USAID Special Feature: USAID Helps Mindanao folk strengthen climate resilience
BAGANGA, Davao Oriental – All his life, Edilberto Bohol lived off the sea. On good days, he catches just enough fish to provide for his family.
However, he and his colleagues struggle just to meet their basic needs. Edilberto catches fish in the traditional hook and line method, which can bring meager returns.
As a result, he, and many of the province’s 15,000 fishers, live below the poverty threshold. “I have been fishing since I was small. The same is true with my father. I only finished high school, and this is the only livelihood I know,” said Bohol.
Seeking to improve the plight of these fishing communities, government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) conducted agriculture and aquaculture training and distributed seedlings, fish fry and other production inputs to help improve livelihoods in the area.
Unfortunately, Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) struck the province before these programs could reap their intended results.
Profitable and Sustainable
And the very resources that these fisher folk relied on for their survival were wiped out. More than 400 fishing boats were damaged and almost all fish-rearing structures in Boston, Baganga, and Cateel—municipalities severely affected by Pablo—were decimated. Projects that were underway were likewise wiped out.
During the immediate aftermath of Pablo, local governments tried to focus on underlying poverty issues of their areas and resume daily fishing activities. There was an obvious need, however, to introduce alternative livelihood opportunities that could be more profitable and sustainable.
The U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, supports this idea.
Following a rapid assessment, USAID designed and implemented a multi-component disaster recovery program in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces, under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority.
USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria D. Steele said, “The recovery program is part of the U.S. Government’s Php768 million disaster assistance to help Typhoon Pablo victims recover from the catastrophe.
This consisted of education, infrastructure, climate adaptation strengthening, agriculture and aquaculture livelihood assistance for the most severely affected municipalities.”
The multi-component approach included the introduction of high-value aquaculture to typhoon-affected fisher folk in both provinces.
The provincial Government of Davao Oriental was also provided with a high-value aquaculture industry development plan, which presents the results of a study on the viability of grouper (or lapu-lapu) production to help drive sustainable economic growth in the province.
The plan was formally handed over to Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon in August 2013. It notes that grouper is expected to give better returns to growers compared traditional aquaculture commodities, like milkfish and tilapia.
This target commodity presents the most potential for promotion and development in the area, considering its high market price, local and export market demand, availability of suitable mariculture sites and advances in technology.
The short to long-term strategies presented in the plan may also take off from the activities implemented by USAID through GEM.
USAID, in collaboration with the provincial government and BFAR, conducted a series of workshops on grouper farming for select growers associations in coastal towns. To help strengthen their climate resilience, the skills expansion effort included the construction of weather-resistant fish cages using locally sourced materials.
Fisherfolk in landlocked towns were trained on inland freshwater aquaculture.
They were also taught climate adaptation and mitigation techniques to address flooding and unstable oxygen levels that occur in fishponds when water temperature rises.
Majority of these growers received hatchery-bred grouper juveniles, milkfish fingerlings, formulated feeds and other start up materials from USAID.
“The project reached about 2,000 fisherfolk. The technologies we introduced are cost-effective, highly replicable and will also avert potential losses due to adverse weather conditions,” said Lauro Tito Ilagan, USAID-GEM Aquaculture Team Leader.
“Lapu-lapu farming can be very profitable and sustainable. At two production cycles per year, a four-compartment fish cage will allow a net income of as much as Php200,000,” Ilagan explained.
Edilberto and members of the Kinablangan Fisherfolk Association, which he chairs, are about to enjoy their first harvest of grouper.
“We can sell these at about Php500 a kilo,” he said, thanking USAID for helping his hometown. “We will reinvest part of our income to buy fingerlings and other inputs so that we can continue to improve our lives.”
Other growers groups that participated in the project, such as the Mabini Fisherfolk Association, are also on their way to recovery.
Prior to their foray into grouper production, the members were engaged in traditional cage culture of low-value milkfish which they sold for about Php100 per kilo in local wet markets. On their first cycle of production, they stand to earn approximately Php260,000.
“The seeds of recovery that we planted a year ago through a strong partnership between the Philippine and United States governments are beginning to bear fruit.
The U.S. Government will continue to work with our Philippine Government partners to help Typhoon Pablo-affected provinces recover and achieve lasting peace and greater prosperity for all of its residents,” Director Steele said.
Explosive Dead Whale
The residents of a town on Canada’s Newfoundland Island fear a blue whale carcass that washed up on its boardwalk last week could explode at any time.
The 25m (81ft) whale on Trout River’s rocky beach is one of several believed to have died in heavy ice weeks ago.
Town Clerk Emily Butler says the body is bloated with methane gas caused by decomposition and will soon reek, regardless of whether it explodes.
Local and federal authorities disagree which are responsible for its disposal.
Ms Butler said the town of 600 people did not have the resources to deal safely with the carcass, though Canadian officials say it is their responsibility.
She told broadcaster NTV that if the town were to push the whale out to sea, it could pose a hazard to passing ships.
The whale appears to have bloated beyond twice its normal size
The town, a tourist destination inside Gros Morne National Park on the Canadian island’s west coast, has seen a new type of visitor since the whale carcass came ashore.
“It’s very difficult to keep people away, simply because it’s not too often that you see a blue whale,” Ms Butler told broadcaster CBC.
Last year a sperm whale carcass that washed up on the Faroe Islands exploded as a biologist attempted to dissect it.
Topless Woman Dances with Bees
Mapelli, 44, has created a lot of Internet buzz by topless dancing with 12,000 bees all at once.
The Portland, Oregon-based beekeeper describes her bee dances as “a duet among many.”
“These 12,000 bees push with their powerful wings from each side of my body, I resist and then I let go and flow and move with them,” she writes on her website.” It is a deep meditation and I feel the hive mind surround me, hold me, and expand my body on a cellular level.”
In order to attract the bees to her topless body, Mapelli anoints her body with a special pheromone oil that is equivalent to the scent of 100 queen bees.
The bees usually stay on her body for about two hours at a time.
When Mapelli is done shaking her tail feather with the bees, an assistant removes the pheromone oil around her neck and then she jumps up and down to shake off the swarm, the Daily Mail reports.
She then removes any stingers sticking to her flesh with a soft brush.
Mapelli believes her bee dances send a message to the bees as well.
“I hope to help the bees of the Northwest by encouraging them to swarm and become hardy to the ever-changing environment,” she said in the description for a bee dance video posted to YouTube in 2012.
“Na-Edca-Han Na Naman Tayo”
Many Filipinos are wondering, why is it that the signing of a very important pact as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which is actually the centerpiece of US President Barack Obama’s visit was not signed by the US and PH presidents? Instead was signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg hours before the arrival of Pres. Barack Obama. To think, the signing was not even witnessed by the two presidents.
Some pundits believe that the EDCA was not signed by the two heads of state, because US does not want to hurt China in the process. So it is quite obvious that every time the issue of how far Uncle Sam will help the country in times of trouble with China (and/or other aggressor) the safe answer of the big brother – “We are not doing this because of China. We are doing this because we have a longstanding alliance partner [the Philippines]. They are interested in stepping up our military-to-military,” and “we (US) just want a peaceful and safe navigation in the South China Sea”. All rhetoric, but can we fault them in protecting their interests!
We really never learned from the past agreements that we had with the US, always lopsided, favoring the US more and in the end we are shortchanged (again). So the doublespeak of PNoy’s people of not allowing the Filipinos to be shortchanged in the latest pact are all double talk.
Like what the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other organizations observed – they have been unimpressed, seeing the EDCA as an open invitation to a molester to offer protection against a touted bully. “The oft repeated rationale,” explained Bayan’s secretary Renato M. Reyes, Jr. is that we need this agreement with the US to protect ourselves from Chinese incursions. So what Aquino is basically saying is, to protect Filipinos from the neighborhood bully, we’re inviting a rapist inside our house to do as he pleases.” (by Binoy Kampmark)
Just like what I have been saying for so long now in my writings and daily radio program – this is rape with consent. Again, no thanks to our leaders.
Furthermore, in this EDCA, the so-called camp sharing operation will make the whole country as Uncle Sam’s military base. So the ‘chubibo’ of not going to build new US military bases here is true because through camp sharing scheme, US will not pay any rent and all the AFP’s camps from north to south of the archipelago will be the US ‘military base’, free of charge, translation – ‘rape with consent’. Need we say more?
And remember, back in August 2009, in her affidavit, Navy officer Nancy Gadian accused the US military of building permanent structures in different military camps in the country. She said US forces have established “permanent” and “continuous” presence in Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the south.
She added that the Philippine military has no access to the camps built by the US soldiers in these areas since they are “fenced off by barbed wires and guarded by US Marines.”
Gadian likewise said these structures are indications the US troops had no intention of leaving the country, which is a violation of the Philippine Constitution.
For over a decade now, we are actually being ‘screwed’ with the willingness of past and present administrations in the guise of being part of the coalition of the willing to fight the global war on terror of then President George ‘Dubya” Bush Jr.
And like what former senator Joker Arroyo said “What did the Philippines get out of the Obama visit? Zero.”
Especially on the part of our Filipino war veterans that was tackled by a former ambassador Jose Zaide, a pro- American historian turned patriot in his article (April 28 at the Manila Bulletin) “the more than 250,000 Filipinos who fought for USA in WW2 and shared the same foxholes with US troops were promised equal treatment. But the US Congress 1946 Rescission Act denied Filipino war vets, making a dishonest man of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Filipino WW2 vets were only collateral damage (add-on) to the Recission Act, which was passed principally for the purpose of controlling excessive claims of US war supplies providers.
In 2009, US Congress threw small bones granting one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino vets in the USA and $9,000 to those in PH. More crumbs promised to Filipino vets helped swing trusting Pinoys in USA to vote for re-election of Barack Obama.
Our problem is that the GPH representing the Filipino WW2 vets has one eye cocked at its own shopping list (for hand-me-down armaments and surplus and other USAID).
US Congress, which passed the Recission law, would not reverse itself. (No constituency in support of granting monies to historical allies.)
On hindsight, Filipino WW2 vets should do their own pleading, i.e., sue the US government at the US Supreme Court, which will be no less noble than the French Court de Cessation and the British High Court.”
As a whole, all the excitement and fanfare that the Obama visit has created in the country are all ‘chubibo’ and sadly, the current administration welcomed the EDCA with open legs. Carol P. Araullo of Businessworld said the EDCA is a negotiated surrender of our sovereignty.
“Na-EDCA-han na naman tayo”
Political Science sophomore Billy Chang rose from his seat while putting on his back pack and thanking me for the hour-long tête-à-tête we had shared. The young Chinese national strode out of the burger restaurant to catch his class, happily looking forward to sharing with his teacher and classmates some ideas he had just acquired. I had of course made him promise not to identify me as the source of those ideas, and to describe them as mere opinions from a lawyer. Hereunder is a discussion of those opinions.
I find it a bit unfortunate, though not unexpected, that Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has assailed the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) as having been forged in “bad faith” by and between US Pres. Barack Obama and PH Pres. BS Aquino lll. Well, make no mistake about this: The lady who is the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is among the sharpest lawyers in the upper chamber, but she’s still human, given as she is to AGD (attention getting device) antics at moments least expected. With all due respect, I differ from her opinion for the following reasons.
1) The two EDCA signatories, National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, were no ornery “subalterns”, or subordinates who were unclothed with authority as suggested by MDS, but “alter egos” (other selves) who had been authorized by their respective presidents to act on the document in their behalf;
2) A sensitive examination of the two presidents’ demeanor, their words and manner of speaking and body language, particularly Obama’s, demonstrates a level of diplomacy that is associated with good faith; and
3) In the absence of any palpable indicia of bad faith — and there appears to be none in the premises — the universal principle of “presumption of good faith” shall prevail.
EDCA is an agreement that partakes of the nature of a treaty and, as such, should have been brought to the senate for approval, consistent with the upper house’s constitutional role in treaty making. It isn’t too late, and there should be no problem in that regard because a comfortable majority of the senators are P-Noy’s allies. Until then, EDCA remains open to question before the Supreme Court, although I believe the treaty will ultimately hold sway under its scrutiny.
And as for other EDCA-related issues that have loomed as grounds for attacking the agreement as unconstitutional, the high tribunal will hopefully see those anti-EDCA petitions as exercises in futility, given our people’s widespread pro-American culture and an exigent imperative for a counterbalance against saber-rattling China. The Court may well take judicial notice of our people’s ingrained stars-and-stripes second nature, and recognize it as its wellspring of vitality and direction in the discharge of its office. After all, the judiciary is ordained to serve, like the rest of government, the interests of its creator: the sovereign citizens.
With respect to those Maoists and other Communist-leaning militants who made a lot of infernal racket during Obama’s two-day-one-night state visit, my comment on Billy’s worry is: these Reds mouth nationalism and patriotism, but power is all they want. There is no way they can win the hearts and minds of nearly a hundred million compatriots who oppose them. Let us recall that when Martial Law enforcers hunted them down, many fled the country for Uncle Sam’s protection. During Obama’s state visit, they burned effigies of Uncle Sam. In fact, they have never denounced China’s bullying tactics!! AGD syndrome?!
Incidentally, many seriously question the quality of the United States’ commitment to defend the Philippines under the terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, as modified by EDCA. In this respect, I hold the view that because at that time we had not yet officially defined our West Philippine Sea territory, much less declared an adverse claim to it against the whole world, the “vagueness” of Obama’s commitment to lend us military support in case of external aggression is understandable.
However, this vagueness shouldn’t discourage us from believing that the black US President, whose great rhetoric twice brought him to the White House, used the same verbal finesse not to hoodwink us but to pledge — in the most diplomatic manner possible — America’s willingness to shed her blood in defense of her Filipino brothers in times of war.
Let Mr. Barack Obama’s ironclad pledge continue to peal in the air, in which are couched his delicate reassurances — “…Our goal is not to conquer China; our goal is not to contain China…(but) to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of maritime disputes. We don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks.”
If “actions speak louder than words”, diplomacy may again prove more forceful than bullets.
( http://musingsbyroy.wordpress.com | 09186449517 | @rqonald8roy | #musingsbyroy)
PAL Saves Sharks
By Nicole Ann M. Aguila
All people might not know how important sharks are on our planet, thus raising awareness is the key to finally educate the whole world reasons why we must protect them.
Who would have thought that an airline company will put an effort to save marine life? Yes, Philippine Airlines or PAL just announced the ban of shipping of sharks’ fins.
This is after Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Philippine Animal Welfare Society, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Earth Island Institute – Philippines and other concerned organization started a petition that protests against their freight policy.
“The announcement of PAL is also a victory for all sharks species who are brutally murdered for their fins,” said Anna Oposa, cofounder of Save Philippine Seas and founder of the Shark Shelter Project in Malapascua Island.
The airline was previously reported tohave shipped 136 x 50 kg bags accumulating 6,800 kg of dried shark fins at a Hong Kong storeroom run by Global Marine.
Shark fins are hailed as an important ingredient on soups and traditional cures in China. But animal welfare groups toughly disagree with the trade, which usually comprises of taking only the fins and leaving the main body dead in the ocean.
“Sharks help in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem. Their dwindling numbers due to the growing demand for shark’s fin soup and other shark products, already upset the problematic status of our seas and oceans,” said Greenpeace Philippines oceans campaigner Vince Cinches.
“We are asking everyone to remain vigilant and make sure that PAL will honor its commitment and advise other airlines to adopt a similar shark ban to help save our marine ecosystem,” he said.
Shark finning is the practice of slicing off the shark’s fins while the shark is still alive and throwing the rest of its body back into the ocean where it can take days to die what must be an agonizing death.
Globally, tens of millions of sharks are slaughtered every year to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup; at least 8,000 tonnes of shark fins are shipped to restaurants around the world. Fishermen report that sharks are getting smaller because they are not being given time to mature.
Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food. The ocean produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.
Sharks play a vital role at the top of the food chain by maintaining balance in the oceans. Destroying shark populations could destroy our oceans and our life support system.
(Ms. Aguila is currently an intern for OpinYon. She is an incoming fourth year student in AB Communication Arts in Malayan College in Cabuyao, Laguna.)
Bridging In Venice
VENICE, ITALY- I had no plans of visiting this city. The only images that I had seen so far of the place, aside from sticky lovers on gondolas, were secret agents and fiends blasting at each other on the city canals and rooftops, blowing up old buildings in the process. Venice seems to be both beautiful and sinister. The creepy “Don’t Look Now” with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie is still etched in my mind. This was also the locale where Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale” led James Bond into an era of being real and human, thereby obliterating the need for arsenal gimmickries.
In addition, I have read about a famous Venetian named Marco Polo, explorer and writer, and from him I could adopt a stronger spirit of adventure. There is also the painter Tintoretto, with his portrayal of disrobed voluptuous women. And Antonio Vivaldi, composer of “Four Seasons” that has been overused for commercials and graduation walks. Then there are the famous Venetian glass and the theatrical masks, some inspired by the Bubonic plague that almost annihilated its populace centuries before. Those are just about what I know about Venice.
Tourist brochures indicate that Venice is a city in northeastern Italy with a total of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, mostly pedestrian bridges. As movie productions suggest, Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its art. The entire city is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
It took the wife and me some 24 grueling hours to reach Venice from Manila, with nine hours flight to Qatar, eight hours lay over at the Doha International Airport, and a seven hour flight to Italy. Thank God for lovely in-flight movies like “The Book Thief”, “The Invisible Woman” and “Iloilo”, flying time became easy to bear.
Getting Lost in Fun
For the first day, we were booked at the Carlton Hotel, an old but charming place but with front desk people having the brusko attitude of New Yorkers before 9/11. The hotel is along the busy Grand Canal and faces the hideous looking train station on the other side. The Olimpia, our second hotel, is more elegant, with beauteous, gracious and helpful front desk employees giving that expected Italian warmth. Our room was much more spacious, and it let some sunshine in.
Venice could be brutal for senior citizens with heavy luggage to move from their bus to the hotels. You have to cross up and down several bridges that are hostile to PWDs and geriatric folks. It becomes obvious why the city government has deployed porters along the routes. For a fee, of course.
On the first night, the wife and I went out of the hotel to look for a trattoria or a snack bar. I am not exactly a fan of Italian food, pasta, pizza, ‘paghetti, or whatever, but this trip is wife’s time so she gets to have first crack at everything. In stead, we got lured by the sights of rushing people, the dark winding streets, the shops, and the edifices, until we got lost in the maze of narrow passageways, archs, alleys, and piers.
I marveled at the textures and more textures, of centuries old layers of brick walls, some proud and some disintegrating with their plasters falling off with them; at the multi-faced buildings that seem to grow organically with tiny-leafed shrubs and vines, at the variety of window grill works; at the character of doors and the worn-out knobs oftentimes positioned at the center of the panels. The whole city it seems – with walls, the gates, and the roofs having distressed look -has been described as one elegant decay.
Glimpses of Day In A Life
My friend Chito Irigo says that the knobs carry the identity of families living within, and are supposed to distinguish them from the others. Even the mailboxes and the knockers could speak volumes. We saw lone men and families with prams going in and out of dimly lit doors and we wondered how life could be in this rich tourist town with a long history of heritage.
I learned that Venice was, one time or another, a major maritime power, the fulcrum of commerce and trade in the world, the fashion capital rivaling Paris, and the center of arts and literature. New York Times has called it “the most beautiful city built by man”. Give me a few days more, and I might agree.
The wife and I stopped by an unmarked small pizza and ice-cream shop where we halved a focaccia stuffed generously with prosciutto ham, mushrooms, and Mozzarella cheese. We finished this off with green tea while standing and so, for an equivalent of 350 pesos, we had our first fine dinner in Venice. We would have wanted some of the tempting gelato, but we were full.
We walked and walked, observing the surroundings, the steeples, the various faces of homes, and the people. I am wont to lug my camera whenever I go but, this time, I purposely left it to be able to take all the images in with my naked eyes. Then it suddenly rained; we had no umbrella. The temperature was probably 16 degrees Celsius, meaning cold, and we got wet. After probably six kilometers and three hours of being lost, without panicking, giggling like children even, we got back to our hotel like drenched cats.
The wife and her dozen or so high school buddies, most of whom have retired from their successful careers, have promised to themselves that, as a gang, they will see parts of the world in the next few years. And whenever they do, they promised that they will bring no husbands, no boyfriends, and no significant others. But this time, I am the designated photographer.
These dragon women have conceived of a calendar spread of golden ladies – them in white beach ensemble at Santorini and in little black dresses in another exotic location. They needed someone with Sports Illustrated or Vogue ambitions to do the camera works. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. May the Santo Papa help me.
Coral Protein Can Fight HIV
National Cancer Institute researchers have discovered a new class of protein found in sea coral that appears able to prevent HIV from entering T cells. If the proteins can be adapted for use in sexual lubricants and gels, they could offer a new form of barrier against HIV infection.
The study findings featured at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego on 29 April.
Senior investigator Dr. Barry O’Keefe, deputy chief of the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), says:
“It’s always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before. And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection – and to do it in a completely new way – makes this truly exciting.”
The team discovered the proteins while screening thousands of natural product extracts in an NCI biological repository. Belonging to a class called cnidarins, the proteins were found in feathery corals collected from the sea off the north coast of Australia.
Co-investigator Dr. Koreen Ramessar, an NCI research fellow, says the cnidarins can block HIV without making the virus resistant to other HIV drugs, making them ideal for inclusion in anti-HIV microbicides, for which there is a pressing need. Women can use anti-HIV gels and lubricants without having to rely on a man being willing to use a condom.
Dr. O’Keefe says, “even if the virus became resistant to these proteins, it would likely still be sensitive to all of the therapeutic options that are currently available.”
After purifying the proteins, the team tested them on lab strains of HIV. They found them to be remarkably potent. Even at concentrations as low as a billionth of a gram, the proteins could block HIV and prevent the first step in the virus’ transmission where it penetrates T cells in the immune system.
The cnidarins appear to bind to the virus and stop it fusing with the membrane of the T cell. Dr. Ramessar says this is “completely different from what we’ve seen with other proteins, so we think the cnidarin proteins have a unique mechanism of action.”
Belonging to a class called cnidarins, the proteins were found in corals collected off the north coast of Australia.
The team now plans to improve ways to produce the proteins in larger quantities so they can be tested more extensively, for instance to find any side effects or if they might work against other viruses.
Dr. O’Keefe says this will be an important step, commenting that “you can’t strip the Earth of this coral trying to harvest this protein.”
The team found the proteins in the NCI’s large repository of natural product extracts, which collects natural specimens from around the world with the consent of their countries of origin. The repository is available to scientists across the US.
Dr. O’Keefe describes the NCI repository as a “national treasure,” where “you never know what you might find.”
He says he hopes news of discoveries like this one will encourage more scientists to use the repository.
In November 2013, Medical News Today learned how another study led by Swansea University in the UK and reported in the journal Nature Materials suggested bone grafts may be better with new sea coral material. The small trial in 16 patients found refining sea coral into coralline hydroxyapatite/calcium carbonate made it more compatible and degradable for use in bone grafts than a currently used derivative.
(Catharine Paddock, PhD/Medical News Today)
Ties That Bind
Ex-Im Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working-capital guarantees, export-credit insurance and financing to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.
In what could be a landmark deal, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) has signed a US$1 billion energy-based memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Philippines’ Department of Energy (DOE).
Specifically, the MOU targets renewable-energy and liquefied natural gas projects in hopes of upgrading and expanding the Philippine energy supply as part of US-Philippines bilateral cooperation.
“The arrangement is a win-win for both our nations and evidences our deep ties and cooperation on numerous economic fronts,” Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg said in a statement released by the US embassy in Manila.
The MOU was signed recently in Washington, DC by Ex-Im Bank board director Patricia Loui and DOE undersecretary Raul B. Aguilos.
Under the MOU, Ex-Im Bank and the DOE will exchange information with an eye to matching development needs in the Philippines with innovative goods and services offered by American exporters.
Since 1993, Ex-Im Bank provided US$1.3 billion in energy-sector finance to the Philippines.
“We aim to outdo ourselves and target another billion with this memorandum of understanding,” Loui said.
“Our expertise can contribute both to the renovation of current energy-production facilities and the construction of new ones,” she added.
In 1994, Ex-Im Bank financed the first project-finance transactions in the Philippines for geothermal energy – the Cebu geothermal, US$170 million; and the Mahanagdong geothermal project, also in Cebu, US$211 million.
Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency that creates and maintains U.S. jobs by filling gaps in private export financing at no cost to American taxpayers.
The Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working-capital guarantees, export-credit insurance and financing to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.
In the past fiscal year alone, Ex-Im Bank earned for U.S. taxpayers more than US$1 billion above the cost of operations.
In FY 2013, Ex-Im Bank approved more than US$27 billion in total authorizations to support an estimated $37.4 billion in U.S. export sales and approximately 205,000 American jobs in communities across the country.
This year, the Bank approved a record 3,413 transactions– or 89 percent–for small-businesses.
The Ex-Im DOE deal is in line with the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PPG), program.
The highly innovative program, which resulted from US President Obama’s September 2010 policy directive on global development, is a high-level initiative focused on economic growth in countries committed to good governance.
In the Philippines, the PPG aligns with policy reform areas outlined by President Aquino in the Philippine Development Plan.
Under the plan, the US has committed to placing the Philippines on a path to sustained and more inclusive economic growth, and elevating it to the ranks of other high-performing emerging economies.
As envisioned, the US-backed PPG takes a comprehensive approach to development that reaches beyond traditional foreign assistance.
It also aims to address the most significant constraints to growth and to stimulate inclusive economic expansion. A joint analysis identified governance and inability to capture revenue as the top constraints to growth in the Philippines.
The PPG leverages the resources and tools of partners, especially the private sector, to increase the effectiveness of policies and institutions necessary for development.
USAID and Millennium Challenge Corporation provides more than US$800 million funding over five years to support PPG projects.
The U.S.-Philippines five-year Joint Country Action Plan prioritized the creation of a more transparent, predictable, and consistent legal and regulatory regime.
Similarly, it seeks to foster a more open and competitive business environment, strengthen the rule of law and support fiscal stability through better revenue and expenditure management.
The U.S. government has committed to a sustained inter-agency engagement in support of the PPG’s goal and objectives.
Since2011, the Philippine government has made significant progress in implementing policy and institutional reforms.
It has also achieved remarkable improvements in economic growth, competitiveness, tax revenues, and sovereign debt ranking to ensure that the growth generated is inclusive and sustainable.
[By Erick A. Fabian]
The Philippines has the best call center agents in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised when they are pirated by companies in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand come ASEAN 2015.
All the foreign firms have to do is offer them better salaries and security of tenure.
There is one thing the government can’t stop — the continuous brain-drain of Filipino professionals which has been happening for several decades.
It started with our scientists. Then the doctors, nurses, teachers, and information technology professionals followed.
For a country relying on manpower as a major source of revenue, we will soon find ourselves empty-handed.
There is no question as to the competence of Filipino business processing operations (BPO) or call center employees. Being a former American colony for 50 years, the Philippines has produced a large pool of fluent English speakers.
Ability to mimic
Even India conceded when its BPO companies moved 70 percent of their operations here recently. Companies worldwide have attested to the Filipino’s natural ability to mimic a neutral, easy-to-understand Western accent.
With most of our industries outflanked by their counterparts in other Asian countries, the BPO industry is one of the most promising saviors of the Philippine economy.
Offshore business processing is expected to double its multi-billion dollar earnings in 2015, due to rising demand in the global economy.
As ASEAN 2015 looms, the emerging economies of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam will be joining the BPO bandwagon.
International investors keep complaining about the corruption, infrastructure, and the difficulty of setting up a business here, seen as a major bottleneck for would-be BPOs.
We cannot blame Filipino call center employees if they eventually move abroad. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing your family’s needs, and a better offer is always tempting.
Fresh graduates of electronics communications engineering from provincial colleges are already getting offers of double compensation abroad. BPO agents will soon follow suit, because investors will find fertile ground in other Asian countries.
In fact, even military junta-ruled Myanmar is loosening up policies so foreign investors will be attracted to come and stay. The current regime at least had the sensibility to admit that they need a lot of foreign investor money to sustain their country’s economy.
US-based BPOs are here simply because the costs are much lower, and the return on investment more than makes up for the initial capital of setting up a new operation.
But more and more Filipino professionals are slowly trickling into Thailand and Vietnam, buoyed by their innate English language proficiency.
A 2013 ZDNET.com report by finance analyst Ryan Huang confirms that the Thai call center industry is pulling up its sleeves to challenge BPO heavyweights Philippines and India.
Internet speed is the lifeblood of the BPO industry, and yet the Philippines has one of the slowest Internet speeds in Asia. This is what they call the digital divide: the one who gets the information first wins.
The country has supplied the initial amount of exceptional BPO employees, but it is now becoming more obvious that we cannot respond to the skyrocketing demand.
The availability of foreign BPO companies here is a drop in the bucket. There are more than three million eligible but unemployed Filipinos. The call center industry can only employ around 600,000.
There are recent reports of Filipino professionals doing well in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. A quick sweep of online job listings shows random lists of companies in Asian countries recruiting Filipino call center agents with offers of better salaries and working conditions.
One gray area is that law enforcement can’t even ensure the safety of BPO workers in Makati and Ortigas who mostly work at night. Recent accounts of mugging and other crimes against call center workers abound.
Whether the government and the BPO industry can get their acts together is another story.