Saturday, October 27, 2012

Indonesia arrests 'terrorists' planning US embassy attack

Indonesian police arrested 11 suspected terrorists Saturday, October 27, allegedly planning attacks on the US embassy and an American consulate, a spokesman said.

"The group's objectives were to attack the US embassy in Jakarta and consulate-general in the eastern Javanese city of Surabaya," national police spokesman Suhardi Alius told reporters.

Alius said the group was also targeting a building in the capital near the Australian embassy where US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan has an office.

"We also confiscated an explosive device from a home in the town of Madiun in eastern Java, as well as explosive materials and a bomb-making manual," Alius said.

Anti-terror police Detachment 88 made the arrests in 4 cities, including Jakarta, in a sweep on the island of Java, saying the detained belonged to a new network known as Hasmi.

Explosive materials were also secured from a location in Solo, central Java, and in Bogor on the outskirts of the capital.

Indonesia was rocked by a series of deadly attacks blamed on the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) last decade, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Indonesia has not seen a major attack since 2009 and authorities say a long crackdown on terrorism has debilitated JI.

But smaller terror cells aspiring to an Islamic caliphate through violent means have emerged, though none have carried out any serious attacks.-Rappler (October 27, 2012 8:48PM)

Philippines storm toll rises sharply

The death toll from Typhoon Son-Tinh in the Philippines rose sharply to 24 Saturday as casualty reports came in from isolated central islands and the far-flung south, the government said.

Drowning and landslides were given as the cause of 11 deaths on small islands in the country's mid-section, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest tally.

The other 13 victims were carried away by flash floods, buried by landslides, hit by falling trees and flying debris, electrocuted, or died from exposure to the cold, it added.

The official death toll from the typhoon, which was classed as a weaker "tropical storm" when it passed over the Philippines, had stood at six on Friday.

Eight fishermen from the central and southern Philippines remained missing at sea, the government agency said.

Rescuers are also still searching for a man believed buried in a landslide on the main southern island of Mindanao, it said, adding that more than 15,000 people displaced by the storm were still sheltering at government buildings and receiving disaster aid.

Food and other forms of aid were given to nearly 40,000 others who chose to remain at home or temporarily moved in with relatives or friends, it added.

The Philippines endures about 20 major storms or typhoons each year that occur mainly during the rainy season between June and October.-Channel News Asia (October 27, 2012 1451hrs)

Laos accepted into WTO

GENEVA, Switzerland - The World Trade Organization approved Friday, October 26, the membership of Laos, ending a 15-year effort by the small Southeast Asian communist nation to join the global trade body.

After approval by the General Council, which represents the body's 157 members, WTO chief Pascal Lamy signed an accession protocol with Laos’ chief negotiator, Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh.

Following approval by the Laotian parliament, the country should officially join in early 2013.

"Laos has come a long way since it embarked on the road to membership in 1997,” said Lamy.

Laos, one of Southeast Asia's poorest nations and the only one in the region yet to join the WTO, has enjoyed robust economic growth of more than seven percent a year over the past decade.

Entry into the WTO club brings with it the promise of increased trade volume and new trade partners for Laos, as well as the prospect of fresh investment pouring into the country.

Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said that preparations for WTO membership involved more than just changing laws and regulations.

"We had to change our way of doing business," Sisoulith was quoted as saying in a WTO statement.-Rappler (October 26, 2012 11:26PM)

Bangkok, Hanoi seek 20% increase in trade

Thailand and Vietnam plan to boost bilateral trade and investment by 20 per cent within the next three years by cooperating more closely through holding joint cabinet meetings and later under the Asean Economic Community.

The goal is scheduled to be announced at the second joint cabinet meeting between Thailand and Vietnam in Hanoi today. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will lead her Cabinet on the mission to the Vietnamese capital.

In 2011, bilateral trade between the two nations was worth US$9.08 billion (277 billion baht). Exports from Thailand were valued at $7.05 billion, with imports from Vietnam of $2.03 billion.

Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom said closer collaboration on rice trading would be one of the key topics of discussion among the leaders.

"The cooperation will go beyond the cooperation framework among Asean rice producers. With a strong commitment and mandate from the leaders, the two nations will join forces to work against price dumping in the rice trade to stabilise the price in the world market," Boonsong said.

Bangkok and Hanoi will also cooperate in dividing up the rice market in the near future so that neither country will need to resort to cutting prices. The countries will also seek to eliminate both tariff and non-tariff barriers to rice trading with third countries, and help solve other problems relating to rice trading and standards.

After getting a clear mandate from the leaders, officials will discuss how to cooperate on adding value to rice and processed-rice goods to boost price sustainability.

Moreover, Thailand plans to set up a distribution centre for Thai goods in Vietnam. The Kingdom may build silos and milling plants in Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia to help develop milling standards among Asean rice producers.

Thailand and Vietnam will also strengthen cooperation on tapioca trading under the Tapioca Producer and Exporter Consortium.

A source from the commerce ministry warned that closer rice-trade cooperation between Thailand and Vietnam could be difficult to achieve because of the large gap in the price of rice in the two countries. The price of Thai 5-per-cent white rice is currently quoted at $570 a tonne, while Vietnamese rice is $490.

This will be the second joint cabinet session between the two countries. The first was in 2004 under the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. An agreement to resume the joint meetings was reached when Yingluck visited Vietnam last November.-Asia News Network (October 27, 2012)

5 US Warships are now in the Philippines

Along with the US USS George Washington the super carrier another 2 warships in Palawan and 2 escorts of the super carrier.

As of October 26, 2012 the following US Warships are now in the Philippines

USS George Washington – Super Carrier
USS McCampbell – Escort for the Super Carrier
USS Cowpens – Escort for the Super Carrier
USS John McCain
USS Mustin

Two U.S. Warships in Palawan

Two more US warships have docked in Palawan, the island province that has territorial jurisdiction over some of the Philippines-claimed islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

US authorities identified the ships as the USS John McCain and the USS Mustin.

An official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) -Western Command (Wescom) confirmed that the two US naval vessels arrived Monday two days ahead of the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington at the Manila Bay.

The USS George Washington, the US Navy's only forward-deployed carrier, is accompanied by guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and USS Cowpens, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser. Both McCampbell and Cowpens are now docked at pier 15 in the Manila South Harbor.

Asked about the presence of the two US ships in Palawan, Lt. Col. Neil Estrella, the Wescom spokesman, said that just like USS George Washington, USS McCain and USS Mustin are in the country also for a five-day regular port call.

"They are here for port calls. Foreign naval ships regularly visit us as part of fellowship and to enhance friendship between allied nations," said Estrella.

The docking of the US warships in Palawan came at the same time Chinese Navy vessels were spotted in the West Philippine Sea.

Estrella said USS McCain and USS Mustin, currently in Puerto Princesa City, are also part of the USS George Washington carrier strike group.

On Thursday, USS George Washington commanding officer Capt. Gregory Fenton said, "I would characterize this port visit as a routine port visit, as a breaker from our normal operations which we conduct."

Fenton said they are "very sensitive to the areas that are under dispute" such that they "do make a very conscious effort to stay away from those areas."

"I believe that we are firmly committed to helping support the nations that are involved in those disputes. But ideally, we'd like to see them sort out those disputes via diplomatic channels," he added.

He stressed, however, that their presence in the area would help safeguard freedom of navigation.

"One of the reasons we deploy throughout the region is so we can carry forth the banner of freedom of navigation. It is very important to us, given the trade that travels throughout the region on the seas," said Fenton.

The USS George Washington's visit to the country will allow the ship's crew to take a break from the arduous operational tempo that comes with forward-deployed life.

Its sailors will also have the opportunity to interact with the locals via several community service projects set up by the ship. Projects include interacting with school children, teaching basic first-aid at a local hospital facility, and general cleaning and landscaping.

"My Sailors willingly volunteer their time because they genuinely want to help their fellow man," said Fenton.

"This is a constant in each of our port visits and this fact is not lost on a lot of people; these men and women have a significant impact on the many lives they help. At the end of the day, we all walk away feeling like we've made a difference in someone's life, and that is truly the most rewarding feeling that anybody can have," he said.

The George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (October 26, 2012)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thai, Japanese riders clash in Asian moto showdown

<B>Mathematical shot:</B> Spanish MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo of team Yamaha riding in the rain during the second practice session at Sepang yesterday.

Thai Arnon Theplib and Japan’s Tomoya Suzuki, the frontrunners of the centerpiece Asian 125 category of the FIM Asia Motocross/Supercross Championship, brace for a title showdown this weekend at resumption of Asia’s premier motocross event at the Speedworld MX Circuit in SM Bicutan, Parañaque.

The event hosted by the Namssa has been dubbed the Jack Enrile Namssa Asian Supercross Championship in a tribute to the Cagayan Rep., a sportsman and motorcycle sport enthusiast, for his invaluable support and contributions to the development and promotion of motorcycle sports in the country.

On tap are two rounds of the Asian Motocross/Supercross Championship. Riders from the three Asian classes (Asian 125, Asian Junior 85 and Asian Veterans) will run two motos for Round 3 tomorrow and the two motos for the Round 4 on Sunday. Moto 1 of the national classes (Round 8 of the Namssa’s National Motocross Development Program) will be held tomorrow and Moto 2 on Sunday.If rains continue today, the practice and qualifying sessions will instead be set tomorrow to keep the racetrack safe and fit for the motos.

Namssa president Macky Carapiet cited Puerto Princesa City’s Mayor Edward Hagedorn, the Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee for their continuing support for Namssa’s grassroots development programs for motorcycle sports. over the years. The NAMSSA will be hosting the Mayor Edward Hagedorn Cup on November 18 in the races marking the 9th and final leg of the 2012 NAMSSA National Motocross Development Program.

Theplib, with the able support of his wingman Jugkrit Suksripaisan, finished first in all motos of the opening rounds held in Puerto Princesa City and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Things will be different this time around, as the hard-riding Suzuki will be backed–up by compatriot Hiroshi Kawamura to defuse the two-pronged charge of the Thai tandem which he had to contend with on his own during the opening legs.

Aside from the Thais and the Japanese, riders and race officials from Sri Lanka, Guam, Mongolia, China, Russia, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines are expected at the venue beginning Friday for the practice and qualifying sessions.

Reigning Philippine National Motocross Rider of the Year Kenneth San Andres and veteran Jovie Saulog will be carrying the torch for the Philippines in the Asian 125 class. San Andres and Saulog are both looking forward to trouble-free runs to finally land a spot on the winners’ podium.

Defending Asian 85cc champion Mark Reggie Flores of San Pablo City, along with Gabriel Macaso from Cabanatuan, Radzie Kallahal from Tuburan, Basilan, Christian Ramento from Marikina, Jean Earl Jean Brylle Ornopia from Cebu and lady rider Jade Nabua from Bataan are expected to meet stiff competition from Mongolia’s Khishigmunk Munkhbolor and Sri Lanka’s Jacque Gunawardena in the Asian Junior 85 category.

Guam’s Stanley Yasuhiro will have his hands full taking on Philippine veterans Roman Llorente, Raymond Espinosa, Junjun San Andres and Gimo Gonzales in the Asian Veterans category.

For more information on the Jack Enrile NAMSSA Asian Supercross Championship and other NAMSSA organized/sanctioned events and activities, visit or the NAMSSA Secretariat Facebook page.

Laguna dominates athletics; rains halt play 
The Philippine Star

CALAPAN, Oriental Mindoro – Laguna added 13 more gold medals in athletics and one in table tennis while the host province dominated arnis in the Philippine Olympic Committee-Philippine Sports Commission Batang Pinoy Games Southern Luzon leg here yesterday.

Triple-gold medalists Rocena Chua and Merrielyn Judilla led Laguna’s charge on the track by ruling the girls’ 14-15 4x100m relay.

With 400m run winner Jiezelle Alcantara and 1500m run gold medalist Trisha Ramirez anchoring the team, the quartet clocked 57 seconds to beat the relay teams of Oriental Mindoro (59 seconds) and Calapan City (1:04.2).

After topping the high jump, Chua of Biñan, Laguna took the gold in 100m hurdles in 18.2 seconds, defeating Ercel Santelices Oiga of Palawan (20.3) and Laguna’s Mary Jane Mantilla, who had the same clocking as Oiga.

Judilla ruled the 100m dash in 13.6 seconds to subdue Oriental Mindoro’s Lanie Malapit (13.8) and Oiga (14.3) before adding the long jump gold with a 4.86-meter leap. Laguna’s Jessica Orense took the silver (4.57) and Laiza Mae Gabayno of Oriental Mindoro placed third (4.29).

“I want to go home with lots of medals,” said Chua, a 14-year-old sophomore high schooler from St. Michael College of Laguna. She could make it four in a row with a victory in the 400m hurdles.

Organizers, meanwhile, decided to cancel most of the games yesterday as heavy rains battered the venues due to Typhoon Ofel. Mindoro was placed under Signal No. 2.

PSC commissioner Jolly Gomez announced that badminton, chess, karatedo, lawn tennis and swimming will be played tomorrow while the resumption of action in athletics depends on the condition of the Jose Leido Memorial High School track oval.

Laguna also scored in table tennis with Christian Jorge Victorio frustrating the wildly cheering crowd by downing Jerome Fernando of Calapan City, 10-12, 11-7, 11-7, 11-2, in the boys’ singles finals.

Trisha Suario of Lucban, Quezon defeated townmate Coreen Paruan, 11-5, 8-11, 11-4, 11-9 for the gold in the girls’ singles.

Ervin Russel Marayan delivered Oriental Mindoro’s first gold medal in this year’s talent discovery meet for athletes 15 years old and under.

Marayan got 43 points from the judges to defeat Calapan City’s Janssen Paul Delgado (38 pts) in the anyo individual double identical weapon in boys’ arnis. Delgado earlier won the anyo single weapon over Oriental Mindoro’s Justine James Magnaye.

In boxing, three entries from Puerto Princesa City won their initial bouts with Franklin dela Cernia (paper weight) stopping Oriental Mindoro’s Hyrie Honorica at 1:58 in the second round.

Puerto Princesa’s Warlito Tabat (powder) made short work of Quezon’s Marlon Artita in the first round and Franklin Racuya defeated Calapan’s Tyrone Delizo, 5-0, in the mosquito weight division.-ABS-CBN News (October 26, 2012 4:06PM)

Japan firms relocating to Phl

A growing number of Japanese manufacturers currently operating in China are relocating or planning to relocate to the Philippines.

According to Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) executive vice president and corporate banking group head Alfonso L. Salcedo Jr. they have existing Japanese clients, as well as potential borrowers, that have expressed interest in locating in Philippine economic zones (ecozones).

“Some of them are either expanding their Asian manufacturing operations aside from their existing locations in China, while others intimated said that they were pulling completely out of China and mulling the Philippines as their primary target for relocation,” Salcedo told newsmen yesterday.

The Japanese manufacturers/locators said that Chinese labor is becoming expensive in terms of wages, and in terms of training costs. The latter due to the fluidity of a “choosy” labor force that “are leisurely shopping around for jobs.”

 “Employee loyalties are very low,” he added.

Constant changes in employment are forcing locators to regularly train “new” hires.

Other reasons are the increasing territorial disputes between Japan and China, which was aggravated by the mounting cases of reported vandalism against Japanese nationals in China.

Salcedo said that this was a golden opportunity for the Philippines to lure foreign direct investments (FDIs).

Last year, economists from both the private and multilateral funding agencies urged the Philippines to take advantage of the migration of the manufacturing locators from China.

However, experts warned that one of the major considerations of locators is the condition of the host country’s infrastructure system.

Last Tuesday, the World Bank and the International Finance Corp. (IFC) released its Ease of Doing Business 2013 report, which saw the country fall two notches lower from its 136th in the 2012 report to 138.

Salcedo said that its Japanese corporate account tops BPI’s foreign borrowers under its corporate banking group. It is worth a little over P10 billion of BPI’s total corporate banking loan portfolio of P350 billion.

“It is growing by an average 20 percent yearly,” the BPI executive vice president said.

The corporate banking group’s loan portfolio is composed of 80,000 accounts of which 70,000 are classified as small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Salcedo said that its fastest growing sector is the services sector, followed by the utilities and the real estate sectors. All there sectors are averaging an annual growth rate of roughly 20 percent.-Black Pearl (October 26, 2012 7:16PM)

20 dead, UN 'alarmed' after new Myanmar unrest

YANGON - A new wave of communal unrest in western Myanmar has killed at least 20 people, officials said Thursday, forcing thousands to flee their homes and prompting the UN to express grave concern.

Hundreds of homes have been burnt in the fresh unrest in Rakhine state, which was convulsed by Buddhist-Muslim clashes in June that tore apart communities and left tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya languishing in camps.

More than 100 people have now been killed in the state since June, according to the authorities who have imposed emergency rule in the face of continued explosive tension in the region.

Rakhine state spokesman Myo Thant told AFP that the latest violence had left at least 20 dead so far, from both the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities, in clashes since October 21.

He said the death toll could be as high as 50 but a final figure was difficult to confirm immediately as security forces struggled to reach remote areas where the clashes occurred.

The United Nations said in a statement it was "gravely concerned" at the resurgence of violence and called for calm while the United States pleaded for an "immediate halt" to the clashes.

"The UN is alarmed by reports of displacements and destruction," said its chief in Yangon, Ashok Nigam, adding that the new unrest in Rakhine had "resulted in deaths and has forced thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes".

He appealed for "immediate and unconditional access to all communities in accordance with humanitarian principles", while special UN rapporteur on rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana urged the government to investigate all allegations of violations in a report to the United Nations General Assembly.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington "urges parties to exercise restraint and immediately halt all attacks".

About 75,000 people are estimated still to be displaced following the June unrest. The UN expressed fears over large numbers of people fleeing to the "already overcrowded" camps near the state capital of Sittwe.

Myo Thant said at least 80 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists are thought to have been injured in the latest flare-up, but he had no figures for wounded Muslims.

Earlier, he told AFP that houses were torched in another town on Thursday morning.

State media said late Thursday that almost 2,000 homes had been torched in clashes in four townships, giving a death toll of 12 from Sunday to Wednesday.

The announcement said there were "people and organisations masterminding the disputes" and warned that these would be prosecuted.

Soldiers were helping provide security to affected areas, including around the state's main tourist attraction of Mrauk U and Kyaukpyu, where a major pipeline to transport Myanmar gas to China begins.

Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh by the government and many Burmese -- who call them "Bengalis".

Intercommunal bloodshed in Rakhine has cast a shadow over widely praised reforms by President Thein Sein, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

Rights groups fear the real death toll could far exceed official figures.

"The way in which the situation has developed is very worrying," said Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project which campaigns for Rohingya rights.

"It seems that there is a desire to eliminate Rohingyas from all the townships where they are a minority, continuing what occurred in Sittwe."

AFP journalists visiting Rakhine in recent days saw thousands of Muslim Rohingya trapped behind barbed wire and armed guards in a ghetto in the centre of the capital.

Tens of thousands more are housed in camps beyond the city limits as segregation between the two communities intensifies.

There have been a series of recent anti-Muslim protests by Buddhists in Myanmar against and the country's main Islamic organisations have opted to cancel celebrations for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday that begins on Friday.

The stateless Rohingya, speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, have long been considered by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet.

Bangladesh on Thursday mobilised extra patrols along its river border with Myanmar amid reports of dozens of boats carrying Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing the clashes.

"We've stepped up vigilance to make sure they can't enter our territory," Border Guard Bangladesh commander Colonel Zahid Hasan told AFP.

Bangladesh drew criticism from the UN after it turned back boatloads of Rohingya, mainly women and children, after the June violence. But the nation said it would not accept any new refugees because it was already burdened with an estimated 300,000 Rohingya.-ABS-CBN News (October 26, 2012 8:01AM)

The PH model for learning English

BANGKOK, Thailand - Never in man's history has the demand for the English language been this great. It has become an indispensable commodity around the world. Globalization, of course, has been one of the main catalysts behind this phenomenon.

It is not uncommon nowadays, for instance, for two individuals of different nationalities to troubleshoot technical problems or place orders in an instant despite the geographical differences that divide them.

California-based Mark only needs to dial a toll-free number to get directed to Manila-based call center agent Geoffrey who takes his call for tech support and asks him some preliminary questions. In a few minutes, Mark gets satisfied with Geoffrey's customer support service. Meantime, Geoffrey waits for another call that may come from the UK or any part of the English-speaking countries.

This scenario has become a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week routine, making it a way of life for many Filipinos in major urban centers in the Philippines.

In a recent study involving the Business English Index (BEI), the only tool that measures business proficiency in English in the workplace, the Philippines surfaced as the world's best country in business English proficiency, even besting the US.

The 2012 results demonstrated that out of the 76 countries that participated in the study, the Philippines was the only country that went above 7.0, “a BEI level within range of a high proficiency that indicates an ability to take an active role in business discussions and perform relatively complex tasks.” This came out even as the Philippines has been reported to have overtaken India as the international hub for call centers.


But how did this phenomenon start? What has made the 20-year-old call center industry in the Philippines successful? Can other non-native speaking countries learn from the Philippine experience? A number of reasons have been cited, but the Filipinos’ competence in the English language tops the list.

In GlobalEnglish Corporation's BEI study, skills such as taking participatory roles in business-related conversations or carrying out relatively complex responsibilities are highly prized. GlobalEnglish also implied that other more basic skills such as being able to “understand or communicate basic information during virtual or in-person meetings, read or write professional e-mails in English or deal with complexity and rapid change in a global business environment” were accounted as well.

Tom Kahl, GlobalEnglish president, noted that being able to convey ideas with ease and work with others within a multinational setting help boost an organization’s finances. The study revealed that the 7.11 score of the Philippines, the only country reaching the intermediate level, may help explain why the country’s economic condition has improved, placing it in the Top 5 in the 2011 and 2012 World Bank GDP data.

Aside from those cited by GlobalEnglish, an executive from an American company outsourcing customer service calls to a Philippine-based call center underscored the value of knowing how to use certain phrases and idioms.

The edge

It may seem fairly basic, but it counts as another factor why English-speaking Filipinos are highly preferred over their Indian counterparts. This may be correlated to a person’s vocabulary and grammar being central to his success or failure in every communication.

In Barry Tomalin’s “India Rising: The Need for Two Way Training,” he cited vocabulary and grammar use as a source of pressure for Indian call center agents. They tend to use “long, indirect questions, which prolong the exchange. Done out of politeness, it can actually be counterproductive as it draws out the exchange beyond what is necessary.”

The use of some words, such as “prepone” instead of saying “bring forward,” or “I will bring the needful” instead of saying “I'll do what is needed,” which may not be clear to multinational clients, further causes miscommunication. In short, knowing standard expressions offers a huge pay-off.

To become effective users of any language, one has to understand also the culture within which the language is used. Braj Kachru, a well-known linguist dubbed the “father” of World Englishes, once said that language and culture are intertwined.

To know and understand any language, one has to know and understand its culture as well. In the case of Filipinos, this does not seem to be a daunting task at all. The Philippines has long been prepared for this. With a century-old history of having been exposed to anything American, the Filipinos are more familiar with Western practices than other Asians.

This criterion might be frowned upon by other non-native English-speaking countries for fear of dampening their people’s sense of nationalism. Of course, for a non-native speaker of English to successfully know and understand the target language, he does not necessarily have to embrace the same set-up Filipinos have.

One practical advice Filipinos offer is that the support system to learn any language at the very least should be present. This means having a ready access to the English language inside and outside the classroom anytime.

External support

In the Philippines, most signages and outdoor billboards are in English, there is a proliferation of Hollywood films in cinemas and American sitcoms on TV – without sub-titles in Filipino, official government documents are in English, as are nearly half of the local songs recorded (even as Top 40 songs from the US enjoy extensive airplay).

Parents use the English language with their children even before they go to school. Middle- to upper-class members of society use English when on the phone, when they e-mail, and when they chat. All these, they say, have never threatened their sense of patriotism, as patriotism – they argue – is what lies in one’s heart and soul.

With the ASEAN Economic Community starting in 2015, member-states are now busy preparing for the integration. Inasmuch as people are looking forward to enjoying the opportunities that the community-building will offer, it also brings with it challenges.

One of these is the people’s need to become competent players not only in their own countries, but also within the region. With competence closely tied to a worker’s communication skills, non-native speakers of English are faced with questions propelling them to reflect on whether they are as good or better than their counterparts in neighboring countries.

In the midst of all these, the Philippine experience may not necessarily be a perfect language learning model to the peoples of ASEAN. However, somewhere along the country's journey in making its citizens communicatively competent, perhaps some lessons can be picked up and put to good use.-Rapler (October 25, 2012 8:33PM)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indonesia under fire over death-row convicts in Malaysia

An Indonesian non-governmental organisation stated yesterday that the government had not provided legal aid for two brothers on death row for murder in neighbouring Malaysia.

Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah confirmed that the two Indonesians, who were found guilty of murdering an ethnic Indian burglar who broke into their lodgings, were represented by lawyers hired by their employer, not by the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur or the Indonesian Task Force for Troubled Migrant Workers, as had been claimed.

"We are very disappointed with the Indonesian government, which has done nothing to protect the two Indonesian citizens. If they had proper representation, they would not be facing harsh punishment," Hidayah, who was visiting the two convicts at Kajang Prison in Selangor, Malaysia, told The Jakarta Post by telephone yesterday.

Migrant Care focuses on providing legal advocacy for migrant workers.

Manpower and Transmigration Ministry spokesman Suhartono said in Jakarta that the government had provided maximum legal aid to the two convicts even though they had entered and worked in Malaysia illegally.

"The government has given maximum legal aid to the two Indonesian citizens," Suhartono said.

He declined to identify the lawyers supposedly hired by the Indonesian Embassy to represent the two defendants during their trial at the Shah Alam Higher Court in Selangor.

Frans Hiu, 22, and Dharry Frully, 20, from East Kalimantan, were sentenced to death on October 18, after they were found guilty of murdering Kharti Raja on Dec. 3, 2010.

The murder happened when the two and a Malaysian co-worker were awakened from their sleep by the presence of Raja in their lodgings.

He had failed to gain entry through the back door and instead attempted to enter the shop-house through the ceiling, but startled them awake when he fell through it.

The two brothers tied Raja up and dragged him outside and waited for the Malaysian police to arrive. They said the burglar was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and they were therefore able to apprehend him easily.

Hiu told the court that he and his brother did not kill Raja.

Hiu said further that the burglar was dying when they dragged him out of the premises.

However, the indictment stated that the two killed the victim through blunt force trauma.

Hidayah called on the Indonesian government to hire a professional lawyer to appeal to the Supreme Court or apply for amnesty from the Malaysian king to save the brothers from the death sentence.

Their father Bong Jit Min, 55, met with House of Representatives Commission IX on labour and health affairs yesterday to ask for the House's help to save his sons from the gallows.

Rieke Diah Pitaloka, a member of the House commission, said her commission had coordinated with the Foreign Ministry to provide legal advocacy to the two migrant workers.-Asia News Network (October 25, 2012)

Singapore Airlines to end world's longest flights

The world's longest commercial flight — Singapore to Newark, N.J. — is being cancelled.

Singapore Airlines announced yesterday that it will end its nonstop flight between Singapore and Newark, a distance of about 9,500 miles. A slightly shorter route between Singapore and Los Angeles will also end. The two routes were flown on gas-guzzling Airbus A340-500s.

The airline found the only way to make the routes profitable was by configuring the plane with 98 business class seats that sell for about $8,000 roundtrip. Other airlines operate the same plane with about 250 seats in first, business and economy classes.

The flight from Newark, right outside New York, to Singapore takes about 18 hours. The trip from Los Angeles is about 1,500 miles shorter but takes 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Headwinds over the Pacific Ocean slow the Los Angeles flight while the Newark flight goes over the North Pole and can fly faster. The Newark flight is the longest distance flight in the world and the Los Angeles one holds the record for duration. The flights started in 2004.

The new titles for longest flights will go to a Qantas route between Sydney and Dallas — which at about 8,500 miles is the longest route — and a Delta flight between Johannesburg and Atlanta, which at 17 hours will hold the title of longest duration.

Singapore Airlines is selling its five A340-500s back to Airbus as part of a deal announced yesterday. Singapore is ordering five more Airbus A380s and another 20 A350s. The planes have a list price of $7.5 billion but airlines often negotiate steep discounts for large orders. Deliveries are due to begin in 2017.

Singapore currently operates 19 A380-800 superjumbos. It already had firm orders in place for 20 A350s, for delivery starting in 2015.

The A340s currently used on the world's longest flights will be retired by the end of 2013. Singapore will continue to serve New York on its existing A380 route which connects in Frankfurt. Los Angeles has existing A380 service via Tokyo, which will also continue.-The Philippine Star (October 25, 2012 5:26AM)

The search for the ASEAN 'Ultimate Football Fan' is on

Southeast Asian football fans have a passion for the game that is like nowhere else in the world.

They bring a vibrancy and intensity to the sport that alights the senses and makes the AFF Suzuki Cup such an incredible tournament where the Philippine Azkals are looking to surpass their semifinals stint two years ago.

With just a month to go before AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 kicks off, fans are being given the chance to show their passion and be in with a chance to win the Ultimate AFF Suzuki Cup prize pack including a Suzuki Nex motorcycle, Samsung Galaxy S3 Mobile Phone, Toshiba tablets, Nike products and Nikon cameras!

It’s easy to enter with fans simply having to “like” the official AFF Suzuki Cup Facebook page ( and upload a photo showing why they should be voted as ASEAN’s Ultimate Fan!

Sharing is key as it will be other fans who vote for the eventual winner so entrants will need to rally their friends to show they truly deserve the title and the spoils that go with it.

“Following a record breaking event in 2010, we wanted to reward fans for the unwavering support of their national teams. What better way to do that than through a search for ASEAN’s Ultimate Fan,” said Ian Mathie, Senior Vice-President, Football – South Asia, Asean and Australia. “We have seen outstanding growth across our digital platforms and this promotion will continue to develop this area and further position the AFF Suzuki Cup at the forefront of the development of ASEAN football”.

The 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup will be held from November 24th to December 22nd with group stage matches in Malaysia and Thailand. The semi-finals and final matches will be played on a home and away basis.-The Philippine Star (October 25, 2012 2:30PM)

Philippines is the best place in Asia for Women dreaming power and Gender Equality: WEF

Philippines is Asia's best in closing gender gaps

GENEVA -- (AFP) - Women are closing the gender gap with men in health and education but struggle to get top jobs and salaries, data from a study of 135 countries showed on Wednesday (October 24, 2012).

Top 10 Global Gender Equality Ranking

  1. Iceland (1st)
  2. Finland (2nd)
  3. Norway (3rd)
  4. Sweden (4th)
  5. Ireland (5ft)
  6. New Zealand (6th)
  7. Denmark (7th)
  8. Philippines (8th)
  9. Nicaragua (9th)
  10. Switzerland (10th)

ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations Rankings

  1. the Philippines (8th)
  2. Singapore (55th)
  3. Thailand (65th)
  4. Vietnam (66th)
  5. Brunei Darussalam (75th)
  6. Indonesia (97th)
  7. Malaysia (100th) a
  8. Cambodia (103rd)
  9. Myanmar and Laos are not included in the list.

Top 5 Worst Place for Women with Lowest gender Equality Ranking that Stuck at the bottom of the list are

  • Yemen (135th)
  • Pakistan (134th
  • Chad (133rd)
  • Syria (132nd)
  • Saudi Arabia (131st)

"Gaps in senior positions, wages and leadership levels still persist," even in countries that promote equality in education and have a high level of economic integration among women, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said in its annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The new figures were released just hours after a European Union initiative to set a 40-percent quota for women on the boards of listed companies stalled because of a lack of support.

The report, which covered more than 90 percent of the world's population, looked at how nations distribute resources and opportunities between women and men.

It found that the Nordic countries, headed by Iceland, Finland and Norway, had done the best job of closing the gap, while Chad, Pakistan and Yemen had the worst rankings.

While almost all countries had made progress in closing the gap in healthcare and education between women and men, only 60 percent of countries had managed to narrow the economic gender gap and only 20 percent had progressed on a political level, the study said.

Of the top four global economies, the United States, Japan and Germany all made progress in closing their economic gender gap in 2012.

However, they slipped in the overall ranking, which also looks at health, education and politics, with Germany falling two spots to 13th place, the United States sliding five spots to 22nd, and Japan dipping to 101st from 98th last year.

China, which took a step backwards when it came to closing the economic gender gap, also fell in the overall ranking to 69th place from 66th last year.

Greece, which ranked 82nd, registered one of the biggest falls since 2011, when it ranked 56th -- largely owing to a change in the percentage of women holding ministerial positions, from 31 percent in 2011 to only six percent in 2012.

Countries such as Nicaragua (9) and Luxembourg (17) climbed up the ranking thanks to an increase in the percentage of women in parliament.

Reducing the male-female employment gap has been an important driver of European economic growth in the last decade, the report said.

It added that introducing even more equality could boost US gross domestic product by nine percent and eurozone GDP by up to 13 percent.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Tuesday that a move to set a 40-percent quota for women on the boards of listed companies had been delayed amid an ongoing row over the lack of female candidates for a key European Central Bank (ECB) job.

Reding, who was scheduled to present the plan, said on Twitter: "Gender balance directive postponed," owing to insufficient support for the idea within the 27-member European Commission.

The delay came a day after the European Parliament's economic affairs committee rejected the nomination of Luxembourger Yves Mersch to the ECB executive board, because it would result in an all-male board until 2018.

The WEF report said that closing the global gender gap was fundamental to economic growth and stability. It pointed out that no country in the Middle East or North Africa featured in the top 100 of the index: these were regions often troubled by instability and frequently pointed to when gender inequality is discussed.

Elsewhere in Africa, however, five countries ranked in the top 30.

By region, the Philippines (8) remained the highest-ranking country from Asia in the index.

With women making up 50 percent of countries' "human capital", governments needed to find ways to benefit from their talent, insisted Saadia Zahidi, senior director at the World Economic Forum.

"If that capital is not invested in, educated or healthy, countries are going to lose out in terms of their long-term potential," she said.

Only six countries had showed an improvement of 10 percentage points since the report launched seven years ago, Zahidi added, and almost 75 countries have improved by less than five points.

"So the progress is very slow... even though we are seeing a trend in a positive direction," she said.

Philippines leads Asian countries in Global Gender Gap Report

The Philippines remained as the top Asian country in ensuring that men and women have equal access to rights and privileges, including economic opportunities, a report released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum showed.

The country remained at the 8th spot of the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2012, which ranks countries based on their ability to close the gender gap in healthcare, education, political participation and economic equality.

"The Philippines remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the Index. It ranks 1st on both education and health and is also among the top 20 on economic participation and political empowerment. The Philippines is the only country in Asia this year to have closed the gender gap in both education and health," the report said.

It added that the country also performs in the top 10 of indicators that include legislators, senior officials and managers, literacy rate, enrolment in secondary education and years with female head of state.

The Philippines has already elected two women presidents which include Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In August, President Benigno S. Aquino III appointed Maria Lourdes Sereno chief justice of the Supreme Court, the first female to hold the position.

Ranked ahead of the Philippines are Iceland (1st), Finland (2nd), Norway (3rd), Sweden (4th), Ireland(5), New Zealand (6th) and Denmark (7th), while Nicaragua (9th) and Switzerland (10th) rounded out the top 10.

Among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Philippines is followed by Singapore (55th), Thailand (65th), Vietnam (66th), Brunei Darussalam (75th), Indonesia (97th), Malaysia (100th) and Cambodia (103rd). Myanmar and Laos are not included in the list.

Among economic powerhouses, the United States is ranked 22nd, China is 69th and Japan is 101st.

Stuck at the bottom of the list are Saudi Arabia (131st), Syria (132nd), Chad (133rd), Pakistan (134th) and Yemen (135th).

The report said there is a strong correlation between countries at the top of the index and the countries that are most economically competitive.

"The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to attract the best talents," said Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman.

"In the future, talent will be more important than capital or anything else. To develop the gender dimension is not just a question of equality; it is the entry card to succeed and prosper in an ever more competitive world," he added.-Rebuilding for the Better Philippines (October 25, 2012)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What is driving the Philippine economy?

It is remarkable that the Philippine economy has been showing dynamism this year so far, even with a sluggish world economy. This implies that the energy driving our economic growth lately is coming from within. Indeed it is internal demand—that is, we Filipinos ourselves purchasing our goods and services—that has provided the current impetus for heightened economic activity, thereby providing increased jobs and incomes for Filipinos. I will explain some of the evidence on this below.

In basic economics, we are taught that the products and services produced in the economy are bought by four major sectors: private consumers for their consumption needs; businesses and firms for their real investment requirements such as structures, equipment and materials; government for public infrastructure and services, and for its own consumption requirements like office supplies and equipment; and foreigners who buy our products and services as we export them abroad, or buy them here as tourists.

Growth in spending by any or all of these would propel growth in the economy as a whole, as increased demand for goods and services would certainly draw a response of greater production on the part of the economy’s producers.

What’s more, any rise in spending by any of these four sectors of the economy provokes a multiplier effect that leads to even more growth in economic activity. This is because any new spending leads to a chain reaction of new incomes and consequent new spending. If a company spends 100 million pesos (US$2.4 million) on a new factory, this turns into 100 million pesos in total incomes received by contractors, engineers, construction workers, suppliers of equipment and construction materials and others.

But that’s not the end of it. Those various people now have more money to spend or save as they choose. If people save 20 pesos out of every additional 100-peso income they receive on the average, then the original 100 million pesos of investment spending turns into a new round of 80 million pesos in spending on various things such as food, clothing, appliances, etc. that those construction people normally spend their incomes on. And since anyone’s spending turns into someone else’s income, that second-round 80 million pesos in incomes turns into a third round of spending amounting to 64 million pesos. This becomes yet another round of incomes spurring yet another round of spending, and so on down the line.

Ultimately, the 100 million pesos originally spent by the investing firm will actually create five times as much (500 million pesos) total production and incomes. The mathematically inclined can figure out that if the saving rate is 20 per cent or 0.2, the multiplier works out to be one divided by that, or five.

So if people tend to save less, say 10 per cent, every spending gets multiplied by even more (that is, 10) and generates 10 times more production and incomes in the economy. And even more so if those savings are kept within the country, so that the banks receiving them could further put that money to work within our domestic economy, say by lending the savings to a company that would invest it in a new factory—thereby repeating the same story above.

Official data suggest that there is indeed more domestic spending by consumers, investors and government lately, even as foreign purchases of our products (especially in Europe) had slowed down due to their own homegrown difficulties. In particular, government spending for both its consumption requirements and for public construction has dramatically swung around from a negative performance last year. In the first half of the year, government consumption spending grew 12.3 per cent, a dramatic turnaround against the 4.6-per cent drop in the same period last year.

Government construction spending jumped 55.4 per cent after falling 51.1 per cent last year. The government, stung by criticisms that it directly dragged down the economy last year with reduced spending as it worked to plug corruption loopholes, has now come back with a vengeance. And this time, having done what it did last year, it has greater confidence that the money it spends goes (mostly?) to the intended purposes, rather than be siphoned off to bank accounts abroad and killing the usual multiplier effect. (Remember the question on why a neighbouring country that appears to have as much corruption as we do manages to have its economy grow faster than ours? The explanation offered has been that their corrupt officials keep the money at home, while ours stash the money abroad.)

The data show that firms’ investment spending on durable equipment, breeding stock and orchard development and on intellectual property products have likewise sped up significantly from last year’s pace.

Private consumption growth is similarly brisk at 5.7 per cent. Interestingly, among the strongest sources of growth in people’s spending are communication (with our continuing fascination for ever more sophisticated smart phones), restaurants and hotels, and recreation and culture. These suggest to me that domestic tourism has been a particularly important driver of our growth. One only needs to experience the now common flight delays and overcrowded airports to be convinced that Filipinos are travelling a lot more—and perking up the economy in the process.

The good news is that spending by foreigners on our products—i.e., our exports—has lately resumed growth after contracting last year.

Even then, the latest figures suggest that the export turnaround may be tentative. But I wouldn’t lose sleep over this one. After all, our economy is now speeding along on its own steam, through the Filipinos’ own spending, multiplier effect and all.-Asia News Netwrok (October 23, 2012)

M'sian party battles for survival as polls loom

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), founded 63 years ago to protect Chinese interests as the nation fought for independence from the British, is now fighting for its own survival.

At its party congress over the weekend, its last before the next general election, this key political ally of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) urged its members to prepare for a "do or die" battle, amid predictions that it could suffer severe losses at the poll.

"We are ready for war," its president Chua Soi Lek told 1,700 party delegates. The party claims a membership of one million.

Chinese Malaysians, who make up about 31 per cent of 13 million voters, shunned the BN in the 2008 general election. The BN, especially the MCA and another Chinese-based party, Gerakan, suffered record losses although it held on to power.

The MCA lost support because it was seen as being subservient to Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno party - the linchpin of the BN - which had become stridently pro-Malay in its outlook and policies.

Since then, the MCA has sought to win back Chinese support by, among other things, getting increased funding for Chinese schools.

It has also warned the Chinese against flirting with the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which has the ultimate goal of enacting hudud law in the country.

Hudud is the Islamic law which prescribes punishments like chopping off the hands of thieves. It has been enacted in Kelantan and Terengganu but not enforced because it breaches the federal Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over punishment for criminal offences.

The MCA's real target is PAS' Chinese-based ally, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the strongest party in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. PAS and the Malay-based Parti Keadilan Rakyat have lost some ground since 2008. Since then, Chinese support has flowed steadily from the MCA to the DAP, which has stood up to an increasingly pro-Malay government.

Political analyst Fui K. Soong, who heads the independent Centre for Strategic Engagement, said the anti-hudud campaign could gain some traction because the Chinese have a long history of being uncomfortable with Islamic policies.

However, in 2008, Chinese Malaysians set aside their reservations about PAS because they were even more opposed to the ruling Umno's pro-Malay positions.

"I think the Chinese are quite split on this issue; there is a silent majority and the MCA is trying to sway them," she said, adding that those who are worried about Islamic law are unlikely to speak up.

DAP strategist Ong Kian Ming said that while many Chinese remain very uncomfortable with hudud, many voted for PAS candidates in by-elections held since 2008. "Their fear of hudud has been overtaken by their disapproval of the BN, MCA and Umno."

DAP's top leaders have stood firm against hudud becoming a part of Pakatan Rakyat's policies.

"MCA is stepping on dangerous ground here as this could turn off many Malay voters, especially the fence-sitters," Mr Ong said.

The MCA's attack on hudud has already irritated PAS, whose deputy president Mohamad Sabu yesterday said the MCA was insulting Islam, and not just its political rivals.

The MCA holds 15 of the 138 parliamentary seats controlled by the BN. Nine of the MCA's 15 parliamentary seats are Malay-majority while most of those that it lost in the 2008 election were Chinese-majority. The Malays now form the largest vote bank for the BN and MCA.

Surveys done by the independent Merdeka Centre show the Chinese tilted towards the opposition.-Asia News Netwrok (October 23, 2012)

Russian and Vietnamese top military officials meet in Moscow to discuss stronger military cooperation between the countries

Russian and Vietnamese top military officials will meet in Moscow today to discuss stronger military cooperation between the countries.

Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, will hold talks with the chief of the General Staff of the Vietnamese People’s Army, Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty.

“During the talks they will discuss the state of and prospects for military-technical cooperation of the two countries and will also exchange opinions on some issues of mutual interest. In particular, they will focus on interaction in ensuring security in the Asia-Pacific Region,” the press service of Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

During its visit the Vietnamese delegation will take part in a keel laying ceremony for a submarine to be built at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg for Vietnam.

Foreign guests will also visit the 5th motorized infantry brigade in Alabino near Moscow to see combat trainings and activities in daily life of servicemen.-Itar-Tass (October 23, 2012)

Asean, Japan Need to Shape More Suitable Relationship - Muhyiddin

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin today emphasised the need for Asean nations and Japan to shape their future relationship into one more suited to the realities of the 21st century. 

He said that if in the past, Japan was Asean's principal partner in economic matters, today the regional economic engagement had expanded to include China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. 

"This, too, may change as there is a proposal to reformulate this network of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) under an arrangement to be known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). 

"All these developments will ultimately have an impact on the status quo. As much as we are happy with the current state of affairs between the two sides, it is time for us to look for new ways to strengthen and deepen these relations," he said in his keynote address at the 38th Asean-Japan Business Meeting, here. 

Malaysia-Japan Economic Association (MAJECA) chairman Tan Sri Azman Hashim and Japan's Ambassador to Malaysia Shigeru Nakamura were also present at the event.

Muhyiddin suggested that to strengthen Asean-Japan relations, four areas had to be explored.

Firstly, he said, there was a need to promote Japanese investments in high value-added sectors such as green technologies, environmental technologies, bio-technologies and information communication technologies in the Asean countries.

Secondly, measures needed to be taken to double trade and investment volume and conclude the signing of the Asean-Japan investment and Asean-Japan services agreements, he said.

Thirdly, he said, it was necessary to improve Asean-Japan connectivity.

Fourthly, there was a need to create greater awareness of Asean among Japanese small and medium enterprises (SMEs), he said.

On the Asean Economic Community (AEC), Muhyiddin said Asean should not delay implementation of its plan to form an economic community by 2015.  

He said the progress of this project was being monitored at the leaders' level.

"In this context, let me reiterate the strong commitment of the Malaysian government to do what is necessary to form the AEC. Our success rate in the implementation of the AEC blueprint measures over 90 per cent," he said. 

Meanwhile, Nakamura read out a congratulatory message from Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who said Japan was determined to further deepen 'kizuna' (friendship) and would continue to expand political and security cooperation to maintain regional peace and stability.   

Strengthening the region's economic integration would benefit global economies, Noda said.

"Enhancement of Asean connectivity is an issue that Japan will actively work on together with the private sector. We want to continue to achieve growth together with Asean," he added.-Malaysian Digest (October 23, 2012 12:09PM)

Robust growth keeps PH on track to AEC 2015

The Philippines' strong macroeconomic fundamentals is the country's main advantage in its efforts to successfully integrate into the ASEAN by 2015. 

In an interview with Rappler before the October 23 forum on ASEAN 2015, ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Dr. Lim Hong Hin said the country's progress in meeting the agreements under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has been significant. 

This is also one of the reasons for the optimism of the ASEAN why the country can also play a significant role in the Regional Community Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is being envisioned to be the largest Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the world. 

However, Hin said its performance has slowed to 74% in the 2010 to 2011 period. This is significantly lower than the 94.55% it registered in the 2008 to 2009 review period. 

He said this performance is understandable since meeting agreements and measures to comply with the AEC will become more difficult as 2015 nears. Hin said meeting the agreements would require changes in Philippine laws and national policies - which both take time to accomplish.

Hin said, however, with the Philippine economy's robust growth which has made it the third fastest growing economy in the world, have helped keep the country's efforts on track to meet the conditions by 2015. Strong growth, he said, is attributed to better household and government spending as well as higher local investments. 

"The Philippines is on the right track. In the past, the Philippines has been considered as one of the developmentally challenged economy in Asia and its good that we are seeing a change in perception and the Philippine government is right on track in introducing the right policy and to go through the process to make sure that whatever policy gets introduced, the key beneficiary is the private sector and the people. This is something that you should be very proud of because you are on the right track," Hin said. 

Largest FTA worldwide

The RCEP, Hin said, intends to consolidate all the bilateral agreements of the ASEAN with six other countries - China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Hin said the ASEAN is already in the process of consolidating the bilateral FTAs with these countries and its is launched in November this year. He explained that the RCEP will cover half of the world's population and a third of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

The main issue in RCEP right now is dealing with the tariff reductions in all the ASEAN FTAs. The most ambitious of which, Hin said, is the Australia-New Zealand FTA with ASEAN which highlights zero tariff lines. 

This is a significant drop from where the other tariffs under ASEAN FTAs which still allow tariff rates to stay at 80% or even higher at 90%. 

"Since April the ministers, the senior officials, all the working groups have been very busy trying to come up with the guiding principles as to how we intend to govern this negotiation when it is launched. The Asean countries have met among themselves, they have also met with the 6 country we have bilat ftas, and they have come up with a template which shall be used as basis for (the agreements)," Hin said. 

"If successfully negotiated and completed, it will be the largest FTA in the world, partly because it will include half of the world population, you have china and india as partners, and you'll also be accountable for a third of world GDP," he added. 

Single currency not feasible

Despite efforts that are underway to finally merge the ASEAN into a single market by 2015, Hin said the region is not ready to adopt a single currency, similar to the European Union (EU). 

Hin said the ASEAN will become a free trade area but will require more time to become an economic and monetary union, which is what the EU is. 

What the ASEAN has done quite well on, on the financial side, is the creation of funds such as the Chiang Mai Initative (CMI). Hin said these funds have been instrumental in helping countries who encounter economic difficulties. 

Hin added that efforts to improve the financial sector in all ASEAN countries since the Asian Financial Crisis 1997 to 1998 have made it resilient to succeeding economic shocks. This includes the Global Economic Crisis of 2009 which left many Asian countries virtually unscathed. 

He added that efforts such as the ASEAN exchange, which facilitates cross-listing of firms in different stock exchanges in the region, has been instrumental in the free flow of trade, investment, and capital in the region.

"I think for the currency we have to wait for the right time when the right time will be, your guess is as good as mine. We still have a long way to go from a free trade area to an economic, monetary unit," Hin said.-Black Pearl (October 23, 2012 11:37AM)