Category Archives: Homeland

Put Your Money WhereYour Heart Is – Invest in Your Homeland

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
Recently, while having my hair cut in a beauty salon in Glendale, I heard two Korean women talking about buying retirement homes for their parents.

One was relating to the other woman how happy her parents have been in their new retirement home inside a plush community with a golf course and country club amenities. She said it was so cheap and their money went a long, long way rather than if they just continued to live here in California. The other woman was excited to hear this and said she will surely call her friend’s sales agent. My interest quickly perked up when I heard where the parents retired. The Korean said hundreds of Koreans are doing what she did — investing and retiring in the Philippines!

Yes, many foreign nationals are buying and investing in the Philippines. With the baby boomer generation just about to retire in a few years, many are planning where and how to spend their retirement. People are realizing that in America or Europe, the high costs of living and the low interest their pensions are earning will not give them a good lifestyle in their senior years. Moving to retire in the Philippines has become a very attractive option. If foreigners are buying real estate in the country, all the more should Pinoys invest into their homeland.

Over the past decade, the Philippines has become a retirement haven for thousands of foreigners. Our country has developed communications, infrastructure, and service delivery systems that meet the needs of foreign retirees. Better yet, unlike most other countries, nearly everyone speaks English in the Philippines.

There are so many good things happening in our country, despite what you may read and hear from mass media. The Philippine Stock exchange hit a nine-year record in 2006, opened in 2007 some 30 percent higher, and continues to be strong. Among the 25 priority infrastructure projects expected for completion by 2010 are the LRT line 1 to NAIA, the P21-billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, the P6.9-billion Subic Port development the P1.3-billion North Expressway-South Luzon Expressway connection via C-5 Project, and the Edsa Rehabilitation Project. Six of the major projects have been completed.

The Philippines has also emerged a strong second to India in the global outsourcing market. In 2006, it recorded $3.6 billion in earnings, a 50-percent jump from 2005. By 2010 it is expected to earn as much as $12.2 billion.Big outsourcing players in the U.S. such as Sykes Enterprises, Convergys, PeopleSupport Inc, Accenture, and eTelecare Global solutions have already set up headquarters in the Philippines, and Dell computers recently opened a contact center. The Philippines is becoming a much-preferred option as it has stronger cultural ties to the United States than India, and it is expected to catch up and even overtake India as market leader.

But more than all these good news, the best news is that the Philippines offers a significantly lower cost of living. The Philippine Peso exchange rate is approximately 45 to $1, which means your dollar will go a long, long way there than in the US. Housing, food, and labor costs are very reasonable. Cable Television, Hi-Speed Internet and Satellite Communications are cheap. One can hire an air-conditioned taxicab for eight hours for less than $30. In a country where a provincial Governor’s salary is only about Php35,000 per month, and a Presidential Cabinet Under-Secretary earns something like Php45,000, your pension can go a long way. So, if you have a retirement income in the region of $1,500 to $2,000 per month (Php70,000 to Php90,000) you can live like a rich man in the Philippines.

Where can you find a 3-bedroom home with a garden for only $30,000? You can in the Philippines, and you can even get up to 14% per annum ROI from rental returns. These figures probably seem unbelievably crazy to foreign buyers —and all of this comes complete with average 85 degree temperatures and sunshine nearly all year round.

Recent studies indicated that more than 85% of all condo sales in Metro Manila were to international clients. While Metro Manila is still a popular choice with international buyers, quite a number of people are also investing in year-round vacation destinations, like in Tagaytay or Boracay. Unlike other offshore rental properties, where the rental market is largely seasonal, in the Philippines there is a strong market for rental properties year round. This gives buyers greater flexibility in choosing when to use and when to rent their property. The strong rental/second home market also has resulted in a proliferation of professional property managers and rental agents, making property ownership and rental easy.

Philippine real estate, medical, social services, and employment agencies are now working together under the government’s Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) to set up standards and make the retirement industry truly world class. The objective is to turn the country into the retirement haven in Asia.

The best time to invest in the Philippines is now, when we are on the verge of a phenomenal future. The Philippine currency has reached a 5-year high in 2007 and continues to be strong and resilient, fortified by the economic management of the current administration. They say the country could be on the verge of the biggest real estate boom in history, set to totally eclipse the 1997 Asian crisis, and fueled by money from Filipino Expatriates, foreign investment, and a bullish economy.

One of my friends in the Philippines wrote to me recently, saying Koreans have bought a large part of Session Road in Baguio. She was so concerned that thousands of Pinoys are leaving our country everyday while many foreigners have been investing and buying real estate. She said that the day might come when there might not be enough attractive land for Filipinos in the Philippines. So, if we have money to invest, let’s start investing where our hearts are. In our homeland — the Philippines.  (www.asianjournal.com)

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RP as a Retirement Haven

by Rochelle C. Pangilinan/AJPress
Even with today’s financial woes, real estate investments in the Philippines remains unthreatened––and booming even––thanks to the retirees who decide to settle in the country after years and years of hard work.

It seems like real estate is something retirees do not think twice of sinking their hard-earned money in, and last July, it was reported that a total of some 40,00 units are to be built by condominium developers over the next five years to compensate for the demand for residential property of retirees (Filipinos and foreign nationals alike) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as well.

It has been a vision of the Philippine Retirement Authority (which was mandated in July 1985 to attract foreign nationals and former Filipino citizens to invest, reside and retire in the Philippines) to make the Philippines the preferred retirement destination in Southeast Asia by 2010, and it seems it would indeed materialize. Both PRA and the Philippine Retirement Inc. (PRI) plan to attract close to a million retirees by 2015 as well.

PRA’s flagship campaign is the Special Resident Retiree Visa or SSRV to would-be retirees and offer them a range of services, benefits and comforts that would make their stay truly worthwhile in the Philippines. Registered residents are set to enjoy the option for permanent residency, multiple entry and indefinite stay in the country. As of March of this year, there are a total of 17,580 retirees enrolled in the program and the number is expected to grow even bigger.

With the assistance of PRA, retires can choose to invest their required deposit through three means: (1) purchase, acquisition and ownership of a condo unit; (2) long-term lease of house and lot, condominium or townhouse for a period not shorter than 20 years; and (3) purchase, acquisition and ownership of golf or country club shares.

Indeed, with several real estate projects currently in the works, the Philippines is fast-becoming a haven for retirees.

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The Asian Journal meets Giuliani in Makati

MAKATI – Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani keynoted the first Leadership Conference Series last July 23 at the Rizal Ballroom of the Makati Shangri-La. It was the first in a set of lectures aimed at allowing Philippine leaders from the business, government and non-government sectors to learn from the experiences and expertise of global leaders. The event was presented by the JC Binay Foundation of Makati, with the Philippine Star and De La Salle University as co-presentors. The major sponsors were GLOBE Telecom, San Miguel Corporation, the Lopez Group Foundation and Metrobank.

The Asian Journal, which has a weekly New York/New Jersey edition attended the “strictly by invitation only” press conference with Mayor Giuliani together with a few selected members of the media, including AJ publisher Roger Lagmay Oriel, who was a personal guest of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.  Mr. Oriel talked briefly with Mr. Giuliani after the press conference regarding the forthcoming Republican Party convention in August.  The Asian Journal was the only Filipino-American newspaper invited to the exclusive press conference where Mr. Giuliani said, “Ronald Reagan is my hero.”

Distinguished for his handling of the post-World Trade Center attacks, Giuliani delivered a talk on Leadership in Times of Crisis.  For his efforts during and after the 9-11 attacks, he was named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2001, knighted by the Queen of England, dubbed “Rudy the Rock” by French President Jacquest Chirac and presented with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Freedom Award by former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Mayor Giuliani was also credited with cutting the murder rate in New York City by 66% and the overall crime index dipped by 56%, making New York City—once considered the crime capital of the country—the safest among the largest cities in America, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  New York City’s law enforcement strategy has become a model for other cities around the world.

He also implemented the largest and most successful welfare-to-work initiative in the country, turning welfare offices into Job Centers and reducing welfare rolls by 640,000—nearly 60%.

Aside from Mayor Giuliani’ lecture, the forum was highlighted as well by a roundtable discussion from the key Philippine leaders of government, business and foreign service. Discussants were Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, British Ambassador Peter Beckingham, Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of TLC Beatrice, Mr. Miguel Belmonte, Philippine Star publisher, Bro. Armin Luistro, De La Salle-Manila president and general manager of James Lafferty, Procter & Gamble Philippines.

Also delivering addresses were Mr. Oscar Lopez, chairman and CEO of First Philippines Holdings Inc., and Benpres Holdings Inc.; Butch Jimenez, senior VP of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.; and Ces Drilon, broadcast journalist of ABS-CBN.

Former President Joseph Estrada also attended the event.

The event was also mounted in partnership with ANC, Business Mirror, Business World, Manila Bulletin, Manila Broadcasting Company and Philippine Daily Inquirer.

(www.asianjournal.com
)

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Getng d msg acros thru txtng: Pinoys send 1 billion text messages

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress
If you can’t understand the title, then probably you’re not one of the hundreds of millions of “texters.”
If you can’t understand the title, then probably you’re not one of the hundreds of millions of “texters.”

Back in the 1990s, I had my first mobile phone.  It was a heavy piece of contraption that can only support phone calls.  Years later, SMS, or text messaging was introduced and since then, the mobile communication industry has never looked back.

Recently, industry data showed that Filipinos doubled the number of text messages they sent last year to an average of 1 billion daily, from a subscriber base of just 50 million.  This was a staggering number, which showed how prolific text messaging is to the Philippines.

Text capital of the world

In 2005, the Philippines achieved the distinction of being the “SMS capital of the world.”  That year, Filipinos sent an average of 250 million text messages a day, according to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Nobody in the industry probably saw text messaging to fly off in this magnitude.  Much of it at the start was seen as a craze, a cultural trend that mostly tapped young people.  But as technology moved, so did texting.  What was once considered as popularity is now somehow a necessity.

Sending messages does not require making a call.  Just by typing in a message and the recipient’s phone number, then sending it, the message goes to the operator’s message center, and finally forwards it to the recipient.

The art of text messaging

The art of texting is at the start, quite a challenge.  For a beginner, it is an irritating skill to master, because of the idea of putting in all 26 letters of the alphabet (plus punctuation and other symbols) are all combined with only ten buttons.  But in time and with a lot of practice, one will get used to it, as most texters now can type in messages in a matter of seconds.

Also, people have developed a shorthand, or their own set of vocabulary words, somewhat similar to what is used in Internet chat rooms.  “WRU” is a three-letter acronym for “Where are you,” or “C U LTR” is “See you later.”

More than just messages

Much has been studied and researched about the text wave in the Philippines, and was found out that texting has become so popular because of a number of factors.  One is affordability.  At about 2 cents a message, the price is right for the cash-strapped youth.

Two of the biggest mobile service providers in the country – Globe and Smart – also have a lock on the market, which reaches to more than 40 million subscribers.  Aside from this, both networks have distinct marketing and promotions to offer more affordable and innovative products and services, including cheaper phone units, pre-paid and post-paid lines and features like mobile banking and payments services. It also has set up conveniences like texting friends and relatives anywhere in the world, at a lower rate.

Just to do the math, the cost of one text message sent is about P 1, if sent to someone with the same carrier.  Times that to 1 billion, multiply again with 365 days in a year, it amounts to P 365 billion, or $8.2 billion (based on a P44 exchange rate).  That’s about more than 50 percent of the OFW remittances expected this year.

Truly texting has become a vehicle to more than just plain message sending to friends, family or colleagues.  It has been a carrier of gossip, political campaigns, and was even credited with helping overthrow a government and a president.

There is no doubt that text messaging will continue in the next years.  If innovation and technology steps up with something different, better and affordable, then maybe a little dip in the numbers will be seen.  Still, until that time comes, texting is here to stay.  (www.asianjournal.com)

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RP still bullish on real estate market

by Rene Villaroman/AJPress

CARSON — The Philippines still enjoys a bullish real estate market despite all the depressing economic conditions worldwide and those brought about by conditions in the United States. “The Philippines is still good because properties are being driven by end-users, not by speculation,” said Robert Sobrepena, the 53-year-old Chairman and CEO of Fil-Estate Group of Companies, which is headquartered in Metro Manila, Philippines.

“The buyers are people who use the units. They live in it, retire in it, and some buy properties for their families,” Sobrepena told Asian Journal during an interview at the office of Fil-Estate Global in Carson on Wednesday. “So that kind of demand is always good and sustainable.”

Sobrepena said the real estate market in the country is not a bubble. “That’s dangerous, just like here and because of the subprime (mess) and other conditions,” Sobrepena said. “In Manila in the Philippines, it’s pretty much driven by demand, and units are being bought up by end-users. It’s sustainable. That’s why it’s held up despite the crash of property (values) here. Property values are still appreciating, still strong, still sustainable, and developers are putting out more projects,” he said.

Real estate development has continued its furious pace despite the fact that Manila is inexorably running out of lands. But Metro Manila keeps growing, and real estate development has moved out of the traditional boundaries of Manila to the edges of surrounding provinces.

“Manila is fast expanding; it’s getting bigger,” says Sobrepena. “Right now, Metro Manila has reached all the way to Alabang; all the way to areas close to Bulacan. It’s a huge area, and it is continuing to grow.” The rising population in Manila, now estimated at 15 million people—and continuing to grow—is also helping to sustain the real estate market. Sobrepena said that Fil-Estate Properties’s profile shows that his company’s market is composed of 70 percent Filipinos and 30 percent foreigners.

As early as 15 years ago, Fil-Estate Properties and Fil-Estate Lands had foreseen that there would be a bump in the tourismretirement and leisure industries, and these companies directed their resources to developing infrastructure to satisfy these growing market. “We’ve focused on developing our land bank, which totals 3000 hectares, towards leisure, tourism and retirement type facilities. It would take from 10 to 12 years to develop these, but our focus will be on the best amenities and facilities, not just for Filipinos but also for foreigners,” Sobrepena said.

For example, Fil-Estate Properties’ two hotels in Camp John Hay, a former US Military property, enjoys 80 percent occupancy rates all year round. Part of the Fil-Estate Lands’ holdings and real estate developments are in Boracay, where they own almost 80 percent of the island, and in areas around Tagaytay City in the Southern Luzon province of Cavite. Fil-Estate Properties also has been invited to build golf courses in the island of Palawan.

And speaking of foreigners, Sobrepena thinks the largest and closest market is China. “In China the family structure is an inverted triangle: four grandparents, two parents and one child,” he said. “That’s a huge potential market for retirees who want to come the Philippines,” he said. “China is a huge market because it has a very old population.” Sobrena had been to China many times, building golf courses for the Chinese people.

Fil-Estate has also started the international marketing of their choicest properties in the Philippines to Southern California and the rest of the US. Fil-Estate Global, Fil-Estate Group of Companies’ international marketing network, formally opened its offices at 1 Civic Plaza Drive, Suite 310, Carson City, CA last June 20, 2008. With the establishment of Fil-Estate Global, Filipinos from the US and other parts of the world will realize their dream of owning a place to retire someday or put some of those hard-earned dollars into a worthwhile investment in a country that shows great promise.

Sobrepena has a lot of faith in his country. “Look at our history, beginning from the Martial Law (years). There was always turmoil and instability. But the Philippines is maturing as a democracy. There was a good and smooth transfer of power from Corazon Aquino to Fidel Ramos. [Joseph] “Erap” [Estrada] was a popular President, but he was not disciplined, and the country suffered from a momentary crisis when he was taken out of power,” he said. “But Filipinos have learned to have faith in elections. Out of the last four presidents, there was only one period of political instability. It’s getting better.”

“People have also learned that corruption does not pay, because you will lose your mind,” he said. “Ours is a very young democracy, but we are the only democracy in Asia. People are learning that EDSA-type People-Power Movements are no longer effective because it does not promote stability. People would rather wait for the next election.”

Sobrepena has arrived, and he is confident with that achievement. His seven children, ages 15 to 25, are studying in different schools in the United States. “Some are in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in New York, but they all intend to come back and work in the Philippines after they graduate.” Sobreprena also has taken the sport of golf because he was asked by Jack Nicklaus, who designed the golf courses in Baguio City. First, it was basketball—he is about 7 feet tall—then tennis. “Now that I am becoming slower, I’ve taken up golf,” he said.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Will the airlines sink RP’s shipping industry?

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Choosing the airway over the nautical highway.  The recent sea mishap in the Philippines involving Sulpicio Lines’ Princess of the Stars has further confirmed that traveling via the sea is not the preferred mode of passengers wanting to reach the other islands in the archipelago.

According to a report by ABS-CBN.com and Newsbreak, in the past, overloading was the primary cause for most sea tragedies, like in the case of the M/V Dona Paz which sank in 1987 after colliding with a small oil tanker. M/V Dona Paz had a capacity of only 1,518 passengers, but when tragedy struck, investigations showed that it was overloaded – carrying up to more than twice what it was allowed. The result, 4,375 people onboard died, making it as the worst maritime disaster during peacetime.

However, Princess of the Stars, which was plying the Manila-Cebu route had a capacity of over 2,000 passengers, but had only over 800 onboard when it encountered rough waters during typhoon “Frank.” This means that the ship sailed with just about 40 percent load. Also, the M/V Dona Paz tragedy in 1987 happened during the Christmas holidays, which was a peak season, while the M/V Princess was traveling during an off-peak season.

Still, the 40 percent load factor during an off-peak season is low, according to transportation industry observers.

Sky over water

Setting aside what has happened with the M/V Princess and other sea mishaps, the apparent changes in the inter-island transportation are not due to competing passenger liners, but from substitute mode of traveling. Local airlines have changed its business model and has converted to a low-cost, no-frills airline.

Local airline Cebu Pacific, which used to be a full-service airline started a new trend in 2005. Other local carriers soon followed after the deregulation of the aviation industry during the Ramos administration in the 90s.

Going for volume, fares were dropped for various domestic destinations by reducing turnaround time. Other costs were reduced by taking out other services such as complimentary food, as well as computerized ticketing and offering lower fares for early bookers.

At present, Cebu Pacific is offering 400,000 free seats for domestic flights for anyone traveling until December 31, 2008. Passengers who book for these flights will only shoulder non-refundable taxes, fuel and insurance charges.

PAL has followed suit with their PAL Express, which was launched last May 2008. The low-fare unit of Philippine Airlines, it mainly serves domestic island points throughout the Philippines from hubs in Cebu and Manila. It is even offering its popular ‘Buy 1, Take 1,’ promotional fare scheme that gives a free one-way domestic ticket for every such ticket bought.

Other airlines in fact are part of this trend like Asian Spirit and Southeast Asian Air, by offering affordable fares to local and even international destinations. The public seem to have embraced this, as the rate of flying passengers has increased. This increase not only accounts for ‘new’ fliers, but also regular flying passengers who were on a budget and now have a choice to choosing budget over luxury.

A round trip plane ticket between Manila and Cebu go as low as P3,000, and in the past boat fares ranged from P4,000 to P8,000. But even at reduced rates, the lowest a boat fare can go is P2,000 and the small difference in price against flying has been inviting enough for passengers to change their mode of transportation. Another factor to consider is travel time – a Manila to Cebu boat ride takes almost a day, compared to a little over an hour travel on a plane.

Still, shipping companies traditionally do not depend on just their passengers for revenue. Liners derive about 70 percent of their revenues from cargo and about 30 percent from passengers, according to Henry Basilio, a transportation expert from the University of Asia and the Pacific, in an interview with Newsbreak. The drop in revenues for sea travel has prompted shipping companies to convert ships to passenger-cargo lines to carry more cargo than passengers.

But passengers who cannot really afford to fly still opt to take the nautical highway. Shipping companies have joined together with the government-backed roll-on, roll-off (RORO) operations. Launched in 2003, RORO is provides a less expensive way for cargo business owners because of its multi-port approach.

However, the budget airline industry has taken most of the first and second class passengers of the shipping industry, said Basilio.

Improvement and upgrading of its sea fleets seem to be the solution, by introducing new facilities and amenities on board, as well as passenger accommodation and in the ticketing/booking process. But since the decline on its revenues and passengers, these investments might not materialize.

With latest sea tragedy, the continuing decline of passengers and the competitive fares offered by the budget airlines, it isn’t surprise why inter-island travelers have chosen to take the airway over the nautical highway.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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DOJ Secretary Slams Snap Elections Call

By Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez on Monday dismissed the claim of some solons that the only solution to the country’s current leadership and economic problems is a change in leadership through a snap election.

In an interview, Gonzalez branded as “illogical” the move of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reform to endorse a bill calling for a snap presidential election considering that the next presidential election is just two years away.

Gonzalez stressed that a change in leadership does not translate to a lower prices of fuel and a stable political situation.

“I don’t think that will cure the problem of fuel because the president of this country has no control over fuel costs. We are at the end of the rope of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). So the only way we can lower the cost of fuel will be to subsidize. That will be sacrificing other essential services. I don’t think that a snap election, assuming that it would result in a change of leadership, would solve the problem. It would be a great mistake to spend billions in a snap election when in two years time you will have another election,” Gonzalez said in response to the decision of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform to endorse a bill calling for a snap presidential election.

“If we can be assured that if we will have a snap election and we will have a new president, OPEC will lower the prices of fuel in the world market, that will be worth looking into. But what will be our assurance that if we will have a new president, OPEC will lower its costs? Not even President George Bush was able to convince the OPEC to lower the cost of oil. I don’t think that is a solution at all,” Gonzalez further said.

Gonzalez further noted that a snap election is only possible if there is a law removing the line of succession which is defined under the Constitution.

If removal of the President is the only objective, the DOJ chief said it should be done through impeachment proceedings or by forcing her to resign.

Earlier, the House committee on electoral reform chaired by Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., voted to report out the bill so the entire House of Representatives could debate in plenary session on the need to hold a presidential election before President Arroyo’s term ends on June 30, 2010.

The President’s allies have described Joson’s proposal as unconstitutional, saying Congress cannot call for a snap presidential election because the presidency is not vacant.

However, even if such a law were to be crafted by Congress, Gonzalez said President Arroyo will most likely veto it as she had earlier vowed to finish her term until 2010.

“But this snap election is almost second to impossible. Because will the President sign that bill? I don’t think the President will sign. The President said she will not resign. It will have a very slim chance of getting a law. There are many avenues for having a change in leadership. The moment you call for a snap election, there will be campaigning and bureaucracy will be on a standstill,” the DOJ chief added.

Gonzalez also said the Filipino people are “mature enough” to realize that a mere change of presidents will not solve the country’s problems. He also advised Congress to just wait for the elections in 2010.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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