CEBU CITY – Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Ambassador Donald Dee said last night that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is ripe for economic integration, citing the region's high growth rate and its potentials as a market of over-half-a-billion people.

"This region is ready to integrate and that is what the ASEAN Investment Summit is all about," Dee said.

The ASEAN growth rate of 5.5 percent is one of the highest among the world's regions and its market figure of more than 550 million could easily reach about half of the global population if "we add the population of ASEAN's dialogue partners South Korea, China, Japan and India," Dee said.

Dee held a press briefing Thursday night on ASEAN trade and business initiatives and prospects at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) with PCCI chairman Atty. Miguel Varela, PhilExport president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., and ASEAN Business Advisory Council chairman Jose Concepcion Jr.

Dee said the agreement among ASEAN leaders to reduce old tariff lines by as much as 85 percent by Jan. 1, 2007 will further speed up the region's economic integration.

To fully realize integration as early as next year, Dee said that ASEAN governments, including their trading partners, should come up with a single window for customs matters to facilitate the movement of goods to and from the region.

ASEAN must also adopt a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) that would recognize the result of each member country's regulatory examinations in order that their professional workers can be easily employed in any of the member-nation, he said.

Such an MRA, he pointed out, would fully complement President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's poverty reduction program with the creation of job opportunities for the Filipino people, particularly with the high demand for world-class Filipino products and services.

By 2015, Dee said that the economies of at least three of the original ASEAN members would be fully integrated. This would be followed by the integration in the ASEAN of its newest members such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam which will be given a five-year grace period to adjust to the regional economic setting.

ASEAN leaders have established 11 priority areas for free trade, including the fast moving electronics and garments sectors, Dee said, adding it is important to convert the ASEAN region from being a "factory of the world to the market of the world."

"It is such a big economic bloc being one of the fastest growing regions," he said.

Dee said that China has cornered the lion's share of the investments that have poured into Asia in the last five years. He placed the amount of investments captured by China during the five-year period at $250 billion compared to $50 billion for ASEAN.

With China's economy projected to grow by more than 10 percent next year, Dee said ASEAN's integration is focused on utilizing its competitive advantage by coming out with high value products instead of competing with economies that have low wages.

Dee said he hopes that the four-day investment summit here that opened Thursday would showcase to businessmen delegates the advantages of investing in the ASEAN as many investors are now taking a second look at the region.

"Why? Because they began to realize that ASEAN, considering its 550 million population, is a very attractive place because it has a market that can sustain the growth that other companies within or outside the region are looking for," Dee said.

ASEAN's integration would be greatly boosted by the regional charter to be presented by the 10-man Eminent Persons Group (EPG), Dee said.

The Philippines is represented in the EPG by former President Fidel V. Ramos.

GMA  ORDERS  FORCED  EVACUATION  OF  RESIDENTS  IN  SOME  ALBAY  VILLAGES By Cet Dematera - Philippine Star December 9, 2006

LEGAZPI CITY - President Arroyo ordered yesterday the forced evacuation of residents in villages threatened by mudflow coming from Mayon volcano in anticipation of the coming of typhoon "Seniang" that will hit the eastern part of the country this afternoon.

More than 70,000 people are residing in 41 villages in three cities and five towns in Albay that are threatened by lahar and mudflow that could be induced by heavy rains brought by the typhoon.

The weather bureau reported that Seniang is packing winds of up to 85 kilometers per hour and it is forecast to make landfall in Eastern Samar, about 170 kilometers south of Legaspi City.

Rep. Joey Salceda of the 3rd District of Albay, in a live broadcast over a local station PBN Broadcasting Network here, said that the President had directed disaster management officials in Bicol to enforce a mass evacuation of residents of lahar-threatened areas to avoid another disaster similar to the mudslide that devastated several barangays after super typhoon "Reming" battered Bicol. Over 1,000 people were believed to have been killed in the region last Nov. 30.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales said the provincial government will deploy buses, trucks and other available vehicles for the forced evacuation.

Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, had identified the most high-risk areas as the villages near the Yawa, Masarawag, Maipon, San Rafael, and Ilawod rivers in Guinobatan town.

In 1991, flashfloods in Ormoc City in Leyte killed more than 5,000 people. On Feb. 27, 2006, more than 1,000 died when mudslides swept Barangay Guinsaugon in southern Leyte.

Salceda said Mrs. Arroyo expressed concern over the ordeal suffered by the victims of Reming and she does not want another disaster when Seniang hits the eastern Philippines.

Meanwhile, Speaker Jose de Venecia said he had raised P25 million from 100 congressmen who donated P250,000 each from their public works allocations to help the victims of Reming.

He directed Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House appropriation committee, to raise P12 billion for the typhoon-ravaged regions.

Arnel Capili, Office of Civil Defense (OCD) director in Bicol, said that disaster officials in Bicol particularly in Albay have already agreed to start the mandatory evacuation starting at 12 noon today once the weather bureau is certain that Seniang would directly hit Albay.

Capili said local officials had already identified "holding areas" where the residents will stay for 12 hours if the typhoon passes through Albay.

The holding areas include churches, bus terminals, sports auditoriums and other structures that can withstand strong winds and are safe from floods.

Meanwhile, some 570 bodies have so far been recovered in Albay after Reming devastated the area while more than 700 have remained missing and 26,371 residents are now staying in 42 evacuation centers in Albay.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) assured the families of the typhoon victims that the members of the bureau’s Disaster Victim Identification Team will be able to identify the remaining unidentified bodies.

NBI spokesman Ricardo Diaz said two teams were deployed in Bicol to help identify the fatalities.

This developed as 40 cases of diarrhea were reported by the disease surveillance teams formed by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Provincial Health Office to monitor the possible outbreak of disease at the crowded evacuation centers and in areas that were submerged by floodwaters at the height of typhoon Reming.

Ingrid Magnata, DOH-Bicol assistant regional director, said that the diarrhea patients were treated at the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital.

Magnata, however, said that the diarrhea outbreak was not yet of epidemic proportions.

Aside from diarrhea, cases of sore eyes and chicken pox were also recorded in some evacuation camps.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus appealed to the public to support the repair and rehabilitation of schools damaged by typhoon Reming.

Data gathered from the field by the Physical Facilities and Schools Engineering Division (PFSED) of the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that in Albay, 90 percent or 487 of 541 schools were damaged. — Sandy Araneta, Celso Amo, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan, AP, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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