop the P20-million Organic Fields Support Program (OFSP) in an initial three cities and three municipalities in Luzon .

These are the cities of Alaminos, Tabaco and Science City of Muñoz, and the Municipalities of Naujan in Mindoro Oriental and Dinalupihan and Samal in Bataan .

One-hectare training farms will be put up in these pilot sites where at least a hundred farmers per site will be given hands-on training on recycling palay husks and other wastes into organic fertilizer plus other eco-friendly farming techniques like distance planting, System of Rice Intensification or SRI methodology, integrated pest management and zero-tillage farming.

The DA has also forged a partnership with the Federation of Free Farmers to promote organic rice production in 21 priority provinces and teamed up with the pro-environment nongovernment organization (NGO) Alaga LAHAT led by celebrities Chin-Chin Gutierrez and Roy Alvarez on the production at the barangay level of organic fertilizers through solid waste management technologies.

Infrastructure Spending

For the corn sector, the DA carried out a four-point program anchored on pumping more investments into infrastructure and postharvest facilities to sustain high corn production and let the Philippines penetrate the global export market for this commodity.

This four-point program involves expanding farm lands devoted to corn by opening new corn fields nationwide; encouraging more farmers to use organic and microbial fertilizers to reduce production costs and maximize their incomes; pushing further the use of hybrid corn technology; and improving the shelling, drying and storage methods of corn growers by constructing additional postharvest processing and trading centers nationwide to reduce post-production losses.

For the fisheries sector, which was badly hit by the fuel price shock this year, the DA and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) carried out and will sustain several measures to drive it back on its high-growth course, including the search for new fishing grounds overseas, such as the government’s agreement with Timor Leste, and the harnessing of diplomatic channels to expand export markets for Filipino fish suppliers.

The DA is also promoting other marine species, such as the production and sale of Peneaus vannamei or Pacific white shrimps. The importation and culture of Pacific white shrimp is strictly monitored by BFAR in tandem with the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), to guarantee that only good-quality and pathogen-free broodstocks are produced in the country.

Conservation Measures

As a conservation measure, the BFAR has banned the killing, catching and selling of sardines, herring and mackerel in the Visayan Sea as part of its efforts to protect and preserve the marine species in this rich fishing ground.

The DA and SEAFDEC are also targeting the number coding or “tagging” of up to 2,400 pieces of small pelagic fishes like galunggong, hasa-hasa and tunsoy in the waters of Palawan and Manila Bay under a joint research program leading to the formulation of a sustainable management plan to help conserve 50% of the Philippines ’ total marine fish catch.

The Philippines has launched this tagging project for mackerel and round scads species in partnership with Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia , Thailand , Indonesia , Malaysia (Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak), Vietnam and Myanmar .

To expand access to rural credit, the government pumped an initial P2.479 billion to a fund pool designed to extend guarantee cover to unsecured loans of small rural borrowers. The fund includes cash transfers of P2 billion in government tax revenues from the Malampaya natural gas project in Palawan .

Loan Guarantee Fund

Prior to this cash outlay for the Agricultural Guarantee Fund Pool, 10 government-owned and –controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs) had also turned over P478.644 million to the AGFP in line with Administrative Order No. 225-A requiring all state-run corporations and GFIs to hand over 5% of their respective 2007 surpluses to this new credit facility for food productivity programs.

AGFP funds could be accessed by rural banks, thrift banks, irrigators associations (IAs), rice millers and grains traders for relending to small farmers in dire need of production loans.

Amidst a more upbeat outlook for Philippine agriculture next year owing to the recent decline in fuel prices, which will spell a corresponding drop in the cost of farm inputs, Yap said the DA will step up the implementation of intervention measures to sustain the sector’s positive growth in 2009.

These include aggressive planting initiatives, higher investments in hard infrastructures, and stepping up the implementation of its root crops production program.

For coconut, the DA and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has concentrated on salt fertilization to help achieve a 10% to 15% hike in 2009 production. The project involves fertilizing coconut farms with two kilos of salt per tree per year good for three years to increase yield by at least 25%. Also they carried out a P107.94-million program to intercrop corn in coconut plantations across the country as part of the measures to boost coconut production.

Swift action vs. Reston case

To help the livestock subsector rebound next year, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) implemented a four-point action plan to reverse the negative growth of the livestock subsector in the first quarter of 2008, including a P40-million vaccination program and a P50-million allocation for swine restocking in selected regions. The action plan also included feeds incentives and a P20-million feed assistance program for hog growers.

When the Ebola Reston virus, which is not harmful to humans, was detected in few hogs in two swine farms in Luzon, the DA swiftly responded by placing these areas on quarantine; setting up “hog checkpoints”; imposing rigid requirements on the issuance of health certifications on animal shipments; and keeping a tighter watch on movements of hogs and pork meat in all ports of entry.

On Yap ’s orders, the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) also kept tabs on wet markets and slaughterhouses to check against contaminated hogs and pork meats.

The DA also began working on a support program for swine farms affected by the Reston virus and suspended the planned pork exports to Singapore until the Department has made certain that the sources of these products are clean, safe and fit for human consumption.

As a result of such swift and timely series of actions on the Reston case, the DA earned plaudits from the international community and in the local front.

On behalf of international health institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Office International des Epizooties (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Soe Nyunt thanked Yap and Health Secretary Francisco Duque for their offices’ swift and appropriate responses in dealing with the Reston case.

AGAP partylist Rep. Nicanor Briones, on the other hand, also thanked Yap and Duque on behalf of the small stakeholders in the livestock sector, for educating the public about the Reston virus, which has been known to be non-pathogenic or non-harmful to humans.

Tight watch on Bird Flu

For the poultry subsector, the DA imposed a ban on imports of all birds, along with poultry and its products from countries like the United Kingdom , South Korea , Saudi Arabia , Benin , Poland , Haiti , and Germany , where the World Animal Health Organization or Office International des Epizooties (OIE) officially confirmed the presence of the avian influenza (AI) or bird flu virus.

At the same time, the DA lifted such bans on the US States of Nebraska last January and Arkansas last October; Italy last April; Canada last May; Czech Republic and Denmark last October after the OIE confirmed that these areas were already free of the AI virus.

The DA has so far established four AI testing laboratories in City of San Fernando , Pampanga; Cebu; Cagayan de Oro; and Zamboanga City to help keep the Philippines bird-flu free.

Fruit Exports

On the production of high-value commercial crops (HVCCs), the DA embarked on a joint venture with the private sector-led National Coffee Development Board (NCDB) to rejuvenate and rehabilitate some 4,000 hectares of “poorly maintained” coffee farms and plant another 1,000 hectares to Arabica, Liberica, Robusta and Excelsa coffee varieties.

The Department also helped mango growers expand existing markets and explore new ones overseas by training them on the application of the effective yet cheaper Extended Hot Water Treatment, which meets global safety and health standards; fruit handling and packaging; and pesticide use.

As a result, Beijing gave the go signal for eight Philippine companies to export mangoes to China . These 8 exporters are the Fruitful Harvest Corporation, Mabuhay 2000 Incorporated, Phil-Harvest Agro Marketing Corporation, Diamond Star Agro Products Inc., DHM Philippine Produce Inc., Wenatchee Marketing Corporation, HiLas Marketing Corporation and Marsman Drysdale Food Corporation.

On banana, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has assured the Philippines that it will put on the fast track the processing of quarantine protocols to enable Filipino growers to export hard green bananas to the American mainland.

The Department also teamed up with state universities and colleges (SUCs) and LGUs to improve the production, consumption and commercial use of root crops like sweet potatoes and cassava as the linchpin of new DA initiatives to make affordably priced food available to low-income consumers.

Market Support

To further shield consumers from the food crisis, the DA continued to set up more linkages between farm producers and market centers both here and abroad.

As of Dec 15, 2008, the DA has already set up 189 barangay bagsakans or food terminals, 37 bagsakan centers or drop-off points for agricultural goods, and 14,585 Tindahan Natin outlets that sell basic food items like rice and noodles at prices lower than those in regular retail outlets. 14.5 million consumers have so far benefited from these Tindahan outlets, 397, 683 families from barangay bagsakans set up in Metro Manila and 538, 690 households from bagsakan centers established in the metropolis and the regions.

To keep prices of basic goods within the reach of Filipino consumers, the DA held regular dialogues with industry leaders to find ways on how to pull down the costs of prime commodities. For instance, the DA convinced major players in the hog industry to pull down the cost of prime pork cuts ahead of the Christmas season by agreeing on a “reference price” ranging from P140 to P150 per kilo of choice cuts like pigue, kasim and liempo.

On exploring new markets for Philippine agricultural products, the DA spearheaded the country 's participation in various food shows and trade exhibits overseas, such as the International Boston Seafood Show and Natural Product Expo West in the United States; Gulf Food Expo in Dubai and Halal Food in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates ; Foodex in Japan; SIAL in China and France; CAEXPO in China; Seoul Food and Hotel Expo in Korea; Thaifex World of Food Asia in Thailand; Food Taipe i in Taiwan; Natural Products Expo Asia and Hongkong Food Expo in Hongkong; and World Food Moscow in Russia . The Philippines’ participation in these events led to a combined total of $447.91 million in booked sales for Filipino exporters selling a wide variety of goods such as fresh and frozen seafoods like tuna, bangus, sardines, lobster and octopus; dessicated fresh/dried fruits like mango, banana, tamarind and coconut; and dessicated fresh/processed vegetables.

The DA, along with the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI), of Health (DOH), of Science and Technology (DOST), and of Tourism (DOT), started implementing the country’s first ever general guidelines on halal food exports, moving the Philippines closer to its goal of capturing a bigger share of this $500-billion industry.

These guidelines provide food processors, exporters, traders and marketing logistics operators with the information necessary for production, processing, packaging, storage, transporting and marketing of Halal products in compliance with international standards.

The government is also offering to foreign investors at least two big-ticket investment proposals worth P3.04 billion in Mindanao to develop the domestic halal industry, and has stepped up its campaign to find new overseas markets for the budding halal industry, with initial talks already held with Kuwait and Brunei on possible investment opportunities in this sector.

For starters, the DA helped Filipino exporters book sales of food products totaling $19.91 million in the recently concluded Halal World Expo 2008 in the United Arab Emirates . (DA-PRESS OFFICE)

ATC Conducts Drill on Terrorist Attacks and Mass Casualty Incidents

As part of its awareness campaign program and preparation strategy to combat terrorism, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) held simulation exercises on how to respond to terrorist attacks and mass casualty incidents in the morning of Saturday, December 20, 2008 at the LRT2 Cubao station and MRT North Avenue station. The simulation exercises were held simultaneously in both train stations.

The exercises were coordinated by the National Counter Terrorism Action Group (NACTAG) under the supervision of Undersecretary Arturo Lomibao.

The exercises depicted what transpires in a terrorist attack. Passengers on board were “alarmed” by the presence of a suspected suicide bomber (terrorist) who was disguised as an ordinary passenger but with sets of bombs around his body. This caused panic and the information reached the Operations Control Center which immediately coordinated with external security components (NACTAG Operation Center and the PNP RMG-NCRPO) and the organic LRTA team for initial crisis management. The door of the train has not opened yet when the bomb around the body of the terrorist suddenly exploded. Commotion ensued following the explosion. The presumed attack left hundreds of passengers dead, including the train operator and train escorts. Hundreds were also injured.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Chairman of the ATC and the activity’s guest of honor, emphasized in his speech that the public has to be vigilant and supportive of this effort. He mentioned the need to work together to achieve safety and security and lauded all the members of the team who prepared for the drills.

Also in attendance were Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor who is Spokesperson of the ATC; MGen Pedro Cabuay AFP (Ret.); MGen Fernando Mesa AFP (Ret.), Executive Director of the ATC Coordinating Center; NCRPO Chief Police Director Leopoldo Bataoil; PSSupt Paterno Hernandez, Deputy Chief of NACTAG; and LRTA Administrator Melquiades Robles.

The purpose of the simulation exercises is to identify what planning, guidance and tools are necessary and what related issues need to be addressed to ensure an effective response mechanism to a terrorist attack.

The NACTAG, LRT and MRT administrators and employees, safety and security team (PNP RMG-NCRPO, EOD/K-9 team and security division), advance medical post (DOH, PNRC, local government units), public relations team, and administrative and maintenance team, NDCC, BFP, QCPC, the PNP-SAF, and AFP-JSOG formed part of the response team that immediately managed the incident and assisted the victims.

Sale, fishing of sardines and Mackerel banned in Visayan sea

The government has banned the killing, catching and sale of sardines, herring and mackerel in the Visayan Sea as part of its efforts to protect and preserve the marine species in one of the country’s richest fishing grounds.

Through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA) has imposed a temporary ban covering a period of four months from November to March next year.

The ban or “closed season” covers more than half of the 10,000-square-meter Visayan Sea, a rich fishing ground because of its generally shallow waters, and located mostly in northern Negros, northern Iloilo and along municipal waters,

In a report to DA Secretary Arthur Yap, BFAR regional director Drusila Bayate for Western Visayas said the ban has been implemented annually since 1989 under BFAR Administrative Order 167 to shield the Visayan Sea from overfishing and pollution.

Under this BFAR order, he said, the killing and the catching of the sardines, herrings and mackerels are prohibited within the closed season. Selling, buying and having possession of the three fish species are also illegal, he added.

The ban covers mature fish or their larvae, fry or young.

Any violation of the prohibition will be punishable with a fine from P500 to P5,000 or an imprisonment from six months to four years or both.

As part of its initiatives to ensure the sustainable management of its fisheries sector, the Philippines and seven other Asian countries have recently launched a fish-tagging project involving five commercially important fish species like galunggong and hasa-hasa in the South China Sea and Andaman Seas .

The Philippines is undertaking the tagging project for mackerel and round scads species in partnership with Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia , Thailand , Indonesia , Malaysia (Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak), Vietnam and Myanmar .

Locally known as galunggong (round scad), alumahan (Indian mackerel) and hasa-hasa (Indo-Pacific mackerel), these fish along with tunsoy, tawiles and matangbaka constitute about 50% of the country’s total marine catch.

Studies show, however, that the small pelagic fishery in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and other countries bordering the South China Sea, have been subjected to high levels of exploitation.

BFAR director Malcolm Sarmiento Jr, said tagging the fishes will enable researchers to determine the migratory path of these species, which would eventually lead to the development of a regional management plan for small pelagic fisheries in the region in order to ensure the sustainability of the said fishery resource.

Sarmiento said this three-year research project is an offshoot of a regional study of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Council (SEAFDEC)—entitled ‘Information Collection for Sustainable Pelagic Fisheries in the South China Sea’—to determine the relationship of small pelagic stocks in Southeast Asian countries, including their biology and population.”

SEAFDEC, whose aquaculture department is based in Iloilo and is headed by Dr. Joebert Toledo, has been an active partner in the development of the country’s fisheries resource towards sustainability. Together with 10 other SEAFDEC member-countries, the Philippines has been seriously promoting the adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in Southeast Asia .

SEAFDEC is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote sustainable fisheries development in Southeast Asia with eleven member-countries, namely, the Philippines , Brunei , Cambodia , Indonesia , Japan , Lao PDR, Malaysia , Myanmar , Singapore , Thailand and Vietnam .

The tagging of fish involves the insertion of special number-coded yellow tags at the base of the dorsal fins of individual fishes. The fishes are then released back into the sea and their tags will hopefully be returned to the nearest fishery agency by the fishermen who catch them.

Local fishermen who will turn over such yellow tags will be given tokens by the BFAR, including the equivalent of $5 per tag.

In the Philippines , a total of 2,400 pieces of fish belonging to two species of round scad and one species of mackerel are targeted to be tagged in the waters of Manila Bay and Palawan for this year. (DA-PRESS OFFICE)

Speaking Out
By Ignacio R. Bunye

All things being equal, private ownership has efficiency advantages over public ownership under a competitive market structure.

This is the underlying reason why our lawmakers conceived of privatization when they sought to address the problems of the power industry with the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA, which was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001.
The National Power Corporation has been bleeding for years and it was thought that privatizing its assets would lead not only to better efficiencies but also provide the national government with another source of fiscal revenue.

The EPIRA thus provided the impetus for the acceleration of electrification of the country through the inflow of private capital and the broadening of the ownership base of the power generation, transmission and distribution sectors.

Here are some of the recent developments:

The Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM), the government’s power privatization arm, recently announced that a Filipino-owned company engaged in the manufacture of alternative fuels has won the bid for the Amlan Hydroelectric Power Plant in Negros Oriental.

ICS Renewables, a newly-incorporated company, also involved in the acquisition and development of environment-friendly equipment, offered US$230,000 for the Visayas-based hydropower facility.

PSALM declared that the winning bid exceeded the reserve price set by its Board for the generating asset. It also announced that with the sale of the Amlan plant, the government had successfully bid out more than its targeted 70 percent of the National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) assets in Luzon and Visayas.

PSALM President Jose Ibazeta happily notes that the sale of Napocor’s assets has been very successful in the last two years. In 2006, PSALM sold the 112- megawatt Pantabangan-Masiway plant package and the 360-megawatt Magat hydro power plants.

The government’s privatization program was further boosted the following year with the sale of the 600-megawatt Masinloc and 600-megawatt Batangas (Calaca) coal-fired power plants, and the 175-megawatt Ambuklao-Binga hydroelectric power plant package.

These developments are good news to the government.

Privatization, according to PSALM, will enable the new owners of the privatized assets to improve on their newly acquired properties to ensure that they remain competitive and valuable. This would mean better service for the Filipino people.

The proceeds from the sold assets will also help settle Napocor’s debts, which will then aid in reducing the country’s consolidated public sector deficit.

Selling state-owned assets is one way for the government to raise revenues and improve the country’s fiscal position. This is especially significant now as the government expects to incur a deficit of P102 billion in 2009.

For next year, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves expects to raise P20 billion from the sale of other government assets. Two major properties that would be placed on the auction block are the 120-hectare Food Terminals Inc. agro-industrial estate in Taguig and the government’s stake in Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC), the upstream oil and gas subsidiary of the PNOC.

The soft-spoken Teves also disclosed that the government’s recent agreement with London-based Ashmore Group for the P25.7-billion sale of its 40-percent stake in Petron Corp. has placed the government on track to meet its programmed deficit ceiling of P75 billion for 2008.

Managed well, asset privatization can be a powerful government tool not just to fully energize the country but also to keep the economy moving amid the present global financial crisis. The additional money that the government will earn from the sale of its properties will go a long way towards pump-priming the economy.


Last month, fellow Monetary Board Member Raul Boncan and I had a chance to plant mahogany trees in front of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas complex along Roxas Boulevard as part of a tree-planting activity organized by the BSP’s Human Resource Development Department.

The Bangko Sentral has been active in various community-related activities even before Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) became the norm among companies.

Different organizations within the Bank such as the Christian Community, BSP Officers Club Inc. (BSPOCI), BSP Employees Association Inc. (BSPEI) have been conducting outreach activities in and around the Bank and in calamity-stricken provinces such as Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija; Zambales, Aurora and Quezon.

Two years ago, the BSP strengthened its CSR activities such as the adoption of two Gawad Kalinga villages, the implementation of “Tulong Barya Para sa Eskwela”—a nationwide coin collection and fundraising campaign for the benefit of public elementary schools, clean-up of the Manila Bay Coastal Area, and tree-planting activities.

In the BSP, not only professionalism and excellence are nurtured. Love for the environment and care for the unfortunate are equally given emphasis.