No Comments 25 February 2011

British banking giant Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) sees the peso strengthening to 37.50 against the dollar this year and further to 35.50 to $1 next year as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is likely allow the local currency to appreciate further to cushion the impact of imported inflation brought about by rising global oil and food prices.

“We believe the peso will end the year at 37.50 per dollar. By 2012, it will be 35.50 per dollar. The growth in the Philippines is strong, and the foreign exchange should reflect that,” visiting HSBC economist Frederic Neumann said at a press briefing last Feb. 16 in Manila.

The Hong Kong-based economist sees the peso appreciating steadily at P40.50 to $1 in the first quarter, 39.50 in the second, 38.50 in the third, and P37.50 in the fourth quarter of this year.

Sen. Ralph Recto foresees and even stronger peso at less than P35to the dollar this year once the central bank raises its key policy rates from record lows to tame inflation. The BSP has kept its key policy rates unchanged since July 2009 and will review them when the policy-setting Monetary Board meets in March.

What is good about a stronger peso, Recto said, is that it could offset the impact of higher fuel prices as social and political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa disrupt oil supplies and will likely continue in the coming weeks. A rise in fuel prices will spur inflation higher, he said.

“In layman’s terms, when peso is strong, there would be fewer pesos needed to import fuel which we pay in dollars, and this should trigger similar downtrend in prices of fuel and food,” Recto explained.

eumann explained that strong capital inflows to emerging markets including the Philippines as well as the robust remittances from overseas Filipinos would continue to support the local currency.

Latest data show that the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) surged 36.8 percent to a record level $62.371 billion last year from $45.03 billion in 2009 while the balance of payments (BOP) surplus more than doubled to hit a new record level of $14.4 billion from $6.42 billion in 2009.

Record-high in 2010

OFW remittances likewise grew by 8.2 percent to hit a record-high of $18.76 billion last year from $17.35 billion in 2009, exceeding the revised growth forecast of eight percent set by the BSP.

“I would think that as growth becomes more entrenched, BSP should allow the peso to be determined by the market. Given our forecast for growth and inflation, BSP is likely to let the exchange rate do the lifting,” Neumann said.

The bank recently raised its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the Philippines to five percent instead of 4.7 percent this year and to 5.8 percent next year. The country’s GDP growth surged to its fastest in more than three decades after expanding by 7.3 percent last year from 1.1 percent in 2009.

Another bright spot

HSBC economist Sherman Chan said in a study that another bright spot is the country’s external position that remained on a firm footing buoyed by rising reserves and steady growth in equity flows.

“That said, the economy remains vulnerable to rising capital inflows and ensuing appreciation pressure on the peso. The former may fuel asset inflation; the latter could hurt export competitiveness,” Chan added.

HSBC sees inflation climbing to 4.4 percent this year and 4.8 percent next year from 3.8 percent last year. The BSP expects inflation to average 4.4 percent instead of 3.6 percent this year and 3.5 percent instead of three percent next year but still well within the target of three percent five percent between 2011 and 2014.

Neumann expresses concern on the possibility that the BSP would keep interest rates at record lows despite the risk of higher inflation in the coming months.

“Every central bank in East Asia, except BSP, has raised its interest rates. Unless interest rates go up, there will be a danger of inflation,” he added.

$1.7-B in December alone

Central bank data showed that money transfers by OFWs also reached a new monthly record of $1.694 billion last December, up 8.1 percent from December 2009, which eclipsed the $1.673- billion record booked last October.

The amount of remittances in 2010 topped the revised 8 percent growth forecast by monetary authorities, with the BSP initially saying the amount would likely grow by 6 percent.

“The 2010 level slightly exceeded the BSP’s forecast of $18.7 billion, or an 8.0 percent year-on-year growth for the year,” said BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr.

Tetangco said remittances jumped by $1.415 billion from the previous record of $17.348 billion in 2009 as the money sent home by sea-based OFWs went up by 11.9 percent while that of land-based workers increased by 7.2 percent.

Driving factors

“The major driving factors that helped accelerate the growth in remittances were the diversity of the destinations and skills of overseas Filipinos combined with the expanding network of bank and non-bank service providers both here and abroad to capture a larger share of the global remittance market,” Tetangco explained.

He cited the steady improvements on the variety and coverage of global remittance networks that have enabled more OFWs to send remittances at a more affordable cost, including web-based services, automated teller machines, as well as reloadable or reusable cash cards.

“The continuing innovation of financial products and services being offered in the market to facilitate money transfers have likewise contributed to the resilience of remittances throughout the year,” Tetangco said. (Culled from newspaper reports)




No Comments 17 February 2011

Washington — Late Monday afternoon (Feb. 14), Manny Pacquiao and company, lots and lots of company, boarded Acela Express No. 2165 in the belly of Pennsylvania Station. Pacquiao entered his private car (cost: $10,000) flanked by two documentary film crews, promoters, publicists, advisers, his chief of staff and his wife, Jinkee. READ FULL STORY (Photo: Manny Pacquiao with US Senate Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill.)


Current Affairs


1 Comment 12 February 2011

By Malou Mangahas

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Late evening last Feb. 4, Friday, a long-time source suddenly called. Would I be free for brunch the next day, he asked. He wanted to consult me on something important.

We met the next day and he bared his purpose: Angelo ‘Angie’ T. Reyes, the former Armed Forces chief of staff and Defense secretary, wanted to see me so he could tell his story to “an independent journalist” – would I want to interview him? The source happened to be a senior trusted associate of Angie for the last decade or so.

Now which reporter would pass up the chance to do a great interview? I was tempted to say yes at once. But I knew Angie Reyes to be a difficult source – smart, articulate, often given to intellectual musings, somewhat arrogant in manner and tone, and yes, a bit full of himself. I don’t know how he sized me up; perhaps it was just sheer luck that he had thought of PCIJ at a time he was vulnerable and under fire in the Senate for alleged corruption.

In 2001, for over two hours, I had interviewed Angie for a PCIJ story on the rushed, overpriced, and irregular purchase of four, 30-year-old C-130-K military transport and cargo planes and two sensor equipment for $41 million or P2.1 billion. The supplier was the world’s largest defense contractor, the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin.

The story had reached Angie’s doorstep because it was he, as Armed Forces chief of staff, who recommended the purchase, and approved the same weeks later, as Defense secretary, without public bidding. The purchase was enrolled for funding under the multi-billion-peso Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program when it was not supposed to be there at all. The program did not include the purchase of C-130s but only aircraft with night-vision sensors.

To push it, the AFP crafted the contract with Lockheed Martin to cover the acquisition of C-130s retrofitted with night-vision sensors. As it turned out, Angie had merely signed on to a deal endorsed by two presidents, one of whom was said to be close to the lobbying contractor. The Department of Budget and Management did not approve the contract until months later. The Armed Forces had a bad habit then of awarding supply contracts that the service commands or headquarters would later suspend or rescind, then bid and award again, for reasons like product specs mismatched with unit requirements and the change of commanders.

I got to ask Angie hard questions only after a long, small-talk session. He regaled me with his views on books, the arts, and his life as a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He didn’t get it that when some sources start pulling in vanity snippets, some reporters become more wary.

And so on Saturday, Feb. 5, when the source said Angie wanted to tell his story, I agreed — but only after laying down what I thought should be the best premises for a good interview: no-holds barred, he doesn’t waste time denying things, he deals with the critical questions, and he agrees that I bring a PCIJ colleague as associate. I told the source about my honest impressions of Angie, arrogance and all. I asked the source if he really thought Angie had it in him a hint of humility, and the courage to tell all about what I am certain he knew first-hand were details of corruption – the cases, the actors, the modus and the system – in the military and the government.

I told the source that it seems clear that apart from senior military officers, corruption festers with the knowledge or acquiescence of a string of chiefs of staff, defense secretaries, and presidents, as well as some of the members of Congress and contractors. If Angie would talk to secure self-redemption, I said, the interview could not guarantee that. I requested the source to tell Angie that the best reason for him to talk would be simply to tell the truth, and that maybe in doing so, over time, he could have self-redemption.

The source said he would relay all this to Angie and get back to me. We exchanged text messages – some of which he said he forwarded to Angie – while Angie engaged in muni-muni, reflected on his options, and consulted with his sons about the interview.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, past 8 p.m., the source called to say Angie was ready to talk and our meeting was a go. But minutes later, the source said Angie had changed his mind and it was a no-go. More minutes later, the source called again to say that Angie said it was a go once more. I was already halfway prepared to go out when the source relayed the message that Angie had again changed his mind. I told the source we should respect that Angie and Angie alone should make the call if and when he wants to talk.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the day Angie Reyes took his life, I learned from the source that Angie had actually prepared for our interview. For a few hours last Sunday morning, Angie had sat down with the source to organize his words and thoughts to prepare for his two considered options: the interview with the PCIJ, or a final statement he would issue, in his name, to the media. He asked his associate to document his thoughts and feelings.

“In retrospect, he must have meant it as a final testament, but he kept that card very close to his chest,” the source said. “The notes are incomplete, because our conversation was unfinished. I apologized that I had to leave for a lunch appointment.”

“He became anxious and suddenly revived the PCIJ interview option,” the source recalled. He quoted Angie as telling him, “‘Please lang. Importanteng-importante ito. Time is of the essence.”

“After I said goodbye, he thanked me and shook my hand much more tightly than usual,” the source said. “By then, he was vacillating anew on whether or not to grant the interview. Many considerations (must have) flitted through his mind: he clearly didn’t want to rat on anyone, certainly not his comrades in arms; he also didn’t want to be an instrument for inflicting irreparable damage on the AFP…and so on.”

Said the source: “He would have wanted to contribute to cleaning the system – but only in a just and rational manner. At the hearings, he strongly felt – quite justifiably, I think – that he was being set up by some people to be ‘the face of military corruption.’ While he felt that this was very, very unfair, he was powerless to defend himself in that forum.”

The start of their conversation was recorded on tape. A minute into it, Angie asked the source to just jot down notes of their discussion that took place at the Reyeses’ home in Taguig. The source gave the PCIJ his notes from his discussion, with Angie captured verbatim, saying these were the main points that Angie would have wanted to highlight in the interview. In it, Angie showed he was not one to fail the expectations of honor.

With appropriate courtesy and clearance from his widow and sons, the PCIJ has decided to let Angie tell his story, verbatim. The discussion notes are rough and still unpolished in some parts, and somewhat incomplete. But they are Angie Reyes’s words and thoughts, as of Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, two days before he put a gun to his heart and shot himself.

Living life without honor is a tragedy bigger than death itself  – Angie Reyes

“Honor, truth, justice. Honor above all else. Pride goes with it, self-respect, sense of legacy. This is very, very important to me. Sometimes, I am accused of being arrogant. I like to have plenty – a healthy sense – of self-esteem. I react to affronts on this.

There are two options available: to stonewall/fight the legal battle, or to come clean and make my own contribution to cleanse the system.

Stonewalling, I am told, would result in a long, protracted legal battle. However, past cases are not being resolved either way, kept in state of limbo. People’s memories are short and all this will eventually fade into public disinterest, and eventually oblivion. So, not to worry.

Coming clean, on the other hand, cannot be done without giving up something. I have decided to come clean, bare my heart and speak the truth. The truth can cut two ways: 1. If you are guiltless, you can embrace the truth and hope that it will protect you; 2. If you are not guiltless, speak the truth and it shall set you free.

I speak the truth not to whistle-blow or to seek neither immunity nor protection nor to escape from any form of liability. As a matter of fact, I speak the truth to accept responsibility for whatever liability I may have.

Honor is above all else. More valuable than freedom or even life itself. Therefore, honor must be guarded/defended with your life.

Living life without honor is a tragedy bigger than death itself.

Stonewalling would mean I would have to go on every day of my life or at least a large part of it under a cloud of public suspicion, at least until the case is resolved. Every day as you continue to live with the lie, you lose a little of your self-respect. And every day, as people look at you, you can read from their minds that they find you dishonorable, and you die a little. So if you stonewall – and you have the connections, resources and power to sustain it, and perhaps the thick face to endure it – that would be the preferred option. I have none of these, and so I choose the path of honor.

My honor has been attacked and damaged. I still have a lot of pride and self-respect, and I’d like to come clean to preserve whatever honor is left.

We see plenty of people walking around who have been clearly disgraced in the eyes of the people, and I do not want to join their ranks.

I think if you want to cleanse the system and for there to be justice, it should be applied equally and well. Our experience has shown that those with position and power, support and connection invariably go scot-free. I don’t have any of these.

It is unfortunate that we have a huge canvas here of which, I admit, I have been a part; unfortunately, people are now inclined to make me the face of that problem for their own various reasons.

When I participated in EDSA II, even then I anticipated that something like this would happen when I made enemies both on a personal and official level. In my long years of service, I knew that I would have to come to terms with this enmity some day.

I might not be guiltless/faultless, but I am not as evil as some would like to portray.

To my friends and those who have known me and believed in me, I honestly believe I did not let you down.

I want to assure the (PMA) cadet corps, current and future, that there are plenty of military professionals who have served and will continue to serve the country well. Do not be disheartened by this turn of events. Yours is a noble profession (of arms), and you should feel no shame. I have tried to live with integrity, loyalty, and courage.

In my 48 years of public service, I have tried to live up to the highest levels of professionalism and integrity. Whether it’s my assignment with the AFP-RSBS or with the Anti-Smuggling Task Force, I never received any offers of bribes; in fact, I returned them. In all my assignments, 39 years in the military and 9 years in four different Cabinet positions, I have never had any favorite supplier. Neither have I ever extorted money nor set any financial precondition for the approval of any contract. I can honestly say that I served honestly and well.

We are now in the situation where my honor and the family name are at stake. My family, my children, my grandchildren could say with a lot of truthfulness and pride that in the family, we value honor and integrity. Strength to live it and the courage to face up to the truth. This is the legacy I would like to leave with them.

Honor, truth, but there must be justice. And justice can be served if laws are applied evenly and well – not favoring the rich and powerful. I hope my case/situation will not be used as something that would bring closure to the issue of military corruption. The fight to reform the system and the entire country must continue; the sad part is that they are selectively targeting individuals and institutions.

I did not invent corruption. I walked into it. Perhaps my first fault was in having accepted aspects of it as a fact of life.

While I am familiar with finance, I must admit I had scant knowledge of military comptrollership. Personally, zero experience. Never been assigned as disbursement officer, etc., no stint. It’s a military field of specialization that I do not have.

No system is perfect. The AFP system needs a lot of systemic solutions…And the same might be true of some other institutions.

Tinyente pa ako,  ganyan na ang sistema (i.e., “conversion” system, etc.)… I can perhaps be faulted for presuming regularity in a grossly imperfect system. As CS (chief of staff), a big landscape, presume regularity, convenient to ignore it, accept it as part of the system. It’s easy to say, institute reforms after the problems have erupted.

I joined EDSA II at great risk. Jumped into a void. Coming from a place that was high and comfortable.  Without any regard for compensation or recognition or reward. I thought what I did – being loyal to the Flag and putting the national interest above all else – a right, but I was faulted for not being loyal to the commander-in-chief, that I should have stuck with him to the end, however that end might be. I stuck it out with the GMA administration for 9 years, not under the banner of loyalty; I could have deserted GMA, but I did not want to be branded as someone who abandoned his superiors…”

When we participated in many military campaigns, I would like to think that I showed courage…” – PCIJ, February 2011


Current Affairs


No Comments 09 February 2011

One hundred twelve years after the Philippines declared itself an independent state, questions on the width and breadth of Philippine territory are still a subject of intense debate. The latest book of distinguished diplomat Rodolfo C. Severino shows that despite several revisions and laws related to territory, the most basic question on the area of Philippine jurisdiction remains ambiguous. READ FULL STORY


Current Affairs


6 Comments 03 February 2011

“No to Mining in Palawan”, a signature campaign to raise 10 million signatures against mining activities in Palawan, was launched on Feb. 3 by the Save Palawan Movement. It is spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation, civic and church leaders following the killing of civic leader, environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega in Puerto Princesa last Jan. 24. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 02 February 2011

By Jocelyn Valle

The box-office success of My Amnesia Girl was sweetest for its female star, Toni Gonzaga. For starters, that project seemed to have come from out of the blue because she was supposed to do a movie with her dream leading man, Robin Padilla. But the action star suddenly became busy attending to the affairs of his heart that eventually led him to India, where he tied the knot with Mariel Rodriguez. Interestingly, Toni had announced around that time that she had a falling out with Mariel, who’s been her close friend since they started co-hosting Pinoy Big Brother in 2005, without revealing its cause.

Toni also had her hands full as one of the lead stars in Kokey@Ako, an early primetime series featuring the Pinoy-created small-screen character from outer space, and co-hosting the Sunday talk show The Buzz.

It was only when the teaser for My Amnesia Girl started airing in late October that it was confirmed that Toni was indeed making a new with John Lloyd Cruz with Cathy Garcia-Molina at the helm. The announcement, however, was initially met with skepticism because some quarters thought the movie closely resembles the Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler’s blockbuster, 50 First Dates.

Doubters were proven wrong when My Amnesia Girl opened to smashing results on Nov. 24 amid strong competition from Hollywood flicks like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1. It continued its winning streak till it ended its run on Dec. 24 when the Metro Manila Film Festival rolled in on Christmas Day.

But it was Toni who remained incredulous even during the December 9 victory party thrown by Star Cinema for the people behind the movie – from the cast to the creative and production teams.

Ano ka ba, you deserve it,” John Lloyd told an emotional Toni.

“Thank you. I deserve this movie with John Lloyd,” she said, facing the back-to-back winner of the Box-office King title. “Kasi ang akala ko marami pa akong kakaining bigas bago kita makatrabaho.”

She continued: “I’m really, really grateful na he said yes when I know that he could’ve said no. Kasi busy ka. May ibang bagay na gusto kang gawin. But you said yes to me and to the project. So, maraming, maraming salamat sa opportunity na makatrabaho ka at saka na-share mo ang husay at galing mo. Marami akong natutunan sa ‘yo. Sabi ko nga, ang prayer ko lang, ‘Lord, sana bigyan mo ako ng bagong leading man.’ Ang binigay sa akin, John Lloyd Cruz.”

It’s no false humility for Toni. While she’s had her share of moneymakers like 2005’s D’Anothers and the romantic comedies You are the One, You Got Me, My Big Love and My Only U, a John Lloyd Cruz movie is in a league of its own. His leading ladies in his hit movies, Bea Alonzo and Sarah Geronimo, are certified box-office queens, too. So Toni’s insecurities are valid and realistic.

She’s been in the biz long enough (she joined a singing contest at age 13 and ended up excelling in hosting and acting as well) that the 27-year-old TV host-actress-singer already knows how competitive her chosen field is. And it’s even tougher for someone who, as a Methodist like the rest of her family (dad Carlitos, mom Pinty and younger sister Alex), has strong religious convictions. For instance, she can’t show flesh or do intimate scenes in any of her projects.

That’s why it was big deal for Toni to kiss John Lloyd in My Amnesia Girl, insisting that their lips only touched lightly. And, no, she wouldn’t go any farther than that in her future assignments.

Hanggang do’n na lang ang puwedeng ibigay,” she said. “Alam naman ng mga director ko. Hindi siguro nila ako bibigyan ng isang bagay na hindi ko magagawa wholeheartedly.”

But wouldn’t those limitations impede her growth as an actress?

“I can be a mature actress without doing bed scenes or showing of flesh,” Toni explained. “That’s my belief. You can be a mature in how you attack your role, how you deliver your lines, how you carry your character – but it doesn’t mean you have to do bed scenes.”

In fact, she’s already proven her point in A Journey Home, the directorial debut of her boyfriend, Paul Soriano, grandson of the late actor Nestor de Villa and son of TV commercial director Jeric Soriano.

Released in 2009, A Journey Home is about a father (Soliman Cruz) who, after 20 years of absence, tries to reconcile with his family. His eldest son, Raffy (Joem Bascon), who also has problems connecting with his own children (John Manalo and Cha Cha Canete), is the last to forgive him. Toni plays Raffy’s wife, Gayle.

“I did that movie wholeheartedly as a Christian,” said Toni. “It’s a Christian film and not really for commercial purpose or for my personal glory. It’s for the Lord. So hindi ko inisip ‘yung sarili kong benefit.”

When it comes to choosing between acting and hosting, though, Toni is less certain. “Hosting is something that I do naturally.  ‘Yung mga bagay na sinasabi ko, they just come from heart. Pero iba rin ang fulfillment sa acting, sa singing.

Sa tingin ko naman kaya ko pa namang pagsabayin at kinakaya naman ng katawan ko at ng schedule. At saka sabi nga nila, strike while the iron is still hot and while there are opportunities. Siyempre time goes by. Hindi natin alam, maraming magagaling, maraming mga batang magaganda at mahuhusay din. Baka eventually dumating ang panahon na maghanap ng bago ang mga manonood at hindi na nila gusto ang naiibigay ko. Kaya hangga’t gusto pa nila, binibigay ko.”

She also believes that a star’s staying power doesn’t lie on just one talent. “Ang longevity naman hindi nasusukat sa isang bagay na nagagawa mo. Longevity is being able to give your audience variations and variety. So if I can do everything at the same time, I’ll do my best to do everything at the same time hangga’t kaya ko pa.”

Someday, though, Toni hopes to host a public-affairs program. “But kailangan ko pa sigurong i-hone ang ability ko,” she acknowledged. “Hindi naman natin minamadali ang mga bagay na ganyan. Given the right time and the right opportunity, then I can host a show that inspires and touches other people’s lives.”

Meantime, Toni looks forward to an even more productive 2011. There are talks that a sequel to My Amnesia Girl may be in the works and that she’ll be doing more movies this year. The channel of communication has opened once more between her and Mariel and they may soon rekindle their friendship. Maybe Toni can get to work with Robin, after all.


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