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Duterte flags ‘Build Build Build’ setback due to insufficient workforce

By | Property News

By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT’s flagship “Build Build Build” infrastructure development program — meant to spur overall economic growth to a sustained faster pace — has suffered delays due to a lack of workers, President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself admitted on Thursday night.
“Eh ‘yang ‘Build, Build, Build’, medyo atrasado nang konti. Walang trabahante (Build Build Build is a bit delayed do to a lack of workers),” the President said in a speech during the kick-off rally of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party in San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan.
“Alam mo, dito sa Pilipinas ngayon, maraming trabaho… Ang construction humihinto kasi walang trabahante… (There’s a lot to do here in the Philippines, but construction halts due to a lack of workers like) master electrician, master carpenter, master plumber,” he added.
“Ang karamihan ng may alam niyan wala na dito sa Pilipinas at andun na sa Middle East (Many skilled workers are no longer here in the Philippines but have gone to the Middle East)…”
The current administration has planned to spend up to P8 trillion on priority infrastructure projects up to 2022, when Mr. Duterte ends his six-year term, in a bid to drive gross domestic product expansion to 7-8% annually till then from a 6.3% average in 2010-2016 under former president Benigno S. C. Aquino III. GDP growth, however, slowed to 6.2% last year from 6.7% in 2017, weighed down in part by a struggling agriculture sector that has historically contributed about a tenth to national production.
BAD TREATMENT
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s biggest labor group, confirmed Mr. Duterte’s observation of an insufficient workforce for his administration’s infrastructure drive.
“It’s true that we have shortage of construction workers,” TUCP said in a press release on Friday, quoting its president, Party List Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza.
“We are currently experiencing ‘skill and brain drain’ phenomenon because of… bad treatment of our construction workers,” he explained, citing low pay; meager benefits; poor access to certification; and unsafe, unhealthy working conditions.
“The nation is losing fast its vast and excellent reserves of construction manpower to higher pay and attractive benefits offered by companies abroad.”
Citing “different government statistics”, TUCP said in its statement that only about a million of some 3 million construction workers nationwide are certified.
“… [W]e have plenty of certified, skilled and world-class construction workers, but due to meager salary, poor benefits, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and [since they are] lowly regarded… they prefer to work abroad after a few months of training and actual field experience here because they are dignified there, they are given higher salary and benefits there, and are given free decent housing and paid vacation,” Mr. Mendoza said.
“We have a vast pool of highly, multi-skilled and fine craftsmen, but also because of lack of training facilities and poor access to certification programs we do not tap them to become potentials for the country’s ‘Build Build Build’ programs,” he added, noting that “[m]any of them even have to pay, fall in long lines and travel far just to access national certification.”
“Construction workers even purchase their own personal protective equipment used in working, buy their own drinking water, pay for their food intake during work break to replenish strength, and [are] given a dirty and bad sleeping quarters during the whole duration of the construction project.”
GOVERNMENT STEPS
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo, for his part, said on Friday that Mr. Duterte has directed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to train more workers in carpentry, welding and other skills needed for the infrastructure drive.
“Sabi ni Presidente sa TESDA: ‘aba, kailangan gawan mo ng paraan ‘yan para magkaroon tayo ng malalim na bench ng mga karpentero, welders, mga electrician dahil marami ang nagpuntahan sa ibang bansa (The President told TESDA to do something about the situation so that we will have a deep bench of carpenters, welders and electricians, because many have left for jobs abroad),” Mr. Panelo told reporters in a briefing in Malacañan Palace.
“In other words, we’re doing something about it.”
For the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), any delay in infrastructure development was due more to the deadlock over the P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.
“Well, not fatal yet, but it has certainly been set back… by three months siguro because the 2019 budget will be officially approved only by the end of this quarter, or by end of March,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told BusinessWorld over telephone interview on Friday.
The government has so far been operating under a reenacted 2018 budget since Congress ratified the 2019 national budget only last Feb. 8 after months of bicameral bickering over alleged irregular fund insertions.
Asked about the President’s concern, Mr. Pernia replied: “No, lack of workers, that’s being addressed, especially with the Hanjin closure and we have several OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are coming home to take advantage of opportunities here. That’s not a problem.”
He was referring to over 3,000 workers of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines, Inc., which is now under receivership after defaulting on liabilities that include some $412 million owed to six Philippine banks.
Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno declined to comment on the issue, saying Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade and Bases Conversion and Development Authority President Vivencio B. Dizon “will have to validate the President’s claim”
“What, for instance, is the seriousness of the problem, if there is one? In what areas? What is the DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and TESDA doing about it?”

December cash remittances at record high, but 2018 growth slowest on record

By | Property News

By Karl Angelo N. Vidal, Reporter
CASH sent home by overseas Filipino workers (OFW) surged to an all-time high in December and clocked in full-year growth that outpaced the central bank’s growth forecast even as it was the slowest annual increase on record, according to the data which the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) released on Friday.
Cash remittances reached $2.849 billion that month, up 3.9% from the $2.741 billion inflows recorded in December 2017, spurring full-year inflows up 3.1% to $28.943 billion from 2017’s $28.060 a little past the BSP’s three-percent growth projection.
Decembers’ increase was the fastest since October 2018’s 8.7%.
The increase in remittances was propelled by a 2.8% hike in the amounts sent by land-based OFWs, plus a 4.6% pickup in funds sent by those working at sea.
“Cash remittances in 2018 remained strong amid political uncertainties across the globe,” the BSP said in a press release.
Remittances from Filipinos working in the Middle East decreased by 15.3% in 2018, a reversal from the 3.4% growth recorded in 2017, partly due to the continued repatriation program of the Saudi government.
The decline in fund transfers from the Middle East was partly offset by cash inflows from Asia, the Americas and Europe that grew year-on-year by 12.3%, 9.7% and 7.7%, respectively.
For full-year 2018, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, Qatar, Canada, Germany and Hong Kong accounted for 79% of total flows in 2018.
CHRISTMAS BOOST
Sought for comment, two economists said the uptick in December inflows was driven by increased spending back home amid Christmas festivities.
“December is the season for sending back money for loved ones in the Philippines,” Union Bank of the Philippines, Inc. chief economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion said in a mobile phone message.
Remittances usually peak towards December each year as OFWs send more money to support increased spending for festivities and gifts during the holidays.
Household spending, in turn, contributes about three-fifths of gross domestic product. Latest available Philippine Statistics Authority data show household final consumption expenditure growth slowing to 5.4% in 2018’s fourth quarter from the year-ago 6.2%, and full-year increase slowing to 5.6% in 2018 from 5.9% in 2017.
Apart from the seasonal increase in remittances in December, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. economist Michael L. Ricafort cited residual effects of higher inflation that may have prompted Filipino workers abroad to send more money home to help their families cope with higher prices.
The overall year-on-year increase in prices of widely used goods and services eased for the second straight month to 5.1% in December, its slowest pace in seven months even as it was still above the BSP’s 2-4% target band. September and October saw a nine-year-high 6.7%.
“For full year 2018, slower growth in OFW remittances vs. in 2017 may have been partly made up by the +5.3% increase in the US$/peso exchange rate in 2018… that required less OFW remittances for the same amount of pesos needed, assuming all other factors are the same,” Mr. Ricafort said in a text message.
The peso traded at its weakest value against the dollar in 12 years in the latter part of the year, hitting P54.41 against the greenback in October. The local unit ended 2018 at P52.58 to the dollar, compared with P49.93 at end-2017.
UnionBank’s Mr. Asuncion said the slowdown in remittance growth may also be attributed to the lingering negative sentiment due to “recent protectionism issues.”
“Note that markets and economies, both advanced and emerging ones, have been largely affected by the trade tensions between the US and China last year,” he said.
“Even in the last two months, ERU (UnionBank’s Economics Research Unit) has observed that any positive news about the progress of trade talks between the said countries largely affects the general sentiment in global markets, and any negative development brings about the opposite.”
Mr. Asuncion also attributed the slower annual remittance growth to “geopolitical events” as well as the “previous diplomatic issues such as that of Kuwait” earlier last year. In February, President Rodrigo R. Duterte banned Filipinos from working in Kuwait in response to the murder of OFW Joanna Demafelis. He lifted that ban in May.

Duterte signs rice tariffication bill

By | Property News

PHILSTAR/MICHAEL VARCASPRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law the rice tariffication bill on the last possible day he could have signed or vetoed the measure, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters, as confirmed by television reports.
Television news programs on Friday evening quoted the President’s spokesman, Salvador S. Panelo, as saying that the President had signed the measure.
Mr. Sotto issued the confirmation in a Viber message to reporters Friday evening, saying: “Pirmado na ang additional discounts for poli(tical) ads, Rice tariffication din (The measures allowing additional discounts for political ads has been signed, as well as the rice tariffication bill).”
Rice tariffication liberalizes the import process for rice while taking away the role in importing of the National Food Authority (NFA). In place of the old system, private importers will pay a tariff of 35% on grain shipped from Southeast Asia, raising revenue for the government and also funding a rice industry competitiveness fund.
Had Mr. Duterte not signed the measure today, it would have lapsed into law. The uncertainty surrounding the signing had also raised the possibility that he might veto the measure as farmers’ groups had urged him.
As of 4pm yesterday, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office had not confirmed whether the measure was signed or vetoed by the President, as of 4 pm Friday.
The measure was transmitted to the Office of the President on Jan. 15. Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has 30 days to act on a bill upon receipt from Congress, or else it lapses into law.
The measure had the blessing of economic managers and the business sector, but farm groups and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol warned that the country might someday be hostage to a supply crunch in rice-producing countries when their populations grow. The bill’s opponents also said the measure would kill off the industry by discouraging rice farmers from planting the crop.
Former Trade Undersecretary Ernesto M. Ordoñez, in a Feb. 14 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, cited the position of Alyansa Agricultura on the measure.
Noting that while tariffication is “desirable,” he said 35% is too low, and estimated a 70% tariff as a level sufficient to ensure the survival of domestic farmers.
The Federation of Free Farmers also cautioned that the measure will remove the power of the National Food Authority to regulate the market and limit it to maintaining a buffer stock, to be released during emergencies to shore up the food supply in affected areas.
“Farmers will not be able to depend on the NFA to buy their produce if palay prices fall. Once the NFA accumulates enough for its buffer stock, it will have to stop buying from farmers. Traders will now be free to set whatever price they want,” FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor was quoted as saying in a statement on Feb. 6.
Lining up to support the bill was the Foundation for Economic Freedom, which considers the measure as the “most far-reaching reform” in rice policy.
“By liberalizing the industry the syndicate controlling the value chain will now be nullified by free entry and competition — including entry and competition from foreign rice suppliers,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
The FEF’s members are mostly retired technocrats.
Thirteen business groups also signed a joint statement on Jan. 22, asking the President to sign the measure to ensure food security.
The measure will amend Republic Act No. 8178, or the “Agricultural Tariffication Act,” by lifting quantitative restrictions on rice imports. It is among the bills identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council as a priority of the administration.
The measure will restore the minimum access volume to the 2012 level of 350,000 metric tons and impose a 35% tariff or the import duty rate commitment of the Philippines for rice importation, pursuant to the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA).
A 180% out-quota tariff rate will be levied on rice imports originating from non-ASEAN, World Trade Organization member states.
At present, the country has a MAV of 805,200 metric tons on rice imports.
The measure will also establish the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which Senator Loren B. Legarda confirmed had been given a P10-billion allocation under the 2019 General Appropriations Bill.
The RCEF is intended to serve as a special rice safeguard to protect the rice industry, which will be distributed, accordingly: 50% for machinery and equipment; 30% for rice seed development, propagation and promotion; 10% for expanded rice credit assistance and 10% for rice extension services.
The farmgate price of palay and wholesale and retail prices of well-milled rice dropped in the first week of February, according to data by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released Friday, ahead of the possible bill signing or lapsing into law.
PSA data showed the average farmgate price of palay, or unmilled rice, dropped in the first week of February by 0.15% week-on-week to P19.70 per kilogram (kg).
The average wholesale price of well-milled rice was P41.49 per kg, down 0.02% from the previous week. The average retail price of well-milled rice was P44.87 per kg, down 0.29%.
The average wholesale price of regular-milled rice fell 0.18% week-on-week to P38.18 per kg. The average retail price of regular-milled rice, on the other hand, rose 0.02% to P41.14 per kg.
The PSA said the average farmgate price for yellow corngrain rose 0.22% week-on-week to P13.93 per kg. The wholesale average price for yellow corngrain was P20.41, up 0.49%.
The average retail price for yellow corngrain was P25.35 per kg, up 0.68% week-on-week.
The average farmgate price for white corngrain rose 3.08% week-on-week to P14.41 per kg, while the average wholesale price was P20.88 per kg, up 0.38%.
The average retail price of white corngrain was unchanged at P28.12 per kg, PSA said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan with Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio

SC sought to reconsider denying Palawan’s share in Malampaya fund

By | Property News

The Supreme CourtBy Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
A MOTION for reconsideration has been filed before the Supreme Court (SC) over its decision denying Palawan its 40% share in the Malampaya gas project.
“We filed a motion for reconsideration in the hope that Palawan will finally get its legitimate share of the Malampaya funds,” former presidential spokesperson Harry L. Roque was quoted as saying in a statement issued Friday.
He said a total of P120 billion is on the line for Palawan, should the Supreme Court decide to allow the royalty share.
Mr. Roque is the legal counsel of Kilusang Love Malampaya, which is among the petitioners of the Malampaya case. He filed the motion for reconsideration on Thursday, Feb. 14.
This stemmed from the SC en banc ruling on the petition denying Palawan its share of royalties from the gas project.
The decision is “a huge step backwards, not only for the people of Palawan, but for all local government units empowered under the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code,” Mr. Roque said.
He argued the 1987 Constitution considers continental shelves as part of the national territory, which means it shall be recognized as part the local government’s territory.
“There can be no strict separation between resources that the national government can develop and the local government units that have control over these resources precisely because we are under a unitary system of government, and not a federal system,” he said.
He added: “The means by which local governments can achieve fiscal autonomy and develop are clearly stated in the Constitution and the Local Government Code: 40 percent share from the government’s utilization of their resources. Hence, there is no textual basis or just basis for any other conclusion than that Palawan deserves 40 percent of the revenues from Malampaya.”

PCC, DTI sign MoA on data-sharing, other monitoring components

By | Property News

THE Philippine Competition Commission and the Department of Trade and Industry signed on Friday a memorandum of agreement (MoA) aimed at facilitating data-sharing between the two agencies and ensuring fair competition among the industries on their watch.
“We really have to work together as we watch the industry structure, as well as industry development,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a press briefing on Friday, adding that “we want to be assured that there is a good number of players, companies because it is competition that will assure competitive prices and benefit consumers.”
The MoA recommended coordination schemes on areas which may fall within the jurisdiction of one of the agencies, as well as investigation and enforcement support.
The MoA allows for easier transfer of data, except in cases where information was provided by private stakeholders and strictly meant for the DTI.
PCC Commissioner Johannes Benjamin R. Bernabe said private stakeholders will be given the option to waive its confidentiality terms to accommodate the PCC.
However, if stakeholders decline to share the needed data, the PCC can take legal steps to obtain the data.
“If they don’t waive, remember, under the Philippine Competition Act, the PCC has the power to subpoena documents,” Mr. Bernabe told reporters on Friday.
Competition Chair Arsenio M. Balisacan said the MoA will be a “game-changer” in fast-tracking their review of sectors and investigation of cases where competition concerns may arise. — Janina C. Lim

Insurers enticed on infrastructure

By | Property News

THE GOVERNMENT has moved to encourage insurers to invest in infrastructure in order to boost funds for this state priority, by counting such investments in regulators’ computation to determine if these firms meet their minimum net worth requirement.
The Insurance Commission on Dec. 28 last year issued Circular Letter No. 2018-74 which set guidelines for insurance and reinsurance firms to “invest in debt and/or equity security instrument for the infrastructure projects under Philippine Development Plan” in order to help them “comply with the minimum net worth requirement” set by the regulator.
Insurance companies may participate in construction, financing or operation and maintenance contracts involving projects like highways; land reclamation; railways; airports; fish ports; power facilities; irrigation; education and health infrastructure; government buildings; housing projects; public markets; warehouses; telecommunications facilities; water supply and sewerage facilities; as well as environmental, solid waste management and climate projects, among others.
Insurance Commissioner Dennis B. Funa said in a press release on Thursday that “[t]his circular is aimed at encouraging insurers to invest in domestic infrastructure projects to boost our economy and to reap the benefits of portfolio diversification and higher return.”
The circular lists documents required to be submitted to the commission in order to help it assess the viability of the proposed investment.
“Before an investment in infrastructure is approved by the insurance regulator, insurers are required to submit the financial statements of the infrastructure projects which will be evaluated by the regulator to determine the risk impact on the capital of the insurer,” according to the circular.
Philippine Life Insurance Association, Inc. (PLIA) President Olaf Kliesow said late last month: “The insurance industry holds a lot of assets and we’re looking for long-term investment.
“The long-term investment portfolio in the Philippines is limited, and to have vehicles where we can invest long-term — 2030 or even longer years — will be very welcome,” Mr. Kliesow told reporters on the sidelines of PLIA induction ceremony on Jan. 31.
“This could mean all kinds of projects, whether this is railway or bridges, through PPP (public private partnership) projects… several ways this could happen, but what is important is to have a framework that supports this.”
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III had encouraged the insurance sector to invest more in the government’s stepped-up infrastructure development program. “I urge you to more closely review the investment opportunities opened by the infrastructure program and make a conscious effort to participate. It not only makes sound business sense to do so, it is also a patriotic thing to do,” Mr. Dominguez told insurers at a PLIA event in August last year.
The government has embarked on an P8-trillion infrastructure development program until 2022, when President Rodrigo R. Duterte ends his six-year term, in an effort to boost economic growth to 7-8% until then from a 6.3% annual average in 2010-2016.
Out of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019, a total of P909.7 billion will be spent on flagship projects under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
A check with the Insurance Commission showed insurers’ investment in state infrastructure projects edging up to P16 billion last year from P15.1 billion in 2017.
NOW COUNTED AS ASSETS
“For purposes of determining the net worth of an insurance and reinsurance company, investments in infrastructure projects duly approved by the Commission shall now be considered as admitted assets,” the circular read.
Michael F. Rellosa, deputy chairman of Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association, said in an interview that his group welcomes any measure that would increase investment opportunities for non-life insurers which will help them beef up their net worth.
“This will be more attractive for us because, before, the IC was very strict in terms of investments. They were only letting us to invest in government securities, which bear small interest. Now, any addition to that will be very welcome,” Mr. Rellosa told BusinessWorld in a telephone interview.
Insurers are beefing up their capital ahead of the upsized minimum statutory requirement of the commission, whereby insurance companies should have at least P900 million in net worth by the end of this year and P1.3 billion by 2022 from the current P550 million.
The Amended Insurance Code of the Philippines also requires industry entrants to have at least P1 billion in paid-up capital before opening business.
Mr. Funa had expressed concern about some non-life insurance companies not being able to meet the P900 million net worth requirement by yearend, as he encouraged such businesses to seek investors or merge with other challenged peers. — Karl Angelo N. Vidal

Marawi rehab drive raises nearly P42B

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REUTERSBy Melissa Luz T. LopezSenior Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT has so far raised nearly P42 billion for the rehabilitation of Marawi City, the Department of Finance (DoF) said, representing two-thirds of the amount needed to rebuild the war-torn city.
In a statement, the department said it now has P41.81 billion for the Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Program, although this was still short of the P67.99-billion budget the government expects to spend for its five-year implementation.
The program involves rebuilding roads and key infrastructure, as well as provision of livelihood and shelters for residents.
The bulk of the funds were committed by development agencies worth a total of P35.17 billion, representing loans and grants.
Some P6.64 billion came from humanitarian aid pledged by multilateral lenders and bilateral partners.
The capital of Lanao del Sur was devastated after a five-month battle between government forces and Islamic State-inspired militants from May to October 2017, displacing thousands of families and leaving the city in ruins.
Global lenders like the World Bank, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development committed to extend funding aid for Marawi during a pledging session held in Davao City in November last year.
Other donors included the governments of China, Japan, the United States, Australia, Germany, Korea, Spain and Italy.
Of the amount, DoF Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Antonio Joselito Lambino II said that P12.4 billion has been released. Broken down, P10.9 billion was disbursed for relief and livelihood assistance projects, as well as for the construction of transitional shelters and evacuation centers, while P1.5 billion was released to the National Housing Authority.
Mr. Lambino said that full recovery of the city will take “two to three years to complete.” Earlier this month, officials from the Philippine and Japanese governments broke ground to rebuild the Marawi Transcentral Road, which will be built using official development assistance.
“A city as damaged as Marawi requires a long-term rehabilitation program. With some development partners, the project preparation alone may last up to three years from the project conception to the start of the construction or implementation,” Mr. Lambino was quoted as saying in the statement.
“We are moving faster than business-as-usual.”
The government previously said that it will sell “patriotic bonds” in order to raise the remainder of the budgetary needs for the Marawi rehabilitation road map.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III has pegged the amount at P40 billion, with the first tranche expected to raise at least P13.5 billion from a float of retail Treasury bonds.
Treasury officials, however, said they are still studying the timing for the issuance.

Hot money off to a strong start

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REUTERSMORE FLIGHTY foreign funds entered the Philippines in January to post a two-month high, with more investors buying local stocks amid hopes that trade tensions between the United States and China will soon be resolved.
The month saw $762.82-million foreign portfolio investment net inflows, sustaining such inflows for a third straight month, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported on Thursday. The latest amount tripled from the $278.11-million net inflows in December and was nearly five times the year-ago $162.16 million.
Such investments are called “hot money” as these funds enter and leave the country with ease with any market-moving development.
This is also the biggest net inflow seen since the $832.07-million net inflows recorded in November last year.
Gross fund inflows amounted to $2.062 billion in January, which were the biggest such flows recorded since March 2018 and were 27% more than the $1.623 billion that entered the country in January 2017. These bets were partly offset by $1.299 billion in withdrawn funds that were 11% less than the year-ago $1.461 billion.
“This may be attributed to investor optimism arising from the easing trade tension between the US and China and the decline in inflation alongside the increase in net foreign buying in PSE (Philippine Stock Exchange)-listed shares in January 2019,” the BSP said in a statement.
The US and China agreed to a three-month truce and paused their retaliatory export tariffs against each other last month, kicking off with a bilateral meeting in Beijing.
Back home, the bellwether PSE index saw marked recovery as net foreign buying propelled a return to the 8,000 level.
Appetite for local shares recovered in January to account for 71.6% of the hot money tally, which in turn resulted in $506 million in net inflows. These placements mostly went to holding firms; property companies; banks; food, beverage and tobacco companies; and retail companies, the central bank said.
On the other hand, some 28.4% of the funds went to peso-denominated government securities and time deposits, which resulted in $256 million in net inflows.
Investors from the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Norway and Hong Kong were the biggest sources of foreign funds, with a combined share of 74.7% of gross inflows.
At the same time, 78.4% of withdrawn investments went to the US, as market players still regarded that economy as the safe haven.
The January inflows put hot money well ahead of the BSP’s forecast of a $200-million net outflow for 2019.
Hot money settled at a $1.204-billion net inflow last year, beating the central bank’s expectations of a $100-million outflow for the year.
Market analysts attributed last year’s surprise recovery to better investor sentiment in the last few weeks of 2018, on the back of easing inflation in November and December and bargain hunting at the Philippine Stock Exchange.
On the other hand, the BSP said the implementation of the first tax reform package provided greater optimism for foreign investors to make bigger bets in local stocks last year. — Melissa Luz T. Lopez

Netflix row riles Berlin Film Festival

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DIRECTOR and screenwriter Isabel Coixet and actresses Greta Fernandez and Natalia de Molina arrives for the screening of the movie Elisa y Marcela at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 13. — REUTERSBERLIN — A row over whether films produced for streaming platform Netflix should be shown at the Berlin Film Festival has overshadowed the premiere of Elisa & Marcela, Isabel Coixet’s tale of two Spanish lesbians.
Independent arthouse cinema operators in Germany wrote to German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters and Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick on Monday demanding that the film be withdrawn from the competition.
“The Berlinale stands for the big screen, Netflix for the small screen. We want it to remain that way in future and we don’t want the world’s biggest festival in terms of audience — with more than 300,000 moviegoers — to become a television festival,” they said.
But a spokeswoman for the Berlinale said the film was eligible for competition because it is due to be shown in Spanish cinemas.
Netflix has stirred unease in the traditional movie industry by encouraging people to watch films at home rather than go to the cinema. Major theater chains refuse to show Netflix films, and some top directors have balked at making films that will be seen primarily on the small screen.
Ms. Coixet said she was a “struggling filmmaker” and had tried for 10 years to find financing for the film but no one was interested before Netflix.
She said it was not fair to demand the film be withdrawn from the competition “in the name of culture,” adding: “I’m sorry, that’s not culture — the culture has to be about respecting the author. And I think saying the film doesn’t deserve to be here is not respecting the author.”
Last year Netflix Inc. pulled out of the Cannes Film Festival after organizers banned its films from competition over its refusal to release them in cinemas.
LOVE STORY
Ms. Coixet’s black-and-white film is based on the true story of Elisa Sanchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, who fall in love at school and manage to get married in 1901 when one of them disguises herself as a man called “Mario,” cutting her hair, drawing on a moustache and wearing a suit.
Same-sex marriage in Spain was legalized in 2005.
Villagers suspect Mario is really Elisa and turn up at their house with pitchforks, smashing their windows and yelling “whores” at them. The pair want to escape to Argentina but are caught and imprisoned while saving up for the journey.
“I want people to feel that even centuries ago, people loved each other and there’s no rules for love — just leave people alone living their sexuality,” Ms. Coixet told Reuters.
Natalia de Molina, who plays Elisa, said: “I want everyone to know this story because this still happens — there are so many Elisas and Marcelas around the world.”
Elisa & Marcela — which was made in four weeks — is one of 16 films competing for the prestigious Golden and Silver Bears at this year’s Berlinale. The winners will be announced at a prize-giving ceremony on Feb. 16. — Reuters

Competition watchdog blocks URC-Roxas Holdings deal

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THE Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) on Thursday said it has blocked Universal Robina Corp.’s (URC) takeover of a Roxas Holdings, Inc. (RHI) subsidiary’s sugar milling and refining assets in Nasugbu, Batangas, saying the deal will create a monopoly in Southern Luzon.
In a statement, the anti-trust body said it issued the decision after finding that URC’s acquisition of Central Azucarera Don Pedro, Inc. (CADPI) “leads to a monopoly in South Luzon.”
“The prohibition prevents this deal from creating a monopoly in the relevant market that could harm the welfare of the sugarcane planters. It is the duty of the Commission to prevent the creation of monopolies when applying the merger control powers conferred on it by the Philippine Competition Act,” PCC Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan was quoted as saying in the statement.
The PCC described CADPI as URC’s only competitor in the sugarcane milling services market in the area. URC has a sugar mill in Balayan, Batangas.
“A merger-to-monopoly deal is among the most detrimental types of business transactions. The URC takeover removes its only competitor, erodes the benefits of competition for the sugarcane planters, and leaves market power at the hands of a single provider in an area,” Mr. Balisacan said.
Last July, URC said it was acquiring the sugar milling and refining assets owned by CADPI and RHI in Barangay Lumbangan, Nasugbu in Batangas. The following month, the competition watchdog conducted a further review of the deal, after concerns over its effect on the local sugar industry.
In January this year, the PCC flagged the same competition concerns on the transaction.
To salvage the merger, the parties submitted voluntary commitments but the PCC did not consider these sufficient to address the monopoly issue.
“Both mill operators are in Batangas but the monopoly to be created by the merger will substantially lessen competition in the sugar milling services market not only in Batangas, but also in Cavite, Laguna, and Quezon,” the PCC said.
While the deal mainly concerns sugarcane farmers in Southern Luzon, the PCC noted the sugar processed in these facilities are sold throughout the country.
In a statement, URC said it accepted the anti-trust body’s decision.
“URC initiated the proposed acquisition of CADPI with that objective mind, convinced that it would bring about such efficiencies that would translate to better sugar planter and consumer welfare driven by a more stable and profitable sugar production industry in Southern Luzon,” the Gokongwei-led company said.
URC said the PCC decision “does not materially affect the (company’s) business plans”, as it continues to look for “opportunities to attain greater production efficiency.”
URC is engaged in various food-related businesses, including the production of packed foods and beverages, sugar, agro-industrial products, and bioethanol. Its mills, which produce raw and refined forms of sugar and molasses, are located in Batangas, Iloilo, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Cagayan.
RHI, also engaged in the trading of raw and refined sugar, and molasses, has 100% stake in CADPI which operates an integrated sugar cane milling and refining plant in Batangas. — Janina C. Lim