Thursday, November 20, 2008

Manila to Osaka Japan

Effective today, Cebu Pacific (CEB), the Philippines' leading airline to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), launches its Manila-Osaka service at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3.

CEB president and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei leads the inaugural flight send-off, together with Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Kansuro and Department of Tourism Secretary Joseph "Ace" Durano.

"We are confident that the launch of our Japan operations will increase the accessibility between Japan and the Philippines. Osaka is our first destination in Japan and we believe that our trademark low fares can stimulate tourism to both countries," Gokongwei said.

The inclusion of Osaka in our international route network makes us the only low cost carrier in the ASEAN region to serve the major North Asia markets of Japan, China, and South Korea, Gokongwei added.

He said, "Our new service can also help open avenues for more business collaborations as well as trade and investment opportunities."

The thrice weekly service, using the 179-seater Airbus A320 aircraft, departs from Manila every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1:40 pm and arrives in Kansai International Airport at 6:35 pm.

The return flight takes off from Osaka at 7:20 pm and arrives in Manila at 10:15 pm.

"There are many Filipino communities in Japan and our new service will definitely allow them to come home more frequently, or, perhaps, their families can visit them instead," Gokongwei explained.

CEB's lowest year-round fare for the Manila-Osaka service starts from P3,999 one-way, 40 percent lower than the current fares offered by other airlines for this route. 

Road Accidents Increasing

In response to the growing number of accident related injuries happening throughout the country, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) and Red Cross Societies worldwide are increasingly working with their governments and other partners to reduce the number of road accidents as well as their physical, social and economic consequences.

PNRC chairman Sen. Richard J. Gordon said as National Societies play an important auxiliary role to governments in humanitarian matters, they can have influence in matters such as road safety.

"And as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has unparalleled access to communities worldwide through its 97 million volunteers, it can run effective public awareness campaigns and teach first aid at a local level," he said.

Gordon said that in 2005, more than half of all National Societies organized road safety first aid courses for members of the public, professional drivers, emergency medical personnel and police officers.

He said the International Federation and the Global Road Safety Partnership published a joint practical guide on road safety for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

Gordon said drivers must wear seat belt as it saves lives. "Make sure that everyone in the car wears their seat belts before you start the engine."

Gordon said there are four major risk factors in road safety – not wearing a seat belt, not wearing a crash helmet while on board motorcycles, over speeding, and driving under the influence of alcohol.

"Wearing seat belts can reduce the risk of death or serious injury by 50 percent in the event of a crash. This is the most effective priority measure for injury reduction and the easiest to implement to protect vehicle occupants in a road crash," he said. 

Money Changer Shops in Manila

Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim created a task force to strictly monitor all foreign exchange or money changer shops in the city with the expected surge people who will be exchanging foreign currency this Yuletide season.

Bureau of Permits and Development Office chief Nelson Alivio heads the task force.

Along with the creation of the task force, the mayor also warned the public to be extra cautious in dealing with money changers and make sure that they transact only with those whose operations are covered by the required permits.

Lim's warning came as it is during the Christmas season when Filipinos usually receive huge amount of money from their relatives working abroad.

The mayor also called on those who may have fallen victim or who know of any fly-by-night money changer shops to immediately report the matter to Alivio's office for swift and appropriate action.

Lim also said that the task force will conduct inspections on forex shops and, if necessary, coordinate with the police in case apprehensions are needed to be made. 

Fuel Price in the Philippines

As the world oil prices continue to drop, oil companies again reduced the pump prices of their petroleum products.

Four oil companies, namely, Eastern Petroleum, Petron Corporation, Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation and PTT Philippines, said they will reduce the price of their gasoline, kerosene and diesel by P1 per liter on Thursday.

Both Petron and Shell said their rollback will take effect 12:01 a.m. of Nov. 20 while PTT said it will impose the rollback 6 a.m. of Thursday.

Fernando Martinez, president of Eastern Petroleum and head of the Independent Philippine Petroleum Companies Association (IPPCA) said the decline in the prices of crude in the international market is seen to reflect in "an across the board P1 per liter rollback."

"If no one will rollback, I will definitely implement the rollback," Martinez added.

He also noted that had it not been for the peso depreciation, the rollback could have even be higher at P5 per liter.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the continued drop in the world oil prices should also result in the decline in the domestic prices and this should also cover the month of December.

Monitoring conducted by the Department of Energy indicated that as of Nov. 17, 2008, the average Dubai crude dropped to US$ 54 per barrel from an October average of US$ 67. 

Euro Generals in Moscow

By Lilybeth G. Ison (PNA)

The House ommittee on public order and safety started Wednesday its inquiry into the so-called "euro generals" controversy.

In his opening statement, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Versoza told the House panel that all police officers who attended the Interpol conference in Moscow have returned the cash advances they made for the trip.

"I have directed the return of the funds that were disbursed to the Interpol participants. The status now is that it is already completed," he said.

He said although these PNP officials who attended the Interpol conference in Moscow are entitled to an allowance as required by law, he still directed them to return the money for the time being "as a sign of good faith" until the Commission on Audit (CoA) determines what amount they are entitled to.

Police Director for Plans Romeo Ricardo, on the other hand, said returning the money does not exempt the officers from presenting a liquidation of their expenses.

"The process of returning the money does not extinguish the process of clearing the cash advances made," he said.

PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome earlier said most of the eight officers who attended the Moscow event have returned the cash advances as of November 3.

The officers who submitted the full amount of P274,070 were Ricardo; former Director Eliseo dela Paz; Deputy Director-General Emmanuel Carta, deputy chief for administration; Director Jaime Caringal, Zamboanga regional director; and Director Silverio Alarcio Jr., chief for operations.

PNP Deputy Director-General Ismael Rafanan, chief of the directorial staff, on the other hand, returned a partial amount of P74,000, while Superintendent Elmer Pelobello, deputy chief for operations, returned P150,000. Both officials promised to return the balance within the month. 

Organic Farming in the Philippines

By Aurelio A. Pena

MAGSAYSAY, Davao del Sur - Cover your nose when you come to one of the compost pits at the edge of the ricefield -- it could stink to high heavens.

"Better get used to it," says Martin Amarillo, 47, grinning as he shovels some decomposing rice stalks into the stinking pit under the early morning sun.

Earlier, he had dumped in a pailful of carabao dung, chicken dung and entrails from fish. He learned doing this technique from visiting agriculturists from the nearby town of Magsaysay teaching farmers like him make organic fertilizer in this little rice village called Bala.

Slowly, but surely, many farmers in the Davao region are going into organic farming -- planting vegetables like cucumber, pechay, ampalaya, okra, patola, eggplant, string beans, etc., using nothing else but pure organic fertilizer they produced all by themselves.

"Chemical fertilizers are too expensive for us these days, we can't afford them anymore," says Amarillo who has his own two-hectare ricefield as well as a half-hectare devoted only to planting vegetables which are grown for local supermarkets in Davao City, 70 kilometers north of this village.

"Most of our earnings before go to buying chemical fertilizers, leaving us with almost nothing. Now, with our own organic fertilizer, we're beginning to see some profits," Amarillo added.

Over at Sibulan village in the same province, about 50 kilometers south, lawyer Koronado Apuzen, 58, president of Organic Producers and Exporters Corp. (OPEC), is even doing it in a big way--all his banana growers are using only organic fertilizer produced right at the plantation in the Davao highlands.

They all grow "organic bananas" for the Japanese organic export market which buys them at a high premium price per carton box--the only Filipino banana export firm going organic in a big way.

"It's beginning to pay off...We started doing this four years ago, producing only organic vegetables and organic bananas for export, back when they laugh at you. Now, many foreign buyers are looking for it," says Apuzen, who also heads Farmcoop, the country's biggest group of banana growers' cooperatives.

Apuzen uses a mixture of chicken manure, banana peelings, charcoal and coir dust to produce organic fertilizers at all his 80-hectare OPEC farms run by Bagobo-Tagabawa tribesmen at the rugged Sibulan mountain ranges here.

To fight sigatoka and other banana diseases, Apuzen uses a natural concoction of herbs which his tribal farmers spray on each banana plant.

"We've stopped buying pesticides and chemicals a long time ago and our profit margins are getting better," Apuzen said.

Most Davao farmers however are still dependent on chemicals which are draining away all their income from farming. Even before they start harvesting, typical farmers here are already deep in debt from using chemicals to kill pests and weeds provided by local traders.

"Farmers always find themselves deep in debt everytime they start planting and harvesting -- it's a vicious cycle over here. All the earnings from their farms go to the pockets of traders," says Anita Morales, executive director of METSA Foundation, which promotes organic farming among local farmers here.

But METSA's efforts during the last 15 years have won over hundreds of farmers to organic farming in the villages of Marilog, Tugbok and Calinan in the city's outskirts.

"Things have changed, but farmers before were forced to look for cash to buy pesticides and fertilizers in every stage of planting just to make sure their rice or vegetables grow well -- and this pushed them deeper into debt," Morales said.

To boost this growing organic movement, some 600 organic farmers banded together recently during the 5th National Organic Agriculture Conference here and vowed to put up a fight against "monoculture" farming by multinational farms that use excessive amounts of synthetic chemicals.

"All these multinationals producing cavendish bananas, pineapple and palm oil are the number one threat to the growing organic industry in Mindanao, endangering our food security," says Tom Villarin, head of Go Organic Mindanao movement.

Worldwide demand for organic products grew from 20 billion US dollars in 2001 to 33 billion US dollars in 2005. Some 30.6 million hectares of land -- a measly 2 percent -- are now into organic farming worldwide. In the Philippines, organic farming has hardly touched the country's agriculture farming, as only 0.01 percent of farmlands can be classified as organic, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).