Property News

Sweden offers help to improve EDSA Busway; DoTr not ruling out cable car proposals for NCR

By | Property News

By Arjay L. Balinbin | BusinessWorld
August 15, 2022


THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) said on Monday that the Swedish government has offered to help expand the capacity of the EDSA Busway project, which suffers from long queues with demand currently overwhelming the available number of buses.

“Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista gratefully received the offer of Swedish Ambassador to the Philippines Annika Thunborg to allow the government of Sweden to explore how to improve the EDSA Busway project,” the DoTr said in a statement.

“During a recent courtesy call at the DoTr Secretary’s office, Ambassador Thunborg relayed the Swedish government’s offer to help enhance the operational efficiency of the highly patronized EDSA Busway project, (which is currently offering) free rides to EDSA commuters until the end of the year,” it added.

The department said improving the EDSA Busway to accommodate the demand when face-to-face classes resume this month is in line with Mr. Bautista’s promise to raise the transport systems to global standards.

The EDSA Busway is a dedicated median bus lane service which is a joint initiative of the DoTr, Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board, Metro Manila Development Authority, and Department of Public Works and Highways.

In an appearance on ANC Headstart, Mr. Bautista said the department intends to “look for other possible bus stops” to improve the commuter experience.

“I had a meeting with the consortium that operates EDSA Carousel, and we asked them to have additional buses, especially during the start of the face-to-face classes on Aug. 22,” he added.

Mr. Bautista also said the department remains open to having cable cars in the National Capital Region (NCR) as a means of reducing traffic.

“I am not discounting the possibility of this. We are open to all ideas, although it might be difficult to implement it,” he said.

Last week, Senator Robinhood Ferdinand C. Padilla proposed the use of cable cars to decongest the roads.

“I would like to suggest it as it will be suitable for the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, because of traffic,” he told Senators at a plenary session on Tuesday.

Mr. Bautista said following the proposal, “I asked our undersecretary for road sector to look at it.”

“We will conduct a study because for you to be able to implement a program, you need to have the important data,” he added.

The DoTr in the previous administration had endorsed a project proposal to the National Economic and Development Authority to build a cable car transit system between the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 2’s Santolan Station in Marikina City and Barangay Rosario in Pasig City.

The feasibility study for the Metro Manila urban cable car project was funded by the government of France.

The selected alignment spans 4.5 kilometers and mostly follows the Marikina River. It starts from LRT Line-2 Santolan Station and proceeds southward to Ortigas Avenue in Rosario, Pasig.

Four more sites for stations were identified between LRT-2 Santolan Station and Rosario: Quezon City’s Libis and Eastwood and Pasig City’s Santolan and Manggahan. — Arjay L. Balinbin



Maya fast tracks ‘digi-palengke’ thrust

By | Property News

The Philippine Star
August 16, 2022


MANILA, Philippines — Maya, the country’s only all-in-one money app, accelerates the adoption of QR Ph as it joins the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the recent launch of Paleng-QR Ph in Baguio City.

The Paleng-QR Ph program aims to digitalize transactions at the community level, starting with public markets and local transportation. The program enables vendors and tricycle drivers to accept digital payments from customers via QR Ph, the national standard for QR payments. Maya’s QR codes are QR Ph-compliant, and its app can scan any QR Ph-powered transaction.

First to adopt the Paleng-QR Ph program is Baguio City, the country’s summer capital, known for its clean and organized public market. BSP Governor Felipe Medalla and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong kicked off the program in ceremonies held today at the city’s Malcolm Square.

Even before the rollout of Paleng-QR Ph, Maya has been equipping Baguio City merchants with the QR Ph-enabled Maya QR. These include market vendors, public utility drivers, bus stations, hotels, restaurants, groceries, pasalubong centers, and tourist spots.

For the past years, Maya has led the charge in helping LGUs build their “digi-palengke” through its LGUs Embracing and Accelerating Digitalization (LEAD) program. Among these markets are the Marulas Public Market in Valenzuela City, Antipolo City Public Market in Antipolo City, Kadiwa rolling stores, and Divisoria street stalls in Manila City.

Maya is the first fintech brand to adopt QR Ph person-to-person (P2P) payments in 2019 and person-to-merchant payments (P2M) in 2021. Since then, Maya has adopted the country’s interoperable QR Ph standard across its end-to-end digital payments ecosystem.

Maya’s over 50 million registered users can enjoy a convenient cashless experience by using their all-in-one money app that can send and accept QR Ph P2P payments. Meanwhile, even non-Maya users can pay at over 700,000 QR Ph-enabled Maya merchant touchpoints nationwide, the most extensive number deployed by any financial institution.



DoubleDragon H1 core earnings up 29% to P1.2 billion

By | Property News

By Iris Gonzales | The Philippine Star
August 16, 2022


MANILA, Philippines — DoubleDragon Corp., a holding company chaired by tycoon Edgar “Injap” Sia II, reported a consolidated core net income of P1.2 billion in the first half of the year, up 29 percent.

Consolidated revenues reached 26.8 percent to P3.41 billion during the period.

Sia said the company now has over 1.2 million square meters of completed gross floor area in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

“From zero square meters of recurring income portfolio during its listing, to now over 1.2 million square meters of completed GFA that we can literally step on in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” Sia said.

He said the company’s portfolio of hard assets is expected to mature and generate the optimum level of recurring income production before 2025.

Coming from a total equity of only less than P600 million when DoubleDragon filed for its initial public offering in 2014, total equity has increased to P71.44 billion.

DoubleDragon’s equity that consists generally of a string of diversified titled hard real estate assets located in prime and strategic locations nationwide continue to appreciate as years go by.

All this significant progress would have not been possible without the support of many of its stakeholders,” Sia said.

“We also continue to prepare for the planned REIT listing of the CentralHub industrial warehouse portfolio once the overall market conditions improve, and we continue to prepare to begin the construction of Hotel 101-Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan by the fourth quarter this year,” Sia said.

This developed as Sia’s MerryMart Consumer Corp. reported a 96.5 percent jump in net income to P32.25 million. Revenues reached P2.875 billion, up 55.9 percent.

DoubleDragon’s DDMP REIT Inc., meanwhile, reported a net income of P1.06 billion in the first half.

Total revenues increased by 2.9 percent to P1.23 billion and rental income went up to P1.14 billion.

Against this backdrop, the board of directors of DDMP REIT approved a cash dividend to all shareholders as of record of Aug. 31amounting to P486.7 million or P0.0272990 per share, with payment date of Sept. 26.

“We are glad for the many positive economic indicators that are recently signaling a new economic cycle post the Covid-19 pandemic, post the peak of Ukraine war tensions, and post the generally peaceful Philippine election. These past few weeks we have felt the buildup of fresh new tenant inquiries, ongoing negotiations and increased activities of the existing office and retail tenants. It looks like many companies are now starting to again make important long-term decisions on their growth and expansion plans,”said Sia, chairman of DDMP REIT.



Ecozone investments fall by 30% in 1st half

By | Property News

By Catherine Talavera | The Philippine Star
August 14, 2022


MANILA, Philippines — Investments approved by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) declined by nearly 30 percent in the first half of the year to P22.49 billion, the agency reported Friday. PEZA officer-in-charge (OIC) Tereso Panga said the investments came from 90 new and expansion projects.

Panga, the agency’s deputy director general for policy and planning, said the new projects would generate 14,354 and $747.09 million in annual export sales.

The top countries with the highest investments for the first semester include Japan, Singapore, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands.

Japan remained PEZA’s top country investor in the first half with P8 billion in investments, followed by Singapore with P2.17 billion.

Meanwhile, the top-performing region where investments are located still remains in Region 4 with P10.4 billion.

The PEZA said the top-improving regions are Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, SOCCSKSARGEN, and CARAGA.

“Despite experiencing a 29.85 percent decline in investments in the first six months of 2022 compared to last year’s same period, our export income and employment continue to grow,” Panga said.

In the first half of the year, PEZA export income grew 7.7 percent to $32.49 billion from $30.18 billion in the same period last year.

“With the reopening of the Philippine economy and positive outlook under a new PBBM administration, we are glad that PEZA contributed to job generation and in increasing employment rate in our country,” Panga said.

PEZA reported that there are 1.79 million workers in PEZA-registered economic zones nationwide, a 10.2 percent increase from the 1.62 million workers in the first half of last year.

Despite the lower approved investments in the first half, PEZA pointed out that the approved investments in the second quarter of the year increased 115 percent to P14.35 billion.

“These investments came from 61 new and expansion projects,” Panga added.

For June alone, the PEZA board approved 20 new and expansion projects with P3.56 billion of investments.

Among the 20 recently approved projects, two projects fall under the export manufacturing, eight for IT enterprises, five for facilities, and five for ecozone development projects.

In line with President Marcos’ support for economic zones in the Philippines, Panga said the agency would continue to work along with the president and the economic team.

“We will work closely with the President and his economic team in spreading more strategic industries in other regions of our country through our different types of economic zones so we can continuously bring more jobs, investment revenues, and improve the lives of our fellowmen under the Marcos administration,” Panga said.



Megawide, SMC interested in Naia rehab project revival

By | Property News

By Lorenz S. Marasigan | BusinessWorld
August 15, 2022


AT least two of the four parties that submitted unsolicited proposals for the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) have signified their interest in supporting the government in its bid to bring the country’s premier airport back to its glory days.

Megawide Construction Corp. Executive Director for Infrastructure Development Louie B. Ferrer said the group, which modernized both the Mactan-Cebu International Airport and the Clark International Airport, will look at the terms the government will lay out for the rehabilitation project.

“We are committed to assisting the infrastructure build-up. Our goal is to engineer a first-world Philippines and we will do so starting with our projects,” Ferrer said in a text message. “We’ll wait for the final directions of the government regarding this project and infra projects in general so we understand how to best support their vision.”

For his part, San Miguel Corp. President Ramon S. Ang confirmed that the group, which is currently building its aerocity in Bulacan, is also interested in the deal.

“Yes, we’ll join all government bidding,” he said in a text message.

Members of the old Naia Consortium—composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc; AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp.; Alliance Global Group Inc.; Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp.; Filinvest Development Corp.; JG Summit Holdings Inc.; and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.—and the representatives from the Philippine Airports and Ground Services Inc. have yet to reply to the BusinessMirror’s request for comment.

Metro Pacific previously tapped out of the consortium due to commercial issues.

Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista on Saturday said the government plans to revive the rehabilitation project for Naia, noting that it might consider Public-Private Partnership (PPP) as its funding modality.

Public policy think tank Infrawatch Convener Terry L. Ridon believes that redeveloping Naia is a crucial component of the government’s multi-airport strategy.

“I think the long term strategy is to still proceed with the multi-airport strategy and the development of Naia remains a major pillar in it,” he said in a phone interview.

He said their group supports this initiative and believes that PPP is the way to move forward with the project, given the “limited fiscal space of the government.”

To recall, the Duterte government decided to discontinue the project, after halting negotiations with the Naia Consortium, a group of seven Filipino conglomerates that banded together to submit a P102-billion unsolicited proposal for the rehab of the country’s main gateway.

Before this, the government revoked the original proponent status (OPS) of Megawide Construction Corp. and partner GMR Infrastructure Ltd. for their P109-billion Naia rehab unsolicited proposal.

Other groups that had forwarded their own versions of the Naia rehab proposals include the Philippine Airports and Ground Services Inc. and San Miguel Corp.



PNB books lower net income in Q2 due to one-off gain seen last year

By | Property News

By K.B. Ta-asan | BusinessWorld
August 16, 2022


PHILIPPINE National Bank (PNB) saw its net earnings plunge in the second quarter as last year’s profit for the period included a one-off gain from its loss of control over PNB Holdings Corp.

The Tan-led lender’s attributable net income stood at P8.24 billion in the second quarter, plummeting by 59.42% from the P20.31 billion recorded in the same period a year ago, based on its financial statement filed with the local bourse on Monday.

This brought the bank’s attributable net earnings for the first semester to P11.04 billion, 50% lower than the P22.08 billion booked in the same period of 2021.

This translated to a return on equity of 11.4% as of June, while return on assets was at 1.6%.

PNB said in its quarterly report that it booked lower net earnings in the second quarter and first half due to a P33.6-billion gain after the bank transferred real estate properties to PNB Holdings in a property-for-shares swap.

Taking out the effect of the one-off transaction, the operating income of PNB increased by 20% year on year to P26.1 billion in the first half, the lender said.

“PNB continues to be profitable despite the challenging economic and rate environment,” PNB Acting President Florido P. Casuela said in a statement.

“Our strategy is in place and we are pursuing a growth path amidst a recovering economy. Our various businesses continue to focus on the needs of our customers as we support the local economy,” he added.

The bank’s net interest income rose to P8.82 billion in the second quarter from P8.62 billion on the back of lower interest expense on deposit liabilities.

It said this was on the back of “higher interest earned on the Group’s investment securities, as well as lower interest incurred on deposits and other interest-bearing liabilities of the Group.”

Net interest margin stood at 3.4% as of June from 3.3% a year ago.

Meanwhile, PNB’s net earnings from service fees and commissions inched down by 2.2% last quarter to P1.13 billion from P1.16 billion.

The bank’s other income also plunged to P5.86 billion from P34.47 billion. This, as trading and investment gains declined to P107.29 million from P331.18 million a year earlier. Net foreign exchange gains, on the other hand, surged to P554.44 million from P193.67 million.

With this, PNB’s total operating income in the second quarter went down to P15.81 billion from P44.25 billion a year earlier.

On the other hand, the bank’s operating expenses in the second quarter went up to P7.84 billion from P6.7 billion. This was attributed to taxes related to the property sale in Manila Harbour, as well as higher amortization costs for the leased properties of the bank. The leased properties were the subject of the properties-for-shares swap conducted last year.

Meanwhile, PNB’s loans and receivables decreased 4.4% to P8.14 billion in the second quarter from P8.52 billion in the same period of 2021 “in line with the bank’s prudent approach in asset deployment to optimize the use of its capital.”

The lender’s gross nonperforming loan (NPL) ratio went down to 6.5% at end-June from 11.5% a year earlier, while its net NPL ratio was at 2.8%, down from 5.7% a year prior.

Its NPL coverage ratio was at 79.8% as of June, up from 60.1% a year ago.

“Deposit liabilities, in contrast, rallied by 7% year on year to P885.5 billion as of end-June 2022 coming from the continued buildup of the bank’s current and savings accounts,” PNB said.

PNB’s consolidated resources reached P1.2 trillion as of June, primarily driven by higher treasury assets.

Its capital adequacy ratio was at 15.2% at end-June, up from 14% a year ago, while its common equity Tier 1 ratio also increased to 14.5% from 13.2%. These were beyond the minimum regulatory requirements.

PNB’s shares closed at P18.50 apiece on Monday, up by four centavos or 0.22% from its previous finish. — K.B. Ta-asan



Gov’t fully awards T-bill offer at higher rates ahead of BSP review

By | Property News

By Diego Gabriel C. Robles | BusinessWorld
August 16, 2022


THE GOVERNMENT fully awarded its offer of Treasury bills (T-bills) as investors asked for higher rates ahead of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) Monetary Board’s meeting on Thursday, where it is expected to hike borrowing costs anew.

The Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) raised P15 billion as planned from its auction of T-bills on Monday, with bids reaching P40.532 billion.

Broken down, the Treasury made a full P5-billion award of its offer of 91-day securities as the tenor attracted P14.61 billion in bids. The average rate of the three-month T-bill went up by 2.4 basis points (bps) to 1.874% from the 1.85% fetched at the previous auction. Accepted rates ranged from 1.825% to 1.91%.

The government also borrowed P5 billion as planned via the 182-day securities as tenders reached P18.01 billion. The average rate of the tenor rose by 1.5 bps to 3.226% from the 3.211% fetched at the previous auction as accepted rates were from 3.22% to 3.243%.

Lastly, the BTr raised P5 billion as programmed from the 364-day debt papers, with demand for the tenor reaching P7.92 billion. The average rate of the one-year T-bill rose by 7.7 bps to 3.712% from the 3.635% fetched at the previous auction, with the government accepting offers with yields from 3.6% to 3.8%.

At the secondary market prior to Monday’s auction, the 91-, 182- and 364-day T-bills were quoted at 2.0768%, 3.0247%, and 3.6568%, respectively, based on the PHP Bloomberg Valuation Reference Rates published on the Philippine Dealing System’s website.

T-bill rates climbed across all tenors as the market expects the BSP to raise borrowing costs again at its Aug. 18 meeting, National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon told reporters in a Viber message after Monday’s auction.

“Similarly, the Federal Reserve seems unswayed by the softer July CPI (consumer price index) and Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell remains focused on “vanquishing the foe,” Ms. De Leon added.

The first trader said T-bill rates rose slightly as expected ahead of the BSP’s policy review this week.

“No surprises here. The results were broadly in line with expectations. All eyes are now on the Monetary Board decision later this week so investors are really just on wait-and-see mode,” the second trader added.

The BSP is widely expected to raise its benchmark rates anew on Thursday, with most analysts forecasting a 50-bp increase as inflation remains elevated.

A BusinessWorld poll held last week showed 16 out of 18 analysts expect the Monetary Board to hike rates at its meeting on Aug. 18.

For 13 analysts, the central bank may deliver a hike of 50 bps, while three analysts see a 25-bp increase. Only two analysts expect the BSP to keep rates unchanged.

BSP Governor Felipe M. Medalla earlier said the central bank’s policy-setting Monetary Board may hike rates by 50 bps at their meeting this week inflation quickened to 6.4% in July, a near four-year high. This was also faster than the 6.1% in June and 3.7% a year ago.

For the first seven months, headline inflation averaged by 4.7%, higher than the 4% seen in the same period in 2021 and the central bank’s 2-4% target for the year but lower than its 5% forecast.

The Monetary Board has raised rates by a total of 125 bps since May, including a 75-bp off-cycle hike last month.

Meanwhile, the average rise in US consumer and producer prices slowed in July, which could indicate that inflation has peaked and lead to less aggressive hikes from the Fed.

The US consumer price index ended flat month on month last July from 1.3% in June. On an annual basis, consumer inflation rose by 8.5% in July, slower than 9.1% in June.

On the other hand, the producer price index for final demand declined by 0.5% last month after climbing by 1% in June. In the 12 months through July, it increased by 9.8% after rising by 11.3% in June.

The Fed has raised its key rates by 225 bps since March to temper soaring inflation.

On Tuesday, the BTr will auction off P35 billion in 10-year Treasury bonds (T-bonds) with a remaining life of nine years and 10 months.

The Treasury wants to raise P215 billion from the domestic market this month, or P75 billion through T-bills and P140 billion via T-bonds.

The government borrows from local and external sources to help fund a budget deficit capped at P1.65 trillion this year, equivalent to 7.6% of gross domestic product. — Diego Gabriel C. Robles



Villar-led companies post lower income

By | Property News

By Justine Irish D. Tabile | BusinessWorld
August 16, 2022


THREE Villar-led companies — Golden MV Holdings, Inc., AllHome Corp., and AllDay Marts, Inc. — reported lower earnings in the second quarter as their revenues declined.

Golden MV posted a lower attributable net income of P259.35 million in the second quarter, down 6.5% from last year’s P277.41 million. This is a 39.4% decline from the P428.18 million recorded income in the earlier quarter.

Revenues were also lower, totaling P1.03 billion, a 14.6% decline from P1.2 billion last year.

Year to date, the company’s income was a bit higher at P687.52 million, or 4.6% more than the P657.59 million recorded last year.

Its first-half topline was lower by 6.1% to P2.57 billion from the P2.74 billion generated a year ago.

AllHome registered a 15.7% decline in second-quarter net profit to P250.02 million from the previous year’s P296.76 million. This is a reversal from the recorded net loss of P27.91 million in the first quarter.

The company’s topline fell by 3.4% to P3.03 billion from the P3.13 billion recorded last year.

Year to date, its profit was almost three times lower at P222.11 million, down from P640.97 million in the previous year.

Its first-half top line was also lower at P6.27 billion, a 6.8% decline from P6.72 billion last year.

AllDay Marts posted a net profit of P87.21 million in the second quarter, 19.5% lower than the previous year’s P108.32 million.

This is a complete reversal from last quarter’s P75.58-million net loss.

The company’s sales slipped by 2.5% to P2.3 billion from the P2.36 billion a year ago.

Year to date, the company’s profit declined 93.5% to P11.63 million from P179.64 million in the previous year.

Meanwhile, its first-half topline climbed by 2.2% to P6.27 billion from P4.49 billion last year.

On Monday, Golden MV shares closed unchanged at P670 apiece; AllHome shares went down by 0.56% or P0.03 to P5.33 each; and AllDay stocks climbed by 2.78% or P0.01 to P0.37 apiece. — Justine Irish D. Tabile



RLC aims to develop a resilient urban community in Montclair

By | Property News

By BusinessWorld
August 16, 2022


ROBINSONS Land Corp. (RLC) is making sure to integrate green infrastructure in its 216-hectare Montclair Destination Estate, located in Porac, Pampanga.

RLC in a statement said the regeneration of Porac into a “living space” for families has been the vision for Montclair, which is touted as a sustainable development.

“Environmental sustainability is at the core of Montclair’s urban planning principles for land development. The integration of green infrastructure such as tree planting is considered early in the design and planning process. Our intent is to create a cooler, more bio-diverse, and ultimately more resilient urban community in Montclair,” Mybelle V. Aragon-GoBio, senior vice-president and general manager of Robinsons Land Integrated Developments, was quoted as saying.

Six tree species will be planted around Montclair, namely Banaba, Balayong (Palawan cherry), Fire tree, Narra, Palo Maria, and Talisay.

Around 100 RLC employees joined a tree-planting activity on July 30, as part of the Gokongwei Group’s One Million Trees project. RLC also turned over 1,200 trees to the municipality of Porac.

RLC said tree planting with appropriate selection and placement can contribute to sustained urban tree canopies within Montclair.

A tree nursery will house the seedlings until the trees are ready to be planted around Montclair. These heavy canopy trees will be strategically planted throughout the estate, which will be pedestrian-friendly.

“Cities designed around trees have a major impact on the community’s mental health and well-being, and that affects how that community will thrive,” Ms. GoBio said.



My addenda to the SONA

By | Property News

(Part 3)

            After agricultural development, the President is right in identifying the tourism sector as not only an important development tool but a major contributor to the eradication of poverty, which is predominantly a rural phenomenon.  Tourism accounts for 12% of the labor force.  This is where we can learn a great deal from the Thai model of countryside development and the reduction of poverty.  By building farm-to-market roads and other infrastructures that directly cater to the farmers, the most attractive tourism destinations, which are in the rural areas, are simultaneously made accessible to tourists, both domestic and foreign. That is why Thailand long surpassed us in agricultural development and in the number of foreign tourists.   We should, therefore, continue the laudable practice of the last Administration, when Senator Mark Villar was the Secretary of Public Works and Highways, to utilize the budget for public works mostly for roads and bridges in the countryside, rather than for urban infrastructures, which can be built by the private sector.  Infrastructures in the countryside kill two birds with one stone:  they help improve the incomes of farmers and they create jobs in the tourism sector. Hopefully, many enlightened LGU heads will follow the directive of President Marcos Jr. to maximize opportunities to improve infrastructures in their localities through Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects, using some of the proceeds from the Mandanas-Garcia ruling for this purpose.  Some of these PPPs can be with foreign investors who can now invest more than 40 % of equity in such vital projects as airports, railways, seaports, tollways and other public services under the amended Public Service Act.

            To prepare for the rebound of foreign tourism in 2024 and after, we should not delay in implementing the plan of the President to upgrade our airports and create more international airports to help decongest the bottleneck in the Manila airport.  Since Palawan has been rated by an international magazine in travel and tourism as the Best Island Resort the world, priority should be given to upgrading the international airports in Coron, Puerto Princesa and San Vicente.  The National Government, through the Department of Tourism, should work hand in hand with the LGUs in these municipalities of Palawan to actively attract foreign builders of airports from such countries as Spain, Japan, India, the U.S. and other countries to own and operate world-class international airports like the Mactan International Airport. Other cities which are gateways to very attractive tourism destinations and should also have their existing airports upgraded to world class standards are Dumaguete, Iloilo, Laoag, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro.

            Both domestic and foreign tourism can also be given a big boost if we haveefficient railway systems in regions rich in tourism attractions.  In this regard, the present Administration should try its best to renegotiate at least two of the loan contracts with China involving the Calamba-Bicol and Mindanao railway projects.  These were the two of three loan contracts that were cancelled because China failed to respond to the Philippine government’s loan application since 2019.  By showing our interest in having China transfer its advanced technology and expertise in building modern railways systems, we demonstrate our desire to have close economic relations with this biggest economy in the Indo-Pacific region.  Whatever our political differences with China may be as regards the Western Philippine seas, we should continue to have friendly relations with the country that can be a major trading partner, especially in agribusiness and mining.

            There should be a special focus on getting the Mindanao railway project to be implemented.   An efficient railway system in this second largest and richest in agricultural resources in the Archipelago can help Mindanao achieve the vision of its being a food basket not only for the Philippines but also for the whole Indo-Pacific region.  The first phase of the P82-billion Mindanao railway project, as reported by Alyssa Nicolle Tan in the Business World (July 20, 2022), stretches from the Tagum Station and depot in Davao del Norte to Digos City in Davao del Sur.  There will be stations in Carmen, Panabo, Santa Cruz, and three in Davao City, including a sub-depot.  Who knows, this proof of concept that an efficient railway system can lead to rapid development in the areas covered may even convince foreign private investors to actually own and operate railroads covering other parts of the island.  My own vision is to see the hours it takes to travel from Davao City to Cagayan de Oro City cut down significantly by a railway system.

 As we succeed in improving the productivity of our agricultural sector, we can contribute to food security in China by exporting high-value vegetable and fruit products, going beyond bananas and pineapples which we are already exporting to China.  Also, China will be the biggest market for our nickel and copper products as it intensifies the digitalization of its economy and the adoption of renewable energy such as solar and wind. Recently, Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman identified four key areas of cooperation his country wants to pursue with the Philippines:  large-scale agriculture, infrastructure, energy and people-to-people exchange.  We should also consider the fact that as the world fully recovers from the pandemic, Chinese tourists will be among the most numerous in the Indo-Pacific region.  We should see  a revival of the large influx of Chinese tourists in Ilocos Norte.  I remember seeing Fort Ilocandia Hotel in Laoag Cityduring the early years of this millennium so crowded with Chinese tourists that Mandarin became the most frequently used language in the hotel premises.  A challenge to Governor Matthew Manotoc is to  bring down the price of electricity in the province.  Who knows, the Ilocanos may be the first ones to allow a modular nuclear plant to exist in their region!  They were among the first to install the renewable sources of energy of solar and wind in the country.

Let me now make a few comments about the salient points raised by the President about Philippine education.  As an educator myself (among the several hats I wear, education is my first and foremost concern), I fully support the President’s (and Vice-President’s) call for a return to face-to-face classes.  Even if we solve the problem of lack of internet resources for the vast majority of basic education pupils, especially in the public schools, face to face learning is indispensable for young people not only to learn the subject contents but most especially to develop the social and communications skills that are an integral part of the intellectual and moral formation of the youth.  In fact, at the university level, blended learning should minimize the time devoted to online sessions.  The most important skills to be cultivated in institutions of higher learning have to do with critical thinking, effective communication and the abiiity to relate the various disciplines to one another.  These skills are best developed through actual personal contacts with the professor and fellow students. The return to the classrooms of millions of students will also give a big boost to the economy.  In fact, despite the higher rate of inflation in the second half of 2022, I am forecasting a GDP growth rate of more than 7 percent for the whole year, based on a strong rebound of private consumption expenditures.

            The second educational issue on which I want to comment has to do with the President’s referenceto “lengthy discussion on the continuation and viability of the K to 12 school system.” If we are aspiring to graduate from an upper-middle income economy (which we shall attain in 2024) to become a high-income economy in the next twenty years, we have to do something about the past anomaly of our having had the shortest period of basic education compared with all of our peers in the Indo-Pacific region, if not in the whole world.  The past generations (including my own) may be proud of the fact that despite our only ten years of basic education (compared to 12 to 14 years of other countries) we still managed to prepare adequatelyfor our respective professions or occupations.  We have to consider, however, how scientific knowledge in all the human disciplines has grown exponentially over the last twenty to thirty years.  We would be doing an injustice to our youth if we do not prepare them for the more intellectually demanding future they will face.  As the President said, “Our children must be equipped with the best that we can provide.”

            Another reason why we should continue with the K to 12 curriculum has to do with the stage of economic development in which we are.  Compared to our more progressive neighbors in the East Asian region, it has taken us too long (some 40 years compared to the average of 20) to graduate from low-income to upper-middle income status.   That is why, we have the uncomfortable situation of combining the so-called four industrial revolutions during the present stage of our economic development.  We still have a disproportionately large demand for farm workers, agribusiness technicians, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, masons and other construction workers and not to mention factory workers who do not need college degrees to be productive in their work.  This means that we have to encourage a large majority of those who finish their senior high school to choose tech-voc courses (the so-called TESDA track) rather than follow an academic curriculum.  At the same time, to have equality of opportunity, we must still provide those who choose a tech-voc course the opportunity to acquire higher skills and knowledge through a ladderized system that can enable, for example, an electrician to become an electric engineer or a bookkeeper to become a C.P.A through further studies.  Such a ladderized system would require giving all of our youth the skills of critical thinking, effective communication, and multidisciplinary dialogue that can only be acquired in the last two years of  the K to 12 curriculum.  It must be recalled that before the K to 12 school system was introduced, the first two years of all college diploma programs were devoted precisely to the liberal arts and humanities that are necessary for the skills necessary for lifelong learning.   If we remove Years 11 and 12 from basic education, we would be condemning those who opt for the tech-voc occupations to a state of intellectual stagnation and incapacity to progress from blue collar work to more intellectually demanding professions.  The K to 12 curriculum is a means of democratizing educational opportunities. 

For comments, my email address is [email protected]