PHILIPPINE REAL ESTATE and RELATED NEWS in and around the country . . .
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Ayala unit targeting BPO, IT firms in Asiatown expansion

Vol. XXI, No. 192 [ Business World Online ]
Thursday, May 1, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

CEBU CITY — Ayala-led Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corp. (CPVDC) will start its five-hectare project inside the Asiatown IT Park this year to meet the growing office space demand from information technology and business process outsourcing companies.

The expansion is projected to translate to bigger office leasing revenues for the company, CPVDC President Francis O. Monera said. Last year’s leasing revenues reached P57 million, about 15% of total revenues.

"We are far from hitting the peak. What has been completed in the first phase of Asiatown IT Park’s development is just a take-off from CPVDC’s plan for further growth and progress," Mr. Monera told stockholders.

Building continues at the 19-hectare lot — the size of 47 football fields.

Five buildings, which will offer a combined additional gross leasable area of nearly 78,000 square meters, are under construction now. These are the Skyrise 2, TG Tower, i3, a retail building and eBloc Tower.

The eBloc, a 12-storey office condominium, will be completed in the third quarter.

This is a project of newly formed Asian i-Office Properties, Inc. (AIO), a special purpose vehicle created by CPVDC and parent firm Ayala Land, Inc.

The company is also building a 2,500-square meter retail structure that will be completed by the middle of the year. It will host shops, bars, restaurants and other retail outlets that cater to the 24/7 lifestyle at Asiatown.

More locators have set up operations at the IT park. These include NKC Conveyors Philippines Corp., Morph Labs, Rapid Solutions, Inc., Micro D International, Cordia Philippines and the second call center of Convergys Philippines in Cebu.

The entry of more investments generated 11,637 jobs at Asiatown in 2007, Mr. Monera said.

The sale of eight lots last year, which brought in P278.7 million, allowed the company to hit its revenue target after only one quarter.

Total revenues went up by 49% to P371.7 million in 2007 compared. Net income also more than doubled to P172.6 million. CPVDC is a 76%-owned subsidiary of Cebu Holdings, Inc. (CHI). — Marites S. Villamor

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Filinvest Land’s 30 new projects to drive growth

Vol. XXI, No. 192 [ Business World Online ]
Thursday, May 1, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

THE ROLLOUT of more projects is expected to push the net income of listed property developer Filinvest Land, Inc. by up to a quarter, its top official said yesterday.

In a talk with reporters, FLI President Joseph M. Yap said the company is targeting 20% to 25% profit growth with the launch of 30 new projects and the opening of finished ones.

"We have lined up new projects and phases for launch in 2008. This year, we’re allotting P6.5 billion for both residential and business process outsourcing projects," he said following the company’s stockholders’ meeting.

Mr. Yap said Filinvest Land would be launching two more sites to replicate its mid-rise building project, One Oasis, that was first introduced in Ortigas. There is a similar project in Davo City.

One Oasis comprises 10 five-storey residential buildings. The one in Ortigas has two BPO buildings included in the development.

He said the One Oasis project would be replicated in Santolan, Quezon City and Sta. Mesa, Manila. Both will target mid-income Filipinos.

"We’re pretty confident that there will always be demand for this particular market. That’s basically an end-user market so we still see a stable demand," Mr. Yap said.

The 30 new projects, including One Oasis, are estimated to generate an additional inventory value of about P10.2 billion, two-thirds higher than the P6.1 billion from 17 new projects last year.

Mr. Yap added that Filinvest Land would increase its leasable office space by another 59,000 square meters. — LNPL

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Tax relief measure could hit self-employed, professionals

Vol. XXI, No. 192 [ Business World Online ]
Thursday, May 1, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

A TAX RELIEF BILL for workers should impose higher taxes on self-employed individuals and professionals to offset revenue losses, the Department of Finance yesterday insisted, as lawmakers prepared to bring the proposal to the floor of the House of Representatives.

The bill, approved by the House ways and means committee, includes the Simplified Net Income Taxation System (SNITS) for self-employed individuals and professionals but Finance officials want deductions limited further.

A senator, however, said the "rider" might kill the bill altogether when it reaches the Senate.

Finance’s SNITS proposal will result in additional revenues of P14 billion, more than enough to cover an expected P12.4-billion loss from higher exemptions for fixed-income or salaried workers, said Finance department director Ma. Lourdes D. Recente.

House Bill 3971, which consolidated 20 bills filed by 26 lawmakers, will increase the portion of annual earnings exempt from income tax, therefore reducing taxable income and augmenting take-home pay.

The bill proposes to increase the personal tax exemption to a uniform P50,000. Personal exemptions vary under the current Tax Code: P20,000 for single individuals, P25,000 for the head of the family, and P32,000 for married individuals.

"An increase in tax relief is very timely amid the rising costs of basic commodities, especially food and fuel," said Antique Representative Exequiel B. Javier, chairman of the House ways and means committee.

"Giving the people more purchasing power will likewise stimulate the economy because it would translate to more indirect taxes for the government in the forms of expanded value added taxes imposed on all commodities purchased."

Aside from the increased tax exemption, the bill also hikes the additional exemption for dependents not exceeding four to P25,000 each from P8,000.

The tax measure also spares workers from withholding taxes every pay day if total gross annual compensation income does not exceed total personal and additional exemptions.

Mr. Javier said congressmen were in favor of the SNITS, which would streamline allowable deductions for self-employed individuals and professionals to compensate for salaried workers’ tax relief.

Under the committee’s proposal, an individual engaged in trade or business and the practice of a profession may opt for a standard deduction not exceeding 40% of gross income, instead of the current 10%.

Mr. Javier said the SNITS provision was expected to generate a net gain of almost P1 billion in revenues for the government.

But Ms. Recente said she would negotiate with the legislator on deductions for self-employed individuals, as well as limit the additional exemption for dependents of wage earners to P20,000 each.

"The 40% tax deduction to the self-employed is not enough to cover the revenue losses from the very high tax exemption [for fixed-income earners]," said Ms. Recente. She did not, however, specify a rate for the optional standard deduction under SNITS.

In an earlier position paper, the Finance department said the SNITS would allow the government to check tax avoidance practices such as bloated business expenses. The DoF said the cost of goods sold eat up as much as 76% of a businesses’ gross revenue or gross sales, while operating, administrative and other business deductions account for 19% of gross revenues or gross sales.

"Thus, 95% of gross revenues are being claimed as business deductions, leaving only 5% as the tax base," the DoF said.

The Senate has yet to formally discuss the proposal from the House, where all tax bills must originate, but the legislator in charge of tax bills said he would not agree to higher taxes on other sectors to compensate for bigger tax deductions for wage earners.

Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero, ways and means committee chairman, told BusinessWorld he would "always support" any measure "for the economic relief of our people."

"I have not seen their version and it has not even passed. One thing is sure, [we] won’t allow a rider imposing new or additional taxes to compensate the loss of revenues [in the government]."

The House is expected to pass the bill on second reading on Monday. — with a report from Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo

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Japan outsourcing market eyed to boost IT industry

Thursday, May 01, 2008 [ manilatimes.net ]

Information technology companies in the Philippines see Japan as a strategic market for IT outsourcing amid an expected slowdown in the US economy.

The Japan market, which has been experiencing rapid growth since 1990, is projected to be worth 2.3 trillion yen this year. By 2010, the market is expected to reach 5.5 trillion yen, or $48 billion. Japan is the second largest market for the country’s IT service industry.

Next month, Philippine companies will participate in the 17th Software Development Expo and Conference (SODEC) at the Tokyo Big Sight.

These companies include, Advanced World Systems Inc., Alliance Software, Inc., Astra (Philippines) Inc., Ayala Systems Technology Inc., Imperium Technology, Inc., N-PAX Cebu Corp.; Tsukiden Software Philippines Group; and WeServe Systems International Inc.

SODEC is recognized as one of the most important trade exhibitions for software development engineers and designers in Japan. This year, it will feature 1,800 exhibitors and is expected to generate some 125, 000 trade visitors.

Many Japanese companies have contracted Philippine IT firms for critical IT solutions like ATM system management and other banking and finance functions. -- Katrina Mennen A. Valdez

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CHI to develop nature park in Cebu watershed

Thursday, May 01, 2008 [ sunstar.com.ph ]

SEVENTY-one hectares of land within a watershed area in the Ayala Heights project is set to be launched as a nature park by middle of 2008.

“It’s (going) to be like a science laboratory,” said Jaime I. Ayala, Cebu Holdings Inc. (CHI) chairman of the board.

But considering the geographical conditions of the area, the company enlisted the services of Ove Arup, a global design and consulting firm, to check the whole area and come up with ways on how to ensure safety. Ove Arup will be submitting the report this year.

The project, called Ayala Nature’s Park, is in line with the company’s thrust on environmental preservation.

Ver dela Cerna, CHI corporate communications manager, said that through its Ayala Heights Nature Park Foundation, the company has tapped various nongovernment organizations to assist in the project. The company has also tapped the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as its government partner.

Dela Cerna added that the nature park will feature a number of exotic and indigenous tree species while facilities will cater to what the public, especially the academe, needs.

He also mentioned during a press conference yesterday that the park will have a camping area and a hiking trail while food and drinks to be served in the park will be from produce of plants and trees planted in the area. (DME)

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Demand for office space raises company’s income to P371M

Thursday, May 01, 2008 [ sunstar.com.ph ]

THE strong demand for office space has translated into a P371.7 million income for the Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corp. (CPVDC) for 2007.

The amount is 49 percent higher compared to the P250 million posted in 2006, said Francis Monera, president of CPVDC.

He also said that by year-end of 2007, the company was already debt-free.

Monera noted that the sale of eight lots in the Asiatown IT Park (AITP) last year has contributed much to the company’s growth, as these sales translated to P278.7 million of the total revenues.

Leasing revenues from the eOffice spaces, also located in AITP, amounted to P57 million.

The company’s net income is at P172.6 million which, Monera said, is an impressive 107 percent higher compared to the P83.5 million income reported for 2006.

Monera attributed the company’s growth to the booming information and communication technology (ICT) industry, referring to it as the “new economy.”

“(ICT) has brought about rapid economic transformation and adjustment in various parts of the globe,” he said.

In AITP, the only I.T. Park in the Visayas and Mindanao area accredited by the Philippine Export Zone Authority, five major constructions are currently ongoing. Upon completion, it will bring in a combined total gross leasable area of close to 78,000 square meters this year.

Considering that most of the locators in AITP operates on a 24/7 shift, CPVDC has constructed a 2,500-square meter retail development to operate this month.

Formerly known as The Village, “The Walk” will house shopping stores, bars and restaurants and will cater to the unique lifestyle evident in AITP, said Monera during a press conference Tuesday.

At the close of 2007, CPVDC records show its total asset grew by nine percent from P1.16 billion in 2006 to P1.27 billion last year.

Last December, the company also declared dividends of P0.10 per share that sums up to a P94 million cash dividend for the year.

Looking ahead, Monera said the company is still far from hitting the peak.

“What has been completed in the first phase of Asiatown IT Park’s development is just a take-off from CPVDC’s plan for further growth and progress,” he said in his report during the annual stockholders’ meeting last Tuesday.

Part of the CPVDC’s spending budget for this year, which is pegged at around P400 million, will be allotted for the development of phase two of AITP.

The second phase of AITP covers five hectares of raw land and development will commence this year.

Monera said the area is earmarked for future growth in office leasing revenues as the company positions itself into building offices to cater to more IT and IT-enabled services locators.

In this strategy, ownership of the land remains with the company for future value appreciation, he added. (DME)

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Housing project for CL police to rise in Bulacan

Thursday, May 1, 2008 [ philstar.com ]

SAN FERNANDO, Pam­panga – A huge housing project for police personnel in Central Luzon will soon be developed on a 400-hectare site in San Miguel, Bulacan.

The project was announced by Chief Superintendent Errol Pan, Central Luzon (Region 3) police director, during the groundbreaking rites last Wednesday.

Pan said the development of the first 100 hectares is now ongoing and the lots will be allocated to Central Luzon police personnel as their share in the more or less 1,600-hectare housing community.

Pan said coordination has been made with Deputy Director General Jesus Verzosa, deputy chief for administration and chairman of the Philippine National Police Housing Board, to fast-track the development of the first 100 hectares of the 400-hectare project.

Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Alfredo Caballes, deputy regional police director for administration, said P100 million was approved under the 2008 General Appropriations Act for the development of the first 100 hectares.

Caballes said PNP surveyors are now conducting relocation, verification and topographic surveys, and have come up with the budget estimate for the development of the initial 100 hectares in coordination with the National Housing Authority.

Caballes said the PNP housing project, considered the biggest in the country, will benefit thousands of policemen in Central Luzon.

He disclosed that out of 120,000 police personnel, about 57 percent do not own their houses.

Caballes said the P100-million allocation will be used for the construction of primary and secondary roads and the accumulated lots for 4,443 units. – Ric Sapnu

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Robinsons Land unveils mid-cost project in Batangas

By Zinnia B. Dela Peña
Thursday, May 1, 2008 [ philstar.com ]

Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC), the property arm of the Gokongweis’ JG Summit Holdings Inc., unveiled yesterday its latest offering — Residenza Milano, a middle-cost residential project featuring Mediterranean-inspired architecture, in Batangas.

Situated on a 7.3-hectare lot in San Isidro, Batangas City, Residenza Milano offers a total of 357 homes with floor areas ranging from 51 square meters to 151 square meters.

Buyers have the option to invest in a lot or in a package that includes housing with a minimum lot size of 100 square meters. Lots are sold at an average of P4,800 per square meter.

RLC said buyers are required to make a 30-percent downpayment which can be amortized in 12 months in equal monthly installments, and pay a reservation fee of P10,000. Financing is available for the remaining 70 percent of the purchase price which can be paid monthly for 15 years at 14 percent interest per annum.

Land development has been completed and is ready for turnover for fully-paid buyers, RLC said.

The project is five minutes away from the Batangas cityproper and is accessible to churches, schools, gasoline stations and commercial establishments. Landmarks near the site also include the Batangas International Port.

RLC has earmarked P10 billion this year for the development of four shopping malls, four residential condominium buildings, six housing subdivisions and two office buildings for BPO firms.

For its housing and land division, RLC currently has 27 ongoing projects and intends to launch at least three new and expansion projects per year to capitalize on the huge housing backlog and continuing growth in the number of households. These projects include Monte Del Sol, Costa Verde, Forest Parkhomes North, Hanalei Heights, Wellington Courtyard, Brighton Parkplace, Blue Coast Residences, Brighton Parkplace North and Montclair Highlands.

The company also has a pipeline of 29 residential condominiums for construction, aiming to launch at least three projects per year and tap new overseas markets which include Europe and the Middle East.

To ensure sustained growth of its residential condominiums division, RLC acquired several prime properties including two hectares in Fort Bonifacio and one hectare in the Ortigas central business district.

RLC also acquired five hectares of land with a 170-meter beachfront in Mactan, Cebu which will be converted into a landmark five-star condo-resort.

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Shang Properties income surges 55% to P944.5M in 2007

By Zinnia B. Dela Peña
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 [ philstar.com ]

Shang Properties Inc., the real estate development arm of the Singapore-based Kuok Group, reported a 55.4-percent jump in net income last year to P944.5 million from P608 million a year earlier, boosted by higher sales of its condominium units and an increase in the appraisal value of its investment properties.

This resulted in an earnings per share of P0.213 which is higher than the P0.144 reported the previous year.

In a financial report filed with the Philippine Stock Exchange, Shang Properties said gross revenues rose 95.9 percent to P3.1 billion on the back of a 104-percent jump in the sales of the Shang Grand Tower and the St. Francis Shangri-La Place to P1.5 billion.

The company attributed the increase in sales to the accounting standard of recognizing the sales based on percentage of completion method. As of end-December 2007, the St. Francis Shangri-La Place was 60-percent complete.

Rental income rose 11.1 percent to P88.2 million due to the increase in rental rates and higher sales of tenants.

Interest income likewise went up to P297 million or nearly five times the P61.5 million recorded a year earlier due to the accretion of installment receivables.

Shang Properties said the value of its investment properties went up to P377.2 million.

Total cost and expenses rose 69.6 percent to P1.9 billion while cost of condominium units jumped by 128.3 percent due to the adoption of the percentage of completion method in the recognition of sales and costs on our projects.

The company’s share in net income of KSA Realty Corp. was P127.7 million or an increase of P65.3 million.

As of end-2007, Shang Properties had total assets of P17.2 billion, 30 percent higher than the previous level of P13.23 billion.

The P2-billion Shang Grand Tower is the Kuok Group’s first foray into the premium residential development segment of the property industry in the Philippines.

The Kuok Group has grown to become one of Asia’s most diversified and dynamic multinational conglomerates with a diversified portfolio of property assets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, China, Canada and Australia.

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P7.8B new road to pass La Mesa dam,connect Commonwealth to Bulacan

WILL SET UP HYDROPOWER PLANT AS BONUS

[ malaya.com.ph ] April 30, 2008
By MYLA IGLESIAS

A newly formed company headed by a former presidential assistant for national security and political affairs yesterday said it will build a 19 kilometer tollway from Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City to Bigte, Norzagaray, north of San Jose del Monte Bulacan.

The new road will pass by the La Mesa Dam, a protected watershed. As bonus, the project involves the setting up of a P1 billion hydropower plant that will use water from the dam.

Ausphil Tollway Corp., in press conference yesterday said that the National Economic Development Authority has given it the notice of award for the unsolicited project first submitted five years ago or in April, 2003.

Ricardo Penson, Ausphil president and former political affairs assistant at the Office of the President, said he expects NEDA to give the notice to proceed by June 2008.

Penson said his company now has P1.5 billion to start the project. The first phase of the project to be called North Luzon East Expressway (NLEE) will cost P7.8 billion, bulk of which will be funded by borrowings.

Penson said the new road will ease traffic congestion by 2011.

The first phase of the project is called "La Mesa Parkways", 19 kilometers stretching from Commonwealth Avenue -La Mesa Park area to Bigte, Norzagaray.

The second phase involve the rehabilitation of 36 kilometers of existing national road from Norzagaray to Baliwag converting the current two-lane road into a four-lane highway.

Penson said that the project will be completed by 2011.

The road will be within the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System property. Roughly one-fourth of the road will be elevated providing a scenic route within the watershed.

Ausphil has as partner Egis Project S.A. which will operate and maintain the " La Mesa Parkway".

Penson said Ausphil will spend roughly P13.6 billion for the P7.8 billion roadway, P1 billion for the power plant and the balance for the water component project.

Pension said the project includes the construction of the 35-megawatt low friction hydroelectric turbine station facility, with a capacity to expand to additional 80 megawatts in Bicti Basin and Downstream location prior to Tunnel 3 of the pipeline to generate power for the project.

He said that that the company expects to get from the MWSS the contract to build the pipeline that will feed the power plant within three months.

" We got the license from the DOE since 2003, once we get the approval from the MWSS we will complete the project simultaneously", Penson said.

Penson said the turbine will be supplied by a partner and which will get 65 percent of revenues with 25 percent going to ATC and 10 percent to MWSS.

Ausphil is an infrastructure development company incorporated in the Philippines on February 2001.

MWSS and ATC signed in June 2002 the memorandum of understanding for the right of way inside the watershed.

In April 2003, the Auspil submitted an unsolicited proposal under the BOT for other contractual arrangement acceptable to Toll Regulatory Board (TRB). The MWSS as project sponsor together with the Department of public works and Highway formally endorsed and submitted the unsolicited BOT proposal to the ICC-NEDA in August 2004.

The TRB designed the NLEE project and endorsed for approval the unsolicited BOT proposal to the ICC-NEDA in January 2005.

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Alcantara group posts 21% net income hike

Vol. XXI, No. 191 [ Business World Online ]
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

LISTED HOLDING firm Alsons Consolidated Resources, Inc. posted a 21% growth in net income to P645 million last year after it settled debts and reduced costs.

In a financial report, the holding firm of the Alcantara group said its consolidated net income went up to P645 million from P532 million a year earlier.

"The growth could be attributed to the... settlement of debts as well as continued cost reduction activities in companies where the company has major stakes," it told the exchange.

Alsons said it had retired P299 million, resulting in lower liabilities now at P3.83 billion.

Total revenues of Alsons and its subsidiaries stood at P2.5 billion, with its energy and power business unit contributing P1.93 billion.

Revenues from its property development business rose to P33 million through the sale of lots from industrial estate and housing units in Campo Verde and Summer Hills.

But the company’s total revenues were down by 13% from 2006’s P2.86 billion, Alsons said, due to the appreciation of the peso. — Lovely Nica P. Lee

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BOC Davao faces lawsuit arising from property buyers’complaint

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 [ manilatimes.net ]

The Bank of Commerce branch in Davao faces complaints from property owners who claim the bank sold their piece of real estate to another buyer.

As it developed, spouses Emmanuel and Linda Susan Antepuesto bought from the bank a 115-square-meter property for P920,000 in January 2005, which they found out was also sold to one Atty. Isagani Sembrano for P720,000 in August 2005.

In an interview with reporters, Antepuesto said she filed a complaint before the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in April last year against BOC Davao branch.

Antepuesto said “the offense committee is grave enough for BSP to exact the necessary sanctions on BOC, but the BSP is even more powerless to divulge the results of its investigation.”

BSP could not comment on the case as it is not allowed to divulge the findings, recommendation and sanctions that will arise from the investigation under the Central Bank Act.

To address this problem, Antepuesto is pushing to file the case with the Regional Trial Court of Makati, which is the only court covered under the couples’ contract with BOC.

“Only the court can ask to disclose the result of the investigation. Our only last resort is to file this to the court,” she told reporters.

Antepuesto said she has asked BOC to return her total installment payments of P400,876, but BOC offered to pay only P210,346, half of the amount.

“The bank grossly violated the law when it issued notarized contracts for sale involving one property and received payments of the two buyers during the period of August 2005 to March 2007. These are serious offenses that remedial measures and corresponding sanctions should be exacted to the BOC,” she said.

Maximo Estrada, first vice president of BOC’s property management group, could not explain in clear terms how the double sale of property occurred as he was hired only in July last year, but said, “The bank says that it was a clerical error.”

The conditional deed of sale was signed by Ricardo Dizon, BOC’s head of credit management sector, and Michelle Tuazon, head of BOC’s property management group. Tuazon had resigned.

As interest rates are low, more Filipinos are purchasing housing loans offered by banks, but the loan rates are still higher compared with BSP’s overnight borrowing rate of 5 percent.

The Antepuesto property loan, which is to be paid in installment for 10 years, has a monthly interest rate of 10.6 percent and additional 3 percent for delayed payment

The couple warned property buyers about investing their hard-earned money. Before BOC, she was also a victim of College Assurance Plan (CAP) pre-need educational plan.--Maricel E. Burgonio

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Mindanao cities drawing BPO firms that seek to reduce costs

Vol. XXI, No. 191 [ Business World Online ]
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

DAVAO CITY — Fierce competition in the business process outsourcing industry is speeding up the expansion throughout Mindanao of BPO firms looking to lower operating costs and access new sources of talent to fill demand.

Davao and Cagayan de Oro are becoming known as BPO hubs offering a wide range of services, but there is still room for regional expansion, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said.

Current estimates of the total number of call centers in the Philippines range from 90 to more than 120. Fewer than 10 of these are in Mindanao, which has a quarter of the national population.

The global BPO industry will generate an estimated $310 billion by 2010, according to the Oxford Business Group. "The Philippines is projected to take 10% of the world market, and Mindanao stands to benefit from the country-wide expansion," the USAID said through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) program.

Most larger-scale firms now investing in Mindanao are in Davao and Cagayan de Oro. "There are 3,000 existing seats in five call centers in Davao alone, with 3,000 more in the pipeline," said Andre Fournier of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Link2Support, Inc. already employs several hundred call center agents in Davao and Cagayan de Oro. Western Wats, a US-based firm, is said to be investing P60 million in its Davao operations.

Joji Ilagan Bian, president of the Philippine Call Center Alliance, said Mindanao is also attracting firms planning small-scale centers with 250 seats or less. "They’re considering other urban centers like General Santos, Zamboanga, Iligan and Cotabato," Ms. Bian said.

General Santos, a bustling agroindustrial hub, is said to be planning a citywide wireless network using WiMAX technology, which should make it more attractive to BPO investors. It already has a fiber optic network in place.

The three-hectare Mabuhay IT Park, set up in General Santos by private developer Mabuhay Technopark Corp., is a one-stop facility for voice, video and data services, with secure network communications and backup power supply.

The potential BPO labor force in the city includes 5,000 new graduates from colleges in the city per year, with about 10,000 more from Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, according to a report prepared with the Board of Investment.

"General Santos is definitely at par with other information and communications technology hubs," said Ellorence Cruz of the BOI. "The only hindrance is the lingering perception of security risks in the region. We had the same problem in 2002 when promoting the country as a BPO hub. Little by little, the firms started coming to Manila, then to other cities. And now they’re coming to Mindanao."

Filipino-owned BPO firms appear to have discounted these security perceptions, Ms. Bian said. "I tell other firms less familiar with the region that they should just come over and judge for themselves. They can incubate accounts with a limited number of seats and see how well things work out."

Skilled BPO workers can be found throughout Mindanao, said Ms. Bian, who operates several call center training schools. Most of the region’s universities and vocational institutions are now offering extension courses in BPO skills. Iligan City and Zamboanga have particularly large labor pools and strong college level programs in IT. "Graduates with IT skills or call center training end up migrating to Cebu and Manila to get jobs. "Why not bring the business closer to the labor pool?" Ms. Bian said.

Setting up BPO operations right at the manpower source has advantages for both the firms and their local hires, according to the USAID’s GEM program which, with the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council, is helping to expand employment opportunities and improve IT infrastructure in the region.

Mindanao-based personnel who do not have to commute and pay rent as they would in Manila and Cebu are content with a lower pay scale. "Also, since call center jobs carry more prestige in Mindanao, personnel are more committed," Mr. Fournier said. According to the GEM program, the employment of young people ensures peace and economic development of their communities.

Call center agents from Zamboanga have been known to trade P20,000 call center jobs in Manila for P12,000 jobs in their home city because, they say, there they can enjoy better quality of life. Brenda Nazareth-Manzano, regional director of the Department of Science and Technology, said incoming BPO firms would have the benefit of strong interagency collaboration.

Operating costs in Mindanao can be 25% to 30% less than in Manila or Cebu. Power in General Santos and Zamboanga is less than P5 per kilowatt-hour (kwh), compared with P10 per kwh in Cebu and P8.23 per kwh in Metro Manila. Labor economists forecast the creation of up to two million jobs in BPO-related industries by 2010. The USAID wants to help ensure that Mindanao receives an equitable share of this pie. — Growth with Equity in Mindanao

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Zamboanga ecozone sets aside P6M for nature park

Vol. XXI, No. 191 [ Business World Online ]
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

ZAMBOANGA CITY — The Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone and Freeport Authority has earmarked P6 million this year to develop a nature park in the 15,000-hectare agro-industrial complex.

"The project is part of the vision to expand the Zamboanga economic zone not only for industrial use but also [as] a place for tourism and agro-tourism," said Georgina P. Yu, administrator of the ecozone.

Currently, the nature park site has lighting facilities, a staff house that can accommodate 50 persons, three swimming pools, two pavilions, a multipurpose center, 10 cottages, a boating area, six boat houses and other recreational facilities, a statement quoted Ms. Yu as saying.

The free port zone is in the final stage of developing its retirement complex, dubbed "Mare y Monte" (sea and mountain), which is scheduled for a soft launch this August, officials said.

The retirement complex, which has an initial outlay of more than P10 million, will be expanded later to include casinos, a golf course and a theme park.

Ms. Yu said her office has coordinated with the Philippine Retirement Authority, the Department of Tourism, and various groups that could help in achieving the project’s objectives. The retirement complex will eventually be equipped with a hospital and other medical tourism facilities, commercial centers and duty-free shops.

Luis Ramon V. Rodriguez, in-house doctor of the economic zone, said they are initially targeting 150 retirees coming from South Korea, Japan and China. Mr. Rodriguez said 10 residential houses have been built in the economic zone for retirees. "Aside from being a retirement home, the complex will eventually offer cosmetic and aesthetic surgeries," he said in a separate interview.

The Zamboanga ecozone has a three-kilometer stretch of seafront ideal for beach resorts and hotels. The 300-hectare property overlooks the sea in the south, with a view of the mountains in the background.

Members of the Tourism Association of Zamboanga said that the free port has been identified as agro-tourism site to be promoted by the Department of Tourism as well as by tour operators.

"The free port has the advantage of being an agri-tourism and industrial-tourism site. Tourists, for example can visit several organic farms here," said Vicente A. Lim, president of the Insular Travel and Tours, who is also a member of the organization.

Agribusiness entrepreneurs from Cagayan de Oro have also inquired about sites for orchards and vegetable gardens, said eco-zone information officer Marlon B. Simbajon.

Tourism regional director Ricardo A. San Juan said agro-tourism, in general, is the practice of attracting travelers or visitors to an area used primarily for agricultural purposes. "Agri-tourism can be viewed much like eco-tourism, specifically focused on education purposes," he said. — Darwin T. Wee

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NSO 8 bares results of 2007 census of population

PIA Press Release
2008/04/29

Tacloban City (April 29) -- The National Statistics Office (NSO) Regional Office 8 finally bared to the media on April 29, the results of the 2007 Census of Population.

The total population of Eastern Visayas increased from 3,610,355 in 2000 census to 3,912,936 in the 2007 census. It would be recalled that before the 2007 Census of Population, the last census was conducted in the year 2000.

Already available are the data on population per province and per municipality in all the six provinces of Eastern Visayas.

The province of Leyte has the biggest number of people with a total population of 1,722,036 comprising 44% of the Eastern Visayas' total population. The province of Samar comes in next with a total population of 695,149 comprising 18% of the Region's population.

The province of Northern Samar contributes 14% of the Region's population with a population of 549,759 while both the province of Southern Leyte and Eastern Samar contribute 10% each to the Region's population. Biliran with a population of 150,031 contributes the least at 4%.

Among the cities, the City of Tacloban has a population of 217,199 which makes it the city with the largest population in the Region. The City of Ormoc, also in the province of Leyte has the second biggest population of 177,524, while the City of Calbayog in the province of Samar has the third biggest population of 163,657.

In Government, the statistics derived from the Population Census are used in the formulation of policies, preparation of plans and programs concerning population. It is also used in the redistricting and apportionment of congressional districts; in the allocation of resources and revenues; and creation of political and administrative units.

For business and industry sector, the population census is useful in determining sites for establishing business; in determining consumer demands for various goods and services and in determining the supply of labor for the production of goods and services. (PIA 8)

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Atienza wants a rescue plan drawn to clean Baguio’s premiere river

Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2008 (5:00 PM)

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza is taking no chances to let the famed Balili River in Benguet go the way of polluted Pasig River under his watch.

Atienza recently ordered that a comprehensive program be drawn up that would connect all of Baguio City’s 52,302 households (as of year 2000) to the city’s sewage-treatment plant in an effort to improve the water quality of Balili River.

“I have instructed heads of the DENR office for the Cordillera Administrative Region to begin sitting down with the water district officials, local government officials, concerned non-government organizations for the drafting of the proposal,” Atienza said. He noted that the proposal will be evaluated for possible funding by agencies assisting the DENR implement its environmental projects like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

“I don’t want Balili River to go the way that Pasig River due to urbanization and be added to the list of dead rivers. Not under my watch,” Atienza said.

Atienza explained that like Pasig River, most if not all of the pollution load in Balili River comes from domestic wastewater directly discharging to the river.

Citing reports, Atienza said only one-third of the city’s population is connected while about 80% of the total volume of water discharged daily into the river is untreated from households.

“Protecting Balili River becomes even more urgent as its water quality directly affects the city’s water supply which is mostly sourced from deep wells,” Atienza added.

According to Paquito Moreno, regional director of DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau-CAR, the river is considered “a backbone” as a source of water that feeds the city’s aquifers.

The City’s Bureau of Water District showed that there were 498 wells as of 1995, with an extraction capacity of less than 30 liters per second.

“The figures are definitely higher now considering that only 25 per cent of the population, living in seven barangays, is not connected to the city’s main water pipeline,” Moreno said adding that more and more houses have been converted through the years into facilities to service local and foreign tourist which may well be adding to the problem.

In 2005, about 637,000 tourist arrivals were recorded, generating almost PhP4 billion in revenues. The city has 109 hotels, inns and lodging houses, with 4,687 rentable rooms.

A 2004 study showed that the city’s government-run sewage treatment plant covered only about 19% of the city’s population and 40 percent of these was comprised mostly of local industries and large commercial establishments like Shoe Mart, Camp John Hay, and Teacher’s Camp.

Residents of downstream districts have experienced water-borne diseases caused by pollution upstream.

“If our efforts to protect the Balili River is at 10 kilometers per hour (kph), I think we can hit 80 kph with this directive from Secretary Atienza,” Moreno stressed. The Balili River spans about 50 kilometers from Benguet to La Union.

But efforts to clean the river is concentrated on the 15 kilometer-stretch starting on the eastern side of Baguio City at the Gibraltar area, cite of the Mines View Park, and threading through the Teachers’ Camp, the city’s central business district and downwards La Trinidad Valley where the water is used to irrigate vegetable farms in the area.

BCDA sells Taguig lot for P2B

Vol. XXI, No. 190 [ Business World Online ]
Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

THE BASES Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has sold a 1.2-hectare prime property in Taguig to a local real estate consortium, which could lead to higher land values in the area.

The BCDA, which oversees the sale and development of former military lands, yesterday said it had awarded the lot to the Net Group for P2 billion.

The land, which was sold after two failed biddings, may be developed for commercial, residential, recreational and institutional uses, it said in a statement.

The agency said the lot — the size of about three football fields — had been sold to the winning bidder at P168,889 per square meter for a total of a little over P2 billion.

The price was higher than the BCDA’s minimum price of P160,000 per square meter, or P1.925 billion, the BCDA said in a statement.

The property is located along 5th Avenue across The Fort and is within a special economic zone, which entitles the developer to incentives.

It is adjacent to the West Super Block, which will house the new building of the Philippine Stock Exchange, the six-star Shangri-La Hotel and the high-end residential condominiums of Shangri-La and Ayala Land.

Aileen Zosa, BCDA vice-president for business development, said sale means more revenues for the government and will enhance property values in the Bonifacio Global City.

The Net Group, a consortium of Filipino companies, had signed a joint venture with the American real estate firm Donald Trump Group, but the partnership did not proceed due to delays.

The Net Group is the office developer in the Global City with a 100% leased portfolio that includes Net One Center, Net Square, Net Cube, Net Quad and Net Plaza.

The BCDA board approved the sale through a board resolution passed on April 23. It earlier said it had generated P38.3 billion from its asset disposition program as of October.

It said 80% of the total or P30.36 billion came from Fort Bonifacio, P4.78 billion from leases and joint ventures, P1.9 billion from sales, and P1.245 billion from asset securitization.

From 2006 to 2007, 52 projects were completed, among them Serendra, Forbeswood Heights, Kensington, Bellagio and Fairways; Net Square, Hanjin Philippines and the Singapore Chancery. Also included are retail and office developments such as Bonifacio High Street.

Bonifacio Global City boasts of a central location that is a few minutes away from the Makati central business district, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, and the Ortigas area. — B.S. Sto. Domingo

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Dismantling of illegal fish pens to continue–LLDA

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 [ manilatimes.net ]

THE Laguna Lake Development Authority said it would continue dismantling fish pens inside the critical 12,000-hectare area in Laguna de Bay to save the lake from further degradation.

LLDA General Manager Edgardo Manda said they are cooperating with the Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to remove illegally erected fish pens being financed by big corporate entities.

“They [fish pen operators] even hire and train individuals making them a virtual private army to harass and stop government workers who visit and serve them eviction notices,” he said.

Manda said he is satisfied over the start of the demolition of fish pens the other day after government forces faced no violent resistance from fish pen operators.

“The clearing operations would proceed without let-up,” he said adding that his conviction earned the ire of retired and active military generals, retired and active politicians, who are the owners of the fish pens.

Fish pen operators claim they supply 30 percent of fish in Metro Manila and stopping their operations in the lake will result to higher prices of fish in the market.

But Manda said such claim is untrue because, in fact, the continuous operations of the fish pen owners further pollute the quality of water of Laguna de Bay.

Manda said fish pens clogged waterways and the use of chemical feeds leaves huge amounts of residue, which result to heavy sedimentation that eventually kills planktons and fish.

LLDA has recently spearheaded a bike caravan over the weekend along the 280-km stretch of Laguna de Bay shorelines to raise environment awareness aimed at saving the country’s largest living lake.

Manda said they also plan to introduce bamboo propagation in communities along the lake to give people livelihood and to prevent flooding and pollution.--Angelo S. Samonte

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Legal battle between Metro Manila LGUs, MMDA seen

04/29/2008 [ tribune.net.ph ]

A legal battle is brewing between the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the local government units of Metro Manila following the former’s expression of its strong objection to the LGU-administered unified traffic ticketing system being pushed by the Metro Manila mayors.

In an opinion issued yesterday, the MMDA said it is not amenable to the proposed resolution of Metro Manila mayors adopting the uniform traffic management code (UTMC) of the local government units that have been enacted into local ordinances as the metropolis’ single-ticketing system (STS).

“It runs counter to the spirit of Executive Order (EO) 712 and Republic Act (RA) 7924 vesting in the agency the implementation of the single ticketing system,” MMDA Chief Legal Counsel Emmanuel de Castro said.

He explained that the agency cannot sanction the mayors’ version of a single ticketing system because it takes away the vested enforcement right of the agency to perform its functions and powers under EO 712 and RA 7924.

De Castro expressed this opinion in the wake of the insistence of the LGUs to adopt the UTMC as the uniform set of traffic rules and regulations to be enforced in Metro Manila and the Ordinance Violation Receipt (OVR) as the unified ticketing system to be used in apprehending traffic violators during a meeting last April 15.

The OVR is the ticket being used by the LGUs.

The MMDA has proposed the use of its own Traffic Violation Receipts as the official traffic ticket in the entire metropolis to be used by local traffic enforcers.

The Metro Manila Council (MMC), composed of the MMDA chairman, local mayors, and their representatives, and the vice-mayors and councilors’ leagues, last month, after which they formed a technical working group tasked to draft implementing rules and regulations for the approval of the MMC.

De Castro pointed out the preamble of the mayors’ proposed resolution contradicts itself owing to some inconsistencies.

“The preamble, quoting a Supreme Court decision in the Garin case, the resolution says that the MMDA does not posses the police power, hence it cannot enact ordinances, rules and regulations,” he said.

On the other hand, the same resolution mandates the MMC to issue the corresponding IRR in accordance with applicable laws which, he said, is clearly a legislative function.

He explained that RA 7924 expressly grants the MMDA the powers to perform planning, monitoring, coordinating and implementing functions and exercise regulatory and supervisory authority over the delivery of metro-wide services. These, he said, are in accordance with national government policies without diminution of the LGU’s autonomy concerning purely local matters.

“The same is true for EO 712 which expressly directs the MMDA to implement the STS in the capital,” De Castro said.

He cited the legal opinion of the Department of Justice, upholding the MMDA Charter over the Local Government Code as a law of general application because RA 7924 is not only a special law but a later enactment as well. Ben Gines, Jr.

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SM expands wholesale, retail food chains

[ Malaya.com.ph ] April 29, 2008
By ALBERT CASTRO

SM Supermarket recently took control of Makro Warehouse Club and will set up more SaveMore grocery outlets.

SM’s expansion will thus go both ways, wholesale and retail, making it a "food marketing company", according to Herbert T. Sy.

Makro is the single biggest and oldest wholesaler in the country.

SaveMore outlets will be increased to 10 this year.

SM’s setting up of SaveMore is in direct competition with Rustan’s Fresh Express and Robinson’s smaller grocery chains.

Sy, SM Supermarket president said the management of Makro was effectively turned-over to SM Supermarket after its mother company SM Investments, Inc. (SM Investments) increased its indirect holdings in Makro at the end of last year.

"We will now manage Makro " Sy said.

Makro is originally a partnership between SM Prime Investments of the Sy Group and SHV Holdings N.V. of the Netherlands, a Dutch company involved in trading of food and non-food consumer goods. Makro was established with the Ayala Group in 1996.

Makro caters to the various needs for professional customers and retail businesses. It is a high volume, low price, low cost, no refills cash and carry wholesaler that provides the buying conditions and products suited to professional consumers like hotels, restaurants, caterers, and small retailers or sari-sari store and service-end users.

Ayala has since then liquidated its stake in Makro in early 2000, according to an Ayala Land company official claiming the since "Makro is not among Ayala Land’s core competency."

SM Supermarket’s control of Macro was reached after SM Investments gained additional stake in Pilipinas Makro, Inc., after it bought an additional control in Rappel Holdings, Inc. which owns 50 percent of Pilipinas Makro. SMIC directly has a 10 percent stake in Makro.

Forsyth Equity Holdings, Inc., another stockholder of Rappel, in late last year sold SMIC a 40 percent stake in Rappel, which increased SMIC’s control of the company to 80 percent.

"As a result of the acquisition of an additional 40 percent interest in Rappel, Makro also became a subsidiary of SMIC through the 60 percent direct and indirect ownership," SM Investments said.

Makro currently has 15 stores in "key areas" in the country — Cainta, Imus, Cavite, Makati, Mandaluyong, Novaliches, Sucat, North Harbour, Cebu, Davao, Pampanga, Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, Ilioilo, Cubao, and Las Piñas. It has an active membership of about 85,000.

SM Supermarket meanwhile is looking to increase its "SaveMore" groceries in the country this year, concentrating on setting up shops in areas not occupied by an SM mall.

SaveMore will have three new locations — Cebu, Nagtahan, Manila and Tanay, Rizal, according to Sy and will bring the total Save More stores to 10.

"We want to bring to a greater public the concept of affordable but quality goods," said Sy who added that the three new locations would have an area of between 1,000 to 4,000 sq.m.

SM Supermarkets and SaveMore Supermarkets have a total gross selling area of 153,120 square meters — the size of about 38 football fields.

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Davao City tourism master plan eyed

PIA Press Release
2008/04/29

By Prix D Banzon

Davao City (29 April) -- Davao City has still to come up with its master plan on tourism where its details how to position the city in the next five years.

City tourism head Rizal Giovanni Aportadera at the Kapehan sa Dabaw on Monday at SM City's Kafe Rysus said although there is an existing framework they still need to bring it to the different sector.

"We are still deliberating on which aspect of tourism we want to push. But personally I support the councilors program of pushing more for an environmental friendly Davao City. We aim to finish the plan this year," he said.

Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (DCCCII) chair Simeon Marfori said tourism is their priority this year and in fact they partner with PAHRDF (Philippine-Australian Human Resource Development Facility) for a long term tourism scholarship program.

But he said Davao City should not change because of tourism but on what the city has

He said there has to be a tourist experience and this is the thing that we should offer to our visitors.

"With the completion of a master plan this will really engage everybody in the city," he said.

Councilor Leo Avila III on the other hand said as far as the Davao Gulf is concerned they aim for "going green" saying they need to come up with standards on how a resort along the Gulf would work on the environmental plan.

He said these areas are sites that tourists frequently visit even as he said with their being conscious on environmental protection they (tourists) would rather spend their money for environment friendly establishments.

Aportadera meanwhile said that although most of the coastal tourism sites like beaches are located in the Island Garden City of Samal he said they are willing partners with the neighboring cities and provinces to ensure that visitors both local and international get the best experience. (PIA)

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Ro-ro route seen opening 'virgin' Palawan

[ Malaya.com.ph ] April 29, 2008
BY REGINA BENGCO

ON BOARD MV MAHARLIKA IV FERRY. - Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza on Monday said government will open to the world this year a "virgin" Palawan via a new roll-on roll-off ferry route (ro-ro).

Mendoza, in an interview in Bulan town, Sorsogon at the launching of the Central Philippines Nautical Highway, said the route would start from the Port of Batangas in Luzon to Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Occidental and to Coron, Palawan.

"Everybody now wants to go to Palawan because it is still virgin. The Boracay route is already congested," he said.

Boracay island is covered by the first ro-ro or Western Nautical Highway route that was inaugurated in 2003 and starts from the Port of Batangas to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte.

Mendoza said opening up Palawan would make the "high-end tourism destinations" more accessible. He said the major roads to the new destination are already constructed and all that is left is for the public works department to finish the road connections.

Mendoza said opening a seaport in an area always results in heightened economic activity. He said ro-ro has around 44 million passengers per year and is more viable than big liners because they do not pass by smaller islands.

He said the Central Philippines Nautical Highway (CPNH), which President Arroyo inaugurated in Bulan Monday morning, would address both the tourism and agriculture industries.

Arroyo switched on the lights showing the ports involving the central seaboard - from Manila to Bulan in Sorsogon, Masbate City and Cauayan in Masbate, Bogo and Cebu City in Cebu province, Tubigon and Jagna in Bohol, Mambajao and Benoni in Camiguin, and Balingoan in Misamis Oriental.

The President sent off the ro-ro caravan in Bulan but the ferry had no other cargo or passengers except members of the media who traveled to Bulan via bus since Saturday.

She waved away the photographers taking shots of her looking at the ferry, telling them to get on board.

She then boarded her helicopter for Cauayan Port in Masbate City, where she unveiled the marker. She will meet the ro-ro caravan in Bogo Port, Cebu City.

The President will join the main ro-ro caravan Tuesday in Bohol where she would convene the National Economic Development Authority-Cabinet group.

The NEDA-Cabinet group meeting would assess the ro-ro program since its start in 2003 and discuss the one-stop shop for housing that would be presented by Vice President Noli De Castro.
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Landbank to fund 100,000 has. Jatropha plantation in Quezon

[ Manila Bulletin Online ] April 29, 2008
Momoy Cardenas


A total of P4.3-billion loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has been allocated to fund the 100,000-hectare Jatropha Curcas plantation in Quezon province for the massive production of biodiesel.

This was provided in the tripartite agreement approved by the LBP, the Philippine National Oil Company-Alternative Fuel Corporation (PNOC-AFC) and the Quezon provincial government led by Gov. Rafael Nantes.

The Quezon Jatropha Development Board.will process the applications of the farmers cooperatives that will avail of the loans for the Jatropha plantation.

To ensure the quality of the Jatropha seedlings that will be used for the plantation, only those from the Jatropha nursery in Barangay Malupak, Lucban, Quezon, which was accredited by the PNOC-AFC, will be utilized for the project.

Under the agreement, the provincial government of Quezon will consolidate and provide the 100,000 hectares land needed for the plantation, the LBP will supervise the approval of loans, and the PNOC-AFC will determine the quality of seedlings to be used.

A Jatropha Refinery Plant will eventually be established jointly by the provincisl government of Quezon and the PNOC-AFC to process the seeds to be harvested from the Jatropha Curcas plantation.

Under the lending scheme, the farmers cooperatives will not be charged any intrest for the first three years. Only in the fourth year will the farmers cooperatives be charged affordable loan interest by the LBP.

Gov. Nantes pointed out that rice plantations and irrigated lands will not be used for the Jartropha Curcas plantation.

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DoTC, transport group seek end to Kennon Road feud

[ Manila Bulletin Online ] April 29, 2008

BAGUIO CITY – Officials of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC) and the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP) ordered groups feuding over the closure of Kennon road to inter-regional traffic to settle their differences.

The order came down in a recent dialogue after the issue was brought to their attention as concerned parties urged the DoTC and FEJODAP to intervene and settle the issue.

Pending the result of the forthcoming round of meetings, vans are now allowed to traverse the 34-kilometer historic zigzag road.

Last Sept. 1, 2007, lawyer Federico Mandapat Jr. issued an order banning vans and mini buses from traversing Kennon Road due to purported safety issues. He said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in the Cordillera had declared 85 percent of the road geologically hazardous.

The order created an uproar among the affected sectors and local officials of Benguet, saying that such an order was allegedly tainted with irregularity and was aimed at vans and buses but not private vehicles traversing Kennon Road.

Despite a series of dialogues to iron out problems brought about by the controversial ban, no significant development was reached, forcing the transport sector to elevate the matter to higher authorities.

The Cordillera Van Federation, Inc., which is composed of at least 500 units, DoTC and FEJODAP officials came up with a consensus to sit down here and create a regional framework that will govern the safety of roads leading to the city and other parts of the Cordillera.

Benguet provincial officials argued that Kennon Road is safe in as far as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is concerned.

Based on a DPWH report, 90 percent of the accidents happening along Kennon Road are due to mechanical and human error and a measly percentage attributed to the condition of the road.

At the same time, the MGB-Cordillera Autonomous Region also made a clarification on their earlier report stating that 85 percent of Kennon Road was geologically hazardous during the rainy season because water seeps into the highly-fractured rock formations which eventually results in landslides and rockslides.

However, it said the road is considered safe to vehicular traffic during the dry months because of the absence of water that causes rocks and soil to fall down the mountain slopes.

Kennon Road is considered to be the shortest route from the city to the lowlands and is known worldwide for its scenic
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LGU heads meet on P770-million Lake Lanao road

[ Manila Bulletin Online ] April 29, 2008
By ALI G. MACABALANG


MARAWI CITY — Concerned local government units (LGUs) met here on Thursday for the preparation for the implementation of the P770-million concreting works on the Lake Lanao circumferential road, even as private sectors joined a body tasked to monitor the much-awaited project.

The meeting was hosted at the provincial capitol complex here by Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal "Bombit" Alonto-Adiong Jr. and presided over by Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana, chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCO).

Leyretana swore in the 20 mayors of towns cut across by the Lake Lanao circumferential road and some representatives of private sectors as members of the Infrastructure Monitoring and Advisory Group (IMAG), which will oversee the implementation of the Saudi government-funded project.

The IMAG is chaired by Adiong, a civil engineer by profession.

Retired DPWH undersecretary Mokamad Rakiin, incumbent provincial administrator, is vice chairman.

In their messages, Leyretana and Adiong underscored the importance of the road concreting project in the vision of the present provincial administration to spur socio-economic activities in Lanao del Sur, a component of the 19-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Public Works Undersecretary for Mindanao Rafael Yabut and DPWH-ARMM Undersecretary Guialoson Mamogkat attended the meeting and briefed participants on the technical progress of the project, which Adiong followed up for revival this year.

Higher authorities stalled the project due to past local leaders’ neglect.

Adiong, in an interview after the meeting, said the DPWH had sought an authority from the Saudi government to start the bidding process this Aug. 11 and commence the full project implementation on Oct. 11 this year. 

The Saudi government is the source of the R770-M fund earmarked for the concreting of 91.8 kilometers of road along Lake Lanao, the country’s second largest body of fresh water and Mindanao main source of hydroelectricity.   

An initial sum of R35 million from the project cost is set for release next week for the speedy repair of "badly-damaged" portions of the circumferential road, Adiong said.

Also on Thursday, Leyretana, Adiong, Yabut and Mamogkat inaugurated the fresh arrival of brand new giant backhoes and other heavy equipment, which form part of the second shipment in a fleet of engineering machines bought by the provincial government through R200-million government loan.

The first shipment, including bulldozers, graders, mini-backhoes, road rollers, dump trucks and other heavy equipment, came in early this year and have been used in the opening and rehabilitation of dozens of kilometers of roads in then province, provincial government spokesman Nasser Ganda said. (Ali G. Macabalang)
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Northern Mindanao housing sales affected by OFW worries

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — Sales in mid- to upscale projects in Northern Mindanao have decreased as families of overseas Filipino workers delayed purchases of new units in recent months.

Rodolfo L. Meñes, vice-president and general manager for Pueblo de Oro Development Corp., said that with the softening of the dollar since last year, sales have slightly decreased. Pueblo de Oro is a major developer of housing projects in the middle to upscale categories.

Many residents in nearby cities and those even as far as Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur have been investing in real properties, especially in projects geared for upper-income segment of the region’s population. These involve house-and-lot packages from as low as P1 million to a couple of millions.

Mr. Meñes said that while there are problems in the subprime market in the US, government data showed that in February, remittance levels continued to rise. "There was a shift in the quality of overseas workers: better working force with increased salaries," said Mr. Meñes.

He said that in regional areas, however, families of overseas workers maybe delaying their decisions to purchase new homes in upscale residential areas. Mr. Meñes noted that the level of development of this city’s property market is still low compared with major urban centers. "In Metro Manila, the property sector is very competitive since there are different types of residential packages. There are mid-rise to high-rise buildings," Mr. Meñes explained.

Pag-IBIG Fund’s Cagayan de Oro branch manager Fermin A. Sta. Teresa, Jr. said that the region’s housing market remains the typical single-detached bungalow homes, unlike in more developed cities which are now going into vertical residential projects. The bigger demand based on affordability is on socialized housing, or projects that are heavily dependent government loan assistance.

"At present, a 26-square meter floor area is already acceptable and applicable to meet the needs of our members," said Mr. Sta. Teresa in a separate interview.

This city has the biggest number of approved housing loans in Northern Mindanao, he said.

Last year, Pag-IBIG Fund approved for funding 1,855 housing units in this city. In Zamboanga City, only 960 housing units were approved, while Butuan City in Agusan del Norte had 753, and Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur has 606 housing units.

"For this year, we are targeting 2,151 housing units for this city which will total P780 million," said Mr. Sta. Teresa.

Lolit Alon, executive vice-president for local firm JCA Realty Corp. said it is good for the National Government to promote affordable housing and lowering the interest rates for such projects through Pag-ibig Fund.

Ms. Alon said that the local market is growing since housing units introduced by local firms have become more affordable.

"Before, 80% of our buyers were dollar-earners while only 20% were local buyers. This year, we are expecting that the local market will grow by 50%," said Ms. Alon.

She recalled that as the dollar weakened since last year, there was a slowdown in their sales for the first quarter of this year.

"Now, the prospective homeowners have already adjusted," said Ms. Alon.

JCA Realty Corp. develops residential projects, ranging from upscale to socialized housing subdivisions.

"The city’s property industry will not likely be affected by [the slowdown in the US economy]. There is a bigger chance for increase of sales for this year especially that our skilled professionals are now deployed in Europe and the Middle East and our local professionals here are also investing in socialized housing projects," said Ms. Alon.

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