Saturday, September 29, 2012

Western governments warn citizens against travel to Philippines

The governments of United Kingdom, Canada and Australia on Saturday followed the example of the United States and issued a travel advisory for its citizens against travel to the Philippines.

The warning was made after the United States issued an emergency message of possible threat that may occur in Metropolitan Manila until October 10, 2012. 

In a revised and reissued travel advisory, the British government warned its citizens who are currently living or having vacation in the Philippines to “exercise particular caution and extra vigilance” in places frequented by expatriates and foreign nationals.

“The US embassy in Manila has issued a message advising of a threat against US citizens in Manila, particularly in the Pasay City neighborhood. The threat is considered to be in effect until 10 October 2012,” the advisory said.

“Any attack could be indiscriminate and we advise British nationals to exercise particular caution and extra vigilance in places frequented by expatriates and foreign nationals,” it emphasized.

The advisory noted that the threat from terrorism is not limited to airports, shopping malls, and places of worship, among others.

The UK also advised its citizens against all travel to southwest Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago due to the ongoing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.

“We advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reason. There is a threat from kidnapping in the Philippines, particularly in the south. Kidnapping could occur anywhere, including on coastal and island resorts and dive boats and sites in the Sulu Sea,” it said.

The Australian government on the other hand also advised its citizens to “exercise high degree of caution” when traveling in the Philippines.

It said that its citizens currently staying in the Philippines must also “reconsider” to travel in Eastern Mindanao.

It also advised Australians not to travel or avoid going to Central and Western Mindanao, including Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago.

“We continue to strongly advise you not to travel to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga and Sulu Archipelago, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, violent crime, and violent clashes between armed groups. We continue to advise you to reconsider your need to travel to eastern Mindanao,” the advisory said.

The Canadian foreign affairs office said "continuing reports suggest that there is an ongoing terrorist threat to Westerners and Western interests in the Philippines".

Both military and police spokesmen in the Philippines said the threat warning did not originate from them, adding they were unaware of any specific plot against Americans, but also said coordination had been increased with the embassy to tighten security and monitor possible threat groups.

President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the police presence had been heightened in the capital to safeguard not only Americans but also ordinary citizens.

The US government issued an alert in November 2010 that warned of an attack in Manila, particularly areas frequented by foreigners, which also prompted similar travel advisories from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and France.

The attack never materialized and Aquino subsequently criticised the Western allies for damaging his country's tourism prospects.

The United States has a general warning about the risks of travel in the Philippines, a former US colony that has for decades battled Islamic separatist rebels and more hardline Muslim militants in the far south of the country.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small band of Muslim militants that authorities say was set up in the early 1990s with funds from the Al-Qaeda network, has kidnapped and killed Americans in the southern Mindanao region in recent years.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf. However the Americans are barred from taking part in combat.-Interaksyon (September 29, 2012 7:27PM)

Philippine flag carrier to acquire 10 more Airbus jets

The Philippines' flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has exercised an option to acquire 10 more wide-body, long-haul Airbus planes from European manufacturer EADS as the company slowly phases out its old gas guzzlers in favour of more efficient aircraft.

The new planes would be on top of a previous batch of 10 Airbus A330 jets, which are part of an original order to buy 54 planes from EADS worth US$7 billion.

PAL president Ramon S. Ang said the new planes would bring the worth of the company’s new orders to a total of $10 billion if published list prices were followed.

“The new planes will bring our unit costs down tremendously,” Ang told reporters at the sidelines of the PAL Holdings stockholders’ meeting Friday.

“We can save as much as 20 percent per passenger with the new planes.”

PAL Holdings is the flag carrier’s parent company.

Ang described the company’s current fleet of older planes as “gas guzzlers,” especially when compared with the new orders that have newer, more fuel efficient engines.

Ang said the option to acquire the new planes, which was included in the airline’s original deal to buy the first batch of planes, was exercised two weeks ago.

He said the airline was also nearing a deal to acquire an additional 36 long-haul, wide-body planes either from EADS or its American plane-making rival, Boeing Co.

The new planes would likely be used for flights to the Middle East in the absence of an upgrade for the Philippines to “category 1” status with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The country’s current “category 2” grade prevents local airlines from expanding operations in the United States.

Meantime, San Miguel and the Lucio Tan group are in talks to form a joint venture for plans to build a new international airport that both groups hope would serve as the country’s premiere gateway.-Asia News Network (September 29, 2012)

Thai deputy PM resigns amid corruption probe

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidi yesterday resigned amid a spiralling graft probe scandal.

His surprise resignation as deputy prime minister and interior minister raises more questions than it answers.

His announcement came shortly after he and his colleagues in the ruling Pheu Thai Party had persistently insisted on his right and ability to stay on in the coveted posts despite the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) finding him guilty of wrongdoing in the decade-old Alpine scandal.

Yongyuth, who is also the Pheu Thai leader, said yesterday that he had decided to step down out of fear that remaining in the positions would be against the law. He said his resignation would become effective from Monday.

The abrupt decision led to doubts on whether he had voluntarily opted to step down. However, Yongyuth insisted the decision to quit did not result from anyone's pressure.

Pheu Thai sources said ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings from behind the ruling party, wanted Yongyuth out after he was implicated in the Alpine scandal.

Yongyuth had often been protected by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Thaksin's sister, against pressure for him to be replaced. But with the latest legal headache threatening to question his legitimacy in the Cabinet, Yingluck could not help him any more, according to the party sources.

Pheu Thai's strategic committee was earlier concerned that Yongyuth's decisions as deputy premier and interior minister could affect the government and the ruling party due to the lingering uncertainties about his status.

With its two previous parties being dissolved for breaking the law, the ruling party could not risk another dissolution by remaining stubborn over Yongyuth's legal problems, party sources said.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung took over from Yongyuth as chairman of the weekly Cabinet meeting although Yongyuth had insisted that he could chair the meeting despite the legal issue. Yongyuth, instead, went to inspect flooding in Prachin Buri, on an "urgent assignment" from the prime minister.

The prime minister is in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly and is due to return to Thailand today.

The NACC had found Yongyuth guilty of unlawfully endorsing the 2002 sale of monastic land owned by Wat Thammikaram to Alpine Real Estate Co and Alpine Golf & Sports Club Co while he was serving as deputy permanent secretary for the Interior. Last week, the interior ministry's Civil Service Committee resolved to expel Yongyuth retroactively, but it also said he was qualified to benefit from the 2007 Exoneration Act.

The anti-graft agency later said Yongyuth was not eligible for exoneration because he had never served the term of his punishment - a condition stated in the law.

Yesterday, Yongyuth called a press conference at Saket Worawihan Temple to announce his decision to leave the Cabinet, after offering alms to monks. He said that he would retain his positions as Pheu Thai leader and an MP.

Red-shirt leaders Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua and some 20 red-shirt supporters were among his well-wishers. They gave him red roses while offering moral support. Some of them told him not to bow out of the Cabinet.

"This is an important day in my life. I have decided to resign as deputy prime minister and interior minister, with my own willingness and without being influenced by anyone else," Yongyuth said, adding that he had "prepared for a long while" before coming up with the decision to quit.

He said his resignation was due to his intention to avoid possible legal problems arising from his status in the Cabinet. He pointed to conflicting opinions from legal experts about his case. "Some said that I did the right thing [in previously staying on in the seats] but others said I could no longer do my job," he said.

When asked if he had consulted the prime minister before making his decision, Yongyuth said he had talked to "senior persons whom I respect" about this matter. He said the prime minister would make the decision about his replacements for the two Cabinet seats.

Thaksin wanted to fill Yongyuth's vacant seats with politicians close to him from the Group of 111 former executives of Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party. Among the candidates for the coveted Interior seat are Poomtham Wechayachai, Bokhin Bhalakula and Sermsak Pongpanit.

With two major Cabinet seats left vacant, the prime minister now has two options - resisting the pressure for a Cabinet reshuffle by having members of her Cabinet become caretakers of the posts, or yielding to her brother Thaksin's pressure for a big shake-up in her government.

Some party sources said that the changes could affect as many as 10 Cabinet posts.

Yingluck has postponed a Cabinet reshuffle in order to avoid causing ripples in the ruling party.-Asia News Network (September 29, 2012)

Small plane crashes at Indonesian air show; 2 dead

A small plane has crashed during an air show in Indonesia, killing two pilots. No one on the ground was injured.

Col. Umar Sugeng Hariyono, an air force base chief, says the accident occurred Saturday on the second day of an air show celebrating the 202nd anniversary of Bandung, the capital of West Java province, about 120 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Jakarta.

He says the pilot and co-pilot — both Indonesians — aboard the single-engine aircraft died instantly.

Jeffry Adrian, a pilot at the scene, says the Swiss-made AS 202 Bravo was apparently flying too low during its aerobatic maneuvering, spinning out of control and then crashing into an empty building.

Local television footage showed plumes of black smoke billowing from the wreckage as the plane burst into flames. -The Philippine Star (September 29, 2012 4:12PM)

East Timor refugees return home from Indonesia after 13 yrs

Dozens of people from East Timor, who had taken refuge in East Nusa Tenggara province for 13 years with minimum facilities from the Indonesian government, have left the Naibonat refugee camp to return home.

The repatriation was facilitated by the Centre for Internally Displaced Persons (CIS), Grupu Fila Knua Timor Leste and the Forum of Care for Women and Children (FPPA) in Belu, an Indonesian regency bordering the tiny country, which declared its independence on May 20, 2002.

“Those refugees who declined to take Indonesian citizenship are going back home to Baucau through Atambua and will enter Timor Leste (East Timor) through the joint gate in Motaain,” CIS worker Merry Djami said yesterday.

The refugees said they voluntarily decided to go back home in the hope that they could meet their relatives and do something useful for their country.

“I want to die in the land where I was born,” said 70-year-old Norberta da Costa da Gama.

Faria, 34, expressed her thanks to the Indonesian government, which had supported East Timor refugees during their stay in the province. She also conveyed her thanks to locals who lent their land to farm.-Asia News Netwrok (September 29, 2012)

Filipina and Indonesian sentenced to death for drugs in Malaysia

Malaysian courts has sentenced two women, a Filipina and an Indonesian, to death in separate cases of drug trafficking, reports said Saturday, September 29.

The high court in Shah Alam, just outside Kuala Lumpur, handed the sentence to Marivelle Gonzales for trafficking a kilo of drugs, mostly heroin, into the country 2 years ago, the Bernama news agency reported.

The 31-year-old Filipina said a man had offered her $1,000, a work permit and $250 in expenses to bring in a bag containing the drugs.

Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Ani Anggraeni, an Indonesian working in the northern state of Penang as a domestic helper, was convicted Friday, September 28, of trafficking nearly 4 kilos (9 pounds) of methamphetamine on June 21 last year, The Star newspaper reported.

She had testified she went to see her daughter in Vietnam and met a friend "Dwi" who asked her to carry two bags on her flight to Penang, to be passed to another friend.

"Her story makes no sense and I don't think her friend 'Dwi' even exists," the English daily quoted the judge, Mohd Amin Firdaus Abdullah, as saying.

The court decisions are the latest in a clampdown by Malaysian authorities on alleged foreign drug traffickers but the mandatory death penalty has mostly been meted out on men.

A Kuala Lumpur court in August charged 10 Iranians, an Uzbek and a local with trafficking methamphetamine.

An Australian nurse and Nigerian man were also charged with trafficking drugs in July, in a case that attracted media attention worldwide.

Since 1960, more than 440 people have been executed in Malaysia, including two Australians sentenced to death in 1986 for heroin trafficking -- the first Westerners to be executed under tough anti-drug laws.-Rappler (September 29, 2012 4:56PM)

ASEAN +3 Agricultural Ministers confirm ongoing cooperation

Meeting this week in Laos' capital of Vientiane, ASEAN +3 Agricultural and Forestry Ministers asserted their desire for continued strong cooperation in food, agriculture, and forestry sectors.

The 12th meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministers of Agriculture of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (12th AMAF +3) wrapped up with a press conference this Friday in Vientiane.

At the press conference the ministers noted the progress made in cooperative forestry and agricultural projects across the region, such as capacity building in agricultural production, post- harvest handling, training, and research and development in crops, livestock, fisheries, and forestry.

Over the same period the 34th Meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (34th AMAF) was also held in Vientiane.-The Philippine Star (September 28, 2012 11:00PM)

Friday, September 28, 2012

No more Vietnamese workers sent to S. Korea

No more Vietnamese workers would be sent to South Korea this year, according to the Vietnam's Overseas Worker Centre under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Phan Van Minh, director of the centre, said that South Korea has stopped recruiting new Vietnamese workers.

"From now until the end of this year, only loyal workers who have worked for at least four years and ten months at a South Korean enterprise without quitting or switching jobs, and those who have finished their labour contracts and returned to Vietnam, will be eligible to return to the country," Minh said.

Since last December, the centre has received more than 13,900 applications from Vietnamese workers, and about 2,800 have been selected by South Korean employers.

The rest must wait until next year, he said, adding that South Korea had announced that Vietnam would be one of 15 countries with a recruitment quota of 62,000 next year.

More than 560 workers meet the criteria to return to South Korea, of which 430 have registered to go and 210 have been granted visas.

Minh said that the regulation took effect this July and aimed to tackle the inflow of illegal immigrant workers to the country.

Figures from the ministry last month showed that about 75,000 Vietnamese workers were working in South Korea, 15,000 of whom illegally cancelled their labour contracts to work for other employers.

Of the 63,000 workers who were sent there under an agreement between the ministry and South Korea's Ministry of Employment and Labour, up to 10,000 stayed on illegally when their contracts expired.

Minh said that whether South Korea resumed recruitment depended on measures to curb illegal immigrant workers.

The ministry, together with local authorities and the department of labour, invalids and social affairs, is working with the families of illegal immigrant workers to encourage them to return to Vietnam.

The ministry will stop recruiting people from localities where high numbers of illegal immigrant workers lived.

The majority of Vietnamese workers in South Korea work in production and manufacturing (over 78 per cent), followed by more than 9 per cent who work in construction and another 10.5 per cent in agriculture. The rest work in fisheries (1.7 per cent) and the service sector (0.2 per cent).

Vietnamese workers in South Korea are reported to send back over US$600 million in remittances to their families each year.-Asia News Network (September 28, 2012)

3 Japanese Self Defense Force ships to visit Cambodia

Three Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ships will be visiting Cambodia from Oct. 6-10 in order to strengthen friendship relations between the two nations, according to a press release from Japanese Embassy to Cambodia on Thursday.

The ships, named Kashima, Shimayuka and Matsuyuki, are led by Rear Admiral Hidetoshi Fuchinoue, Commander of Japan Training Squadron, the press release said, adding that they will dock at Cambodia's Sihnoukville Autonomous Port on Oct. 6 on the way of their training cruise in the open sea.

"The objectives of the visit are to give opportunities for 194 cadet school graduates to learn about culture and military as well as to strengthen friendship with Cambodia through various exchange programs," it said.

During the stay in Cambodia, Rear Admiral Fuchinoue plans to visit Phnom Penh to pay courtesy calls on Minister of National Defense Tea Banh and Commander of Cambodian Royal Navy Tea Vinh on Oct. 8, it added.-Sina English News (September 28, 2012)

Vietnam economic growth slows, new inflation fear

Vietnam's economic growth eased to 4.73 percent in the first nine months of the year, the government said Thursday, as it also raised the spectre of a return to high inflation.

Gross domestic product slipped from 5.77 percent expansion in the same period last year, the General Statistics Office (GSO) said, adding that the economy has seen a range of "difficulties and challenges" that need to be overcome.

The figure is also well below the government's target of 5.5 percent growth for the whole of 2012 -- a figure which had already been revised down from 6.0-6.5 percent at the start of the year.

Industrial output grew 4.36 percent in January-September, compared with 7.8 percent for the same period last year, while agriculture notched up just 2.48 percent growth, from 4.1 percent last year, due to flooding and disease affecting livestock, the GSO said.

The GSO also said inflation accelerated in September for the first time in 12 months, up 6.48 percent year-on-year.
The country has fought to contain inflation, which peaked at 23 percent in August last year, forcing the government to repeatedly hike rates to prevent the economy overheating.

The moves successfully reined in soaring price rises, but the central bank reversed course this year, cutting rates five times as economic growth began to slow.

But the GSO warned "there is a risk prices of goods will rise", especially ahead of an expected annual uptick in economic activity at the end of the year.

As it struggles to get a grip on the economy the government was this month forced to deny media reports it will seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam did not need financial assistance "given the country's current positive macro-economic situation, balance of payments, foreign currency reserves and market confidence", Vietnam News Agency reported.-Yahoo News (September 28, 2012 1:00AM)

Myanmar leader pays UN tribute to Suu Kyi

Thein Sein said that he wants to "completely end" a long running war with ethnic rebels in Kachin state
Myanmar's President Thein Sein made an unprecedented tribute to opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi's "efforts for democracy" and vowed to resolve ethnic strife in a landmark UN speech.

Thein Sein, the first Myanmar leader to speak to the UN General Assembly, also told the annual gathering on Thursday that he wants to "completely end" a long-running war with ethnic rebels in Kachin state.

Thein Sein, a former junta general now driving through speedy reforms in his impoverished state, spoke as Suu Kyi comes to the end of a triumphant tour of the United States which some feared could overshadow the president.

But he told world leaders: "This week she is also in New York. As a Myanmar citizen I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy."

Less than two years ago, his comments would have been unthinkable.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, spent 15 years under house arrest during the junta's rule. She was freed in November 2010 and is now a member of parliament pressing for domestic change as well as the lifting of international sanctions. The United States eased its trade sanctions on Wednesday.

Highlighting recent elections, the release of political prisoners and the ending of media ce
nsorship, Thein Sein stressed the "mutual tolerance" and "magnanimity" that now marks politics in the country also known as Burma.

In Myanmar, the state-run New Light of Myanmar took the rare step of publishing an English-language version of Thein Sein's speech in full, with praise of Suu Kyi featuring on the front page.

Suu Kyi met with US President Barack Obama and received the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest honor of the US legislature -- during her 18-day tour of the United States.

The opposition leader met Thein Sein at his New York hotel on Tuesday and has expressed cautious optimism about the changes under way.

"There has been change, not yet all the changes necessary to make sure we are going to be a genuinely democratic society, but there have been changes," she said in one speech this week.

Suu Kyi will go on to visit western states while a ministerial meeting on Myanmar in New York on Friday could bring new international encouragement for Thein Sein's government.

The president stressed efforts being made by the nominally civilian government to end ethnic strife in Myanmar and said he hoped to end the war with Kachin rebels in the north.

The rebels have been fighting government forces since the country's independence in 1948.

The president said agreement has been reached with 10 ethnic armed groups in the country and that peace negotiations will "continue to reach a final peace agreement that would completely end the armed hostilities."

The government and the Kachin Independence Army have held several rounds of talks and Thein Sein said the two sides are "working to further strengthen confidence building measures.

"We consider any loss of life and property from either side in the armed conflict as a loss for the country," he said, in comments which again highlighted the startling changes in Myanmar.

The president said that deadly unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine state was one of the "unfortunate and unexpected issues" that his government had to confront.

Dozens of people have been killed in the unrest and an estimated 70,000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, have been left displaced in government-run camps and shelters.

The government has been criticized by Muslim nations for its handling of the crisis, but Thein Sein said an independent commission would report on the strife and that "people living in our country, regardless of race, religion and gender, have the right to live in peace and security."

Answering international critics, he added: "Myanmar has the right to secure our borders and also to safeguard and protect our sovereignty. We will do our utmost to solve this issue in line with international norms."-Yahoo News (September 28, 2012 4:00PM)

30 missing, feared dead in Indonesia ferry collision

240-million population of Indonesia is scattered over a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands
About thirty people are still missing and feared dead after an Indonesian ferry with more than 200 people on board collided with a cargo tanker earlier this week, rescuers said on Friday.

Eight people were confirmed dead while 207 others were rescued alive after the KM Bahuga Jaya, sailing from Merak port in West Java to Sumatra island, collided with the tanker early Wednesday.

The exact number of people on board is not clear but authorities said the vessel was loaded with several manned vehicles including trucks, cars and motorcycles.

"Based on the accounts by family relatives, about 30 people are still missing," Lampung provincial search and rescue chief Saidar Rahman Jaya told AFP.

"Today is the third day since the accident. The possibility of them surviving is very slim. Our priority is to search for bodies believed to be trapped in their vehicles," he said.

About 78 vehicles remained inside the ferry which sank, Jaya said, adding that up to 130 rescuers including navy divers were involved in the operation.

Such accidents are common in Indonesia, where ships and boats have a poor safety record and where the 240-million population is scattered over a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.-Yahoo News (September 28, 2012 1:00PM)

Moody's downgrades Vietnam credit rating

Moody's Investors Service has downgraded Vietnam's credit rating, citing weaknesses in its banks and a stuttering economy.
The downgrade to B2 from B1 for government bonds issued in local or foreign currency announced Friday means the country would face higher borrowing costs if it sells new bonds.

It could also deter foreign investment, adding to problems in an economy once seen as an emerging Asian powerhouse.

The problems in the banking system stem from a credit boom in 2009 and 2010. Much of the money lent is now considered bad debt and a lack of transparency within the banks is adding to investor jitters.

The banks are now unwilling to lend money, causing the economy to slow to 5 percent growth after a decade of 7 percent-plus growth.-Yahoo News (September 28, 2012 3:00PM)

Single VISA Philippines with ASEAN Countries will soon to be implemented

To entice more tourists to visit the Philippines, the Department of Tourism is supporting the move for a unified visa for foreigners traveling to countries that are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"The Philippines is one of the countries working hard for a unified ASEAN visa," Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said at the opening of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Travel Mart in Manila on September 27.

He said that talks are already underway among member countries on how to implement a unified ASEAN visa similar to Europe's Schengen visa, which made traveling between the 25 member countries (22 European Union countries and 3 non-EU members) easier and less bureaucratic.

Jimenez said 5 countries are ready to implement the visa, listing: Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. But he said it would take the participation of a majority of the 10 nation group to get the scheme off the ground.

Easier to visit Philippines

Jimenez said the unified visa will make it easier for tourists traveling to the region to stop by the Philippines.

Jimenez maintains that the country has a smaller international visitor arrival figure relative to other ASEAN countries because the Philippines doesn't enjoy "a connection of contiguous land mass" that allows foreign visitors to drive across a border and be counted among international arrivals.

He stressed that the Philippines is working hard to bring in more foreign tourists, to streamline travel requirements, and to modernize the visa application processing.

He explained that the country is trying to position itself as a must-experience destination in Asia.

Under the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), the country is trying to hit 10 million international visitor arrivals, employ 6.8 million workers in tourism and generate ₱1.9 trillion in tourism receipts by 2016.

The Philippines lags behind its regional neighbors in tourist arrivals. Data published on June 30 by ASEAN, put visitor arrivals for 2011 at:

  • Malaysia 24,714,300
  • Thailand 19,098,300
  • Singapore 13,171,300
  • Indonesia 7,649,700
  • Vietnam 6,014,000
  • Philippines 3,917,500
  • Cambodia 2,881,900
  • Lao PDR 2,723,600
  • Myanmar 816,400
  • Brunei Darussalam 242,100

-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (September 28, 2012)

USA, EUROPE race grabbing the GOLDEN PEARL OF THE ORIENT of the unbelievable rising Philippines

Investing in Philippines: Escape the U.S. with a Low-Debt, Low-Inflation Economy

Along with its various countries and economies, the Asian investment thesis has certainly evolved over the years.

Those born in the 1960s and 1970s surely remember the 1980s when Japan's economy rose to global prominence, showing the world that at least at that time, Japan truly was the land of the rising sun.

The Asian financial crisis struck in the late 1990s, but that even only temporarily chased Western investors away from the continent. Caution would give way to ebullience earlier this century as investors became enamored by the Chinese and Indian growth stories.

Flush with statistics about that pair representing two of the fastest growing economies in the world and that one or both would one day pass the U.S. in terms of economic heft; investors were once again seduced by Asian opportunities.

Renewed appetite for Asian exposure coincided with another boom, which of the exchange-traded fund (ETF) industry. As the Chinese and Indian economies became juggernauts, ETF sponsors have met investor demand for exposure to these countries coming up with everything from ETFs focused on Chinese technology companies to Indian small-caps.

ETF issuers did not stop there. As investors clamored for ways to access other Asian markets, ETF sponsors obliged.

In other words, the Chinese and Indian growth stories gave way to the burgeoning economies of Indonesia, Thailand and others. Since the March 2009 market bottom, the iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE: THD) and the Market Vectors Indonesia ETF (NYSE: IDX) have been two of the best performing ETFs of any kind.

Those funds are still performing well, but a case can be made there is a new sheriff on the Asian investment block.

Investing in the GOLDEN PEARL OF THE ORIENT of the unbelievable rising Philippines   

The Philippines, a Southeast Asian nation comprised of thousands of islands, is not completely unknown to Western investors, but the economy there is smaller comparable nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

A fair assessment might be to say the country is just starting to shed its under-the-radar status.

That much is proven by the iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE: EPHE), almost certainly the best way for U.S. investors to tap into the Philippine investment thesis without incurring unnecessary single stock risk.

Actually, there are not many Philippine American depositary receipts available, so EPHE is the best way to access the Philippines. Period.

EPHE debuted two years ago and now has over $101 million in assets under management, a sum that indicates investors have at least been intrigued by what the Philippines has to offer.

Those investors have not been disappointed.

EPHE is up 28.5% year-to-date, making it one of the best funds tracking any individual country in any region of the world.

EPHE: More to the Story

EPHE's performance does not paint the entire picture about the Philippine economy.

Arguably, when the various statistics are weighed together, one might wonder why the ETF has not performed even better and why allegedly smart economists and institutional investors are not embracing the Philippines to a larger extent.

Inflation is benign in the Philippines. That is something India cannot say.

Even Thailand has struggled with rising prices at various points in recent years. The Philippines could notch GDP growth of 6% this year and the country is well on its way to meeting or exceeding that number after posting growth of 6.1% in the first half of the year 2012.

Then there is a fact about the Philippines that would make many Americans and Europeans gasp in disbelief: The country could be debt-free in a few years.

Currently sitting on a debt-to-GDP ratio of 50%, one the U.S., Japan and the Eurozone would die for, government spending is less than 19% of GDP.

As of August 2012; Buoyed by $81 billion in international reserves, the Philippines' external balance sheet is nothing short of impressive. Standard & Poor's, the ratings agency that is notoriously slow on the uptake, still has a junk credit rating on the Philippines, though it is BB+, the highest non-investment grade rating. S&P upgraded the Philippines in July and the country's BB+ rating is its highest since 2003.

Adding to the bull case for the Philippines is a favorable slate of country rankings. Data from the Heritage Foundation indicate that when metrics such as economic freedom, freedom from corruption, land freedom and related metrics are combined, the Philippines scores better than other Southeast Asian economies such as Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines also tops Greece, China, India and Russia.

Note to investors: One or two nice statistics here or there do not mean any country's investment thesis is perfect, the Philippines included, so don't throw all your money into EPHE.

The country has strides to make on the corruption front, corporate legal reform is essential and the country's rate of poverty is high, even for a developing nation. Those factors should not be ignored, but the totality of the Philippines economic story indicates its (EPHE's) best chapters have yet to be written.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (September 28, 2012)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vietnam's economy grows by 4.73% in 9 months

An official report showed that Vietnam's economic growth slowed to an estimated 4.73 percent in the first three quarters of 2012 from a 5.77-percent growth in a year earlier, Reuters reported.

The government attributed the slower growth pace to a tighter lending rules set in the early months of the year to help control inflation.

Banks battling bad debt also slowed loans to keep their books clean, putting pressure on businesses seeking funds for expansion.

The General Statistics Office estimated the economy to have grown by an annual 5.35 percent during the third quarter ending September, from 4.66 percent in the second quarter.

Previously this month, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was quoted as saying that Vietnam's economic growth could hit an annual rate of 5.5 percent this year, while annual inflation would stabilise at 6 percent.

Fitch Ratings has estimated Vietnam's economic growth to slow to 5 percent this year, compared with 2011's 5.89 percent rate.-Menafin (Septmber 27, 2012 11:45GMT)

Thailand's Sukhothai hit by second flood

A novice monk moves a chair away
from rushing floodwaters yesterday at
Wat Ratchathani in Muang district, Sukhothai.
The temple is situated next to theYom River,
which overflowed its banks.

A second flood hit Sukhothai municipality again on Sunday, just as residents were starting to clean up and return to their daily business.

The deluge was caused by breaches in the floodwall and the overflowing Yom River north of the flood barrier.

The water flowed into Jarodwithee Road and flooded some residential areas. The floodwater was about 50cm high on average.

Workers tried to repair the breaches and pump water out of the area.

Mayor Pichet Thaikla said the water leaked under the barrier before flowing into the municipal area.

However, the situation was under control and did not call for any evacuations, he said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk said a top priority was to monitor and maintain the water level in the Yom River.-Sina English News (September 27, 2012 08:42GMT)

Thailand on track to hold F1 Grand Prix event in 2014

Asia's presence on the FI scene looks set to grow with racing on the streets of Bangkok
A grand prix in Thailand is on the cards from 2014 as an agreement is understood to have been reached in principle for a race to be run around the streets of Bangkok.

The news has been confirmed by Kanokphand Chulakasem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand.

Chulakasem, along with an advisor to billionaire Red Bull owner Chalerm Yoovidhya, met Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone over the weekend at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post, Chulakasem said: "It will be a city race like that in Singapore and Monaco, and it will be a night race like the Singapore Grand Prix."

However, a sanctioning fee and contract have still to be agreed.

Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa claims the government would likely pay 60 per cent of the annual fee, with the remainder to come from private companies such as Red Bull and Singha.-RTE Sport (September 27, 2012 12:02PM)

Phl may benefit from East China Sea dispute

The Philippines may benefit from the territorial dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea.

Executives of the state-run and Global City, Fort Bonifacio-based, Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) bared on Thursday that they are now engaged in talks with several multi-national firms based in China, but are now looking for other countries to relocate their businesses.

BCDA president and executive officer Arnel Paciano Casanova said that some of these foreign investors have initially signified their intentions to relocate their businesses to the Clark Development Corp. (CDC) in Pampanga, Poro Point Development Corp. in La Union and at Camp John Hay in Baguio City, which are all subsidiary companies of the BCDA.

The three areas are also former military bases, which the BCDA developed as part of its mandate to help the government generate much-needed funds to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“I don’t want to name them (foreign firms) at this time,” Casanova said, saying that negotiations with the foreign locators are still on the initial stage.

Casanova made the disclosure following a guided-tour for members of the media of the Fort Bonifacio tunnel, which the BCDA intends to develop as a tourist attraction center in the already highly-developed Global City in Taguig.

In line with this bright business prospect, the BCDA is planning to build an airport at Poro Point, which it intends to transform into a business gateway for these foreign investors in Northern Luzon area.

The group also plans to further develop Clark Airfield in Pampanga, which is now considered as the number three best business-friendly airport in the world.

Over the past weeks, Tokyo and Beijing have been engaged in a tense standoff in East China Sea over their respective territorial claims on the Senkaku group of Islands.

Protesting Chinese nationals attacked Japanese companies in several coastal cities forcing the temporary closures of the firms.

Japan had said that if Beijing fails to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and their business interests in China, it would be forced to relocate their companies to other countries.

United States (US) Ambassador Harry Thomas was earlier quoted that China-based US investors are also looking at the Philippines as a possible relocation site of their businesses due to the continued Chinese anti-American sentiments.

China accused the US government of fanning out the already murky waters in the East and South China Sea, to promote its interest in the region.-The Philippine Star (September 27, 2012 4:47PM)

Indonesian ferry collides with ship; 210 rescued

South-African flagged tanker Norgas Cathinka is escorted by Indonesian police and custom boats near Bakauheni
port in Lampung province, Wednesday, September 26, 2012.
 The tanker collided with a passenger ferry early
Wednesday morning, killing at least eight people,
officials said. AP

A passenger ferry collided with a ship believed to be carrying liquefied natural gas and sank west of Indonesia’s main island, killing at least eight people while more than 200 were rescued.

The ferry carrying more than 200 crew and passengers collided with the ship about 40 minutes into its 90-minute journey Wednesday morning between Java and Sumatra islands, said Heru Purwanto, an official at Bakauheni port on southern Sumatra.

Experts were checking for gas leaks in the ship. The collision occurred about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from Bakaheuni in Lampung province, said Bambang Ervan, a Transportation Ministry spokesman.

“The ferry went down so fast after the collision,” Purwanto said. It sank 20 minutes after the captain sent a distress signal, enabling 10 merchant ships sailing nearby in the busy Sunda Straits to immediately start rescuing passengers and crew, he said.

He said the manifest showed the ferry was carrying 213 passengers and crew, as well as 78 vehicles. It has an official capacity of 300 passengers and 70 vehicles.

But manifests are often unreliable in Indonesia because tickets are sold onboard to passengers who are never registered.

Purwanto said more than 210 passengers and crew had been rescued and eight bodies were pulled from the water, including a 10-year-old girl. They are believed to have jumped into the sea without life jackets and could not swim, he said. More than 80 passengers were hospitalized with injuries, including at least one in critical condition.

Two helicopters and two military ships were joined by naval divers and several other rescue vessels in the search for survivors, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the National Search and Rescue Agency.

There was no word on the cause of the collision or whether the South African-flagged vessel carrying the liquefied natural gas was damaged.

The Bahuga Jaya ferry links the main Java island with southern Sumatra island. It went down after departing from Merak port in Java.

Ferries are a major source of transportation in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 17,000 islands and a population of 240 million. Sea accidents are common due to overcrowding and poor safety standards.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (September 27, 2012 10:09AM)

MarketWatch: Indonesia and Philippines come of age –Twin Economies

During the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, Indonesia and the Philippines were bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.

This year, they showed the world how far they've come from those dark days by pledging a billion dollars each to replenish the IMF's kitty.

With rapidly growing economies and rising incomes, the two countries are home to a large and young labor force, an expanding middle class and have stable, elected governments with policies inspiring investor confidence. They also have sturdy banks and enough foreign exchange reserves — more than a year's imports in the Philippines's case — to rebuff a misguided run on their currencies.See: Banks in Indonesia and the Philippines flourish.

In an economically vibrant Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines stand out as the region's "New Tigers" with the potential to leave a bigger imprint on global growth for years to come while the developed world struggles with excess debt and traditional regional heavyweights China and India lose momentum.

"You have a real contrast, which is why these markets have been doing well," said Andrew Swan, head of Asian fundamental equities at BlackRock. "We've had 3 to 5 years of great growth. But because there is so much room for growth, this can go on for so many more years."

Each has also received credit rating upgrades since 2011, with Indonesia now rated investment grade by Moody's and Fitch. Their stock markets are among the world's best performing since the end of 2008 — Indonesian shares tripled during the period from beaten-down valuations, and are closely followed by Philippine equities.See: Global investors key into Indonesia and the Philippines.

Unlike the West, government finances are shipshape. Jakarta's gross government debt was 25% of GDP in 2011, and Manila's 41%, according to IMF data, leaving both enough room to boost their economies in case of need.

The Philippines has a current account surplus of 2.74% of its GDP, thanks to remittances from its vast diaspora. Indonesia swung to a deficit in the first half of this year as lower commodity prices hurt exports, and as imports of capital goods and machinery increased.

Agriculture employs at least a third of the workforce in both countries, and domestic consumption is an important driver of their economies. That protects them from external shocks to an extent — both escaped a recession in 2009, when the Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean economies contracted. But both also need tens of billions of dollars in foreign direct investment, especially to create infrastructure and pursue industrialization.

Stocks are more expensive than in north Asia, and the two nations are by no means immune to global shocks. But barring a post-Lehman Brothers'-like blowout crisis — in or outside the euro zone — potential reward is seen outweighing risk on balance.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (September 27, 2012)

US lifting import ban on Myanmar goods

The United States is to ease a ban on imports from Myanmar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Myanmar leader Thein Sein on Wednesday, lifting the last major trade sanction on the country.

The move, which will have to be carried out in conjunction with Congress, comes just over a week after democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi started a historic visit to the United States by calling for an end to sanctions.

Clinton told the Myanmar president that in recognition of the rapid reforms made by his Southeast Asian nation, once ruled by a military junta, "the United States is taking the next step in normalizing our commercial relationship."

"We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States. We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market."

The ban on imports from Myanmar, also known as Burma, was imposed under a 2003 act by Congress, although there was little trade at the time, with America mostly importing some hardwoods and gems, and some garments.

US officials will now have to examine each sector with Congress and decide how best to go about easing the sanctions.

Thein Sein met Clinton Wednesday ahead of his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, during a landmark visit to the United States that coincides with a triumphal American tour by Suu Kyi.

"The people of Myanmar are very pleased with the easing of economic sanctions by the United States. We are very grateful for the actions of the United States," he told Clinton, as the two leaders met for the third time.

Thein Sein is expected to outline to the UN his plans for the future of his fast-changing nation during his first trip to the US since taking power last year and ushering in a period of rapid reform.

The move to ease the import ban comes after Washington lifted sanctions on US investment in Myanmar in June.

A senior State Department official said the talks were very "warm," adding it was "clear that Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi make a very effective team."

"We have watched as you and your government have continued the steady process of reform and we have been pleased to respond with specific steps which recognize the government's efforts and encourage further reform," Clinton added.

Clinton and Thein Sein also discussed political issues, including Myanmar's reconciliation process, and the landmines that still litter the countryside.

Clinton "noted that a lot of work still needs to be done," he said, adding that the chief US diplomat had again highlighted the issue of political prisoners.

She also again called on Myanmar to "cut off any kind of military relationship with North Korea."

The two also talked about tensions in western Rakhine state, where about 80 people, both Buddhists and Rohingya, were killed in unrest in June.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Suu Kyi has been feted since arriving in the country last week. The Nobel laureate has been received with acclaim already receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, the top honor bestowed by the legislature. She also met President Barack Obama at the White House.

But while US officials have taken pains to stress that Thein Sein deserves credit for Myanmar's breathless pace of change after nearly half a century of junta rule, there are no official plans for him to meet Obama.

The United States last week lifted 2007 sanctions on the Myanmar president and lower house parliament speaker Shwe Mann, removing them from the US Treasury's list of "Specially Designated Nationals."

The agenda for Suu Kyi's unprecedented US tour includes nearly 100 events across the country but rules out a chance of her crossing paths with Thein Sein.-Interaksyon (September 27, 2012 7:28AM)

Pentagon official sees 'liftoff' of US-PH alliance

Mark Lippert talks with President Obama
A senior Pentagon official has revealed a three-part approach adopted by the US Department of Defense to further military-to-military relations between the US and the Philippines.

In a report posted in the US Department of Defense website, Mark W. Lippert, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said the US-Philippines alliance plays a prominent role in the security landscape of the Asia-Pacific region.

“I would say this is one of the most important alliances we have. It’s a critically important part of our security discussions in Asia. The mil-to-mil relations have been on an upswing over the past decade," he said at a conference hosted by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lippert said he believes working-level contacts between the 2 countries have developed and matured, putting the United States in a strong position to work collaboratively with Manila on security-related issues.

He explained a three-part approach to illustrate what the Defense Department is doing to help further the alliance.

The first point, he explained, involves pre-positioning of humanitarian and disaster relief supplies and enhancing communication infrastructure "so the two militaries can talk more effectively to each other."

Another effort, he said, is developing a maritime awareness, with the most tangible result being a coastal watch center that was announced at a meeting of the two nations’ defense and diplomatic leaders earlier this year.

“The second line of operation is our mil-to-mil engagement,” Lippert said. “Again, that’s been going on for quite some time. It’s really reached new levels."

He said exercises are another important aspect of broadening and deepening the military-to-military relationship. "I think we’re really poised for a liftoff here," he said.

"I think, in part, it’s a tribute to all the good work that has been done in the past decade or so."-ABS-CBN News (September 27, 2012 12:00PM

Del Rosario: Philippines will respond to China ships

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday said the Philippine government may have to respond to the continued  stay of Chinese ships in the waters of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario, in a keynote speech at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) forum in Washington, D.C, said Manila and Beijing earlier agreed to withdraw ships from Scarborough shoal.

Del Rosario said China has not pulled out all of its ships from the area even if Philippine coast guard ships have already left the shoal's waters.

"There was an agreement between the two countries that ships will be pulled out from the shoal. The Philippines pulled out their ship but the Chinese did not comply with the agreement," he said, answering a question from the largely American audience.

"We were asking them to do so and also as a manifestation of their wanting or expressing their desire of normalizing relations," he added. 

Del Rosario said the Philippines is still assessing the situation.

"We believe they should do this and of course if they continue to violate Philippine sovereign rights in that area,  then we will have to consider a response. We do not know what that response is just yet," he added.

Recent surveillance flights made by the Philippine Air Force revealed that 3 Chinese ships have remained in the waters just outside the shoal's lagoon.

The Chinese have also cordoned off the shoal's entrance using ropes.

 President Benigno Aquino earlier ordered the withdrawal of two government ships from the shoal near Zambales last June due to bad weather.

The Palace said it is considering sending back the ships but there is no final decision on the matter.

Philippines-China ties

In his prepared speech, del Rosario told participants of the CSIS forum that was livestreamed online that the Philippines' diplomatic channels with China remain open.

He also cited the 2 countries' long historical and cultural ties.

"We have friendships with other countries that have their own special characteristics. We have long-standing ties with China, and extensive historical people-to-people links," he said "The President’s family for example, traces their roots to an ancestor from Fujian province in  China.  China is our third largest trading partner, and investments from both sides remain robust."

Del Rosario acknowledged that the Philippines and China "are at a very challenging period" in their relations.

However, he stressed that "the issue in the West Philippine Sea does not constitute the sum total of our relations with China."

"While we are working to strengthen other areas of the bilateral relations, we will not hesitate to speak out to protect our legitimate national interests," he added.

"Nonetheless, the West Philippine Sea remains focus of concern for the Philippines, for the region and for international community.  The West Philippine Sea is naturally a core national interest of the Philippines," he said. "As we have maintained many times before, a rules-based approach is the only legitimate and viable way to address the West Philippine Sea issue." 

Minimum defense posture

He said that with the help of the United States, the Philippines is building its minimum defense level posture to secure its territory.

"Good fences make good neighbors," he said, referring to the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

He said Manila is focused on a peaceful and rules-based approach in its territorial dispute with China.

The DFA chief also outlined the Philippines' 3-track approach to its dispute with China, which are political, diplomatic, and legal tracks.

"Let us not be prisoners to old conflict. We can see a new era of diplomatic resolution," he said.

He also told the forum participants that the Philippines welcomes the US' pivot in the Asia-Pacific. "We believe the US is a balancing factor in the region in promoting security and peace."

Del Rosario did not mention the row caused by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who allegedly accused him of being a "traitor" at the height of the dispute between China and the Philippines.

Del Rosario was one of 3 Cabinet officials who spoke in the forum organized by the CSIS and the US-Philippines Society that was attended by a high-level group of experts and senior policy makers.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima tackled the rule of law and improvements in human rights under the Aquino administration, while Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima discussed the government's efforts and achievements in improving the economy.-ABS-CBN News (September 27, 2012 11:28AM)