Saturday, December 29, 2012

Philippine president signs historic bills into laws

Without fanfare, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed the reproductive health (RH) bill into law last December 21. It was signed together with the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act.

The highly contentious RH law provides “universal access” to reproductive health services and supplies such as contraceptives.

Unimpeachable administration sources confirmed to the Inquirer late Friday an initial report from House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II that the measure had been signed by Aquino in the Palace before the four-day long weekend began, four days after it was passed by both chambers of Congress amid staunch opposition from the Roman Catholic hierarchy and prolife organisations.

The measure is now known as Republic Act No. 10354.

A member of the President’s inner circle, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, however issued an unequivocal confirmation to the Inquirer.

“I think RH has been signed, but I’m not sure when,” said Abad in a text message at 9:17pm on Friday.

A Senate staff member said by phone that Aquino said he did not want “fanfare, so that it won’t be a controversy anymore.”

“It should be Malacañang (Palace) that should announce it, not us,” said the staff member of a senator who voted for the passage of the measure. The staff asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Earlier Friday, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte had been evasive when asked to confirm or deny speculations, which had been rife since last week, that the bill had been signed.

“We haven’t been advised yet by the Office of Executive Secretary or OES (Paquito) Ochoa. Allow me to explain also what happens (when a bill is up for the president’s signature).

“When the president signs a bill into law, it gets sent to the Office of the Executive Secretary for the RA (Republic Act) number, and for processing,” she said, referring to the process in which a signed copy of the law would be stamped with a barcode and go through “other validation".

The task of announcing the enactment into law of the controversial measure fell on the lap of Valte during her regular interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan at noon on Saturday.

Although Aquino signed the measure before the close of office hours on December 21, it took “some time” before the private office of the President and the Office of the Executive Secretary completed the process, said the administration sources.

Not to antagonise Church

“The reason the Palace is announcing it (Saturday) is because it took sometime to process it, and the Palace didn’t want to (antagonise) anti-RH people during the Christmas holiday season,” said one source.

“The bill had to be processed after signing,” said the other source, saying that the process had been completed on December 27, giving Palace officials a day or two to announce it.

The sources confirmed that the Aquino administration was trying to avoid yet another confrontation with the Catholic Church in the run up to Christmas.

“The understanding was to announce it tomorrow, precisely, to avoid this (complication),” said the source.

The source was referring to an agreement to allow the Palace to make the announcement ahead of the House of Representatives. This, however, had not been followed.

Aquino could not be reached for official comment. He and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras are scheduled to return to the Palace on Saturday after a four-day vacation in the summer capital.

House Majority Leader Gonzales confirmed the signing on Friday night, saying the measure officially became a law “without fanfare”.

The president was credited for providing a belated push to the RH bill, which was facing stiff opposition in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

He certified the bill as urgent soon after it was passed on second reading at the House, allowing the Senate to pass it on second and third readings on the same day.


The cornerstone of RA 10354 is the State guarantee on “universal access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods devices, supplies.”

But it comes with the condition that they should not “prevent the implantation of the fertilised ovum as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

It also defines “reproductive health” as the “state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and process.”

“This implies that people are able to have a responsible, safe, consensual and satisfying sex life, that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so,” it adds.

An apparent compromise with anti-RH bill lawmakers is the guarantee that “reproductive health rights do not include abortion, and access to abortifacients”.

RA 10354 defines abortifacients as “any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of a foetus inside the mother’s womb, or the prevention of the fertilised ovum to reach and be implanted in the mother’s womb upon determination by the FDA.”-Asia News Network (December 29, 2012)

Thailand targets 24.5m tourist arrivals in 2013

Thailand's international tourist arrivals reached the 21-million mark yesterday and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) now aims to achieve 24.5 million next year.

The 21-millionth international tourist this year was on Thai Airways International's flight TG 551 from Ho Chi Minh City, which landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport in the afternoon, according to the TAT, which described the achievement as promising for the country's tourism industry.

"We're confident that the number will increase a little more to 22 million by the year-end," said TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni, who presided over the ceremony at the airport's arrival terminal to welcome the 21-millionth international tourist.

International tourist arrivals, according to TAT, have increased 15 per cent from last year and earned the country more than 965 billion baht (US$31.5 billion), a 24-per-cent rise from last year.

Seeing this promising trend, the TAT now aims higher for 24.5 million international tourists next year, and an estimated 1.14 trillion baht in tourist revenue, according to its press release.

Among the top-10 source countries for international visitors, China stays at the top, followed by Malaysia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, Laos, Australia, the United Kingdom and Singapore, according to the TAT.

"Asian tourists are still our main market, and we saw the number of arrivals through Suvarnabhumi and Phuket airports increase 35 and 47 per cent respectively in the first two weeks of December," the TAT governor said.

The Asean Economic Community will take off in 2015 but the idea of an "Asean zone" is already drawing many more Asian tourists to Thailand. It has increased a strong sense of travel, and encouraged Asians to visit their neighbouring countries, he said.

"Our family often takes a holiday in Thailand. We love the beaches here, as they're more beautiful and well-organised than what we have back home in Vietnam," said Niculas Carlsson, a Swedish expatriate, who travelled with his Vietnamese wife and two children on THAI TG 551 from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok.

"Last year, we went to Phuket and now we are returning for a holiday in Samui Island."

Thailand's tourism industry is also wooing Russian tourists, who seek an escape from the cold winter at home, to the "tropical paradise" in Thailand.

Conde Nast Traveler, a respected travel magazine, recently released its annual reader survey, and the voting result spreads a positive image of Thailand to global readers.

Bangkok has become travellers' first choice among Asian cities, beating Hong Kong, Kyoto and Singapore. Chiang Mai, in Thailand's North, is ranked fifth in the annual Readers' Choice Awards.

In the Top 10 Islands in Asia category, Phuket is ranked second behind Bali, and Koh Samui is ranked fifth.-Asia News Network (December 29, 2012)

Court appeal of dissident Vietnam bloggers is rejected

File photo of Nguyen Van Hai protesting in Ho Chi Minh City (19 January 2008)

An appeals court in Vietnam has upheld the sentences of two prominent bloggers jailed in September for "anti-state propaganda", a lawyer has told the BBC.

The court ruled that the sentences and convictions of writer Nguyen Van Hai and former policewoman Ta Phong Tan should not be overturned.

Nguyen Van Hai and Ta Phong Tan received 12 and 10 years in jail respectively after a brief trial.

In a separate development, another top blogger has been arrested.

Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam's best-known dissidents, was arrested on Thursday on charges of tax evasion, state media reports say.

Mr Quan was detained as he took his children to school in Hanoi.

He has been jailed before, and had recently complained of being under surveillance and harassment.

Vietnam's communist rulers have opened up the economy, but suppress political opposition and ban private media. All newspapers and television channels are state-run.


The case of Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Dieu Cay, has attracted international attention and was recently highlighted by US President Barack Obama.

Nguyen Van Hai's lawyer Ha Huy Son told the BBC Vietnamese service that the appeal failed because the court's judgement did not fully reflect the arguments presented on his client's behalf at the hearing.

Ta Phong Tan has been praised by campaigning groups for her work in exposing official corruption.

In June her mother committed suicide by setting herself on fire in front of government offices in protest over her continuing detention.

The pair were found guilty of posting political articles on a banned website called Free Journalists' Club, as well as posting articles critical of the government on their own blogs.

A third blogger, who pleaded guilty, had his sentence reduced from four years to three.

Meanwhile the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that Le Quoc Quan was being held for tax evasion.

He was treated in hospital in August after being beaten up by men he believed were state agents.

The dissident was so fearful of being assaulted again since the August incident that he had reportedly begun carrying a golf club for self-defence.

Le Quoc Quan was detained in 2007 for three months on his return from an American government-funded fellowship in Washington.

He writes a popular blog exposing human rights abuses and other issues not covered by the state media.

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency in September, he said that he and his family and staff had received frequent warnings from the authorities.

But he pledged to carry on speaking out against the government and in support of multi-party democracy and freedom of speech.-British Broadcasting Corporation (December 28, 2012)

2 US Warships Arriving In PH

Two United States (US) warships – a nuclear-powered attack submarine and an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, are scheduled to arrive Saturday in Subic Bay and Cebu for separate port calls, the US Embassy said yesterday.

The USS Bremerton (SSN 698), a submarine of the Los Angeles class design, will dock in Subic Bay, while the USS Gridley (DDG-101), an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, will drop anchor in Cebu.

The USS Bremerton is named in honor of the city of Bremerton, Washington, home to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and a city with a long association with the US Navy.

She is the tenth ship of the Los Angeles class design. Her keel was laid in Connecticut in May, 1976.

The USS Gridley, on the other hand, is part of the US Pacific Fleet and is homeported in San Diego, California.

The ship is named for Captain Charles Gridley, commander of the USS Olympia who was famously told by Admiral George Dewey to “fire when you are ready, Gridley” in the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War.

A statement released by the US Embassy said the routine port call of the two vessels highlights the strong historic, community, and military connections between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines.

This visit will also allow the ship to replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation.-Black Pearl (December 29, 2012)

Philippines objects to new Chinese gunboat

Such patrols will not boost China's claim to the disputed territory where the two countries have had a standoff since April, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

"The Philippines strongly objects to the Chinese patrol of Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea," the statement said, using the local name for the South China Sea.

It called on China to respect the country's "territorial sovereignty and EEZ", referring to the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

China's official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday an ocean-going patrol vessel equipped with a helipad would be deployed to the South China Sea, the first of its kind in the area.

In late November, China said it had granted its border patrol police the right to board and turn away foreign ships entering the disputed waters, raising fears of a confrontation.

Both the Philippines and China have overlapping claims over parts of the South China Sea, a major shipping route that is also believed to hold vast mineral resources.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have risen in the area since April after ships from both countries had a standoff over a rock outcropping known as the Scarborough Shoal.

While the Philippines has withdrawn its ships, it says China reneged on an agreement to pull out its own vessels.

China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its EEZ.-MSN News (December 28, 2012)

Malaysian gets life for drug smuggling in the PH

A Malaysian has been sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of attempting to smuggle methamphetamine hydrochloride, or “shabu,” into the country, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said Saturday.

Judge Racquelen Abary-Vasquez of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 116 also fined How Eng Pheow, 43, P500,000.

Pheow was arrested in June 2010 after authorities found close to 10 grams of shabu hidden in the false bottom of his suitcase during a routine inspection at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.-Interaksyon (December 29, 2012 9:59AM)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

POLITICAL FOOTBALL | For this Vietnamese team, 'FC' stands for 'F-ck China'

Under the watch of plainclothes police, midfielder Nguyen Van Phuong unleashed a powerful left-foot drive into the top corner. Dissidents cheered from the sidelines. "Down with China," some shouted. Phuong pumped his fist.

As tensions between Beijing and Hanoi escalate over the South China Sea, Vietnamese anti-China protesters who face repeated police crackdowns are finding a new form of political expression: soccer.

"People don't feel scared playing soccer," said Phuong, the team captain, after a practice match in the capital, Hanoi.

They call themselves "No U FC" - a reference to the U-shaped line China has drawn around almost the entire South China Sea, passing close to Vietnam, then around Malaysia and north to the Philippines, an area where potential oil deposits, strategic shipping routes and fishing rights converge in one of Asia's most combustible territorial disputes.

"FC" stands for Football Club. Or, as some players say, "Fuck China".

The team illustrates mounting resentment of China whose sovereignty claims over the stretch of water off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

The club was formed after police arrested dozens of anti-China protesters who had gathered peacefully almost every weekend from June to August last year. They were at first tolerated in the tightly controlled Communist country where public dissent is rare. But the authorities feared they could evolve into a wider, harder-to-control anti-government movement, said several diplomats with high-level government contacts.

Some of those arrested were accused of turning against the state. Among the protesters were intellectuals and bloggers whose anger extended well beyond Beijing to sensitive domestic issues - from a widening rich-poor divide to land evictions, police brutality and restrictions on freedom of expression.

After the crackdown, Phuong and other protest leaders met at Thuy Ta, a popular cafe near Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake, to plot their next move. Police ordered the cafe's owners not to serve them. They went to another cafe, and soon that was shut down.

"That's when we decided to start the soccer team," said Phuong. "We needed a way to meet regularly."

About 30 players turned up for their first practice on Oct. 30 last year. By March, they had their first high-profile game against a team sponsored by PetroVietnam, a state company that has riled China by exploring for oil in the South China Sea. No U FC's supporters waved anti-China banners and shouted "down with Chinese aggression".

Police ordered PetroVietnam not to play, said Phuong. The field's owner ordered them off the grounds, for good. Police officials were unavailable to comment on this story.

Cat and mouse

No U FC engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities for several months, gathering at various fields in Hanoi often only to be shooed away. They wore black-and-white soccer jerseys with a crossed-out U-shaped crest on the front. Emblazoned on the back: "Hoàng Sa", the Vietnamese name for disputed islands also known as the Paracels.

Since September, they have gathered twice a week at an artificial-turf field owned by the military, an institution the protesters say appears sympathetic to their cause. But undercover police usually keep watch.

On a recent Sunday, nearly 100 No U FC members showed up. They take pride in their diversity: one is a poet, another a banker. Their ages range from 10 to 60. Some play barefoot.

Beyond their common beliefs, they are united by something else: nearly all have been detained at some point, along with supporters such as Ta Tri Hai, a violinist in a straw cowboy hat who played folk music on the sidelines.

"We're getting stronger because of social media," said Nguyen Van Dung, a goalkeeper and protest organiser. The club has swelled to about 120 members who communicate closely on Facebook.

He criticised the government for what he sees as a weak response to assertions of Chinese sovereignty, including last month when Chinese fishing boats were accused of cutting a seismic cable attached to a PetroVietnam vessel exploring near the Gulf of Tonkin.

"The Vietnam government needs to put more pressure on China," he said.

That looks unlikely to happen.

Reluctance to complain too loudly

Vietnam depends heavily on China. Imported Chinese machinery, refined oil and steel are at the heart of Vietnam's factory-fuelled economy, stretching Vietnam's trade deficit with China to $13 billion in 2011 from $185 million in 2001.

Chinese resentment runs deep, rooted in feelings of national pride and the struggle for independence after decades of war and colonialism. Faded grey pagodas etched with Chinese characters are studded around Hanoi, a reminder of the more than 1,000 years of Chinese rule that ended in the 10th century.

Some recall the invasion of Chinese forces in northern Vietnam in 1979 and the border skirmishes that continued into the 1980s. Chinese money began trickling in from 1991, when ties were normalised, reaching $120 million in investments by 1999.

Since then, Chinese investment has surged to $21 billion when combined with the value of Hong Kong projects in Vietnam.

This helps explain Vietnam's reluctance to complain loudly over each Beijing provocation, said diplomats.

At a Nov. 19 summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Cambodia, China stalled debate on a resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea, rebutted attempts to start formal talks on the issue and avoided any rebuke from Obama Administration over its territorial ambitions. While the Philippines lodged a formal protest, there were no public statements from Vietnam.

Days later, when China's southern Hainan province authorised police to board and seize foreign ships operating "illegally" in its waters in the South China Sea from next year, the Philippines, Singapore and the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed concern. Vietnam kept silent.

Only when Chinese boats were accused of sabotaging the Vietnamese oil exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable did authorities issue a condemnation on Dec. 4.

Phuong, 25, wants his government to show more consistency in its public statements over China's territorial ambitions. And he doesn't understand why authorities won't support him.

"We're patriots," he said.

He has been arrested three times and lost his job at an electronics shop after police pressured the owner, he said. Teammate Le Dung is equally resolute. His wife, he said, divorced him because he wouldn't stop protesting. Another player, La Viet Dung, tattooed the club's logo on his arm.

Among the club's fans are well-known dissidents such as Le Gia Khanh, 80, who was imprisoned for six years for helping former colonial ruler France during the First Indochina War that ended in 1954. He was jailed a second time during the Vietnam War with the United States.

"This team exists to prove that the fire in our hearts is still alive," he said after cheering the team from the sidelines.-Interaksyon (December 25, 2012 10:55AM)

Myanmar passenger jet in emergency landing near airport

A Myanmar plane carrying 65 passengers was forced to make an emergency landing near an airport in eastern Shan state on Tuesday, leaving two pilots injured, the airline said.

“None of the pilots, passengers or crew were killed but two pilots were hurt,” Ye Min Oo from Air Bagan told AFP. The carrier said the aircraft landed two miles (three kilometers) from Heho airport.

A government official said a fire was reported in one of the engines as it approached the airport at around 9 am (0230 GMT).

“Because of the emergency landing near the airport, the plane broke up in the middle,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the passengers were evacuated.

A local tour guide at the scene said that the fire had “burnt almost the whole plane”.

Air Bagan is one of several domestic carriers seeking to profit from a tourist boom in Myanmar as it emerges from decades of military rule. It is owned by Tay Za, a tycoon known for his close links to the former junta.-Inquirer (December 25, 2012 1:36PM)


                  merry christmas gif
                                                   From Blogger: 
                                 "Vic Saure"

Monday, December 24, 2012

Myanmar reaffirms pledge to boost ASEAN-India ties

Myanmar has reaffirmed its pledge to boost ASEAN-India relations and close cooperation with other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

This was reiterated by Myanmar President U Thein Sein during the just-ended 20th ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi, reported Xinhua.

"Myanmar valued the friendly ties that have long been existed between ASEAN and India as Myanmar is a neighbour of India and a member of ASEAN," U Thein Sein told the summit.

Myanmar viewed that India is an important dialogue partner of ASEAN and it is still playing a crucial role in regional peace and stability.

Myanmar also expressed welcome of ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group which it said will enhance cooperation and share peace, progress and prosperity.

India signed the ASEAN friendship and peace agreement in 2003 and actively participated in regional discussions led by ASEAN and supported the strategy of the grouping.

Being a neighbour of India, Myanmar attached importance to security cooperation between the ASEAN and India.

Both ASEAN and India are striving for boosting trade between them while they are closely cooperating in politics and security.

Efforts are being made to raise the trade volume between ASEAN and India up to $100 billion in 2015, while taking steps to foster relations of private sectors as well as small and medium enterprises.

U Thein Sein has asked for increasing Indian investment in Myanmar, saying that he also hoped for the increase of commerce and trade activities with the northwestern neighbour.

Meeting with President of Confederation of Indian Industry Adi Godrej during the visit to India for the summit, U Thein Sein said that Myanmar's recently enacted new Foreign Investment Law will provide various degrees of privileges to potential investors in respect of tax and duty and guarantee protection of property and profit and rights of the investors.

The country's foreign investment law allows 100-percent foreign ownership while it also allows joint ventures, selling, exchanging and transferring of shares with the approval of the Investment Commission.

U Thein Sein specially invited investment in the country's Dawei, Thilawa and Kyaukphyu deep seaport projects and other special economic zones, adding that there are still many untapped oil and gas deposits for Indian companies to invest.

Putting huge emphasis on infrastructural development projects to ensure connectivity in promoting regional trade, he cited the proposed extension to Laos and Cambodia of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Tripartite Highway project with the assistance of the Indian government.

According to Thein Sein, Myanmar-India bilateral trade is increasing steadily in recent years with India standing as Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner. In the fiscal year 2011-12, with a total trade volume of $1.37 billion, Myanmar's export to India was $1.04 billion, up 20 percent from the previous year, while its import from India took $324.5 million, a 66.5 percent increase correspondingly.

Myanmar imports from India metal ores and products, medicines, transport equipment, machines and its accessories and electric appliances.

There are six Indian companies having invested in Myanmar with a total of 262 million dollars, Myanmar statistics was quoted as saying.

Thein Sein also invited Indian entrepreneurs to do business in agriculture, which is Myanmar's mainstay in economy.

The two-day ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in the Indian capital marked the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-India dialogue partnership and the 10th anniversary of ASEAN-India Summit-level partnership.-Yahoo News (December 24, 2012)

Flood spreads throughout Jakarta

Floods have been spreading throughout Jakarta since early on Monday.

Floodwater to a depth of 2.5 meters has swamped Kampung Pulo, Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, since 1 a.m., which the local residents believe to be the result of torrential rains in Bogor, West Java.

Bogor is upstream of several rivers in Jakarta, such as the Ciliwung and Angke, meaning that heavy rain in Bogor affects the city.

Amah, a local resident said that they had been aware of the possibility of flooding since Sunday afternoon, however most of the residents remained in the area and preferred to put their belongings by the side of Jl.Jatinegara.

A deluge of up to 80-centimeters inundated streets and houses in Pos Pengumben, Kebon Jeruk. Sri Rejeki who lives in the area said she wasn't aware that flooding would hit her house. "At 2 a.m. the water was already thigh deep," she said.

Hendra, Pos Pengumben district head said that six houses had been flooded. Streets were under 60 centimeters of water forcing motorists to take detours. South Kedoya has also been hit by a 30-centimeter-deep flood, inundating houses near the Pesanggrahan River.

According to Jakarta Police, the water level in various areas in the city is estimated at between 15 centimeters and 50 centimeters. The affected areas include Ciracas, East Jakarta; Bukit Duri, South Jakarta; and KH. Abdullah Syafei in Tebet, South Jakarta.-The Jakarta Post (December 24, 2012 2:59PM)

Yearender:PHL Outperforms Other ASEAN Economies Amid Global Uncertainty

The Philippines has remained resilient to the effects of uncertainties in the global economy than most peers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the back of strong domestic demand and diversified exports.

With a gross domestic product (GDP) of 7.1 percent in the third quarter, the Philippines outperformed most its neighboring countries.

GDP for the first three quarters averaged 6.5 percent, well above the official 5 to 6 percent growth target set in 2012.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the country’s recent economic growth was remarkable because it was higher than any other ASEAN country.

He said the 6.5-percent figure was also much closer to the country’s aspirational target of 7 to 8-percent annual real GDP growth.

“The issue of uncertainty has been with us since last year. I think we just have to find how to live with that. The trick is really diversifying and ensuring growth of the domestic economy,” he said.

Balisacan said even as the Philippines continued to depend on semiconductor and electronics for exports growth, it had to expand product lines.

“The beauty of that is, it will make us less vulnerable to any shocks…There are many opportunities out there. The rapid urbanizing areas of the Asian region would mean high demands for foods, agro processed products,” he said.

The economic expansion continues to be broad-based, as almost all sectors posted higher year-on-year growth rates.

Government data indicate that industry and services sectors remained the biggest drivers of economic growth. The seemingly weather tolerant agriculture sector posted double growth rate in the third quarter.

On the demand side, increased consumer and government spending, increased investments in construction and higher external trade contributed to the highest growth in the third quarter.

“It is really the domestic economy that is growing and is contributing to increasing the (economic) expansion,” said Balisacan, also the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General.

He said a 4.6-percent GDP would be very unlikely to hit this year's target in the fourth quarter, in the absence of an “economically traumatic experience” during the period.

The impacts of typhoon “Pablo” on the domestic economy would be only minimal, with some of them would still be felt in the first half of 2013, he said.

2013, 2014 Outlook

Economic planners expect the Philippine economy to expand to 6 to 7 percent next year and 6.5 to 7.5 percent in 2014.

“We hope to see a more vibrant industry sector. We see an improved manufacturing sector buoyed by the semiconductor and electronics industry, as the world economy is expected to recover between 2013 and 2014,” said Balisacan.

For the services sector, the continuous expansion in the information technology-business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, tourism, financial intermediation and trade are seen to fuel growth.

On the demand side, household consumption will remain robust and the expected expansion of exports and construction will further boost growth.

“I think seven percent next year is not really very difficult to achieve. The momentum is already there,” said Miguel Varela, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

The country’s largest business group also expects the economy to grow further over seven percent in 2014, banking on the completion of big public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

Varela said the attainment of this high economic growth largely depends on the implementation of policies and programs designed to help the country attract or retain investments.

The Philippines needs to make its investment incentives competitive with other ASEAN members.

“If we open up this a little and compete with other countries to be at par with them, more investments will come in here. They look at Filipinos as more flexible, we speak English very well,” he said.

Also, the government should continue promoting good governance and combat corruption. It also needs to prioritize securing a strong domestic industrial base that will become the anchor for investment growth.

Varela also urged the government to continue its policies on economic development, good fiscal management, transparency efforts against corruption, and spends well money for infrastructure particularly on PPP projects.

“We should take care of investors… We should make necessary adjustments if we have to. It’s a competition, we cannot just depend on blessings,” he said.

But while the business group is optimistic about the Philippine growth potentials for next two years, the country should be watchful of international developments.

“We will not just ignore these developments as far as sustaining the growth. We have to be more competitive, we should attract more of these investors,” Varela said.-PNA via Black Pearl (December 24, 2012)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Southeast Asia's long-stay schemes lure foreign retirees

Like many Japanese mothers, Ritsuko Kawasaki fretted over the health and safety risks of remaining in Japan after 2011's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

So in August she and her two boys moved to the Malaysian island of Penang under a government long-stay program that aims to lure foreigners—and their money—to the country.

"I don't think I want to return to Japan. Life here in Penang is so comfortable," said Kawasaki, 43.

With its warm climate, political stability and modern economy, Malaysia has drawn 19,488 foreigners to settle in the country since launching the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program 10 years ago.

MM2H and similar schemes in Thailand and the Philippines have traditionally targeted western retirees in the hope they will settle down and boost the economy.

But program officials say Asians are now the typical applicants, led by post-quake Japanese and increasingly affluent Chinese.

A total of 2,387 MM2H applicants were approved in 2011, and the government is targeting 3,000 for 2012, officials say.

The Malaysian incentives include a ten-year multi-entry visa, tax exemption for remittances of offshore pension funds, the right to open a business, tax-free purchases of locally made cars, and other enticements.

Applicants, meanwhile, must deposit a certain amount of money in a local bank account— $50,000 for MM2H—in return for a life under the sun.

For Britons Keith and Adrienne Francis, sunshine was the clincher as they mulled whether to settle back in England after Keith's 2004 retirement from 35 years in the Hong Kong police force.

"Look at the UK, it is dull and cold," Adrienne said as the couple sipped sweet milk tea in an Indian restaurant in Georgetown, Penang's British colonial-era capital.

Their other options had included the Thai resort Phuket.

"I didn't like Phuket because of the bars," she said of its bawdy nightlife.

The couple said Muslim-majority Malaysia was attractive due to its high living standards, lack of political upheaval seen often in its neighbours, quality medical care and widely spoken English.

Under MM2H, retirees also can own freehold property and land—although some restrictions apply—a key factor for the Francises, who shuddered at the thought of a costly and cramped retirement nest in Hong Kong.

Home is now a spacious 2,500-square-foot (232-square-metre) seaside Penang condo they bought in 2004 for $182,000.

But increasingly it is Asians, and particularly Chinese and Japanese, driving the so-called "silver" market—business opportunities linked to seniors—says Janice Chia, managing director of Singapore-based consultancy Ageing Asia.

She said by 2050 Asia will account for an estimated 63 percent of the world's senior citizens, who will become increasingly important to economies, especially as medical advances extend lifespans.

"Traditionally, MM2H has attracted Western retirees, but there will be greater movements of Asian retirees to Southeast Asia," where they "can stretch their retirement dollar," Chia said.

Siti Nani Shaarani, director of MM2H, said its applicants are now led by China, Japan, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom and Iran.

The Philippine Retirement Authority cites a similar mix of origins for the nearly 21,000 people now in its retirement incentive program, led by China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

England, America and Germany still top Thailand's long-stay scheme, which approved 35,488 applicants in 2011, according to Thai immigration figures.

Coming to Malaysia was a big leap for Kawasaki, who speaks only Japanese. She likes that her two boys, nine and three years old, are learning English in school.

But Malaysia's relative safety appealed to her the most. The country is seismically stable and free of the typhoons that annually rake east Asia.

"A month later [after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami], I visited Miyagi prefecture to witness the damage. I was totally shocked by the extent of the destruction," the former career consultant said.

The tsunami crippled a nuclear power plant, triggering a meltdown that released large amounts of radiation into the environment, shattering Japanese public confidence in nuclear power.

Jessie Ong, director of Overseas Living, a firm that helps MM2H applicants settle in Malaysia, said incoming Japanese typically claim they are "being driven out by last year's tsunami and nuclear fears."

Whatever the motivation, Japanese led the pack of new applicants for 2012, with 558 as of August compared to 195 for all of 2010.

Shigeru Tanida, 65, has lived in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur since 2006, drawn by the year-round sunshine and far lower living costs than in Japan.

He considered Spain, Thailand and the Philippines after retiring from Japanese electronics giant Panasonic, before settling on Malaysia.

He now teaches karate, and plays his beloved golf far more cheaply than he could at home.

"Living costs here are a third lower than Japan and the weather is good," he said.

MM2H participants Bernd Freytag, a German, and his American wife Kimmie gripe about the choking traffic of Malaysian cities like Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur, and the country's often haphazard development.

But Freytag, 70, gazing out at the blue Andaman Sea from the spacious Penang flat that is now home, says he will never leave.

"I told my kids, when I go away, just throw my ashes in the sea off Penang," he said. -GMA News (December 23, 2012 5:40PM)

WORLD: North Korea could have US within missile range, says South

This month's rocket launch by reclusive North Korea shows it has likely developed the technology, long suspected in the West, to fire a warhead more than 10,000 km (6,200 miles), South Korean officials said on Sunday, putting the U.S. West Coast in range.

North Korea said the December 12 launch put a weather satellite in orbit but critics say it was aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests and the U.N. Security Council condemned the launch.

South Korea retrieved and analyzed parts of the first-stage rocket that dropped in the waters off its west coast

"As a result of analyzing the material of Unha-3 (North Korea's rocket), we judged North Korea had secured a range of more than 10,000 km in case the warhead is 500-600 kg," a South Korean Defense Ministry official told a news briefing.

North Korea's previous missile tests ended in failure.

North Korea, which denounces the United States as the mother of all warmongers on an almost daily basis, has spent decades and scarce resources to try to develop technology capable of striking targets as far away as the United States and it is also working to build a nuclear arsenal.

But experts believe the North is still years away from mastering the technology needed to miniaturize a nuclear bomb to mount on a missile.

South Korean defense officials also said there was no confirmation whether the North had the re-entry technology needed for a payload to survive the heat and vibration without disintegrating.

Despite international condemnation, the launch this month was seen as a major boost domestically to the credibility of the North's young leader, Kim Jong-un, who took over power from his father who died last year.

Apparently encouraged by the euphoria, the fledgling supreme leader called for the development and launching of "a variety of more working satellites" and "carrier rockets of bigger capacity" at a banquet in Pyongyang on Friday which he hosted for those who contributed to the lift-off, according to North Korean state media.-Interaksyon (December 23, 2012 3:54PM)

Asean leaders and India finalise deal in services and investments sectors

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sixth from left, hosted  leaders from Asian countries in New Delhi for the two-day India-ASEAN summit.

The Asean-India Commemorative Summit came to a close with the leaders adopting a vision statement to chart the future direction of Asean-India relations.

The future may have arrived early with the conclusion of negotiations of the Asean-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the services and investments sectors.

A month ago at the Asean Summit in Cambodia, negotiations were nowhere near being finalised.

“We were way off. The finishing line was not in sight,” said a Malaysian trade official.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed had been frustrated at the progress, or the lack of it, and had said negotiations reached a deadlock.

Malaysia is the country coordinating the FTA and had successfully negotiated the FTA for the goods sector back in 2010.

It was a surprise, almost bordering on a miracle, when Asean leaders and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced that the FTA in the services and investments sectors had been finalised during the Asean-India Commemorative Summit on Thursday.

Mustapa hinted the day before that a round of negotiations in Jakarta between Dec 12 and 14 had been fruitful.

“Both sides have compromised and shown flexibility. We are almost there,” he said.

He credited the ministry's Asean economic cooperation division senior director P. Ravindran, who was lead negotiator, for the progress.

Government sources said talks hit an impasse at 11.30pm on the final day of negotiations but both sides doubled their efforts and ironed out most of the contentious points by 1.30am.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who led the Malaysian delegation in New Delhi, was happy with the achievement and told Malaysian firms to capitalise on the liberalisation of the various sub-sectors.

The FTA, expected to be inked in August next year, will liberalise sub-sectors such as healthcare, tourism, transportation services, communications, construction, business services, education, environmental services, tourism and travel-related services, pharmaceutical and bio-technology.

“Asean and India need to push toward greater economic activity. The opportunities are tremendous. We must do more to promote trade in goods and services, as well as investments.

“There is simply no better example of expressing confidence in another country than by making major investments in that particular nation,” he said.

Dr Manmohan called it a valuable milestone in Asean-India relations, saying it would boost economic ties the way the FTA in goods had.

“I am optimistic that our trade will exceed US$100bil (RM300bil) by 2015 and we should aim for the milestone of US$200bil (RM600bil) in 10 years.”

It was a fitting way to commemorate 20 years of Asean-India relations, starting out as dialogue partners and now strategic partners.-The Star Online (December 23, 2012)

Jakarta braces for more flooding

A torrential downpour led to floods and horrendous gridlock on several of Jakarta’s major thoroughfares on Saturday, as officials warned of a chance for more flooding in coming days.

Traffic was at a near standstill on the city’s main artery, Jl. Sudirman in Central Jakarta, parts of which were under half a metre of water on Saturday. Only the dedicated Transjakarta busway lane and the outermost lane could be traversed.

Flooding also fouled the streets near the Senayan traffic circle, the Casablanca area in South Jakarta, Jl. Kyai Tapa in West Jakarta, and on Jl. Surabaya, Jl. Gatot Soebroto, and Jl. Budi Kemuliaan, according to the Jakarta Transportation Agency.

In Cikini, Central Jakarta, some vehicles broke down, further obstructing traffic, reported.

Separately, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has warned the city to brace for more floods and heavy rains.

The inundated streets and gridlocked thoroughfares have frustrated Jakarta’s residents well before the peak of the rainy season, which is expected in late January, according to the National Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo said clogged sewers, which he previously earmarked for a cleaning programme, had worsened the floods on Saturday. He said the administration had asked the Indonesian Military to send troops to clean the city’s sewers if other relevant agencies failed to aid Jakarta, as reported by on Saturday

Jakarta Public Works Agency chief Ery Basworo said with or without the governor’s order, the agency routinely, if not every day, cleaned gutters to ensure proper drainage.

He said that the two-metre-high drainage system on Jl. Sudirman and the pumps on Jl. MH Thamrin could stream 30 cubic metres of water a second into nearby rivers were examples of the “perfect” infrastructure that the city had in place to mitigate flooding.

Ery attributed the floods on Saturday to the high intensity of rain and to the sedimentation of the city’s rivers.

The capacity of the city’s 13 rivers to accommodate runoff water has sharply decreased due to the construction of homes, most of which are illegal and semi-permanent, on riverbanks.

Ery said that the most reasonable solution was to dredge and expand the rivers under the Jakarta Emergency Dredging Initiative (JEDI), a joint program of the agency and the Public Works Ministry.

Under the JEDI initiative, which has been funded by a US$150 million World Bank loan, 13 rivers in the city are to be dredged.-Asia News Network (December 23, 2012)

10 shocking Christmas facts

This Christmas stock up on Christmas facts so that you can wow your festive guests. Here we reveal how to eat a Christmas tree, how Christmas is celebrated in space and some top secret behind-the-scenes action that happened during the shooting of some of our favorite Christmas movies.

1. Most expensive Christmas tree

Think you’ve overstretched your budget this year? Well, hopefully hearing this shocking Christmas fact will help you feel a little better about your Christmas spending splurge. One man, Yves Piaget, spent a whopping $16 million on decorating his Christmas tree. The tree was lavishly decorated with 83 pieces of jewelry in Tokyo.

2. Santa’s magic

Obviously we all know that Santa has magical powers, but researchers have calculated just how magical Father Christmas really is. The researchers found that in order to deliver all of his presents on Christmas Eve Santa would need to travel at 650 miles per second and visit 822 homes a second – no wonder he needs to eat so many mince pies.

3. Christmas tree soup

Did you think that eating satsumas was the most festive way to get your hit of Vitamin C? Think again. It turns out that you can actually eat parts of your Christmas tree and that the needles from your tree are a great source of Vitamin C. If you want to tuck into your tree after Christmas then dry out the needles before grinding. You can then use the dried needles as a garnish on soups.

4. Robin Christmas cards might annoy your mailman

Robins are a Christmas card favorite and you’re likely to receive several glittery Christmas cards with a robin emblazoned cheerily on the front. Yet, robins can be seen in the UK (where the Christmas card tradition began) throughout the year. So why are they so popular at Christmas? Well, back in the nineteenth century mailmen wore red tunics and were nicknamed "Robin Postmen." Therefore putting a robin on a Christmas card was in fact a joke.

5. 'It’s A Wonderful Life'

Nearly every family cozies up and watches "It’s A Wonderful Life" over Christmas, but did you know that this Christmas movie favorite had an FBI file? Although ludicrous, this shocking Christmas fact is real. In 1947 some thought the movie was a communist ploy and that its purpose was to undermine bankers. Here’s another shocking "It’s A Wonderful Life" Christmas fact: when the bridge scene was filmed, George is rather sweaty because it was in fact 90 degrees on the day of filming.

6. Weight gain at Christmas

Do you think you get a little heavier over the festive period? Even though most of us over-indulge and enjoy a few too many feasts studies have found that we don’t actually put on as much as we think. The US study found that participants thought they put on at least 5 pounds, but they had actually only gained an average amount of 0.8 pounds over the Christmas period.

7. Christmas in space

Some people want to escape from Christmas, but this Christmas fact shows us that Christmas is almost inescapable as carols have even been sung up in space. The first song to be sung in space was "Jingle Bells." Two astronauts back in 1965 reported seeing a UFO. They then claimed that the UFO had one main command module and eight smaller modules in front and that the pilot was wearing a red suit. The mischievous pair then went on to sing "Jingle Bells" to NASA.

8. 'Home Alone'

Everyone loves "Home Alone," but did you know that Daniel Stern, the actor who played the baddie Marv, didn’t like spiders? He didn’t want to do the infamous tarantula scene, but agreed to the filming as long as it was completed in just one take. The scene was shot but Daniel Stern wasn’t allowed to scream in real life because it would have spooked the tarantula, so the scream had to be added by tech whizzes at a later date.

9. Biggest ever secret Santa

If you thought your works secret Santa was a tricky and complex business then imagine how difficult it was to organize the workers at Boots UK Limited, who took part in the largest ever secret Santa. The present swap involved 1,270 people and took place in 2008.

10. Christmas break-ups

You would think that Christmas is one of the most romantic times of the year. Mistletoe, open fires and endless parties is the perfect mix to get close to your other half, yet by looking at Facebook posts researchers has discovered that lots of couples break up two weeks before Christmas. In fact this period is the second most common time of the year for couples to split. Read more at

-ABS-CBN News (December 23, 2012 2:08PM)

'Huge gains' in Asean-India FTA

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra foresees vast opportunities springing from the extension of the Asean-India free-trade agreement to cover services and investment, which should boost bilateral trade to US$100 billion by 2015 and to $200 billion within a decade.

Asean and Indian leaders yesterday reached a high level of agreement on participation in negotiation of deals covering trade, services and investment, paving the way for a comprehensive Asean-India Free Trade Area and creating favourable conditions for the two sides and partners to negotiate the Regional Partnership (RCEP), fostering linkages in the fields of air, sea and land transport, digital technology and the building of a Mekong-India Economic Corridor.

Yingluck, attending the Asean-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi, said building and expanding linkages are important keys to the partnership between the two sides as sea, air and land networks will eventually increase trade and investment. Through the upgrade, all Asean members anticipate an increase in trade and services, she said. For Thailand, the Commerce Ministry has been instructed to draw up a new trade plan.

"The Asean leaders highly valued the effective cooperation that India has made with the grouping in strengthening regional connectivity and linkage and building an Asean Community," Yingluck said.

Closer relations with Myanmar and India will open doors wide for new trade routes, as Thailand is linked with the former's Dawei by land and with the latter's main port in Chennai by sea, she said at a meeting with Thai private-sector representatives. While Thailand should benefit from its strategic location in the region, Thai companies will be given new business opportunities, she said.

Yingluck noted that regional connectivity is the theme of Thailand's proposed 2.2-trillion-baht investment in infrastructure, which includes a road link to Myanmar. At the meeting, she said the government would next year draft a law to support the investment, to ensure that the plans would not be derailed by any political changes. Free-trade agreements aside, the infrastructure investment will help lift Thailand's competitiveness, she said.

To ensure the Thai public sector does not miss the boat amid regional integration, a public-private workshop will be hosted next year to brainstorm on issues relating to labour and education.

Vehicle to India

In the past year, the Foreign Ministry has been a major vehicle to facilitate Thai investment in India. It hosted a seminar with the Indian public sector, and a trade seminar in the south of the country. It also hosted a trip to Gujarat for Thai businessmen. Gujarat, a gateway to the rich, land-locked northern and central regions of the country, has been positioned at the head of India's march toward global economic superpower status with access to all major port-based countries.

Key obstacles that Thai companies have experienced in doing business in India include land ownership, licensing, visa applications and contributions to provident funds. Meetings with the Indian public sector and a trade seminar are proposed to address the issues.

India hosted the summit on Thursday and yesterday to mark the 20th anniversary of the Asean-India dialogue partnership and the 10th anniversary of the Asean-India Summit-level partnership. At the summit, the two sides also agreed to cooperate in developing small- and medium-sized enterprises, the development of human resources and finding solutions to challenges such as climate change, food and energy security, urbanisation, natural disaster management and fighting the drug trade.

India-Asean trade has grown more than 10 times in the 10 years since the annual summits began. After implementation of the FTA for goods, trade grew by 41 per cent in India's 2011-2012 fiscal year. Two-way flows in investment have also grown rapidly to reach $43 billion over the past decade.

Bilateral trade between Thailand and India in 2009 and 2010 totalled $4.67 billion. In those two years, India's exports were worth $178.75 billion while imports totalled $288.37 billion. According to, a business information centre, alternative energy, automobiles and auto parts are highlighted as the industries with the highest potential for Thai companies to invest in.

Yingluck said India's "Look East" policy and Asean's "Look West" policy were matching connectivity to mutual benefit. During the summit, the leaders adopted a Declaration of Vision to lift bilateral ties to a strategic partnership level. The document defines major directions for the development of the Asean-India relations and the effective and full implementation of their cooperation in various fields including politics, security, culture, society and development.- Asia News Network (December 22, 2012)

Philippines to exceed its growth forecast for 2012, 2013

The Philippine economy is expected to grow by no less than 7 percent this year, which is well above the country's growth forecast of 5-6 percent, according to economic managers here.

In his year-end economic briefing, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said that the growth of country's gross domestic product (GDP) would exceed its high-end target of 6 percent, adding that growth in 2013 would be between 5.5 to 6.5 percent and between 6.5 to 7.5 percent in 2014 and beyond.  

Leading multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and Standard & Poor's (S&P), have also upgraded their growth forecast and credit rating for the Philippines respectively.

The World Bank has raised its growth forecast for the Philippines for this year and the next, crediting prudent economic policies of the administration of President Benigno Aquino coupled with political stability in the country.

For this year, the World Bank said that the Philippine economy would expand by 6 percent, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the Asia Pacific Region. It was the third time that the World Bank raised its forecast for Philippine economy growth of 2012.

The World Bank said that in 2013, the Philippines could grow by 6.2 percent.  

The adjustments in the World Bank's forecasts came after the government reported a surprising 7.1 percent growth rate in the third quarter, one of the fastest rates in the whole of Asia, next only to that of China.

The Philippine economy grew by 6.5 percent in the first three quarters of the year on the back of higher government spending, increased household consumption, and higher investments by local firms.  

In its "East Asia and Pacific Economic Update," the multilateral agency claimed that the developing East Asia region would grow by 5.6 percent in 2012, from 4.4 percent in 2011.

"The rebound in Thailand following the floods in 2011, strong growth in the Philippines, and relatively mild slowdowns in Indonesia and Vietnam contributed to this recovery," the World Bank said.  

S&P has upgraded its outlook on the credit rating of the Philippines from "stable" to "positive", prompting Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima to express confidence that the country will finally get an investment grade in 2013.

An investment grade would mean more confidence on the Philippines to attract more foreign direct investments (FDIs) and thus help in jobs generation.  

In a statement released Thursday, S&P said the decision to improve the outlook on the rating of the Philippines was based on the assessment of a favorable political situation in the country as evidenced by the ability of the Aquino administration to push for and implement vital reforms.

The S&P announcement came hours after President Aquino signed the so-called "sin tax" bill that would raise excise taxes on tobacco and liquor.

"We revised the outlook to positive to reflect our reappraisal of the political and institutional factors underlying the ratings, " Agost Benard, credit analyst of S&P for the Philippines, said in the statement.

According to Benard, S&P may decide to raise the country's credit rating to investment status next year if favorable indicators are sustained. These include improving revenue collection, declining reliance on borrowings from foreign creditors, and falling debt burden of the government.

Two other economic indicators contributed in boosting the Philippine economy.

One, remittances from overseas Filipino workers reached a record high in October as global demand for Filipino workers remained strong despite the lingering crisis in the United States and Europe.

Filipino-based overseas workers sent home $1.93 billion in cash in October, the highest monthly figure so far on record, rising by 8.5 percent from $1.78 billion in the same month last year, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the country's central bank.  

This brought total remittances in the first 10 months of the year to $17.5 billion, up by 5.8 percent from $16.53 billion in the same period a year ago.

The World Bank said it is likely that total remittances to the Philippines for this year will hit $24 billion and make the country the third biggest recipient of money from migrant workers, next to India and China.

There are at least 10 million registered overseas-based Filipinos, fueling spending of over 10 percent of households in the country.

The inflow of portfolio investments or "hot money" to the Philippines also surged to $1.01 billion in November, the highest net inflow in about two years. This was also more than double the $490.35 million recorded in the same month last year.

According to the BSP, the inflows came mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Despite this rosy picture of the economy, however, the National Census Office reported early this week that the country's unemployment rate has risen to 6.8 percent.

"Given the latest labor and employment figures, generating employment and ensuring that these are of good quality remain our greatest challenge," Balisacan said.

But next year, according to Balisacan, the job situation could improve with the expected improved electronics industry, which accounts for more than half of the country's exports. -The Philippine Star (December 23, 2012)