World Bank announced that the Republic of the Philippines (PHL) is experiencing a weaker-than-expected first half. The impacts of this slow-down in the country’s economy are limited, though, because of its strong fundamentals. Below is an excerpt from the Washington-based institution:

 

“In response to the slower growth and the weaker economic outlook in advanced economies, we revise our growth forecast downward from 5.0% to 4.5% for 2011 and from 5.4% to 5.0% for 2012,” the report states.

These compare to the government’s 7-8% target for both years and downward revisions announced last month by the Asian Development Bank (4.7% and 5.1%, from 5.0% and 5.3%) and the International Monetary Fund (4.7% and 4.9%, from 5.0% for both years).

“To better insulate the Philippine economy from external shocks, it is important to maintain strong macroeconomic fundamentals and improve its competitiveness through diversifying exports, strengthening domestic competition, and improving productivity of the services sector,” World Bank economist Soonwha Yi said in a statement accompanying the update.

The report noted that the country’s external position and macroeconomic fundamentals remained strong. In particular, the current account surplus was said to have increased by 20% in the second quarter, net foreign direct investments were up in the first half and “foreign reserves have surged to record highs.”

Monetary policy was also described as remaining accommodative, and the deficit likely to fall below target. The World Bank noted, however, that the state underspending behind the better fiscal balance “also reduces economic growth and could waken potential growth as the country’s large deficiencies in infrastructure remain unresolved.”

The challenge for the government, it said, “is to ensure that the Philippines continues to improve its competitiveness, while cushioning the economy from adverse external shocks.” The World Bank recommended accelerated public spending, which can be supported by raising more revenues via improved tax administration and reforms.

Ruperto P. Majuca, assistant director-general for planning at the National Economic and Development Authority, agreed with the report’s recommendations, saying the Philippines can “pursue Asian integration, and take advantage of China rebalancing.”

“You also strengthen the domestic demand by government spending, e.g., by infrastructure spending, then other domestic sector strengthening [for example through] CCT (conditional cash transfers) [and] tourism,” he explained in a text message.

Mr. Majuca, however, thinks that “the forecasts are low.”

“We expect GDP growth to pick up in H2 (second half) relative to H1 due to the acceleration of government spending, the effect of Japan normalization and reconstruction on the Philippine economy, seasonal boost, and the absence of base effects which characterized H1,” he said.

University of Asia and the Pacific economics professor Cid L. Terosa, for his part, said the World Bank “forecast reflects the cautious mood that is prevailing in the economy and will prevail next year.”

“I think [economic growth] will be 5% or below in the next two years,” he added.

Benjamin E. Diokno, former Budget secretary and economics professor at the University of the Philippines, said the multilateral bank’s forecast downgrading was “not surprising.”

“The cut in growth forecasts which has come one after another in the last few weeks is not only realistic and timely; it also calls for a greater sense of urgency and creativity on the government’s spending performance,” Mr. Diokno said in an e-mail.

“There is greater urgency for the government to spend on labor-intensive, quick-disbursing, and rural-based projects in order to create jobs in the countryside where a great majority of the poor reside. Since the poor consume what little money they earn, it will increase consumer spending. With higher spending and high multiplier effect, there will be greater economic activity,” he added.

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Found this interesting post for January 4, 2011 in the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines – Home.

 

MANILA, Philippines—Sophisticated transnational drug-trafficking syndicates—including a West African group using overseas Filipino workers as couriers—remain the biggest challenge to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and other agencies involved in the campaign against illegal drugs, according to a report from the US State Department.

From only three in 2008, the number of foreign-based drug organizations operating in the Philippines has increased to nine, according to the department’s 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

“The West African drugs syndicate continues to infiltrate the Philippines with their operations. There is an increase in the recruitment of OFWs to smuggle cocaine and heroin in and out of the country,” said the report which was posted on the website of the US embassy in Manila.

These drug couriers “smuggle and transport illegal drugs to China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Several Filipinos, mostly women, are jailed abroad for drug trafficking and face severe prison sentences, including the death penalty in countries such as China,” it also said.

Billion-dollar industry

The report noted that although the Philippines is not a regional financial center, the illegal drug trade in the country has evolved into a billion-dollar industry, valued at over $8.4 billion (about P368.2 billion) a year.

It said the illegal drug industry here is fueled by foreign-organized criminal activities from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; insurgency groups that partially fund their activities through local crime and the trafficking of narcotics and arms, engaging in money laundering through ties to organized crime; and the proceeds of official or bureaucratic corruption which are also a source of laundered funds.

“Wholesale quantities of crystal methamphetamine (commonly known as shabu) are smuggled into the Philippines and continues to be manufactured clandestinely in the country,” the State Department said.

“Precursor chemicals are smuggled into the country from China, India and Taiwan through international airports, seaports, the mails, as well as via large unpatrolled expanses of the Philippine coastline,” it said.

PH transshipment point

Traffickers take advantage of the Philippines’ long and porous maritime borders to use the country as a transit point for high-grade cocaine and heroin shipments, primarily originating from India and Pakistan, the report said.

Chinese and Taiwanese remain the most influential foreign drug-trafficking groups in the Philippines and control domestic methamphetamine production, the State Department said.

Their chemists continue to establish clandestine laboratories in the Philippines for the manufacture of methamphetamine, it said.

“These traffickers typically produce methamphetamine in relatively small-scale clandestine meth labs commonly referred to as ‘kitchen-type’ labs, which more easily avoid detection by law enforcement authorities,” it said.

Shabu “ranks first in availability and remains the primary drug of choice in the Philippines,” where approximately 95 percent of arrested drug users are addicted to the illegal drug.

According to the 2009 United Nations World Drug Report, the Philippines “ranks fifth in the world in terms of methamphetamine hydrochloride seizures in the last 10 years and has remained a significant source of high-potency crystalline methamphetamine used both domestically and exported to locations in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania.”

The Philippines is also a primary source of shabu for Hawaii and Guam, said the US State Department.

But it noted that “intensified nationwide counter-narcotics operations by Philippine law enforcement agencies have apparently contributed to a reduction in drug supply, inasmuch as drug prices have been erratic in areas of increased enforcement.”

Law enforcement efforts

The Philippine government was cited for making anti-narcotics law enforcement one of its top priorities, with law enforcement agencies such as PDEA, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and Bureau of Customs actively pursuing counter-narcotics enforcement operations.

But though each agency is diligent in its efforts to carry out its mission, “their efforts are hampered by a lack of inter-agency cooperation at higher levels. Severe budgetary constraints also restrict operations and training,” it said.

PDEA, for instance, “remains too small to address the entire nation’s problems with the trafficking and sale of illicit drugs. It currently relies on other agencies for personnel assistance.”

“However, PDEA has established stronger regulatory guidelines and practices, and if provided necessary resources, should continue to develop into an effective drug enforcement agency,” it said.

The PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force “has been an effective drug law enforcement unit and scored several successes in 2009,” according to the State Department.

NBI’s small role

Compared with the PDEA and PNP, the NBI “has played a smaller role in drug enforcement due to its very limited manpower and multi-mission focus. However, its investigative and technical expertise is vital to the overall Philippine counter-narcotics efforts, especially in more complex investigations,” the US agency said.

The State Department said Washington plans to continue working with the Philippine government in the “training of anti-narcotics personnel, intelligence-gathering and infrastructure development.”

“Strengthening bilateral counter-narcotics relationship serves the national interests of both the US and the Philippines,” it added. –Jerry E. Esplanada, Philippine Daily Inquirer

An early 7.3 magnitude earthquake awakens the southern parts of the Philippines. The tremor had an epicenter at 100 kilometers southwest of Cotabato or at 120 south of Pagadian. A depth of 604.5 kilometers was recorded by both the US Geological Survey and the Philippines institute of Volcanology and Seismology at 6:08 in the morning.

Another earthquake was recorded at 6:19 a.m. This time it’s rated at 5.4 magnitude and 594.8 kilometers depth with 95 kilometers west southwest of Cotabato or 115 kilometers south of Pagadian epicenter.

USGS recorded a third quake with a magnitude at 7.6 by 6:51 a.m. Its epicenter was 115 kilometers southwest of Cotabato or 145 kilometers south of Pagadian. The tremor has a depth of 576.3 kilometers. Phivolcs, on the other hand, recorded this third quake at a magnitude of 6.8 a minute later.

The fourth quake was recorded by the USGS at 7:15 a.m. with a magnitude of 7.4 but Philvocs at 6.7. The epicenter was estimated 120 kilometers south or Pagadian or 120 kilometers west south west of Cotabato with a depth of 616.7 kilometers.

An aftershock was felt late, at 8:50 a.m., with a magnitude of 4.9 and estimated epicenter of 100 kilometers southwest of Cotabato or 142 kilometers south of Pagadian. Another aftershock rocked the south by 9:44 a.m. with an estimated 91 kilometers southwest of Cotabato or 136 kilometers south Pagadian. It has a depth of 592.2 kilometers.

The series of quakes were also felt as far as the Bicol Region in Luzon and the metropolitan Manila. Phivolcs director Renato Solidum explained that the depth of an earthquake affects the area where it is felt. The deeper the epicenter is, the larger the area it reaches because the depth amplifies it. Also, deep epicenter earthquakes are usually none damaging because the shakings often diminish at the surface but strongly felt nonetheless. These series of earthquakes, he reports, as effects of Molucca sea plate and Mindanao Island movements. It should be remembered that the Philippines is one of the countries sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire and thus, frequent seismic and volcanic activities can be felt.

SANTA BARBARA, CA -During a search for evidence at the Neverland Valley Ranch, investigators discovered a corpse that has been identified as that of Michael Jackson, Santa Barbara police officials announced Tuesday.

“Coroners have officially pronounced Michael Jackson dead. From what we can tell, he died between 18 and 20 years ago,” forensic investigator Tim Holbrooke said. “We are not certain, at this time, who-or what-has been standing trial in that Santa Maria courthouse.”

According to Holbrooke, Jackson ‘s corpse was buried just inches below a stretch of the miniature-train tracks that run throughout Neverland. The largely desiccated corpse wore the remains of a red, zipper-covered leather jacket and a single glove.

“We positively identified the body as Jackson by his dental records and DNA,” Holbrooke said. “But even before we conducted a single forensic test, we began to suspect that that we’d uncovered the real Michael, and that the disturbing figure claiming to be Jackson was a fake.”

Holbrooke said that, although the corpse was in an advanced stage of decomposition, when investigators compared the body to early-career publicity photos of Jackson , they saw a striking resemblance in bone structure and facial features. But when they compared the body to photos taken after 1987, the resemblance was negligible.
“This discovery raises a lot of questions, but it also sheds light on a number of disturbing incidents,” Holbrooke said. “Frankly, Jackson had been acting pretty strange.”

Above: Investigators move Jackson ‘s body, found buried at Neverland Ranch (above).
Forensic experts and music critics are postulating that Jackson was dead before the release of the multi-platinum album Bad. Detectives are currently analyzing the lyrics to “Man In The Mirror” for any clues relating to a look-alike entity that many suspect murdered the youngest member of the Jackson 5 and assumed his identity.

“We believe that Neverland served as some sort of freakishly whimsical tomb constructed by Jackson ‘s killer,” Holbrooke said. “We also suspect that all of the iniquities that occurred on that ranch were the work of the imposter. I wouldn’t have ever thought it possible, but we are looking at a situation where the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old cancer patient is the tip of the iceberg.”

Holbrooke said that, while the living Jackson is the leading suspect in the murder investigation, he “could be another victim of some sort.”

“Basically, we have no idea what type of creature we are dealing with,” Holbrooke said.
A member of the investigative team that discovered Jackson ‘s body described the experience as “otherworldly.”

“As we neared the perimeter of Neverland, the dogs started whining and howling like crazy,” Santa Barbara County detective Frank Poeller said. “We had to pull them into the house. When we got to Jackson ‘s bedroom, one of them almost choked himself to death on his leash trying to get out through the window. Minutes later, the same dog led us to the corpse.”

A representative from Jackson ‘s self-created label, MJJ Productions, said he was not surprised to find out that the current Jackson is an imposter.

“When we were recording ‘Heal The World’ for Dangerous, I could tell something was terribly, terribly wrong,” MJJ manager Luke Allard said. “Michael didn’t seem like himself anymore. He’d demand bizarre food and sit for hours in a hyperbaric chamber. His appearance began to become more and more peculiar. Soon afterwards, he started wearing a mask and confiding in a chimpanzee.”

“I remember thinking, ‘This man has become a monster,'” Allard said. “If only I’d known how right I was.”

Above: The creature that claims to be Michael Jackson.
Allard said he thinks that the imposter broke ties with Jackson ‘s former friends and surrounded himself with children who were too young to notice the radical change.
Vanity Fair reporter Beth Pither visited Neverland in 1994.

“A strangely fearful staff member led me to Jackson , but ran off before I opened the door,” Pither said. “Standing there with my hand on an ice-cold doorknob, I heard strange, unnatural sounds-leathery wings flapping, a sorrowful wail, and loud hissing. A wave of dread passed through me as I opened the door, but all I found was Michael and some kids in pajamas eating ice cream and watching 101 Dalmatians.”

While their claims have not been corroborated, other Neverland visitors have reported that when when Jackson entered a room, lights flickered, faucets ran blood-red, and screams escaped from the walls.

To aid in the investigation, the FBI enlisted Dr. Richard Weingarden, a noted expert on the paranormal from UC Santa Barbara. After only two hours, Weingarden abandoned the project.
“The smell of sulfur, the decaying facial features, the bizarrely high-pitched voice-it sounds exactly like…” Weingarden said, trailing off. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Not a big deal. Nothing to be terrified about, certainly. I have to go. I’ve got a family.”

Thomas Sneddon, the prosecutor in Jackson ‘s child-molestation lawsuit, said it remains to be seen how the shocking discovery will affect the trial.
Megan Gustafson, who left her post as president of the Akron , OH Michael Jackson Fan Club after the singer was accused of molestation, offered a positive view of the grisly revelation.

“This is very disturbing news,” Gustafson said. “But to be honest, it’s kind of a relief too. Thriller and Off The Wall are really amazing records. Now I can pull them out of my ‘ruined by child abuse’ storage bin and start listening to them again.”

The Earth Hour was once again successful in uniting the world with the issue on global warming. Yesterday, as expected, 2010 Earth Hour became the biggest event ever! Initial report was that Vietnam’s electricity fell half a million KWh during the Earth Hour. This was trice of what they saved when they first join the event in 2009. Though increase in awareness on climate change is the main cause of event, saved energy is going to be the application of this awareness.

Earth Hour 2010 was the fourth of its kind, 2007 being the first. It all started in Sydney with the 2.2 million residents participated with (World Wide Fund for Nature) WWF’s cause in cooperation with The Sydney Morning Herald. From then on, it became a worldwide event and is scheduled every last Saturday of March.

In 2008, 400 cities from 35 countries supported the March 28, 2008 8:00-9:00 Earth Hour. This includes the iconic landmarks in all seven continents. Zogby International equate these to 36 million participants and a four percent increase in awareness on climate change and all other environmental issues.

Another monumental increase was noted in the 2009 Earth Hour held last March 28, 2009 from 8:30 to 9:30 pm. The numbers flared up to 4,088 participating cities from 88 countries. For the first time, United Nations headquarters in New York City participated and save $102 in energy. The United States also topped the participation with 80 million people from 318 cities of its eight states. Philippines seconded with 15 million participants from some 647 cities and towns. Greece followed with 484 cities and towns and Australia with 309.

This year, 137 countries signed up to participate and while the true numbers of people who joined is yet to be finalized, estimates shows that it will also leave the 1 billion goal of 2009 behind.

As promised, Manny Pacquiao brings home the bacon. The guy has now collected 7 world boxing titles, a first in the boxing history, after defeating the welterweight champ Miguel Cotto. Added to his six titles light flyweight, flyweight, bantamweight, super flyweight, featherweight, super featherweight, light welterweight, is the welterweight world belt.

The snag was not an easy one as the two fighters have given the best of themselves in the MGM grand arena. Victor Manny Pacquiao steps off with a bloody ear and the victim Miguel Cotto stripped with his belt.

Manny Pacquiao on Miguel Cotto:

Filipino boxing idol Manny Pacquiao admits that Miguel Cotto gave him a hard time. He might not be the first to hurt him bad on the ring but the guy is really strong and has a resistance you will admire from a boxing pro.

Miguel Cotto on Manny Pacquiao:

The warrior in the welterweight division have also praised Manny Pacquiao for his resistance and speed on the ring, which eventually, lead to his defeat. The man has respect for his defeater and has not disclosed his career plans in the future.

Everyone in the team Pacquiao team and the media men who were with the boxing champ in his bus were stunned to see that Pacquiao, for the first time, dozed off after the fight. Normally, he will be entertaining and making funny comments about his just finished fight. He will also allow immediate interviews. This time, it was different. The guy went to sleep. Everyone then conclude that the fight was really one of the most tormenting kind in his boxing career.

perseidIf the weather will permit, we will have a spectacular viewing of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower; which is expected in the wee hours of August 12, but late Tuesday and Thursday nights may also be fruitful.

August is the month for meteor showers, although Perseid is known to be already around since July 17. The Perseid is debris that came from Swift Tuttle comet as it orbits around the sun and laid bits of its outer crust on several locations. We always get a great show of these sand-like sparklings on a dark night every August since it is the month when Earth passes the same orbit Swift Tuttle leave behind.

About 200 meteors per hour are expected to burst of up to 15 minutes tonight; but the problem will be the great moonlight shine, which will surely keep us all from getting a good glimpse of the show. Somebody told me that positioning oneself where the moon will be behind a tree will help make the show visible. Well, let’s see if that will be a good tip for tonight’s grand Perseid meteor shower!