Saturday, June 16, 2012

Coke to enter Myanmar for first time in 60 years

NEW YORK — The Coca-Cola Co. plans to start selling its drinks in Myanmar for the first time in 60 years, following the U.S. government's decision to suspend investment sanctions on the country for its democratic reforms.

Myanmar is one of three countries where Coca-Cola doesn't do business. The other two are Cuba and North Korea.

The world's biggest soft drink maker said Thursday it will start doing business in the country as soon as the U.S. government issues a license allowing American companies to make such investments.

The U.S. announced last month that it was suspending restrictions on American investments in the Southeast Asian country, which is still easing toward democracy. Until last year, Myanmar had been led by an oppressive military junta.

Coca-Cola said its products will initially be imported from neighboring countries as it establishes local operations in Myanmar; the company notes that it is has a history of being the among the first to enter or re-enter markets.

In 1949, for instance, Coca-Cola and other foreign companies were expelled from China by the communist government. After full diplomatic relations were established with the country in 1979, Coca-Cola had 20,000 cases of its flagship drink trained into the country from Hong Kong, which was still a British territory at the time.

The Atlanta-based company also noted that Cuba was one of the first countries where it did business, opening operations in the nation in 1906. But after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro's government began seizing private assets and the company liquidated and exited the country in 1960. The company has never operated in North Korea.

Any Coca-Cola products in those countries are obtained through independent third parties.

As part of its push in Myanmar, Coca-Cola said it is donating $3 million to support job creation for women in the country. The company will work with PACT, a non-governmental group that supports economic and health initiatives in developing nations.

Coca-Cola first entered Myanmar in 1927.-Sun Star (June 15, 2012)

Friday, June 15, 2012

US, S.Korea say path open for N.Korea

WASHINGTON - The United States and South Korea called Thursday on North Korea to end "provocative behavior," but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said young leader Kim Jong-Un still had a chance to change.

In joint talks between foreign and defense ministers, the two countries pledged a united front if North Korea carries out a new nuclear test and said they were stepping up cooperation in areas including cyber-security.

In a joint statement, the four ministers "urged North Korea to cease its provocative behavior" after the communist state in April defiantly fired a rocket that the United States considered a veiled, albeit failed, missile test.

But the United States and South Korea left the door open, saying a "path for North Korea to rejoin the international community remains available" if it refrains from provocation and takes concrete steps to give up nuclear weapons.

At a joint news conference, Clinton said that Kim -- who is in his late 20s and assumed control of the communist regime after his father died in December -- had a chance to "chart a different course for his people."

"This young man, should he make a choice that would help bring North Korea into the 21st century, could go down in history as a transformative leader. Or he can continue the model of the past -- and, eventually, North Korea will change," Clinton said.

"Because at some point people cannot live under such oppressive conditions, starving to death, being put into gulags and having their basic human rights denied," she said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan said that the two countries agreed "that should North Korea provoke again, then we will show a very decisive response to such provocation."

"But we also shared our view that the road to dialogue and cooperation is open should North Korea stop its provocation," the minister said.

Satellite images have shown that the opaque regime is making progress on its main nuclear site. Some experts suspect that Kim or military commanders will order a third nuclear test to prove the regime's mettle after the embarrassing flop of what the regime called a satellite launch.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Saturday that North Korea had no plans for a nuclear test "at present."

But the statement raised speculation about North Korea's intentions as the spokesman also accused South Korea of trying to force Pyongyang into carrying out a nuclear test.

The United States and South Korea created a new dialogue to address security in cyberspace, saying that agencies throughout the two governments would work together to coordinate responses.

The joint statement said that a "proactive and whole-of-government approach is needed to address the increasing threats in cyberspace, which may put the infrastructure of both our nations at great risk."

South Korea says that the North has an elite team of hackers and accuses Pyongyang of staging cyber-attacks on websites of South Korean government agencies and financial institutions in July 2009 and March 2011.

A conservative South Korean newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, said Monday that it had been the victim of a major cyber attack less than a week after threats by North Korea against the daily and other media over their coverage.

The United States and South Korea said that they also decided to look at ways to strengthen missile defense. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said the two countries were conducting studies on the shape of the cooperation.

The United States reached a deal on February 29 to offer North Korea badly needed food aid in return for a freeze on nuclear and missile tests, but it rescinded the plan after the rocket launch.-Interaksyon (June 15, 2012)

Senator John McCain reiterates US congressional support for the Philippines

An American senator reiterated congressional support for the United States' obligations under a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. 

"When it comes to fulfilling our obligations and expanding our military cooperation under the Mutual Defense Treaty, America’s commitment is unshakable and Republicans and Democrats stand together with the Philippines," Senator John McCain said in his remarks as the guest of honor during the commemoration of the 114th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine Independence in Washington, D.C last June 12. 

Philippine Ambassador to the United States (U.S.) Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and Mrs. Victoria J. Cuisia hosted the traditional vin d’honneur at the Four Seasons Hotel with close to 300 guests in attendance.   

Those who attended included officials from the US government, congressional staffers, and members of the business community, representatives from think-tanks, non-governmental organizations and the academe, as well as leaders of the Filipino-American community.  

Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell also attended the event. 

In his remarks, Ambassador Cuisia underscored the gains that have been achieved under the Aquino administration as a consequence of the President’s good governance agenda. He noted the resolve of the Philippine government in rooting out corruption, as reflected in the recent impeachment of the country’s Chief Justice.

The Ambassador also cited the flourishing ties between the Philippines and the US, which have been further strengthened as a result of President Aquino’s constructive and productive meeting with President Barack Obama at the Oval Office last June 8. 

“Much of the credit in the renewed vitality (in Philippine-US relations) goes to President Aquino, who I had the pleasure of meeting in my visit to Manila last January and again during the President’s successful visit to Washington,” said Senator McCain.

“When it comes to enhancing the Philippines’ defense capabilities from increased maritime domain awareness to additional ships to help patrol the West Philippine Sea, Republicans and Democrats stand together with the Philippines," he added. 

Senator McCain, the son and grandson of US Navy admirals, is a Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Representing Arizona, he is one of the most senior Republican Senators and was the Republican presidential nominee in the 2008 US election.   

Senator McCain recently signed up as co-sponsor of the SAVE Our Industries Act. 

Earlier in the morning, the officers and staff of the Embassy held a flag-raising ceremony to kick-off the celebration of the country’s national day.  

Corporate sponsorships from Smart Philippines, Philippine-American Life and General Insurance Company (Philam Life), International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), and Jollibee Foods Corporation made the event possible.-Interaksyon (June 14, 2012, 7:11PM)

Japan agency affirms Phl credit rating

Japan-based R & I credit rating agency has affirmed its credit BBB- rating and stable outlook on the Philippines, citing the country’s strong domestic demand-driven economy.

According to the credit rating agency, a BBB- rating means that the issuer’s creditworthiness is sufficient though some factors require attention in times of major environmental changes.

R & I said the government’s fiscal health has improved with the deficit kept low. It also cited the continued current account surplus, which keeps the country resilient against external shocks.

“With a continued current account surplus, the country keeps strong resiliency against external turbulences,” R & I said.

However, the debt watcher said per capita gross domestic product (GDP) still has room for improvement.

“Per capital GDP is at approximately $2,400, which is a major constraining factor for the rating. Although the country is required to maintain a strong growth under the pressure of population increase, expansion of investment takes a long time,” it said.

R & I said there is still a lot of room for improvement such as improving the domestic capital market and widening the tax base.

It said it would continuously “keep an eye on whether the Philippine government will be able to expand its revenue base and develop more sophisticated investment environment including upgrading the infrastructure to solve the investment shortage issue.”

While advanced countries have suffered an economic slowdown, the Philippine economy has been solid underpinned by strong domestic demand.

“To promote investments, the Philippine government needs to play a leading role in improving the investment environment by expanding public investments. The government intends to use the scheme of public-private partnership to accelerate investment in infrastructure while controlling spending. R&I will pay attention to those efforts by the government,” it said.

In the first quarter of the year, the Philippine economy grew by 6.4 percent, surpassing expectations and beating the 4.9 percent recorded in the same period last year.-The Philippine Star (June 15, 2012)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chinese fighter jet flew over Scarborough?

Tensions have been high at the Scarborough Shoal off Zambales because of the continued presence of Chinese vessels.
But last Monday, even the country's airspace became subjected to an unauthorized intrusion.
The radar system commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines picked up the entry of a suspected fighter jet over the disputed territory.

he intrusion lasted for less than a minute.

The fighter jet is said to have opened its transponder to identify itself to the ships down below.

“He turned on his transponder right on top of Scarborough island, which is probably the mother ship,” said Alan Ortencio of the New Manila Air Control Center.

Ortencio, a systems engineer who previously worked with the US Defense Department and the Taiwan Defense Ministry, said Chinese jets usually don't fly solo.

“Mostly, fighter jets go from 2 to more than 2,” he said.

The Philippine Air Force has asked for a copy of the radar data recording to determine the type of aircraft that made the fly-by and who owns it.

But it also says there is no cause for alarm.

“There are no dangerous trends, no warning flags being issued by other agencies. There is no clear and present danger,” said spokesman Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol.

DFA: UNCLOS allows transit

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, confirmed that an unidentified aircraft flew over the shoal, but added this is permitted under an international agreement.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the information he got from the Philippine Coast Guard is that it was an unidentified aircraft that flew over the shoal on June 11 at 20,000 feet.

However, he said the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) allows freedom of navigation and overflight in an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in the high seas for purpose of continuous and expedition transit.

The Air Force admitted this is the first time a fighter jet has entered the country's airspace without government authorization.

According to the Chinese embassy in Manila, they don't know anything about the alleged entry of a Chinese fighter jet in Philippine airspace. -ABS-CBN News (June 13, 2012  8:54PM)

China navy to stage drill in western Pacific

China will conduct an annual naval training drill in the western Pacific, state media reported on Wednesday, amid concerns among Beijing's neighbors about its military ambitions.

The exercise is "not aimed at any specific country or target", the defense ministry said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

"China hopes all relevant sides will respect China's maritime rights, such as freedom of navigation."

The ministry did not give further information about the location of the drill, when it would be held or which ships would participate.

China is involved in a number of simmering marine territorial disputes with its neighbors and is locked in a prolonged stand-off with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries. The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim.-Interaksyon (June 14, 2012)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

PM on confidence-building tour -Thailand News

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is trying to shore up public confidence in her administration's flood-prevention measures with visits to riverside provinces this week.

"Her schedule is tight," government spokeswoman Sansanee Nakpong said yesterday. "She will check on flood-prevention preparations in eight provinces."

Yingluck started her tour on Monday, visiting Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya. She was back in Bangkok yesterday to attend the Cabinet meeting, and then went to Sing Buri. By tomorrow, she is scheduled to have visited Chai Nat, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Tak and Chiang Mai.

Sansanee said the premier aims to step up flood-prevention efforts as the rainy season begins while also boosting the confidence of Thais and foreign investors.

After the Cabinet meeting in Bangkok, Yingluck yesterday visited tambon Phra Ngarm in Sing Buri's Phrom Buri district.

There, she checked on the Phra Ngarm and Lam Chuad water gates, which are connected to 10 fields that have been designated as water-retention areas. Together, these "monkey cheek" zones span over 265,977 rai in Sing Buri, Chai Nat and Ayutthaya, and have the capacity to hold 523 million cubic metres of water.

Authorities plan to push run-off water into these fields after farmers have harvested their crops.

Yingluck instructed that the water-management authorities communicate with locals so there will be mutual understanding and to ensure that the harvest is completed before the fields are flooded.

"The Interior Ministry and the Royal Irrigation Department must also prepare for evacuation of the areas and coordinate with all relevant authorities," she said.

Speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the Water and Flood Management Committee, Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee described the 10 fields as the biggest water-retention zone in the country.

Plodprasob also disclosed that the Cabinet had already approved his committee's terms of reference for a water-management infrastructure project that will cost about Bt300 billion.

"We will invite private firms to submit proposals," he said. "The government will review the proposals and name three finalists after which a selection panel will be set up to decide who should get the project."

He said the construction of the water-management infrastructure was expected to start early next year.

The government has placed much attention on water management and flood prevention since the floods of last year, which claimed hundreds of lives and caused massive damage to property and the economy.

Interior Ministry deputy permanent secretary Pracha Terat yesterday urged the victims of last year's floods to understand that the government's cash handouts to them was financial assistance, not compensation.

Many flood victims have blocked roads to demand that the government give each family Bt20,000 in compensation. Agencies have assessed damages to flood-hit houses and calculated the amount of financial assistance accordingly. But some of the victims feel the calculations are unfair.

Pracha said the victims who believed the amount of financial assistance for them was not properly calculated should file complaints.

"The prime minister has already instructed all local bodies to reassess the damages," he said.

So far, Pracha insisted that the demand for Bt20,000 compensation for all flood-hit households was not possible.

"The government has a limited budget," Pracha said.

He also warned against the blocking of roads as a form of protest, saying there would be tough legal action against such demonstrations.

Meanwhile, flooding has hit many southern and northern provinces at the start of the rainy season.

In Surat Thani, flood damages were estimated at more than Bt40 million. In Sukhothai, floods from the overflowing Yom River blanketed a vast area of farmland.-The Nation (June 13, 2012)

More than 70 feared dead in Afghan quakes

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan - More than 70 people are feared to have been killed in Afghanistan after a landslide triggered by a double earthquake buried homes under earth and rock, officials said Tuesday. Two shallow quakes less than half an hour apart shook the mountainous Hindu Kush region on Monday, starting a slide of debris that smashed into a remote village, burying mudbrick houses to a depth of up to 100 meters (300 feet).

In Burka district, the worst-hit area in the province of Baghlan, people in the village of Mullah Jan said 71 people had been trapped. An official who asked not to be named described the chances of survival as "very slim".

Officials have so far confirmed that only three bodies have been recovered, while six injured people have been rescued.

A bulldozer was at work digging through the rubble at Mullah Jan, according to Rafiullah Rasoolzai, spokesman for the disaster response agency, who said emergency supplies of food, water and shelter had been brought in.

"Villagers told Afghan government representatives that 71 people are missing," he said.

"They're buried in their home under between 30 and 100 meters of dirt and earth."

Provincial governor Munshi Abdul Majeed earlier said the sheer volume of soil made digging work very difficult.

"They might be dead as there is a lot of soil and removing this is very, very hard," he said.

"We have sent excavators to the area but I don't think they will be able to do much."

Baghlan Police chief Assadullah Shirzad said around 100 security forces were helping the search.

The first quake on Monday, with a magnitude of 5.4, struck at 9:32 a.m. (0502 GMT) at a depth of 15 kilometers (10 miles) with the epicenter around 160 kilometers southwest of the town of Faizabad.

A more powerful tremor, measured at 5.7 magnitude, hit around 25 minutes later in almost exactly the same place, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

Buildings were felt shaking slightly in Kabul, around 170 kilometers to the south, during both quakes.

Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range, which lies near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.-Interakson (June 12, 2012 10:50PM)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Philippines Celebrates 114th Independence Day

On June 12, 1898, General Emilio F. Aguinaldo proclaimed at the balcony of his ancestral home on Calle Real in Kawit, Cavite, the independence of the Republic of the Philippines, and the Philippine flag was hoisted as the national anthem called Marcha Filipina was played in the presence of a huge crowd.

On September 29, 1898, the Malolos Congress formally ratified the Declaration of Independence. Then on August 6, 1898, the Revolutionary Government sent diplomatic notes to foreign nations, requesting then to accord formal recognition to the Philippines as a free and independent nation.

Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States (US) in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. It was until July 4, 1946, after nearly 50 years of American rule, and more than three years of Japanese occupation, that US recognized Philippine independence in the Treaty of Manila.

For a while, July 4 was celebrated as Philippine Independence Day. Then President Diosdado P. Macapagal decided in 1962 to have the Philippines celebrate its Araw ng Kalayaan on June 12, in commemoration of that historic day in 1898 when General Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence. President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who succeeded President Diosdado P. Macapagal, later proclaimed July 4 as Philippine-American Friendship Day.

Before the Philippine Revolution of 1896, there were many uprisings in various parts of the country against Spanish colonial rule. It was the 1896 Revolution that drew the nation together like no other movement before it. Subsequent developments – the Philippine-American War and World War II – may have delayed the actual enjoyment of sovereignty, but it was on June 12, 1898, that Filipinos proclaimed to the world their desire and determination to stand as a free and independent member of the world community of nations.

The Manila Bulletin led by its Chairman Dr. Emilio T. Yap, President and Publisher Atty. Hermogenes P. Pobre, Executive Vice President Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Cris J. Icban Jr., and Officers, greet the entire nation on the occasion of our Independence Day today and wish us all the best and success in all our endeavors. MABUHAY ANG PILIPINAS!-Pinoy Exchange

Myanmar foreign minister to visit PHL June 14-15

Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin will visit the Philippines on June 14 and 15 for a meeting on Philippine-Myanmar bilateral cooperation, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

The DFA said the minister will lead a delegation to the 2nd Meeting of the Philippines-Myanmar Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Manila.

"The Foreign Minister's visit follows the historic visit made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to Myanmar last February 8 and 9, marking a new page in Philippines-Myanmar relations following the pro-democracy reforms undertaken by the Government of Myanmar led by President Thein Sein," the DFA said on its website.

It noted the JCBC is a political mechanism for the two countries to discuss areas of mutual interest such as:
- political cooperation,
- trade and investments,
- education,
- human rights,
- agriculture and forestry,
- tourism,
- culture and information, and
- law enforcement.

Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar began in 1956, the DFA said.-GMA News (June 11, 2012)

US to deploy 60 percent of warships in Asia-Pacific

In the early years of China's rise to economic and military prowess, the guiding principle for its government was Deng Xiaoping's maxim: "Hide Your Strength, Bide Your Time."

Now, more than three decades after paramount leader Deng launched his reforms, that policy has seemingly lapsed or simply become unworkable as China's military muscle becomes too expansive to conceal and its ambitions too pressing to postpone.

The current row with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the energy-rich South China Sea (also called West Philippine Sea) is a prime manifestation of this change, especially the standoff with the Philippines over Pantag (Scarborough) Shoal.

"This is not what we saw 20 years ago," said Ross Babbage, a defense analyst and founder of the Canberra-based Kokoda Foundation, an independent security policy unit.

"China is a completely different actor now. Security planners are wondering if it is like this now, what is it going to be like in 20 years time?"

As China also continues to modernize its navy at breakneck speed, a growing sense of unease over Beijing's long-term ambitions has galvanized the exact response Deng was anxious to avoid, regional security experts say.

In what is widely interpreted as a counter to China's growing influence, the United States is pushing ahead with a muscular realignment of its forces towards the Asia-Pacific region, despite Washington's fatigue with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon's steep budget cuts.

And regional nations, including those with a history of adversarial or distant relations with the United States, are embracing Washington's so-called strategic pivot to Asia.

"In recent years, because of the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea, most regional states in Southeast Asia seem to welcome and support US strategic rebalancing in the region," said Li Mingjiang, an assistant professor and China security policy expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"Very likely, this trend will continue in coming years."

Last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta laid out the details of the firepower the Obama administration plans to swing to the Asia-Pacific region.
As part of the strategic pivot unveiled in January, the United States will deploy 60 per cent of its warships in the Asia-Pacific, up from 50 per cent now. They will include six aircraft carriers and a majority of the US navy's cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines.


"Make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region," Panetta told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference in Singapore attended by civilian and military leaders from Asia-Pacific and Western nations.

For some of China's smaller neighbors like the Philippines, there is a pressing urgency to build warmer security ties with Washington.

A two-month standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag( Scarborough) Shoal shows no sign of resolution, with both sides deploying paramilitary ships and fishing boats to the disputed chain of rocks, reefs and small islands about 220 km (130 miles) from the Philippines.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III met President Barack Obama on Friday at the White House, where the two discussed expanding military and economic ties.
Obama later told reporters that clear, international rules were needed to resolve maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
While the standoff continues, reports last week in China's state-controlled media and online military websites suggested that the first of a new class of a stealthy littoral combat frigate, the type 056, had been launched at Shanghai's Hudong shipyard with three others under construction.

Naval analysts said the new 1,700-tonne ship, armed with a 76mm main gun, missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes, would be ideal for patrolling the South China Sea.

These new warships would easily outgun the warships of rival claimants, they said.

The type 056 is the latest example of an accelerated military buildup that allows China to dominate its offshore waters.

While these warships were designed for lower-level regional conflict, experts say one of the primary goals of Beijing's wider deployment of advanced, long-range missiles, stealthy submarines, strike aircraft and cyber weapons appears to be countering the U.S. military in the region.

"China is investing in a whole raft of capabilities to undermine the U.S. presence in the Western and Central Pacific," said Babbage, a former senior Australian defence official.

"It is a fundamental challenge to the US in Asia."

Panetta and other U.S. officials routinely reject suggestions that the pivot is aimed at China but military commentators in Beijing appear in no doubt.

In a report last week on the U.S. military, the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association, a non-government security analysis group, said Beijing should be on alert in response to the US military "return to Asia" and any attempt to intervene in disputes in the South China Sea.

Watching brief

In a separate commentary published in the state-controlled media, the group's executive vice president, outspoken retired Major General Luo Yuan, said the US pivot was part of "watching brief" on a rising China.

"The US military has developed four different plans to combat the Chinese military," Luo wrote, but gave no details.

Luo, a government adviser, is one of a number of senior Chinese officials and commentators who have called for a more determined effort from Beijing to safeguard China's maritime interests. This suggests China will become more assertive in the South China Sea but it is unlikely to use force, according to Nanyang University's Li.

"Beijing understands very well that any military confrontation would have a profound negative impact on China's strategic position in the Asia-Pacific and China's relations with regional states," Li said.

The worry however is that a mistake or a miscalculation could trigger a confrontation.

Reaching out

As part of his swing through Asia last week, Panetta also visited India and Vietnam in a bid to enhance security ties with two key regional powers that have not been traditional U.S. allies but are increasingly apprehensive about China's rise.

At Vietnam's deep water port of Cam Ranh Bay, a key U.S. base during the Vietnam War, Panetta said the use of this harbour would be important to the Pentagon as it moved more ships to Asia.

Later, in New Delhi, Panetta said ties between the two nations were improving rapidly but expanded defence cooperation was needed to boost regional and global security.

He said the United States planned to increase its military presence and defence partnerships in an arc from the Western Pacific, through East Asia, South Asia and into the Indian Ocean.

"Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy," he said.

In a development that will be further cause for concern in Beijing, the fleshed-out U.S. pivot and renewed commitment to regional defence ties won strong endorsement from key allies, even those who rely on growing trade with China.

On a visit to Beijing, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said the U.S. presence in Asia had been a force for peace, stability and prosperity since the end of World War Two.

"Australia welcomes very much the fact that not only will the United States continue that engagement, it will enhance it," he said in a speech to the China Institute of International Strategic Studies.

Smith noted that two-way trade between Australia and China reached $120 million last year but Canberra would continue to deepen its military ties with the U.S., including the rotational deployment of up to 2,500 U.S. troops through Darwin.

If the standoff over Scarborough Shoal is a guide to future territorial disagreements, Beijing can expect other regional nations to feel the same way.

"The South China Sea disputes are likely to remain as a regional security spotlight issue and it will continue to pester China's relations with those claimant states," Li said.-GMA News (June 11, 2012)

DBS raises growth forecast for PH to 5.3%

The Philippine economy is now expected to grow by 5.3 percent in 2012, higher than the previous forecast of 4.2 percent, according to DBS Group.

The financial services provider said in research note the revision was due to the 6.4-percent growth rate reported for the first quarter, which was higher than the 4.3 percent that analysts had projected.

Even then, the Singapore-based group said the new forecast resulted from growth rates in the subsequent quarters going lower than that for the first three months.

DBS observed that net exports provided 5.2 percentage points to the growth of the gross domestic product for January-March amid a sharp recovery in electronics exports in the first two months.

“On the domestic front, private consumption held steady, contributing 4.7 percentage points to headline growth, while government consumption provided 2.3 percentage points,” the group said.

On the hand, DBS said inventory drawdown—as opposed to production of fresh supplies—represented the biggest negative contribution to growth.

“First-quarter numbers are certainly strong, but the weak external outlook suggests that this growth momentum will slow significantly in the coming quarters,” it said.

“In particular, the bounce in electronics exports may be largely due to a restocking cycle,” it added. “Amid risks of a further slowdown in the eurozone, the United States and China, a pick-up in final demand does not appear likely in the second semester.”

DBS said the rebound in electronics shipment might prove temporary, but that the bright spot was with the domestic sector.

The group said the government has the leeway to provide more stimulus to support the economy considering that inflation this year was likely to come in at the low end of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ target range of 3-5 percent.

The company reiterated that with inflationary pressures coming off, the BSP’s overnight borrowing rate could be held at 4 percent for the rest of this year.

DBS took positive note of the budget deficit for the first four months, which eased to P2.9 billion on the back of a record-high month’s surplus of P31 billion in April—which gave the government fiscal room to introduce another stimulus package.-Philippines Daily Inquirer (June 11, 2012)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Phl has best microfinance framework

The Philippines has the best policy and regulatory framework for microfinance in the world, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The EIU is a global consultancy and research outfit that helps business leaders prepare for opportunity, empowering them to act with confidence when making strategic decisions.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Monetary Board member Ignacio R. Bunye said one of the key reasons for the distinction is the existence of a regulator that issues supportive and enabling policy as well as capacity building regulations.

“Our main approach as been, and will continue to be, to facilitate the delivery of commercially sustainable microfinance products and services,” Bunye said during awarding ceremonies of the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines – Microenterprise Access to Banking Services (RBAP-MABS) program.

A few years back, the BSP was recognized as the only central bank that was encouraging the practice of microfinance to the private sector.

Bunye said the BSP studied microfinance extensively, resulting in regulations and best practices such as using group support or liability arrangements, cash flow-based lending, and high frequency amortization.

The BSP relaxed some regulations regarding branching for rural banks practicing microfinance. That included the establishment of micro-banking offices (MBOs).

Due to its positive attitude towards microfinance, the BSP held talks and discussions with the private sector for the type of regulations needed to boost the sector.

At the same time, the regulator instituted prudent standards for the conduct of microfinance operations by prescribing the use of portfolio-at-risk to monitor and measure portfolio quality, in the context of risk-based supervision.

“This approach has allowed bank supervisors to fully understand the risk profile of microfinance,” Bunye added.

He pointed out that from the crude micro-loans, microfinance advocates from the public and private sectors created such schemes as micro-deposits, microinsurance, micro-agriculture, housing microfinance and microfinance plus.

From transactions that required the personal presence of the microborrower in bank branches, micro transactions can now be done through short message system or text messaging.

Last data indicate that there are four million families that have been responsible for making microloans reach P41 billion.-The Philippine Star (June 10, 2012)

Philippines mulls VFA with Singapore

The Philippines is studying a military training agreement with Singapore and is closely watching the progress of a similar accord with Australia for lessons, the defence department said Saturday.

The proposed Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) would allow Philippine and Singaporean troops to train in each other's countries, reviving joint exercises that were suspended in 1996, said department spokesman Peter Galvez.
The department is looking at the experiences with both the Philippines' existing VFA with the United States and a VFA bill with Australia being debated in the Senate, Galvez said.

"They are collating all the experiences with the various agreements so we can craft a well-rounded VFA (with Singapore) that everyone can agree to," he told Agence France-Presse.

Singapore had a military training agreement with the Philippines in 1994 but joint exercises were suspended in 1996 because under Philippine law the entry of foreign troops for wargames must be covered by a VFA approved by the Senate.

Singapore submitted a draft proposal to the Philippines in 2007 but progress in crafting the final bill was slow due because the Manila office concerned lacked manpower, said Galvez.

The United States, the country's main defence ally, sealed such a VFA in 1999 and a similar accord with Australia is pending.

Nationalists and leftists have opposed such agreements as a violation of the country's sovereignty.

The Philippines' defense ties have received greater attention in recent weeks after a maritime standoff with China broke out two months ago over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Galvez said "we are more positive with the Australian VFA. If it rolls out, that will be template for the other countries".

However he said it would be a long time before the agreement with Singapore is presented to the senators.-Interaksyon (June 09, 2012, 3:09PM)

US, Phl leaders reaffirm commitment to peace, security in Asia

The leaders of the United States and the Philippines reaffirmed on Friday their commitment to the peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

US President Barack Obama met with his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino III in his Oval Office over bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern.

"The Philippines is a close friend and a key economic and security partner for the United States," said a statement released by the White House after the meeting. "The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the bilateral relationship."

Stating the alliance between the two countries "has contributed to the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region for over 60 years," the statement said. "Both leaders reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the peace and security of the region and to the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty" signed in August 1951.

Obama also reaffirmed US support for the Philippines' efforts to build "a minimum credible defense posture," the statement said, citing as examples the transfer of a second US Coast Guard Cutter to the Philippine Navy, support for the Philippine National Coast Watch System, and the growing number of bilateral exercises and training programs.

"The presidents agreed to build on our successful security cooperation on counterterrorism by expanding efforts to enhance joint military capabilities and interoperability in humanitarian assistance, as well as in the areas of disaster relief, maritime security and maritime domain awareness," the statement noted.

It said they committed as well to redouble efforts to "bolster and deepen" efforts to expand bilateral trade and promote greater trade and economic integration in the region.

On the situation in the South China Sea, the two leaders " underscored the importance of the principles of ensuring freedom of navigation, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce," the statement said.

"They expressed firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force," said the statement.
"President Obama conveyed his support for the ongoing efforts within ASEAN to reach an agreement with China on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea that creates a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the conduct of parties, including preventing and managing disputes," the statement added, referring to the regional bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Speaking at a lunch for the Philippine president at the State Department on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that "the United States does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea."

"But we do, however, have a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea," she added.-The Philippine Star (June 10, 2012)