PCCI welcomes inclusion of disaster risks management in environment assessment

The influential Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) has welcomed the inclusion of concerns on climate change and disaster risks management in the country’s environment impact assessment (EIA) system, but cautioned this must not become an added burden to new investors.
An EIA is a corporate action plan in complying with local environment protection and management laws required by the DENR for new investment projects in the country. It paves the way for the issuance or rejection of an environment clearance certificate, the first major step before an investment project is allowed to be put on the ground.
Pura Pedrosa, Policy and Planning Division Chief of EMB told the PCCI that dealing with natural hazards brought about by the changing climate conditions in the country must also be considered in an investor’s environment impact plan.
Projects to be covered by the new order will be big investment projects that range from agricultural plantations to thermal power plants. Small enterprises are exempted from securing environment clearance certificates prior to going into business.
Pedrosa explained that in considering future natural disasters, applicants for environment clearances need not make their own research but may rely on researches already made by government agencies like the disaster vulnerability map being prepared by DENR and the climate change impact projected up to the year 2050 prepared by the weather bureau.
Several companis have expressed concern that due to the lack of scientific knowledge, there is bound to be a lot of judgment calls on the parts of environment regulators in determining if an environment plan prepared by a company passes the added requirements of mitigating the impact of climate change.
This may lead to longer red tape, and worse, rejection of investment projects if the guidelines are not clear to investors.
PCCI suggested that if there is still room for further refinement of the guidelines, its own experts will be willing to sit down with environment officials to clear things up before the new order is fully implemented.
Pedrosa agreed that further consultation will be made with the private sector on the technical guidelines attached to the order.

Expressway project gets Transport Deal of the Year 2011 award

The Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Toll Expressway (TPLEX) project has been awarded the Asia-Pacific Transport Deal of the Year 2011 by Euromoney Publications’ Project Finance Awards.

The transport deals of the year were vetted by the magazine’s team of journalists and shortlisted via a weighting system based on categories.

The 88 kilometer-two lane TPLEX connecting Central and Northern Luzon is a first of its kind to be implemented through public-private partnership (PPP) in pursuing the objective of developing an all Filipino infrastructure project.

DPWH Sec. Rogelio Singson said that the citation from no-less than an international magazine with global subscribers for an all-Filipino road project is a confirmation that Philippines is doing the right approach for infrastructure development.

The DPWH has undertaken reforms needed to create a more transparent and conducive environment for private business and help generate many more bankable projects.

The administration of President Benigno S. Aquino recognizes PPP as an approach to invest resources for adequate road infrastructure inasmuch as the national government has less financial resources to invest on expressways.

The project was awarded through bidding by the DPWH to the concession of Private Infrastructure Development Corporation (PIDC) led by San Miguel Corporation and D.M. Consunji, Inc.

Compared to earlier transportation projects, bidding award for TPLEX Project was based on lowest toll offered rather than lowest construction cost. The bidders were also compelled to provide letters of interest from lenders rather than underwritten commitments.

Financing for the project by three banks — BDO Unibank, Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines — manifests the increasing confidence of the banking sector in undertaking large infrastructure, said Singson.

The project also employed a contractor-led process that essentially involved the project company serving as its own engineering, procurement and construction contractor. Presently, the concerted effort of six contractors —  R.D. Policarpio & Co., C.M. Pancho Construction Inc., New Kanlaon Construction, Inc., D.M. Wenceslao & Associates, J.E. Manalo & Company, and D.M. Consunji, Inc. has posted 67% cumulative work accomplishment for Section 1 of the project covering Tarlac City to Carmen, Pangasinan.

Also under PPP framework, the concession agreement for the 4-kilometer Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway Link Road Project won by the Ayala group during the December 2011 open, transparent and competitive bidding. 



Alphaland Corp to invest P11 billion in property development

Alphaland Corp., a high-end property developer is investing P11 billion in property development projects over the next three years to take advantage of the economic and tourism boom.

The company, known for creating “destination” projects, is spending P4.5 billion this year for an island tourism resort getaway, an office tower, and retailand club complex in the premier business district.

It will build more projects worth P6.6 billion in the next two years, including a bayside complex with hotel, condominiums and marina. The company invested P4.5 billion last year to jumpstart some of the developments.

“This is just the start,” Atty. Mario Oreta, president of Alphaland Corp., told guests at the Asia CEO Forum.. “We’ve gone along way but still have a long way to go,”
said Oreta.

Alphaland is expected to finish the P3-billion Balesin Island development in Quezon province this year. The 500-hectare property, acquired two years ago, incorporates six resorts named after famous Asian beach sites on one side, and three European-inspired resorts on the other.

The island will have spa and equestrian centers, a 1,500meter-long airstrip touted the “best in the Philippines” and can accept narrow-bodied Airbus jets. A clubhouse has already been constructed.

Also to be completed is the podium of of the residential three-tower Alphaland Makati Place that will have five levels of parking, three levels of high-end mall and a city club catering to middle executives. Scheduled for completion is the Alphaland Makati Tower on Ayala Avenue, which will have an iconic design and is likely to be the “prettiest building” on that stretch.

In 2014, Alphaland will start work on its 32-hectare Marina and Bay City project located between Mall of Asia and Pagcor Entertainment City. It will build first aworld-class 2.5-billion-peso marina that will have 20 yachts for free use to members.

By 2015, the company expects the completion of Shangri-La Hotel at Bonifacio Global City where it has a 20-percent stake. The hotel will be the Shangri-La Group’s fully ownedproperty in the country. Others in the pipeline include the Alphaland Boracay Getaway, a 500-hectare estate development near the airport at Caticlan, Aklan.

Founded in 2007, Alphaland is a joint venture between businessman Roberto “Bobby”Ongpin, Forbes’s 9th richest Filipino last year, and London-based privatee quity firm Ashmore Group, which has more than $65 billion of funds under management. Its first project is the 20-story Alphaland Southgate Tower on Edsa, an unfinished structure that the company has transformed into a modern building now a hub for call centers and outsourcing companies, and a retail and commercial center.

Oreta told the breakfast forum that seeks to highlight the Philippines as a viable business destination: “Are we going too fast? Yes. Are we non-corformist? Yes. Are we headed for a spectacular fall? I don’t think so. We have the resources and the passion.”

Oreta, along-time friend and former lawyer of Ongpin, trade minister for seven years under President Marcos, said Alphaland’s projects speak of the quality of hi sboss. “He’s demanding and a slave driver, but he is brilliant,” he said. “He is very controversial because he is very successful. The onlyway to stay with him is to be passionate.”

Philippine imports up 5.9% in February

Philippine merchandise imports in February 2012 went up by 4.9 percent to $4.93 billion from $4.761 billion in February 2011.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) reported that aggregate imports for the first two months of 2012, inched up by 0.6 percent to $10.12 billion from $10.06 billion posted during the same period in 2011.
Accounting for 28.7 percent of the aggregate import bill, payments for  electronic products in February 2012 amounted to $1.43 billion, down by 5.1 percent over last year’s $1.51 billion.

Among the major groups of electronic products, semiconductors having the biggest share of 21.3 percent decreased by 15.9 percent from $1.267 billion to $1.065 billion.

Imports of mineral fuels ranked second with 20.1 percent share and posted a negative annual growth rate of 2.8 percent from reported value of $1.034 billion in February 2011 to $1.006 billion in February 2012.

Transport equipmentwas the country’s third top import for the month with 9.1 percent share to total imports valued at $451.91 million, up by 53.9 percent from previous year level of $293.65 million.

Industrial machinery and equipmentcontributing 5.1 percent to the total import bill was the fourth top import for the month amounting to $252.13 million, up by 23.5 percent compared to last year’s $204.18 million.

Fifth in rank and with 2.9 percent share to the total imports, plastics recorded $142.66 million worth of imports, higher by 15.1 percent from its year ago level of $123.96 million.

Organic and inorganic chemicals ranked sixth, comprising 2.6 percent of the total imports registered $130.60 million worth of imports, declined by 10.2 percent from its year ago level of $145.36 million.

Other top imports were were cereals valued at $116.37 million and registered the highest annual growth rate of 81.2 percent; iron and steel amounting to $107.44 million; telecommunications equipment, $103.92 million; and pharmaceutical products, $73.70 million.

Philippine economy to grow 5% in first quarter

The Philippine economy is projected to grow by five percent in the first quarter of the year, according to FMIC and UA&P market research.
The forecast was based on the positive indicators such as an 8.3% growth in Meralco electricity sales in the first two months of 2012, the creation of 1.1 million jobs in January and a low inflation rate of 2.7 percent in more than two years.
FMIC and UA&P noted that the government has started the year running with a fiscal deficit of P15.9  billion, despite a strong 12.5% increase in tax revenues, while exports in January expanded by 4%, the first positive growth figure after 8 months of decline.
However, the report warned of new risks such as the rapid rise in crude oil prices to above $100 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and above $120 per barrel for Dubai Light.
“The fact that the Greek debt crisis shows clearer signs of resolution and an undisputable recovery in the United States, albeit slower than historical standards, lend support to this optimism,” the report added.
McKinsey’s global survey of 2,000 executives in March showed that 42% view the current economic situation as moderately or substantially better compared to only 20% in December, while 46% expected moderately or substantially better economic conditions in the next six months vis-a-vis 29% in December.
The industrial and services sectors were the major sources of employment, while the agriculture sector declined in terms of employment.
The monetary board (MB) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pili­pinas (BSP) cut key policy rates by 25 basis points to 4% last March 1, following through with a similar cut in its previ­ous meeting on January 19.
The MB reduced the overnight borrowing or reverse repurchase (RRP) facility interest rate to 4% from the previous 4.25% and the overnight lending or repurchase (RP) facility interest rate to 6.0% from 6.25%.
Dollar remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in January amounted to $1.56 billion, higher than January 2011’s $1.48 billion.
Year-on-year, OFW remittances posted a 5.4% growth rate, suggesting robustness of OFW remit­tances despite the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the debt crisis in the Euro-zone.
The average exchange rate was at P43.05 to the US dollar for the first quarter of 2012, a 1.7% appreciation from the same period in 2011.
FMIC and UA&P expect the peso to be within the range of P42.0 to P44.0 to the US dollar  as it remains to be less volatile.
“We also expect BSP to continue to prefer an appreciation bias to offset the increasing trend in oil prices, the report added.

Vibrant industrial and commercial activities at Clark Freeport change Central Luzon

Vibrant commercial and industrial activities inside the Clark Freeport, a former US airforce base, had steadily changed Central Luzon’s economic landscape following a surge in investments, exports, and employment generation 19 years since its inception in 1993.

In its recent 19th celebration, the CDC looks back at its colossal makeover from a United States military installation into bustling freeport by highlighting achievements that had created a positive impression on both the local and national economy.

Because of the growing business confidence of locators and investors, Clark is one among the economic zones in the country to benefit from the influx of new business and increase in expansion programs by big ticket local and international companies.

In 2011, the CDC earned a staggering $3.912 billion in exports – a historical 161 percent increase from the state-owned firm’s US$1.453 billion record in 2010 due to impressive performances of its locators and investors.

According to the CDC, the entry of Texas Instruments (TI) in 2010 made a remarkable contribution to the export industry of this bustling Freeport with the $1.53 billion it posted last year.

Aside from TI’s contribution to the CDC’s 2011 exports statistics, at least $124 million in estimated service exports from the Freeport’s Information Communications Technology and Business Process Outsourcing (ICT-BPO) sector counted for the state-owned firm’s 161%-record increase.

Also, Clark’s export performance is equivalent to around 8.1% of the estimated total Philippine exports of $48.5 billion in 2011.

The following firms were responsible for Clark’s record-high export increase: TI, $1.53 billion; Nanox Philippines, Inc., $791 million; Phoenix Semiconductor Philippines Corp., $566 million; Yokohama Tire Philippines, Inc. (YTPI), $298 million; L&T International Group Philippines, Inc., $145 million; and SMK Electronics (Phils) Corp., $98 million.

The top five exporting sectors of the Clark Freeport last year were electronics, $3.1 billion; tires, $298 million; garments, $226 million; other manufacturing, $131 millioin; aviation-related, $13.2 million and other sectors, $139 million for a total of $3.9 billion.

Clark’s employment statistics also posted a significant 6% growth of 64,055 workers last year compared to 60,162 in 2010 – the highest level of employment generated since the CDC’s inception in 1993.

Last year, CDC has registered a total of 207 projects with a total committed investment of P22.97 billion that would provide a employment of 8,206 workers.

Among the major investments signed last year include YTPI, which committed to infuse P14.62 billion and employment of 3,000 workers; SPT (Phil) Clark Corp., P285 million; Bonsure Everrich International, Inc., P192 million; and Jamco Philippines, Inc., P171 millioin.

Other investments registered in 2011 were United Asia Automotive Group, Inc.,$35-million investment for assembly lines for Foton vehicles; $50 million state-of-the-art Philippine Academy for Aviation Training of Cebu Pacific Air and the Canadian aviation training firm CAE.

Clark is one of the perfect travel destinations in Luzon that offers an array of world-class leisure and recreational facilities like 36-hole championship golf courses, residential villas, specialty shops and restaurants, duty free shops, firing range, leisure parks, waterpark, hotels, casinos, and nature sight-seeing area.

The CDC envisions a consistent enhancement of its revenue programs by a well-focused marketing strategy on transforming the Freeport into a premier logistics hub vis-à-vis a globally competitive economic hub.

Priority programs identified to boost abaca fiber production

The Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) has identified priority programs that would further improve abaca fiber production to meet increasing demand.
FIDA dministrator Cecilia Gloria Soriano said that these programs include abaca expansion and rehabilitation, disease eradication, planting materials production and mechanization of fiber extraction.

Abaca expansion is a continuing program of the agency aimed at increasing production and replacing non-productive and marginal abaca farms.

For 2012, a total of 1,000 hectares of abaca plantations would be established in areas that are free from abaca diseases and are not frequently visited by typhoons, Soriano  said.

Another program involves rehabilitating old and typhoon-damaged abaca plantations. Old and diseased abaca plants are uprooted and replanted with higher yielding, disease-tolerant abaca varieties to increase yield per hectare.

The comprehensive abaca disease management program, on the other hand, is geared at eradicating viral diseases which affect abaca plantations in Bicol and Leyte provinces. It also aims to prevent and control the spread of these diseases in the adjacent healthy abaca plantations.

Soriano said 4,200 hectares of diseased farms will be eradicated in Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Cebu, Leyte, Northern Samar and Davao del Sur this year.

The country has some 172,000 hectares planted to abaca capable of producing at least 130,000 metric tons of fiber. Last year, abaca fiber production rose by 28 percent to 73,274 metric tons compared to 2010.

Improved private sector participation in technical education to boost employment

The Philippines must improve private sector participation in technical and vocational education (TVET) in an effort to increase employability of TVET graduates, according to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).
\PIDS revealed that despite the high labor demand, only 34 percent of technical and vocational institution  graduates found employment and only 26 percent consider their training useful for their job.

“Firms possess information about the skills that they need; therefore, their participation is valuable. Improvement in this regard is not just supplying TVET training services to TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) but also in setting priorities,” it noted.
The study said strengthening the role of the private sector in the allocation of TVET resources could be an option.
It cited as an example the arrangement between the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) and TESDA.

This allows the former to set scholarship vouchers with higher employment rate requirement for the BPAP in-house trained (80 percent) compared to 50 percent for those trained by other TVIs not affiliated with BPAP.

To improve the performance of the TVET subsector, the study noted that it is time to revive proposals of changing the role of TESDA from a direct service provider to standard regulator and enabler of other more efficient providers.
“The vision is for TESDA’s current responsibility as a training provider to migrate to other institutions, preferably the private sector, in order for TESDA to focus on standard setting and regulation free from distractions and inappropriate entanglements,” it said.

An important reform is the development of an explicit and credible targeting system, maybe an analogous and adapted version of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) program.

“Targeting a good proportion of TESDA subsidies to conditional cash transfer beneficiaries might be a good start -one that would support the administration convergence policy,” it added.

DOTC to introduce eco-friendly jeepneys

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is taking steps to  introduce a new breed of jeepneys that runs either on eco-friendly electricity or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
DOTC Undersecretary for Project Implementation and Special Concerns Efren Moncupa said  the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has approved the franchises of the first 20 e-jeepneys, which ply three different Makati green routes — Legaspi Village, Salcedo Village, and Heritage Village loops.
The new e-jeepneys run on electricity, which is less costly than diesel and does not contribute to air pollution. The Pinoy jeepney, which has been a boon to the Filipino culture but a bane to the environment for its reputation of being a smoke belcher, is set to get a much-needed reinvention, one that would make it more eco-friendly.
Apart from the franchises the LTFRB has started granting for e-jeepneys, the DOTC have likewise started talks with various transport groups to convince their members to switch to these environmentally-friendly modes of transport.
The jeepney transport group, Pasang Masda, has proposed the adoption of a 21-seater e-jeepney that costs around P450,000 to P500,000, Moncupa said.
The DOTC is also looking to promote jeepneys whose engine will run on efficient and eco-friendly liquefied petroleum gas. He said the DOTC is now in talks with a local supplier of LPG-run engines.
The move to reinvent jeepneys  is part of the DOTC’s initiative to promote clean air in the country by coming up with programs for the transport sector that will significantly reduce air pollution.
Earlier, DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas said the DOTC is also eyeing to steadily reduce the age limits of PUVs over time. Currently, buses have a 15-year old age limit; taxis, 13 years; and AUVs, multicab, and vans, 10 years.
The DOTC also forged a partnership with the University of the Philippines (UP) seeking for assistance in conducting research on environmentally sustainable transport policies.
These initiatives should help the country improve its environmental performance index, said DOTC spokesman Atty. Nic Conti.
The biennial environmental performance index (EPI) prepared by Yale and Columbia Universities ranked the Philippines 42nd among 132 countries categorized as a global “strong performer” in environmental performance.
The EPI, a project of the World Economic Forum in Geneva and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Italy, is a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking a country’s performance on its environmental policies.
The move to promote e-jeepneys, LPG-engines, and younger fleet age for public utility vehicles should result in improvements in the amount of total suspended particulates, the measurement used to gauge air pollution.
“The country already recorded a 30-percent drop in the amount of total suspended particulates from 166 µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter) in June 2010, to 116 µg/Ncm towards as of end of last year,” he said.
“With these initiatives, as well as the LTO’s continued implementation of vehicle emission standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, we should be on our way to the normal standard set for TSP by the World Health Organization, which is 90 µg/Ncm,” said Atty Conti.

Filipino exporters encouraged to tap Chinese market

A top official of the Business Once Global Trade Center (BOGTC) has encouraged Filipino exporters to tap the huge Chinese market, the world’s second largest economy with over a billion population.
BOGTC chief executive officer Henry Huang said business opportunities abound particularly for manufacturers of furniture, fashion accessories, home decors, processed fruit and seafood.
Chinese consumers prefer to buy imported products particularly something with quality as buyers have issues against their locally-made products, such as problems in safety, credibility and quality.
To effectively tap the Chinese market, Huang advised Filipino exporters to establish good linkage with Chinese traders through participating in shows and conferences specifically designed for imported products such as the Business One GTC.
China is likewise expected to have an increasing demand for imported goods owing to its rapidly growing middle-class market and more affluent lifestyles.
Other Chinese sectors that offer tremendous opportunities are garments and agriculture, particularly farm and fishery exports.
Philippine furniture makers and Christmas décor producers intend to focus on China as well as other countries which are part of the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) emerging markets group.