Saturday, June 26, 2010

April imports up 45.3%

MANILA, Philippines - Merchandise imports posted a high double-digit growth of 45.3% in April from a year ago, owing to the surge in demand for electronic products.

Data from the National Statistics Office showed the country's total import bill amounted to $4.441 billion in April compared to $3.057 billion the previous year.

April's annual import growth was a reversal of the 37.1% decline in 2009. It was faster than March's annual growth of 38.9%.

However, compared to March's total import bill of $4.543, imports in April were down 2.2%.

Purchases of the country's main import item, electronics, surged 63.7% to $1.514 billion from $924.74 million last year. Electronics accounted for 34.1% of the aggregate import revenue.

The surge in electronics bodes well for exports in coming months as these products are reassembled for shipment later.

For the first 4 months of the year, total imports went up 35.7% to $17.175 billion from $12.656 billion last year. Similarly, merchandise exports went up 39.1% to $14.925 billion from $10.730 billion during the 4-month period.

The Philippines posted a trade deficit of $2.250 billion for January to April, higher than the $1.926 billion deficit in the same period of 2009.

Japan remained the country's largest source of imports in April, recording payments worth $561.61 million, 12.7% of the total bill. This was a 42.9% increase from the Arpil 2009 level of $3393.13 million.

The United States came in second with $480.76 million or an 10.8% share of the import bill, followed by Singapore ($445.15 million), China ($355.28 million), and Thailand ($284.13 million).

The central bank expects imports to grow 18% this year and in 2011.

Apart from electronic parts, the Philippines' other top imports are fuel, electrical and industrial machinery, transport equipment, iron, steel and textiles.

Stocks end higher on bargain hunting

MANILA, Philippines - Share prices managed to end higher on Friday, shrugging off Wall Street's weakness overnight, as investors chased bargains.

The key Philippine Stock Exchange index rose 0.6% or 18 points to 3,352, after losses in early trade.

The broader all-share index also rose 0.4% or 9 points to 2,139.

Gainers beat losers, 57 to 38, while 75 stocks were unchanged.

A total of 2.78 billion shares worth P3.53 billion were traded.

Market heavyweight Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) was the most actively traded stock by value. Recovering from a 5-session retreat, PLDT jumped 0.8% at P2,395.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. soared 5% to P63, its highest closing since December 2007, after its unit, First Metro Investment Corp., boosted its stake in Lepanto Mining to 19.66%. Lepanto closed up 6.1% to P0.26.

Other banking issues also ended in positive territory.

Top lender Banco de Oro Unibank Inc. gained 1.1% to P47.50, while Bank of the Philippine Islands also rose 1.1% to P45.

Obama sends delegation to Aquino-Binay inauguration

MANILA, Philippines – US President Barack Obama will send a delegation to Manila for the inauguration of the President- and Vice president-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Jejomar Binay on Wednesday.

Obama announced on June 25 that he chose US Trade Representative Ron Kirk to head the delegation. Kirk is also a member of Obama’s Cabinet.

US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr. was pleased that Obama selected Kirk to lead the delegation.

“I am delighted that President Obama personally chose Ambassador Kirk to lead the US delegation to the inauguration.

“This signals the US government's commitment to increasing trade opportunities with the Philippines. We look forward to working with the new government on these and many other issues,” Thomas said.

Earlier reports stated that 3 East Asian leaders have confirmed their attendance at Aquino and Binay’s inauguration on June 30.

They are Thai Prime Minister Aphisit Vejjajiva, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta.

Last week, Malacañang declared June 30, the day of Aquino’s inauguration, as a special non-working holiday.

The inauguration has caught the attention of the international media who have applied for media accreditation to cover the event. These include the British Broadcasting Corporation or the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and even National Geographic and popular bloggers. (Related story: Aquino fairy tale piques global interest in RP)

Presidential Management Staff head Elena Bautista-Horn said P10 million has been allotted for the inauguration. The organizers of the inauguration added there are enough facilities to ensure the entire world would be able to witness the historic event. (Related story: Palace sets aside P10M for Aquino inauguration)

Aquino, son of the late democracy icons President Corazon Aquino and Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., won the May 10, 2010 elections to serve as the 15th President of the Philippines.

His Vice-president-elect, meanwhile, is the former mayor of Makati City.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

DepEd sued over sex education plan

MANILA, Philippines – The former legal officer of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Monday sued the Department of Education for incorporating sex education in the curriculum of elementary and high school students.

In an interview, lawyer Jo Aurea Imbong said she filed the case in behalf of 30 concerned parents who opposed the sex education plan. She said the focus of the case is to stop DepEd from implementing Memorandum No. 26, which integrates sex education in the curriculum for private and public schools.

"We have examined the modules being used by DepEd and found that it promotes family planning, reproductive health and demographic development in subjects such as Mathematics, Science and English. It is specifically designed to transform the attitudes, behavior and social norms of young people based on a foreign model," she told

Imbong said described the sex education program as "an assault on moral sensibilities and values of young people" and actually encourages sexual promiscuity. She said the program changes the attitudes and values of children especially in Christian families.

Imbong said sex education was already being implemented in the basic education curriculum 12 years ago, and the new DepEd memo only updates the modules.

She said adopting the sex education plan will fast-track moral decay among young people who are exposed to sex at an early age. "While curiosity is normal for young people, it is still the primary responsibility of the parents and families to inform their children about sex," she said.

Education Secretary Mona Valisno earlier said sex education classroom discussions this schoolyear will not be about the sex act but on the science of reproduction, physical care and hygiene, correct values and the norms of interpersonal relations to avoid premarital sex and teenage pregnancy.

She said the topics integrated into the modules will be scientific and informative and are not designed to titillate prurient interest.

In Science, sex education topics will cover the reproductive system, parts of the body, reproductive cycle, and puberty.

Under Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan (EPP), proper behavior among and between peers of different genders will be discussed.

In Health classes under MAPEH (Music, Arts, PE and Health), personal hygiene and reproductive health will be part of the lessons.

In Heograpiya, Kasaysayan, at Sibika (HEKASI) classes, discussion will include the position of religion on premarital sex and the norms when people of opposite sex interact.

Finally, in Math classes, data on issues like premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections will be used in studying mathematical analysis and statistics.

According to Valisno, psychologists were among those who helped prepare the modules "because we want to ensure that specific topics for discussions will be made in the appropriate year levels.”

Topics requiring a more mature audience will be discussed in the latter years in high school.

GMA urged: Let historians tell your story

MANILA, Philippines - An opposition lawmaker on Monday said President Arroyo should let historians reflect on the legacy of her 9-year rule instead of releasing her own books trumpeting her achievements.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño issued the challenge after Malacañang announced the upcoming release of two books, Beating the Odds and Beat the Odds, which enumerates President Arroyo's challenges and achievements during her 9-year presidency.

Casiño, one of Arroyo's staunchest critics, said it was the first time that he had heard of a president already listing down her version of history even while in power.

"Usually, books discussing the legacies of presidents come out long after the leader has stepped down from office. This is the first time that I've heard of a president who already has a book about her legacy even before her term ends. It would've been better if she left it up to historians instead of her own officials. it doesn't look good. She should have waited and left before heaping praise on herself," Casiño said in an interview on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."

The opposition lawmaker said he expects Arroyo to have accomplished something after operating with a trillion-peso budget every year during her terms.

He said, however, that the Arroyo administration gets failing marks in eradicating poverty, diminishing unemployment and narrowing the gap between rich and poor during her term.

Casiño said that instead of her achievements, what comes to mind when reflecting on Arroyo's 9-year stay in power is the unanswered issues and scandals that affected her presidency.

He said the Arroyo administration will be remembered for 3 things: the “Hello, Garci” scandal, the NBN-ZTE scandal and all her unfulfilled promises especially her dismal human rights record.

“She will be remembered as the most hated president in history…who faced possible impeachment at least 4 times,” he said.

For his part, book editor and Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said the book “Beat the Odds” is meant to cast President Arroyo in a different light after being bombarded by criticisms since Day 1 of her presidency.
“In the past 9 years, the criticisms against Arroyo have been non-stop. There are half-truths and rumors being peddled against her and a lot of people don't know what she has accomplished. This is why she is coming out with these books so that people will be reminded of her achievements,” he said.

He said the full title of the book that he edited is “Beat the Odds: Another Stone for the Edifice”, which is a play on the memoirs of Arroyo’s father, former president Diosdado Macapagal, titled “A Stone for the Edifice.”

“Our message here is that every president has a stone that can be used to build up the edifice that we call the Philippines. It describes the stone that Arroyo used during her presidency and we hope that the next President will also do the same during his presidency,” he said.

He said President Arroyo wants to be remembered as the President who “was not a miracle worker but tried to do what is right.”

'Very energetic but hounded by scandals'

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile earlier said described President Arroyo as a “very energetic” Chief Executive even as her administration, stretching over nine years, was frequently hounded by corruption scandals and other anomalies.

“To be fair to President Arroyo, [she] probably was among the most industrious presidents this country ever had,” Enrile said, when asked to assess the outgoing Arroyo administration in an interview over the weekend. “She is truly hardworking.”

Enrile added: “I think even [former President Ferdinand] Marcos wasn’t like Gloria, who is always in the field, because I have been in the Marcos government for 20 years. I know by experience what happened. Gloria is very energetic until now. She really made sure so much vital infrastructure was built—airports, the RoRo [roll on-roll off], which many people are now using and benefiting from, as well as road systems. In agriculture, conditions improved, because many irrigation projects were completed.”

But as far as governance is concerned, Enrile acknowledged that corruption also became widespread under the Arroyo administration due to nonenforcement of laws to check irregularities in government transaction. “As for governance, anomalies were many, and corruption widened, partly because many laws were enacted which were not implemented.”

Enrile explained that the same is true with assorted scandals tied to the Arroyo administration. “Many scandals surfaced in her administration. But whether she was involved is another matter; because you have to prove that.”

“I do not know that she [Arroyo] was involved, although some people say that. An example is the supposed fertilizer scam, which we investigated for many months. No one said that the President gave any of the orders,” he said.

Enrile also cited the allegedly overpriced $300-million national broadband network project awarded to ZTE of China, but which Arroyo aborted after it blew up into a major scandal implicating her husband, Miguel Arroyo.

“’Yung NBN-ZTE deal, they only said she played golf with those involved. They pointed to the First Gentleman but there was never any indication that President Arroyo herself [wanted] that the matter be done, although former Neda Chief Romulo Neri, if I remember correctly, mentioned to the President that he was offered [P200 million by former Comelec chairman Ben Abalos to endorse the deal]. But it wasn’t clear how the President reacted to that revelation.”

Enrile recalled that the outgoing administration sustained a major crack when President Arroyo apologized at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal when she called then-Comelec Commissioner Garcillano to check on her lead over her rival in the 2004 presidential polls.

“That Hello Garci, that really marked the biggest crack in her administration,” the Senate President said.

But Enrile also pointed out in the same interview, that “in the overall performance [during the Arroyo administration] I think we weren’t badly hit by the global economic crisis. We were able to weather the crisis quite well,” and he credited Arroyo for this.

“They took steps early enough to mitigate the impact of the crisis even before it became full-blown. Some of our neighbors were hit—Thailand, Vietnam, even Malaysia, which was more resilient, though, because of its more diversified economy.”

The Philippines was spared from the worst blows of the crisis by the outsourcing industry, the overseas Filipino workers and its exports sector, said Enrile.

According to Enrile, the Arroyo administration became “very unpopular” largely due to “the advice Malacañang gets from its legal adviser” who did not want Palace executives to appear in Senate investigations.

“That created an impression that they were hiding something. If I were Arroyo’s adviser, I’d have allowed the Cabinet secretaries to appear in congressional hearings,” Enrile said.

Another problem, Enrile added, was that the Arroyo administration “alienated media” due to the impressions that it was not doing anything to stop media killings. Aggravating this was the deaths of over 30 journalists in the Maguindanao massacre.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Roxas part of Noynoy's 5-man transition team

MANILA, Philippines - President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has included his defeated running mate, Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, in his 5-man presidential transition team.

In a letter sent to Malacañang on Wednesday morning, Aquino identified Roxas as one of the members of his transition team. The letter is dated June 11.

The other members of the transition team are:

  • former Education Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, who may return to the Department of Education (DepEd);
  • Julia Abad, Aquino's chief of staff in the Senate;
  • incoming Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa Jr.; and,
  • former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who is reportedly being eyed to head the Department of Finance again.

The letter informs Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Elena Bautista-Horn that the 5 individuals have been granted the authority "necessary and indispensable for the lawful and efficient transfer of government authority and responsibility on June 30, 2010."

The letter adds: "These responsibilities include, and are not limited to, coordinating arrangement for the inaugural program, ensuring the smooth turnover of Cabinet portfolios, and assisting in the accounting and disposition of relevant records, information and equipment."

Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, clarified that Roxas's designation as a member of the transition team does not violate the 1-year ban on appointing losing candidates to government posts.

Lacierda explained that Roxas's position in the transition team is Aquino's personal designation, and is merely for the purpose of the transition.

Aquino earlier announced that he would give Roxas a position in government after the 1-year appointment ban on losing bets expires.

The incoming president also said that Roxas, who set aside his own presidential aspiration for Aquino, would have unlimited access to him.

The camp of Roxas has said they plan to file an election protest against Vice President-elect Jejomar Binay.

Meanwhile, Lacierda announced that Aquino has formally asked Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales to administer his oath of office on June 30 at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

Binay’s lawyer and spokesman, JV Bautista, also told ABS-CBN on Wednesday that the vice president-elect has also asked Carpio-Morales to administer his oath.

Palace exec urges GMA to declare June 30 a holiday

MANILA, Philippines - Outgoing Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza has recommended that June 30 be declared a holiday so that the nation will be able to witness the inauguration of the country's 15th President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

Mendoza said it is up to outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to decide whether to approve his recommendation.

"I have made a recommendation to the President [Arroyo] to make it a holiday. No decision yet, it's for approval," Mendoza, one of Arroyo's most trusted men, said.

Aquino will be taking his oath at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila before Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.

He will hold his first Cabinet meeting and host the traditional Vin d' Honneur in Malacañang after the ceremony.

His team has also scheduled a street party at the Quezon Memorial Circle on June 30.

Aquino handily won the May 10 presidential elections, beating 8 other rivals, including former President Joseph Estrada, who came in second.

Noynoy, Obama could meet in October: DFA

MANILA, Philippines - President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and US President Barack Obama could meet as early as October this year at a US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, a Department of Foreign Affairs official said Wednesday.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said the Philippines will be the coordinator for the October summit, and the two leaders are expected to attend.

She added that Aquino is also scheduled to attend the Asia-Europe Summit in Brussels, Germany and the UN General Assembly in New York, USA, both scheduled later this year.

"Meron summits na dapat i-represent, nasa kanya pa rin kung ano gusto niya puntahan, pero 'must' sa amin ito," Basilio said.

Obama earlier congratulated Aquino on his electoral victory and said he is willing to give the Philippine president-elect advice on how to quit smoking.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aquino urged to seize coco levy fund from Uncle Danding

MANILA, Philippines - Militant group Anakpawis challenged incoming President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to make good on his promise to fight corruption and fast-track the recovery of the coco levy fund from his uncle, businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuanco.

Anakpawis partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano said it was high time for Aquino to focus on resolving the decade-old issue involving the multibillion-peso coco levy fund that coconut farmers have yet to benefit from.

Mariano feared that Cojuanco, who was accused of purchasing shares in diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. through coco levy over 2 decades ago, would attempt to use his clout to evade charges and secure sweetheart deals.

But Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Ricardo Abcede said it was not fair to put the responsibility of recovering the coco levy fund on the shoulders of Aquino, since the decision on the case was up to the Supreme Court.

The PCGG is the government agency tasked to oversee assets sequestered from late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his allies, including Cojuanco.

Abcede said it was the Supreme Court that should speed up the resolution of the string of coco levy-related cases.

The moment a decision is made, he said, Aquino may now step into the picture and decide how best to use the money.

Abcede noted that President Arroyo's original plan for the coco levy fund was to put in in a foundation that would benefit some 18 million coconut farmers in the country.

'Painful' Independence Day as Abu Sayyaf beheads 3 loggers

Islamist militants with links to the regional network Jemaah Islamiah (JI) beheaded three men on a remote southern island in the Philippines, the military and church officials said on Saturday.

The three men were gathering wood near Maluso town on Basilan island on Friday when they were abducted and later executed by Abu Sayyaf militants, Brigadier-General Eugene Clemen, commander of marines on the island, told reporters.

"We received reports this morning the three lumberjacks had been beheaded," Clemen said. Troops had been sent to search for the men's bodies, he said.

The three were residents of barangay Abong-abong in the municipality of Maluso in Basilan. They were abducted on Friday, June 11, at around 3 p.m.

Basilan provincial director Police Senior Superintendent Tony Mendoza identified the victims as Elipidio Amemensi alias Pido, Daduh Lumatangan, and Manuel Lumasag.

Based on the initial investigation of the Basilan Philippine National Police, the three victims were towing some lumber when they were abducted by the armed group believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf group.

The local police in the area was not informed immediately about the incident. When the Basilan PNP learned about the abduction, Mendoza immediately dispatched some of their intelligence operatives and assets to try to look for the abducted persons.

But to their surprise, the three loggers were found lifeless in sitio Pali in barangay Abong-abong, beheaded by their abductors.

The cadavers of the victims were retrieved by the local authorities and brought to their respective relatives.

Mendoza said one of the possible angles that they are looking into is the possibility that the terrorist group had a grudge against some of the residents in barangay Abong-abong because of illegal logging.

Outgoing Maluso Mayor Sakib Salajin condemned the barbaric acts of the Abu Sayyaf, and appealed to the military officials to further intensify their operation against the Abu Sayyaf, headed by its leader Puruji Indama.

Last week, the Abu Sayyaf group led by Indama also killed 3 kidnap victims in the municipality of Sumisip, Basilan. The victims were shot dead as they reportedly tried to escape amid a surprise operation of the military near their hideouts.

Legacy of rebellion, separatism

A simmering Muslim insurgency in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic Southeast Asia country is one of the problems the new government of President-elect Benigno Aquino III will have to contend with when it takes office later this month.

The Philippines is also facing one of the world's longest-running communist insurgencies, which has killed 40,000 people and stunted economic growth in resource-rich areas outside the capital Manila.

Reports of the beheading came as outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to list her accomplishments in a speech before a military and civilian parade to mark the country's 112th independence day celebration.

"We have been a leader in the fight against global terrorism," Arroyo said.

Church leaders on Basilan, however, were disappointed over what they said was the government's failure to stop violence on the island, which is known for its rubber plantations.

"It's a bitter and painful independence day when three parishioners were abducted and later beheaded," Bishop Martin Jumoad told reporters. "There is no freedom here."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pope urges end to bloodshed in Mideast

NICOSIA - Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a visit to Cyprus on Sunday with his eyes on the troubled Middle East, calling for an end to bloodshed and highlighting the plight of the region's Christians.

At a mass in a sports arena near the Cypriot capital, he prayed for the success of a synod of Middle Eastern bishops in October which will grapple with the problems.

He expressed hope that the meeting "will help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship."

"On this grave matter, I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed."

The mass was attended by around 10,000 people, including Cypriots and pilgrims from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, many waving their national flags and those of the Vatican.

Their numbers were swelled by migrant workers from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines who make up a large part of the Roman Catholic faithful in mainly Orthodox Cyprus.

The pontiff's remarks reflected the theme of the working paper for October's synod in Rome that he delivered to assembled bishops from the region after the service.

As he presented the document, the pope expressed hope that Christians in the region might live in "peace and harmony with your Jewish and Muslim neighbours."

Also, stressing the "great trials" endured by Christians and their "priceless role", he said he hoped their "rights would be more and more respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religion."

The same themes were reflected in the paper.

"In a region where the followers of the three monotheistic religions have lived together for centuries, Christians must get to know their Jewish and Muslim neighbours well if they are to collaborate with them in the fields of religion, social interaction and culture for the good of society as a whole," it said.

The paper also highlighted obstacles to this goal.

Referring to radical Islam, it said "these extremist currents, clearly a threat to everyone, Christians, Jews and Muslims, require joint action."

It also singled out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which flared again just days ago when Israeli commandos raided an aid flotilla trying to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip and killed nine Turkish activists.

"The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life," with access to holy sites dependent on military permission.

Moreover, "certain Christian fundamentalist theologies used sacred scripture to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine, making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue."

And it expressed concern about the often difficult social and economic conditions in the region that force many Christians to emigrate.

"Their disappearance would impoverish the pluralism which has always characterised the the countries of the Middle East," which "would be at a disadvantage without the Christian voice."

Benedict's visit to Cyprus was the first ever by any pope and his first to an Orthodox country.

A small group of Orthodox faithful demonstrated outside the sport stadium where the pope celebrated mass on Sunday, but otherwise protests were low-key.

The pope ended his visit to Cyprus with a visit to Nicosia's Maronite cathedral but the leader of the Muslim community in northern Cyprus missed the pope because he arrived too late, the Vatican said.

In departing remarks to President Demetris Christofias at Larnaca airport, the pope expressed hope for a solution to the division of Cyprus.

The island was invaded by Turkey in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot coup seeking to unite the country with Greece, and the north is still occupied by Turkish troops.

Having stayed at the papal nunciature, located amid barbed wire and shell-pocked buildings in the UN buffer zone between the two sides, he said: "I have seen some of the sad division of the island."

BP sucking up 10,000 barrels daily from US oil leak

GRAND ISLE, Louisiana – BP said Sunday it was capturing some 10,000 barrels of crude a day from the ruptured Gulf of Mexico well, raising hopes it could be containing most of the worst oil spill in US history.

With an environmental catastrophe unfolding on the shores of Louisiana and fears for neighboring southern states, BP chief's executive Tony Hayward said a cap fitted on the leaking pipe a mile (1,600 meters) down on the sea bed appeared to be working.

"As we speak, the containment cap is producing around 10,000 barrels of oil a day to the surface," he told the BBC.

The US official in charge of the government operation, Admiral Thad Allen, agreed with the estimate, but refused to be drawn on what percentage of the leaking oil it represented.

Government scientists have estimated that up to 19,000 barrels a day could be spewing into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig just off the Louisiana coast.

"We're not going to know how much oil is coming out until we're able to optimize the production, and that's what they're doing right now," Allen told ABC News "This Week."

"They are slowly raising production. It was 6,000 a day before and it was 10,000 yesterday," he added, also speaking of the anguish being felt by everyone involved in the momentous operation to stop the disaster.

"I think everybody is anguished over this. You know, I've been working on the water for 39 years. This is just completely distressing, and it's very frustrating," he told CNN.

He warned that the Coast Guard and clean-up teams were fighting an "insidious enemy" as they battle to keep the oil from reaching the shores, amid fears Florida's beaches could be badly hit with tar balls already washing up in Mississippi and Alabama.

The slick has now spread around a 200-mile (320-kilometer) radius from the fractured wellhead, but has broken into thousands of small spills, Allen explained on ABC.

"This spill is just aggregated over a 200-mile radius around the wellbore, where it's leaking right now, and it's not a monolithic spill. It is literally hundreds of thousands of smaller spills."

Ghastly pictures of birds smothered in thick layers of oil have shown the impact of the disaster, amid warnings the situation is getting progressively worse, with millions of gallons of crude now sloshing around in the sea.

Massive spreads of boom have been deployed to protect coastlines, with Canada sending another 3,000 meters to the United States on Sunday, but in many places it has proved ineffective.

Around 660 kilometers (410 miles) of boom, mostly from private oil company stock, have been deployed to contain the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the most recent US government figures.

As of Saturday, 57 "visibly oiled" birds have been found dead, and another 156 oiled birds have been discovered alive, according to figures from the government and boatmen, biologists and rescuers at Grand Isle on Saturday.

Among them are the brown pelican -- the Louisiana state symbol, which was only removed from the endangered list in November.

Bradley Verdin, a local boatman who carried journalists out to the badly-affected Queen Bess rookery, said the situation worsened about three days ago.

"I'm glad they are trying to save these birds," he said. "I didn't think it was that bad until the day before yesterday."

Allen warned Sunday that regardless of how much oil is now being contained, the leak will not be completely stopped until BP completes the drilling of two relief wells, sometime in August.

"There will be oil out there for months to come," he told CBS television. "This spill is keeping everybody hostage."

The latest containment effort involves a cap placed over a sawn-off pipe, which gathers the oil, allowing it to be siphoned up to a container ship.

It was the first maneuver to demonstrate some success at curbing the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf, after a series of embarrassing failures.

BP said Sunday it was readying a second containment effort, involving feeding pipes into the leaking blow-out preventer (BOP) that could siphon up additional oil to another container ship.

The bid will use much of the same equipment deployed during BP's failed effort to flood the BOP with heavy drilling fluid called "mud."

Pipes will "be attached to what's called the choke and kill lines and instead of pushing mud in we'll be pulling oil out," BP spokesman Mark Proegler told AFP.

Hayward said the system could be ready by next week and, despite criticisms of his handling of the disaster, said he had the "absolute intention of seeing this through to the end."

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Europe and jobs keep stocks' anxiety high

NEW YORK – US stocks could face further pressure next week unless investors get some relief from worries about Europe, jobs and the toll they might take on the economic recovery.

Reports on retail sales and consumer sentiment, both of which should offer clues on the outlook for spending, are among the coming week's major economic indicators. Also on tap will be international trade data.

The impact of BP's (BP.N) (BP.L) massive Gulf Coast oil spill on the environment and the energy industry also is likely to stay in focus, with moves to contain the spill so far having failed.

The three major US stock indexes sank on Friday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index (.SPX) suffering its worst percentage drop since May 20 after a disappointing US jobs report and fresh concerns that the European debt crisis was spreading.

"I think we're going to take our clues from what's happening in Europe as it seems to be the emotional drain on the market," said Robert Froehlich, senior managing director of The Hartford Mutual Funds in Simsbury, Connecticut.

In addition, the S&P 500 on Friday closed at its lowest level since February, falling below 1,070 and 1,065, the intraday low from the May 6 sell-off. Both were seen as support levels by technicians.

It means "the downtrend from late April is reasserted," said Chris Burba, short-term market technician at Standard & Poor's in New York.

For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 2 percent, while the S&P 500 declined 2.3 percent and the Nasdaq (.IXIC) lost 1.7 percent.

The S&P 500 is also down 12.5 percent from its April 23 closing high for the year.

VIX rising

The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX) rose sharply as the US stock indexes tumbled on Friday. The VIX, which is Wall Street's favorite measure of investor fear, jumped 20.4 percent to close at 35.48.

Among factors worrying investors on Friday, the US government's report showed weaker-than-expected job growth for May, with a large portion of those being temporary hirings for the US Census.

Overseas, a Hungarian official said the country was at risk of a Greek-style crisis.

"(It) is just another in a line of worries coming out of Europe regarding budget deficits and the ability to control spending," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial, in Westport, Connecticut.

The energy sector started the holiday-shortened week with a sharp drop after yet another failed attempt to halt the oil spill in the Gulf.

By the close of trading on Friday, energy shares had lost more ground as BP said it had begun capturing oil spewing from the ruptured Gulf of Mexico well. But tar balls washed up ashore in Florida and the political heat on BP increased as Washington and investors pressed for the British company to free up cash to take care of the damage.

In another blow, US crude oil futures fell 4.2 percent, or $3.10, to settle on Friday at $71.51 a barrel as the US payrolls data and Europe's bank woes stirred worries about economic recovery and energy demand.

An S&P index of energy shares (.GSPE) slid 3.5 percent on Friday, while Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) lost 3.2 percent to end at $59.62. New York-traded shares of BP sank 5.3 percent to$37.16.

Hoping for ka-ching!

Next week, retail sales could be key, Froelich said.

"If we get a strong number, we could reverse everything that was negative with this employment report today."

The Commerce Department's May report on US retail sales, due Friday, is forecast to show an anemic gain of 0.2 percent versus an April gain of 0.4 percent, according to a Reuters poll.

Ex-autos, the forecast is for a gain of just 0.1 percent compared with a rise of 0.4 percent in the previous report.

However, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers, also due on Friday, is forecast to show a preliminary June reading of consumer sentiment at 74.5 -- up from the final May sentiment reading of 73.6.

On Thursday, a report on the international trade deficit for April is forecast to show a trade gap of $41 billion versus a March deficit of $40.42 billion. The March figure was a 15-month high.

The federal budget for May is expected to show a deficit of $140.0 billion versus $189.65 billion previously.

The data could affect the dollar, which has been rising against the euro. On Friday, the euro fell against the dollar to below $1.20 for the first time in more than four years.

That hurts the outlook for US companies that rely heavily on overseas sales.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended June 5, also expected on Thursday, are forecast to decline slightly. But continuing claims for the week ended May 29 are seen flat, at 4.64 million versus about 4.67 million for the previous week.

Philippines has third worst bureaucracy in Asia - survey

Government "goes through the motion" of addressing problems of bureaucratic red tape "but nothing has really made a dent in the problem."

SINGAPORE - India, Indonesia and the Philippines have Asia's most inefficient bureaucracies, with red tape a constant blight to citizens and deterrent to foreign investment, a survey said Wednesday.

Regional financial centres Singapore and Hong Kong have the most efficient bureaucracies, according to the survey of expatriate business executives by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).

Most inefficient bureaucracies according to PERC
Rank Asian country Score
1. India
2. Indonesia 8.59
3. Philippines 8.37
Vietnam 8.13
China 7.93
6. Malaysia 6.97
7. Taiwan 6.60
8. Japan 6.57
9. South Korea 6.13
10. Thailand 5.53
11. Hong Kong 3.49
12. Singapore 2.53

Ranking 12 key countries and territories on a scale from one to 10, with 10 as the worst possible score, the business executives in the survey rated India as having the region's most inefficient bureaucracy.

India had a score of 9.41, followed by Indonesia (8.59), the Philippines (8.37), Vietnam (8.13) and China (7.93).

Malaysia was in sixth place from the bottom with a score of 6.97, followed by Taiwan (6.60), Japan (6.57), South Korea (6.13) and Thailand (5.53).

Singapore was ranked has having the most efficient bureaucracy, with a score of 2.53, followed by Hong Kong with 3.49.

PERC said 1,373 middle and senior expatriate executives took part in the survey carried out earlier this year.

Singapore was also number one and Hong Kong was in third place globally in the World Bank's latest survey on the ease of doing business, which covered 183 economies.

Government bureaucracies in some Asian countries have become "power centres" in their own right, allowing them to effectively resist efforts toward reforms by politicians and appointed officials, the Hong Kong-based firm said.

In the Philippines, the government "goes through the motion" of addressing problems of bureaucratic red tape "but nothing has really made a dent in the problem," PERC said.

"Illegal fixing is well-entrenched in the Philippine bureaucracy," it said, referring to people called "fixers" who offer to facilitate transactions with government offices for a fee and often in collaboration with corrupt employees.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's failure to carry out reforms contributed to the resignation last month of respected finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who accepted a senior position at the World Bank, PERC said.

"Despite President Susilo's strong election mandate, he lacks the power to really shake up Indonesia's bureaucracy," the consultancy said.

In India, "politicians frequently promise to reform and revitalise the Indian bureaucracy, but they have been ineffective in doing so -- mainly because the civil service is a power centre in its own right," PERC said.

Dealing with India's bureaucracy "can be one of the most frustrating experiences for any Indian, let alone a foreign investor," it added.

Bureaucratic red tape is both a "serious problem" in China and India, "but the differences in the political systems of these two countries have made inertia much worse in India than in China," it said.

PLDT is top Philippine firm in Forbes list

MANILA, Philippines - Telecommunications leader Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) tops the short list of Philippine companies in Forbes Magazine’s latest roster of the top 2,000 companies in the world.

Only three companies in the Philippines made it into the top 2,000 which was released in the May 2010 issue of Forbes Asia Magazine: PLDT (ranked No. 1,080), San Miguel (No. 1,566) and SM Investments (No. 1,707). PLDT also topped the short list of Philippine companies in last year’s list, where it ranked No. 1,138.

One of the world’s leading business magazines, Forbes used several metrics that combined sales, profits, assets and market value in order to rank companies worldwide and to come up with its Global 2000 list.

According to Forbes, this approach makes possible a more thorough and holistic assessment of companies.

“This year’s list reveals the dynamism of global business. The rankings span 62 countries, with the US (515 members) and Japan (210 members) still dominating the list, but with a combined 33 fewer entries,” according to, the magazine’s website.

PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said PLDT’s ranking in this global list “reflects the commitment of its shareholders and the dedication of its management and staff to world-class excellence.”

“This recognition highlights our efforts to transform PLDT into a communications and multimedia company,” added PLDT president and CEO Napoleon L. Nazareno.

Recently, PLDT was chosen “Best in Investor Relations” and “Most Committed to Strong Dividend Policy” for the second consecutive years in the annual survey conducted by FinanceAsia magazine, a leading finance publication in Asia.