Wake Up, Philippines!

Lechon: Asia’s best pig ever

Posted in Food/Drinks, News Feature by Erineus on April 28, 2009

Updated April 29, 2009 12:00 AM

Photo is loading...

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the bad reputation pigs are getting these days due to the swine flu virus, a pig in the Philippines has made it to Time magazine’s Best of Asia list as “Best Pig.”

Time magazine, in its recent issue, hailed the Filipinos’ favorite roasted suckling pig or lechon as the “Best Pig” in Asia.

In an article written by Lara Day entitled “Pork Art,” she said it was the review of TV chef Anthony Bourdain, “whose love of all things porcine is famous,” of the lechon that helped it gain international limelight.

Bourdain, with his show No Reservations, visited Cebu and declared that he had found the “best pig ever.”

In his blog, Bourdain said that of all the pigs he tasted all over the world, “the slow roasted lechon he had on Cebu was the best.”

In the article, Time wrote on how the lechon is prepared and how it has become the country’s most beloved dish and a source of fanatical adulation.

Though varieties differ regionally – stuffing can include any combination of lemongrass, tamarind, star anise, garlic, green onions and chili leaves, while condiments range from a light vinegary dipping sauce to a thick liver-based gravy – the basic concept remains the same. A pig is roasted for hours over a fire of open coals, slowly rotated on a bamboo spit, lovingly basted and meticulously supervised until its flesh is so tender, moist and succulent that it can be sliced with the edge of a plate, and its skin so crisp it can be punctured with the tap of a finger,” Time said.

Even Time couldn’t help but gush on the lechon.

“It was just a matter of time before the world found out. You could call it the Platonic idea of a pig, but it’s doubtful if Plato, or even an entire faculty of philosophers, could have imagined anything so exquisite,” Time wrote in its glowing review.


The Sunshine Vitamin

Posted in Health, Vitamins by Erineus on April 28, 2009
April 27, 2009, 1:16pm

With the growing obsession with having fair skin, there very few who dare go out into the sun. Little do most people know (and many may have already forgotten) that limited sun exposure reduces vitamin D production in the skin. This much was discussed by Dr. Sandra Tankeh-Torres of Cardinal Santos Hospital and visiting physician from University of Birmingham Medical School in London, Prof. David John Hosking.

“Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance present in salmon, mackerel, sardines, and cod liver oil; fortified foods including milk, breakfast cereals, and some juices; and vitamin supplements. It can also be produced in the skin during sun exposure,” tells Dr. Torres.

“Vitamin D is not bioactive and must be metabolized to the hormonally active form. Once formed after exposure of the skin to sunlight or absorbed after intake of food or supplements, it is transported to the liver and kidney and other sites to metabolize,” explains Prof. Hosking
Sadly, a high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy was seen across all geographic regions. In an international epidemiologic study of 2598 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, many of the women had vitamin D inadequacy. Moreover, the prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy was at least 53 percent in all five regions involved in the study and was highest in the Middle East with 81.8 percent and Asia with 71.4 percent.

“The human body needs an adequate amount of vitamin D to absorb calcium to promote bone health. And bone loss, while taken for granted by many, is a serious health concern for both men and women. While calcium is vital for bone health, vitamin D is as crucial to the balancing act of bone resorption and formation,” tells Dr. Torres.

However, vitamin D’s benefits may go beyond the protection of bone and muscle. New research suggests that it may also guard against an array of diseases such as: macular degeneration, an eye condition that leads to loss of vision; cancer of the breast, colon, pancreas and prostate; diabetes; multiple sclerosis; rheumatoid arthritis, and hypertension.

“In the US, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for adults over 50 has been upped from 400 to 800 IU/day to 800 to 1000 IU/day to help maintain vitamin D at optimal level. Studies show that vitamin D supplementation with or without calcium supplementation can reduce the risk of fracture in men and women over the age of 60. Studies also showed that vitamin D improved muscle function and reduced the frequency of falls among the elderly,” relates Prof. Hosking.

Finally, Dr. concludes, “Ensuring adequate intake of vitamin D is a fundamental component of the treatment of osteoporosis. Vitamin D promotes normal bone mineralization and bone density by increasing intestinal calcium absorption and helping regulate bone turnover.”


Tagged with:

Budget deficit seen to exceed P256 billion

Posted in Budget by Erineus on April 28, 2009

By Des Ferriols Updated April 28, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) said it is possible that the country’s budget deficit will exceed the worst-case scenario of P256 billion as predicted by Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto.

Because of dimming fiscal conditions, DBS said the Philippine peso will not fare well as long as the government’s budget deficit is causing worries over fiscal sustainability and the exchange rate is seen dropping to P51.5 by 2010.

DBS said its medium-term outlook for the Philippine peso is negative as the cumulative budget deficit surged to P119.7 billion in the first quarter, more than twice the level in 2008.

“Historically, the peso does not perform well when fiscal worries increase,” DBS said. “The peso is also not helped by slowing overseas worker remittances, which will no longer help the current account offset the persistent trade deficits.”

DBS said the country’s fiscal deficit is under widening pressure from both falling government revenues and rising expenditures.

“It is well possible that the budget deficit will not only surpass the official estimate of P199 billion for the full year, but also Economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto’s current worst-case estimate of P257 billion,” DBS said.

“If revenue collection does not improve in the second quarter and the second half of 2009, the government would have to spend less than P91 billion on average per month to keep the deficit below P257 billion,” DBS said.

DBS pointed out that actual government expenditure levels going that low are unlikely in the current environment because P91 billion would be much less than the average monthly expenditure in 2008, which was P106 billion.

“Therefore, much depends on revenue collection which is unlikely to be boosted amid slowing economic growth,” DBS said.

Moreover, DBS said the market is not likely to be enthusiastic about the need for the government to return to the international debt market to raise funds, not when its latest balance of payments registered a deficit from debt repayments.

“Hence, we will keep a moderate depreciation profile for the peso, and see $/peso rising to 50 by the end of the second quarter in 2009 and to 51.5 by the end of the first quarter in 2010,” DBS said.

View previous articles from this author.


Poverty worsens — SWS survey

Posted in Poverty, Surveys by Erineus on April 28, 2009
April 27, 2009, 6:26pm

Compared to a year ago, Filipinos who consider their lives had worsened increased by four points to 47 percent, new survey results showed.

While optimism that the quality of lives of Filipinos will improve in the next 12 months rose, pessimism among other individuals also rose, which brings the net personal optimism of Filipinos more or less “unchanged,” the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey results showed.

The nationwide survey fielded over Feb. 20-23 among 1,200 respondents showed that 32 percent is expecting personal quality of life to improve in the next 12 months, while 19 percent of Filipinos is expecting it to get worse.

This brings the net personal optimism (percentage of optimists minus percentage of pessimists) to +14, or “fair.”

SWS explained that as compared to the fourth quarter of 2008 figures, both personal optimism (rose by two points) and personal pessimism (rose by four points), increased.

“Thus net personal optimism was more or less unchanged,” SWS said.

With regard to change in personal quality of life compared to 12 months ago, the latest survey found those saying their lives had worsened (termed “losers”) increased by four points to 47 percent as compared to the fourth quarter of 2008 figure.

Meanwhile, those saying their lives had improved (termed “gainers”) remained at 19 percent.

SWS said the result of the losers and gainers brings the “Gainers-Losers gap” (percentage of gainers minus percentage of losers) to a low –28, or “worse” by four points from the previous quarter.

Considering personal optimism among geographic areas, the survey showed that it rose in Luzon outside Metro Manila, and decreased in the Visayas.

As compared to the previous quarter, net personal optimism in balance Luzon rose by six points, to a high +23 in February.

However, it declined by 15 points in the Visayas, to a “low” –4, by six points in Mindanao, to a “fair” +11, and by one point in Metro Manila, to a “fair” +14.

With regard to net personal optimism among socio-economic classes, it rose by two points in class D, to a “fair” +16 in February.

Meanwhile, it declined by 13 points in class E, down to a “mediocre” +5, and by four points in class ABC, to a “fair” +15 [Chart 5, Table 5].

As also shown in the survey, gainers-losers gap narrowed in Mindanao and widened in the Visayas.

The figures showed that the number of losers exceeding gainers in Mindanao eased by six points from the previous quarter, “slightly improving to a mediocre –16” in February.

However, it worsened by 19 points in the Visayas, down to a “very low” –49, by five points in Metro Manila, to a “very low” –33, and by two points in Balance Luzon, to a “low” –23.

Likewise, it worsened by 14 points in class E, falling to a “very low” –36, and by three points in class ABC, to a “mediocre” –17.

It remained at a “low” –26 in class D.

The February survey also looked into the level of optimism and pessimism of Filipinos with regard to the global financial crisis.

“Optimism that the Philippine economy would get better (economic optimists) rose by one point, to 19 percent in February, while pessimism (economic pessimist) stayed at 38 percent,” SWS said.

The net economic optimism score (percentage of economic optimists minus percentage of economic pessimists) was a “mediocre” –19.

SWS noted that net economic optimism has been at “low to very low” levels over the past six quarters, ranging from –19 to –39. As shown in the results, economic pessimism eased in Metro Manila and worsened in the Visayas.

Economic pessimism eased in Metro Manila, with a net economic optimism improved by 19 points from the previous quarter to a mediocre –18 in February.

Net economic optimism improved by seven points in balance Luzon, to a “mediocre” –14.

It worsened by 18 points in the Visayas, down to a “very low” –33, and by five points in Mindanao, to a “mediocre” –18. It rose by six points in class D, to a “mediocre” –18, and by five points in class ABC, to a “mediocre” –17. It worsened by 15 points in class E, to a “low” –23.

The SWS first quarter survey of 2009 used face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults in Metro Manila, the balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao with sampling error margins of ±3 percentage for national percentages and ±6 percentage for area percentages.


Going after Lozada

Posted in Graft and Corruption, NBN-ZTE Deal, Scandal/Expose/Mess by Erineus on April 28, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:35:00 04/28/2009

The impending arrest of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not just another of the continuing moves to harass a witness who blew the whistle on the corruption surrounding the $329-million deal for a national broadband network between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Philippine government. It is also intended as a warning to would-be whistle-blowers on other anomalous transactions entered into by the Arroyo administration, perceived by the people to be the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines.

The perjury charge filed by Michael “Mike” Defensor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff, is just one of 16 cases filed against Lozada, ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft. Lozada and his family also said they have received death threats as a result of his exposé. For the past year or so, Lozada and his family have been living in seclusion at the La Salle Green Hills, with security provided by nuns.

Contrast this with the freedom that former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri are enjoying. Abalos purportedly said, “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (This has been interpreted as meaning that there was P200 million for Neri in the deal.) Neri acknowledged that he heard the offer but recommended the approval of the deal anyway. There was a bribery attempt, but the bribe offeror was not charged. Neri, instead of being dismissed for not reporting the bribery attempt, was transferred to another government position.

The courts and the law enforcement agencies are continuously being used to harass Lozada, his wife and other family members. The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines said that the government’s latest move— the order for the arrest of Lozada—“is a warning to other people both inside and outside the government who have knowledge of important information related to the practice of corruption of people in power to shut up—or else.”

The continuing harassment of Lozada and his family is not going unnoticed by civil society. Former President Corazon Aquino has thrown her support behind Lozada and has urged those “who support the truth” to speak out against his impending arrest on the perjury charge. Former President Joseph Estrada has joined Aquino’s call. Estrada said, “It is not a democracy where those who speak the truth are imprisoned or threatened to be imprisoned while those who abuse the people run free.” Some senators have also spoken out in support of Lozada. The wonder is that the case has not sparked a bigger public outrage. Probably the people are waiting for the actual arrest of Lozada before they speak out and stage protests? Or probably they consider a perjury charge too small a case to get exercised about?

Lozada has said that he is not going to post bail and would not resist arrest as a sign of protest against what he called the government’s continuing harassment through a number of cases filed against him and his wife.

We hope this latest government move is not just a ploy to further isolate Lozada. We hope that the case will be tried soon, so that the people will know the truth about the NBN-ZTE deal, for whose signing Ms Arroyo, according to a Malacañang press release, “left like a thief in the night,” leaving the bedside of her husband who was at that time recovering from a life-threatening operation.

If the trial court will be fair and just, the administration may not get the result that it wants in causing the filing of the perjury charge against Lozada. The case, Lozada said, might provide the starting point for a full-blown court hearing on the alleged irregularities in the NBN-ZTE deal. That would be ironic justice, because it would result in the disclosure of the truth and the exposure of things that the administration would like to stay hidden.


Why should we pay for electricity we did not use?

Posted in Consumer, Electricity, Meralco by Erineus on April 28, 2009

By Neal Cruz Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 05:16:00 04/27/2009

On May 4, the Commission on Elections’ Special Bids and Awards Committee will open the proposals of companies bidding to supply and operate the automated election system (AES) for the May 10, 2010 elections. That poll will consist of synchronized national and local elections. (The opening of the bids was previously scheduled for Apr. 27–Ed)

Everybody seems to be pinning their hopes for quick and honest elections on the election machines. With a budget of P11.3 billion (that’s billion!), there are many bidders with many different election machines and systems. The job before the Comelec’s bids and awards committee is to choose the best machines and system at the least possible cost. A failed bidding should have no place in the standards of the Comelec considering that there is very little time left before the elections. There was already a delay in the approval of the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the poll automation. Another bidding, in case of a failed bid, would delay the setting up of the machines and system even more.

The Comelec cannot allow anything to go wrong in the bidding process and in the final selection of the winning bidder which should provide effective overall nationwide service and total customer support.

Once the envelopes of the bidders are opened, there must be total assurance that the winning bidder shall be able to perform the following tasks on a nationwide scale:

1. Lease more than 80,000 units of “certified” optical scan machines with software, including the supply of printers and ballot paper.

2. Provide electronic transmission of consolidated and canvassed votes.

3. Provide nationwide training, technical support, warehousing, deployment, installation, pullout and system integration.

4. Conduct overall project management.

The poll body has already relaxed a number of rules in the bidding process, particularly in determining the qualifications of the bidders. To encourage participation and to make the bidding process more competitive, the committee has relaxed the experience criteria to qualify more bidders.

Ten technology providers are participating in the bidding, but only two firms based in the United States are highly qualified to supply and manage the poll automation, according to industry sources.

Comelec Chair Jose Melo and his bidding committee are urged to look closely at the track records of the local firms that have partnership agreements with the foreign solutions providers.

The industry is abuzz with the rumor that Indra Sistemas SA of Spain is still undecided whether or not to partner with Stradcom Alliance Holdings Inc. (SAHI) of the Philippines. It is not clear if Stradcom is serious about joining the bid.

Previously, SAHI was able to bag the three biggest government computerization programs, worth billions of pesos, in alliance with three different firms. Stradcom International Holdings got the Land Transportation Office’s computerization project; Land Registration Systems Inc. won the Land Registration Authority contract; and BCA International Corp. won the machine-readable passport project of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But as we all know already, the LTO project was stopped after the Commission on Audit declared the contract with Stradcom flawed. The COA also ordered that payments to the firm be suspended. The LRA project has remained uncompleted, and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has ordered that the passport contract be rescinded.

After this, the Comelec should look closely into the track records of bidders. Under our free enterprise system, every businessman should have an equal chance to get a project. But the track records of the companies should be analyzed closely. With the stake in the 2010 elections, the Comelec cannot afford to relax. It should be vigilant.

* * *

With the increase in Meralco rates, expect more grumblings from electricity subscribers. A particularly painful and annoying thorn is the so-called “capacity fees” that Meralco has to pay to power generating companies with whom it has supply contracts.

Capacity fees are fixed minimum fees that Meralco has to pay to a generating firm whether or not the energy is taken in full. This fee is then passed on by Meralco to its consumers.

Why should consumers pay for electricity they did not use?

Expecting this question, Meralco has issued a briefer to explain it:

“Capacity Fee represents the capital cost of recovery of the generation plants over a period of time. Since Meralco contracted a guaranteed volume of energy delivery, to be supplied by Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the generating plants have allotted the generation capacity to Meralco based on the minimum contracted energy, whether it was actually drawn or not. If the energy drawn by Meralco is less than the Minimum Energy Quantity (MEQ), then there is opportunity lost by the IPPs. This cost represents the unavailed capacity fee which Meralco is compelled to pay, based on the contract.”

What if the IPP is not able to supply the MEQ due to operational problems?

“Meralco will not be compelled to pay the full amount of guaranteed fixed cost for the period. The fixed cost will be based on actual energy drawn and not on the agreed MEQ level.”

Why the need for MEQ in IPP contracts?

“A certain energy level must be guaranteed in the franchise area to ensure stability of electricity supply. To entice energy investors in setting up generation facilities, they should be guaranteed capital cost recovery to ensure viability of their investment. The MEQ in the contracts addresses the supply and demand concerns of Meralco and IPPs, respectively.”