‘LITTLE ITALY’ RISES ON PHILIPPINE HILLSIDE

Migration

‘LITTLE ITALY’ RISES ON PHILIPPINE HILLSIDE

1 Comment 27 January 2011

By Mynardo Macaraig

Mabini, Batangas — On an isolated hillside in the Philippines, a tiny slice of Italy has risen from among the vegetable patches and coconut trees, the product of thousands of overseas workers.

Large stone houses — often with brand-new vehicles in their driveways — cover the district, even though the narrow streets can barely accommodate more than one car at a time.

This is a sharp contrast to the lifestyle in the 1980s, recalled district chairman Raymundo Magsino, 63.

“Back then, we depended on farming: vegetables, fruit and corn. We were the poorest district in the province. These were all just thatch huts,” Magsino said, pointing to the pastel-colored houses that dot the hilly area.

This new wealth comes from the remittances of residents — including entire families — who have gone to Italy to work, turning a district of subsistence farmers into a relatively prosperous community in a generation.

About 6,300 people from the town’s total population of 47,000 have made the trip, said Aileen Constantino-Penas, program director of a non-government organization for migrant workers in Mabini.

The money sent home from Italy by Filipinos doing mostly domestic work and laboring has completely changed the face of Mabini town, located about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Manila.

Those who have left have brought touches of Italy back with them.

“The accents of their homes are no longer typical of Filipino homes,” Constantino-Penas said.

Italian-style large terraces or wrap-around porches with marble balusters proliferate in Mabini, some with exteriors covered with artificial stone. Other houses look like mini-Pantheons, complete with Roman-style columns in front.

Traces of Italy can also be found inside the houses, even in the bathrooms. Bidets are common here even though they are unheard of elsewhere in the Philippines.

And when speaking among themselves, those from Italy sometimes use Italian words including the occasional “Mama Mia” exclamation, said Constantino-Penas, whose relatives are also among the workers in Italy.

Going abroad to seek higher-paying work is nothing unusual in the Philippines: nine million people, or about 10 percent of the population, are currently laboring abroad.

They work as sailors, nurses, construction workers, musicians, maids and in dozens of other professions in almost every country in the world.

But the people of Mabini have found Italy to be especially welcoming.

District chairman Magsino said some people made the journey to Italy as early as 1977, at a time when this meant sneaking into the country illegally.

Working in Italy really caught on in the 1980s as word spread of the opportunities there, luring even more Mabini residents.

People who have relatives there talked to (prospective) Italian employers and told them that (their relatives) will work for you so they fixed the papers to bring them in,” Magsino said.

Luciana Hernandez, 81, said she was one of the pioneers of the exodus to Italy, having helped arrange for her daughter to go there to work in 1986, back when that meant sneaking into Italy from Austria or the former Yugoslavia.

“An agency took her by plane (to Europe). Then by speedboat, then they crossed the mountains on foot, hiding all the time,” she recalled.

Once her daughter was established in Italy, she was able to petition for the rest of her siblings to go there, where they also obtained jobs, said Hernandez.

Eventually all but one of Hernandez’s 10 children went off to work in Italy. Most of them are still there and have taken their own children with them, she said.

“When they first left, I cried every time I thought of them. But I am used to it now and these days, they can call very easily with these new phones,” she said.

Life as a foreign worker in Italy is easier than in other countries, say those who have worked there. While tales of abused Filipino maids proliferate in many countries, Filipinos in Italy enjoy legal protection and many of them get along well with their hosts, they say.

“Italy is a better place, even if you are just a domestic helper. They treat you well and even give you insurance for hospitalization,” said Alona Solis, 39, who first went to Italy when she was 16 years old.

“They are not allowed to hurt you. You can complain about abuse, unlike some other countries.”

Since she left for Italy in 1986, she has returned to the Philippines only twice: once in 2005 to get married and last December for a vacation that she is still enjoying. But she plans to go back to Italy soon.

“I am used to working there. My boss there already sees me as his child,” she said.

Her husband also has a job in Italy and they share an apartment with her two young children, said Solis, who can speak Italian.

Solis can earn as much as 1,000 euros a month ($1,350) as a domestic helper if she works overtime, far more than she could ever get in the Philippines as a high-school drop-out.

“If the educated people have trouble finding a job here, how much more the uneducated,” she said.

Despite the wealth brought by the Italian ventures, officials concede that there are costs to having so many people from the community working outside the country.

Magsino, the district chairman, said family members left behind had become dependent on the remittances of their relatives.

“Many don’t want to work in the farms anymore. They just play cards and go to cockfights,” he lamented.

Constantino-Penas said her non-government organization, Atikha, had been working to teach the overseas workers how to manage their money and to make sure their relatives at home didn’t suffer the ill-effects of separation.

“There is a social cost of migration. Children left behind don’t want to study. Their mindset is they should go abroad and not study. We see a lot of drop-outs, most of them among overseas workers’ children,” she said.

Her organization is teaching children to stay in school, to save their money rather than spend it, while also helping their guardians learn how to budget and invest the money that is sent home from Italy.

Meanwhile, Mabini tourism officer Pacencia Casapao has struggled against the apathy lingering over the town in her effort to give it more touches of Italy.

“I’ve been asking for someone to come back and set up an Italian restaurant for tourists. But no one wants to do that,” she said. (Agence France-Presse)

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RESTORING PASIG RIVER TO ITS OLD GLORY

Current Affairs

RESTORING PASIG RIVER TO ITS OLD GLORY

No Comments 24 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

Once a vital transport route and a vital ecosystem linking Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay, the 25-kilometer Pasig River has been continually neglected and polluted for decades. As a result, it has been deemed “biologically dead” by some experts. Garbage coming from informal settlers residing along its banks, as well as the wastes dumped by factories operating near the river have all contributed to its continual decline.

Rehabilitation efforts , however, started only in 1989 with the establishment of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program. But it wasn’t until then-President Joseph Estrada signed Executive Order No. 54, launching the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) 10 years later, have there been concerted efforts to rehabilitate the river to its pristine glory.

In conjunction with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), PRRC’s work has seen noticeable improvements through the years. A widespread crackdown on illegal dumping of garbage along the river as well as tributaries, esteros, and creeks leading to it, has been implemented without letup. The water is also being treated with catchments, filtration systems and various helpful micro-organisms and fungi to bring life to fish, plants and other organisms.

The “centerpiece component” of the PRRC is the Dredging Project, which consists of removing contaminated materials from the whole stretch of the river. The project is being undertaken with the expert assistance of Baggerwerken Decloedt & Zoon (BDZ), a Belgian firm with experience in land reclamation and environmental dredging.

Two months ahead of its December 2010 deadline, the firm announced that it had completed the dredging of at least 2.5 million cubic meters of silt from the river, deepening the waterway to allow bigger boats and barges to navigate through.

“The 17-kilometer stretch of the Pasig River now has a draft of -6 meters at low water level, allowing improved navigation and flood control. The removal of the contaminated silt improved the water quality,” the BDZ said in a statement.

“To allow for its overall rehabilitation, further work will be required on the revetment works along the Pasig River, the sewage systems leading into the Pasig River, and the rules and regulations on dumping of waste and emissions,” it added.

In February 2010, a massive clean-up and rehabilitation campaign was launched under the banner “Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig” (KBSIP). The project is led by the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) in partnership with the PRRC, with the goal of “zero toxic input into the Pasig River,” specifically the tributaries, esteros, and creeks.

ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director and PRRC Chairperson Gina Lopez called the initiative a “genuine display of bayanihan,” with both the public and private sectors joining forces to bring life back to a river “intimately connected to our history, culture and origin as a people.”

KBSIP aims to raise Php700 million for technology and operational expenses to clean up the river within a seven-year period. It has implemented various strategies, including Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), information, education, and communication (IEC) campaigns, relocation, as well as area redevelopment.

One of its recent major activities to raise awareness and funding was a “fun run”, dubbed the “10.10.10 A Run for the Pasig River.” It attracted a record 160,000 runners, with 116,086 finishing the race.

“We broke the world record. It was peaceful. It was joyful. It was a sea of humanity advocating for change,” Lopez tells Planet Philippines in an interview. “I could feel how the run was going to result in a significant shift in consciousness.”

The fun run generated some Php12 million in contributions, to be used to start cleaning operations in the polluted sections of the river near Malacañang Palace. “The plan is to finish [cleaning] Estero de Paco and to start and even hopefully finish the network of esteros behind Malacañang. The massive show of support will help greatly in facilitating these objectives,” Lopez adds.

Other forthcoming activities by the KBSIP include a nationwide songwriting competition, as well as the first-ever “Agos Awards,” honoring individuals, schools, organizations, government offices, and private corporations for their donations.

KBSIP has also instituted a program to relocate informal settlers to different sites. Almost 8,000 informal settlers reside along the banks of Pasig River, accounting for 60 percent of the garbage dumped on the river.

Since June 2009, a total of 221 families living along Estero de Paco have been moved to a 107-hectare site in Calauan, Laguna, and an additional 181 families to the PRRC site in Montalban, Rizal. These resettlement areas include “a full range of community amenities,” such as schools, day care facilities and livelihood opportunities for its residents.

The project also plans to relocate an additional 4,040 informal settlers from Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Tondo, Manila, Makati-Guadalupe, Pasig, and Taguig.

After the relocation of informal settlers comes the development of the river banks into linear parks, river walks and promenades that also serve as “buffer zone” and protection between the river and adjacent communities. A total of 24.6 kilometers of linear parks have been completed in the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig and Taguig.

The PRRC has also set up Environmental Preservation Areas (EPAs) in the form of linear parks, walkways and greenbelts on both sides of the Pasig River. Thus far, a total of 24.64 linear meters of parks have been completed extending from the Manila to Taguig City.

“My game plan is to show significant improvements in three indicators: the economy, peace and order and health,” says Lopez. “Once this done my projection is that there will be a snowball effect. We will have established a template.”

The BDZ urges Metro Manila residents and those living in the Marikina watershed to take good care of the Pasig River to reduce siltation and revive the waterway. “As long as it is considered an open sewer rather than as part of the natural environment of Metro Manila, the ongoing ‘abuse’ of the Pasig River will continue,” explains Lopez. “All will come to nothing if people do not put the Pasig River back into their hearts.”

She continues: “If you look at all the great metropolitan cities in the world, you will see that they are built beside rivers, and if we want Manila to be great again, then we should start by restoring Pasig River to its old glory.” (SEE RELATED STORY)

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MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE: ONE YEAR AFTER

Current Affairs

MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE: ONE YEAR AFTER

No Comments 20 January 2011

On November 23, 2009, 58 people were murdered by a local warlord from Maguindanao in the worst case of election violence in Philippine history. A year later, hope still flickers for the families of the victims, but the path to justice has been unbearably slow. VIEW DOCUMENTARY

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HELP LINE FROM ACROSS THE SEAS

Migration

HELP LINE FROM ACROSS THE SEAS

No Comments 17 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

I have been married for five years and have a three-year-old daughter. We are doing okay but dream of having our own home and traveling. My auntie in the Dubai has offered me help in getting a job there but I am worried about leaving my family behind. I have heard of other stories of how marriages have broken up because the long-distance.  What should I do?

– Farah of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, posted on www.ofwonline.com

For many of the estimated 10 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), coping with life abroad is a stressful, sometimes terrifying experience. For those who have spouses and children left at home, severe homesickness could lead to mental stress and psychological illness. The family left behind can be negatively affected as well.

It is sad to note that while the government constantly harps on the contributions of the OFWs in propping up the national economy, it has miserably failed to provide adequate services to address the physical, emotional and psychological needs of OFWs and their families. What makes the situation doubly pathetic is that even the basic and simple need of OFWs to communicate with their families has been totally neglected by authorities. One would expect that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, with the millions of pesos it collects from OFWs, would tap cheap technology such as the Internet to provide counseling and communication services to the workers and their families.

Thankfully, there are a few non-governmental organizations that attempt to alleviate the miserable situation of our migrant workers. One such private initiative addresses the need for a Help Line for OFWs and their families where they can seek counseling and expert advice.

“That’s where we come in. We tend to be the social support for OFWs who feel they cannot talk to friends or family,” says Dr. Regina Hechanova-Alampay, founder of OFW Online, a 24-hour free online service for overseas Filipino workers and their families.

An organizational psychologist who has done significant research relating to the psychology of the Filipino within a work environment, Alampay has trained employers, managers and workers on how to become more effective in their work. She is currently an associate professor at the Psychology department at the Ateneo de Manila University and the Executive Director of the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development (Ateneo CORD).

Based on her extensive experience, Alampay knows first-hand how difficult life is for the OFW, particularly the psychological toll of living abroad for extended period of time on both the worker and the family left behind.

The idea for OFW Online was born in 2007 while Alampay was attending a conference on Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT for D). “They were showcasing how technology was being used to address social problems. I was the only psychologist in that conference and it made me think, ‘Why can’t we harness technology to help OFWs’?”

She said that it took some time to obtain funding for the project. She credits the Singapore Internet Research Centre (funded by the International Development Research Center of Canada) for supporting the project.

OFW Online currently has 18 professional counselors who offer their services seven days a week from 9:00 am to 12:00 midnight. The counselors provide free consultation according to their specializations, such as marital issues, personal development, family matters, work issues and cultural adjustment.

The website has three primary features: Counseling which allows users to chat online with a counselor in a set amount of time, usually one hour (although follow-up sessions can be scheduled); Family Chat which allows OFWs to talk privately with family members; and Forums, where OFWs and their families can post messages.

To date, the website has had more than 25,000 visitors, with counseling exclusively done through chat or email. Asked whether not being able to personally interact with their client one-on-one has its drawbacks, Alampay admits that Internet communication has its advantages and disadvantages.

“On one hand, the anonymity is liberating for some users who would not ordinarily seek face to face counseling,” she says. “On the other hand, this kind of counseling is not appropriate for people with clinical disorders or suicidal tendencies.”

She says the most prevalent problems she and her colleagues are most often faced with are issues relational in nature, i.e., problems with marital relationships and parent-child relationships. “The separation from family is really tough on both the worker and those left behind. It is difficult to maintain intimacy and communications across the miles and that is often the source of difficulties,” she explains.

Alampay emphasizes that there are social costs to migration and a decision to work abroad needs to be thought out very carefully beyond monetary gain. “When possible, I would suggest trying to keep the family together to avoid the difficulties that arise from prolonged separation.”

If one needs more assistance than the internet can provide, she suggests that they seek out a professional counselor in their location. “Sometimes, this can be found in the churches (as in Hong Kong) or nonprofit organizations that may be able to refer them to someone who can help them.”

For her significant contributions to public service, Alampay was named one of 2010’s “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service” (TOWNS). The award is presented by the TOWNS Foundation to outstanding Filipino women ages 21 to 45 years old who have contributed positively to strengthening national capability and in shaping the nation’s future and served as catalysts for economic, social, and cultural development by providing pro bono their time, talent and resources to government, business media, the arts, the academe, sports, and non-government organizations.

“I feel extremely grateful for the acknowledgment but at the same time humbled because the work isn’t just mine,” she says. “OFW Online was my idea and I got it started but there are many other people who are involved in this and it is in their behalf that I accepted the award.”

With 20 years experience as a human resources consultant in organizations both in the Philippines and in the US, Alampay has taught companies to be culturally relevant and globally competitive in an industrial and corporate setting. “Basically, our role is to ensure that workers are happy, well and productive,” she says. “At the same time, we also assist groups and organizations in becoming more effective, competitive and sustainable.”

In award-winning publications that she has written, such as The Way We Work: Research and Best Practices in Philippine Organizations, Leading Philippine Organizations in a Changing World and For the People, With the People: Developing Social Enterprises in the Philippines, she calls attention to the cultural difference between how work is viewed and treated by Filipinos and the rest of the world, particularly Western society.

For more information about OFW Online, check out its website at www. ofwonline.com.

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WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

Migration

WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

No Comments 12 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

In September 2010, a Filipina domestic worker returning to Manila from Qatar left her newly born baby in the lavatory of a Gulf Air airplane. She later claimed that she had been raped by her employer, becoming pregnant as a result and, fearing shame from her family, decided to abandon the baby in the trash compartment of the airplane restroom. The baby, later named George Francis by caregivers, survived and has been reunited with his repentant mother.

The following month, another OW committed suicide inside the plane that was bringing him home. Marlon Cueva, 36, was found dead by flight attendants as Gulf Air Flight 154 was preparing to land in Manila from Abu Dhabi. The victim was observed to have been anxious through most of the flight and kept on telling other passengers that he was “sorry.”

Cueva left for the country in September last year to work as an electrician. But barely two months into his two-year contract he resigned, citing “personal reasons.”

These two incidents are the latest grim statistics on the human toll of overseas employment. Every day a sad, often tragic, tale unfolds in every nook and cranny of the world where some 10 million overseas Filipino workers toil under physically severe and emotionally draining conditions.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently monitoring some 100 active death penalty cases involving OFWs around the world. Of that number, 16 are for murder-homicide (including rape-robbery with murder), and 74 involve drug trafficking. Last December, President Benign Aquino III admitted that the government had boycotted the Nobel Prize awarding ceremonies in Oslo so as not to earn the ire of the Chinese government, which protested the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a prominent Chinese pro-democracy activist. Saying the government’s move was “in the national interest,” the President cited the ongoing cases of five OFWs facing execution in China for drug related cases.

Material gain

To be sure, overseas employment has been good to millions of our countrymen and to the economy as well. Think of the mouths it has fed, the students it has sent to school, the houses it has built, the business it has spawned and all the material wealth it has generated.

Then factor in the invaluable boon to the local economy by the enormous remittances sent in by OFWs. The remittance volume last year was projected at $18.5 billion, up by eight per cent from the 2009 level of $17.35 billion. Economists say without these money inflows, the Philippine economy would have been in tatters a long time ago.

But at what price? As if separation from one’s family is not enough pain to bear, migrant workers have to endure untold suffering abroad – abusive employers, inhuman working conditions, meager pay, inhospitable surroundings, homesickness, lack of government support, no job security, discrimination. All this contribute to indescribable physical, emotional and psychological anguish which could push the workers and their families to mental stress, bodily illnesses, and even death. One can only recall the case of Flor Contemplacion, the Filipina domestic worker in Singapore who was executed for killing a fellow Filipina housekeeper and a Singaporean boy the latter was caring for. Citing Contempacion’s unstable mental condition at the time, her supporters pleaded for clemency but to no avail,

Social cost

“It’s difficult to characterize the social cost for OFWs,” says Maria Angela Villalba, CEO of Unlad Kabayan, a program of the Asian Migrant Center which provides services to migrant workers, including savings mobilization and alternative investments at home.

“The situation is this – you’re being uprooted and placed in a situation where the people and environment around you are hostile. You work like a beast of burden from the time you wake up to the time you sleep. You’re always at the mercy of your employer. It is so unbearable that many lose their minds.”

Villalba says the suffering of migrant workers is made worse by the absence of a safe and welcoming place of refuge in their place of destination. “Their coming home to the family after a long day of hard work is taken for granted. But if you do hard work, and you have no family to come home to, and you come home to a cold bed, in a small room, and then wake up the following day to do the same thing, you get yourself into that depressing situation,” she laments.

Given the government’s inability to provides protection and services to OFWs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and migrant workers groups like Unlad Kabayan heroically fill the gap by offering a myriad of services – from crisis intervention, paralegal assistance and counseling to setting up refuge centers and educational services on self-organization, human rights and financial literacy.

The number of OFW-related deaths is rising, notes Villalba, but whether they are due to work-related stress or depression remains untracked. “The government’s response is not all of them died through mysterious circumstances,” she says. “Many of them were supposedly sick, or had accidents, and generally when they’re abroad, there’s a chance or possibility they will die.”

Families left behind

Back home, many families left behind by OFWs are not faring in terms of their psychological and emotional well being. Countless accounts have been told about broken families caused by philandering spouses, either the one abroad or the other left behind.

“Marital relationships require nurturing and intimacy,” says Dr. Gina Hechanova-Alampay, psychologist and founder of the online counseling site OFWOnline. “This becomes difficult when the spouses are physically separated from each other. The OFW and his/her spouse need to find a way to establish such intimacy at least emotionally across the miles. Unless this is done, it is not surprising that they will turn to people who can fulfill their needs for companionship and intimacy.”

With regards to the children, many feel abandoned, and potentially grow up to be spoiled and undisciplined without proper parental guidance. Communications technology such as the internet and cell phones cannot fill the vacuum created by absentee parents.

“Parenting is not just about providing for the needs of children. It is also about being their emotionally and psychologically in order to raise children and teach them the right values,” says Hechanova-Alampay. “Having an OFW parent simply means that the burden of this may fall on the parent who is left behind unless the OFW can constantly communicate with their children to provide such support.”

Besides the separation anxiety that comes from longing for parental care, children of OFWs may also be confused about gender roles or develop a materialistic attitude. Sometimes, when the father is reluctant or unwilling to fill the parental void left by an absent mother, it is usually the eldest daughter who assumes the role of caregiver for the family.

Government’s role

The Philippine government is fully aware of the problems confronting OFWs and their families. But for all its avowed concern for the “Bagong Bayani,” it has not been able to provide the necessary services for workers abroad and their families at home. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and the Philippine embassies and consulates are grossly short of funds and staff.

Migrant groups have complained that government agencies are slow to respond, and even insensitive and apathetic to the plight of the migrant workers. “I’ve heard reports from workers about government officials admonishing them, ‘With the lack of jobs in the Philippines, you should be thankful to have a job in the first place,’” narrates Villalba. “It is not very encouraging, to say the least.”

Hechanova-Alampay adds that government political and legal officers and consulate staff are not trained to provide psychosocial support to migrant workers. “I think the government needs to recognize this need and find ways either by assigning people in the consulate who would have the capacity for such type of psychological service or to at the very least train staff on doing ‘first-aid counseling’.  The consulate staff could also be trained on spotting danger signs so they can refer OFWs to appropriate professionals.”

Given the government’s inadequate resources and services to cope with the myriad of pressing problems of our migrant workers and their families, our OFWs have only themselves, their kababayans and migrant organizations to fall back on. With very limited options, they can console themselves with the thought that perhaps conditions back home are not any better.

For workers experiencing hardship abroad, Villalba advises them to remain optimistic and to focus on their goals for the future.

“Save your money, and then build your dream or plan your future while you are still here in your destination country,” she says. “You will not be in that country forever; you have a family to come home to. Put your plan together early and realize it with your family before you become strangers.”

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A LOOK AT BRAD PITT’S PINOY-MADE FURNITURE

People

A LOOK AT BRAD PITT’S PINOY-MADE FURNITURE

No Comments 12 January 2011

He’s not an actor, director or producer, but Cebuano Kenneth Cobonpue has made it big in Hollywood. The world renowned furniture designer’s creations, known for mixing comfort, style and organic materials, have been featured in several films abroad such as Ocean’s Thirteen led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon; Made of Honor starring Patrick Dempsey; and Spread topbilled by Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche. READ FULL STORY

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MVP: WE SHOULD ADDRESS POVERTY FIRST

People

MVP: WE SHOULD ADDRESS POVERTY FIRST

1 Comment 09 January 2011

For Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the top business executives in the country, eradicating poverty should be Job No. 1 for every Filipino. But to be successful, more people should help not just in civic projects but also in government programs that invite partnerships with private businesses. READ FULL STORY

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YOUNG TYCOON EYES ASIA

People

YOUNG TYCOON EYES ASIA

No Comments 08 January 2011

By Cecil Morella

MANILA – Armed with a fast-growing fleet of planes and enough junk food snacks to feed entire armies, Philippine tycoon Lance Gokongwei is striding out confidently in the world’s most populous region.

Best known as the boss of budget carrier Cebu Pacific, the 43-year-old also leads a vast conglomerate that is involved in an array of ventures, with one claiming the title of the biggest consumer food business in Southeast Asia.

Thrust by his rags-to-riches father to lead the family-owned businesses in 2002, the US-educated Gokongwei said the group had worked feverishly to diversify and become a big player across a range of markets throughout Asia.

“I think any family business has to adapt because things are so much more competitive now,” the reserved, soft-spoken father-of-two told AFP in a recent interview at his office in a Manila high-rise tower owned by the family.

“Our job, really, is to push our international business.”

The airline and its trans-Southeast Asian branded food manufacturing business, Universal Robina Corp., are the two biggest moneymakers of the listed family conglomerate JG Summit Inc., capitalized at about $3 billion.

But it also has interests in real estate and hotels, retailing, telecommunications, petrochemicals and banking in the Philippines.

On the food side, the company each year sells $1.15 billion worth of wafers, potato chips, tea, cereals and chocolates in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

The food business, which calls itself the Philippines’ first multinational, has struggled in China but succeeded elsewhere and has little debt, said April Tan, research chief with stock brokers Citisecurities Inc.

With nearly half of its profits coming from outside of the Philippines, the company’s efforts to broaden its base are paying handsome dividends, according to Tan.

“If you’re catering to a bigger market, the earnings potential is much higher,” Tan told AFP.

Cebu Pacific, the no-frills carrier with dancing flight attendants, has similarly started to spread its wings across Asia after success at home.

When Cebu Pacific began flying in 1996 with the motto, “It’s time everyone flies,” few Filipinos could afford to traverse the archipelago by air and hundreds were dying every year in alarmingly frequent ferry disasters.

It has since become the country’s biggest airline in terms of the number of domestic passengers — eclipsing national carrier Philippine Airlines.

“With Cebu Pacific, it’s quite clear that they’re capturing the bulk of the market and obviously, they are the fastest-growing carrier in the country,” Tan said.

The airline boasts a young fleet of 32 planes and serves 50 domestic and 23 regional routes. Profits are surging and it is set to bulk up with 24 new planes due for delivery over the next 14 months.

Gokongwei said the entry of other low-cost carriers in the Philippines since the Cebu Pacific success showed the huge potential pent-up demand in a country of 95 million people, 10 percent of whom work on short-term jobs abroad.

Gokongwei company shares surged last year ahead of the airline’s listing, turning the family into the country’s third richest and putting it on Forbes magazine’s billionaires’ list, its worth estimated at $1.5 billion.

A fitness nut who ran the New York Marathon last year, Gokongwei said that at times he and his father, John, a Chinese immigrant who remains the group’s largest shareholder, disagree on which countries or businesses to invest in.

In the end though, the old man, who made his name as a risk-taker, gets his way.

“I’m a working man. I’m working for him,” said the son, who went to business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

However the son proved his management mettle by reviving the young airline after one of its planes flew into a Philippine mountain killing all 104 people aboard in early 1998, according to Manila businessman Antonio Ramon Ongsiako.

“Lance is well regarded and has a reputation of being a better, more refined version of his father,” Ongsiako, a former director of the Financial Executives of the Philippines, told AFP.

“Lance will take JG Summit to a bigger and better future.” (Agence-France Presse)

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PALAWAN IN TRAVEL MAG’S BEST 20 TRIPS OF 2011

Travel

PALAWAN IN TRAVEL MAG’S BEST 20 TRIPS OF 2011

No Comments 06 January 2011

Palawan made it to National Geographic Traveler’s list of 20 best travel destinations in the world this year.

National Geographic Traveler said Palawan’s limestone karst cliffs, coral atolls, mangrove forests, sugar-white sandy beaches, and extensive fringing reefs create one of the Philippines’ most biodiverse terrestrial and marine environments. READ FULL STORY

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OVERSEAS PINOYS FUEL REAL ESTATE BOOM AT HOME

Migration

OVERSEAS PINOYS FUEL REAL ESTATE BOOM AT HOME

No Comments 03 January 2011

By Mynardo Macaraig

The Philippines’ famous diaspora of overseas workers is fuelling a boom in the real estate market back home as they snap up houses and apartments to safeguard their futures.

Property prices have recovered strongly since the global financial crisis of 2008, with investments from the 9 million Filipinos toiling away in foreign lands a significant factor, industry figures say.

“Overseas workers are moving the market. Properties now are selling and when there is demand, prices go up,” Emily Duterte, head of the Real Estate Brokers Association of the Philippines, told Agence France-Presse.

Industry sales nationwide this year are estimated to hit 300 billion pesos (6.9 billion dollars) compared with about 100 billion pesos each in 2009 and 2008, according to Claro Cordero from Jones Lang La Salle, a global real estate consultancy firm.

Quick recovery

“Nobody thought there would be such a quick recovery from the slump that began in 2008,” said Cordero, research head of the company’s Philippines’ branch.

Filipino workers abroad have a reputation for working as lower-paid employees, such as construction workers, maids, sailors and janitors.

But their sheer magnitude — they account for about 10 percent of the Philippine population — mean they have long been a major force in the economy.

In 2009, they sent home 17.3 billion dollars, making up more than 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to government data.

And Filipinos are increasingly moving into higher-paid sectors, such as medicine, engineering and the media.

Overseas workers usually opt for houses costing about two million pesos (45,000 dollars), humble by foreign standards but well in the middle-class bracket for Filipinos, according to Duterte from the brokers’ association.

Real estate investment

Fifty-year-old merchant seaman Rodolfo Oliverio has spent most of his working life outside of the Philippines but he is an active player in the domestic real estate market.

Oliverio has used his overseas earnings to buy two small houses in the heart of Manila for his wife and children to live in, and he is paying for a third he recently bought just outside the nation’s capital.

“If you work here, nothing will happen. The salaries are too small. The only way to afford a house is to become an overseas worker,” Oliverio told AFP while on his annual vacation in Manila.

“Naturally, among overseas workers, the most important thing is a house and lot.”

Oliverio said that as a ship’s bosun — the crew’s foreman — for a foreign company, he earned about 82,800 pesos a month, roughly four times more than he could earn doing the same job with a local cargo line.

Home sweet home

With his salary, he said he was confident he could afford the repayments on his third house, a middle-class 42-square-meter (452-square-feet) place south of Manila which cost a little over 1.5 million pesos.

Industry observers said Oliverio’s real estate goals were typical of many overseas workers.

“Most have left families back home so they want to have a home for their families. Their children, their parents, these are the ones who stay in the houses they buy,” said Duterte.

Filipinos have traditionally preferred living in houses, no matter how small, over apartments, but living overseas has started to change preferences.

Revitalized condo market

Overseas workers have revitalized the condominium market, said Manuel Serrano, head of the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Association.

“In the beginning, they were more interested in house and lots but in the last two years, the tempo has changed. The demand now is for condos,” Serrano told AFP.

“Most of these people have gotten used to the lifestyle abroad and, in condos, they don’t have to worry about doing a lot of cleaning, gardening and watering of plants.”

Even for the traditional housing market, living overseas has changed the tastes of many Filipinos.

“A lot of developments are incorporating designs that are inspired by architecture worldwide, with a Mediterranean or an American feel,” said Jones Lang La Salle’s Cordero.

$15.5-B in first 10 months

Meanwhile, OFW remittances grew by 10.6% in October at $1.7 billion, the highest monthly level so far this year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said.

This brought remittances for the first 10 months of 2010 to $15.5 billion, up 7.9% year on year.

Money remitted came mostly from the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Kingdom, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Germany and Norway.

The BSP noted that steady demand for professional and skilled Filipino workers abroad, and increased access of OFWs and their families to formal money transfer channels continued to boost remittance growth.

Based on preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), approved job orders overseas reached 578,535, of which about 39.2% was comprised of processed job orders for service, production, as well as professional, technical and related workers.

The central bank expects remittances to grow 8% in 2010 from $17.3 billion in 2009, a record high despite weak employment numbers worldwide due to the impact of the global financial crisis. (Agence France-Presse)

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