Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Our Full Support

It's ridiculous that there are some who criticize our soldiers for acting too hastily, fighting a war when there are ongoing peace talks. The southern campaign is a war that must be fought, and resolved quickly in favor of the Republic. Criticizing the war does not help. Only the full support of the people of the Republic for our fighting forces will help to quickly resolve this war.

Those who say the war jeopardizes the peace process do not understand the situation in Mindanao. They do not understand that there are different groups active in the South each with different approaches and objectives. Most of these groups want peace and development.

They want their fair share of the 7.5% GDP growth, the highest in twenty years, that we, as a nation, have just achieved. They want prosperity like their Muslim brothers in Malaysia, and they know that to have that prosperity, there will have to be a negotiated peace.

The opponents in this campaign are not those with whom we are having peace talks with.
General Esperon has made this very clear, and reports in the field confirm, that he and our fighting men are exercising every precaution to avoid non-combatant casualties.

The war is with the Abu Sayyaf, the radicalized bandit group of less than fifty fighters that has consistently shown total disregard for civilians, foreign tourists, and our soldiers. This is the group that massacred almost an entire town, Christians and Muslims alike, in Zamboanga in 1990. This is the group that raided Dos Palmas, and Sipadan Island in Malaysia.

This is the group that engaged in numerous kidnappings, the proceeds of which were allegedly used to fund the 9-11 attacks in the United States.

They are not well regarded even among fellow muslims. The MNLF and MILF, our partners in the peace process, distance themselves from Abu Sayyaf.

Their only ties are with the equally radical Al-Queda, and their Indonesian counterpart, Jemaah Islamiya, perpetrators of the deadly Bali bombings.

Their ties reveal who they are, these are groups without negotiable issues, instead they are driven by delusions of an apocalyptic future, where peoples of the world: Muslims against the West, Muslims against fellow Muslims, fight each other, and from this anarchy will they emerge victorious to rule the world. Whatever is left of it after their madness.

We wish the military Godspeed in eradicating and capturing these deluded, and dangerous, bandits who have no regard for others, be they Christian or Muslim. They have no place in our Republic.

The MNLF and MILF, on the other hand, are presenting negotiable issues: Autonomy (since granted under the ARMM), muslim ancestral domains, Sharia communities and societies in their homelands, with schools, hospitals, and Sharia civic institutions. These are reasonable, tangible issues that can be negotiated in an environment of peace and prosperity.

Let's hope that the President returns from Malaysia with billions of dollars in pledges for development in Muslim Mindanao. Malaysia manages a large portion of the estimated $800Bln in assets looking for Sharia compliant investments.

There is plenty that aid from fellow Muslims can deliver in terms of building the social infrastructure of underdeveloped Mindanao: Madrasah schools, mass housing, hospitals, roads, irrigation, and communications can be built with investments and technical assistance from our progressive Islamic neighbor.

The war with the Abu Sayyaf has cost our armed forces over fifty brave lives. These soldiers are fellow Filipinos like you and me. They had dreams for themselves and for their families. They've sacrificed their dreams to defend the Republic.

Whenever we hear of tragic news, such as a major typhoon, a landslide, or earthquake, we Filipinos get together and help each other in whatever way we can. These soldiers have families, and children in school. They had dreams for their children, and it is now up to us to fulfill them.

Our brave fighting men deserve no less. When they put themselves at risk to defend the Republic, they should be confident that people of the Republic stand behind them to help fulfill their dreams for their loved ones.

Malaysiaku Gemilang: 50 years of Merdeka

On August 31, 1957, at exactly 12:01 AM a new South East Asian Nation was born out of the formerly British ruled Malayan Peninsula. It would be joined six years later by Sabah and Sarawak as a result of a referendum where residents voted to help create the Federation of Malaysia.

Singapore and Brunei would later break away from the federation to chart their own destinies, but both maintaining strong cultural and economic ties with South East Asia's most vibrant nation.

Join Malaysia as it celebrates fifty years of Merdeka (Independence) and celebrate the diversity of their tri-cultural nation of Malays, ethnic Chinese, and South Asians as they present the evolution of their uniquely unifying Malaysian heritage.

An impressive lineup of events is planned beginning with an International Fireworks Competition in the government center of Putrajaya, midway between the airport and Kuala Lumpur.

Make this a whole day affair with shopping, good food, watersports, and savor the inspiring “Putrajaya Floria Festival of Blooms” a garden festival commemorating fifty years of a nation in bloom.

August 31st is the big day as Malaysia celebrates “Malaysiaku Gemilang!,” Glorious Malaysia with a myraid of parades cultural performances, street shows, and carnivals.

Although many events are scheduled in Kuala Lumpur, each of Malaysia's thirteen states have their own festivities ensuring that no matter where you'll be in Malaysia, there will be a celebration nearby.

The main events will be held in Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur along the Putrajaya waterfront. The King's Palace in Kuala Lumpur will hold an open house for visitors, followed by a grand parade attended by their Majesties, the King and Queen of Malaysia, Prime Minister Badawi, dignitaries and the public. A spectacular fireworks display is scheduled in Putrajaya, followed by a free open air concert on the eve of Merdeka.

The week after that, on September 7-9, Kuala Lumpur hosts the International Military Tatoo Exhibition. Military tatoos are precision drills by various national honor guards spread out of three thrilling nights, with many visitting dignitaries from various governments from around the world.

And if that's not enough, Malaysia's numerous theme parks operate year round: Aquaria right inside the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centrenear Petronas, Sunway Lagoon Resort midway between Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, or Genting Highlands, along the border with Pahang State. For a more genteel experience take a trip to Cameron Highlands, a plantation style resort northeast of Kuala Lumpur.

For more information on exciting year around events in the“Visit Malaysia 2007” program, visit http://www.tourism.gov.my/

Fly to Malaysia and celebrate Merdeka with Cebu Pacific's affordable flights four times a week. Cebu Pacific, the only Philippine airline flying to Malaysia, now has more seats to Kuala Lumpur with the fielding of its new 179-seater Airbus A320.

Point of Origin

Mattel's recall of 18.2 million products, including Barbie playsets, Polly Pocket, Dora the Explorer, Fisher Price and Sesame Street toys is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mattel takes pride in its position as the world's most trusted toy company, and was quick to announce the recall following reports of problems with product safety.

If a company as careful with toy quality as Mattel can be caught off-guard with safety issues from toys manufactured in China, how much more for other toys sold in our country?
Apart from the Mattel recall, several toy companies also announced recalls of products ranging from bibs to children's address books.

The Department of Health warns parents to look for the “PS” product safety seal in all the items they buy, including toys for children. Yet, how many of the toys we see in stores, discount shops, and the “bangketa” carry the PS mark?

The big toy companies may be announcing a recall, but who is going to recall the millions of cheap plastic dolls and other toys purchased in discount stores and the bangketa?
Many of these toys, cheap rip-offs of licensed characters, are sourced from China.
China's safety problems stem from a lack of any credible monitoring process. It's a big country, with hundreds of thousands of small manufacturers, operating in a largely unregulated environment.

Documentary fraud is rife. Chinese manufacturers gleefully put down on paper anything that the buyer wants to see, whether or not that's really what's in the product. That's like buying a Diploma in Recto University.

Mattel's specifications called for lead free paint, their contract manufacturer sought out a supplier of lead-free paint—his best friend, who betrayed him by substituting cheaper leaded paint.

Sometimes these substitutions can be deadly, as was the case with the rampant substitution of toxic diethylene glycol with the safe glycerine in toothpastes, cough syrups, and hair care products.

I'm not so worried about the brand name toothpastes, it's the discount specials, and the free hotel toothpaste that I'm worried about. Haven't you noticed that some hotel toothpaste seem to have a slightly different texture? There has already been a recall by a supplier of hotel toothpastes.

In some cases, the manufacturer unilaterally changes the design without informing the buyer, as in the case of the 450,000 China made tires recalled last month in the US.

The agreed upon design required a “gum strip” to hold the tire belts in place in use. The manufacturer conveniently decided to omit the gum strip in later revisions of the design, resulting in a tire that did not meet safety standards.

How many of these substitutions and safety omissions are occurring is anyone's guess. China is the Wild West when it comes to manufacturing standards. It's a problem they will have to fix, and will eventually.

In the meantime, it's up to our own regulators to ensure the safety of locally available products through tests and monitoring of available products.

It used to be easy to tell where a product originated: American products proudly proclaimed “Made in the USA,” Japanese electronics proudly announced “Made in Japan,” and Philippine goods proudly stated “Philippine Made.”

Now, things are not so clear. Many products in the supermarket say “Distributed by (name of company),” or “Made for (name of company),” but not where its made.

Where are these “Made for (name of company)” really made? If they're made by someone else, did the brand owner validate the manufacturers claims with independent tests, or did they just rely on a document from the “honest” manufacturer?

If I recall correctly, there's supposed to be a country of origin label on the item, not merely an ambiguous “Distributed by...” or “Made for...” Yet, many supermarket goods, and bangketa goods don't mention their true country of origin.

In fact, that labelling should be extended to include sourcing of ingredients, e.g. “Made in the Philippines with ingredients from China, Australia, and the United States.” That would be clearer, and more helpful to the consumer. It would certainly make it easier to act if there's another product safety scare.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Get rich quick! Guaranteed!

THERE IS NO SUCH THING as a risk-free investment, but there a many who promise fantastic returns on supposedly risk-free terms. Fools believe them, and fools and their money are soon parted.

How does a pyramid scheme manage to entice so many otherwise prudent people to invest?
First, there’s the hook. Extraordinary Returns. Celebrity Investors. The earliest participants always make money as it is their word of mouth that attracts the gullible into supporting the scheme.

Pyramid schemes work by paying out the fantastic returns to early investors from "investments" made by downstream investors. Sooner or later, as the pyramid grows, there will no longer be enough "new investors" to support the ever widening base, and the pyramid collapses.

The proponents and the upline disappear, all feigning ignorance of the scheme, while the last in always, and inevitably, lose their money.

The Securities and Exchange Commission differentiates between pyramid investment schemes and multilevel marketing enterprises in the following way:

If most of the commissions are earned by recruiting new investors, salespersons, or clients, then it is an illegal pyramid. If, however, the commissions are derived from the sales of genuine products, then it is a possibly legitimate multilevel marketing business.

This is where the line is drawn: Commissions from recruitment = Illegal pyramid, commissions from product sales = possibly legitimate multi-level marketing business.

Tupperware, Sara Lee, and Natasha are examples of multi-level marketing programs. Many people make good income from legitimate MLMs, but it requires extreme determination and unique personality skills, so they’re not for everyone.

Pyramid schemes claim legitimacy by saying the money will be used for "telecommunications," "pawnshop lending," "gold investment," etc.

Think about your own business experience: Can any business that obtains funds at more than 100% per annum possibly be viable? Yet, these pyramid schemes promise guaranteed returns of up to 4.5% per day! The only guarantee is that you’ll never see your money again.

Another scam is foreign exchange trading.

Only large banks trade in large foreign exchange transactions and with good reason: Each transaction is in the millions of dollars, and the movement is in the tenths of a percent. On a million dollars, they will make or lose ten dollars. This is not a market where retail investors can effectively participate in.

The only relevance of foreign exchange movements to retail investors is in determining how to balance your assets: How much should I keep in peso assets? How much should I keep in dollar assets? How much should I keep in euro assets?

"Forex Shops," claim to provide leverage of up to 98%, explaining that a 2% movement allows you to double your money. They’re not so enthusiastic about explaining that it also means that a 2% movement THE WRONG WAY means you’ll lose ALL YOUR MONEY.

The Forex houses know this, that’s why many are not even real traders at all.

They’re bucket shops, pooling all the investors funds in a "bucket," paying out the winning trades, but profitting from the high probability that most trades will lose money. When currencies move strongly in one direction and their clients make paper profits by being on the right side, they simply close down, taking the bucket with them.

Our Securities and Exchange Commission has good material on avoiding investment scams here and here. Yet, with bank interest rates at all time lows, are there reasonably safe and legitimate means to make money?

First, extinguish the notion that there is such a thing as a risk free investment.

US treasury bills and bonds, considered the gold standard of low-risk investments carry foreign exchange risk: Just ask anyone who purchased dollar assets in 2005: They’re now down around 20% visa-vis the peso (Asia’s best performing currency over the last two years), and around the same amount vis-a-vis the Euro.

With interest rates in the low single digits, there’s also the opportunity cost. And unless you’ve purchased your bills through a legitimate banking channels, there’s also the risk that what you’re holding might be fake.

Peso treasury bills offer slightly higher rates, and the retail treasury bill market offers a safe way to participate. Want more? Then you’ll need to accept risk.

Refusing to accept risk is why many people fall for these scams: they’re dissatisfied with the low interest rates of legitimate instruments, so they’re willing to hand over their money to anyone making unrealistic promises of "risk-free" investments.

Promises are made to be broken. Unrealistic promises aren’t worth the saliva they’re said with.
Philippine T-Bill rates hover around 5% annum. These are the lowest risk investments available. Anything higher than that involves higher risk.

Incredibly high returns of 4.5% per day have infinite risk because they’re so obviously scams.
That doesn’t mean that one should not seek out higher returns. The stockmarket, the real estate market, and investing in businesses, have provided higher returns over the past five years.
Stocks and real estate are asset classes that exhibit cyclical behavior.

There are times when people think the world is about to end, and they can purchased cheap. There are times when people are willing to pay ridiculous prices for stocks and real estate.
Anyone who purchased PLDT shares in 2002 would have made twelve times their money.

Meralco shares are up seven-fold.

Real estate investments in small condominiums would have provided healthy rental revenues from call center employees looking for affordable digs near their places of work. Real estate investments in vibrant secondary cities outside Metro Manila would also have provided stellar returns.

Fortunately, we’re still somewhere midway through the current upcycle, last week’s price declines notwithstanding. We’re definitely not at the beginning of another "Asian Crisis," as this time the money is here in Asia, not running off to the United States to feed a dot-com bubble.

Both real estate and stocks still have some upside. The stockmarket’s "Price to Earnings Ratio" is still roughly half what it was at its peak in 1995, and real estate in areas where new infrastructure has been built (i.e. Along the MRT lines and along new highways) has good upside.

At HSBC’s Young Entrepreneur Awards last month, each of seven countries presented their winning business plans. I couldn’t help but think that of all the teams, Hong Kong’s had the best chance of obtaining funding for their proposals and transforming them into viable businesses.
That’s the nature of successful economies like Hong Kong’s. They understand risk, so are willing to invest money in promising businesses.

So, even if Bangladesh won over-all, and the Philippines won best presentation, it’s unlikely that their ideas will ever go beyond the paper stage for lack of funding. We deny capital to honest entrepreneurs, yet willingly hand over money to whoever shady character promises dubious risk-free investments.

Recognizing and managing risk is the key to above average returns. Risk exists everywhere: Get over it. Once you’ve done that, then you can make informed decisions about where to put your money.

Not everyone needs to become a risk management expert to invest wisely. Universal banks offer Investment trusts that specialize in particular asset classes: Fixed income instruments, Corporate debt, Listed equities, and soon, Real Estate Investment Trusts. The experts at established banks are well-trained to do the asset selection for you and their private bankers can help you determine the optimum balance of asset classes based on your needs.

For anyone below thirty years old, a whole life investment policy, one that pays you a lump sum at the end of a number of years, is also a sound investment. That lump sum can be used as downpayment for a real estate purchase later on.

Directly investing in a business is also another option. There are hundreds of entrepreneurs with bright ideas looking for funding. Your friends might be planning a business. Seek them out, meet with them, try to understand their business plans, and use your own experience to evaluate their business risk. If it’s acceptable to you, then consider investing in exchange for equity.

Just be realistic. Some businesses succeed, but many fail.

Out of every five investments, two will go sour, two will muddle through, and one will succeed beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

Even businesses that fail have some value: They may have assembled a good team that could be effective working on some other idea, or that entrepreneur you’ve helped may move on to bigger things and offer you more favorable terms.

Diversification is another key to obtaining higher returns. Don’t place all your eggs in one asset class. Invest a little in promising startups, buy a small piece of real estate, place some money in stocks, either directly, or through a managed investment trust, but keep a little in low risk treasury bills or time deposits with a reputable bank.

Just remember: There is no such thing as a risk -free investment, and anything that promises a return higher than 5% annum has higher risk, but because risk can be managed, it’s possible to obtain higher returns from your money. Just don’t be stupid and fall for obviously fradulent schemes.

If, however, you’d still like to put your money into one of those "get rich quick" guaranteed scheme, drop me a note, I’d like to talk to you about a bridge I’m selling...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Delay No More!

In the ”legacy phase” of the Arroyo presidency, its time we get our acts together and get moving, before the distractions of the 2010 Presidential race drag us even further behind our neighbors.

Here's a list of things that should be “Delayed No More!”

Genuine commercial banking and finance. Make it clear to banks that they should no longer expect government to borrow the money in their vaults. Encourage them to develop commercial banking competence, including credit risk analysis, so they can finance deserving Small and Medium scale enterprises and entrepreneurs.

With the current set-up, they'll soon run out of places to put deposits, given the preference of OFWs to borrow overseas where interest rates are lower, and requirements less stringent. Banks need to invest in educating their target markets on the proper use of credit and finance. Be proactive. Start with college kids.

Delay No More!

Needs driven housing. There's a real estate boom in the P500T to P5Mln segment, not the P30Mln segment. Our working and professional classes need affordable, quality housing, with easy access to mass transport, not gold plated bathroom fixtures.

Delay No More!

Speaking of Transportation. Where's my loop?

For that matter, where are all the other Mass transit lines that are supposed to crisscross Metro Manila and other major metropolitan areas? Pay off the old ones, then ask for financing to build new ones through a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme.

Mandate that major shopping malls and office complexes integrate public transport hubs away from congested city streets, just like they do in other major cities.

Delay No More!

Encourage greater participation in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market to effectively lower the price of electricity. Napocor needs to review its supply contracts, and ditch those sweetheart coal deals, both to remain competitive and to get good prices for the plants it chooses to sell.

Delay No More!

Implement local government policies to encourage economic activity in neighborhood communities and reduce the need for residents to commute long distances to find livelihood opportunities.

Compel government agencies to immediately act on implementing rules and regulations for enacted laws, particularly those which impact the SME sector. We have passed several good laws, such as the Barangay Micro-Business Enterprises Law, but these are being ignored for lack of implementing rules and regulations.

Delay No More!

Overhaul the Education Curriculum.

Grade School graduates need to know the three 3R's. Reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, and know typing and math tables by heart. They should also have basic communications skills in both English and the local language.

High school graduates need practical wisdom and basic skills to be productive upon graduation. Business math, computer and livelihood skills of their choice, such as auto mechanics, crop raising, animal husbandry, or crafts.

Students spend more time studying two novels by Jose Rizal about oppression in the Spanish period, than taking up the subject “Technology, Livelihood, and Entrepreneurship.” No wonder kids leave school brainwashed into helplessness only to become radicals in college. Get over it, Spain is our friend now, change the focus to practical skills that are needed today.

Delay No More!

Develop a National Broadband Strategy that encourages interconnection among government offices, schools, small telcos, and other businesses in each province through regional Internet Exchanges, not merely a National Broadband network that operates independently of everyone else's. Use the network to deliver updated educational curricula, e-governance services, and practical business information.

Delay No More!

Review the recently enacted VoIP Law.

With all its compromises and safety nets for imagined issues, it prevents operators from offering VoIP services to their largest market: Overseas Filipinos and others needing a local number in the Philippines. Let's get away from that habit of watering down good ideas into unworkable implementations. All the restrictions in the VoIP Law merely cripple our operators vis-a-vis overseas competitors operating in more liberal policy environments.

Delay No More!

Deal with the killings.

Regardless of whodunit, there's a lot of dead bodies, and a lot of perpetrators going scot-free. It is a lack of determined detective work, arrests, and convictions that are cultivating a culture of impunity. All these dead bodies are making aid donors, investors, the media, and the general public uneasy. A lot of smart people with the potential to contribute to our society are ending up dead. We really need to stop this.

Delay No More!

Deal constructively with insurgencies.

Use military force against any armed group, regardless of ideology, that targets our soldiers or oppresses our people, but constructively engage groups that are willing to discuss issues on the negotiating table.

Much of these groups are local insurgencies responding to local issues. Some don't even have issues. Do you still believe that there's a unified, indivisible, insurgency? Resolve each regions' insurgency separately by dealing with the issues and make it clear that the use of arms is unacceptable.

If the issue is with awarded lands and former landlords, remember how US Federal troops were used to deal with recalcitrant Alabama Governor George Wallace's attempt to block school integration. Land reform is a national law, and the nation has the right to use national resources to enforce these laws, even over the objections of powerful locals.

In the meantime, avoid tagging community organizers “communists.”

Community organizers are not communists, even if they were, work with them to turn their community organizations into cooperatives by offering all the assistance they need to become viable businesses. Use the agriculture and SME lending programs of the Land Bank and DBP to win them over to the mainstream. Embrace local economies by holding countryside agriculture and trade fairs in military camps.

Delay No More!

Unilateral Open Skies for airports outside Manila.

We've built the airports and spent hundreds of millions for each one. There's no sense in preventing reputable international airlines from using them. It's not an issue of whether or not Philippine carriers can fly to a provincial airport from Manila. No one wants to fly to Manila from Davao, just to take a flight to Brunei, and vice-versa. Open skies mean more flights directly into the regions. The sooner we can open our skies, the better.

Delay No More!

With all this fuss (and dead bodies) over Terminal 3, we haven't noticed that the NAIA runway has become terribly congested. Up to a dozen aircraft are waiting to take off and land at the busiest times. It's time we started talking about a new airport. Perhaps we could do in Sangley what they've done in Chek Lap Kok.

In the meantime, there aren't any major problems with the old Terminal 1 that renovations can't fix, at least until the entire airport must be relocated because of runway congestion. Kai Tak's old terminal building served Hong Kong well until Chek Lap Kok opened, and it's about the same size as our existing terminal.

Perhaps, if we made it clear that we may have to eventually close NAIA's runway due to congestion, there will be greater willingness to resolve the issues of Terminal 3.

Delay No More!

Decongest Manila's port and port to user roads to allow more efficient transport of goods in and out of the country. Develop International ports in every one of our major islands to directly route our imports and exports to their destinations.

Delay No More!

Automate the elections. Three years is not a long time for a major project. Perhaps we should review our basic assumptions on how we're going to do it: Use the nationwide cellular network to carry the data-it's already in place. Use modified smartphones as voting devices-they're cheap and don't depend on mains power, a challenge in many voting precincts. Create voting software using an open source model so every potential critic can review the source code to verify that the software does what it should-count votes. However it's done, it should be in place by 2010. We don't have any more teachers to sacrifice to ruthless local politics.

Delay No More!

And finally, one for the legislators. It's embarrassing that we had to spend one hundred fifty million pesos for each law that you've passed in the last Congress, many of which were bills to rename your hometown's main road after your grandparents. You ran for office as legislators, focus on legislating the crucial economic and policy reforms that our country so badly needs.

Delay No More!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mabuhay Smiles wins at Regional Awards

Three young ladies from the University of Philippines-Diliman bagged the “Best Presentation” award at the recently concluded HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards Regional Finals held June 25 at the bank's Asian headquarters in Central, Hong Kong. The prize was one of only two awards at the finals.

“Mabuhay Smiles,” a business plan promoting dental tourism in the Philippines was created and presented by Joyce Anne Cruz, Cristine Limbo, and Reynaline Tugade. The trio had earlier won the Gold Prize in the Philippines leg of the HSBC awards, entitling them to compete with other best entries of Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

First-time participant Bangladesh won the top prize, “The Best of the Best” Award, for their proposed industrial waste management company. Zeeshan Rahman, Joydeep Choudhury, and Baizeed Nur, from Dhaka University, seek to establish relationships with large industrial waste producers to help them properly manage their waste products.

Comprising the board of judges were Ms. Margaret Leung, Group General Manager and Global Co-Head for Commercial Banking, HSBC; Mr. Ronald Arculli, Chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Mr. Henry Fan, Esq., Executive Director at CITIC Pacific, Mr. Christopher Pratt, Chairman of Swire Pacific, and Mr. Alan Zeman, the “Father of Lan Kwai Fong,” and the appointed chairman of Ocean Park, Hong Kong.

The Silver and Bronze winners from each country were also flown in to lend moral support to the competing gold teams, as well as participate in a week of insightful and educational lectures and tours.

The Philippines Silver team winners were Kenn C. Reyes, JC Lazaro, and Ton Mannag with their proposal for calcium supplements from tuna bones abundant in General Santos City. The Bronze team winners were Ann Rachelle Cruz, Ma. Cristina Gonzales, and Rocyl Bagsic with their proposal for a bio-gas generation project using pineapple wastes in Tagaytay and Alfonso, Cavite.

Professor Bee-Leng Chua headlined the list of prominent lecturers. Prof. Chua is with the Department of Management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a project coordinator with the Global Entrepreneurship monitor, and an active member of CUHK's Center for Entrepreneurship.

Mr. K.O. Chia, President of the Hong Kong Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, provided the students with insights on running successful businesses, from his years as a venture capitalist with Walden International, Apple Computer, and HP-Agilent.

A tour through Hong Kong's Science and Technology Park was next on the agenda. HKSTP, whose technology driven infrastructure, support facilities, and clustered laboratory services are designed encourage the development of technology startups and enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong's industries, is located right next to CUHK.

Frederic Yung, Senior Manager of the Business Development and Incubation Support Division, led the lecturers, explaining the functions of HKSTP in relation to Hong Kong's leading edge competitive industries.

Tham Chee Lung, Director of the Angel Connection Team which pledges to bridge the gap between Angels, Entrepreneurs, and Venture Capitalists, explained the processes behind obtaining funding for business proposals. Chee-Lung has over twenty years experience in sales, market research, human resources, and general management with both multinationals and home-grown corporations.

The next day it was off to Ocean Park for some fun with the rides, but not until after a session with Ocean Park President Tom Mehrmann, who detailed the turnaround achieved by Ocean Park following debacle of SARS in 2003.

From Ocean Park in the southside of Hong Kong, the whole group dashed across the territory to Cathay Pacific City in Chek Lap Kok for a tour of flight operations and a talk by Tony Tyler, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Officer Designate. Mr. Tyler revealed that Cathay Pacific's cargo and passenger turnover has doubled since the handover, and predicts that Hong Kong will continue to be a mor international gateway into China and Asia.

Shenzhen was the final item on the agenda with visits to Kingdee Software International, a leading provider of enterprise management software and e-business applications, and ZTE Corporation, a global provider of fixed line, mobile telecommunications, and data network solutions. ZTE is the controversial lead entity for the Philippines' national broadband network.

Keeping everything organized were the indefatigable volunteers from CUHK, Theresa and Kelvin, who successfully led, organized, motivated, and cajoled the large group of students of eight nationalities and six countries all around Hong Kong and neighboring Shenzhen, making sure everyone made their meetings, had breakfast, and had a generally fun and exciting learning experience during the HSBC awards.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Billion Dollar Industry

Published in the Manila Bulletin, 19 November 2006. House Bill 5769 was passed by the committee and presented to the floor. However, Congress ended in March 2007 and was unable to deliberate the bill. A new Congress will deliberate the bill from July 2007.

The government, in the meantime, pursues a policy of using open source to create a platform for e-governance.

The United Nations has since cited the Philippines as the 17th most ready for e-governance, out of a field of 191 countries.

Rep. Teddy Casino's House bill 5769 is a welcome surprise for many who have been lobbying for the adoption of free open source software in the Philippines.

While still a diamond in the rough, House Bill 5769 is a landmark bill that places us at the level of progressive countries like Peru, Germany, France, India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and several U.S. States that have passed similar bills promoting the use and development of Free and Open Source Software.

When software is described as “free and open source” what does it mean?

Free and Open Source refers to a development model for making software. It is not a technology platform, as naysayers would like to call it to confuse the issues. It is a way of doing things in the Bayanihan spirit.

Open Source software is free to the community because it is the community that creates it.

This means that it is easy to distribute without worrying about complex commercial licensing fees and schemes. Second, freed of licensing restrictions in commercial software, it is easier to build upon to create for-profit services, that can be offered to the global market, earning dollars and euros.

In the Open Source model, even if the software is free, services created with the software can be very profitable. Yahoo, Amazon,Google, Apple, AOL, SUN and IBM are examples of technology leaders that have built upon open source to create globally marketable businesses.

Tech giant IBM came out strongly in support of open source software during the bill's public hearing.

Governments have also successfully built upon open source platforms t ocreate low cost systems for effective e-governance. It is the model followed by our fellow ASEAN members Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore,and Vietnam to create web accessible e-governance platforms.

TheDepartment of Science and Technology came out strongly in support of open source software during the bill's public hearing.

Use open source software, such as LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mail,PostgreSQL), to provide a way for SMEs to handle their books of account on the Web, and you've addressed tax leakages in this sector while providing a service to the small entrepreneur.

Rep. Junie Cua, Chairman of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, wondered why there is a need for a bill to promote a free, and possiblysuperior product, which by logic should be widely accepted.

Sir, first let me say that the Open Source development model IS very widely accepted. Proof of this is the Internet. 60% of the Internet’s Websites run on Apache, a free Open Source Web server. Many other Web technologies are open sourced.

The real reason for an Open Source bill is accelerate the adoption of the Open Source model and its products in the government and the education system. We need to accelerate e-Governance, we need to train millions of kids how to use computers on a shoestring budget, we need to train hundreds of thousands of programmers with code made available by the Open Source model.

But, how does the government go about adopting open source software?

First off, the bidding process for Information Technology must be technology neutral. A bid specification that says: “An Intel Pentium Computer, 2Ghz orfaster, with licensed Windows operating system, MS Office, AdobePhotoshop, and Norton Anti-Virus” is not technology neutral, because it is overly specific about the brands and technology of the requirements.

A bid specification that says “A computer rated at XX Gigaflops (orSpecMarks, or any other combination of recognized performancestandards), with a licensed graphical operating system, a WordProcessor, Spreadsheet, or Office suite capable of creating and savingfiles in an open standard format file, a Graphics editor, and ananti-virus program” is technology neutral.

Second, since Open Source software is free, it should be the default configuration of any government computer purchase. Need specific commercial software? Go ahead, buy it. Just make sure you've able to justify the expense to the Commission on Audit and tothe people.

Head over to http://osswin.sourceforge.net/ and download freeWindows software, install it, and evaluate it. Check outhttp://www.softwarefor.org/ for a ready made compilation of free andOpen Source software.

Get your free Office suite at http://www.openoffice.org/ and ditch pirated copies of Microsoft Office. Free Open Source software offers a superior alternative to pirated commercial software.

Migration costs can be minimized by following a step by step migration plan. This is the approach being taken by France and Singapore in theirOpen Source migration plan. Novell, http://www.novell.com/ has downloadable examples of migration plans, as do many other sites on theInternet.

The easiest part of IT systems to migrate are the backroom servers. The users won't notice changes and the systems administrator probably already knows how to do it.

The next easiest parts are the applications running on Windows or Mac computers. Existing computers can be used as-is, and users need only minimal retraining. I've seen high school kids switch easily betweenMS Office and OpenOffice.org without issue. Tip: Just say it's a newversion.

Atty. Teddy Kalaw, who came as a representative of the PhilippineInternet Commerce Society, also espoused his views as Secretary-General of the IP Coalition, as well as his own. Atty. Kalaw says that thePhilippines is “one of the few countries without software patents.”

Sir, allow me to rephrase that: The Philippines is one of the growing list of countries with an ENLIGHTENED Intellectual Property policy that doesNOT allow software patents. It's already been discussed in the Intellectual Property Office and they've determined that in the interest of national development, we shall follow the progressive European model.

Software patents havebeen rejected in the European parliament as rent-seeking and stifling to innovation.

The lengthy and costly patent process favors those with the most money,and not those with the best ideas. Patents protect ideas, but ideas don't run on computers. Programs, working implementations of ideas, run on computers and programs are adequately protected by copyright.

Legislators in the United States, one of the few countries WITH software patents, is asking the Patent Office to review Software Patents, following a flurry of frivolous and rent-seeking softwarepatent lawsuits, including one that almost debilitated U.S. EmergencyServices.

Many U.S. Companies, such as SUN, IBM, Novell, and Google, are licensing their patents free of charge to the Open Source community to prevent others from claiming similar patents to undermine Open Source software.

It is a common misconception that Open Source software is public domain. It is not, Open Source software is copyrighted, just like commercial software. Products or services created on open source platforms are just as well protected by Intellectual property laws. The difference is in the rights the authors grant to licensees.

Rep. Casino says Open Source is like a recipe: A closed source carinderia serves pinakbet, an open source carinderia serves Pinakbet AND gives the recipe. Why would they do that?

Perhaps because you may review the recipe and suggest a better Pinakbet, or perhaps you will quote it in a recipe book, giving the carinderia free publicity. Or perhaps the Carinderia would like people to learn how to cook so he'll have cooks to hire when he expands to the next town.

Open Source means that a program's source code, like a recipe, or a building plan, is publicly available. It can be reviewed, studied, modified, and improved by the community. It can be used as a tool to train future programmers. Code in Open Source is the same as code in Closed Source on the same technology platform.

Make Open Source ubiquitous, like theFoundation of IT for Education (FIT-ED) is working to do, and you've created future programmers for both Open Source and Commercial software.

Today's Open Source hackers will be writing tomorrow's Windows 2010.

Software piracy is no longer the the biggest problem facing commercial software publishers, it is the lack of qualified software developers. India forecasts a shortage of 100,000 skilled programmers by 2010 andPhilippine Software Industry Association created 14,000 jobs in 2005,and aspires to grow to 100,000 jobs by 2010 with industry revenues of One Billion Dollars.
That means finding 86,000 people who have had prior experience programming.

Closed source commercial software provides nothing to practice with, while Open Source does provides the tools and the knowledge.

Training programmers with Open Source software been India's model for quite sometime, and they've been at the billion dollar mark for quite some time.

Go Go Go Negosyo!

The book launch of Go Negosyo, Joey Concepcion's 50 Inspiring Entrepreneurial stories, was graced by no less than President Gloria Arroyo, to whom the importance of creating an enterprising Filipino culture is top priority.

Fifty individuals are featured, embodying what Prof. Andy Ferreria calls “The Entrepreneurial Spirit.”

Not only business owners are featured, as one expects, but also a selection from each of the three incarnations of entrepreneurs, as defined by Ferreria: The Classic entrepreneur, imbued with passion for an idea identifying a suitable market opportunity and having the capability to create products and services; the Corporate entrepreneur, be-suited executives who apply entrepreneurial principles to their work; and the Social entrepreneur, whose business strive to help others.

Stories of Classic Entrepreneurs are in abundance: Hair and Beauty magnates, brothers Ricky and Lester Reyes, Mozcom's William Torres, Splash's Roland Hortaleza, Island Souvenirs Jay Aldeguer, Bench's Ben Chan, Jollibee's Tony Tan CakTiong, French Baker's John Lu Koa, Figaro's Pacita Juan, National Bookstore's Socorro Ramos, Cibo's Gaita Fores and Julie's Bakeshops' Julie Gandionco.

Corporate Entrepreneurs Jaime Zobel De Ayala, applying entrepreneurial principles in the group's daily operations, the Lopez Family of ABS-CBN and Meralco, and Industry stalwart Raul Concepcion.

Among the Social Entrepreneurs are PlantersBank's Jesus Tambunting, pioneers of Small Business (SME) lending; Iliac Diaz of Pier One Seaman's Dorm, which provides clean affordable temporary accomodations to seafarers; and Vivienne Tan of the Entrepreneur's School of Asia.
Ricky Reyes, with his Isang Gunting, Isang Suklay programs, and livelihood training programs also fits into this category. In doing good, social entrepreneurs do well themselves.

Belonging in all categories, are tycoons John Gokongwei, Jr. and Henry Sy, whose massive empires create opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups: whether as dealers of their manufactured products, tenants of their giant malls, and clients of their bank's SME lending programs.

At the end of each short story are invaluable lessons gleaned by Prof. Ferreria from each entrepreneurs' life story:

“Build your enterprise around your passion. See if your passion has a market. Alternatively, check if fulfilling habits of customers who pay is your passion.” from Jay Aldeguer; “Entrepreneurs choose an enterprise not because of the money but because it is something they like.” and “Leveraging on current resources is a hallmark of an entrepreneur.” from Paolo Bediones. “Dare to be different, but make sure you are making a difference in the market and the company financials.” from Larry Cruz.

“When there is a shortage of supply in the market, there is opportunity.” and “If you want to earn more, delegate to others, but make sure your cost of delegation is less than the revenue of the delegated work.” from Socorro Ramos; “Social entrepreneurshipis something all classic entrepreneurs must go for.” and “Entrepreneurs have a positive outlook, they see opportunity in crisis.” from Ricky Reyes.

For several years, we have belabored under the idea that our economy is going nowhere. Is it really? Or is there already a yet unseen revolution ready to burst out and feed this nation for many lifetimes?

With the Go Negosyo program, we may just be on the verge of an economic renaissance, witnessing the birth of a new economy, with people trained not to look for jobs, but to look for opportunities, and create enterprises that create jobs.

Ticket to Ride

Visit Hong Kong's most popular attractions on only HKD$50(P325)/day? Yes, with the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway's HKD50 tourist pass which offers 24 hours of unlimited rides on the MTR System, you've got a Ticket to Ride!

Only bonafide tourists that have been in Hong Kong less than 14 days may purchase a tourist pass, so you'll need to show your passport at the MTR ticket booth. The ticket includes a flyer with suggested MTR destinations, but feel free to plan your own itinerary around the MTRs speedy train service.

The KCR network isn't included in the tourist pass, but you can always buy a KCR ticket and hop on if it takes you to where you're going (or to get back to the MTR system).

You'll never get lost in Hong Kong as long as you can find an MTR station, either on foot or via
minibus going to an MTR station (look for the MTR logo on the bus destination card). Areas near MTR stations have signs pointing to the station.

If you need directions to an MTR station or a destination, ask the staff at a chain store, such as
McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Watson's or Giordano, or look for a shop with the Quality Tourist Services Seal.

It doesn't matter which MTR station, as long as you find one (walking along Nathan Road for example, will usually bring you to the areas of different MTR stations), just take the train to where you need to go.

An unused pass remains valid for 30 days, but once used, expires after 24-hours, so plan ticket
purchases, and journeys, accordingly. At the end of 24 hours, the turnstile returns the ticket as a
souvenir. Late morning to early afternoon is the best time to clock the pass' first use, so you'll still have a few hours to run around in the morning of the next day.

If your pass runs out at the wrong time, a regular ticket back costs around HKD10, unless you find yourself at the distant Tsuen Wan, Tung Chung, Disneyland or Po Lam Stations, where tickets to Central are around HKD20-30, so plan your last trips. If you're going to be in Hong Kong another day, it may make more sense to purchase and clock in another tourist pass.

All routes allow reasonable amounts of luggage (about as much as airlines allow as carry on), and
plenty of shopping bags, but it's best to avoid the lines going out of Central and Admiralty during rush hour (from 5-6pm). The Tung Chung, Airport Express, and Disneyland resort lines allow baggage but be sure to use the station elevators instead of the escalators for safety. All stations provide facilities for wheelchairs (lifts and special turnstiles, etc.) and differently-abled passengers, with braille maps and footmarkers.

Tourist maps with directions to popular area attractions are posted at each MTR station. Major Stations in Central, Admiralty and Tsim Sha Tsui have system wide maps listing tourist destinations in other areas.

MTR Stations have multiple exits identified by letters and numbers, most exit to the street, and some exit inside buildings (particularly on the Island line), so check the station map for the correct exit to your destination. Some destinations are five to fifteen minutes walk away from the station.

Many stations function as underground walkways crossing streets, entering one exit allows you to reorient yourself on the maps and re-emerge at another part of the district.

Exceptions are the Central, Causeway Bay, and Tai Koo stations, where exit areas are divided into sections. Be sure to check the Station maps within the paid areas: Emerging from the wrong turnstile may not allow you to retrace your steps within the station and you'll have to re-orient yourself above ground.

The Hong Kong MTR System consists of five lines and the exclusive Disneyland Resort Line: Island Line on Hong Kong Island, the harbour crossing Tsuen Wan, Tsuen Kwan O, and Tung Chung Lines, and the Kwun Tong Line from central to eastern Kowloon.

The Island Line runs along Northern Hong Kong Island with stops along the tourist, shopping,
business, and government destinations on the Island. Stations from Sheung Wan to North Point are closely spaced and above-ground walking ten minutes in one direction usually take you to the area of the next station.

Interchanges: Airport Express and Tung Chung Line at the Central Station. The Tsuen Wan line at Central and Admiralty Stations, and the Tseung Kwan O line at North Point and Quarry Bay Stations.

Sheung Wan Station is the western terminus of the Island line where Shun Tak Centre and the Hong Kong-Macau and mainland China Ferry Piers are located. The Western Market is a restored early 20th Century building with stalls selling local handicrafts and fabrics. Nearby, along Bonham Strand, Wing Lok Street, Des Veoux Road West, and Ko Shing Street are dozens of dried seafood and tonic shops with Abalone, scallops, ginseng, and traditional Chinese medicine stores. The mid-levels escalator is equidistant from the Sheung Wan and Central Stations.

Central Station, with three internal sections, covers a wide expanse of the Island's main business
district. There's West Central, from the mid-levels escalator, going up to the SoHo (South of
Hollywood) bar and restaurant district. An underground walkway connects to Hong Kong Station and the IFC Mall. Nearby are Exchange Square (with a bus terminal to Repulse Bay, the Peak, and other Island destinations), Jardine house, with its iconic round windows, and World Wide House, where Philippine shops and money changers abound.

Mid-central is the focal point of this year's Winterfest, Santa's Town, and home to the Island's
institutions: The Mandarin Oriental, Statue Square, Legislative Council, HSBC and Standard
Chartered Bank Headquarters, the China Club (in the old Bank of China Building) and Prince Building, The Landmark Mall, and 9 Queen's Road with their high-end shops; uphill to the gas-lit Duddell Street, Foreign Correspondent's Club, and Lan Kwai Fong.

Walk uphill from east Central to the new Bank of China Building, to the Old French Mission, St. John's Anglican Cathedral, and the Peak Tram station.

Admiralty Station has a transport hub to the south side of the Island (with busses to Aberdeen,
Stanley, Ocean Park, and Shek O), Office complexes and the high-end Pacific Place Mall, and an
escalator leading up to Hong Kong Park, the Museum of Tea Ware, and the Visual Arts Centre.

The Hong Kong Marriot, Shangri-la, and Conrad Hotels are also located here. Queensway Plaza provides a bridgeway to eastern Central and is filled with boutiques, specialty stores and cafes.

The whole of Admiralty is interconnected by walkways and underpasses so there is little reason to cross streets. Take the underground walkway to Three Pacific Place and the triangular Methodist Church to get to Starstreet, a new lifestyle district with an artistic flavor full of cafes, clubs, and art galleries.

Wanchai Station takes you to the Wanchai Computer Center and nearby 298 Computer Center also sells digital photo accessories.

Nearby Tai Yuen street specializes in children's toys for kids of all ages.

Wanchai's former red light district at Lockhart, Luard, and Jaffe Roads have been replaced by
collection of trendy bars, traditional hot pot eateries, and fancy restaurants.

Walk north to find the Immigration Bureau, the Inland Revenue Service, Convention Center, and the Trade Development Council. The Arts Centre Pao galleries nearby showcase contemporary art. The Golden Bauhinia Square along the waterfront commemorates Hong Kong's return to China.

Nearby, there is a Star Ferry Terminal to Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom (Whampoa Gardens, the mall with the concrete ship).

Causeway Bay Station brings you the heart of the Island's main shopping district. The northern
waterfront area has the Excelsior Hotel, the World Trade Center Mall, Sogo Department Store, and various specialty malls. The once-quiet southern section going towards Happy Valley, brought to life by the massive The Times Square mall, is full of local designer shops, chinese and ethnic restaurants, and quaint boutique hotels.

Causeway Bay is best appreciated on foot, in a walking tour starting at Sogo, crossing Lockhart road behind (where you can find HKD50 collapsible bags to bring home your extra loot), going North to the World Trade Center, then east to Fashion Walk. Go south to the In Square at Windsor House, where you'll find fashions and computers, then walk back towards Sogo, crossing Hennessy Road towards the southern half.

Jardine's Bazaar street is Causeway Bay's street market, with an assortment of clothes and bags for the value shopper. Walk further south towards Times Square Mall, with its shops and casual dining restuarants, or visit the local fashion designer shops around Russell, Sharp and Yiu Wa Sts. Other attractions in this area are the Lee Gardens and Leighton Centre shops, and the dozens of small chinese cafeterias lining the streets.

Walk further south to the Happy Valley Racecourse, with its racing museum and scheduled races (visit http://www.hkjc.com/ for schedules) is a must see if you're a horse racing fan.

Tin Hau Station provides direct access to Victoria Park and the Tin Hau temple built by the Tai family in the early 18th Century. South of Victoria Park and accessible from Causeway Bay is the Hong Kong Central Library, which offers books, multimedia resources, and quiet coffee shops.

North Point Station abounds in delicious streetside cafeterias, chinese restaurants, and specialty
shops. Primarily residential, it's similar to Causeway Bay without the congestion.

Quarry Bay Station takes you to the office district for tech companies and the warranty repair and parts depots of the major electronics and camera distributors.

Tai Koo Station connects directly to Tai Koo Shing Cityplaza Mall, built on the site of the Swire
Group's early 20th Century sugar mill, and one of Hong Kong's largest shopping malls with a wide variety of mid-priced Hong Kong chain stores.

Sai Wan Ho Station brings you to the Hong Kong Film Archive Museum, which archives, conserves, catalogues, and exhibits the products of Hong Kong's movie industry. A computerized catalogue system provides quick access to the thousands of pieces on store.

Shau Kei Wan Station brings you to the Museum of Coastal Defense in the 19th Century Lei Yue Mun Fort feauturing a 600-year history of Hong Kong's Coastal defense since the Ming and Qing periods.

Chai Wan Station is the eastern terminus of the Island line. The Law Uk Folk Museum, is a 200-year old Hakka Village House filled with rural furniture and farm implements is a short walk away.

The Tsuen Wan Line crosses the harbor, running from Central in Hong Kong Island to Tsuen Wan in the Western New Territories. Stations from Tsim Sha Tsui to Prince Edward are closely spaced and walking in one direction along Nathan Road takes you to the area of the next station.

Interchanges: Airport Express and Tung chung Line at Central Station; HK Island line at Central and Admiralty Station; Kwun Tong Line at Yau Ma Tei, Mongkok, and Prince Edward Stations; Tung Chung Line at Lai King Station; KCR West rail at Mei Foo station; Underground walkway to KCR East rail from Tsim Sha Tsui Station (use the Mody road underground path which has a motorized walkway).

Tsim Sha Tsui is the southernmost tip of the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong 's famous tourist strip. It stretches from the Harbour City, Cultural Centre and Avenue of Stars area to the Hillwood SoHo/Knutsford Terrace nightlife district and extends east to TST East.

Tsim Sha Tsui Station is in the middle of the district, near the southern end of Kowloon Park.

Like Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui is best appreciated on foot. Follow the walking map in the Hong Kong Walks guidebook for a tour that takes you around Tsim Sha Tsui, ending in either north at the Jordan Station or south at the Star Ferry Terminal. Must go places along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront are Harbour City for mid to high end shopping, the Cultural Centre for events, the Space Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of Arts, and the Avenue of Stars.
Visit the most elegant Peninsula lobby for some afternoon tea, and stroll through Nathan Road, but ignore the tourist traps and touts along the Golden Mile. You'll find more shops going west along Haiphong or Peking roads, or going east along Cameron Road and Granville streets (where surplus shops abound), or in the Miramar Shopping Centre and along Park Lane.

There are also interesting shops along Carnarvon road leading up to Knutsford Terrace, Kowloon's answer to the Island's Lan Kwai Fong.

An underground motorized walkway along Mody Road connects to the Tsim Sha Tsui East district, KCR East Rail, Rosary Church, a favorite Sunday meeting place of Filipino residents and tourists and shopping at DFS, Empire Center, and TST Centre; and several world class hotels.

The Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Prince Edward Stations bring you to different parts of the
street market and value shopping district on either side of Nathan Road between Jordan Road and Prince Edward Road West.

Start north, alighting at Prince Edward Station around noon, and walk east, first is the gold fish
market, then Fa Yuen street, further East is the Flower Market and Bird Market, but unless you're a real bird fancier, this is best avoided lest any of the birds carry pesky viruses.

Fa Yuen is the value market (open from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm) with men's and women's clothes for as little as HKD5. Ever wonder where some clever vendors of the adjacent Ladies Market on Tung Choi street get cheap merchandise to sell for HKD10?

Walk south along Fa Yuen Street until you reach Argyle street, the heart of Mongkok. Walk west towards Nathan Road to visit the Ladies Market (open noon-11:30pm) for clothes, accessories, and beauty products, Sai Yeung Choi Street South for Photo and Electronics shops, and the Mongkok Computer Centre for your IT needs.

If you need to get back to the MTR, Mongkok Station is at the corner of Argyle and Nathan.

Reach Nathan by walking west through either Argyle or Dundas street (at the southern ends of the market streets), then walk south towards Yau Ma Tei and visit the specialty malls along the way. Beware of the street touts offering pirated DVDs.

Just past Yau Ma Tei Station, go west on Man Ming or Wing Sing to find the start of the Temple
Street Night Market (open 4pm to midnight, but best visited from 5-7pm) which abounds in cheap gadgets and curios. Numerous eateries offer filling and affordable meals, but English skills, and hygiene standards vary.

If you're early, visit the Jade Market which closes at 5pm. It's four streets west at Kansu and Battery streets. This is a fun place to browse and buy something inexpensive, but think twice before buying pricey “real jade” unless you consider yourself a Jade expert.

Walk back east towards Nathan Road to the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, at the corner of Jordan and Nathan Road, and Jordan Station. Take the MTR to bring your shopping bags to the hotel, or follow the Tsim Sha Tsui walking tour route through Hillwood, Knutsford Terrace, Granville Road, then back to Nathan down to the waterfront Avenue of Stars.

Sham Shui Po Station is for the electronics and computer hobbyist. Go to Golden Computer Centre, New Capital Computer Centre, and Dragon Center for low priced computer goods, nearby Apliu street for hobby electronics, industrial control devices, and Cheung Sha Wan Fashion Street, for China-style fashion.

Cheung Sha Wan Station brings you to the Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb. Unearthed in 1955, it has been converted into a museum showing artifacts from the early 12th Century Han period.

Tsuen Wan Station is the eastern terminus of the line. Nearby is the Kowloon Panda hotel. The Sam Tung Uk Museum is a restored 200-year old rural walled village with an ancestral hall, two rows of side houses, and four period houses displaying handicrafts and agricultural implements of the Hakka people. At Hoi Pa Village, The Old House, built in 1904, is a fine example of Southern Chinese village architecture.

The Kwun Tong Line runs from Yau Ma Tei in Central Kowloon to the eastern New Territories up to Tiu Keng Leng.

Interchanges: Tsuen Wan line at Yau Ma Tei, Mongkok, and Prince Edward; KCR East Rail at Kowloon Tong; Yau Tong and Tiu Keng Leng to the Eastern Harbor crossing Tseung
Kwan O line.

Kowloon Tong Station brings you to Festival Walk, a 90,000 sq.m. Mall filled with family
entertainment and Hong Kong's largest Ice Skating Rink.

Twenty minutes walk, or a short taxi ride, from Lok Fu Station is the site of the Kowloon Walled
City. Once an semi-lawless, high-rise slum, it was transformed into an award-winning park in 1995, featuring a museum housed in the restored offices of the Qing Dynasty Assistant Magistrate. Nearby is the new Kowloon City Plaza mall.

Wong Tai Sin Station brings you to Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong's version of Quiapo Church, where thousands of devotees flock to ask favors from the Chinese goddess Wong Tai Sin, and other dieties of the Confucianist, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies. Fortune tellers abound just outside the temples, but prices vary, so check first lest your fortune be spirited away.

Diamond Hill Station brings you to Chi Lin Monastery, a 30,000 sqm Tang Dynasty style monastery featuring tranquil rock gardens and ponds and the adjacent Nan Lian Garden, recreated from an ancient village in Shanxi province is a leisure park featuring a museum of wood architecture and recreated Chinese classical timber structures made without iron nails.

Choi Hung Station exit C2 and minibus 1A take you to the rural retreat of Sai Kung Town, now a
trendy collection of European and Asian seafood eateries. A promenade connects the town to beaches and a lovely view of offshore islands.

Kwun Tong Station takes you near the old airport, now a golf driving range, and the APM Millenium City mall with over 170 lifestyle outlets, and restaurants that stay open until 2AM.

Yau Tong Station and minibus 24 take you to Lei Yue Mun Seafood Bazaar, a fishing village popular for seafood and al-fresco dining.

The Tseung Kwan O Line runs from North Point on Hong Kong Island, crosses the harbor at the east then runs along the eastern new territories northward to Po Lam.

Interchanges: Island Line at North Point and Quarry Bay, Kwun Tong Line at Yau Tong and Tiu Keng Leng.

Hang Hau Station exit B1, then minibus 101M, is an alternate route to the rural retreat of Sai Kung Town.

The Tung Chung Line is the newest MTR line. It runs from the Hong Kong station which is linked by underground walkway to Central Station, up to Tung Chung on Lantau Island.

Tip from the locals:
Save HKD70, and enjoy a quick ride to the airport from Central by taking the MTR to Tung Chung instead of the Airport Express, then take a 5-minute ride on the S1 Airport Bus.

Interchanges: Island Line and Airport Express at Hong Kong/Central Station, Airport Express at Kowloon and Tsing Yi, KCR West Rail at Nam Cheong, Disneyland Resort Line at Sunny Bay, and the Ngong Ping Skyrail at Tung Chung

Hong Kong Station is linked to Central Station by underground walkway and right beneath IFC
Mall, Star Ferry terminals to Tsim Sha Tsui, and Hung Hom (Whampoa Gardens), and the Outlying Islands Ferry to Cheung Chau, Lamma, and Lantau Islands.

Kowloon Station takes you to the western portion of the newly reclaimed and still undeveloped west Kowloon Peninsula. Walking east will take you to the China Hong Kong City mall and ferry pier, just north of Harbour City, and walking further east takes you to Nathan Road via Kowloon Park.

Tsing Yi Station is on an Island between Kowloon and Lantau Island, offering dramatic views of the Tsing Yi and Tsing Ma bridges linking the airport and Lantau Island to the rest of Hong Kong. The Maritime Square mall features the Snowman Fantasia where you can make your own snowman.

Sunny Bay Station is the interchange to the Disneyland Resort Line. Visit Disneyland Theme Park (park admission ticket required), or stroll (for free) in the adjacent Disney Gardens, Inspiration Lake and the scenic Disney Ferry Terminal , or dine at the picturesque Disneyland Hotel or glitzy Disney Hollywood hotel. Express buses to and from Central and other parts of Hong Kong are available the Disneyland station.

Tung Chung Station is near the airport and gateway to Lantau Island destinations. The Citygate
Outlets mall has dozens of outlet stores of well-known name brands offering discounts of up to 70% on end of season items. Take the Ngong Ping Skyrail or Bus 23 to The Giant Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, and Nogong Ping Village; or take Bus 11 to visit Tai O fishing village, one of the oldest inhabited villages in Hong Kong, with a wide assortment of seafood specialty products.

©2007 Maccess Corporation. The information in this document was current at the time of its writing and was obtained from sources deemed reliable. Use this information at your own risk, the authors assume no responsibility for any loss or damage resulting from the use of this information. If you do get lost, look for an MTR/KCR/LRT station and take the train back. If you need help, ask for assistance from a branch of 7-11, McDonald's, or Giordano. If you need to make a call, buy a HK SIM Card and put it in your phone.

The Grandeur of Hyundai.

The second of two marketing articles written for Hyundai Motors. Published in the Manila Bulletin, 13 July 2007.

If your notion of Hyundai cars are excellent value for money, you're absolutely correct. If you think they're unremarkable econoboxes, think again.

They've been faking it all along, making best-selling value-priced automobiles while quietly investing billions of dollars in advanced research developing a complete range of remarkable, outstanding, environmentally friendly and technologically superior motor vehicles.

Hyundai Motors is the world's sixth largest automaker with ambitions of leading the industry in green technology. The Hyundai Motor plant in Ulsan, South Korea is the largest integrated motor vehicle complex in the world. For 2007, Hyundai Motors leads in more vehicle segments in Strategic Vision's Total Quality Index, with the Azera, Entourage and Santa Fe earning top marks.

All these are the results of a strategy, began in 1998, to establish Hyundai Motors as a leading global brand. They acquired the then-ailing Kia Motors brand, returning it to profitability by 2005 with remarkable new models built with Hyundai technology.

They used to buy diesel engines from Mitsubishi, but after improving on the technology, today, Mitsubishi buys diesel engines from them. That's why, unlike other vendors, Hyundai ofers diesel engine options on most of its locally available vehicles.

In 2004, Hyundai Motors tied Honda in JD Power's initial brand quality survey of new cars. In the 2006 JD Power ranking, the Hyundai brand ranked 3rd overall, just behind Porsche and Lexus, and beating long time rival Toyota.

Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI) is Hyundai's authorized dealer in the Philippines. Starting with the venerable and best-selling Starex, HARI now offers a wide range of award-winning Hyundai vehicles for every vehicular need.

The Getz is Hyundai's compact runabout car, with prices starting below five hundred thousand pesos. Available in fuel efficient 1.1 and 1.3 liter gasoline engines, and a Common Rail Diesel Injection variant, the Getz is a favorite among young people and corporate fleet buyers.

The Getz has won Awards for Best Small car in Australia (2003, 2005) and Scotland (2003). In 2003, it won Best Budget Car in the UK “What Car?” Magazine's round-up,and in the UK motoring program “5th Gear.” It was the best selling car in Denmark in 2003 and it's been voted the “Car of the Year” award in Portugal (2004).

The Elantra/Avante is for the junior executive with a flair for fresh, dynamic styling. According to Cars.com: "Hyundai gives the Elantra more standard features than its competitors get, prices it lower and throws in the market's most generous warranty to boot. Trim levels include the GLS, sporty SE and premium Limited."

The Tuscani is Hyundai's sports coupe, with a stylish, sporty design prominent in its chiseled nose, wedge-shaped profile, sculptured sides and a sports-tuned dual muffler. Buyers have a choice of an economical 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine and a high performance 2.7 liter V6.

The Sonata is Hyundai's high-performance mid-range executive car, featuring the powerful 3.3 liter V6 engine of Hyundai, that promises to launch the car from zero to 100 km/h in less than 6.6 seconds. In the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year Awards, it was awarded best new family car under C$35,000.

The flagship Grandeur/Azera is the most luxurious sedan. Ideal for the accomplished executive, featuring leather seats, all-power features, a wood-panelled dashboard, and optional 17” wheels. Car and Driver notes the Grandeur/Azera has slightly more rear legroom than a popular mid-range German luxury sedan.

The Grandeur/Azera uses the same powerful V6 found in the Sonata. The power is sent to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with "Shiftronic" manual gear selection.

The Azera was named “Best New Family Car (OVER C$35,000)” in the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year Awards, matching the recognition won by the Sonata in the below C$35,000 category, and achieving for Hyundai the rare honor of besting adjacent categories.

HARI carries Hyundai Motors' complete range of SUVs: From the competitively priced Tucson to the Grand Luxe VeraCruz, easily, and justifiably mistaken for ultra-luxury German SUVs.

Don't turn Japanese until you've checked out the best-selling Hyundai Tucson (Too-son) and save over a hundred grand compared with Japanese SUVs.

When it was first introduced in the US, demand was so great that Hyundai's plants were running at full capacity just to meet demand. The Tucson won Canadian Car of the Year Best New Crossover award in 2005, and offers outstanding value in its category.

Save a fortune and enjoy a full range of luxury features standard in the mid-size Santa Fe. Unlike the converted pick-up trucks in its class, the Santa Fe is a true crossover featuring a monocoque integrated chassis and a luxury car like ride.

For ultimate luxury in large SUVs, Hyundai offers the high-end VeraCruz, an elegantly sculpted exercise in power and style. In design and creature comforts, the Veracruz is an undisputed winner with spacious interiors, leather seats, all power features, and seats for seven.

Safety features--electronic stability control, side and head air bags, front-seat active head restraints, rear-seat head restraints, and antilock brakes--are standard.

And if that full range of vehicles—the Getz runabout, the Elantra/Avante, Sonata, Grandeur/Azera sedans, and the Tucson, Santa Fe, and Vera Cruz SUVs—is not enough, Hyundai has a few more surprises in store for 2008 with a remake of the venerable Starex, and the revolutionary i30, which is already making waves in Korea and Europe.

40 Years of Passion Heading to 400

One of two features for Hyundai Motors, written following a familiarization tour of Hyundai Motor's operations in Korea.

Delegates from China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, were flown in for a hectic first-hand look at the passion that drives Hyundai Motors.
It was a whirlwind tour of South Korea for the more than one hundred delegates, and revving everyone up for the company’s ambitious target of four hundred percent sales growth.
The first two days were relatively easy, but little did we know that Hyundai intended to break the speed limit as the week went on.
In Seoul, we visited both modern and ancient Korea with a visit to the "Blue House," Korea’s Presidential Palace, then to Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1411 during the Joseon Dynasty.
Then, it was off to shopping at Itaewon, near the US Military barracks. If you’re homesick, there’s a Philippine store and eatery right beside our embassy.
Dinner was a memorable introduction to Korean merry-making tradition, as we were introduced to Shoju, and the customary toast of "We-HaYoo," to go with our choice of grilled beef and pork.
I eat neither, so I joined what we would later call the "ASEAN" table, with other non-carnivorous South East Asians. That would come in handy later on, being the only table with various nationalities, we toasted ASEAN and Hyundai’s four hundred percent growth forecast in this market.
The Shoju we were toasting with is nasty stuff. Its effect on your sense of balance is wildly disproportionate to its alcoholic content.
Thankfully, the next morning we found ourselves on Korea’s Hyundai built bullet train zipping across the country at 300 km/h and I was able to get some sleep.
Busan is Korea’s second largest city and the country’s largest port. The Korean stuff you have gets to you through Busan. Hyundai’s cars don’t pass through Busan, but more on that later on.
Boemoso Buddhist Temple is Korea’s most beautiful. Set amidst verdant mountains, it was worth the hour long drive from Busan proper. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on May 2nd, and the numbers of delegates going to pay homage, as opposed to visiting tourists, made me realize just how widespread the Buddhist philosophy is.
The next day would be the big day, at least from the point of view of our hosts. It was the day they would show us their pride: Ulsan, otherwise known as the city that Hyundai built.
Starting in 1947 as a civil engineering firm, Hyundai chose Ulsan, then a sparsely populated rural town, to build what would later become Hyundai Heavy Industries, which today makes the world’s largest ocean–going ships.
Hyundai Motors would follow in 1967, and soon an entire city was on the rise, built almost entirely by the company.
Hyundai has its own massive port in Ulsan, where the massive ships it’s built load its cars which get to the port on highways that it built. There’s even a Hyundai Hotel and a Hyundai Department Store.
This company really plans way ahead into the future.
At the showroom of Hyundai Heavy, there’s a scale model of an ecofriendly Hyundai acropolis, an ultra-modern city system built on a small footprint that Hyundai hopes to build a few hundred years into the future.
Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan plant is the world’s largest integrated auto manufacturing plant. In it they make all their flashy new models: The Veracruz, Santa Fe, and Tucson SUVs, the Korea-only EQUUS limousine, Grandeur and Sonata executive cars, Tuscani coupe, the Getz and Vistro small cars, as well as their popular Starex vans.
Having shown us their "town," Hyundai finally felt that it was time for us to relax and sent all of us off to Jeju.
Located just off the southern tip of the peninsula, Jeju is Korea’s Big Island.
Three times the size of Singapore, it’s where Koreans go for R&R, which plenty of local color and recreational sports. It’s also a favorite location for shooting those ubiquitous koreanovelas.
We stayed at the Haevichi Resort, a members only resort partly owned by, you guessed it, Hyundai. It’s located right on the beach used in "Stairway to Heaven," and right next to the Jeju Folk Village used in "Jewel in the Palace."
The Paradise Hotel in Jeju was unlike anything else we’ve seen in Korea.
Built to resemble a Spanish Villa, it didn’t have any of the sharp edged geometric architecture features common around Korea.
In fact, when the Filipino band started playing our favorite tunes we felt right at home.
The Bonsai garden in Jeju should not be missed. Built over thirty years by a then young man from the mainland who worked days and nights in this once remote location, the Bonsai Garden is the world’s largest, and arguably the most beautiful of its kind.
Back at the Haevichi, it was time to prepare for the culminating event, the grand Gala night (as if all the previous events had not been as grand).
Hyundai SVP SS Chang was there to deliver the closing remarks as well as a challenge to the dealers to exceed their sales targets.
Hyundai New Zealand head Heinz Weissner, a Hyundai dealer for 25 years, delivered his bit, but the highlight was when our own Marife Agudo, SVP and COO of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (Hyundai Philippines) asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: "What does the slogan, "40 years of Passion heading for 400" mean?"
"400 percent sales growth, of course!" exclaimed Marife.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Why They Kill.

I LIKE GOOGLE EARTH. With Google Earth, I can view satellite photos of anywhere in the world, and anywhere in the Philippines.

I can see roads, bridges, and buildings that are supposed to be there. Strangely though, there seem to be a lot more roads and bridges in local government maps than satellite pictures reveal.

Where have these roads and bridges in official maps gone?

Ever noticed how in some rural areas the pavement of a secondary road ends fifty meters from a highway, or how an otherwise continuous road has an inexplicable ten meter gap somewhere in the middle?

Locals explain the gap as "the commission," or the part of the road that didn’t get built because someone pocketed a portion of the road’s budget.

Try another trick with Google and Google Earth: Look up the Metro Manila (or Metro Cebu) addresses of some provincial mayors, then zoom into their palatial residences. Pay particular attention to the exclusive villages.

Where does all of this money to build these mansions come from? Surely, the Mayor of a small town can’t be earning this much!

The Asian Development Bank warns that too many of our local government are overly dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) provided by the National Government, rather than finding ways to raise funds for themselves.

The IRA is intended to be used for development projects of the local governments: TO BUILD roads, to build schools, to undertake projects for the improvement of the community.

It can amount to hundreds of millions of pesos a year, enough to build farm-to-market roads, hook up the town to the Internet, build a community college, a sports center; or it can be diverted and used for personal profit.

Local Government Units are fully capable of raising their own funds, which they can do in three ways: Real Estate Taxes, Business Permits, and use of the town’s patrimony.

But, in many small towns real estate taxes are inexplicably low; at least until one understands that in many small towns the local officials are also the town’s largest landowners.

Message to the ADB: Some small towns don’t raise real estate taxes because the Mayor doesn’t want to tax himself.

How some get to be the largest landowner is a story in itself because under the Mayor’s office is the local land registry.

Of course, at some point the real owner is going to notice a problem, but this process can take decades, and in the meantime, the property can be leased or even sold to an unsuspecting buyer.

That’s why it’s always prudent to check with the National Land Registry in Quezon City when offered a rural property with a local registry title.

A friend returned from overseas to find a palatial mansion built on her family property in a small town up north. They still held the National Registry title, but lo and behold, the local registry listed the mayor as the owner.

When confronted, the mayor offered to return the property and correct the local registry, but only if they paid for "improvements!"

When the local ruling family owns many of the businesses, attracting competition is the last thing on their minds, so don’t expect much from business permit fees. When a town is underdeveloped, with few roads, and little human capital from an absence of a decent community college, there won’t be many businesses there.

The town’s patrimony are another gold mine for corrupt local officials.

Some exploit the town’s natural resources for themselves, possibly explaining why we have thousands of hectares of denuded mountains. Another is to use the towns’ property for personal agriculture and commercial activity. It’s good to use idle land, but the revenues should go to the town’s coffers, not personal pockets.

Then there’s jueteng and other local rackets. Where it still exists, whoever is elected is assured a large chunk of the profits, shared, of course, with whoever is needed to keep things running smoothly.

These kinds of things show what a profitable endeavor running a small town can be.

With funds from the IRA running to a hundred million added to land grabbing via the local registry plus personal exploitation of the town’s assets and whatever else can be obtained from illegal rackets, it’s easier to understand why there are those willing to kill in order to win a local election.

It’s the business model of corrupt local politicians: Clear out the competition with guns, goons and gold, and reap the spoils if you’re successful.

Another Google company I like is YouTube.

Anyone with a video camera (and that includes many cellphones) can take videos and post them online for anyone to view. Videos of the family, friends, interesting happenings; and videos of political promises, campaign speeches, and blatant electoral fraud.

I expect to see hundreds of these videos popping up on YouTube very soon, if they haven’t already been posted. I’m especially looking forward to a video done by Pinikpikan’s Carol Bello, which earned her a couple of death threats in Abra.

Because YouTube is global, these videos will certainly be reviewed by foreigners, those referred to as "not understanding the Filipino electoral culture." Understanding our culture of guns, goons, and gold is always a challenge.

It’s not a challenge to Filipinos to understand, our challenge is choosing not to have any part of this stupidity. That’s why many of us simply move somewhere else, or work overseas, so we can earn enough to move our families somewhere else.

Foreign rights organizations will no doubt have something damaging to say again about all the deaths.

So will foreign investors, who we all hope will "understand Filipino culture" so they can bring their billions here.

The body count in the last election is close to two hundred. It’s troubling that political partisans are killed, but it’s horribly disgusting when teachers, the stewards of our youth, become targets because of their "required" role in our antiquated electoral processes.

DepEd’s Jesli Lapus blames Comelec’s failure to automate elections as the reason teachers are put in harm’s way. The plan to automate elections has been around at least as long as that unopened Airport Terminal, yet neither seems nowhere near resolution. There are just too many issues with hundred million peso contracts that we can’t seem to get anywhere with them.

We market ourselves as a leading outsourcing center with a large pool of technical talent, yet we can’t even automate our own elections to keep teachers out of harm’s way.

Why hasn’t the Comelec consulted with the DoST, the National Computer Center, and the University of the Philippines?

There’s already such a shortage of teachers that we can’t afford to lose a dozen or so with each election because some crook is so desperate to win at all costs.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lessons from Kuala Lumpur

Asia’s three major ethnic groups are well-represented here: The native Malays, and long ago immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and China. That Malaysia is able to productively harness their disparate cultures to create South East Asia’s richest economy is an impressive achievement.

Malaysian nationalism is at the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. Citizens are Malaysian first; Malay, Chinese, or Indian second.

There is a strong determination to succeed in the manner of their former European colonial masters, yet remain distinctly Asian. Muslim faith and values permeate, but a mix of hard nosed common sense, and the best of other nationalities work together to create a country that is as progressive as it is traditional.

Unlike other South East Asian countries, there are no major insurgencies in Malaysia.

There are occasional voices of protest, but these are mostly on specific issues and constructive criticism always has the end goal of finding a solution rather than creating obstructions.

We could look to Hong Kong and Singapore for guidance and inspiration, but these small territories have unique sets of challenges. It is far easier to limit corruption, for example.

With economies built on trade, it’s far easier to promote free trade vis-a-vis protectionism.

Malaysia is more like us: A resource rich nation, with a Malay majority, and distinct regional communities. Like us, they have had to deal with issues of economic strategy, local vested interests, oligarchies, and other issues similar to ours.

"We will deliver on promises," says Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Ahmad Badawi, on pledges to streamline the bureaucracy. Not just motherhood statements, but detailed announcements on the standards and procedures they will follow to deliver.

Pay suppliers within 14 days, for example. To achieve this target, the prime minister’s office didn’t just mandate 14 days, it actively worked to streamline procedures: If three people were needed for approvals before, ways were found to reduce this number to one or two, while following sound financial practices.

Implementation of critical projects in Education, Health, and National Defense costing less than five million Ringgit (P70Mln) may be implemented directly by the agency instead of passing through the Public Works Department, avoiding red tape for small, but essential, infrastructure items.

Improvements to the Internal Revenue Board’s filing system for better performance. The Philippines does have an advantage: Our payment system is already handled by banks, a convenience Malaysia is just starting to implement.

Pursuing e-governance has several advantages: Being able to reach a larger number of citizens, even overseas, and allowing government offices to be transferred to less congested locations as people have less need to visit government offices.

Malaysia’s government center is in PutraJaya, which means "Steward of Success" in Malay, located around 80 Kms south of Kuala Lumpur where land is cheaper, and the presence of a large community drives development in the area.

Government department heads are required to review their mandates and determine on a regular basis if they have been successful or somehow, "lost their way."

The heads are required to visit frontline staff and observe the quality of public service, and challenge themselves to upgrade service quality. For call-in requests, government telephones must be answered by the third ring.

Improving education to be more responsive to the needs of the economy. Not just formal education, but continuing education from high school, to financial responsibility, to workplace safety and ethics.

"Education should help students be more independent after graduation," says the Higher Education Ministry.

A 20-hour basic business course created in cooperation with the private sector will be required in High School. The Ministry says it has already prepared training modules for the teachers’ use.

Schools are also to be given greater freedoms to pick and advertise for teachers and staff, as well as source external services such as coaches and trainers.

They are allowed to choose an area of focus e.g. Sciences, arts, sports, etc. Some schools will be allowed to develop clearly defined specializations.

Parents are encouraged to actively participate in Parent-Teachers Associations, while schools will be encouraged to compete for excellence with other schools, both public and private.

On financial education, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak encourages banks and financial institutions to teach personal financial management to young people, many of whom have filed for bankruptcy due to excessive credit card debt.

Educating young adults on prudent financial management makes more sense than simply being more selective about issuing credit cards, and complaining about the levels of personal bankruptcies.

On workplace safety, the Deputy PM says that all the most modern and sophisticated tools will not help workplace safety if human behavior is not changed for the better.

Education in the workplace include teaching workers that negligence will not be tolerated and safety cannot be compromised.

Malaysia is one of the least corrupt countries in Asia, ranking above China, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and this year’s bottom dweller which is the Philippines.

A police officer and lance corporal were charged with seven counts of corruption for seeking twenty-two thousand Ringgit (P28,000) and a Nokia 7610 cellphone in bribes. Wow, being charged just for receiving a cellphone!

Also, the accountant of a former deputy minister was charged with cooking the books. No one is above the law in Malaysia.

Police Inspector General Tan Sri Musa Hassan plans to add another 60,000 men not by simply saying so, as we tend to do but by making investments in Malaysia’s five police training colleges, and devising a better scheme to attract recruits.

Supt Zulkifli Mohamed of the Kuala Langat area focuses on foot patrols and building close ties with local residents. Although he notes that the increased presence will result in higher reported crime incidence, he promises not to suppress the figures and work towards genuine crime reductions.

Think about that the next time a local police station discourages you from reporting a crime, reducing crime figures doesn’t mean reducing the reporting of crime.

The environment is a priority. Kuala Lumpur is carved out of a rainforest. Despite its development, the rainforest thrives. City highways course through virgin rainforests, and development is tightly controlled.

Much of Malaysia’s non-manufacturing wealth comes from the rainforest and preservation is a national objective.

Pahang State notes that it is more profitable to preserve its rainforests than harvest timber. Adjacent Selangor State (where Kuala Lumpur is located) may pay up to RM70Mln a year for water from Pahang’s forest watershed versus the RM7Mln it earns per year from logging.

Selangor also notes that water consumption can be reduced by 500 million cubic meters a day if broken and old pipes were repaired, and alternative water sources identified.

In line with this, the National Water Resources Council says that certain types of structures (buildings, factories, schools, and bungalows) should install a rain water harvesting system for use in watering plants, washing cars, and flushing toilets. Use of treated water can then be limited to drinking and personal hygiene.

It’s interesting to note that flood water drainage and crop irrigation are handled by one department, which is developing a long term plan to address flooding issues.

Structural plans include building dams, catchment ponds, and reconstructing rivers by widening, deepening, and where needed, re-curving them. They also plan to construct storage warehouses near floodprone areas to store emergency equipment for relief operations.

Sarawak in Eastern Malaysia (that’s just below our province of TawiTawi) has strict rules on the issuance of open burning permits for agricultural and plantation wastes to reduce the amount of haze in the air.

According to the new rules, permits can only be used once, and the agency will set the time and the date for each permit holder in turn.

Air quality is Malaysian cities is very good. In Kuala Lumpur, there is some traffic but it is a much smaller city than Manila, with a mere three million residents. The entire population of Malaysia is an easily managed 27 million people.

When a country has that much fewer people, it’s far easier to handle, but more importantly, it’s essential that the population be enabled and productive by sound policy making and sound physical infrastructure.

There are few bottlenecks in this country where GDP is a nearly first-world ,000 per annum (ours is a measly ,700 per annum).

In Kuala Lumpur and other major cities, there are efficient public transport systems, with multiple interconnected mass transit railways. Outside the cities, wide European style highways allow easy movement of people, agricultural produce, and industrial goods.

By most measures, Malaysia has already surpassed its neighbors, but the drive to improve competitiveness is still there, only this time, it is measuring itself against China, India, and most of Europe.

Being competitive is not just beating an opponent, it is continually striving--there will always be other competitors up the ladder, and in other parts of the world. The Prime Minister’s latest message is crystal clear: "Let us all compete and raise our standards higher and better."

European envoy Thierry Rommel says: "Malaysia is an ideal place to invest, despite the emergence of Vietnam and China. There is room for improvement in terms of reducing red tape, improving logistics, and investments in human capital, but Malaysia is among the most competitive countries in Asia."