Wake Up, Philippines!

RP is Asia’s Most Popular Destination

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on April 24, 2009

Makes mark in World Travel Fair 2009

April 18, 2009, 3:24pm
Asian travel agents kayaking in El Nido
Asian travel agents kayaking in El Nido

Shanghai, China — The Philippines was named the ‘Most Popular Destination in Asia, after a public vote and a strict evaluation process undertaken by professional jurors from the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration and VNU Exhibitions Europe, at the recent World Travel Fair (WTF) 2009.

“Our country receiving the highest laurel in Asia’s leading source fair in China is a notable milestone in the industry’s optimism in sustaining the momentum generated from efforts to reach this important market segment,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

The tourism chief added, “The Philippines is one of the fastest growing destinations in China’s outbound travel industry, recording a 74% month-on-month growth rate in visa issuances for February of this year.  We are also the nearest tropical beach country for the Chinese, as Manila is only two hours away from Guangzhou, while Cebu is only three hours away from Shanghai.”

Durano likewise attributed the win to the country’s competitive tour pricing, the remarkable progress of the transportation sector and the Filipino’s friendliness and hospitality.

Dubbed as the ‘Outbound Travel Industry’s Leading Source Fair in Asia,  the WTF receives thousands of travel buyers from China, Asia and the rest of the world, who come to hold exchanges with more than 500 exhibitors from 62 countries, held at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.

“The Chinese travellers rank our country’s beaches and heritage sites high, as proven by the various recognitions they have awarded to our tourist spots,” Durano said further.

Beach holidays rank 79% among the top leisure activities undertaken by the Chinese, according to an outbound travel study in China, while the International Visitor Survey conducted by the DOT reported that foreign visitors rank the country highest for visitor satisfaction in terms of Filipino hospitality.

Due to its strong partnership with a consortium of travel agents, the DOT has urged the transportation sector to open direct chartered flights and daily regular flights to Cebu and Manila.  These developments have reflected a 61% increase in number of chartered flights operated in 2008 compared to last year.

Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque, Jr. was enthusiastic to point out that the country has always garnered positive feedback from Asian tourists, “The Philippines has managed to secure, among others, the Best Leisure Destination in the last year’s WTF, for Boracay; the Top 10 Island Getaways for Chinese Summer Travel, for Bohol; the only Asian entry in the list of premier destinations in the acclaimed World Traveller Magazine; and Top 10 Most Searched Destination among Shanghai online users.”

Jarque was referring to Baidu, the biggest search engine in China capturing 68% of the Chinese online market (Google a distant second with 20% market share), which listed the Philippines in the Top 10 most searched travel destination among Shanghai online users from its latest report.

Meanwhile, Arlene Alipio, head of DOT Team China, noted that the flourishing outbound travel of China has been propitious to the Philippines as well, “Recent statistics from the China National Tourism Administration show that the number of Chinese travellers reached 34.4 million in the first nine months of this year, up by 14.8 percent year-on-year.  In September alone, about 3.7 million Chinese people travelled overseas, an increase of nine percent year-on-year.”

Shanghai-based Philippine Tourism Attaché to China, Gerry Panga, shared, “The country’s continued and consolidated efforts in promoting a wide array of travel opportunities to its Asian neighbours have indeed resulted to our strong market performance despite the global crunch.

RP posted a growth rate of 58.5% in 2008 in terms of visa issuances for travel to the Philippines from Eastern China plus Sichuan and Chongqing. Current growth rate stands at 20% from January to March this year, making the Philippines one of the fastest growing outbound destinations for Chinese tourists.


Does monosodium glutamate (vetsin) have adverse effects?

Posted in Health, Nutrition by Erineus on April 24, 2009
April 20, 2009, 2:43pm

Q: Is it true that vetsin has a lot of adverse effects on health? How does vetsin enhance the flavor of food?
–Myrna A.,
General Santos City

A: Vetsin is the popular Filipino term for monosodium glutamate or MSG, the salt form of glutamic acid. It has been widely used for centuries as a flavor enhancer in Asian cooking, but only recently has an acceptable explanation for its flavor enhancement effect been postulated.

For a long time, the scientific world thought that the taste buds (the receptors for taste that are in the tongue and some other structures in the mouth) are capable of detecting four basic tastes only—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—and that all other tastes are merely combinations of these basic tastes. Lately, however, many experts have conceded that there is probably a fifth basic taste called umami that our taste buds are sensitive to.

Umami is a Japanese term which roughly means tasty. It is the naturally occurring savory taste that is present in many food items such as meats, cheese, tomatoes and many other foods that contain some amount of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid stimulates the umami taste receptors in much the same way as sugar stimulates the sweet taste receptors. Thus, the more glutamate there is in food, the more flavorful the food is and consequently, seasoning food with MSG enhances the flavor of food.

Does MSG have adverse effects on health? MSG has been blamed for what is known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” This condition that occurs in some people shortly after eating in Chinese restaurants exhibit symptoms including burning sensation at the back of the neck forearms and chest; numbness at the back of the neck that radiates to the arms and back; facial pressure or tightness; chest pain; headache; nausea; palpitation; tingling sensation, warmth, and weakness of the face, upper back, neck, and arms; drowsiness; weakness; and, for asthmatics, an asthma attack. In most instances, the symptoms appear 15-60 minutes after eating. However, without exception, the symptoms are temporary and self-limiting, subsiding spontaneously after a few minutes to several hours. There has been no report of death or prolonged illness that followed these symptoms.

Curiously, however, most foolproof studies that have been conducted on MSG have failed to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between MSG and the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Some experts say the syndrome is not really a distinct medical entity but simply a collection of anecdotes that describes a variety of postprandial illnesses. Other experts say that “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” at least in some instances, is a manifestation of allergy or hypersensitivity to MSG.
At any rate, the existing consensus among experts is that, at current level of use, MSG poses no hazard to health. Hence, there has been no attempt by any government to restrict the use and sale of this age-old food flavor-enhancer. Even the U.S. Food and Drug administration states that MSG is generally safe, but it acknowledges that the seasoning may pose problems for certain individuals like asthmatics and those people who can tolerate small, but not large, amounts of MSG.
(Note: Email inquiries on health matters to: medical_notes@yahoo.com)


No takers for Senate ethics committee post

Posted in Senate by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Christina Mendez Updated April 23, 2009 12:00 AM

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MANILA, Philippines – Nobody wants the Senate ethics committee.

Senators are not inclined to accept the chairmanship of the panel, amid questions over the credibility of current chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson who issued an order to investigate Sen. Manny Villar over the C-5 Road Extension controversy.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joker Arroyo declined the offer of heading the ethics committee tasked to cast judgment on the conduct of Villar.

Santiago said since the two warring senators – Manuel Villar Jr. and Lacson — “are both my friends” she would not accept the offer to head the committee.

Each senator had developed political colors and their “political complexions” do not subside when they are appointed to the ethics committee, Santiago said.

Estrada said he does not want to judge a fellow senator because it does not seem proper.

Sen. Arroyo underscored the need for the ethics committee and its members to be impartial in their views before a case against a colleague is even heard.

“What is more important now is whether the ethics committee is (going to be) impartial in its decision,” Arroyo said.

“The question here is that due process is simply a case of fair play, and fair play means the judge is impartial. The moment the judge is not impartial, nothing – the body loses its jurisdiction,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo also countered efforts of the majority to decide the issue by getting the consensus of the majority.

“We are not talking of numbers here. This is not a bill. It is the character of the members, the character of those who will judge because the one that judges should be as clean as a whistle. No amount of numbers can prevail over a discredited committee,” Arroyo told reporters.

Arroyo expressed doubt whether the Senate can still constitute a credible ethics committee.

“I wonder whether the ethics committee can create a membership that is not partisan. Everything we do here is partisan,” said Arroyo, adding that everything they do “naturally” has “political color.”

After an emotionally charged privilege speech on Monday, Lacson brought the resolution ordering Villar to answer allegations over the P200-million double insertion on the C-5 Road controversy within five days.

Villar did not accept the document, but Lacson maintains that it was “deemed served.”

Lacson also took exception to Villar’s accusation that the ethics committee has become a “kangaroo court.”

Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. explained that the heated debates at the Senate have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Villar but on the need to follow strict procedures at the chamber.

“This has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Manny Villar. We are talking about procedures because if we allow a tainted ethical procedure to go unrebutted then the probabilities are the ethics committee can go wild and will do everything it wants to do without consideration of the rules,” Pimentel said in an interview.

“We are not covering up for Sen. Villar. That’s what I want to say. We are only asking that if he must undergo an ethics committee investigation, he must be accorded all the rights and even the protection of the rules adopted by the committee itself among others,” Pimentel added.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile maintained that Villar could still be summoned by the committee, adding that there could be difficulty in succumbing to pressure of the minority to have a new eethics committee.

Lacson insisted that his committee “cannot be held hostage” by the maneuverings of Villar and his allies, including Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

“If the committee will exercise its power, he can be invited, summoned. It’s up to him to ignore the committee if he does not want to participate. I do not know what the committee will do,” Enrile said.

Enrile said he does not “begrudge” the minority group for insisting that the members of the Senate ethics committee should be changed. “I will have to consult the members of the majority if they will agree. I can not decide that alone,” Enrile said.

Lacson said he is ready to face any senator who would pursue an ethics complaint that would question his integrity after he was implicated in the double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2001 as well as his alleged role in the Best World (BW) Resources scam.

“If there is a valid complaint and if he is willing to file that complaint, then the ethics committee (may take it up), thenif I am the one accused in any complaint, then necessarily I would have to inhibit myself,” Lacson said.

Lacson said even Sen. Estrada could be investigated if someone files a complaint against him.

Estrada had admitted last Monday before the plenary that he was the “angel sent from above,” who Cayetano referred to as his source of the antedated ethics committee resolution, which was subject of the heated debates on the Senate floor.

Lacson said the ethics committee’s order, which was adopted last April 15, is deemed “as served” when he personally handed the document to Villar on the floor the other day.

Members of the Senate minority never recognized the ethics committee chaired by Lacson.

Senators say nobody actually wants the job because investigating a fellow senator will not be easy.

Villar declared he would not submit himself to the ethics committee because Lacson and his members were mostly presidential hopefuls.

The vice chairman of the ethics panel is Sen. Richard Gordon and the members are Senators Manuel Roxas II, Loren Legarda and Gregorio Honasan. The ex-officio members are Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

On the other hand, Enrile said he chose these presidential wannabes to become members of the ethics committee because they would be careful not to be accused of bias or prejudice against a fellow candidate for president.

Enrile and Lacson also said Villar must face the allegations of corruption against him squarely rather than complain that he was just being harassed politically. With Aurea Calica
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UBS downscales RP’s growth forecast for 2009

Posted in Economy, Forecasts by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Des Ferriols Updated November 05, 2008 12:00 AM

Swiss banking giant UBS AG has downscaled its 2009 growth projections for the Philippines from 3.5 percent to 1.8 percent, warning that after the financial contagion has subsided, declining trade would drag Asia into recession.

By 2010, UBS said the Philippine economy would recover slightly and post a 3.4-percent growth.

UBS said in its latest investment research that it has lowered its overall growth projection for Asia (excluding Japan) from 6.1 percent to 4.6 percent—its weakest growth in 30 years except during the 1997 crisis.

“Rates would of course fall in that scenario in Asia but our consistent view is that lost income from exports will weaken consumption and investment across the region,” said UBS economist Duncan Wooldridge.

He said, Asia as a whole would recover by 2010 and grow by six percent which was marginally above the 5.5-6 percent range that was normally marked as “recession-like” in the context of Asia’s growth experience.

UBS kept its growth forecast for the Philippines at 4.6 percent for 2008 but downscaled its projection for 2009 putting the country squarely in the middle.

It projected growth to slow down to 2.5 percent in Indonesia (from the original forecast of 4.7 percent) and flat in Malaysia (down from the original three percent.)

These growth rates, according to UBS, would be accompanied by a dramatic decline in inflation rate from its projected 9.4-percent average this year to three percent in 2009 (due to base-effects) and an average of 3.8 percent in 2010.

UBS said the country’s current account balance would drop to 1.7 percent of gross domestic product compared with the original projection of 1.9 percent of GDP for this year.

By 2009, however, UBS said the current account position would rise to four percent of GDP and settle down at 3.6 percent of GDP by 2010.

UBS said exchange rates were also expected to bring the peso at an average of 50 to the dollar this year, strengthening slightly to 48 to $1 in 2009 on through 2010.

UBS had originally projected the peso to rise to 44 to the dollar in 2009.

Interest rates, on the other hand, are expected to be at an average seven percent this year and ease to 6.5 percent in 2009 and 2010.

It said the deterioration of the global financial conditions and evidence of sharper economic downturns across the world economy prompted it is cut its 2009 global GDP growth projections as well.

UBS said it now experts the US and Western Europe to contract in 2009, accompanied by weaker activity in emerging economies. Global GDP is projected to grow by only 1.3 percent, making it the sharpest downturn in the world economy since the global recession in 1981-1982.

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World Bank cuts RP growth forecast to 1.9%

Posted in Economy, Forecasts, Uncategorized by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Ted P. Torres Updated April 08, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Economic growth in the Philippines is expected to further slow to 1.9 percent this year, marking its worst performance since the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago, the World Bank said yesterday.

“Growth in 2009 would likely slow to 1.9 percent,” the World Bank said in its latest East Asia report, adding it would be the country’s slowest growth since 1998 when the economy contracted by 0.6 percent.

World Bank senior economist Eric Le Borgne said a series of negative developments over the last four months forced a lower outlook for growth in the region, including the Philippines, as weak global demand for the country’s goods and services slowed down consumption and investments.

“There are also strong indications that the anticipated recovery for 2010 has diminished,” Borgne said, adding that a 2.8-percent growth for the Philippines next year remains dependent on how the developed countries deal with the global recession.

The World Bank projection compares to forecasts of 2.5 percent by the Asian Development Bank and 3.5 percent by the International Monetary Fund.

The government’s own forecast is a 4.4-percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP), down from 4.6 percent last year and 7.2 percent in 2007 – the fastest pace in 30 years.

The Arroyo administration said it plans to achieve the 4.4-percent rate through massive government spending to take up the slack of reduced economic activity.

The World Bank attributed the weak 2009 economic outlook to two main culprits: the country’s vulnerability to a slowdown in the amount sent home by Filipinos working abroad and an ambitious size of the stimulus package, which could have a limited impact and be undermined by weak tax collections.

“Domestic demand, boosted to a large extent by strong remittances since 2001, has been the most important growth driver for the economy,” the report said.

Last month, the World Bank said money sent home by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will contract by 4.4 percent this year as a result of the global slowdown, lower than the bank’s projected five to eight percent fall in remittance flows to developing countries. The latest outlook was also bleaker than the previous forecast of 0.9 to 5.7 percent the World Bank made in November last year.

But the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is more optimistic. It said remittances are likely to stay flat in 2009 at around last year’s level of $16.4 billion. In January, the BSP reported a 0.1-percent growth in remittances compared to the same period last year.

The multilateral lender likewise described the government’s P330-billion stimulus package (labeled the Economic Resiliency Plan or ERP) as “ambitious” since it accounts for 4.1 percent of the country’s GDP.

The ERP is focused on providing jobs, even if temporary, to those who are displaced as their employers, whether here or abroad, close shop or reduce operations as worldwide sluggish consumption and credit flows squeeze their ability to stay afloat.

The World Bank cited the government for postponing its medium-term balanced budget goal in 2011 to make way for the hiked spending. It noted, however, that the actual impact of the stimulus package in 2009 would be limited as government spending plans could be undermined by a huge budget deficit, no thanks to lower-than-target tax collections.

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Very costly doing business in RP – World Bank

Posted in Business, Surveys by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Des Ferriols Updated April 24, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Despite efforts to simplify business processes in the country, the cost of doing business in the Philippines is one of the highest in Southeast Asia and very little protection is given to investors.

A report by the World Bank (WB) showed that compared to its closest competitors in the region, doing business in the Philippines needs more reforms if the country wants to compete for foreign investments.

The WB said in its 2009 World Development Indicators that the health of a country was measured not only in macroeconomic terms but also by other factors that shape daily economic activity such as laws, regulations, and institutional arrangements.

“The Doing Business indicators measure business regulation, gauge regulatory outcomes, and measure the extent of legal protection of property, the flexibility of employment regulation, and the tax burden on businesses,” the WB said.

The WB surveyed businesses to set indicators in starting a business, registering property, dealing with construction permits, employing workers, enforcing contracts, protecting investors, and closing a business.

“The fundamental premise of the Doing Business project is that economic activity requires good rules and regulations that are efficient, accessible to all who need to use them, and simple to implement,” the WB said.

Thus some Doing Business indicators give a higher score for more regulation, such as stricter disclosure requirements in related-party transactions, and others give a higher score for simplified regulations such as a one-stop shop for completing business startup formalities.

In the survey, the Philippines scored roughly in the middle of the Southeast Asian pack that included Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

In the Philippines, the WB survey showed that there were 15 different procedures for starting a business that would take an average of 52 days to complete, with costs equivalent to 29.8 percent of the per capita national gross income.

On the other hand, there were 24 different procedures for dealing with construction permits that take over 200 days to complete and about 37 different procedures to enforce a contract that take a whopping 842 days to implement.

Worst of all, the country scored two on the one to 10 scale that assessed the degree of regulatory protection given to investors in terms of full disclosure and the like.

For comparison, countries like Malaysia have fewer procedures that take significantly shorter to complete and cost significantly less when starting businesses.

Malaysia also scored 10 in investor protection, at par with most developed countries that have advanced and strict disclosure requirements intended to protect stockholders and investors of listed and unlisted companies.

Vietnam, which used to trail the Philippines in terms of foreign direct investments, has made significant headway in improving its business environment with better and cheaper processing time for start-ups and a higher investor protection score of six.

Vietnam has also significantly improved its legal system such that it only took 34 procedures and 295 days to enforce a contract.

Even Indonesia where starting a business was more expensive and took longer, it still took significantly less time to enforce contracts and that country also scored high (9 index points against the maximum of 10) in the investor protection index.

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Negros execs vow no letup vs GMOs

Posted in BT Crops, Visayas by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Carla Gomez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:44:00 04/23/2009

Filed Under: Food, Agriculture

BACOLOD CITY – The Negros Occidental provincial government will continue to enforce a ban on the entry of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the province, Vice Governor Emilio Yulo said on Wednesday.

Yulo issued the statement even as another GMO corn shipment was intercepted in Victorias City and more sightings of GMO corn were reported in other parts of Negros Occidental.

Board Member Adolfo Mangao, chairman of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s committee on agriculture and author of the ordinance banning the entry of GMO products, said those criticizing the ban should have prepared for its enforcement since the ordinance was passed two years ago.

He also said that he stood by the ordinance he authored.