Friday, August 27, 2010

Hong Kong chief says Aquino has apologized

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said President Benigno Aquino III has personally apologized to him over the Manila hostage-taking incident that claimed the lives of 8 Hong Kong tourists.

“President Aquino rang me up and he apologized for the event. He felt particularly sorrowful for what had happened and he also apologized that he could not return my call because he was totally engaged in supervising the operation," he said in a video address on Friday.

Tsang said that he accepted Aquino’s apology but vowed to remain vigilant over the on-going investigation into the tragedy.

“We have formally asked the Philippines government to do a thorough investigation of what happened and compile a report and make a full account of it and let the Hong Kong people know what actually transpired," he said.

Tsang also urged for calm and sobriety in Hong Kong amid the racial tensions caused by the incident.

“This is a moment that we all have to act sensibly and to behave in a civil manner,” he stressed. “I understand the strong feelings and sentiments within a community, but I also know for sure that the nearly 200,000 Filipino nationals who are working in Hong Kong share our sorrow and share our frustration and this is a time we should look for mutual support within a community and overcome this tragedy."

His Facebook page aired a similar call.


Tsang said the Hong Kong government will hold autopsies on the remains of the hostage victims.

“The coroner has already decided that we have to carry out autopsies. This will be done or is being done, and we will finish it very quickly,” he said. “The investigation by the Hong Kong government is almost inevitable. We have to present our case, the result of the investigation, to the coroner. It will be the decision of the coroner whether or not to conduct an inquest.“

He added that the former Crown colony has already sent its police officers to Manila to coordinate with their Philippine counterparts.

“We (will) present to them… all of the evidence we have already gathered,” he said. “We hope that through this channel we are able to produce, at the end of the day, by the Philippine government, a comprehensive, thorough, and accurate report of what has happened there.”

Anger at RP government, not at Filipinos

Meanwhile, some Hong Kong residents staged a candlelight vigil at the city’s Charter Garden Friday night.

A banner they carried read: “HK IN TEARS! WE ARE ANGRY!”

One Hong Kong local said they are angry at the Philippine government and not at Filipinos. "We will not discriminate Filipino workers in HK!"

DFA: 'Twas inexcusable

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a press statement on Friday calling the Monday hostage incident “inexcusable.”

“The DFA reiterates its condemnation of the violence perpetuated by Rolando Mendoza,” the DFA said.

Mendoza, a disgruntled former police officer, held Hong Kong tourists hostage on-board a bus parked at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila and demanded his job back.

“Nothing could ever justify the senseless act of holding hostage and threatening and carrying out physical violence on innocent civilians, including children,” the DFA said.

The 12-hour standoff resulted in the death of 8 tourists and the hostage-taker.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs shares the outrage and indignation of the Filipino nation and all peace-loving peoples over this criminal act,” it said.

“The Philippine government continues to cooperate with the governments of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the People's Republic of China to bring justice to the victims and their families,” the DFA said. “We believe that the strong and long-standing ties of friendship and cooperation between the governments and peoples of the Philippines and China and Hong Kong shall overcome this sad episode.”

Tourism sector waits for dust to settle over hostage fiasco

MANILA, Philippines - Stakeholders in the tourism industry have agreed to "sit back" and let emotions over Monday's bloody hostage drama pass amid millions of pesos in projected losses due to China's black travel advisory for the Philippines.

"All agreed to keep quiet for the meantime. Anything we do now on a very aggressive basis may be misinterpreted as lack of sincerity. It's better at this point to sit back, let emotions settle down a bit," Cesar Cruz of the Philippine Tour Operators' Association told ANC's Dateline Philippines in an interview.

Cruz said tour operators as well as hotel and resort owners are already cooking positive marketing strategies to lure back the Hong Kong and Chinese markets.

"The moment they are ready, then [these] could be executed," he said.

Cruz said the Philippine tourism industry may continue to feel the impact of the black travel alert issued by China for the next 2 months.

He said they are optimistic that the situation will normalize by November. He said the silent approach, in terms of marketing, to the crisis will save onward bookings for November this year until March 2011.

"The reaction coming from Hong Kong is expected. The facts are there, the cancellations are coming in. The objective right now is to save the onward bookings from November to March," he said.

Projected losses placed at millions

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said Thursday that more than 500 flight bookings from Hong Kong and China have been cancelled since China issued the black travel alert.

The travel warning was issued on Tuesday, a day after 8 Hong Kong tourists died in a 12-hour hostage drama in Manila's Rizal Park.

PAL said the cancellations translate to close to P8 million.

Cebu Pacific also said that they already have 50 cancellations from Hong Kong and China.

A hotel in Manila also reported about 600 cancellations for September alone.

Cruz said the local tourism industry would feel more of the travel warnings' impact because "this is the peak season for Hong Kong holidays."

He said that during the peak season, 20 to 30 groups of tourists travel to Manila on a daily basis. He said each group consists of at least 20 people.

Cruz said that each person shells out at least $200 for a full tour package. Tour operators stand to lose at least $4,000 if one tour group cancels its trip to the Philippines.

"For this month of September, we can imagine the impact in terms of financial setback for the tourism industry," he said.

Hong Kong sale months

Cruz, meanwhile, said that they are also expecting losses from outbound flights to Hong Kong. He said Filipinos usually rush to Hong Kong from September to October because of the "sale season."

"This is also the season for Filipinos to go to Hong Kong. [It's] sale season in Hong Kong," he said.

He said Filipinos are feeling anxious to travel to Hong Kong as anger mounts over the bloody hostage drama.

However, he said the tourism industry expects Filipino travellers to start booking flights for Hong Kong in 2 to 3 weeks.

Monday, August 23, 2010

HK warns residents not to travel to RP

Hong Kong issued its top-level black travel alert for the Philippines on Monday after at least 8 Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus hijack in Manila by an armed ex-policeman.

"A serious kidnap incident happened in the Philippines. Hong Kong residents should avoid all travel to the country," a government spokesman said in a statement.

"Those who are already there should attend to their personal safety and exercise caution."

At least 8 of the hostages have been killed while 7 others were being treated in hospitals after their 12-hour ordeal, police and doctors in Manila said.

The Hong Kong government also said it would charter two flights to Manila for families of the tourists who were held hostage by an armed ex-policeman in their tourist bus.

Andy Ho, spokesman for Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, said the city's airline Cathay Pacific will arrange two chartered flights for family members, as well as psychologists, immigration and medical officers.

The first flight will take off around midnight on Monday (1600 GMT) and the second flight is scheduled for 8 am on Tuesday, he said.

"We are ready to go but we are awaiting landing permission from Manila," Ho said.

The busload of Hong Kong tourists was seized by former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza, who said he wanted to clear his name after being discharged for extortion in 2008.

The gunman was killed by police in the final moments of the crisis.

In Manila, the Chinese embassy said it was saddened by the death of the hostages. It asked the government to attend to the survivors.

BSP not worried over Citibank case

MANILA, Philippines - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is not worried over the “isolated” embezzlement done by Citibank executive Brian Ang, who allegedly carted away no less than P4 million from the bank.

According to Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr, the amount Ang allegedly stole from high-end clients is small compared to the assets and resources of the bank.

“Almost 97% ng deposito sa Pilipinas ay up to 500,000 pesos only at fully-covered ng deposit insurance system. ‘Yung malalaking deposit, 3% lang ng total depositors,” Espenilla said in an interview over DZMM on Monday.

Ang allegedly embezzled more than P100 million from his clients’ money after offering higher interest rates for time deposit accounts.

“Hindi namin inaasahan na dahil sa problemang ito ay magkaka-problema ang bangkong naturan at itong ganitong bagay... mukhang isolated ito involved [lang] sa isang account officer at iilang kliyente,” he added.

Espenilla said the BSP has been monitoring the situation since Citibank reported the incident. He added that BSP can only impose administrative actions on such cases.

Citibank is responsible for disciplinary mechanisms against Ang, said Espenilla. If found guilty, BSP can disqualify Ang from the banking system.

“Pwede po namin (BSP) i-disqualify sa banking system ang isang tao na nakagawa ng pagkakamali na napatunayan naman sa isang due process na imbestigasyon. This is administrative action on the part of BSP,” he said.

Counter-check offers

Espenilla said that depositors, both big and small players, should be wary of high interest offers from banks, and should be vigilant with their money.

“Dapat sa pagde-deposito natin, huwag tayong maghangad ng masyadong matataas na interest [na] parang lihis na sa kalakaran sa merkado, Sa aming experience, ito ang mga napapahamak, napapasubo, sa ganitong klaseng transaksyon. Be realistic sa kung anong makukuha na interests sa bangko,” he advised.

Espenilla added that depositors should not depend on only one account officer and should always counter-check with the bank.

In embezzlement cases, the deputy governor added that banks normally conduct investigations. They are also responsible for the lost money and should run after erring personnel.

“Kadalasan ganun ang desisyon ng bangko (Return customers money). Kung lalabas na dehado ang isang customer dahil sa pagkakamali ng isa niyang empleyado, papanindigan niyan ang isang bangko at bangko na ang maghabol dun sa tao,” he said.

8 HK tourists killed in Manila bus siege

Philippine security forces stormed a bus packed with Hong Kong tourists on Monday to end a dramatic hostage crisis that unfolded live on global television, leaving eight people and the gunman dead.

The day-long ordeal began when a disgruntled ex-policeman armed with an M-16 assault rifle and dressed in combat pants hijacked the bus in Manila's tourist district in a desperate bid to get his job back.

Negotiations broke down after nightfall when the gunman, former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza, began shooting and commandos were forced to storm the bus, firing dozens of bullets of their own into the vehicle.

"I shot two Chinese. I will finish them all if they do not stop," Mendoza told a local radio station as the police assault was about to get under way.

Police said a sniper shot Mendoza dead after he used his captives as "human shields" in the final moments of the 12-hour standoff.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said eight tourists were confirmed killed, while the Red Cross reported another seven were in hospital with unspecified injuries.

Seven tourists, including children, and two Filipinos were freed at various times throughout the day from the bus that was parked at Rizal Park, a popular tourist destination just a few blocks from police headquarters.

The Filipino bus driver jumped out of a window and escaped moments before police stormed the vehicle, with his escape and the rest of the crisis broadcast live on television.

One of the survivors hit out at the Philippine authorities, saying they acted too slowly.

"There were so many people on the bus -- no one came to our rescue. Why?" the woman, who identified herself as Mrs Leung, said at the scene in comments broadcast on Hong Kong's Cable TV.

"We were in fear for so many hours. I find it really cruel."

Aquino defended the actions of the police, saying authorities had initially believed Mendoza would surrender, suggested by the release of some of the hostages, but the situation later deteriorated.

After waiting more than 10 hours to launch their assault, police were then unable to get inside the bus for another 90 minutes.

They encircled the bus, smashed its windows and fired at it, but Mendoza held them off by shooting back.

The crisis eventually ended when police threw tear gas inside the bus, and fired again.

"He used the tourists as human shields. But he panicked and retreated to the front of the bus. He was then met with a volley of gunfire," the assault team's leader Superintendent Nelson Yabut told reporters.

Mendoza, 55, was honoured by police chiefs in 1986 as one of the top 10 officers in the country.

But he was discharged in 2008 for his alleged involvement in drug-related crimes and extortion and hijacked the bus in a bid to clear his name, according to police.

"He wants to be reinstated in the service," Manila district police chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay said early in the day.

Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said the tourists, aged between four and 72, were on a three-day tour with Hong Thai Travel due to end on Monday.

The Hong Kong government warned all its citizens to avoid travelling to the Philippines, and expressed grief over the killings.

"It is a tragedy because a pleasure trip has ended up with casualties and injuries," Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told a press briefing.

Flags on Hong Kong government buildings will fly at half mast on Tuesday as a mark of respect for the victims.

The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, telephoned his Philippine counterpart Alberto Romulo to express Beijing's shock and demand a thorough investigation, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

China is to send a team to the Philippines to help deal with the aftermath, Xinhua said.

The killings added to a fast-growing number of attacks of foreigners in the Philippines.

Gunmen shot dead a South Korean man in a separate attack on Monday in another section of Manila. Police said the incidents were not related.

Last month an American, a South African, a Briton and their Filipina partners were killed in spate of murder-robberies in Angeles City north of Manila. The alleged killer was arrested.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

BIR says July collection goal missed

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) missed anew its collection goal for July.

In a statement, the country's main tax agency said it collected P63.81 billion last month, P3.57 billion short of its target of P67.39 billion. However, this was 10.8% higher than the P57.61 billion it collected in July 2009.

July was the first month of the new government's campaign to collect taxes more efficiently and chase down tax evaders to shore up state revenues.

For the first 7 months of 2010, the BIR generated P467.28 billion in taxes, P21.1 billion below its P488.38 billion goal, but 7.9% more than the P433.22 billion it raked in during the same period last year.

BIR Commissioner Kim Henares vowed to make up for the shortfall to meet an upwardly revised P860 billion collection goal this year.

She said they will further strengthen the Run After Tax Evaders or RATE program, an anti-corruption and tax evasion campaign started in 2005. The BIR has so far filed 4 cases against tax cheats since July this year.

The government needs to boost tax collection to help plug the deficit, which is expected to hit P325 billion this year, equivalent to 3.9% of GDP.

China says outpacing Japan in second quarter not enough

BEIJING - China on Tuesday hailed the country's economic might after it overtook world number 2 Japan in the second quarter but said it still had tens of millions of people living in poverty.

Thirty years after opening its doors to the world, China has claimed the titles of world's biggest exporter, auto market and steelmaker in recent years.

Many expect China will this year become the world's number two economy, just behind the United States -- taking the title Japan has held for 40 years and underscoring its emergence as an economic force.

While China has for years stormed ahead with double-digit expansion in gross domestic product, Japan's growth rates have been comparatively low.

On Monday, Japanese data showed that while Tokyo stayed ahead of its Asian rival in the first half, its second-quarter GDP was smaller than China's.

But a commerce ministry official pointed out that in per capita terms, China lags far behind its rivals, and has a long way to go to becoming a world-class power.

"We should not only care about GDP data but also more importantly should pay attention to the per capita figures," commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian told reporters at a regular briefing.

He said China's per capita GDP was $3,800, around 105th in the world, and added that 150 million of the country's 1.3 billion people live below the poverty line, according to UN standards. Japan's per capita GDP is more than 10 times that of China.

"The quality of China's economic growth still needs to be improved, no matter whether it is in terms of people's quality of life or in terms of science, technology and environmental protection," the spokesman said.

"We still have an enormous gap to make up."

The country's newspapers insisted that China, while contributing to global growth and helping to drive the world's recovery from the financial crisis, was still transforming itself into a world-class economic power.

"China's economic strength is also still at the level of a developing nation. So the world's second-largest economy is not the equivalent of the second-largest economic power," the People's Daily said in a commentary.

In just three decades, China has leapfrogged Britain, France and Germany on its economic ascent and has won developing countries a bigger say in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

However, the official China Daily said in an editorial: "The Chinese economy still has a lot more room to grow and can contribute even more to the global recovery.

"But for those who expect China to assume greater international responsibilities just because of the size of its economy, they should take a hard look at the enormous development challenges that the country still faces."

A columnist for the People's Daily, Li Hong, offered an optimistic outlook, claiming China could overtake the United States in 15-25 years.

"Our ultimate goal is, naturally, to reach the pinnacle by surpassing the United States and, once again, becoming the largest economy," Li wrote in the paper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party.

DOF not keen on Ramon Ang's $10-B offer for PAGCOR

MANILA, Philippines - The government is not satisfied with the $10-billion offer of businessman and San Miguel Corp. Vice-Chairman Ramon S. Ang for Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

"That's too cheap," said Finance Undersecretary John Philip Sevilla, who heads the department's privatization group.

Sevilla said the government is not in a hurry to privatize PAGCOR since there are no official proposals to buy the state's gaming agency,

"We're not concerned about personalities. What we're saying is, if PAGCOR is privatized, it should be done through open, transparent and competitive process," he said.

Several state assets are being eyed for privatization to shore up the government's budgetary deficit.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima earlier said that only the commercial side of PAGCOR will be privatized while regulatory control would be retained by the government.

PAGCOR contributes to the social fund of the Office of the President.

In the first half, PAGCOR remitted P5.04 billion to the government, lower than the P5.488 billion turned over in the same period in 2009.

Under its charter, PAGCOR is mandated to remit at least 50% of its annual earnings to the government.

It booked an unaudited P29.78 billion income in 2009, compared to P29.61 billion in 2008.

Celebrity legislators adjust to new roles

MANILA, Philippines - Less than a month after the opening of the 15th Congress, new celebrity legislators are still settling into their new roles.

Cavite 2nd district Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla admitted she can't wait for the committee meetings to start so that they can buckle down to work.

Being part of the minority, she explained that it is important that she attends all the meetings and hearings to represent the minority.

"I would like to comply with my obligations as part of the minority to attend most of these hearings, kasi minority nga eh -- iilan-ilan lang kami, tapos kami pa ang mawawala," she said.

She has also filed 5 bills, including an open high school program, similar to the home study program.

She admitted she was already content to be a senator's wife but duty called when additional districts were added in Cavite, and her brother-in-law needed an ally in Congress.

She admitted she works in tandem with her husband, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla, and thinks of complimentary bills to sponsor. Her husband also advises her from time to time.

Leyte 4th district Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez is still busy fixing up her office. Her office is talked about as one of the nicest in Congress. Its design is modern, but, she said, most of her things are just excess furniture from the House.

Gomez explained it is important for her to have a pleasant environment so she can think well. She will put inspirational writings on the wall to motivate her. She uses floral paper clips and folders to amuse herself despite her new political life.

Gomez admitted politics wasn’t part of her plan, but now that she’s here she’s just determined to perform to benefit her constituents.

She explained that Ormoc is very poor, and she wants to get as much benefits for the people as possible even if she has to beg for them.

"I have no ego when it comes to begging for my district. I also will not pretend to know what I do not know. So I know there's a real learning curve ahead, but I'm accepting that fully," she said.

Her husband, actor Richard Gomez, works as her chief of staff, which, she says, isn’t a problem because they really work well as a team.

"We've always worked well together and I think what really works for us is that the respect is there, and we have each other's back," she said.

Congress, she said, feels like a big classroom where they learn from each other.

She said her style would be to take an educated stand without having to fight people.

Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquaio said he is enjoying his work, and like in boxing, makes it a point to enjoy and be passionate about his job.

His time is occupied a full schedule of appointments, drafting of bills, and people still going to his office from as far as Mindanao just for his autograph and picture.

"Para sa akin, nag-eenjoy pa rin ako. Mas lalo akong nag-e-enjoy. Sabi ng iba, mahirap, ako iba, nag-eenjoy ako sa trabaho ko," he said.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Local shares drift lower on weak global economic data

MANILA, Philippines - Local shares drifted lower on Wednesday, dragged down by edgy investors in the
regional markets following new measures by the US Federal Reserve to bolster the world's largest economy.

Shares were also weighed down by weaker economic data in Asia's biggest economies - China and Japan.

At home, the absence of fresh catalysts prompted investors to cash in recent gains.

The main index of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) edged down by 0.08% to 3,522.72.

The broader all-shares index fell by 0.16% to 2,233.47, with only the financial and services sectors
finishing in positive territory.

Losers outpaced winners, 81 to 53, while 35 stocks ended unchanged.

A total of 1.42 billion shares worth P720.16 billion changed hands.

Malaysia’s Kuok, Yeoh not joining bid for PAGCOR

MANILA, Philippines - Malaysian tycoons Robert Kuok and Francis Yeoh do not have plans to bid for Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).

Bloomberg news wires reported on Tuesday that the 2 tycoons denied a report by the Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer, quoting San Miguel Corp. President Ramon Ang, that they may make a joint offer for the Philippine gambling regulator and operator, which he valued at $10 billion.

Yeoh is managing director of YTL Corp., Malaysia’s biggest builder. Kuok and another tycoon, Ananda Krishnan, are Malaysia’s richest persons. Krishnan was also mentioned by Ang as being interested in PAGCOR.

Yeoh “is completely taken aback” by and “very unhappy” with the report, Sylvia Chew, his special assistant, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

“He does not know Ramon Ang nor has he ever spoken to the individual. YTL does not participate in the gaming industry, and this will continue to be the case.”

Kuok, his family and the Kuok Group of companies have “no intention of investing in the gaming industry,” Kuok Group said in a separate e-mail to Bloomberg, while declining to comment directly on the report.

Bloomberg said that Ang, who said on Monday that he was bidding for himself, not San Miguel, on Tuesday, didn’t immediately reply to mobile phone calls and text messages seeking his comment.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who took office June 30, has said he’s leaning toward splitting the company’s regulatory and casino-operating arms.

On Monday, Aquino said Ang’s bid was “very interesting” even as government spokesmen said a formal offer hadn’t been made.

PAGCOR had gross revenue of P30.3 billion ($671 million) last year and contributed P12.2 billion to the national government in franchise taxes and income share, according to its spokesman Jay Santiago.

Lawmaker wants Facebook, Twitter use regulated

MANILA, Philippines - A Marikina lawmaker is seeking to regulate government employees' use of social networking sites Twitter and Facebook during office hours.

Marikina City 2nd District Rep. Romero Federico Quimbo filed Wednesday House Bill 184, which seeks to impose regulations on the use of government Internet facilities to access social networking sites.

While Quimbo does not want a total ban, he proposes that government agencies regulate the use of social networking sites because it affects the productivity of the agencies.

The measure also proposes that government-owned and -controlled corporations be included in the regulation.

The bill also requires government agencies to submit "copies of their respective regulations" to the chamber during the deliberation of the proposed national budget for 2011.

Quimbo said that based on his own estimate, the government loses P10,315,8000 a month in electricity expenses if government employees use Facebook and Twitter 2 hours daily.

August 23 is a regular working day: Palace

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang on Wednesday said August 23, which falls on a Monday, will remain a regular working day while August 21, a Saturday and also Ninoy Aquino Day, is a non-working holiday.

A statement from the presidential palace said President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is empowered under Republic Act 9492 to modify holidays by law, order or proclamation.

"The purpose for observing Ninoy Aquino Day on August 21 instead of August 23 is to avoid the imposition of unnecessary financial burden upon the employers, ensure the continuity of government, business, and commercial transaction, promote productivity, while at the same time preserve the solemnity of the observance," the statement read.

Last year, then President Gloria Arroyo issued a proclamation declaring August 23, 2010 as a special holiday. The proclamation is in line with RA 9492 or the holiday economics law that requires that most holidays, except those with religious significance, be shifted to the nearest Monday.

President Aquino earlier told reporters that he is uncomfortable with the idea of declaring a special non-working holiday to commemorate the death of his father, the late Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, on August 21.