MANILA, December 14, 2005
 (STAR) (AFP) - The Asian Development Bank said Wednesday it has approved a 150 million-dollar loan to improve the poor's access to financial services in the Philippines.

The project would relax bank regulations and promote the use of mobile telephones for low-cost money transfers and payments, mainly salary remittances of the country's large overseas work force, the Manila-based lender said.

The central bank would also introduce new financial products and improve the regulatory environment for the country's more than 4,500 savings and credit cooperatives.

The 15 year-loan, which carries market rates, will also help Manila prepare a privatization plan and divestment options for the Philippine Postal Savings Bank.

ADB also approved a 500,000-dollar grant from a fund provided by Japan to help promote financial literacy.

Although the Philippines has achieved good progress in promoting microfinance, more than two-thirds of the country's poor, or 17 million people, still do not have access to microfinance services, an ADB statement said.

Instead, the poor rely heavily on self-finance or informal sources that may be very costly, limiting their ability to take part in, as well as benefit from, development opportunities and income-generating activities.

"Access to microfinance services can help the poor build viable businesses and pursue livelihood activities," said ADB specialist Julie Rogers.

"As such, access to microfinance services can improve household incomes, and thus reduce poverty."

Stocks close mixed even as peso strengthens against the US dollar 12/14 1:42:46 PM

Local shares were flat Wednesday as the index closed lower by 1.79 points to 2,097.25. However, the All-Shares market closed higher by 3.65 points to 1,272.95.

Trading of subindicators were mostly in the green except for commercial/industrial, which was down by 6.72 points, and oil, which was unchanged. The biggest gainer was property, up by 28.34 points.

Volume was pegged at 1.12 billion shares worth 1.26 billion pesos. Decliners were slightly ahead of advancers, 31 against 27, but unchanged ruled overall with 61 issues.

At the currency market, the peso was trading slightly stronger against the US dollar at 53.580 as compared to Tuesday's close of 53.695.

Economy is roadkill on China's deadly roads: ADB 12/14 12:00:19 PM

MANILA (AFP) - China's economic growth would be at a double-digit clip but for its deadly highways, which trim up to three percentage points off annual output, according to Asian Development Bank estimates.

The crashes cost more than 12.5 billion dollars and shave between one and three percentage points off the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP), the Philippines-based lender said in a report released Wednesday that described China's roads as the world's deadliest.

The estimated cost is higher than the national budget for public health services and for rural compulsory education, it added.

Beijing's economy has been growing at an average rate of 9.5 percent in the past two years. It is forecast by the government to grow by 9.4 percent this year, which it reached over the nine months to September.

"Road accidents represent a human tragedy that give rise to health, environmental and social problems, and have significant impacts on national economic growth strategies," said Kim Jraiw, an ADB transport specialist.

More than 107,000 people were killed in accidents last year, an increase of about 2.9 percent from the figure for each of the previous two years, according to Chinese government statistics.

Another 480,864 people were injured, however, official figures are disputed by the World Health Organization.

A WHO report, based on statistics provided by the Chinese government, estimated that some 250,000 people -- or 685 a day on average -- died on Chinese roads in 2002.

Accidents are largely blamed on lax enforcement of traffic rules, badly designed roads, and inexperienced or reckless drivers.

ADB said road injury patients take up more than 25 percent of China's hospital beds and pose a burden on scarce resources.

Pedestrians, bicycle and motorcycle riders, and passengers and drivers of long-distance buses account for more than 60 percent of accidents, disproportionately harming lower-income groups, it added.

Philippines-based ADB said it approved a one million-dollar technical assistance grant last month to improve the safety and efficiency of China's road transport operations, and strengthen traffic law enforcement.

This should "help reduce the severity, frequency, and cost of road accidents to the community," Jraiw added.

The bank said road safety is acute in the Asia-Pacific as a whole, accounting for half of global road deaths even though the region has only 18 percent of the world's motorized vehicle fleet.

The estimated economic loss to the region from road traffic accidents is more than 35 billion dollars every year, double all the foreign aid it receives, the study added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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