The Wall Street Journal (which, editorially, has previously been supportive of the President) greets the President’s arrival in New York with a raspberry: see the op-ed piece, Powering Down the Philippine Economy:
Tomorrow in New York, Ms. Arroyo will woo well-heeled potential investors at a $5,000-a-table luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria, where she is expected to give an upbeat presentation on Philippine infrastructure financing and ongoing privatization efforts.
Ms. Arroyo’s boasts ring hollow, however, given her country’s inhospitable climate for foreign investment… Even worse, Ms. Arroyo and her political allies back in Manila don’t seem to care that they are sending signals that would cause any potential investor to cringe.
Take the most recent bungle: the liberalization of the notoriously inefficient Philippine energy sector. In 2001, a newly sworn-in President Arroyo signed legislation calling for at least 70% of the government-owned National Power Corporation, known as Napocor — long one of the country’s worst symbols of inefficiency and corruption — to be privatized. Even though Ms. Arroyo’s administration has dragged its feet in following through with the reforms, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 is working, albeit slowly.
Today, slightly more than 40% of Napocor is privately owned… By year’s end, the reform act’s goal of privatizing at least 70% of Napocor could be realized.
But will Manila allow that to happen? Last December, the Arroyo administration announced that it wanted to amend the reform act by Christmas, to ensure that the government would retain control of at least 50% of Napocor. Hardly for the first time, the government in Manila was reminding foreign investors that the economic goal posts could be moved in the late innings. In the House of Representatives, the antireform legislation’s chief sponsor is the chairman of the energy committee, Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, the president’s son.
When the heads of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce protested the roll-back of Napocor’s privatization in a May 27 letter to Ms. Arroyo, the president’s allies in the senate exploded in nationalistic outrage…
“My goodness, get out of this country if you can’t live with us,” Sen. Juan Ponce-Enrile told Mr. D’Aboville, who has lived in the Philippines for 31 years and is married to a Filipina. Added another presidential ally, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, “You may not continue. You do not determine what you can say or not say. I determine.”
Unembarrassed by such a display of legislative intemperance, Ms. Arroyo has brought Sen. Santiago with her to New York, where the president is lobbying the United Nations to give her a seat on the International Court of Justice. Asked by reporters right after the hearing if the senators’ June 6 bullying of the foreign businessman had been inappropriate, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said he didn’t think so. A few days later, Ms. Arroyo — possibly having been informed that several European ambassadors were prepared to file a formal diplomatic protest — came out with a statement thanking foreign investors for being part of her country’s “success.”
Ms. Arroyo has argued that government control of power plants is a more efficient way of keeping electricity prices down than private competitors who will compete in the marketplace — surely a strange argument from a woman who has a doctorate in economics. Making matters worse, her administration is engaged in a separate but equally embarrassing power struggle for control of the board of directors of the Philippines’ largest private electricity distributor, the Manila Electric Co. The company is controlled by the powerful Lopez family, one of the Philippines’ most enduring oligarchies. In addition, the Philippine government holds a 30% stake and is represented on the board.
To be sure, there is a case that could be made that Meralco, which controls some 70% of electricity on the big island of Luzon, is a monopoly that should be subjected to the pressures of real market competition. But the political intensity of the Arroyo administration’s personal attacks on the Lopez family suggests — especially to watching foreigners — that an agenda is at work that goes beyond economics. Specifically, the fight between Ms. Arroyo’s family and the Lopez business empire seems to personify the latest example of feuding family clans that have long been a major source of the Philippines’s economic and political fragility. In the early 1960s, when Ms. Arroyo’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, was president, he also tried to wrest control of Meralco from the Lopez family.
Ms. Arroyo needs to understand that when Manila promises to open up major sectors of the economy to reforms that would foster real competition, those promises should not be broken.
Over at Inquirer Current, I pointed out the ratio of Filipino to American congressmen was 5:1. The Inquirer editorial for today points something out I’d observed in my column yesterday:
Is it wrong to criticize the President for not returning to the country immediately?
To answer the question, we must first respond to the image engineering campaign already underway that seeks to paint the President as taking the extra step, as going out of her way, to oversee recovery and rehabilitation efforts in the Philippines. Malacañang has highlighted the fact that she has been conducting videoconferences with the Cabinet and the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). On June 24, the meeting was held at 3 in the morning; the following day, it was held at 1:30 a.m.
Allow us to point out the obvious, which seems to have been buried under the publicity avalanche: While it was very early in the morning here in the Philippines, it was the middle of the day in Washington, D.C. In other words, it was the Cabinet and NDCC officials who went out of their way, to meet the President’s schedule.
We have long noted the President’s extraordinary grasp of detail, and even her many political enemies acknowledge her prodigious capacity for work (in marked contrast to her predecessor), but it seems a cruel joke to force her officials to attend meetings in the wee hours, just so she can be seen to call the shots.
Her main ally in Congress, House Speaker Prospero Nograles, argues that Vice President Noli de Castro was “more than capable” to serve as “caretaker president” (gratuitously adding that this was “precisely why we have him as our vice president”). But this able-caretaker argument runs directly counter to the President’s idea of government-by-video-conference. If Vice President De Castro is in charge, why doesn’t Ms Arroyo allow him to take charge? Her intervention by “modern communication technology” undermines the vice presidency, at the exact time her allies in the administration coalition seek to build up De Castro’s reputation.
More tellingly, her use of “modern communication technology” undermines her own case for sticking to the original schedule. If there is a pressing need for the President to actively coordinate the work of the Cabinet and the NDCC at this time of shock and grief, what is she still doing in the United States?
Latest figures put death toll from Typhoon ‘Frank’ at 622 with 2.4 million people displaced in 14 regions. And as if things couldn’t get worse, they did: ‘Princess’ dives, retrieval stopped due to chemical shipment. And Sulpicio’s yard yields 7,000 sacks of ‘smuggled’ sugar.
Passenger shipping industry drowns while budget airlines fly high points out, though, that if it had happened in previous years, the casualty list from the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars might have been much higher:
The ill-fated Sulpicio Line ship plying the primary Manila-Cebu route had a capacity of 1,992 passengers, excluding crew members. But when it encountered rough waters during a typhoon and capsized in June 21, it was only carrying over 700 passengers and more than a hundred crew members.
It means the massive 23,824-ton ship was going ahead with an expected business-as-usual day with just about 40 percent load.
Compare that with another ship also owned by Sulpicio Line, the M/V Dona Paz, which sank in 1987 after colliding with a small oil tanker. Its weight was just 2,215-ton, a fraction of M/V Princess of the Stars’.
M/V Dona Paz had a capacity of only 1,518 passengers, but after the tragedy it was found to be carrying more than twice what it was allowed. Investigations following its sinking showed that it was overloaded and up to 4,375 people onboard died. It has gone down in history as the worst maritime disaster during peacetime.
The M/V Dona Paz tragedy, however, occurred during the Christmas holidays, a peak season in the travel industry. M/V Princess of the Stars, on the other hand, was traveling during a traditionally low season…
…Depending on the season and timing of purchase, a round trip plane fare between Manila and Cebu could go as low as P3,000. In the past, round trip boat fares on the same route hovered between P4,000 to P8,000. But even at reduced rates of up to a little over P2,000, the small difference with the cost of flying have enticed some to convert.
The airlines could afford to offer these low fares after they adopted a sophisticated pricing strategy that guided budget carriers in allocating more discounted seats during the lean months of June to October to improve their load factor, or the measure of how full the aircraft is. Thus, even on lean months, Cebu Pacific’s load factor can go as high as 80 percent.
Flying budget airlines is not only more affordable now, it is also more convenient. A Manila-Cebu boat ride, for example, takes almost a day. A plane ride, on the other hand, takes just over an hour…
…According to the Philippine Ports Authority data, in 2005, overall recorded passengers taking sea-based transport grew by only 2.55 percent. It has been downhill since.
In 2006, total sea craft passengers dropped by 8.27 percent. That’s only 42.56 million passengers for the entire year. Data for 2007 is expected to show that passenger counts plunged deeper.
The business decisions of market leader and publicly listed Aboitiz Transport Services in 2007 provided indications on where this industry is headed. The dramatic reduction in their passenger loads cut their revenues up to 30 percent in 2007.
To adapt, they have converted several of their passenger-cargo lines, under the Superferry brand, to accommodate more cargo than passengers.
This means shipping companies such as Aboitiz Transport and Sulpicio lines have joined another competitor – the government-backed roll-on-roll-off (RORO) operations, which resulted in lower operating costs not only for cargo operators but also as another substitute for passengers who still could not afford flying.
Roro is less expensive for those involved in the cargo business because of its multi-port approach. For example, a Roro boat that leaves the Batangas port can pass by various smaller islands, such as Mindoro and a few more islands, which are not traditionally serviced by other big boats because business there used to be not as brisk as, say the likes of Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan de Oro, where there are more commercial activities.
Roro, which was launched in 2003, has since led to changes in areas and islands that used to be left behind in terms of economic development. According to Henry Basilio, a transportation export from the University of Asia and the Pacific, cargo traffic for Roro vessels in 2003 was only at 30,000 metric tons. He said this has since increased exponentially to 240,000 metric tons recently.
And the usual gruesome panic: DOH allays fears of fish poisoning. At least here’s some slightly less depressing marine-related news: people have been entranced by the heroic but tragic story of the dolphin that tried to save a fisherman: but both died. See the reactions of Pine for Pine, and view from the sugar island.
The United States gave $100,000 and sent a carrier task force (helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan are delivering food, water, and generators to Panay; US Navy divers have been helping with efforts at the wreck of the Princess of the Stars); the People’s Republic of China gave $100,000 also, South Korea donated $300,000.
A major fundraising effort’s begun overseas with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent appealing for $8 million for typhoon aid to the Philippines
all these things that i’ve done lists the different ways (direct deposits to bank accounts, credit card and online donations, even donations through SMS) people can make donations to the Philippine National Red Cross.
Individual bloggers have taken to propagating information for those who want to make donations for specific locations. Touched by An Angel has joined an effort to help the children of San Fernando, Sibuyan Island (see Sibuyan mayor cries: We are victims, too). Clothing, books, toys, and food gathered for the kids will be sent through the Red Cross.
Phoenix Portal recounts how a group of animators got together and helped out in relief efforts in Iloilo, with the help of SM Foundation.
Much more needs to be done.
Kalibo residents going hungry, still waiting for relief:
Because of limited supply, the prices of all commodities have gone up. A ganta (2.4 kilos) of commercial rice, which sold at P65 to P70 before the typhoon, now sells at P120 to P150. Fortunately, the National Food Authority loaned the municipal government several sacks of rice. Rebaldo said these have been distributed to the poorest residents of the different barangays. But the supply will not last very long.
“These are all on loan. We don’t have money in the municipal government,” Rebaldo said.
The flashflood also killed most of the livestock of the town. “In one barangay, 200 cows drowned,” the mayor said. Many pigs, chicken and carabaos also died during the typhoon, he said. Water reached a low of 8 feet to a high of 12 feet in the entire town. The waters are gone now but mud is up to one foot high. Kalibo is the catch basin of Aklan. (Aklan means river in English.)
The individual stories are what matter, now, and here they are: Ella’s Virtual Nook has photos of the damage done to New Washington, Aklan, including the wrecking of the blogger’s own home.
In Romblon, JPMonje.net gives a thorough account:
Typhoon Frank’s gusty winds and heavy rains where experienced in Tablas island in Romblon Saturday morning. I thought the storm lashed out through the night until I found out that it hasn’t passed by the island yet. The electricity in our shop in Odiongan, Romblon suffered low voltage problems which started last Friday night. It was difficult to acquire some updates in the Internet about Frank’s projected route since power outage is intermittent. Add to that the mobile carrier signal there drops out every time. In a nearby store, I bought some eggs for our breakfast. Mrs. Norie who man the store informed me that there had been a sea mishap happened near Sibuyan Island. Later that morning, I recieved conflicting reports that all the passengers aboard the ship died. Some said there were a handful of survivors. A tidal wave was reported also in Alcantara, Romblon which I assumed it was a storm surge that hit the area.
My companion and I decided we should close the shop for that day. Since the typhoon signal in Romblon had been raised from 2 to 3, it is better that we call it a day-off to us and for our two secretaries. Since it was pouring that time, we decided to bathe ourselves in the rain and traverse the road leading to the famous “Baywalk” in barangay Tabing-Dagat. I managed to fight the freezing temperatures while gusty winds and rain hit me. It took us 15 minutes to reach the area. Upon seeing the area, debris were scattered everywhere. Stalls and cottages were destroyed and big brown waves came rushing into the shore. This could take days to clean up when the storm’s gone. The government spent more than a million pesos to rehabilitate the baywalk area. Good thing the new light posts like that in the Roxas Boulevard in Manila survived the vicous winds. We roamed the area and went back to the shop 30 minutes later.
Around noon, the power went back and I tuned in to the radio for news about the vessel tragedy. It was confirmed, the vessel “Princess of the Stars” of Sulpicio Lines capsized near Sibuyan Island. I was a horrific tragedy and I felt bad learning that there are few passengers survived. Sibuyan Island’s surrounding waters had been always rough even without a storm based from my experiences travelling there before. With that in mind, I could not imagine how big the waves were at that time of the storm. It was unbelievable that the largest ship in the Philippines could capsize like that.
The storm arrived in Romblon around 5:30 pm and brought strong winds and pouring rain that night. I took my digital camera and recorded a video of the storm inside the shop before dark. I hope I could upload it and post it in my blog. The next morning, only a handful of GI sheets, uprooted trees and trash clutter the streets.
In Roxas City, news reaching chemical rhapsody isn’t good,
Right now, my mother has to travel to Roxas City in search of a photo processing shop so she could have the pictures developed, as well as coordinate with DepEd Capiz. She’s been working closely with concerned agencies and they’re putting together a situational report for an upcoming meeting with the President.
My in-laws, however, said the electricity in Roxas City is still too feeble and could only power lights — not enough output yet to power an establishment. I hope the more-established shops there have their own generators. Otherwise my mother would have to go for Iloilo.
…as confirmed by Bloggy Blog: A College Student in Capiz:
Some parts of roxas city, capiz have no power supply because of the damaged hits by typhoon frank last saturday. According to Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council(PDCC) in the Province of Capiz, the number of Barangay affected by the typhoon frank are 47 brgy in roxas city, 5 were died, 5 were also injured, and 6 persons are still missing. Not only roxas city was affected in this typhoon frank but the other places also in western visayas were affected.
In Iloilo, Barangay OFW reprints an email from a nun, Sister Fidelisa Portillo, who recounts the situation at Aklan and then,
But as far as storms go, this is nothing. The wind was not that strong. Iloilo has experienced typhoons far, far worse than this. Which is why it was an utter shock for me when I turned on the radio at 1 pm nga grabe na gali ang situation in the city and Pavia. By 3-4 pm, a lot of calls were coming in asking to be rescued. We were caught flat-footed and we were really not prepared for this. It was each to his own.
Even the radio reporters felt bad. There really was no way to get to those who needed to be rescued. Just listening made you also feel bad. Each town knew they’re on their own. Roads were under water, bridges had collapsed. The city was able to borrow 10 jet skis, some rubber boats and two pump boats. 7 pm pa lang, naguba na ang pump boats.
The family of Mayor Treñas was rescued out of their house at past 10:30 pm. Big boys are not supposed to cry, but several mayors were crying, their voices breaking! Out of helplessness at the overwhelming cries for help nga wala man sila mahimo.
Vivian called the Disaster Coordinating Center to help her sister in Alta Tierra but she was told that there’s nothing more they can do at the moment.
The sugar central in San Enrique had 10 feet high of water, tunaw ang sugar. The NFA warehouse, flooded ang sacks of rice nga bag-o lang na deliver. For the first time ever, would you believe, the road from SM City up to the Marina had waist-high water? A lot of people, among them, one of George’s med reps spent the night at SM City. It became an evacuation site of sorts sang mga surrounding baranggays.
SM opened their food court area and the canopy and stairs to accommodate people. And they had to close the malls yesterday and today. School will resume on Wednesday. Now, there’s cleaning up. Nagakaubos pala diri. The mud can’t be rid of by just hosing it down. Sobra 1 foot ang thickness sang mud.
Worse, some areas will take 4 to 5 days for power to be back. Ang area Jaro up wala pa water coz the water pipes from Maasin are broken. Wala ni rich or poor subong sa areas affected. All of them are buried in muck.
By way of village idiot savant, the testimony and pictures of Bored Blather: mud, mud, everywhere.
And Bits and Pieces of Roxie provides snippets from typhoon-related stories:
*Gigi and her daughter were trying to save their television, when they saw a snake slither through the water. Plok! Down goes the tv under water, and up they run to the second level of their house.
*Nora spent three days on top their roof. She lived near Jaro CPU area. Saw her yesterday, puffy eyed and dead tired. She was able to save three backpacks of belongings and the rest were stuffed in two plastic bags.
From someone, Nostalgia, on an unidentified island:
Typhoon “Frank” hits our island at around 3 p.m., at first it was just signal number 1, but eventually turned into number 3.Apprehensions flood my mind as the storm brought down heavy downpours and very strong winds. We were covering the windows with heavy blankets just to fend off splashes of water and laid out on the floor rags and old clothes to absorb the rainwater that has finally seeped in.At around 7 p.m. the wind grew stronger and trashings and poundings grew louder and louder. Our house being the tallest in the neighborhood almost had all the beatings of the storm. It lasted until the wee hours of the morning, the longest that I’ve witnessed so far. By the morning, the intensity of the damage spread before our eyes. Whew!
And from a foreign tourist, in Adventures in Asia 2008, tracing their journey from Camiguin to Manila to Taiwan:
The night before we were due to leave for the mainland all the ferries had been cancelled and the part of the beach that wasn’t already under water was constantly beaten by frothing waves. Amazingly, the wind had eased by morning and we felt lucky that we wouldn’t be missing any of our upcoming flights. At the airport, on our way from Cagayan to Manila, I made the mistake of thinking that we had a good chance of experiencing our first on-time departure with Cebu Pacific Air. 7 hours later, freezing from the powerful A/C and braindead from watching the same five horrible commercials on loop in the departure hall (literally a big room with nothing but chairs and said crappy TV) the loudspeaker announced that all passengers should go through security and get ready to board. As if we hadn’t already been ready and waiting for half the day!
The Manila that we landed in was completely different from the sunny place we had left about a month earlier. Palmtrees looked like they would snap in half from the gale force winds and it was difficult to find shelter from the downpour. During the cab ride to our hostel we were in the midst of scenes I’ve only seen on the news before – people wading in knee-deep water surrounded by cars that should have been rowed rather than driven down the street. The disappointment of our flight to Taiwan having been moved forward by a day so as to avoid Frank, who was supposed to have been wreaking havoc in Taipei around the time we were due to land, was tempered by our discovery of Manila’s shopping malls. We were luckier than many people in that the main damage caused by Frank was to our bank accounts!
And it’s inevitable paranormal concerns have been raised, see sweet n sour and the more elaborate theory of Ang Umalohokan on “The Romblon Triangle”:
A lot of folklore surrounds the story behind the Romblon Triangle, from mermaids to cursed seas. Even galleon crews plying the Sibuyan Sea as they follow the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route are enchanted by the waters of the area. Everytime a galleon enters the waters, special prayers and offerings are performed to appease the spirits haunting the area.
But one well-known legend behind the countless of maritime disasters in Romblon was the legend of a certain Lolo Amang. Lolo Amang is said to be the Flying Dutchman of Romblon, a local version of the famous Cape of Good Hope ghost ship. Lolo Amang is said to frequent the waters of the province aboard a huge golden boat at night. His boat is so beautiful and shiny that seafarers can see it even a mile away. Once lured by the light of his golden boat, eyewitness claim to see a huge party aboard the ship with fair-skinned women, music and food. One eyewitness of the M/V Don Juan tragedy reported seeing Lolo Amang’s ship before it collided with M/V Tacloban. The captain tried to avoid the ghost ship but ended up colliding with the ill-fated cargo vessel.
Lolo Amang is so well known in Romblon that some of his believers even collected taxes from unsuspecting residents. My great-grandfather who was the police chief of Banton Island in Romblon reportedly investigated this scheme and found out that some albularios or quack doctors are taking advantage of the Lolo Amang myth. When interviewed, these herbalists claim that Lolo Amang resides in a secret lair in a certain Barangay Cayatong in Looc or Ferrol town in Tablas Island. Up to this day, such place in Tablas is still shrouded in mystery, with reports of mysterious ships being sighted and late night parties in the middle of coconut groves were heard of.
In the end, there is not concrete evidence to prove the Lolo Amang myth. It could’ve been invited by the crews of the sunken vessels themselves to escape liabilities. It could also be a deliberate hoax to instill panic and fear among the islanders of the archipelago. It is only a matter of circumstances that made the waters of Romblon famous in the history of maritime disasters.
We keep hearing that the sinking of the Dona Paz was the “worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.” So what was the worst wartime maritime disaster? The sinking of the “Strength Through Joy” ocean liner Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945.
Also, here’s another thing to worry about: RP faces corn shortage: Official blames high prices of fertilizers for crisis.
In a consultative meeting Thursday on the commercialization of organic and microbial fertilizers, Dennis Araullo, the head of GMA (Ginintuang Masaganang Ani) Corn Program, said the high prices of inorganic fertilizers are forcing many farmers not to plant corn, or cut their planting of the crop by half. Corn in the Philippines is largely grown for animal feeds.
If the national production of corn does not meet the 7.9-million metric ton target for this year, the country may have to import the grain. This option poses problems, since corn is in short supply worldwide because it is a major biofuel crop…
…The Department of Agriculture has declared a no-corn importation policy for this year, even if about 120,000 metric tons of corn were imported in 2008.
Araullo said a corn shortage will badly hit the domestic livestock and poultry industry, possibly forcing the closure of many firms in that industry.
If that is not enough, people who eat white corn in place of rice will also be affected, and might switch back to eating rice. Based on estimates of local food experts, up to 15 million Filipinos are eating white corn instead of white rice.
Filed away for future reference department: Beyond brain drain: Human capital increasingly votes with its feet in The Economist. Link to Tourism stakeholders: No other way but to train people to replace those who go abroad and New hires in Metro Manila firms replaced those workers who exited from The Business Mirror.
Headaches for America’s allies: In South Korea, US Compromise on Beef Fails to Dent Korean Protest; in India, Nuclear Heat in India. In Japan, note Sino-Japanese oil exploration deal in Breathing Room for Japan’s Fukuda.