[PHOTO AT LEFT - BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr.]

MANILA, JUNE 21, 2010 (STAR) By Lawrence Agcaoili  - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has agreed to waive the fees imposed on banks that use the Philippine Payments and Settlements System (Philpass) remit system as part of efforts to reduce the cost of sending money by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. told reporters that the central bank’s Monetary Board approved the lifting of the imposition of fees on banks that service OFW remittances through the central bank’s facility for six months.

“The Monetary Board has approved the waiver for six months of fees for banks servicing overseas Filipinos transacting through Philpass. This will help enable banks to lower their remittance fees,” Tetangco stressed.

OFWs and their beneficiaries are expected to enjoy lower remittance fees starting this quarter with the complete operation of the Philpass remit system resulting in savings of between P100 and P500 per transaction.

The system would reduce the charges to P50 for each remittance transaction as the current system charges between P150 and P550 per transaction.

OFW families are expected to save at least P92 million to as high as P922 million due to the faster and cheaper delivery of remittances to the beneficiaries at a lower rate.

The system also eliminates the need for courier services by commercial banks for the mode of fund transfer involving credit-to-other banks once the project becomes operational.

The Philpass Remit System involves the use of the BSP-Philpass as the local clearing house for the transfer of remittances from a local bank to another bank where the OFW beneficiary maintains an account.

The project is one of the initiatives undertaken by the BSP in coordination with the Association of Bank Remittance Officers, Inc. (ABROI) through a memorandum of agreement (MOA) last December.

The BSP said the full implementation of the project was originally scheduled in the first quarter of the year but only one bank has been able to migrate to the new system since the signing of the MOA.

According to the BSP, other member banks would be coming on stream once they resolve the remaining issues on hardware and system connectivity.

Other ABROI members expect to complete their migration to the new system only by end-May or end-June while two banks have indicated that they could comply only by end-September this year.

Last year, remittances went up by 5.4 percent to a new record level of $17.348 billion last year from $16.426 billion and exceeded the revised four percent growth forecast set by the central bank due to the steady growth of OFW remittances to the sustained demand for skilled Filipino workers overseas, particularly engineers, medical practitioners, and teachers.

The BSP recently upgraded its growth forecast for the amount of money sent home by overseas Filipinos to eight percent instead of six percent due to the strong demand for Filipino skilled workers.

So far, OFW remittances went up by 6.6 percent to $5.86 billion in the first four months of the year from $5.49 billion in the same period last year.

Father's Day in the land of chicken rice DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) Updated June 21, 2010 12:00 AM

SINGAPORE – I think it was FVR who I once heard trying to minimize the marvels of development in this city state by simply saying that it was unfair to compare our nation of at that time 70 million with a city state of just about three million. I remember that he also said that the Prime Minister of Singapore is just comparable to the Mayor of Quezon City.

I thought FVR was just being testy in reaction to a statement of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew about how you can’t even get a dial tone on Philippine phones. Of course the Father of Singapore was right. And not only was our phone system absolutely horrible at that time but the state of all other vital infrastructure in the Philippines was absolutely the pits.

For all we know, Lee Kuan Yew’s undiplomatic but accurate observation challenged FVR into improving the phone system. It was during FVR’s watch that the phone system was opened up to competition. Once PLDT lost its monopoly and with the help of the quick advancement in telecoms technology, our phone system, at least in the major population centers, can be described as world class.

Much of our other infrastructure facilities remain third world, however. The navigation system at NAIA broke down over the weekend stopping international and domestic flights from landing and taking off. And of course, we are starting to have serious power outages in Metro Manila and they have been having these blackouts like forever in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Lee Kuan Yew’s observation was made in the context of a top level forum on how to attract foreign investments we were hosting. Indeed, the secret of Singapore’s progress is the attention given to having great infrastructure. Singapore’s governance is also essentially corruption free and the efficient delivery of essential services is taken for granted. Singapore is a city that works and makes any Pinoy wonder why we can’t approximate their efficiency.

In other words, the Singaporeans did more than have discussions of how to attract investments. The Singaporean government did its homework and the investors took note and the rest is history. They do not have any secret to success. They simply applied time honored principles of honesty and hard work. They followed Confucian doctrines. We, on the other hand, have been and still are merely confused.

I was here attending a conference on corporate social responsibility towards the end of 2008 and the mood in this city state at that time was somber. It was something like what we experience as we wait for a strong typhoon to pass. The world economic climate was bad and being a trading post, Singapore felt the downturn rather badly.

But the Singaporeans approached the problem by doing what they can to cushion the impact on its people. Unemployment hit Singapore enough to cause serious worry. More and more ships stood still at anchor as trade levels declined. But what I saw then was a nation that did what it could to withstand the crisis with the least amount of pain on its citizens.

Today, Singapore is back in business with a vengeance. Singapore employers added more jobs than initially estimated last quarter, pushing the unemployment rate to the lowest level in almost two years as a strengthening economy boosted hiring sentiment, Bloomberg reports.

The Ministry of Manpower reported that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 2.2 percent in the three months through March from 2.3 percent the previous quarter. I could feel a sense of prosperity among Singaporeans as I watched them shop with gusto in Ion, the newest mall on Orchard Road with a lot of high end brand name stores. And the eating places are almost always full of people in celebratory mood.

It helps push up the employment rate that Singapore has started to loosen up a bit and has allowed gambling casinos to start operating here. Universal Studios is also in the process of replicating a theme park here that will attract a multitude of tourists from the region. While we have more natural wonders to attract tourists, the Singaporeans are doing more with less of nature’s bounty here for their tourism industry.

According to Bloomberg, Singapore expects its economy to grow as much as nine percent this year. “The strong economic recovery has led to more people securing jobs,” the manpower ministry said. “Employment grew strongly for the second straight quarter as redundancies remained at pre-recessionary levels.”

Singapore’s unemployment rate may be two percent by the end of 2010, according to the median estimate in a survey of 19 economists by the Monetary Authority of Singapore released last week. The government statistics aside, you can feel the renewed confidence of the people in the streets. It is such a dramatic change from the downbeat but strongly defensive stance I saw two years ago.

Chicken Rice

I find myself back in this city I fondly associate with chicken rice courtesy of my son who works here. Partly to give me a clear break from work on the occasion of my retirement from the Lopez Group, my son decided to send me a plane ticket to spend Father’s Day here with him.

It was definitely a break from the usual. It was a totally unexpected but much appreciated gesture on the part of my son. Since he landed a job here straight out of his MBA studies, he had been picking up restaurant chits whenever he is able to drop by Manila in the course of his official visits to Southeast Asian capitals. The new generation has indeed taken over and I will be the last of the old generation to complain.

One thing I like about Singapore is the food. And because I was raised in a middle class family trained in spending one’s money wisely, I love the fact that good food in Singapore can be had cheap. Of course the city state also has its share of pretentiously expensive restaurants, but the hawker establishments provide enough interesting cuisine to keep me satisfied in many of my visits here without blowing my budget.

My favorite is a restaurant in the Novena district near my son’s condo unit and across a Catholic church that serves really good chicken rice. The last time we were there, my son took off his tie and his long sleeved shirt and started enjoying the chicken rice meal like the locals, in his sando and sitting on a plastic stool on the sidewalk. At the end of it, all three of us had a bill of just about S$15.

My son has learned to cook for himself in his previous jobs in Ireland and Silicon Valley in the US and while he was studying in San Diego and Cambridge. But here in Singapore, the hawker’s stalls have become his kitchen. It is simpler and probably cheaper to just buy take out after a long day at the office. And because the Singaporean government is a stickler for cleanliness, even the hawker’s stalls can be depended upon to be hygienic.

Life here is a lot simpler than anywhere else my son had experienced. He doesn’t even find a need to buy a car because he is just a block or so away from the MRT stop in Novena, which in turn is just a couple of stops from Orchard Road. Then again, because life can be so predictably simple, it could be boring for a young man who is used to the American and Manila lifestyle. But I guess, being a little bored is a small price to pay for having a good job in a safe haven from today’s turbulent economic world.

So, here’s wishing my readers a happy Father’s Day. May you all be blessed with a son and daughters like mine. The thoughtfulness of our children gives meaning to this day that ironically merely had commercial motives when it was invented by department stores.

Winning Dad

The father of five children had won a toy at a raffle.

He called his kids together to ask which one should have the present.

“Who is the most obedient?” he asked.

“Who never talks back to mother? and

“Who does everything mother says?”

Five small voices replied in unison. “Okay daddy! You get the toy.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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