[PHOTO AT LEFT - A giant globe adorns the newly opened P6.5-billion Mall of Asia which sits on 19.5 hectares of reclaimed land in Pasay City. It was inaugurated yesterday by President Arroyo.- Photo By WALTER BOLLOZOS, WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, May 22, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo got an eyeful yesterday at the country’s first IMAX theater featuring rectangular movie screens measuring some eight stories high and 120 feet wide during the inauguration of the P6.5-billion SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

The IMAX theater will screen films in a massive three-dimensional format and is just one of the attractions at what is now one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. The new mall opened yesterday on a 19.5-hectare site in Pasay City overlooking scenic Manila Bay.

The President watched movie trailers at the IMAX cinema after touring the mall’s main building and dropped by the ice skating rink on the second floor to watch Filipino ice-skating world champions in practice.

The Mall of Asia located along the President Diosdao Macapagal Boulevard (PDMB) is expected to generate at least 20,000 jobs for residents of southern Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Cavite and Laguna.

Upon her arrival from Libis, Quezon City where she earlier inaugurated the new facilities of Hinduja Technology Media and Telecommunications (HTMT) Customer Contact Center, the President led the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the main lobby entrance of the massive shopping complex.

Henry Sy Sr., founder and chairman of SM Prime Holdings Inc., Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Pasay City Mayor Wenceslao "Peewee" Trinidad assisted the President.

SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy escorted the President and briefed her on the features of the Mall of Asia — which the SM group of companies aims to turn into the premiere destination mall in the Asia-Pacific region.

The commercial complex, which measures more than 400,000 square meters, is SM Prime Holdings’ 25th supermall project and the company’s most ambitious to date.

The Mall of Asia covers a sprawling four buildings linked by elevated walkways — the Main Mall, the North Parking building, the South Parking building and the Entertainment Center building.

The Main Mall contains shopping and dining establishments, a food court and the country’s first Olympic-sized ice-skating rink. The South Parking building houses SM department store and half of the mall’s 5,000 parking slots.

The SM Hypermarket and more dining areas can be found at the North Parking building. Internal north and south streets have been converted into landscaped pedestrian walkways with outdoor retail and dining establishments.

The Entertainment Center building offers a spectacular view of Manila Bay and houses 10 theaters, including a Director’s Club and the IMAX theater.

Meanwhile, the President said growing investors’ faith and confidence in the country and the Filipino people are moving the country toward economic takeoff.

In her message during the inauguration of the HTMT facility in Barangay Ugong Norte in Quezon City, the President credited growing global confidence in the country to the government’s implementation of needed fiscal and economic reforms.

"Our tough fiscal reforms and revenue-generating measures are reaping a tide of confidence and investments and the social payback is starting to flow down to the people," she said.

"Our blueprint for economic takeoff is on the move on the back of growing global confidence in the Philippines," she added.

One example of investors’ renewed faith, according to the President, is India’s HTMT, which invested some $25 million and created 2,500 jobs for Filipinos.

"I thank HTMT for the continued faith and confidence in our administration and in our people," the President said, as she vowed to "continue doing our best to meet your expectations in the Philippines."

The President added that the inauguration of the HTMT’s state-of-the-art, 10,000-square meter facility comes at a time when the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said companies in the Philippines can "expect better times ahead."

She said the Philippine economy has taken off as the country posted its biggest budget surplus in the last nine years on the back of a hefty P16 billion in additional revenues following the implementation of the Reformed Value Added Tax (RVAT) law.

"Analysts affirm that we are on track in our economy aside from the positive outlook of business surveys," the President said.

The HTMT is a growing global conglomerate operating in 50 countries spanning five continents. It currently delivers its services to Fortune magazine’s top 100 companies.

"The Philippines is fast emerging as the world’s favorite call center destination with its vast pool of human resources that have superior proficiency in the English language and a very supportive government," HTMT co-chairman Remi Hinduja said.

Department of Trade and Industry records show that BPOs in the Philippines grew at an annual average of about 160 percent between 2001 and 2004 and amounted to about $1.655 billion in 2004.

The BPO industry in the country aims to create an industry worth $10 billion by 2010.

The Arroyo administration has been very supportive of the BPO industry by offering call center scholarships worth P500 million. The President has instructed the Department of Education to make the English language the medium of instruction in elementary and high schools to "increase the hiring rate" of BPOs and call centers.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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