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AQUINO GOVT CONFIDENT PHILIPPINES WILL GROW 7-8%


April 7, 2015: The government’s economic team agreed to keep its forecasts for the country’s economic growth unchanged even as it sees state revenues growing at a slower pace amid a sustained low oil price environment. File photo
The Aquino administration is confident the economy will still grow by seven to eight percent this year and next despite the negative impact of slumping oil prices on government revenue performance. During its meeting yesterday, the government’s economic team agreed to keep its forecasts for the country’s economic growth unchanged even as it sees state revenues growing at a slower pace amid a sustained low oil price environment. While low fuel prices give people more discretionary spending power, they are seen to impact negatively on the state’s revenue performance, more particularly on imports. The inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) sees oil prices hovering between $50 and $70 per barrel this year from the earlier assumption of $80 to $110 during its meeting in January. Falling oil prices prompted the DBCC to slash revenue targets for this year. Finance Undersecretary Jeremiah N. Paul Jr. said the government now expects revenues to hit P2.275 trillion this year from the original target of P2.34 trillion. This is projected to account for 16.3 percent of the country’s total economic output. READ MORE....

ALSO: Power rates up in April; bills go up by 27 centavos per kwh


APRIL 8...MERALCO 
POWER consumers in areas serviced by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) will have to find “energy-efficient” ways to cool down this summer after the utility giant announced a rate increase beginning April. In a statement on Wednesday, Meralco said electricity bills will go up by 27 centavos per kilowatthour (kWh) because of a hike in generation charge brought about by the shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant facility in Palawan. Aside from the generation charge, taxes and other charges also registered increases of 5 centavos per kWh and 3 centavos per kWh, respectively. The transmission charge, on the other hand, registered a decrease of 1 centavo per kWh. Meralco reiterated that it does not earn from the pass-through charges, such as the generation and transmission charges. Payment for the generation charge, it said, goes to power suppliers, such as plants selling to Meralco through the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) and under the power supply agreements (PSAs), as well as the independent power producers (IPPs). Payment for the transmission charge, meanwhile, goes to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). READ MORE...

ALSO: El Niño, power crisis threaten inflation


APRIL 8...INQUIRER FILE PHOTO  
A power crisis seen to hit during the summer months coupled with the dry spell due to El Niño might push the prices of basic commodities upward, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). However, Neda Director General and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the overall outlook for the rate of increase in prices of basic goods “remains well-anchored as policies continue to be supportive of a stable inflation rate.”  “While the current episode of mild El Niño and power woes still pose risks to inflation, the continuing efforts to ensure that appropriate policy actions are implemented are expected to temper inflationary pressures over the near- to medium-term,” he added. Last March, an inflation rate of 2.4 percent was registered, down from 3.9 percent in the same month last year and 2.5 percent in February. Balisacan attributed the slower rise in prices to a downward trend in food prices, especially of the staple rice as well as meat. “The easing annual growth rate of rice prices was supported by favorable total rice stocks inventory,” Balisacan explained. “Food inflation could have been lower if not for the relatively higher prices of vegetables and fish, which is due in part to the likely shift in consumers’ preferences given the onset of the Lenten season.”  READ MORE...

ALSO: Bill Gates sighted in Los Baños? Visited Int'l Rice Institute


APRIL 9...GATES  Microsoft founder Bill Gates reportedly arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) yesterday from Palawan on a private jet. Airport sources said Bill Gates used his full name, William Gates. There were reports that Gates arrived at NAIA’s general aviation area on April 4 and boarded a private plane with registry number NAH7 WN, said to be owned by the Soriano family, and headed for Amanpulo in Palawan. The private jet is still inside the hangar of Asian Aerospace at the NAIA. Officials could not provide more information about Gates’ arrival and departure. A report from InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5, said the billionaire philanthropist visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna yesterday morning. READ MORE...

ALSO TIMES OPINION: The most important national issue


APRIL 8...RICARDO SALUDO  It’s not Asean, BBL, CCT, GDP, PNP-SAF or SWS. Sure, the nation should fret about the challenge of economic integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pros and cons of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and the massive and unexplained P6.5-billion cut in conditional cash transfer stipends for millions of poor families last year. Plus translating gross domestic product growth into more jobs and income, truth and accountability in the Mamasapano massacre of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force commandos, and the gyrating survey ratings for President Benigno Aquino 3rd and aspiring presidentiables in Social Weather Stations and other opinion polls. But more important for democracy and development is one four-letter acronym: PCOS.  Hang on, some might retort, how can the Precinct Count Optical Scan system for automated vote counting and canvassing be more important than Asean integration and GDP growth, which affect millions of present and future jobs; or BBL, which could spark “a very bloody war” if not passed, as chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer warns?

Yes, PCOS does not directly add or subtract jobs from the economy, silence or spark shooting and bombing, deliver or deny money for the poor, and sway public opinion on national leaders. But if it fails to accurately reflect the sovereign will of the electorate, Filipinos suffer in all these areas and more. If computerized cheating undermines the power of constituents to choose leaders, then the latter have little incentive to work for the former’s betterment. If automated anomalies rob elections of credibility and make it hard to replace misruling rulers, then sectors seeking change may resort to violence. And if voter preferences are not reflected in electronic tallies, what’s the point of polls? The problem is transparency READ MORE...

ALSO Economy Times Viewpoint: Hints of disappointing things to come -- by Ben Kritz


APRIL 10...THE Aquino Administration has apparently realized the economy in 2015 may not be as robust as previously thought. The shift in attitude from ebullience to apprehension about the economy’s prospects followed the release of February’s negative export performance data on Wednesday, with the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) announcing it had cut the government’s 2015 revenue target by P62 billion. On Thursday, the BSP disclosed it was reviewing its forecast for the country’s balance of payments (BOP), with a possible revision to be announced next month. The DBCC decision reduced the revenue goal from P2.337 trillion to P2.275 trillion, which, based on the 2015 government budget of P2.606 trillion effectively raised the new debt requirement for the year to P331 billion.

The government also lowered its peso exchange rate forecast, from a range of P42 to P45 to the dollar to a range of P43 to P46. Although the BSP gave no indication of which direction its BOP forecast would take, the announcement—on a holiday, no less—that it was under review suggested a downward revision is likely. The current goal is a full-year surplus of $1 billion; the balance of payments at the end of 2014 was a deficit of $2.88 billion, a reversal and then some from the more than $5 billion surplus at the end of 2013. The bugaboo the government is seeing is the ‘external shock:’ The drop in exports was blamed on the “still fragile global economy,” while the lowering of the government’s revenue target was done “after taking into account the expected impact of lower oil prices on the economy.” Likewise, BOP is subject to “possible global growth risks,” according to the BSP. The overall thesis is that lower oil prices, lower prices on some other key commodities and slowing growth in major economies like China will retard the Philippines’ own economic performance. READ MORE...

ALSO: Gov’t can’t be that cruel
APRIL 12...Baguio RTC Judge Corazon Dulay-Archog has confirmed the Feb. 11 ruling the arbitral tribunal that voided the 1996 lease agreement between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and developer Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) to develop the more than 200-hectare Camp John Hay property.


By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes 
Just when many thought that any remaining uncertainty will be put to rest, a recent ruling of the Baguio City regional trial court may have added to the confusion. Baguio RTC Judge Corazon Dulay-Archog has confirmed the Feb. 11 ruling the arbitral tribunal that voided the 1996 lease agreement between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and developer Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) to develop the more than 200-hectare Camp John Hay property. The order required CJHDevco to vacate the leased area and BCDA to reimburse the former around P1.42-billion in rents paid to the government. But the original lease agreement allowed CJHDevco to enter into sub-leases and a number of agreements with businesses and individuals. There are those who bought hotel rooms and home lots for a lease period of 25 years, renewable for another 25 years. Judge Archog said that “as to the list of sublessees (tenants) and/or vested rights holders, they will be governed by the law on obligations and contracts.”  Well, Book IV on Obligations and Contracts of the Civil Code of the Philippines consists of 1,114 articles (Arts. 1156-2270) and when you have a number of lawyers and parties trying to interpret what the court meant, there will be so many interpretations, a number of which will be conflicting. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Government confident Philippines will grow 7-8%


The government’s economic team agreed to keep its forecasts for the country’s economic growth unchanged even as it sees state revenues growing at a slower pace amid a sustained low oil price environment. File photo

MANILA, APRIL 13, 2015 (PHILSTAR) By Zinnia B. Dela Peña  - The Aquino administration is confident the economy will still grow by seven to eight percent this year and next despite the negative impact of slumping oil prices on government revenue performance.

During its meeting yesterday, the government’s economic team agreed to keep its forecasts for the country’s economic growth unchanged even as it sees state revenues growing at a slower pace amid a sustained low oil price environment.

While low fuel prices give people more discretionary spending power, they are seen to impact negatively on the state’s revenue performance, more particularly on imports.

The inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) sees oil prices hovering between $50 and $70 per barrel this year from the earlier assumption of $80 to $110 during its meeting in January.

Falling oil prices prompted the DBCC to slash revenue targets for this year.

Finance Undersecretary Jeremiah N. Paul Jr. said the government now expects revenues to hit P2.275 trillion this year from the original target of P2.34 trillion. This is projected to account for 16.3 percent of the country’s total economic output.

READ MORE...
Of the P2.275 trillion, P2.127 trillion (equivalent to 15 percent of GDP) will come from tax revenues.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue will take up the large chunk of the total revenues with collections seen reaching P1.67 trillion this year, 25.5 percent higher than the P1.33 trillion raised last year.

Paul said the government was also compelled to revise downward its revenue goal for the BOC as oil prices are likely to stay relatively low. The revenue assumption for the customs bureau was trimmed to P436 billion from P465 billion previously.

The DBCC also cut import growth for 2015 from seven percent to just one percent.

On the other hand, growth projections for exports were raised to five percent from four percent amid expectations that economic conditions in advanced markets like the United States would continue to improve.

The DBCC also revised its assumption for the peso’s value against the greenback from P42-P45 to P43-P46 to a dollar.

Despite lower revenue assumptions, the government’s economic managers kept their deficit ceiling target at two percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which translates to about P283.7 billion.

The DBCC, which sets the government’s macroeconomic targets and policies, expects favorable factors such as a sustained rise in remittances and continued spending for reconstruction to continue boosting growth in GDP or the value of all goods and services produced within the country.

Last year, the economy grew by only 6.1 percent - below the government’s target of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent and lower than the all-time high 7.2 percent growth in 2013 - due largely to public underspending.

Economists said the country needs to grow by at least seven percent annually over the medium term to reduce poverty.


MANILA TIMES

Power rates up in April April 8, 2015 11:40 pm by RITCHIE A. HORARIO REPORTER


MERALCO

POWER consumers in areas serviced by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) will have to find “energy-efficient” ways to cool down this summer after the utility giant announced a rate increase beginning April.

In a statement on Wednesday, Meralco said electricity bills will go up by 27 centavos per kilowatthour (kWh) because of a hike in generation charge brought about by the shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant facility in Palawan.

Aside from the generation charge, taxes and other charges also registered increases of 5 centavos per kWh and 3 centavos per kWh, respectively.

The transmission charge, on the other hand, registered a decrease of 1 centavo per kWh. Meralco reiterated that it does not earn from the pass-through charges, such as the generation and transmission charges.

Payment for the generation charge, it said, goes to power suppliers, such as plants selling to Meralco through the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) and under the power supply agreements (PSAs), as well as the independent power producers (IPPs).

Payment for the transmission charge, meanwhile, goes to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

READ MORE...
Of the total bill, only the distribution, supply and metering charges accrue to Meralco. The utility’s distribution charge has not registered any adjustment and has remained at the same level since July 2014.

The Luzon grid is dependent on Malampaya, which fuels three power plants: Santa Rita (1,000 megawatts); San Lorenzo (500 MW); and Ilijan (1,200 MW). The Santa Rita and San Lorenzo power plants are owned by Lopez-led First Gen Corporation. Ilijan is owned by Kepco Philippines.

Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX), which operates the Malampaya plant, earlier said it will try to complete maintenance work on the facility ahead of the 30-day shutdown that started March 15.

Meralco said that after a reduction in electricity rates last month, overall rates went up by 27 centavos per kWh this April.

It added that generation charge rose by 20 centavos per kWh from P5.21 in March to P5.41 per kWh.

The 20 centavos per kWh addition was lower than the 46 centavos per kWh increase in generation charges announced earlier.

Meralco said the overall electricity rate for this year is lower by 81 centavos at P10.68 per kWh than 2014’s P11.49 per kWh.

But households with 200 kWh consumption could still expect their power bills to go up by P54 this month.

“The ​main driver of the higher electricity rates this month is a 20 centavos per kWh adjustment in the generation charge,” Meralco said in a statement.

The generation charge is the portion of the bill that goes to power plants that produce electricity.

The higher generation charge was attributed by Meralco to the shift to liquid fuel and diesel during the 30-day Malampaya shutdown.

The three natural gas power plants–Santa Rita, San Lorenzo and Ilijan–shifted to liquid fuel and diesel, which are more expensive than natural gas.

“​Due to the 30-day maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power facility, several large power plants had to use more expensive liquid fuel to continue operations,” Meralco said.

In particular, the 1,000-megawatt (MW) Santa Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo plants shifted to condensate, while the 1,200-MW Ilijan now uses biodiesel.

“These types of alternative fuel are more expensive than the natural gas from Malampaya, which these plants normally use,” Meralco said.

The change in fuel of Ilijan, according to the utility, also resulted in a lower output level for one of its two blocks (Ilijan A), from its maximum capacity of 600 MW to an average of 292 MW during the first 10 days of the Malampaya shutdown.

The shutdown started March 15 and ended March 25, also the last day of the March supply month.

The other block of Ilijan (Ilijan B, 600 MW) is on scheduled preventive maintenance. As a result of the shift to liquid fuel by the three plants, rates of the IPPs and PSAs increased.

Rates of the IPPs went up by 17 centavos per kWh, partly tempered by the return of QPPL (Quezon Power Philippines Ltd.) from a maintenance shutdown while rates from PSAs went up by 31 centavos per kWh.

These were mitigated by a P1.55 per kWh reduction in charges from the WESM, as the power supply situation remained normal since there were fewer forced outages of power plants during the March supply month.

Before the maintenance shutdown, the he Philippine Independent Power Producers Association Incorporated (PIPPA) had said they expect power rates to increase by at least one peso per kWh.

“I guarantee that there will be a spike because that happens whenever Malampaya shuts down,” PIPPA President Luis Miguel Aboitiz said.

“Once the gas plans shift to liquid fuel, there’s around one peso per kWh automatic increase,” he added.

Meralco, however, pointed out that April’s generation charge of P5.41 per kWh was lower than those in months that were also affected by a Malampaya shutdown.

In March 2010, November 2011 and August 2012, the generation charge had reached P5.84, P5.79, and P6.74 per kWh, respectively.

The share of IPPs, PSAs and WESM to Meralco’s total power requirements stood at 46, 50, and 4 respectively. WITH PNA


INQUIRER

El Niño, power crisis threaten inflation Consumer price increases eased to 2.4% in March Ben O. de Vera @BenArnolddeVera Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:41 AM | Wednesday, April 8th, 2015


INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

A power crisis seen to hit during the summer months coupled with the dry spell due to El Niño might push the prices of basic commodities upward, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

However, Neda Director General and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the overall outlook for the rate of increase in prices of basic goods “remains well-anchored as policies continue to be supportive of a stable inflation rate.”

“While the current episode of mild El Niño and power woes still pose risks to inflation, the continuing efforts to ensure that appropriate policy actions are implemented are expected to temper inflationary pressures over the near- to medium-term,” he added.

Last March, an inflation rate of 2.4 percent was registered, down from 3.9 percent in the same month last year and 2.5 percent in February.

Balisacan attributed the slower rise in prices to a downward trend in food prices, especially of the staple rice as well as meat.

“The easing annual growth rate of rice prices was supported by favorable total rice stocks inventory,” Balisacan explained. “Food inflation could have been lower if not for the relatively higher prices of vegetables and fish, which is due in part to the likely shift in consumers’ preferences given the onset of the Lenten season.”

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The commitment from bakers that they would bring down bread prices on the back of lower production and transportation costs because of cheaper oil also helped temper inflation, Balisacan said.

For the Neda chief, “[t]he continuing decline in international oil prices is also a positive development for the country considering our dependence on imported oil.”

The average headline inflation from January to March was 2.4 percent, or within the 2 to 4 percent target of the government for 2015.

“Inflation remained low and stable in the first three months of the year in line with expectations over the policy horizon, which is likely to support consumption growth,” Balisacan said.

Also, “[a] relatively stable peso, given the country’s strong external position on the back of strong remittances, rising BPO (business process outsourcing) earnings and FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows, ample international reserves and a manageable level of external debt contribute to stable domestic prices,” the Neda chief noted.


PHILSTAR

Bill Gates sighted in Los Baños? Visited Int'l Rice Institute By Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 9, 2015 - 12:00am


Gates

MANILA, Philippines - Microsoft founder Bill Gates reportedly arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) yesterday from Palawan on a private jet.

Airport sources said Bill Gates used his full name, William Gates.

There were reports that Gates arrived at NAIA’s general aviation area on April 4 and boarded a private plane with registry number NAH7 WN, said to be owned by the Soriano family, and headed for Amanpulo in Palawan.

The private jet is still inside the hangar of Asian Aerospace at the NAIA.

Officials could not provide more information about Gates’ arrival and departure.

A report from InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5, said the billionaire philanthropist visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna yesterday morning.

READ MORE...
Neither Microsoft Philippines nor IRRI officials would confirm Gates’ presence in the country.

Aviation sector sources, however, confirmed that a private jet tied to Gates was in the country, and had flown into Manila from Puerto Princesa. The plane supposedly arrived in Palawan on Black Saturday.

Gates, co-founder of tech giant Microsoft Corp., has been more active in operations of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Sources in University of the Philippines Los Baños, in whose sprawling Makiling campus IRRI is located, said Gates was in IRRI for at least two hours and was likely in consultations on the latest developments in rice research.

The Gates Foundation supports anti-poverty programs, technology and innovations worldwide, and in the past had invested as much as $20 million in research for the Golden Rice variety developed in IRRI.

The genetically modified crop ostensibly holds out hope for cheaper, easier-to-propagate and fortified rice that can be used to fight hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Fortified with Vitamins A and B, Golden Rice can help curb child mortality and blindness, researchers have said.


MANILA TIMES OPINION

The most important national issue April 8, 2015 10:45 pm Ricardo Saludo by RICARDO SALUDO

It’s not Asean, BBL, CCT, GDP, PNP-SAF or SWS. Sure, the nation should fret about the challenge of economic integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pros and cons of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and the massive and unexplained P6.5-billion cut in conditional cash transfer stipends for millions of poor families last year.

Plus translating gross domestic product growth into more jobs and income, truth and accountability in the Mamasapano massacre of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force commandos, and the gyrating survey ratings for President Benigno Aquino 3rd and aspiring presidentiables in Social Weather Stations and other opinion polls.

But more important for democracy and development is one four-letter acronym: PCOS.

Hang on, some might retort, how can the Precinct Count Optical Scan system for automated vote counting and canvassing be more important than Asean integration and GDP growth, which affect millions of present and future jobs; or BBL, which could spark “a very bloody war” if not passed, as chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer warns?

Yes, PCOS does not directly add or subtract jobs from the economy, silence or spark shooting and bombing, deliver or deny money for the poor, and sway public opinion on national leaders. But if it fails to accurately reflect the sovereign will of the electorate, Filipinos suffer in all these areas and more.

If computerized cheating undermines the power of constituents to choose leaders, then the latter have little incentive to work for the former’s betterment. If automated anomalies rob elections of credibility and make it hard to replace misruling rulers, then sectors seeking change may resort to violence. And if voter preferences are not reflected in electronic tallies, what’s the point of polls?

The problem is transparency

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The Commission on Elections and its citizens arm, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, insist PCOS works. They are now conducting talks for PPCRV groups in diocesan centers to address issues raised by critics. At the recent Cubao diocese session, attended by this writer, no less than PPCRV Chairperson Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, and Ateneo computer science professor and Comelec adviser John Paul Vergara argued for the system.

Information technology experts like Philippine Computer Society president Edmundo Casiño and University of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual, along with seasoned columnists, including Jarius Bondoc, Bobit Avila and Professor Rene Azurin, have detailed PCOS problems.

These failings include: dispensing with digital signatures required by law and needed to verify transmitted election results, failure to adequately review source codes, use of rewritable memory chips instead of write-only cards required by law, and random manual audits that did not follow procedures. In 2013, precincts subject to RMA were announced three days ahead, alerting any fraudsters to avoid those sites.

So who’s right — Comelec and PPCRV or PCOS opponents? In fact, few Filipinos have the technical knowledge to understand and assess the highly technical arguments for or against the system, or even to see for themselves how it actually works. And that’s exactly the problem with PCOS: ordinary citizens cannot see for themselves whether and how their votes are counted and canvassed. We just have to take it all on faith.

This is truly “hocus-PCOS” — results come out like magic with the public never knowing how exactly it happens. And as noted, hardly any can verify whether the system actually performs as advertised, or validate the arguments supporting or opposing it.

Such a lack of basic transparency led Germany’s Federal Supreme Court to ban the country’s own automated system in 2009, four years after its first use. Despite that nation’s advanced technological capabilities and educational levels, its justices decided that the computerized process did not satisfy the requirement that elections be public and transparent to ordinary citizens.

There’s another problem with PCOS: it requires so many safeguards, including highly technical or impractical ones. The Philippine Election Code allowing automated polls mandated, among other do’s and don’ts, digital signatures, source code review, and RMA. All three were never properly implemented. Comelec’s technical advisers added 30 measures to address PCOS concerns. How many were actually done?

Believing vs. seeing The most important national issue then is this: Do we again cling to the belief that 100,000-plus machines are counting votes and transmitting results properly, with no way of verifying that for ourselves and despite countless safeguards set aside? Or do we insist on our constitutional right to vote and have our vote counted and canvassed in a manner we can check for ourselves?

If we pick the latter option of full vote canvassing transparency, there is thankfully a system that can do just that, and at far less cost than PCOS.

Computer expert and former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman and other suffrage advocates have long urged keeping precinct counts manual and open to public scrutiny, but using electronic means to transmit results and make them accessible to the public. Their proposal involves sending data via the Internet and posting scanned copies of verified election returns on an impregnably secured website. Then everyone can check if votes tallied at canvassing centers match verified election returns visible online.

This simple system — manual count and online transmission and posting, all subject to public monitoring and checking — would address the source of nearly all election fraud — “dagdag-bawas” in the transmission and canvassing of results — while keeping the entire process from ballot tabulation to final canvassing open to all eyes, expert or not. All for P2 billion or so, not the tens of billions spent on PCOS.

In just over a year, we will either be left hoping again that machines correctly count our votes, or, if Congress mandates it, see this done for ourselves as our choices are tallied by hand, with results sent by secure communications and posted for public verification on the Web.

The mode chosen will decide the future of Philippine democracy.


MANILA TIMES BIZ COLUMN

Hints of disappointing things to come April 10, 2015 7:00 pm Ben D. Kritz Ben D. Kritz

THE Aquino Administration has apparently realized the economy in 2015 may not be as robust as previously thought.

The shift in attitude from ebullience to apprehension about the economy’s prospects followed the release of February’s negative export performance data on Wednesday, with the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) announcing it had cut the government’s 2015 revenue target by P62 billion.

On Thursday, the BSP disclosed it was reviewing its forecast for the country’s balance of payments (BOP), with a possible revision to be announced next month.

The DBCC decision reduced the revenue goal from P2.337 trillion to P2.275 trillion, which, based on the 2015 government budget of P2.606 trillion effectively raised the new debt requirement for the year to P331 billion.

The government also lowered its peso exchange rate forecast, from a range of P42 to P45 to the dollar to a range of P43 to P46.

Although the BSP gave no indication of which direction its BOP forecast would take, the announcement—on a holiday, no less—that it was under review suggested a downward revision is likely.

The current goal is a full-year surplus of $1 billion; the balance of payments at the end of 2014 was a deficit of $2.88 billion, a reversal and then some from the more than $5 billion surplus at the end of 2013.

The bugaboo the government is seeing is the ‘external shock:’ The drop in exports was blamed on the “still fragile global economy,” while the lowering of the government’s revenue target was done “after taking into account the expected impact of lower oil prices on the economy.”

Likewise, BOP is subject to “possible global growth risks,” according to the BSP. The overall thesis is that lower oil prices, lower prices on some other key commodities and slowing growth in major economies like China will retard the Philippines’ own economic performance.

READ MORE...
In spite of this, the government has retained its blithely optimistic GDP growth target of 7 to 8 percent.

That seems like a paradox; lower government revenues, a tighter balance of payments position, and slackening export performance—NEDA chief Arsenio Balisacan warned that results from March were not likely to be very encouraging—logically all point to lower overall economic growth.

Not revising the GDP target simply indicates the level of uncertainty the government has about its own outlook, and suggests that there is some disagreement among the various agencies represented in the DBCC.

And there is a practical political reason for not lowering the GDP forecast; by keeping it high while stressing that ‘global’ circumstances are to blame for nudging expectations for other indicators lower, the Administration is already covering its ass, to use a crude term everyone understands.

If GDP results throughout the year show that the growth rate is going to fall short of the government’s 7 to 8 percent goal, the excuse is already prepared: “Don’t blame us, we would have hit the mark if the rest of the world could get its act together.”

That is more than a little disingenuous, considering the assertion that has been repeatedly made by the BSP, NEDA, the Department of Finance, and anyone else who gets a chance to offer an opinion that the economy is “well insulated” against external shocks.

The economy has certainly shown it is susceptible in some ways to external developments, but the government either can’t or won’t figure out exactly how, moving from underestimating the impact of global factors to unreasonably overestimating them.

External factors such as export demand from big markets like China and Japan, oil prices, and monetary policy in the US will only aggravate an economic slowdown, not cause it.

That, the Philippines is doing on its own. What was not mentioned in the discussion of February’s lower export figures—the third straight month of decline—is the several preceding months of lower imports. Lower oil prices did account for some of that, but the downturn in domestic production was largely to blame.

Confidence in the Administration’s ability to correctly assess and manage economic developments is certainly not encouraged by ongoing process disasters such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s almost completely unusable electronic tax filing system, and the Land Transportation Office’s ham-fisted management of what one would think should be the relatively easy job of registering vehicles and providing license plates for them.

Very few, if any, analysts see the economy growing at the ambitious rate the government is rather irrationally expecting;

GDP growth estimates range from about 5.9 percent to about 6.7 percent among the more optimistic.

Against the backdrop of widespread informed opinion and publicly embarrassing, expensive breakdowns in basic institutional processes, the government’s outlook is increasingly ridiculous, which even the Administration seems to be starting to realize.


PHILSTAR

Gov’t can’t be that cruel HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 12, 2015 - 12:00am


By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes

Just when many thought that any remaining uncertainty will be put to rest, a recent ruling of the Baguio City regional trial court may have added to the confusion.

Baguio RTC Judge Corazon Dulay-Archog has confirmed the Feb. 11 ruling the arbitral tribunal that voided the 1996 lease agreement between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and developer Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) to develop the more than 200-hectare Camp John Hay property.

The order required CJHDevco to vacate the leased area and BCDA to reimburse the former around P1.42-billion in rents paid to the government.

But the original lease agreement allowed CJHDevco to enter into sub-leases and a number of agreements with businesses and individuals. There are those who bought hotel rooms and home lots for a lease period of 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.

Judge Archog said that “as to the list of sublessees (tenants) and/or vested rights holders, they will be governed by the law on obligations and contracts.”

Well, Book IV on Obligations and Contracts of the Civil Code of the Philippines consists of 1,114 articles (Arts. 1156-2270) and when you have a number of lawyers and parties trying to interpret what the court meant, there will be so many interpretations, a number of which will be conflicting.

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CJHDevco beiieves that Archog’s order guarantees that subleases and other contracts are protected by law, and that they are not required to vacate Camp John Hay along with the developer.

The company cites Art. 1385 of the Civil Code which states that a contract’s rescission may not affect the object of the contract when it is legally in the possession of third persons who did not act in bad faith.

But then, BCDA has a different opinion. BCDA head Arnel Casanova said that a since a sublease is dependent on the original lease, when the mother lease is voided, so are the subcontracts.

Well, what may be said as definite at the moment is the fact that when the parties entered into their respective contracts of leases, they were in good faith. And so it would be very harsh and unfair, especially for government, to simply drive away businesses and individuals, who in good faith, invested and built.

Our country and the government are fast earning a reputation of being unreliable when it comes to its promises. And that is bad for business.

Businesses want predictability and certainty. Their projections and plans are based on a number of assumptions, one of which is that any contract entered into with government or a sovereign and its agencies is “sacrosanct.”

In fact, no less than our Constitution provides for the non-impairment of contracts, which we know can yield only when there is a legitimate exercise by the State of its police power.

The government yields so much power, and so we have all these rights under the Bill of Rights of the Constitution to protect us from abuses by people who are supposed to protect us under the parens patriae (parent of the fatherland) principle.

One Asean country, which unfortunately has grown leaps and bounds in terms of attracting foreign investments, vowed to make its investment policy firm and sound. So what it did is to set aside funds so that any investor who may suffer from a change in policies as a result of a judicial decision can resort to this fund for some form of restitution or relief.

I have taught investment law for a number of years and I can say for a fact that our investment laws, policies and incentives are all over the place.

Our government has to speak with one voice. We need a president who can put his foot down and say with all conviction that this is were we want to go and this is how we will do it.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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