Wake Up, Philippines!

IMF estimates cost of global financial crisis to top $4 trillion

Posted in Global Financial Crisis by Erineus on April 22, 2009
April 22, 2009, 6:11pm

WASHINGTON, April 22 (AFP) – The International Monetary Fund Tuesday raised its estimate of losses from the global financial and economic crisis to more than $4 trillion due to writedowns on soured credit.

The IMF said the total estimated cost of $4.054 trillion includes $2.712 trillion in losses in US-originated assets. Losses on European-originated assets were estimated at $1.193 trillion
and those of Japanese-originated assets at $149 billion.

The total cost represents what was needed and would be needed by financial institutions because of the deterioration in credit, in particular in the plunge in the value of equities backing credit, such as mortgage loans, as the global economy suffers the worst contraction in six decades.

The estimate, which covers the period from the beginning of the financial crisis in mid-2007 to 2010, was published in the IMF’s latest semi-annual Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR).

The IMF’s previous update in January of a projected loss of $2.2 trillion was based exclusively on US-originated assets, as had been the October 2008 GFSR estimate of $1.4 trillion. ”The global financial system remains under severe stress as the crisis broadens to include households, corporations, and the banking sectors in both advanced and emerging market countries,” the IMF said.

The IMF projected that banks will bear $2.470 trillion, 61 percent, of the total losses and said that two-thirds of them have yet to be declared.


Filipino workers in peril

Posted in Global Financial Crisis, OFWs by Erineus on March 21, 2009

BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, DC — The mood in Washington, DC as confirmed to me by our Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa, is that the US Congress now more than ever is inclined to listen to the general clamor to create “jobs for Americans” especially now that the number of jobless has reached 12.5 million. From the way things are going, it looks like Filipino workers in America are in peril because of the rising unemployment rate all over the United States with the exception of Louisiana. Because of the crisis, people have been leaving their hometowns looking for jobs elsewhere.

In fact when I was in New York the other day, the limousine driver of one of our associates told us that a couple of months ago, New York — one of the busiest cities in the world — felt like a ghost town. Everything was so bleak, jobs were lost almost every day. Rooms that were at a high of $450 went down to as low as $99 for a while.

Despite the crisis, the US continues to import foreign workers at an average of 138,000 a month — feeding the resentment of jobless Americans who feel that foreigners are stealing the work meant for them. An entry in a popular blog site by a group advocating immigration limits even said: “How can [it] make any sense for the American people’s own government to be recruiting more competitors for a dwindling number of jobs? Month after month as hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their jobs, the feds keep pumping another 140,000 new foreign workers into the labor force.”

Barack Obama had promised “American jobs for Americans” during the campaign, pushing for more incentives to companies that would keep their operations within the US — which in turn sent nervous jitters down the spine of call center/Business Process Outsourcing industry practitioners in countries like the Philippines and India.

A few days ago, international news organizations bannered Obama’s remarks during a healthcare summit where he said, “The notion that we would have to import nurses makes absolutely no sense,” in response to an observation by California Congresswoman Lois Capps that the US faces a huge shortage of nurses.

The US has been relying on medical personnel from the Philippines, China and India to fill the shortage. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a shortage of one million registered nurses by 2010. Last year, US hospitals had vacancies for 116,000 nurses, with an estimated need for 2.8 million new nurses by 2010. A few weeks ago, the US introduced the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act of 2009 to address the shortage by lifting visa caps for nurses, pegging the yearly limit at 50,000. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 Filipino nurses have already relocated to the US, the UK and other western countries.

Despite the “Sentosa” controversy involving Filipino nurses (recruited by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency) who left their jobs due to poor working conditions and were in turn slapped with a $50-million civil suit, hospitals and nursing homes still prefer Filipino nurses because they are hardworking, patient, agree to lesser pay (despite federal laws requiring immigrant nurses to get the same pay to prevent undercutting of American workers’ salaries) and do not overly complain about rendering unscheduled overtime and doing the work of nursing aides at times. On the other hand, Americans are more particular in everything — from the number of work hours to overtime to the specific work they have to render.

Obama thinks it preposterous to employ foreign nurses, yet there are not enough Americans to fill the gap. Even the plan to train more Americans to do nursing jobs will take a long time, especially because only a few want to become nursing faculty because the pay is low. Experts agree that any healthcare reform plan will not be possible without addressing the nurses’ shortfall — which puts Obama in a Catch-22 situation since hospitals are trying to reduce costs by retrenching staff while addressing problems brought about by the increasing number of patients who need medical care but are unable to pay their bills because of the crisis.

In fact, even giant pharmaceutical firms like Merck and Schering Plough will be cutting 16,000 jobs despite plans for a merger. The same goes with Pfizer’s plan to buy Wyeth which will result in 8,000 job cuts. Meantime, there are reports that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America want the Philippines to be penalized for passing the Cheaper Medicines Law authored by Mar Roxas which allows the parallel importation of patented medicines at cheaper prices. Congressman Ed Gullas however downplays the report, saying that even the US is contemplating the importation of cheaper medicines from other countries like Canada.

Now more than ever, the Philippines will have to stop its dependence on overseas Filipino workers. While OFWs are our number one export, we have to remember they won’t be around forever. Government has to come up with creative solutions to address the problem of joblessness in the country. Filipinos must envision the future five or 10 years down the road because of the changing mood in America and perhaps all over the world — which could put Filipino workers in peril.

* * *

I received an e-mail from publicist Joan Orendain about Time correspondent Nelly Sindayen who is now in a coma at the San Juan de Dios Hospital. It was shocking to hear of the condition of Nelly, a good friend of ours who had been actively participating in MOPC forums. We pray she would recover soon. Any of her media colleagues who want to help may get in touch with Joan or the MOPC secretariat.

* * *

E-mail: babeseyeview@yahoo.com
View previous articles of this column.

A doable stimulus plan

Posted in Economy, Global Financial Crisis, Legislation, Tourism by Erineus on March 16, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:14:00 03/16/2009

A measure that has been passed by Congress and is now awaiting the President’s signature may yet be one of the answers to the current economic crisis and at the same time may provide a long-term solution to the problem of poverty. The measure, the Tourism Act of 2009, creates the Tourism Development Estate Zone Authority and the Tourism Promotion Board.

Alejandra Clemente, president of the Federation of Tourism Industries of the Philippines (FTIP), said the tourism economic zones to be developed by the Authority would create millions of jobs and generate $10 billion in foreign exchange. She said that tourism could be an important engine of socioeconomic and cultural growth and generate investments, earn foreign exchange and create jobs.

Many countries today are visited by millions of tourists every year and earn billions of dollars in foreign exchange. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2007 the top five most visited countries were France, 81.9 million tourist arrivals, $54.2 billion in tourism receipts; Spain, 59.2 million, $57.8 billion; United States, 56 million, $96.7 billion; China, 54.7 million, $41.9 billion; and Italy, 43.7 million, $42.7 billion.

The Philippines was visited by only 3.4 million tourists in 2007, compared with the 17 million of Malaysia, 14 million of Thailand and 14 million of the small country of Singapore. Clemente said that even Vietnam, which is still recovering from the devastation of a long war, was slowly overtaking the Philippines.

The Philippines could study the experience of Spain which was an underdeveloped country until the 1960s. It developed its tourism industry and is now one of the top five most visited countries and the second biggest earner from tourism in the world. Spain is not resting on its laurels and is continuing to develop business models that are environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable.

What does Spain have or, for that matter, what do Malaysia and Thailand have that the Philippines does not have? The Philippines has many tourist attractions like Boracay, one of the best beaches in the world; Palawan, “the last frontier,” which has exotic wildlife, white sand beaches and natural wonders like an underground river; Bohol, which has the world-famous Chocolate Hills and superb diving spots like Panglao and Balicasag; the Banaue rice terraces, called the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World; and Tubbataha Reefs, an excellent diving spot. The Philippines has a gentle, hospitable people, most of whom speak English. A melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Arabic, Indian, Spanish and American culture, the Philippines is a culturally active nation inhabited by musically and artistically gifted people.

What the Philippines lacks is a comprehensive, systematic tourism plan. A lot of infrastructure has to be constructed to bring many destinations up to world standards. Many hotels still have to be built to accommodate the growing number of tourists. And the government has to improve peace and order conditions; it has to crack down on kidnappers, robbers and con artists.

The development of the tourist industry would have a multiplier effect on the economy. The tourism master plan would create 30 million jobs over a 10-year period and earn about $10 billion in foreign exchange. When the number of tourist arrivals increases, there will be greater demand for food and services. A burgeoning tourist industry would benefit agriculture and the information technology industries. More factories would be needed to manufacture supplies for hotels and resorts.

A growing tourist industry could absorb the tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers who have lost their jobs and are returning to the country. These workers only need to be retrained so that they can enter the tourism industry. An added advantage is that they would not have to leave the country again, and the social problems created by absentee parents would be partially relieved.

Government officials are pushing stimulus plans to revive an economy that is being affected by the global economic meltdown. The tourism program envisioned under the Tourism Act of 2009 is one concrete, doable stimulus plan. If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants a ready answer to the current economic crisis as well as a long-term plan to solve the problem of poverty, she can find it in the measure that is just waiting for her signature.


BACLARAN CHURCH: Mass attendance, petitions swell

By Manolita A. Gonzales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:52:00 03/16/2009

Filed Under: Churches (organisations), World Financial Crisis, Religion & Belief, Overseas Employment, Grants and Scholarships, Employment

(Editor’s Note: Times are tough. Let’s do something about it. Now. Share with us what you or other people are doing to get you through the rough times. If we are together, we can tough it out. Send suggestions to jsarmiento@inquirer.com.ph)

MANILA, Philippines—The tougher the times, the harder people pray.

At the popular “Our Mother of Perpetual Help” shrine in Baclaran, Parañaque City, people attending Wednesday novenas and Sunday Masses often spill over to the courtyard. Churchgoers used to peak at 120,000 on the first Wednesday of the month.

Now crowds fill the church to overflowing even on ordinary Wednesdays and Sundays. (The shrine holds 12 Masses and novenas every Wednesday.)

Prices have risen, but devotees are not scrimping on their donations to the church. In fact, Wednesday and Sunday collections in Baclaran have slightly increased.

The Baclaran shrine is a favorite place of solace for people seeking special favors from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and for any good Samaritan willing to help someone in need.

On the first Wednesday of the month, the shrine gets 3,000 to 4,000 written petitions. It receives 2,200 to 2,800 petitions on ordinary Wednesdays.

“Those are twice the number of letters we got five of ten years ago,” said Vivian Bersola, a lay missionary of the shrine for 19 years.

Devotees also write prayers of thanksgiving—around 500 are received weekly.

Petitions for jobs

While petitions used to focus on family and spiritual problems, recent ones are more work-related, such as prayers for landing a job in the country or abroad and for passing of job interviews and board exams, according to Bersola.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the country over the past few months because of plunging demand for exports like electronics and garments as the recession in the United States and other developed countries deepens.

The Philippines could lose up to 300,000 jobs in the first six months of the year, according to the labor secretary.

Other petitions include prayers for health and recovery from sickness (particularly cancer and other ailments needing surgery), peace in the home, travel abroad, release of housing loans and even divine intervention in the payment of tuition and credit cards.

“These petitions keep us grounded in the day-to-day struggle of ordinary people,” Fr. Ino Cueto said.

Redemptorist priests read some of the prayer petitions during Mass.

Mass for OFWs

Noticing that problems of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were a recurring theme in petitions and even confessions, the priests decided to hold special Masses for the workers and their families at 9:30 a.m. every last Friday of the month.

Shortly before the Mass for OFWs was to be held in January, the priests wondered, “Would people attend?” They were surprised when the whole church was filled.

When Cueto became shrine rector a year ago, he noticed that some 20 beggars would appear on Tuesday nights in anticipation of the Wednesday devotees.

Recently, he counted more than 50. “Most of them are old women,” he said. “We cannot prevent them from coming, but we are thinking of a more systematic and effective response to their plight.”

The Redemptorist priests are noted for their social programs for the poor, as well as their activism during the martial law years, when they were teasingly called “Redempterrorists.”

There seems to be less political activism now, which is true of the whole Catholic Church, but the social services remain.

“We used to get eight walk-in clients a day, but now we get around 15,” said Arlene Camua, social worker of the shrine’s Crisis Intervention Center.

“The more common requests are for transportation back to home provinces, medication for ailments such as diabetes and stroke, hospitalization and surgical operations.”

Clients who seek help come from Metro Manila and as far as Mindoro, Quezon and Leyte.

Eunice Barrozo, another social worker, said the Redemptorist Education Assistance Program got 55 applicants for college scholarships and continued to do so after the deadline ended last month.

The scholarship used to be open to students from any part of Metro Manila. Soaring costs of education forced the program to limit scholarships to Parañaque residents only.

Street children

The hard times are also sending more children to the streets.

Phen Mangahas, team leader of social services and director of the Sarnelli Center for Street Children, said the children the center gathered recently for street education sessions reached 100 from last year’s 60.

“Street children are now less willing to stay at our drop-in center,” she said. They prefer to be out in the streets to help parents by selling sando (plastic) bags or sampaguita (jasmine).

The three social workers noted that ironically, more clients were being referred to Baclaran by government agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Vice President Noli de Castro.

“Five years ago, we were able to get augmentation funds from the DSWD,” Mangahas said. “Now, these agencies say they really have no funds.”

Transparency, generosity

Baclaran shrine’s social services are sustained by donations—not only from wealthy patrons but also from ordinary people who share whatever they have.

Donors include those whose petitions were granted and those who want to share their blessings, say, lotto winnings.

One donor said she doubled her donations because she believed that “if you increase your donations, you will get more blessings in return.”

The devotees’ generosity is partly encouraged by the Redemptorist policy of transparency, especially now that people are fed up with rampant corruption, according to Cueto.

Monthly updates

The priests give monthly updates—announced before Masses—on where collections go.

According to the last quarter of 2008 report, a total of P1,461,552.86 went to medical assistance for 166 patients, such as 55 chemotherapy sessions, 51 operations, six cobalt/radiotherapy and medicines for 35 patients.

A total of P254,764.84 was used for transportation, medical, food and funeral assistance.

The shrine also supports 64 full and partial scholars and helps fund the social services of the other Redemptorist shrines in Lipa City in Batangas and Legazpi City in Albay.

“In our homilies, we try to help people see things in a bigger context,” Cueto said.

“The Lord does not want people to wallow in poverty. We want devotees to think, why does poverty persist? Hopefully, the shrine also helps people to realize that there are so many possibilities that we can attain as a people.”

He also expressed hope that “devotees will develop a sense of mission and service to respond to what is happening to the larger society.” Project Editor: Juan V. Sarmiento Jr.


Is the health care industry recession-proof?

Posted in Global Financial Crisis, Health, Health Care by Erineus on March 6, 2009
By Rowena Bautista-Alcaraz
February 23, 2009

A recent government-to-government arrangement was made that will initially bring some 300 Filipino nurses to work for Japanese hospitals. This is good news considering the current economic slump worldwide. And then came the announcement of RCM Health Care Services’ need for occupational (OT) and physical therapists (PT) in the United States. Now that’s even greater news!

RCM is a recognized leader in health care staffing solutions, backed by 30 years of experience. Six years ago, it partnered with the leading HR solutions provider in the region, John Clements Consultants, Inc., and its overseas staffing partner, EDI Staff Builders, in promoting work opportunities, particularly for therapists.

According to RCM’s senior vice president Michael Saks during their recent visit to the country, “the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows nursing and physical and occupational therapy as the major health care job occupations with the fastest employment growth.” It is estimated that by the year 2014, health services employment is projected to increase dramatically with over 4,700,000 new health care jobs.

“Even in an economic downturn, one sector is staying strong, and that is health care. Intangible job markets such as health care and education has grown by over 500,000 jobs since the recession began,” Saks shares.

Marc Chafetz, RCM’s vice president, also agrees, “The health care industry is pretty much recession-resistant. We have more jobs than we’ve ever had. While some of the smaller companies who used to come and recruit in the Philippines has pretty much gone out of business and stopped coming, we, on the other hand, increased our efforts by coming twice in a year now.”

Strong demand for Filipinos

According to the Philippine Department of Health Report in 2007, 85 percent of Filipino health care professionals are working overseas, making the country the number one exporter of nurses and therapists worldwide. Between 12,000 and 15,000 nurses, therapists and other professionals are reported to leave the Philippines each year to work abroad, mostly in the United States.

“Filipinos consistently provide excellent and world-class service in the field of heath care all over the world. And the top three reasons why US health care institutions choose Filipino therapists and nurses are because of their strong work ethics, outstanding educational training, and genuine compassion in caring for patients,” explains Chafetz.

And while there’s currently a strong demand, RCM focuses its initiative on raising public awareness on these relatively unexplored fields with the end of getting more Filipinos interested in working as therapists in the US. It has partnered with various educational institutions across the country to create scholarship programs for students of physical and occupational therapy courses. RCM sees the development of educational programs in occupational and physical therapy as integral to increasing employment for Filipinos in the American health care industry.

“Our goal is to help local universities produce as many qualified OTs and PTs as possible for deployment to the US. We have critical shortages in the US, and to think that qualified therapists will never graduate solely because of money is a hard notion to grasp,” says Saks.

With yearly trips to the Philippines, RCM had the opportunity to tour the country, lecturing to students at various universities, nursing schools, and rehabilitation schools. They also hold seminars in every major city around the country for qualified RNs, PTs, and OTs that are looking for sponsorship. Some of its current partner schools are the University of the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas, Cebu Doctor’s College, and Emilio Aguinaldo College.

“The cost is prohibitive to go to school and enter a career, so we have tried to be creative and come up with ways to develop scholarship programs, help therapists go to school, to learn, to get a degree, but to still dream of a great job opportunity in the US,” Chafetz tells.

He finally ends, “We’ve made it a mission as an organization to get out in the field to educate people about the opportunity. We are very committed to expanding that as a profession so we can let them know about different opportunities.”


Food, climate, financial crises threaten sustainable development goals: top UN official

Posted in Climate Change, Food Security, Global Financial Crisis, Sustainable Development by Erineus on February 24, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (Xinhua) – A range of challenges from food and financial crises to climate change are threatening global efforts to achieve development that is sustainable, or that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, a top United Nations official said here today.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, addressing a UN meeting on sustainable development that began here Monday at the UN Headquarters in New York, said: “These multi-dimensional challenges do not have purely economic solutions, nor purely social or environmental ones. They require integrated solutions that combine economic, social and environmental elements.”

He noted that food prices remain high, following on from last year’s crisis, and the global financial and economic slowdown has exacerbated the situation.

“Forecasts suggest that this year could produce the worst economic record since the end of the Second World War,” Sha said, noting that growth rates are falling everywhere, unemployment is rising, poverty is deepening, and hunger and malnutrition are on the increase.

In addition, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the set of globally agreed anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline – is in “jeopardy.”

On top of these challenges, the international community faces the threat of climate change, which if left unaddressed will, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, only increase poverty and hardship, he said.

“Now is the time for the champions of sustainable development to step forward,” he said at the gathering, which is meeting in preparation for the 17th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which is slated to hold its annual session in May.

All of the present crises put “a new responsibility on the Commission to provide the leadership and guidance that the world needs today,” he added.

The themes on the Commission’s agenda this year are agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa.

“Each provides an entry point for addressing the food crisis. Each is central to the pursuit of the MDGs. Each is affected adversely by climate change as well as the global recession,” he said. “And the policy response in each of these agenda areas can contribute to the solutions of these global challenges.”

An estimated 963 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition with many more are at risk due to volatile prices and supplies. The food crisis came to the center of global attention last year when prices for food staples increased dramatically, sharply affecting the poor and the vulnerable.


Crisis Strategies – Part 2

Posted in Global Financial Crisis, Tips by Erineus on February 22, 2009

WITH THE expected slowdown in the Philippine economy this year as confirmed by the International Monetary Fund, entrepreneurs are finding ways to deal with the global financial crisis.

“When the economy is down, nobody spends,” says Karat World top man Felix Gorriceta III. The times thus call for streamlining of inventory. “Stock up on what sells. We don’t experiment much on new merchandise, which we had the luxury of doing so before,” he says.

At publishing company Adarna House, Emelina Almario, president, shares these strategies:
1. Streamline business processes. “We are auditing current business processes and looking at ways to improve them in terms of cutting costs.”
2. Manage risks. “Our various sales channels present different levels and types of risks and we are also looking into these.”
3. Practice prudence with resources. This goes for “electricity, paper and gas (even the small things count!).”

Her daughter, Ani Rosa Almario, who co-owns The Raya School with partners, reveals they are holding off on tuition fee hikes “so as not to add to [the parents’] financial woes.”

But there’s always opportunity in tough times. Gorriceta cites Henry Sy, who built his very first SM mall when the economy was hard up in the ‘80s. “Spaces are being offered now and it’s a good idea to grab them. But don’t just open [a store] anywhere. Choose places where you think you will profit, where business will prosper,” he advises. Indeed, during tough times, the tough gets going.


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