Aussie pledges P1.8 billion assistance

The Australian government has pledged P1.8 billion over the next five years for the rehabilitation of roads in Mindanao particularly in Misamis Oriental.

Australia made the pledge following the completion of the rehabilitated provincial road in Misamis Oriental funded under the provincial road management facility.

By progressing reforms in key governance areas of planning and budgeting, internal audit, human resource development and increasing locally-generated revenues, provincial governments compete for a share of up to P2.2 billion through the facility’s incentive mechanism. 

The five-year, P4.3 billion provincial road management facility helps provincial governments upgrade and  maintain their core road network in Mindanao and the Visayas. Misamis Oriental is one of the initial seven provinces covered by the facility.

“This road will make a significant difference in the lives of the citizens of Misamis Oriental. Communities are already reaping benefits from the improved road,” said Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith.

The road construction has generated 100 local jobs. Travel time along the road has shortened from an average of one hour to 35 minutes, and average costs for transporting farm produce have been slashed by almost half. More than 1700 farmers are expected to benefit from the improved road section alone.

The facility is different to most other donor-funded road projects by focusing not only on road construction, but also ensuring that local governments put in place the governance systems to enable them to maintain the roads over time.

BOC seizes contraband

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated 20 containers of glutinous rice and 12 containers of white sugar worth P42 million which were misdeclared by an importer as office supplies and exercise equipment.
Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez said the imported sugar was sourced from Singapore while the rice shipments came from Thailand and Vietnam.
A delegation from the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Physical Examination of Imported Articles (COCPEIA) headed by Congressman Hermilando Mandanas, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, witnessed the opening the containers at the Manila International Container Port.

Other members of  Congress present  were Congressmen  Tomas Apacible, Rodolfo Farinas, Cesar Sarmiento and Reynaldo Umali.
Mandanas expressed hope that the continuing success of the BOC in detecting and foiling smuggling activities would go a long way in finally convincing tax evaders that smuggling has become a losing proposition under the Aquino administration.

Cebu Pacific Air offers seat sale to Bangkok

Cebu Pacific is offering a seat sale for Bangkok, Surigao, Ozamiz and Pagadian routes for travel from July 1 to August 31, 2011.

Passengers can avail of P2,399 ‘Go Lite’ seats from Manila and Clark to Bangkok. CEB flies from Manila to Bangkok ten times weekly, and from Clark to Bangkok twice weekly.

They can also avail of P999 ‘Go Lite’ seats from Manila to Surigao, Ozamiz and Pagadian. Meanwhile, those coming from Cebu can avail of the following ‘Go Lite’ seat sale fares: P399 to Surigao, P499 to Ozamiz and P599 to Pagadian.

Those with check-in luggage will just add P100 upon booking. “We hope passengers can take advantage of this seat sale for their business and leisure travel. Aside from Cebu Pacific’s trademark low fares to Bangkok, we also have Fun Tours packages for our guests’ booking needs,” said CEB VP for Marketing and Distribution Candice Iyog.

Fun Tours packages to Bangkok are available for as low as P1,060, inclusive of two nights hotel accommodations at Welcome Sawasdee Inn with breakfast.

52% agrees impeachment of Gutierrez – SWS

First Quarter 2011 Social Weather Survey (SWS) found that 52% agreed and 15% disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the House of Representatives to file an impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; the remaining 29% were undecided.

On the plea bargaining agreement between the Office of the Ombudsman and former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller and now retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, 83% want Gen. Garcia charged with plunder, the case filed by former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo against him being strong, and only 15% want the government to continue with the plea bargain, the case filed being weak, according to Ombudsman Gutierrez.

The survey also found the net satisfaction rating (% satisfied minus % dissatisfied) of Ombudsman Gutierrez to be –9 in March 2011, similar to –9 in September 2010.

Previous surveys showed that the net trust rating (% much trust minus % little trust) of Ombudsman Gutierrez worsened from –17 in March 2008 to –22 in June 2009.

The net satisfaction rating of the Office of the Ombudsman, on the other hand, went from +2 in February 2009 to +9 in March 2011. It was single-digit in 5 out of 6 surveys since September 1998; it reached double-digits only in July 2001 when it reached +17.

Support for Gutierrez impeachment higher in Metro Manila and class ABC.

The March 2011 survey found that majorities of 68% in Metro Manila and 53% in Balance Luzon, and pluralities of 47% in the Visayas and 42% in Mindanao agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the Lower House to file an impeachment case against Ombudsman Gutierrez.

PAL readies contingency measures in case of union strike

Philippine Airlines (PAL) has assured its passengers that contingency measures are in place to keep its airplanes flying in case members of the PAL Employees Association (PALEA) stage an illegal strike.

PAL stressed that its flights will continue to be operated according to published schedules while all ticket offices and other sales and airport facilities in Metro Manila, the provinces and stations abroad will maintain regular business operations.

“Our interline airline-partners as well as augmentation forces from management are on standby to ensure that our operations are not disrupted in case PALEA members walk out,” said Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson. She stressed that ground workers represents only a fraction of PAL’s 7,000-strong workforce.

The company said that a strike, if declared illegal by proper authorities, could lead to the forfeiture of striking workers’ benefits including those ordered by the Office of the President.

Meanwhile, PAL submitted its counter-proposal consisting of salary increases for the first three years of a three-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to be negotiated by PAL with PALEA.

“In good faith, PAL management fulfilled its commitment to submit today a counter-proposal, proof of management’s sincerity and willingness to open negotiations with PALEA,” said Jose S.L. Uybarreta, PAL vice president for Human Resources.

“The amounts of P750 for the first year, P1,500 for the second year and another P1,500 for the third year – are what management believes the company can afford at this time, given the string of massive losses suffered by PAL since 2008,” he said.

Cebu Pacific Air offers seat sale

Cebu Pacific is offering a seat sale to all its 33 domestic destinations for travel from June 1 to December 15, 2011.

Passengers can book flights to any of CEB’s 33 domestic destinations, namely: Bacolod, Boracay (Caticlan), Busuanga (Coron), Butuan, Calbayog, Cagayan de Oro, Catarman, Cauayan (Isabela), Cebu, Clark, Cotabato, Davao, Dipolog, Dumaguete, General Santos, Iloilo, Kalibo, Legaspi, Laoag, Manila, Naga, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, Roxas, San Jose (Mindoro), Siargao, Surigao, Tacloban, Tagbilaran, Tuguegarao, Virac and Zamboanga.

The seat sale fare is exclusive of government tax and fuel surcharge.

“CEB allocates more than 100,000 domestic seats for this P1 sale to encourage passengers to plan their travels for the second half of the year,” said CEB vice president for marketing Candice Iyog.

“We have always been a trailblazer in creative pricing strategies so our passengers can continue enjoying CEB’s low fares.”

“The airline first introduced P1 fares in 2007, and it has become one of our most popular seat sales. We continue with our mission of making air travel more affordable for everyone,” Iyog  added.

Furniture makers to improve product designs

Philippine furniture manufacturers are bolstering their efforts to improve production capabilities, develop better designs and aggressively promote their products to regain buyers amid improving business condition.

Joy Cancio, national president of the Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines (CFIP), said importations from crisis-hit major trading partners like the United States and Europe have declined over the last two years.

To encourage foreign buyers to come back, Cancio said industry players should develop new product designs, strengthen their manufacturing facilities and capabilities as well as to ‘go green’.

CFIP is working closely with the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) and Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines (PDDCP) on implementing various product development programs.

“If products have more sophisticated designs, it is a plus factor. If we cannot compete in terms of price, we try to do better by having a better design,” Cancio pointed out. 

CFIP is also expanding their product promotion activities to developing markets like Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“We are trying to see how we can promote our products more and come out with a marketing plan –promoting here and abroad,” she noted.

“What the industry has done is to try to at least maintain our sales by developing the local market so that when the export market again goes strong, the manufacturers are still here,” Cancio added.

Labor policies undermine Philippine competitiveness

Philippine businessmen have voiced their concerns on existing labor policies which are undermining efforts to improve the global competitiveness of local business and the country as an investment destination.

The prevailing policy environment is already very restrictive as the low level of foreign direct investment and the dire employment situation of the country suggest, said AMCHAM Committee Chairman for Industrial Relations Ernie Cecilia.

The Philippines has the highest minimum wage in Asia and the fifth largest number of holidays in the world.

Minimum wage in the Philippines is set at $9 a day compared to over $6 for Thailand, while the number of paid holidays in the country is 23 against seven and 15 for Vietnam and Thailand, respectively.

“We are protesting House Bill No. 303 authored by Walden Bello, not because it is pro-labor but because it is anti-development”, said Cecilia.

He also noted that once the proposed measure is in place, the country will no longer have contractual workers but unemployed workers.

Meanwhile, Congress is reconsidering proposed labor laws that may have adverse effects in employment generation.

Even the authors of the bills that seek to advance the interest of workers are no longer keen on calendaring the bills for plenary debates, said Congress Committee on Labor Chairman Emil Ong during a meeting organized by the American Chamber of Commerce.

While the consolidated bill on strengthening the security of tenure has been approved at the Committee level, the Labor Committee opted not to declare it as officially approved owing to the request by lawmakers who failed to attend the Committee hearing, said Ong.

Also, the bill was approved even in the absence of a quorum with only four Congressmen in attendance during the deliberation, Ong added.

These lawmakers are no longer comfortable defending these bills on the floor after having perceived the negative impact of these bills on the very sector that they aim to protect, said Ong.

Philippine imports up 24% in January

Philippine imports rose by 23.9 percent in January 2011 to $5.31 billion from $4.28 billion in January 2010.

 The National Statistics Office (NSO) reported an 11.8 percent growth in exports to $4 billion from $3.5 billion in January 2010 with a trade deficit of $1.31 billion.

Total external trade in January 2011 reached $9.31 billion, up by 18.4 percent from $7.86 billion recorded during the same month in 2010.

Accounting for 34.6 percent of the aggregate import bill, payments for electronic products in January 2011 amounted to $1.83, up by 37.6 percent over last year’s $1.33 billion. 

Among the major groups of electronic products, semiconductors increased by 56.1 percent to $1.53 billion from $980.72 million.

Imports of mineral fuels in January 2011 ranked second with 17.3 percent share and posted an 11 percent growth to $919.26 million over the previous year’s level of $828.55 million.

Transport equipment was the country’s third top import for the month with 5.2 percent share to total imports valued at $273.37 million, down by 28.1 percent from previous year level of $380.17 million.

Industrial machinery and equipment, contributing 5.1 percent to the total import bill, was the  fourth top import for the month with payments placed at $270.29 million from last year’s $174.52 million, up by 54.9 percent.

Fifth in rank and with 2.8 percent share to the total imports, ores and metal scrap recorded $149.36 million worth of imports, higher by 66.2 percent from its year ago level of $89.89 million.

Imports of plastics registered $146.57 million, up by 69.4 percent from its year-ago level of $86.53 million.

Other top imports in January 2011 included chemicals, $137.14 million; iron and steel, $120.51 million; telecommunication equipment and electrical machinery, $109.72 million; and medicinal and pharmaceutical products, $81.38 million.

ADB assures Philippines of support

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has assured the Philippine government of its support in tapping the country’s development potential.

ADB president Haruhiko Kuroda said: “We support your focus on infrastructure development using public private partnerships, social sector development, fiscal consolidation and governance reforms.”

To illustrate its commitment, ADB has extended a $400 million loan for a conditional cash transfer program to assist the country’s poorest households.

The bank has also shared know-how and experiences in developing public private partnerships with the government’s economic team.

Kuroda thanked the Philippines for its support in piloting electric tricycles and other projects which ADB plans to replicate in other member countries.

“With the environment becoming an increasing concern, I am also happy to note that we are also working closely with the Philippines in developing unique approaches to mitigating the impact of climate change,” he said.

ADB was established in Manila over 44 years ago and since then it has provided assistance of about $12 billion to the Philippines. The current portfolio includes robust private sector operations which have helped improve infrastructure and the financial sector.