Thursday, 30 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Thursday, July 30, 2009

PGMA gets warm welcome from Fil-Am community in Washington, D.C.

MANILA, July 30 – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received a warm welcome on Thursday morning (Wednesday evening in the United States) from leaders of the Filipino-American community at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Reports reaching Malacanang said hundreds of Fil-Am community leaders chanting “GMA, GMA, GMA” greeted a jet-lagged President Arroyo upon her arrival at the Willard Hotel’s Willard Ballroom. The chants were heard live over state-run DZRB (national radio) of the Philippine Broadcasting System (PBS).

It was 9:30 p.m. Wednesday over there and 10:30 a.m. in Manila, a difference of 13 hours.

The Chief Executive spoke in mixed Filipino dialects, including Tagalog and Kapampangan, to make her point. She delivered a speech where she reported to the Fil-Am community the numerous accomplishments of her administration since she assumed office in 2001.

Earlier, the Chief Executive met with officials of the US State Department, where she was briefed by the USSD on the Philippines-US Relations.

On Friday (Thursday in the US), President Arroyo will be the first Southeast Asian leader to meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House, with economic cooperation and fighting Islamic extremists in Mindanao high on the agenda.

The Chief Executive is due to hold talks in the afternoon (early morning in Manila) with President Obama. She will also meet with members of the US Congress and business groups.

The White House, in announcing the visit earlier this month, said that President Arroyo and President Obama would "further the traditionally strong alliance and bond" between the United States and the Philippines.

It said the two countries would discuss cooperation on fighting extremists as well as climate change, a key priority for the Obama administration as the deadline approaches for a new global treaty.

Before her departure from Manila early Wednesday afternoon, President Arroyo said that security issues would be high on her agenda during the meeting with her US counterpart.

She said her talks with the US President would touch on "terrorism -- how to meet it, how to end it, how to address its roots in historical injustice or religious prejudice."

Washington has been providing assistance and training to help the Philippine military crush Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks.

Since 2003, small numbers of US forces have been rotating in the Southern Philippines, providing intelligence that has led to the capture or killing of top militants.

President Arroyo's visit to Washington comes at a time when Southeast Asian neighbors -- particularly the Philippines and Indonesia -- are increasing their intelligence cooperation after a spate of deadly bombing.

A July 17 bombing of two luxury hotels in Jakarta, killing seven people, has been blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah, an extremists group believed by intelligence agencies to be Al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian arm.

The Philippines is a former US colony in the early parts of the 20th century (1898-1945) and along with Thailand is the most long-standing US partner in Southeast Asia.

The Obama administration has also been stepping up relations with Indonesia, which is often hailed in Washington as a model for a moderate Muslim-majority democracy.

PGMA’s meeting with Obama – a pivotal time for US-Asia relations

WASHINGTON DC, July 30 - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that her meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House here “comes at a pivotal time for US relations in Asia.”

Speaking before the officers and members of the Filipinos International of the United States of America (FILUSA), the Chief Executive said she’s very pleased to have accepted the invitation of President Obama for her to be the “first leader from our region to meet with him at the White House.”

“We’re very hopeful that the Obama administration will put America on the radar screen in Asia,” the President stressed.

The President noted that the visit to the region by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton where she met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo in Thailand, together with the early outreach by President Obama “sent strong signals that the United States is committed to more robust engagements with the region.”

“The fact that President Obama sought out the Philippines for this first opportunity is a testament to the strong and deep ties between our two nations,” the President also said.

“Kaya maganda iyong mga placard ninyo: Mabuhay RP-US relations,” the President said referring to the wordings in the placards hanging on the walls during the dinner meeting.

The President pointed out that her “expectations for this trip are straightforward: to meet the new US president who is our strong friend and ally and advance the interest of the Philippines.”

She noted that the United States is essential to the country’s economic, diplomatic and national security.

The President stressed that high on the agenda during her meeting with President Obama will be peace and security issues, including ways to continue strengthen regional cooperation and anti-terrorism.

“We will also discuss the global economic crisis that have swept the world, and what we can do to mitigate its impact on the poor especially in Asia and the Philippines,” she said.

Despite the onslaught of the financial global crisis last year, the President said “the country weathered a succession of global crisis in fuel, in food, then in finance…. But never losing focus and with economic fundamentals intact.”

She also made mention that Moody’s upgraded the country’s credit rating in the middle of the global recession citing the resilience of the economy.

“Therefore, I could say that the state of our nation is a strong economy,” the President said

Analyst sees better growth figure for RP in Q2 ‘09

MANILA, July 30 (PNA) – Reports of higher government spending and continued resiliency of remittances are among the things that would prop-up the Philippine economy in the second quarter of this year.

Philippine Equity Partners Inc. (PEP) analyst Jojo Gonzales considers the 0.4 percent output of the domestic economy in the first quarter this year as the “worst quarter in terms of growth.”

“Increased government spending, sustained bank lending, the bottoming out of trade, stable remittance flows, all suggest mildly better growth in (the) second quarter,” he told PNA.

Gonzales said confidence of both the consumers and investors are “more positive at this stage” compared to that in the first three months of this year on account of positive reports on the domestic and global economy.

“The doomsday scenarios for the global economy have diminished and this should reduce the bearishness towards the Philippine economy, too,” he added.

Input of the government’s economic stimulus package was also cited by an official of an entity that conducts surveys as a factor for the improvement of consumers’ economic outlook in the second quarter of this year.

A recent online survey of Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence shows that stimulus packages of governments worldwide played a major role in the improvement of consumer confidence of Filipinos for one.

Reports said result of the Nielsen survey showed that confidence index (CI) of Filipinos improved to 103 percent from 96 percent during an online poll conducted from June 15-29, 2009.

Nielsen business insight director Jonathan Banks was quoted as saying that governments’ pump-priming programs along with improvements in the stock market boosted consumer confidence.

“Consumers in emerging and Asian markets are clearly of the view that they are driving in the recovery lane now,” he added.

Earlier, an official of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said he sees better than 0.4 percent growth for the Philippines in the second quarter this year on account of reports that the global downturn seems to be bottoming out.

NEDA Deputy Director General Rolando Tungpalan said they remain confident on the attainment of the full-year growth target of 0.8-1.8 percent because of reports that major economies are now churning in better figures.

He cited the positive direction of the global economy as well as the coming out of positive figures in the domestic front as among the reasons for their optimism.

He also noted the continued growth of remittances sent by Overseas Filipinos (OFs), which registered a new record high inflows last May after it grew by 3.7 percent year-on-year and reached US$ 1.48 billion, bringing the first five month’s total to US$ 6.98 billion, or a 2.8 percent jump from year-ago’s US$ 6.79 billion.

“The global economy is pulling away of a recession although recovery will be slow,” he said.

Tungpalan added that based on these indicators and reports of more investment plans by the private sector in the coming months, growth of the domestic economy is “moving upward.”

“There is reason for us to remain confident about our 0.8-1.8 GDP growth target this year,” he added.

The government is set to announce this year’s April to May performance next month.

BIR Oplan Kandado Storms 6 Pangasinan Establishments

BIR MANCOM Warns: “It is just the beginning.”

The aftermath of the storm that was the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Oplan Kandado showed the grim picture of its rage in Pangasinan: six (6) business establishments “flattened” for violating the book of taxation, the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) of 1997, as amended.

What made the operation even more coercive, if not frightening, was the fact that it was personally led by the BIR Management Committee (MANCOM) – the BIR Commissioner and his five (5) Deputy Commissioners – and the promise that Revenue Region No.1, Calasiao, Pangasinan was just the start of a resolute campaign that will take MANCOM to all nineteen (19) revenue regions of the BIR all over the country.

Temporarily closed or suspended from operating their businesses last July 17, 2009 while Typhoon ”Isang” was wreaking havoc over Luzon were MATUTINA-GERRY’s SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (Gerry’s) in Dagupan City and Urdaneta City owned by Gerry R. Austria, MATUTINA’s Annex I (Matutina’s) in Dagupan City owned by Marlene A. Lorica, NENA’s GARDEN RESTAURANT & CATERING SERVICES (Nena’s) in Dagupan City operated by Bernardina Mejia, and SILVERIO’s SEAFOOD & RESTAURANT, INC. (Silverio’s) in Dagupan City and Binmaley managed by Teresa Neihum. The closures were effected after the service (and acceptance) of the Closure Orders on the six businesses signed by BIR Commissioner Sixto S. Esquivias IV on the same date.

Revenue Region (RR) No. 1, Calasiao, Pangasinan Regional Director Tomas C. Rosales under whose jurisdiction the operations of the subject businesses fall said that his region was forced to implement the closure orders after they failed to rectify their violations even after they were given all the chances to do so through the 48-Hour Notice and Five (5) Day VAT Compliance Notice.

Commissioner Esquivias was more empathetic. “We do not feel good closing all these establishments considering the hard times. We offered all the help we can give to enable them to settle their dues. However, when they failed to refute our findings or to rectify their tax violations, they gave us no choice at all. Closure is the last thing we have in mind but we will have to do it when the call of duty beckons,” Esquivias said.

The ground cited for the closure of the six (6) businesses was understatement of taxable sales or receipts by 30% or more of correct taxable sales or receipts under Section 115 (a) (3) of the NIRC.

Results of surveillance activities including reading of CRM-POS machines conducted by fieldmen of RDO No. 04, Calasiao, Pangasinan led by Revenue District Officer Joseph M. Catapia showed substantial underdeclaration of sales for the taxable periods 2008 and 1st Quarter of 2009 by the subject taxpayers ranging from a low of 44% to a high of 84%. Gerry’s underdeclared its sales by P14,984,094.52 in 2008 and P4,229,279.69 for 2009 (1st Qtr.), Matutina’s by P6,693,251.62 and P1,542,941.47, Nena’s by P4,095,736.20 and P1,563,789.02, and Silverio’s by P10,284,572.00 and P6,241,157.67.

Total tax due from the six (6) businesses amounted to P32,920,729.83 broken down as follows: Gerry’s – P10,058,602.96 (2008) & P2,812,126.91 (2009 1st Qtr.); Matutina’s – P4,511,625.26 & P992,950.72; Nena’s – P2,612,733.67 & P962,736.09; and Silverio’s – P6,826,303.47 & P4,143,650.75.

“It saddens us to see the fate of the subject taxpayers come to this extreme. This feeling notwithstanding, we should put the country’s interest first above anything else. Let this serve as a mirror for other taxpayers similarly-situated. We will help them comply. But if they persist in their unwanted practices, we will not hesitate to impose the full force of the law,” Esquivias added.

To date, the BIR has padlocked fifty-nine (59) business establishments nationwide. Among those previously padlocked by the BIR under this program were: 1) La Suerte Grocery & Bakery in Magalang, Pampanga for failure to declare more than P50M income in 2008; 2) Charmy Food Phils., Inc., a manufacturer of soybean products in Pasig City, for not declaring P40M of its sales for 2005-2008; 3) Arra’s Fine Dining, a Korean Restaurant in Makati City for understatement of its taxable sales in 2008 by more than P20M; 4) Hilton Mart Corporation, a Grocery (Wholesale and Retail) business plying its trade in Manila, for underdeclaring its sales for taxable year 2008 by more than P1.2B; and 5) Raiko 10-28 Bar & Restaurant, a.k.a. RATSKY, located at Tomas Morato, Quezon City for failure to declare more than P24M sales in 2007, 2008 and January and February of 2009.

Oplan Kandado is the flagship project of the BIR initiated by Commissioner Esquivias which aims to strictly enforce sanctions for non-compliance by business establishments with requirements of the Tax Code.

DOST honors 353 scholar graduates

The Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute on Thursday (July 16) honored 353 scholar graduates who graduated in their programs in college and post-graduate degrees for the school year 2008-2009.

At the “In Touch with Excellence” awarding ceremonies held at the Dusit Thani Manila Hotel, Makati City , the scholar-graduates were awarded medals for their outstanding performance on the course of their study.

Under the DOST-SEI Merit Scholarship, the precursor of all S&T scholarships of DOST, 16 scholars graduated magna cum laude, 29 cum laude and three honorable mention. In the Republic Act 7687 Scholarship Program, five scholars finished summa cum laude, 20 magna cum laude, 111 cum laude, and three with honors. RA 7687 or the Science and Technology Scholarship Act of 1994 aims to strengthen the science and technology human resource program of the government by granting financial assistance to poor but talented students to intend to pursue priority courses in science and technology.

Three scholars also graduated before the prescribed period of study and as an incentive, the stipends for the remaining semesters will be released to the scholar and the duration of his/her service obligation would be equivalent to the number of years he/she completed the course.

Under the Junior Level Science Scholarship Program, nine graduated magna cum laude, 47 cum laude and one academic distinction. This scholarship program is offered to qualified regular third year college students who are enrolled in the priority courses in the basic sciences, engineering, and other applied sciences in any of the DOST-SEI network of higher education institutions.

In the Project 2004-01 Ed USC Cooperative program, three graduated with honors. This scholarship program is offered to qualified Physics students enrolled at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.

One graduated cum laude under the Junior Level Scholarships for Physics Teaching given for those enrolled in the Regional Science Teaching Centers. Scholars under this program are incoming third year BSE Physics students enrolled in DOST-SEI recommended schools.

Three scholars of the Grant for Educational Assistance for Technology and Science Teaching Courses in Mindanao (GREAT-M) graduated with honors. The GREAT-M project is open to poor, talented and deserving youths from the Muslim and indigenous communities who are 20 years old or below and whose socio-economic status meet the criteria for the grant.

Under the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Graduate Scholarship in Science and Technology through the DOST Accelerated S&T Human Resource Development (ASTHRD) Program, one scholar graduated magna cum laude.

The ASHTRD Program is a unified and innovative human resource program aimed at accelerating the production of high level human resources by awarding MS and PhD scholarship grants to eligible individuals who will fill in the gaps of identified areas of science and technology. DOST also honored, in the ceremony, scholars in the MS and PhD programs who have completed their course.

Speaking at the awarding ceremony, DOST Secretary Estrella Alabastro prodded the students to continue the path of excellence that they have started.

“I hope that our students maintain this excellence in everything they do in whatever path they choose to take or make. A culture of science and technology should be matched with a culture of excellence and innovation,” she said.

For her part, SEI Director Dr. Ester B. Ogena said she is confident that DOST scholars would be able to give back to the Filipino people more than what they have invested on them.

“The future of the Philippines is now upon your hands and we are confident that you would be able to give back to the millions of Filipinos that helped you through your college life. They depend on you,” she said.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

PGMA leaves for US state visit

NAIA, July 29 - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo left Wednesday afternoon via Philippine Airlines for a four-day state visit in the United States beginning Thursday in Manila (Wednesday in the USA) and a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde said in a press briefing at the NAIA in Pasay City that the President will put her best foot forward in her meeting with US President Obama at the White House at 1600 Pennsylvannia Avenue, Washington, D.C. on July 31 (Manila time), or July 30 (US time).

Remonde announced the following schedule of President Arroyo:


1820H Arrive in Washington D.C. Venue: Andrews Air force base
2000H Dinner Meeting with FILUSA Venue: Willard Ballroom, Willard Hotel

Day 2 (Thursday) July 30, 2009
1000H Meeting with Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

1030H Meeting with Sheila Jackson Lee Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

1230H Lunch reception with leaders of the RP-US Friendship Caucus/Awarding ceremony Venue: Veterans Committee Room, Cannon Hall Bldg.
Meeting at the White House (TBD)

700H Coffee reception by Sen. Harry Reid Venue: LBJ Room, Capitol Hill

1800H Stakeholders' forum on the Coral Triangle (with the National Geographic) Venue: Grosvenor Auditorium, National Geographic

1930H Philippine Media Interview – Joe Taruc (Manila), Rey Langit, Jennlyn Kabiling (Washington)

Day 3 Friday July 31, 2009
1030H Meeting with Atty. General Eric Holder Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

1100H Call of DOTC Secretary Ray La Hood witness signing of MOU on Cooperation in Maritime Counter Piracy Training and Education Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

1330H Meeting with Senators Inouye and Akaka/Conferment of Citations Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

1400H Call of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Venue: Capitol Suite, Willard Hotel

Day 4 Saturday August 01, 2009
0730H Depart Washington for New York

PGMA cites importance of her upcoming meeting with U.S. President Obama

MANILA, July 29 – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cited today the importance for the Philippines and the entire Filipino people of her scheduled meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., during her latest visit to the United States.

In her statement prior to her departure at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City this afternoon, the President said her expectation for her trip to the U.S. is straightforward: “To meet new United States President Barack Obama and advance the interests of the Philippines.”

The President is flying to the U.S. for a meeting with President Obama on July 30 (Washington time). The visit is upon official invitation of the White House.

The President had to pause twice before she could finish her departure statement because the NAIA's public address system kept on barking paging messages for departing passengers. She just smiled while waiting and went on delivering her message after the airport's announcements were over.

Citing Washington as Manila's strongest ally, President Arroyo said the United States is essential to “our Philippine economic, diplomatic and natural security. We plan to ensure that these objectives remain front and center and on track between our two nations.”

”High on our agenda will be peace and security issues, including ways to continue to strengthen regional cooperation on anti-terrorism, particularly in the light of the recent Jakarta, Indonesia bombings,” the President stressed.

The Chief Executive said the Oval Office meeting with President Obama comes at a pivotal time for U.S. relations in Asia.

“I am very hopeful that the Obama Administration will once again put America back on the radar screen in Asia,” she said.

After her brief speech, President Arroyo shook hands with and bade goodbye to members of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC), including the Philippines News Agency (PNA), government officials led by Vice President Noli De Castro and other well-wishers.

The Chief Executive then boarded Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight PR 116 for San Francisco at 1:03 p.m.

Among those seen with her in the entourage were Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando.

Ibrado tells troops: Support peace process with MILF

MANILA, July 29 (PNA) - Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Victor Ibrado has told the troops to support the ongoing peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying this is the best way to end the conflict in Mindanao.

In a command message, Ibrado said there is no doubt the military can defeat the MILF, which has about 10,000 fighters as of latest military count, but he stressed that a military solution to the problem will entail “social costs and sufferings.”

“The peace process is not an alternative, it is the civil way in resolving conflicts. No doubt we can defeat the MILF militarily, but the social costs and sufferings that come with it contradict modern democratic principles of conflict management,” said Ibrado.

Upon orders of the military’s commander-in-chief, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the AFP effected a Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) with the rogue MILF rebels to establish a situation conducive to the peace process.

Fighting between government and MILF forces broke out in August last year following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The aborted signing also stalled the peace talks.

“The eyes of the world are on us because of affected internally displaced persons. Show that the AFP is cognizant of human rights and neither oppressive nor militarized as portrayed by our critics. Work with the NGOs (non-government organizations). They are here to ameliorate sufferings of affected citizens,” said Ibrado.

“See the NGOs as partners and not as obstacles to our mission in enforcing the law. Let media and international NGOs tell the world of our genuine desire to end the Mindanao conflict. Let them know that the IDPs (internally-displaced persons) are in our agenda,” he added.

Ibrado said the troops should convince the NGOs and the media “that we need to be firm against any one out to sabotage peace and stability.”

The AFP chief also directed the troops to avoid making statements that are contrary to the peace process, which are expected to continue in the coming weeks.

“Avoid remarks which run contrary to the peace process. Instead of LMG, refer to the rogue groups as Kato’s group, Pangalian’s group, Bravo’s group, etc. Refrain from mentioning base commands (of the MILF,” said Ibrado, referring to rogue MILF leaders Ameril Umbra Kato, Aleem Pangalian and Abdulrahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo.

“The peace process does not in any form suspend the law on possession of firearms. Commanders must exercise utmost prudence and exhaust their conceptual skills in dealing with illegal armed groups,” Ibrado stressed in his command message.

He likewise told the troops to liaise with MILF leaders. “Liaising with MILF leaders must be persistent in order to convey our intention. Solicit their assistance to prevent hostilities if only to show government’s sincerity to talk peace. Know and discuss peace dividends. Articulate and show that we come in good faith,” he said.

“Peace process remains the best alternative to end the conflict but we cannot allow citizens to be placed in peril. We cannot allow any rogue group to harass our citizens. We are enforcing the law, these are not combat operations,” said Ibrado.

2nd quarter investments up 243 percent to P61.70 billion

MANILA, July 29 – Investments registered with the Board of Investments (BOI) and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) went up 243 percent in the second quarter to P61.70 billion from P17.98 billion in the first quarter this year, fueling hopes of the government to meet the upper end of the 0-5 percent investments growth target for 2009.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Peter B. Favila, who chairs the boards of the two major investment promotion agencies, said the improvement in the second quarter brought the total first-half investments to P79.67 billion.

Favila stated that from a slow start, as the country reels from the effects of the global economic slowdown, the Philippines might yet meet its investment target of 0-5 percent growth this year.

As the world economy begins to pull out of a recession as shown by positive signs of generally improving economic and financial conditions in most economies worldwide, although at a snail's pace, it provides impetus for a modest investment performance of the country in 2009, Favila added.

The approved investments involve 340 projects and are expected to provide direct employment to 55,533 workers.

DTI Undersecretary for Industry and Investments Elmer C. Hernandez said that the second quarter investments were in the sectors where business communities continue to have faith in the country's absorption of foreign direct investments (FDIs).

These sectors include electricity, gas and water supply (P29 billion from first quarter of P140 million); IT services (P6.48 billion from 1st quarter of P2.45 billion); and manufacturing (P4.30 billion from 1st quarter of P1.60 billion) that have remained the country's growth drivers as their investment performance.

Local investors continue to be the major source of investment during the period, with committed investments of P60.97 billion (76 percent) while foreign investments account for P18.70 billion (24 percent).

Among foreign investors, Hong Kong businessmen topped the list for the period with P3.91 billion, followed by the Japanese, Americans and British with P3.32 billion, P3.16 billion, and P2.20 billion, respectively.

The top five investments for the first semester include the two geothermal power projects of AP Renewables Inc. in Makban and Tiwi (P13.18 billion and P9.54 billion, respectively) , construction of eight IT centers and one incubation building in Baguio City for a project cost of P3.94 billion, mass housing project of DMCI Project Developers (P3.02 billion) and the 17.5-MW biomass power generating plants of Green Power (P2.03 billion).

According to Hernandez, investments in the power sector are practically in the renewable and green sector, which bode well for the country as "we aggressively address the future growth demands for energy in the near term and at the same time ensure that these are not only renewable but clean as well."

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PGMA’s no-term extension statement is clear, says Palace official

Malacanang said on Tuesday it is apparent that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will step down once her term ends in 2010.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Anthony Golez said the President made it very clear in her State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on Monday that she "never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term."

“So, with that statement alone, hindi na siguro kailangan na magsalita pa categorically ang ating Pangulo na bababa po siya (With that statement alone, I think there is no need for the President to speak categorically that she will step down)," he said.

Golez also cited a portion of the President’s statement in her 9th SONA which, he stressed, answered well the worries of the government critics about her possible term extension.

Golez quoted the President as stating in her SONA: “At the end of this speech I shall step down from this stage, but not from the Presidency. My term does not end until next year. Until then, I will fight for the ordinary Filipino. The nation comes first. There is much to do as head of state — to the very last day.”

He said what the government critics now need is to “digest well their interpretations on the President’s statements.”

Government critics have claimed that the Chief Executive did not categorically state in her SONA that she would relinquish power at the end of her term next year.

They cited two previous presidents -- Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos -- who made categorical statements in their last SONAs about turning over the presidency to their successors.

President Arroyo distributes P557 T cash incentives to coconut farmers in Iloilo

GUIMBAL, Iloilo (July 28) – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today distributed around P557,000 cash incentives to coconut farmers from southern Iloilo under the Participatory Coconut Planting Program of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

PCA Administrator Oscar Garin said under the program coconut farmers are given P7-incentive/per piece at the moment coco nuts are being laid on the seed bed, another P7/coconut seedling once it grows to as high as two feet and P16 upon transfer to the open field and become stabilized for six months.

The provision of incentive is one way to boost the agency’s program to expand the coconut plantation in the country.

“The only way to sustain this industry is to plant and replant and this is the program of total assistance to the farmer if they are just diligent to plant coconut trees,” he said.

He said that the program although almost a ‘dole out’ is supportive of the government’s hunger mitigating program.

Garin said the checks that were distributed to farmers from San Joaquin, Igbaras, Guimbal, Tigbauan and Miagao already represent the second trance of the three phases of the incentive program.

Meantime, recipients were also thankful to the government for providing them support as they believed that such will also encourage other farmers to plant coconut.

“I am very optimistic because this is the first time in the history that the government has given this kind of service, Eddie Esmero from Igbaras said.
He added that as long as farmers continue to plant coconut then the industry will surely grow bigger.

Lamberto Sebuan, Jr. from San Joaquin also encouraged other farmers to join the industry because the coconut milk that comes from here is already competitive abroad.

“I am very thankful to President Arroyo in behalf of the coconut farmers of San Joaquin and first district of the province of Iloilo for helping us farmers and giving us incentives,” he said.

Ricardo Lamberto of Miagao also shared similar sentiment.

He stressed that the government is very concerned to farmers who have been engaging in coconut farming.

Meanwhile, PCA director for Western Visayas Joey Cruz disclosed that they almost reached 95 percent of their proposed one million coconut population to be planted in the region as part of their expansion program.

Almost 250,000 of the one million population are in Iloilo, he added.

Meantime, Garin encouraged other coconut farmers to avail of the incentive by registering at the PCA office.

During the distribution, President Arroyo also advised Administrator Garin to remind the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) of the agency’s requested fund for its expansion program.

DSWD says hunger mitigation programs are continuously implemented

ILOILO CITY, July 28 (PNA) – The government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has been responsive to the needs of poor families and hunger mitigation programs are already in place and being continuously implemented to address their concerns.

This was the reaction of DSWD Regional Director for Western Visayas Teresita Rosales on the result of a survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS) showing that some 3.7 million families in the country experienced hunger in the past three months.

“I could not question the survey but the DSWD is involved in various hunger mitigation programs,” she said.

Rosales noted that the food-for-school program covers 27 municipalities in Western Visayas.

Under this program, an indigent student receives a ration of one kilo of rice for a day’s attendance.

This covers the entire province of Antique; municipalities of Carles, San Dionisio and Concepcion in Iloilo; Moises Padilla, Don Salvador Benedicto and Calatrava in Negros Occidental and Madalag and Makato in Aklan.

“These are municipalities identified by the National Nutrition Council to have a high incidence of hunger and malnutrition,” Rosales said.

Another program is the establishment of Tindahan Natin (TN) outlets in far-flung barangays that sell rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).

Rosales said one TN is supposed to serve 250 families.

To date, she added, more or less 450 TNs have been established all over the region.

Risk of RP financial crisis low – Moody’s

MANILA (July 28) – Moody’s Inve€tors System on Tuesday said possibility of a financial crisis in the Philippines is “low” amid the downgrade on six banks’ local currency deposit ratings.

In a statement, the debt ratings agency said it also scaled down the local currency subordinate debt ratings of three banks, the foreign currency long-term deposit rating of one bank and the foreign currency hybrid tier-1 ratings of two banks, with the outlooks on these ratings “stable.”

The nine banks affected with the ratings movements are Allied Banking Corporation (ABC), Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO), Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company (MBT), Philippine National Bank (PNB), Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), and United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB).

In particular, Moody’s said changes are as follows:

ABC -- local currency subordinated debt rating lowered from Ba3 to B1; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

BDO -- local currency deposit ratings lowered from Baa2/Prime-2 to Ba1/Not Prime; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

BPI -- local currency deposit ratings lowered from A3/Prime-1 to Baa2/Prime-2; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

DBP -- local currency deposit ratings lowered from A3/Prime-2 to Ba1/ Not Prime; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

LBP -- local currency deposit ratings lowered from A3/Prime-2 to Ba1/ Not Prime; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

MBT -- local currency deposit ratings lowered from Baa2/Prime-2 to Ba1/Not Prime; local currency subordinated debt rating lowered from Baa3 to Ba2; foreign currency hybrid tier-1 rating lowered from Ba3 to B1; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

PNB -- local currency deposit rating lowered from Ba1 to Ba2; local currency subordinated debt rating lowered from Ba2 to Ba3; foreign currency long-term deposit rating upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

RCBC -- foreign currency hybrid tier-1 rating lowered from B1 to B2; foreign currency senior unsecured rating upgraded from Ba3 to Ba2; foreign currency long-term deposit upgraded from B1 to Ba3; Stable outlooks

UCPB -- foreign currency deposit rating lowered from B1 to B2; Stable outlook
Moody’s decision was made after its review of the deposit and debt ratings of nine Philippine banks last May 20 in relation to the bank’s systemic support assumption used in the agency’s Joint-Default Analysis (JDA) application.

However, the credit ratings agency stressed that the downgrade are “not related to the banks' operating performances, thus, “there was no change to the bank financial strength ratings (BFSR) of these institutions, which address their stand-alone credit profiles.”

Moody’s, on the other hand, said it upgraded the constrained foreign currency long-term deposit ratings of eight of the nine banks and constrained foreign currency senior unsecured rating of one bank, with the rating outlooks of these banks' deposits and debts are stable.

This came after the ratings agency recently upgraded the country’s credit rating after noting the resiliency of the domestic financial system.

Moody's vice president and senior credit officer John Tham said "consistent with adjustments to the systemic support to be in line with the government's local currency bond rating, and in light of the Philippines' current situation, Moody's concludes that the systemic support input for Philippine bank ratings is appropriate at Ba1 -- two notches above the local currency government bond rating of Ba3."

"The two-notch uplift above the local currency government bond rating also takes into consideration Moody's expectations that the risk of a system-wide banking crisis is low and the risk that the government "ring-fencing" its own position from the banking system is medium," he said.

Moody’s said downgrades on the banks’ deposit and debt rating was made in line with the impact of the global financial crisis on the government’s capability to provide financial support to the banking system if need arises.

It said that impact of the global financial crunch to the local front “has been muted” but noted that “credit fundamentals could experience some pressure in light of the economic slowdown.”

“Government resources are moderate and could face further pressure in a protracted downturn, although some support for the banking system should be forthcoming -- or at least the top 10 local banks, which are systemically important because they own almost 70 percent of system deposits -- through liquidity and capital assistance, as has previously happened,” it added.

Monday, 27 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Monday, July 27, 2009

PGMA: "I have never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term"

MANILA, July 27 - Contrary to what her critics say, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will not extend her term of office.

In her 9th State-of-the-Nation Address, President Arroyo said: “I have never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term. Many of those who accuse me of it try to cling like nails to their posts... At the end of this speech, I shall step down from this stage but not from the presidency. My term does not end until next year. Until then, I will fight for the ordinary Filipino.”

The hardworking President said there is still so much work to do from today until the last day of her term in June next year.

”The nation comes first. There's much to do as head of state to the very last day. A year is a long time,” she said. “Our people deserve a government that works just as hard as they do.”

She also urged presidential hopefuls “to give the electorate real choices and not just sweet talk.”

President Arroyo also lashed out at her critics in what could be considered as one of her strongest and most meaningful SONA.

”I have never done any of the things that have scared my worst critics so much. They are frightened by their own shadows,” she said.

”I am falsely accused, without proof, of using my office for personal profit. Many of those who accuse me of it have lifestyles and spending habits that make them walking proofs of that crime.”
”We can read their frustrations. They had the chance to serve this good country and they blew it by serving themselves. Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there,” she said.

SONA 2009 and PGMA’s critics

“Sinagot na niya ang kanyang mga kritiko,” so described Professor Alex Magno after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivered her ninth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.

In her report, President Arroyo described the state of the nation since her 2008 SONA as “a strong economy” while lashing out her critics saying, “have we listened to our critics, this country could have lied flat on its back!”

The President revealed that with the economic measures that her administration has implemented to boost government revenues, the country was able to develop critical infrastructures like seaports, airports, and roll-on-roll-off routes.

She cited as an example the development of the Subic-Clark Expressway that has helped create wealth to Subic and Clark, Pampanga.

The Chief Executive made mention also of her recent order to the National Telecommunications (NTC) to act on complaints of unfair charges on drop calls and diminishing loads.

President Arroyo likewise reported that since its development in the country, the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) has grown into a $6 billion-sector that has provided massive employment to Filipinos. Thus the call of the President for the development of “a department of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)”.

She also revealed that about 700,000 families have already benefited from the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamiliyang Pilipino Project) while 700,000 ‘katutubo’ and CARP beneficiaries are now proud land owners.

Among the accomplishments that the President also mentioned include the government’s emergency jobs program which is part of her Economic Resiliency Program (ERP) that have provided employment to many; housing and shelter programs; the development of farm-to-market roads and irrigation infrastructures; P1 billion fund to fish farming; and the increase of farm gate price of rice from P11 to P17 per kilo; and the creation of 8.095 million jobs since 2001.

Economically, the President pointed out that through her administration the average inflation rate of the county is at 1.5 percent as of June 2009 – the lowest since 1966, while the average growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country is at 4.6 percent from 2001 to 2009. Her administration is also responsible for the reduction of the public debt and foreign debt from to 32 percent, with the self-rated poverty rate lowering to 47 percent.

With the influx of OFW remittances which is now already at P166.91 billion, the Foreign exchange reserves of the country grew by $3 billion. Hence, President Arroyo’s intent to create an Investors Protection Task Force to help OFWs create investments in the country.

Legislatively, the President reported the passage of Cheaper Medicines law, Rent Control law, Biofuels Act, Renewable Energy Act, and the 2010 Fully Automated elections.

In Education and Skills training, the government has provided means and measures for the Filipino people to realize their dreams through education – which she referred to as a great equalizer. Part of this, she said, is the P1.5 billion fund for 100,000 teachers’ training in English teaching; removal of miscellaneous fees in school expenses; removal of the requirement to wear school uniforms; and scholarships extended to 600,000 College and Post-Graduates. Aside from this, the President revealed that the Presidential Task Force on Education has already envisioned a “Philippine Main Education Highway” to better our education system.

For peace in Mindanao, the Chief Executive has expressed desire for Muslim, Christians and Lumads to find a common ground that respects each others beliefs.

In the same report, President Arroyo thanked the Congress “for standing with me, and doing the right thing”.

On one hand, she told her critics that she “will step down from this stage but not from the Presidency” as her “term will end next year”, pointing out that “I never expressed desire to extend my term”.

She shot back at her detractors, saying “those who live in glass houses should not cast stones”

For those who want to become President, the Chief Executive advised them to do something but “don’t say bad words in public”.

At the end of her report, President Arroyo thanked the Filipino people for “allowing me to be your President”.

Mrs. Arroyo received about 126 applauses and at least two standing ovations during the occasion.

Palace’s allies are quick to defend the President saying, “it is about time na sagutin na talaga niya ang kanyang mga kritiko.”

Filipinos must listen to PGMA's 'interesting' 9th SONA -- Remonde

MANILA, July 27 — Malacanang asked the Filipino people on Monday morning to listen to the “interesting” ninth State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the joint session this afternoon of the Senate and the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said in a radio interview that the President finished most of her SONA Sunday night, although she might still make “finishing touches” to it.

”It’s more or less 10 pages, that’s the normal length of her SONA, that’s about 45 minutes to one hour. It will be very interesting,” Secretary Remonde explained.

”This SONA will warm the hearts of the supporters of the President and even convert those who are undecided about her administration. As to her critics, we can’t do anything about them,” Remonde said.

According to the Malacanang official, education would be on the spotlight of the President’s report, along with infrastructure, job generation and the economy.
Remonde also assured the Catholic Church that President Arroyo would deliver an “honest” SONA.

The Catholic Church on Sunday called on the President to be honest in her reporting of the real state of the nation.

"The President will definitely be honest. Majority of the leaders support her except for a few again who are among her critics who will never see anything good in what she does," Remonde stressed.

On Sunday, President Arroyo said in her opening statement before receiving the state of the education report from the Task Force for Education (TFE) that “Education is the better ticket to a better life.”

The President underscored the importance of providing every Filipino with quality education, saying this is the “ticket to a better life.”

“Nothing is more sacred or more valuable to enhancing the dignity of every Filipino than a good education, and no issue is more important to us than education,” the President said.

Through education, every Filipino man, woman and child will be given an opportunity to “lift themselves up,” according to the Chief Executive.

“Our children –- the children of our nation -– are most precious to us and we must give them every opportunity to use their God-given talents to lift themselves up,” she added.

After her statement, the President held a closed-door meeting with TFE members led by Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Commission on Higher Education Chair Emmanuel Angeles, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Chair Augusto Syjuco and Presidential Assistant for Education Mona Valisno.

President Arroyo said that the task force members are just part of the “experts” convened “from across government on subjects that will be discussed in the SONA: national security, the economy, social services, infrastructure and more.”

“All will be part of our SONA. All have been crucial to my priorities as President,” she stressed.

“We take the SONA very seriously. Our people deserve to know what our government is doing, how the money is spent and what our priorities for the nation are,” the President said.

Palace brands Washington Times editorial as one that “reeks of prejudice”

MANILA, July 27 - Malacanang on Monday decried the Washington Times editorial which claimed that United States President Barack Obama's invitation to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Washington on July 30 is a “mistake”.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo branded such report as one that “reeks of prejudice.”

“It is irresponsible journalism,” Fajardo said, pointing out that its editorial–commentary managing editor is none other than Brett Decker, the author of Congressman Jose De Venecia’s fictional biography.

Titled “Obama sanitizing Arroyo stink”, the Washington Times editorial dated July 26 stated that the choice of President Arroyo as the first Southeast Asian leader to be invited by Obama was a mistake because the US President is being “used to give political cover for the President’s troubles back home.”

The editorial cited President Arroyo's alleged “precarious domestic political position, corruption, human rights abuses, and machinations to cling to power” as reasons why it considered Obama's meeting a mistake.

Fajardo said the President’s meeting with Obama serves only to validate, affirm and strengthen the strong alliance of the Philippines and United States and joint efforts to secure a brighter future for the two countries.

“The Philippines and the United States have a shared history and future, founded on a common vision of democracy and progress,” she said.

The Chief Executive was called by Obama to re-affirm his commitment to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and to commend her about her administration’s efforts at countering terrorism.

This was revealed by the US Office of the Press Secretary in a White House website press statement “for immediate release” dated March 13 (March 14 in the Philippines).

“They reaffirmed their commitment to the long-standing U.S.-Philippines alliance, including the Visiting Forces Agreement, which remains critical to the bilateral relationship and our strategic interests,” the statement said.

The US President, likewise, commended President Arroyo on her country’s efforts in countering terrorism and modernizing the armed forces.

“The two leaders discussed the need to work closely together on the global
economic crisis as well as on other areas of common concern, including climate change, education, and interfaith dialogue,” the statement further said.

Senate opens 3rd regular session with 19 senators present

MANILA, July 27 — Nineteen members of the Senate attended the opening of the third regular session of the 14th Congress on Monday morning.

Only four of the 23 members of the chamber failed to attend the opening session which started at exactly 10 a.m. They were Senators Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Pia Cayetano, Manuel A. Roxas II and Antonio Trillanes IV, who is on detention.

The 19 senators present approved several resolutions, including Concurrent Resolution No. 28 convening both chambers of Congress at 4 p.m. today to hear President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

Senator Francis Pangilinan took the floor to clarify that the approved resolution should not be used to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, who is among those attending the 9th SONA of President Arroyo during the joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, threatened to walk out if the SONA would be converted into a Constituent Assembly.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile assured his colleagues he would not allow such a move and that any motion to convert Congress into a Constituent Assembly would be declared out of order.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PGMA inaugurates Bohol Medical Care Institute

TAGBILARAN CITY – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo inaugurated on Wednesday the Bohol Medical Care Institute (BMCI), a facility that will provide cheap socialized medical and diagnostic services to indigent families of this island province.

Immediately upon her arrival at the Barangay Dao District here, the President unveiled the marker of the P20 million BMCI facility located at the right side of the building’s main entrance.

On hand to assist the President were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Governor Erico Aumentado, Tagbilaran City Mayor Dan Lim, and First Consolidated Bank foundation chairman Dr. Richard Yu.

In his brief remarks, Governor Aumentado said the opening of the BMCI and the Sandugo Regional One Town, One Product (OTOP) provincial trade fair reflects the administration’s focus on key areas of success in the province especially in health, trade, agriculture, education and livelihood.

He stressed that the formal opening of the BMCI “will address the shortage of appropriate diagnostic facilities in Bohol” and the prohibitive cost of medical care services whenever Boholanos go to the cities of Cebu, Manila, Cagayan de Oro or Davao for diagnosis or treatment.

The BMCI will house diagnostic equipment and specialists clinics designed to provide indigents and middle class patients socialized services.

These include radiology, laboratory/pathology, endoscopy, treatment of eye, ear, nose, throat (EENT) diseases, therapy/pain management, internal medicine and cardiology, and ambulatory services.

The BMCI is a joint project of the provincial government, First Consolidated Bank (FCB) Foundation, Bohol Chronicle-DYRD-Inyong Alagad Foundation and the New York-based Home Reach Foundation aimed to provide indigent and middle class families socialized medical/diagnostic services.

SONA to focus on PGMA accomplishments

MANILA, July 22 - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will highlight the achievements of her administration and the status of the government’s projects and programs in her upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the opening of the Joint Congress on July 27.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in a press briefing today that President Arroyo will dwell on how her administration has given “too much attention to the overall welfare of the Filipinos.”

He explained that President Arroyo will try to highlight the accomplishments of the major projects she initiated since 2001.

Ermita cited the BEAT THE ODDS program of the government which the Chief Executive will most likely tackle on Monday’s SONA.

BEAT THE ODDS is an acronym for the government’s priority project which stands for: Balance budget, Education for all, Automated elections, Transportation and digital infrastructure, Terminate hostilities with the MILF and NPA, Heal the wounds of EDSA’s I, II and III, Electricity and water for all, Opportunities for livelihood and ten million jobs, Decongestion of Metro Manila, and Develop Subic and Clark.

President Arroyo, Ermita added, may also report the developments on the Super Region concept, the development in Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon and the other parts of the country.

Ermita reiterated that this is President Arroyo’s last SONA and she wants to inform the Filipino people on the accomplishments of her administration and the status of the projects and programs that she initiated for the welfare of the citizens.

EO on drug price ceiling to take effect August 15

MANILA, July 22 - Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita confirmed on wednesday that an executive order for the imposition of maximum drug price ceilings on several essential drugs may be signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo before she leaves for the United States late this month.

The EO, he said, will take effect on August 15.

Ermita said the report from the Department of Health will be the basis of the draft executive order that they will submit to President Arroyo “to implement the intent and spirit of the Cheap Medicines Act.”

“You can be sure that the President will take a final decisive action on that matter that would be advantageous and beneficial to the majority of our people. You can be sure of that,” Ermita told Malacanang reporters in a press briefing.

In a letter submitted to the Office of the President, the health department disclosed that they have finalized the review and validation of the Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) letter of undertaking where prices of 16 drugs were voluntarily reduced by 50 percent while five other were non-compliant.

Among the 16 preparations that complied were medications to treat hypertension, diabetes, common infections, amoebiasis and some cancers like leukemia.

The five others that did not voluntarily comply with the 50 percent price cut will be recommended for the imposition of the maximum drug retail price through an executive order to be signed by the President.

However, pharmaceutical companies have added 22 molecules (or 31 products) that will have voluntary price cuts from 10 to 50 percent. These medications will treat diseases such as goiter, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, arthritis, fungal infections, diabetes, among others.
President Arroyo last year signed into law RA 9502, or the Universally Accessible, Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008. Under the law, any individual or organization listed with the Bureau of Food and Drugs may import medicines and sell them at affordable prices to the public

OAV registration for 2010 elections breaches record for 2007, says DFA

MANILA, July 22 — At 143,659 overseas voters so far registered for the May 2010 elections, the number has breached the total of 142,667 for the 2007 national elections, according to Nestor Padalhin, vice-chairman of the Overseas Absentee Voters Secretariat (OAVS) based at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Still, both totals fared much lower than the 361,457 registered in the two-month registration period for the 2004 presidential elections, records show. The August 1 to September 30, 2003 OAV registration was the first since the law on overseas absentee voting and the law on dual citizenship were passed by Congress.

The second OAV registration was for a one-year period from October 31, 2005 to October 31, 2006, yet the total was the lowest of the three periods.

For that first-time ever registration, foreign posts were on their toes as they have to respond to both face-to-face and online queries by first-time prospective absentee voters and master the mechanics of registering Filipinos abroad. Both registrars and registrants were experiencing overseas registration and actual voting for the first time.

The current seven-month registration period, from February 1 to August 31, shows that the consulate-general in Hong Kong, reaping 14,259, leads some 90 foreign diplomatic posts in attracting registrants. The HK performance accounts for the overall regional lead of the Asia-Pacific, or for a regional total of 39,239.

With only five weeks to go before the August 31 deadline, the OAVS hopes that registration reaches at least 200,000.

DFA Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, OAVS chair, earlier said that he has factored the Filipino habit of scrambling over a project at the 11th hour.

Also, various foreign posts have multiplied their campaign for mobile registration, operating out of public places and centers in the Middle East, Europe, Hong Kong and the U.S. to attract Filipinos to register — and eventually vote in May 2010.

Padalhin said there is nothing unusual about the fluctuation in numbers as many OAV registrants are transient overseas workers. The point is that they have a chance to register and exercise their right of suffrage even when abroad, he added.

Next to Hong Kong, with a large Filipino community of at least 180,000, the top 10 registrars are: Los Angeles, 8,114; Dubai, 7,907; Singapore, 6,300; London, 4,662; Riyadh, 4,570; Toronto, 4,202; New York, 4,085; Tokyo, 3,363, and Washington, 3,214.

The U.S., where many Filipinos are dual citizens, leads among countries where registration is in the top five. The rest are China (15,288), United Arab Emirates (10,555), Saudi Arabia (8,413) and Singapore (6,300).

But DFA noted that there were also enlistment in the newly-opened diplomatic posts of Barcelona (Spain, 1,559), Oslo (Norway, 938), Macau (SAR China, 465), Damascus (Syria, 277), Frankfurt (Germany, 44), and Chongqing (China, 43).

CLEEP employs 237,601 Pinoys

National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban revealed that at least 237,601 Filipinos have earned employment during the last six months under the Arroyo government’s Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (CLEEP).

In a statement, Secretary Panganiban said the generated jobs are in public works and services with more than P7 billion already committed of the P13.58 billion as pledged by various agencies to the CLEEP.

Panganiban reported that DPWH has hired some 46,604 workers; DA provided emergency jobs for 37,524 workers; DSWD 27,127; DTI hired some 29,545; DepEd employed 19,356 workers for its herbal soap-making project and as utility workers; and 13 other government agencies
provided jobs to 77,445 Filipinos across the country.

The Secretary hinted that the figure is yet to grow as agencies are still in the process of tallying its CLEEP reports.

Accordingly, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is closely watching the implementation of the project to ease the burden of the people amidst the challenges of the global economic slowdown.

In a related development, the Arroyo administration, in its relentless effort to open new and better job opportunities here and abroad, has already generated more than 6.3 million jobs since 2001 for wage employment alone in sectors like the ICT and BPO and through jobs facilitation program.

To better the workers condition, the daily minimum wage in the private sector were increased from P265 in 2001 to P382 to date, while in the government, salaries of state employees were raised four times, including this year with the first of the four tranches of the Salary Standardization Law 3 after being signed by President Arroyo.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

3,000 govt. workers to benefit from new housing project

Close to 3,000 government workers stand to benefit from the government housing project within the New Bilibid Prison reservation in Muntinlupa following its groundbreaking this morning by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro.

The new socialized housing project on the 41-hectare gently rolling property will be offered to employees of Office of the President, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Justice and its attached agency the Bureau of Correctional and the City of Muntinlupa.

Property developer, R-II Builders represented by its chairman Reghis Romero III and president/CEO Pol T. Sanchez were among those who witnessed the ground breaking and laying of the time capsule officially marking the start of project development.

Romero said the developers have until one year, from today, to finish the development of the property, the construction and selling of the housing units that the company builds. R-II is tasked with the first phase of development in 16.76 hectares covering 1,495 units.

Before the President arrived, Vice President de Castro instructed the housing agencies under him—the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, the Philippine Home Mortgage Finance Corp., PagIbig and the National Housing Authority—to offer the houses and lots to all other government employees if these are not taken by priority clients.

“Offer the houses and lots built to other government employees after four months that the OP, DENR, DOJ, the Bureau of Correctional and the City of Muntinlupa will not buy the units through their PagIbig Fund contributions,” the VP told developers RII Builders and its counterpart, the Baque Corporation which will develop 1,491 units in Phase 2 of the property.

R-II will be developing the property, build and sell the houses in its program area. The housing packages come in three types: floor areas of 24 square meters or 699 units in all; 40 square meters or 341 units in all and 60 square meter or a total of 455 units. All lots have uniform size of 74 square meters. The costs of these packages are: P310,000 for the 24 sq.m. houses; P400,000 for the 40 sq.m. houses and P600,000 for the 60 sq.m. houses, Romero said.

The Phase 2 development, to be undertaken by Baque Corporation come in same sizes of 20 square meters with a total of 697 units; 40 square meters or 340 units and 60 square meters or 454 units.

RP won’t fall into recession, says Global Source

MALAYBALAY, Bukidnon, July 21 — New York-based think tank Global Source said that the Philippines will likely avoid a recession this year but will have a snail’s pace growth through next year.

Socioeconomic and Planning Deputy Director-General Ricardo Tumpalan reported this during the weekly Global Recession Impact News (GRIN) and Position for the Rebound report at the first-ever full Cabinet meeting held in Bukidnon province today.

Global Source predicted that the domestic economy would grow by 0.5 percent to one percent this year, revising its previous forecast of a 2.5-percent growth. This new forecast is slightly more bearish than the government's latest official gross domestic product (GDP) forecast expansion of 0.8-1.8 percent.

The market's consensus forecast on Philippine GDP growth for this year has gone down to 1.2 percent from the 2.3-percent consensus before the meager first-quarter growth of 0.4 percent was announced.

In ruling out the possibility of an economic contraction, Global Source pointed out that remittances so far managed to hold steady, which meant that any decline in 2009 would be minimal, while export and import numbers slowly evened out, improving the trade balance.

It added that the effects of higher fiscal spending may soon start to become perceptible, especially as the elections near, while expectations of a global recovery should help revitalize consumers somewhat later in the year.

But looking ahead, Global Source said an upturn in the world economy, especially a weak one, might not mean much for the Philippines.

Coupled with likely weak recovery in advanced economies, Global Source sees only a three to 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2010.

Global Source also noted that the spread of the swine flu may be another dampener to economic activity, particularly for tourism-related sectors and businesses dependent on people coming out and converging such as in malls, hotels and restaurants," it added.

But Global Source said exports might have bottomed for the year, suggesting that external trade could even out further while the decline in manufacturing could slow.

"Services exports, especially of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, will remain strong according to industry insiders we have talked to, likely growing at double-digit rates. Government spending, which had been delayed by the late signing of the national budget and allegedly held back for reasons of political strategy may begin to reflect in the national accounts beginning the second quarter of 2009," Global Source said.

Tumpalan said while there is progress in the economic recovery plan, having passed the midpoint of the year, government cannot be complacent — must end up strongly by working double–time in infrastructure so as to be ready for the coming rebound in the global economy.
NEDA also recommended that there is a need for the Philippines to engage China for more trade, investment, and tourism as China continues to post strong growth.

It also recommended that the government must determine what can be learned or replicated fro India’s plan to be slum-free in five years as well as rigorously promote the country leadership in green building standards and architecture and promote the development of price competitive sources of alternative energy.

Palace wages war vs. 'narco-politics'

MANILA, July 21 - Malacañang on Tuesday morning said the Philippine government is already waging a war against “narco-politics” which is reportedly happening in the country and rearing its ugly head towardsd the 2010 national and local elections.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Malacañang are alarmed on the possible use of drug money to influence the outcome of the elections next year.

Fajardo said that President Arroyo was very much concerned over the possibility of “narco-politics” occurring in the country and showing its influence in the 2010 elections, particularly at the local level.

She added there are allegedly some corrupt politicians who are using drug money so they can push their political ambitions to be able to get a juicy government positions.

“Our political leaders, especially local government officials, should partner with President Arroyo or the national government in the all-out war against illegal drugs,” Fajardo said over state-run Philippine Broadcasting System (PBS)-DZRB National Radio.

“If there is evidence that politicians are behind these kind of sickening activities, they will not be spared no matter how far and wide their influence is,” she said.

“Mrs. Arroyo is serious in combating this spread of illegal drugs and we cannot discount the possibility that it could be a factor that drug money could be used in the coming elections and we have to do something about that,” Fajardo said.

She added that Mrs. Arroyo remains steadfast in her belief against the death penalty but nothing would prevent Congress from reviving it in light of the reported heinous crime. “The President remains pro-life,” the Malacañang official said.

Fajardo said President Arroyo is an anti-drug czar and has ordered all government agencies concerned to wage a campaign versus illegal drugs throughout the country.

PGMA cites importance of international engagement

IMPASUGONG, Bukidnon, July 21 (PNA) - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cited today the importance of international engagement in the country’s development.

“This is one of the fruits of international engagement,” the President said when she led the groundbreaking of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) -funded road project here that stand to benefit some four million Filipinos.

“This road project will benefit not only the people of Impasugong or Bukidnon but also the neighboring areas,” she explained.

The President, assisted by Bukidnon Governor Ma. Jose Zubiri Jr., Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Rep. Candido Pancrudo, lowered the time capsule containing the project’s plan.

Governor Zubiri informed the President that the AusAID project will cover some 160 kilometers of all-weather roads.

“This is something new for Bukidnon and this was made possible through the efforts of the President and our good relations with the Australian government,” he said.

Australian Charge d’Affaires Steve Scott said the Philippines is an “important partner of Australia,” adding that the funds were made available to the Philippines because of “good governance and good execution of AusAID projects.”

The road project is under the Southern Philippines Provincial Road Maintenance Program (SPPRMP) that covers 10 provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao and is funded with some 100 million Australian dollars or around P3.5 billion by the Australian government through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

The program has a Provincial Road Maintenance Facility (PRMF) that provides P50 million each year to every beneficiary province for construction and repair of provincial roads over a five-year period.

It has been noted that provincial roads are the key links of rural communities to the national highway and eventually to the centers of trade and commerce, political administration, and health and educational services, among others.

By improving transport, the welfare of rural folks will significantly improve.

Apart from improving the road network, the program also seeks to strengthen each province’s institutional capacity and governance system related to the provision and maintenance of provincial roads.

Depending on the performance of each beneficiary province in carrying out the program, these could be eligible for another round of assistance.

The beneficiary provinces of the SPPRMP are Agusan del Sur, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental and Surigao del Norte, in Mindanao; and Bohol and Guimaras in the Visayas.
Three more beneficiary provinces are still to be identified.

Within five years, the SPPRMP is principally expected to have rehabilitated at least 1,000 kilometers of provincial roads in the 10 provinces; improved access for over four million people to schools and health centers; and reduced transport costs.

The PRMF is said to be Australia’s single largest grant project in the Philippines to date; the bilateral agreement covering this was signed last March.

Australia is the country’s second largest bilateral grant aid donor after Japan. Its aid program has grown significantly in the last three years. For the fiscal year 2008-2009, its assistance portfolio is estimated at Aus 109 million dollars.

Monday, 20 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Monday, July 20, 2009

PGMA to unveil 2 potable water projects in Pampanga

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will unveil on monday two potable water projects that will benefit around 4,500 residents in Floridablanca as part of her Tubig sa Kanayunan Program being implemented by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

The President will lead the capsule-laying of the P7.4-million Barangay Sto. Rosario Potable Water Supply System Project which will benefit 349 households or some 1,800 individuals in the area.

The proposed project includes the setting up of a water well, pumping station facilities, elevated steel tank and installation of pipelines and valves.

The President will also inaugurate the P4.38-million potable water system project in Barangay Carmencita by opening its butterfly-type valve that will release water into the flush box and distribution lines to benefit 462 households or some 2,772 residents in the barangay.

To welcome and assist the President are Floridablanca Mayor Eduardo Guerrero, LWUA Chairman Prospero Pichay, Cabinet Officer for Region 3 Sec. Edgardo Pamintuan and Floridablanca Water District General Manager Jeffrey Lintag.

The Chief Executive will also unveil the statue of her father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal, at the Floridablanca municipal hall in Barangay Poblacion.

Afterwards, the President will proceed to the City of San Fernando as guest speaker in the closing program of the Pampanga Barangay Summit at the Bren Guiao Convention Center.

To welcome her at the summit are Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno and
some 4,500 chairmen and councilors from the 505 barangays of Pampanga.

DOH to recommend price ceiling on 6 to 7 essential drugs

MANILA, July 20 - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to sign an executive order imposing the maximum price ceiling on six to seven essential drugs not included in the list voluntarily recommended bypharmaceutical firms for price slashing. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press briefing today that the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) has already submitted a letter of undertaking voluntarily trimming down prices of some 14 to 15 essential drugs by at least 50 percent.

The drug firms, he said, offered to reduce the prices of six to seven essential medicines to only 30 to 35 percent. These include anti-hypertensive, anti-cholesterol, anti-diabetes, two anti-infective and anti-cancer drugs.

Duque said that they are now carefully reviewing the proposals and will submit the recommendation to the President not later than Wednesday this week.

He said the forthcoming executive order will take effect on Aug. 15 and include only the six to seven essential drugs. The proposals received by the government came from 11 members of PHAP and two drug companies that are not members of the association.

Duque explained that some of the pharmaceutical companies that do not carry the 21 essential drugs also offered price reduction to 12 more products.

The Health Secretary pointed out that he does not accept the explanation of drug companies which failed to voluntarily slash the prices of the six to seven essential drugs that further reduction could “eat up their profits.” He said these drug firms have already generated hefty profits from these medicines.

CCM asks SC to stop Comelec from paying initial P4-B to Smartmatic-TIM for poll automation

MANILA, July 20 - The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) on Monday filed a "very urgent motion" before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from paying an initial amount of P4 billion to Smartmatic-Total Information Management consortium for the automation of the 2010 polls.

The group asked the High Court to stay the initial payment to the consortium pending their (CCM) petition questioning the validity of the P7.2-billion poll automation contract entered into by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.

Under the contract, Smartmatic-TIM may collect from the Comelec up to P4 billion out of the P7.194-billion contract prior to its delivery of the 80,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (POCS) machines to be used for the May 10, 2010 national and local elections.

The consortium has promised to deliver the first batch of the 80,200 machines in November this year.In their motion to stay the first payment of fees to Smartmatic-TIM Corporation, the petitioners said that such payment could cause irreparable injury not only to them but to the Filipino people as well in case "payment is made and the contract is declared invalid." The CCM claimed the contract is "frontloaded" and that "an obvious proof of this is that the delivery of the 80,200 machines will only require payment of 35 percent of the budget, when in the original Comelec budget the rental of equipment is 72.5 percent of the total budget."

"Thus, such terms of the contract patently disadvantageous to the people justify the immediate issuance by this Honorable Court of an order staying the expenditure of public funds in the contract to automate the country's election system awarded to the Smartmatic-TIM joint venture," the CCM said.

The CCM cited the MegaPacific contract which was nullified by the SC, wherein the Comelec spent P3.9 million in storage fees each year for automated counting machines (ACMs) not used due to violations of the law.

"The instant petition involves an even bigger contract. Petitioners respectfully argue that the lessons of the MegaPacifc deal should not be lost on this Honorable Court. The payment could well be made withno tangible deliveries. And if this Honorable Court nullifies the contract, Respondent Comelec will have already paid for something that it cannot use later," the petitioners said. "At least, in the MegaPacific deal, the machines had actually been delivered," the CCM argued.

In the Comelec-Smartmatic- TIM deal, P2.8 billion of the P7.194-billion contract price will have to be paid by Comelec before the machines could be delivered.

Aside from this, the Comelec is also required to pay a "project initialization setup" or 10 percent of the contract cost equivalent to P719 million.

This means, following the schedule of payments by December 2009, the Comelec shall have already paid P4.135 billion or 57 percent of the contract price, the petitioners said.

The High Court scheduled the CCM motion for oral argument on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 2 p.m.The CCM earlier asked the SC to stop the signing of the contract between Comelec, Smartmatic International Inc. and its local partner Total Information Management (TIM).They also asked that the contract be declared void for alleged violation of several provisions of the law.

In their 49-page petition, the CCM cited violations of the provisions of Republic Act 9369, otherwise known as the Poll Automation Law of 2007, saying that the Comelec failed to conduct any pilot testing ofthe Precinct Count Optical Scan machines by Smartmatic-TIM, which is a requirement under RA 9369.They noted that Section 5 of RA 9369 mandates that for the regular and national elections, the automated election system shall be used in at least two highly-urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon,Visayas and Mindanao to be chosen by the Comelec.

DBP loan jumpstarts missionary route in Luzon

State-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Northeastern Luzon Pacific Coastal Service, Inc. (NLPCSI)signed recently a P64.7 million loan agreement to finance the acquisition oftwo ferry vessels that will ply the missionary route in northeastern Luzon.

The ferry vessels will serve the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, and Aurora, providing an affordable, reliable and convenient mode of transportation to move passengers, agricultural and marine productsfrom coastal towns to mainland markets.

DBP president & chief executive officer Reynaldo G. David said the initiative is in line with DBP’s flagship project, the Sustainable Logistics Development Program (SLDP) and supports the national government’s Strong Republic Nautical Highway.

He added that the opening of a missionary route will improve economic conditions and harness the tourism potential of northeastern Luzon, subsequently generating more employment opportunities for residents of coastal towns in the area.

NLPCSI president and chief executive officer Sec. Jose Mari Ponce, who is also administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority(CEZA) said the initiative will link two economic zones -- the Aurora Economic Zone and the Cagayan Free Port. He expressed optimism that the initiative will boost economic activity in the three provinces.

Isabela Governor Ma. Gracia Padaca, on the other hand, said the project will also help in promoting eco-tourism in the area while supporting the campaign against logging activities in the Sierra Madre mountain range.The project supports the Road Roll-on Roll-off Terminal System which is one of the three components of DBP’s Sustainable Logistics Development Program (SLDP). This is an investment financing facility for a comprehensive and integrated transportation system as well as related infrastructure and support services. The other components are the bulk grains highway which facilitates the transport of cornfrom Mindanao to Northern Luzon, while the cold chain highway is aimed at re-engineering the logistics system for perishables.

Founded in 2003, NLPCSI was formed by the provinces of Aurora, Isabela, and Cagayan, and the CEZA to establish a RORO system along thenortheastern coast of Luzon.

SONA security up

“Everything is now being put in place,” so said S/Supt. Leonardo Espina, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson, in an interview.

Espina issued the statement in relation to the security plan being implemented by the PNP, including the installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in strategic areas in Metro Manila in coordination with the PNP – National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on July 27, 2009.

The PNP spokesman said that aside from the installation of CCTV cameras, the PNP, the rally organizers and Quezon City Mayor Belmonte will meet on July 22, 2009 to iron OUT matters that may cause securityconcerns during the event.

He explained that the PNP is doing this to install peace, security and road traffic ease for the general public despite rally groups’ protest actions.

In a related story, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Leila De Lima said that emotions are expected to rise because this is the last SONA of the incumbent President.

She pointed out that protest actions should be given leeway as this is a way for people to express themselves to the government. (PIA)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

PIA Dispatch - Thursday, July 16, 2009

NAM summit states opposition to all form of terrorism

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt, July 16 - Leaders from over 100 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries, gathering here for the 15th NAM summit, set themselves against terrorism by stating a firm opposition to the evil in a final declaration to be adopted by the summit Thursday.

The NAM leaders pledged in the declaration to strengthen solidarity in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, wherever and by whosoever committed, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the relevant international conventions.

Terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group, stress the leaders.

Taking into account the positions and views of NAM member states, they urged the international community to make more efforts and further progress in formulating a joint organized response to terrorism in all forms, as proposed by the movement's new chairperson, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France in 1986.

They also called for the early finalization of the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism, strengthening the application of the United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and convening a high level conference under the auspices of the United Nations.

During the ongoing two-day summit, the heads of state or government of NAM member countries focus their debate on the summit theme of International Solidarity for Peace and Development, as well as on current hotspot international and regional issues, such as global financial crisis, climate change, Middle East peace, food security, energy and nuclear problems.

At the ending of the summit, the leaders are expected to sign the final document and a Sharm El Sheikh Declaration, approving the strategy and action plan of the movement in the coming three years.

Formally founded in September 1961, NAM now groups 118 member states, 17 observer countries and 10 observer organizations. The Movement, which includes nearly two-thirds of UN member states and comprises 55 percent of the world population, focuses on striving for the interests of developing countries all over the world.

RP to start exporting jatropha to US next year

MANILA, July 16 - The Philippines will be looped into the burgeoning clean energy market in the United States as it starts exporting jatropha oil in that country next year.

About 30 million gallons of jatropha oil will be exported by the Philippine unit of Monterey, California-based Abundant Biofuels Corp. from the lumad plantations in Northern Mindanao, the company’s chairman, Dr. Charles V. Fishel, told PNA in an email interview.

Abundant biofuels sells jatropha oil as feedstock to biodiesel refineries in the US. The company offers long-term contracts of up to 10 years in multiples of 50,000 barrels of jatropha oil, with project financing available.

“At this time, most of the fuel to be supplied under long-term contracts would be sourced from the Philippines,” Fishel told PNA. “In this time of worldwide economic uncertainty, the export revenues will help (boost) the Philippines’ balance of payments.”

The company bagged what it described as the “largest contract ever for non-food biodiesel feedstock” last April with JatrophaBioJet Corp., which entered a 10-year supply contract for five million barrels per year with Abundant Biofuels.

Abundant Biofuels’ Philippine subsidiary formed a partnership in 2007 with the Supreme Council of Datus Alimaong – the Holy Warriors (SCODA), which represents ancestral domain holders in Northern Mindanao.

The Philippine subsidiary, where SCODA chairman Apo Amay Tawahig is a board member, has jatropha plantations in various ancestral domains in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon as part of the Tahas Kasla or Project Jatropha with SCODA.

Some 60,000 hectares were initially identified as plantation sites, to be expanded over three years to cover 260,000 hectares. The lumads will receive profit shares as defined in the partnership with SCODA.

“The Philippines is our base of operations. We have organized our operations so that it can be a training ground for key management personnel from other countries,” Fishel told PNA.

Abundant Biofuels also grows jatropha in Peru, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic, with total plantation capacity of more than three million acres, the company has said in a statement.

Viable Biodiesel Alternative

According to Fishel, jatropha has emerged as a viable biodiesel alternative due to food vs. fuel concerns.

Earlier, the company announced it was prompted to actively offer long-term jatropha supply contracts in view of upcoming environmental regulations in the US that would disqualify virgin soybean oil as a biodiesel feedstock.

“Until recently, there was very little interest in jatropha. Because of ‘food vs. fuel’ concerns, there now appears to be considerable enthusiasm about jatropha oil among US biodiesel refiners. There is increasing pressure on refiners to discontinue use of food crops as refining feedstocks,” he told PNA.

Earlier, Fishel revealed in a company statement that about 100 biodiesel refineries in the US are operating below capacity, with another 47 refineries gone idle.

Various studies have noted this as a direct consequence of the global economic crisis, which has drastically cut the availability of financing.

But there is no doubt that the biofuels industry will be major on a global scale, especially in the US under the Obama administration.

In its Clean Energy Trends 2009 report released last March, San Francisco-based US research firm Clean Edge, Inc. said biofuels would become a $ 105.4-billion industry by 2018.

In 2008, global production and wholesale pricing of ethanol and biodiesel reached $ 34.8 billion, it said. Worldwide biodiesel production stood at 2.5 billion gallons last year, it added.

Aside from the Obama administration’s $ 70-billion stimulus for clean energy and transportation, a presidential directive issued in May 2009 sets the robust course of biofuels use in the US.

The presidential directive calls for the development of the US’ first comprehensive biofuels market development program, including improving the environmental sustainability of biofuels feedstock production.

Emerging Niche: Aviation

Another emerging niche for jatropha oil is the aviation industry, where it has been established that the feedstock is viable as an alternative blend for traditional jet fuel.

“Aviation fuel is expected to become a major market after several hurdles are cleared,” Fishel said.

These hurdles include certification, further development of refining technology, and development of necessary supporting logistics, he explained.

There is broad optimism in the aviation industry about the commercial use of aviation biofuels. A series of test flights, done between December 2008 and January 2009, succeeded in proving the efficacy of both jatropha and algae as alternative blends. Certification of an aviation biofuel standard is underway, with approval seen by the end of next year.

The aviation industry has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2020, with airlines expected to channel 10 percent of its fuel requirements into biofuels by 2017. Commercial use in the West is expected to happen as soon as 2011.

Long Term in the Philippines

Fishel said Abundant Biofuels is keen on becoming active in the Philippine market over the long term. “Longer term, our goal is to limit the amount exported to 40 percent or less of the total production in the Philippines. Our primary target market is the domestic market.”

He said the company’s business plan is to refine in the Philippines and to supply a significant part of the country’s biofuel requirements. “We plan to work with the government to obtain the necessary certifications.”

The company is currently completing its initial plantation targets, which Fishel said had been derailed by financing woes brought on by the global economic crisis.

By the end of next year, Abundant Biofuels hopes to finally carry out planting on an additional 250,000 hectares.

DOH declares community level outbreak of AH1N1 in Eastern Visayas
By:Bradley de Leon

The Department of Health on Thursday confirmed a community level transmission of AH1N1 virus in Eastern Visayas.

According to DOH Region 8 Director Edgardo Gonzaga, community level outbreak was declared due to more than 100 cases recorded in the said region.

But health officials reiterated that there’s no need to panic because 73% or 90 confirmed cases were already sent home while 32 are still under medication.

Tropical storm 'Isang' to landfall in Cagayan Valley tonight -- Pagasa

MANILA, July 16 - Tropical storm "Isang" continues to intensify as it heads toward northern Luzon for an expected landfall in the Cagayan Valley region Thursday night, threatening to bring rains throughout Luzon until Friday.

"We expect 'Isang' to make a landfall tonight over Cagayan Valley. It may further intensify before it makes a landfall, so we advise residents of Isabela, Cagayan and Aurora of stormy weather until tomorrow," said Nathaniel Cruz, deputy administrator of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

As of 10 a.m. Thursday, the eye of storm Isang was spotted 240 kilometer east of Casiguran, Aurora with maximum winds of 75 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 90 kph. It was heading west-northwest at 17 kph.

Signal No. 2 was hoisted over Isabela, southern Cagayan and northern Aurora while signal No. 1 was raised over the rest of Aurora and Cagayan, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, Mt. Province, Ifugao, Benguet, La Union, the Ilocos provinces, Babuyan Islands, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan.

Isang's circulation continues to extend across southern Luzon, including Metro Manila, hence widespread rains can be expected towards the weekend.

'There is no storm warning signal over Metro Manila but we can expect scattered rainshowers until tomorrow," Cruz said.

Residents near Mayon volcano in Albay are warned against possible mudflows, flashfloods and landslides, he said.

Isang is forecast to exit the country through the South China Sea on Saturday.

"Those living along the coast under signal No. 2 are advised to be on alert against big waves generated by the storm," the Pagasa bulletin said.

DepEd suspends classes in preschool, elementary levels in NCR

MANILA, July 16 - Due to heavy rains spawned by tropical storm "Isang,” Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Jesli Lapus announced the suspension of classes in public and private preschools and elementary schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) beginning at noon today.

Lapus said the suspension of classes in Metro Manila was made upon the recommendation of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

DepEd-NCR Director Teresita Domalanta said the department had already ordered its district supervisors and principals to inform their respective schools on the suspension order

No amnesty to Abu Sayyaf -Malacanang

MANILA, July 16 (PNA) - Amid stiff opposition from a proposition raised by Sen. Richard Gordon, Malacañang said on Thursday it will not grant amnesty to the Abu Sayyaf, saying the group has proven itself to be nothing but a bunch of criminal outlaws.

“They are lawless. They are proven to be kidnappers, gun runners, extortionists and they have been doing illegal things. They don’t deserve to be given an amnesty,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Dr. Anthony Golez stressed during today’s press briefing.

“I have been authorized by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to advise the media and the public as well that there will be no amnesty granted to the Abu Sayyaf group,” Golez said.

Golez said this decision was arrived at after careful study, after giving due consideration to popular calls for justice and retribution, on one hand, and to the equally pressing imperatives of peace and development in Mindanao, on the other.

He also said this decision not to grant amnesty is consistent with our position that such leniency should be extended only to those accused of political offenses, not common criminals especially those as brutal as the Abu Sayyaf.

“The decision also reflects our confidence that the peace process will not be affected by the denial of amnesty to a fringe gang of bandits and terrorists,” Golez said.

“Our government believes that the peace process can and should continue on the basis of good faith discussions between government and mainstream political rebel groups, following the UN-sanctioned principles of DDR or disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration,” he said.

Ermita earlier said Malacañang would possibly study in depth the proposal of Sen. Richard Gordon, who claimed to have information that some Abu Sayyaf commanders wanted amnesty and livelihood assistance in exchange for laying down their arms.

National Security officials led by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and some members of the Cabinet security cluster, however, expressed opposition to the idea.

Deputy presidential spokesman for Economic Affairs Gary Olivar admitted the growing public opinion as well as the negative implications on the country’s security ties with other countries could force Malacañang to reject Gordon’s proposal.

Olivar said the strong objections were made even before security officials in Malacañang were to meet and study the proposal.

The Abu Sayyaf – or Bearer of the Sword – wrote its early history in blood, staging kidnappings, bombings and beheadings to draw attention, recruits and funds from the al-Qaeda terror network of international fugitive Osama bin Laden.

The homegrown terror group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Washington is helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

“There appear to be interpretations that, legally as well morally, there seems to be little ground to stand on to give amnesty to a group like the Abu Sayyaf when some of its actions like the beheading of foreign citizens, the systematic use of ransom, don’t seem to be consistent with any relevant political agenda,” Olivar said.