Saturday, June 18, 2011

Malacañang says no hero's burial for Marcos

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino has ruled out burying the frozen remains of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Manila's cemetery for national heroes, a government spokeswoman said Saturday.

Local reports this month said Vice-President Jejomar Binay had recommended Aquino allow Marcos' body, which is contained in a glass crypt in his provincial stronghold, to be buried at the cemetery with full military honors.

"President Aquino is clear on the issue, that there will be no heroes' cemetery burial (for Marcos' remains)," presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte told government radio, referring to a military cemetery in Manila where some of the Philippines' past leaders are interred.

Aquino, whose parents were democracy icons who fought the Marcos rule, is also expected to soon decide whether the dictator's body would be accorded military honors, Valte said.

Marcos declared martial law in 1972, near the end of his second and final 4-year term, and ruled as a dictator until a popular revolt toppled him from power in 1986 forcing him into exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1989.

Thousands of political opponents went missing or were killed under his regime, and his family was accused of plundering up to $10 billion from the nation -- according to one government estimate.

Valte said Aquino had ordered aides to check official records on whether Marcos' remains had already been accorded military honors when they were brought back from Hawaii.

"That's the only thing left to resolve, since, if it turns out that he had been accorded military honors, there is no more reason for him to get another," Valte said.

Marcos' flamboyant widow, Imelda Marcos, and 3 children returned home after his death, and have since regained political influence.

She won a seat in the House of Representatives last year, while her son Marcos Jr. has hinted that he may run for president in 2016 after cruising to a Senate post last year.

Both have been leading calls to have the Marcos patriarch buried at Manila's heroes' cemetery, saying he was a legitimate World War II hero who had won over 2 dozen medals fighting against the Japanese occupation.

American and local historians however have disputed the authenticity of the medals.

Torture victims of the brutal Marcos regime have been outraged by the reported plans to bury the strongman with full military honors.

DOJ vows to crack down on monopolies, unfair competition

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima expressed optimism on Malacanang's latest issuance designating the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the competition authority in investigating and prosecuting violations of trade competition laws, and in crafting legislation to deal with monopolies.

President Aquino issued last June 9 Executive Order No. 45, which also directed the creation of an Office for Competition under the Office of the Secretary of Justice.

"We are all for fair competition. In the final analysis, it's always the customers to suffer if we have monopolistic actions on the part of key players in industries," de Lima said.

De Lima was asked by President Aquino as early as last year to draft an executive order for the purpose.

She claimed she submitted her draft to the President a few months after assuming her post at the DOJ, denying the issuance was a mere offshoot of Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Co.'s planned acquisition of Gokongwei-owned Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (Digitel).

The deal will give PLDT a 70% share of the local mobile telecommunications industry, leaving rival Globe Telecom Inc. with just 30%. The PLDT-Digitel deal is being challenged by Globe before the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), claiming it undermines the liberalization of the telecommunications industry in the country mandated by Republic Act 7925.

De Lima maintained addressing monopolies had long been a thrust of the Aquino administration.

"That is very much needed. Hindi na makapaghintay ang administrasyon. Kailangan meron na 'yan to promote economic justice for all to protect the consumers from irregular actions especially of big business like unfair competition," she said.

The justice chief said the executive issuance is aimed at addressing the proliferation of cartels in various industries such as the reported cartels in the oil, rice and sugar industries, among others.

Jan-May hot money hits $2-B

MANILA, Philippines - Net inflow of foreign portfolio investments, also known as hot money, more than doubled during the first five months of the year due to "heightened investor interest" in local stocks and fixed-income securities.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said in a statement that registered portfolio investments in January to May amounted to $2 billion, 160.3% higher than the $772 million recorded in the comparable period last year.

Total registered investments reached as high as $7.8 billion, but these were offset by outflows worth $5.8 billion.

In May alone, hot money yielded a net inflow of $364 million, 105% higher than the year-ago figure, but below April's $674 million.

Investments in Philippine Stock Exchange-listed stocks reached $886 million, reflecting a growth of about 80% from last year's $492 million and accounting for 58% of total registered investments during the month.

On the other hand, investments in peso government securities amounted to $513 million, up 118.9% year on year.

Singapore, United Kingdom, US, Hong Kong, and Luxembourg were the top five investor countries.

BSP policy move a sign of inflation risk from cash

MANILA, Philippines - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' (BSP) unexpected increase in banks' reserve requirements this week looks to be a signal that authorities are worried that inflationary pressures from global prices are spreading in the robust domestic economy.

The move to drain cash seemed at odds with data showing annual growth in money supply slowed to a three-year low in April, but authorities had allowed liquidity to build up this year as they sought to boost investment and support growth.

Short-term special deposit accounts (SDA) with the central bank hit a peak of P1.51 trillion ($35 billion) in April.

In a strongly growing economy -- seasonally adjusted growth was 1.9% in the first quarter, nearly four times fourth quarter growth of 0.5% -- rising demand can turn that sort of liquidity into inflation pressures and asset bubbles.

"The decision to raise the reserve requirement by one percentage point indicates that the central bank has shifted its policy focus to tackling inflationary pressures stemming from excess liquidity in the system," said Vincent Tsui, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong.

The central bank raised interest rates at its past two meetings, taking the overnight borrowing rate to 4.5%.

It was expected to raise rates again on Thursday, but held fire. Still, analysts expects rates to rise further in the next six months.

Headline inflation in May was 4.5%, well below market forecasts but higher than a downwardly revised 4.3% in April. Core inflation edged up to 3.7%, the highest since September 2010 but also below market forecasts.

Inflation pressures have mainly come from rising global fuel and food prices, which monetary policy can't directly address, although it can help in containing future price expectations.

But while the central bank has been raising official rates, the extra cash left in the system had pushed market rates to abnormal lows. Average yields at auctions for 91-day and 182-day Treasury bills fell to below 1% in April.

"What we find surprising is why the BSP has taken so long to mop up some of the excess liquidity," said Devika Mehndiratta, an economist at Credit Suisse in Singapore.

"We have been highlighting that policy rate increases are unlikely to mean much more for short-term rates unless liquidity in the system reduces," she said.

Both Tsui and Mehndiratta see room for another increase in the reserve requirement ratio in the second half of the year, restoring the reserve requirements to a pre-global crisis level of 21%.

In late January, the central bank had said the liquidity would help fund growth, and as long as any rundown of funds with it, such as the SDAs, was orderly and put to productive use, it would not necessarily be inflationary.

But on Thursday, the central bank said it was worried strong capital flows and economic prospects could fuel liquidity growth, which it saw as the dominant risk, and so acted to drain an estimated P38 billion from the market.

"A situation where you have excess liquidity could blunt the effectiveness of interest rates moves," Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said on Thursday.

Central bank data showed net portfolio inflows in January to May of $2.01 billion, nearly three times higher than in the same period last year.

The policy decision sparked a mild rally in the debt market, with yields on most liquid tenors down an average 5 percentage points, a trader in Manila said.

"The central bank's decision implies that it was more concerned on liquidity rather than on inflation and that is positive for the bond market," the trader said.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ASEAN exchanges pick tech firm for link-up

SINGAPORE - Southeast Asia's stock exchanges say they have picked a technology provider to set up a regional trading network between the bourses, with the aim of enabling cross-border dealing by the first quarter of 2012.

Singapore Exchange, Bursa Malaysia, The Philippine Stock Exchange and Stock Exchange of Thailand say they have appointed US technology firm Sungard to provide a cross-border trading platform and order routing service.

The move is part of a wider plan by the 10-country Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to transform itself into a unified trading bloc with free flow of capital by 2015. It was initially hoped that the link-up would have been in place by 2010 but was delayed by the development of the new platform.

"This forms an integral part of the various initiatives in achieving the overall objective of the ASEAN Exchanges Collaboration to promote the growth of the ASEAN capital market," said Dato' Tajuddin Atan, CEO of Bursa Malaysia.

Indonesia's stock exchange along with Vietnam's bourses in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi hope to join the network in 2013.

Of the other ASEAN members, Laos opened a stock market in January, Cambodia plans to open one at the end of this year and Myanmar is in talks about developing one. Brunei is the remaining member.

Jobless rate slows to 7.2% in April

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines' jobless rate eased to 7.2% in April from 7.4% in January, the government said Wednesday.

There were 2.9 million unemployed people in the Philippines as of April, unchanged from January.

The National Statistics Office said the total labor force was at 39.7 million in April, a shade higher than the 39.2 million in January, with a labor force participation rate of 64.2%, slightly above January's 63.7%.

Underemployed workers were 7.1 million in April, flat against January. Almost three-fifths of the underemployed worked for less than 40 hours a week.

Of the estimated 36.9 million people employed in April, more than half were in the services sector and a third were in agriculture.

The Philippines' jobless rate is among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Annual growth in the first quarter slowed to 4.9% from 6.1% in the last three months of the last year partly due to underspending by the government, making it more challenging to meet this year's 7% to 8% growth target