(STAR) President Arroyo attributed the country’s rising gross international reserves — which hit an all-time high of $21.56 billion — to her administration’s economic reforms.

The new record topped all previous records in September due to strong dollar inflows from Filipino overseas workers and the huge foreign exchange operations of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which helped mitigate the foreign exchange requirements for payments of the government and BSP’s maturing obligations.

"This is yet another feather in the cap on the agility and potency of our economy. Our steady and stable economic growth is a clear proof that our reform agenda is gaining ground on all fronts," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The country’s economic momentum is up because the people’s faith, unity and spirit of enterprise are strong," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government would continue with its reforms and to provide people with jobs, better education and food: "This is the time to strike forward and not fall back as we lead the government in massive good governance, upholding social justice and fighting poverty," she said.

"All sectors of society, to include our OFWs, have been exemplifying heroism by wagering on productivity and excellence." — Aurea Calica

But… what about domestic investors? DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco The Philippine Star 10/09/2006

Towards the end of last week, Ate Glue and some locally based foreign businessmen talked about how to increase the level of foreign direct investments to this country. Ate Glue waxed ecstatic about the billion dollars in FDI that we are supposedly already attracting now, allegedly because she is managing the country well.

The foreign businessmen predict larger FDIs, anywhere from $6 billion to $1.5 billion depending on how government produces results in a wish list they presented. The wish list includes amendments to the constitution on land ownership and equity ownership in public utilities and extraction of mineral resources. There are also the usual stuff about improving infrastructure such as roads, ports and cheaper power rates. And better English fluency of workers.

In a best-case scenario–meaning, the government will produce results in all the items in their wish list–the foreign businessmen boldly predicted the Philippines will be able to attract around $6 billion in annual foreign direct investments (FDIs) starting next year. But in a worst scenario–or the administration fails to do anything to correct current mistakes, especially its policy flip-flopping habit – the country will only be able to attract $1.5 billion in FDIs yearly from 2007 to 2010.

There is no doubt that we do need the push from foreign capital to put us on the fast track of development that our neighbors have been on for quite some time now. But in a sense, that meeting last Thursday was a waste of time. The workshops produced nothing we do not already know… nothing that our beloved Ate Glue did not already know. We keep on forgetting that talking is not the same as doing. Neither is it meaningful to appoint a task force to follow through unless there is a change in work attitude in the regular line agencies to enable them to deliver on the promise.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that the level of FDI has increased in recent months. Ate Glue may claim credit for it but I suspect the level of FDI has gone up in spite of her… in spite of us and all the silliness in our political environment. And the reason it has gone up is because international investors have somehow developed a taste for opportunities in some emerging economies, which mercifully, includes us. They are now able to take the risks that being here entails.

That’s why government statistics show a 53.5-percent rise in foreign direct investments as of June last year. But former NEDA Chief Ciel Habito wonders why, in spite of this positive news with FDIs, there is a decline in overall investments, which have fallen over the past six quarters. It can only mean the locals are not investing.

"Domestic investments may have deepened even more to negate the growth in foreign direct investments; there must be something that they [domestic investors and foreign investors] know or do not know," Habito speculated during a briefing I attended last week. If that’s the case, then we have a real problem that must be addressed.

We shouldn’t underestimate the potential of local capital. Some of the bigger investors in China are Filipinos. As I once wrote about here, even a Russian cell phone company came here on a road show and raised a sizeable amount of money. Our problem is capital flight among the locals due to lack of confidence in the leadership of the country and therefore, on the future of the country.

Or maybe, we have focused too much on granting incentives to FDIs so that we no longer have a level playing field. Maybe domestic capital is now at a disadvantage vis a vis FDIs. I remember there was a time when the Gokongweis brought back money here via an international subsidiary so that it was treated as a foreign investment in PCI Bank.

It is important to remember that foreign capital that may now be coming here in larger quantities than we thought possible, can just as easily fly away if there is a new investment fad on Wall Street or if a local event scares them. We have to find a way of keeping domestic capital here, working to uplift our economy. We should not take for granted capital already here and does not require difficult constitutional amendments. Let us not forget domestic capital even as we exert effort to increase the level of FDIs here.

In any case, the conditions outlined in last week’s summit between Ate Glue and the foreign chambers should benefit the local business environment and should provide incentive for domestic capital to stay… or come back. Many of the local investors want nothing more esoteric than less red tape and minimized corruption when transacting with government.

Enough of those summits already… government must simply show it can act to improve the climate to make what little growth we now see, sustainable.

Hotel germs

For all you business travelers out there, here’s something you’ve always suspected but exiled to the back of your mind. Hotel guests do leave behind germs that can make you sick. This was revealed in a new study that was reported by CNN. They found viruses on TV remotes, light switches and even hotel pens after cold sufferers checked out.

Well… the somewhat reassuring thing is that they did the germ testing before the rooms were cleaned, so it probably overstates the risks that most travelers would face. Nevertheless, CNN pointed out, it shows the potential hazards if a hotel’s turnaround amounts to little more than changing the sheets and wiping out the tub.

"You sure hope the cleaning people were good," CNN quotes Dr. Owen Hendley, the University of Virginia pediatrician who presented results of the study at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. For that matter, hotels are not the only risky places of catching viruses. Our own homes ought to be cleaned up well too, when someone has a cold.

The study wanted to test the survival of rhinoviruses, which cause about half of all colds, especially in children. The experts knew that viruses can survive on surfaces for a long time – more than four days.

The researchers said they were surprised to find so many. Virus was found on 7 out of 14 door handles and 6 of 14 pens. Six out of 15 light switches, TV remotes and faucets tested positive, as did 5 of 15 phones. Shower curtains, coffee makers and alarm clocks also harbored viruses. Surprisingly, virus turned up on only one of the 10 toilet handles tested. Experts did not test items such as bedspreads because cloth dries out germs, making them far less likely to survive than they do on smooth or moist surfaces.

Of course the better hotels already have strict policies on how to disinfect rooms between guests. It is a question of how the chambermaids actually follow the rules, specially when the hotel is fully booked and the next guests are already at the reception desk ready to claim the room that was just vacated. I guess the next time I find myself in this situation, I will be nice enough to tell the chambermaid to take all the time she needs to get her work done, instead of hurrying her up.

And if you happen to be checking into a cheap hotel or motel, make sure you have plenty of Lysol or maybe, even just plain laundry bleach. How you get that through airport security, is another thing to be creative about.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved