Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Life is a Bell Curve": My new personal site at Multiply.com

Friends: I opened a new account at Multiply.com for my personal musings ("Life is a Bell Curve"). The site contains a personal blog ("All Seasons"), photos, reviews, music, and video. (I dont have postings on music and video yet). In fact, you can open your own free account and we could form our own network there. This account WITHOUT BORDERS will remain as my "think blog" and will continue to have the same content. You may click below to visit my new personal site:

http://davellorito.multiply.com/

I'll be transferring all my book reviews, movie reviews, and photos there as well. You are all welcome to visit and post comments. Thanks.

Market Center debut: What does it mean for print media?

Anybody out there who has read the Financial Times today may have seen the full spread advertisement of Market Center offering up-to-date global financial information. I immediately checked its website and was amazed at the amount of data available free of charge. Free worldwide quotes. Free charts with multiple studies. Market coverage on stocks, futures, and forex. S&P, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, Nikkei, Hang Seng, FTSE—they are all there. Yes, free of charge!

I don’t have money to invest in these markets. Neither am I into stock market analysis. But do you know the implication of this? This is just another manifestation of the power of the "new media." That print journalism is getting obsolete by the day. What I mean is that investors in the stock and futures markets no longer have to buy the tangible newspaper. All he needs to do is go online and bingo, he has all the information that he or she needs real time to guide his investment decisions.

How could the tangible paper survive this trend? I can think of a few. The newspaper should be able to provide analysis, trends, and forecasts so that readers would still find it relevant. (But of course, someone else online could also do the same.) It means newspapers will have to provide something more, something new and creative, something more profound than what the hypertext of online publications could provide. The tangible newspaper will really have to find a niche to survive. It will have to evolve and adapt. Into what? I don't know. But such a search for relevance will transform the way journalists cover and write stories. This is a very exciting world.

Related post

Will newspapers go down the way of the dinosaurs?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hope renewed for Philippine biofuels industry

COULD the country’s political combatants pause for a moment and move quickly to consolidate the bills promoting biofuels in the country?

If there’s one urgent measure the legislators need to address soon (besides the long-delayed budget which the House took all of four months to produce and now wants to toss to the Senate in the, to borrow basketball lingo, “the last three minutes”), it’s this one. Widespread use of biofuels in the Philippine context would mean converting coconut oil into biodiesel and sugar or corn into ethanol, a move that could reduce poverty in the countryside. Corn and coconuts are among the major crops tilled by poor farmers.

But the greater relevance of the bill is our own modest contribution to the global efforts to address climate change. The stakes here are no less than the survival of this planet, its flora and fauna, and most of all, the fate of the human race. It is no idle advocacy of some rich, western-trained kid, as what some right-wing champions of unbridled oil exploration have for years painted those Greenpeace activists. This is a direction not to be taken because it’s a fad; it simply is the only way to go, and the sooner we realize it and do something decisive about it, the better our chances of averting a very real risk.

The April 3 issue of TIME Magazine highlights this point. The bad news, it reports, is that “climate disruptions are feeding off one another in accelerating spirals of destruction.” The signs are getting clearer: the melting of the polar ice caps that leads to the rising waters and floods in low-lying areas, more lands devastated by drought in some parts of the world, and the greater threat of diseases that could affect millions. And recently, the impact of global warming are manifested in such violent disasters such as the Category 5 Cyclone Larry (with 290 km an hour wind burst) that devastated some parts of northeastern Australia, the drought induced-blazes in Indonesia, and Typhoon Katrina and destroyed a larges swathe of built up areas in New Orleans. In short, what appeared to be Hollywood hype for the “Day After Tomorrow” movie has dawned upon us with a suddenness no one thought possible. Will the Philippines, which has always been ranked among the top five most disaster-prone areas in the world, be the next major calamity area? It’s possible.

According to the Ethanol Alliance, an organization composed of Sugar Regulatory Administration, the Center for Alcohol Research and Development, Sugar Master Plan Foundation, Petron, and the Philippine Sugar Millers Association and which is pushing for a national ethanol program, biofuels are important for these reasons: they are simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, essentially free of sulfur and aromatics, and don’t contribute to global warming. They can be used in compression- and spark ignition engines without any major modifications.

What is exciting about biofuels is that, because of rising prices of fossil fuels, they have become an economically viable business worldwide. On the supply side, Brazil has shown the world that ethanol is no longer hype. In fact, analysts are now looking at Brazil as the “next Saudi of alternative fuels.” Thailand is also speeding up its own ethanol production; and surely the Philippines could also do it, given the enthusiasm of the private sector to pursue our own biofuels program.

In biodiesel, Chemrez, Inc., a Filipino company, is already exporting biodiesel to Japan, Australia, and the United States and will soon inaugurate the biggest biodiesel production plant in Asia. That’s good news for the country’s coconut industry.

And on the demand side, the markets for biofuels are unlimited both in the domestic and the global markets. In fact, most countries in the world today from Asia to the US and Europe have their own program to shift or partially replace fossil fuels with biofuels to reduce import bills, meet their greenhouse gas-emission-reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol, improve people’s health, and promote a cleaner environment. If the country could produce enough volume to meet local and global needs, biofuels might yet be the silver bullet that could reduce poverty in the countryside.

In fairness, government, especially the Department of Energy is really working hard on the issue, together with the private sector. At DOE’s recommendations, for instance, the government has already reduced tariffs for environmentally friendly car parts, apparently to encourage the production of vehicles with hybrid, flex-fuel, or natural gas fed engines. Early this year, Shell has issued a statement that it will soon start blending its gasoline with ethanol while Flying V has actually started selling pre-blended biodiesel at its fuel stations.

What is only lacking now therefore is the passage the proposed biofuels bill that will provide the framework for implementation of a comprehensive biodiesels program nationwide. The proposed bill also contains provision mandating all the oil companies to sell preblended biodiesel and ethanol. Right now, biodiesel are being sold as an additive or fuel enhancer in separate bottles making it relatively expensive. Once, the oil companies start preblending, the cost of biodiesel will significantly go down as producers of coconut methyl esther will be selling said intermediate input in bulk. Preblending therefore will be the fastest way to ensure wider use from consumers, thus ensuring the viability of the biofuels industry.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Is China a threat or an opportunity?

Is China a threat or an opportunity? For Jorge Mendoza Judan, Philippines’ commercial counselor and Department of Trade and Industry-China Team Leader, the question is irrelevant. The task at hand, he said, is “riding the dragon” so that Philippine entrepreneurs could take advantage of the China’s roaring success.

Speaking before graduates of the Asian Institute of Management yesterday, Judan said China is currently the fastest economy in the world, the fourth largest exporting nation, the world’s third largest importer, and currently the 7th largest economy in the world. “China will be the second largest economy in the world by 2020, next only to those of the United States,” he said.

Philippine entrepreneurs, he said, should take advantage of China’s rapid growth by utilizing a two-pronged strategy of forming strategic partnerships or guanxi with Chinese entrepreneurs while capitalizing on specific niche markets, particularly electronics and semi-conductor; fruits like mango, bananas, pineapples (fresh, processed, and juices); coconut oil and coconut alcohol and its derivatives like coco coir and virgin coconut oil; ore and minerals including nickel, iron, copper; and e-services.

He said that success in doing business in China requires understanding the subtleties in Chinese business culture.

For instance, while Western-educated business persons are usually obsessed with “bringing home the bacon” after participating in a trade show, that approach doesn’t work in China. One has to establish guanxi with Chinese business people first by gaining their trust and confidence before any business deals could be made. That requires spending a lot of time socializing with Chinese entrepreneurs.

Guanxi simply means relationships, the heart of almost all business transactions in China,” said Judan. “Formally, Guanxi is a relationship built on a practiced form of respect and obligation that adheres to Confucian hierarchical values where favors are given and received only when there is mutual benefit involved and in accordance to how people behave themselves.”

According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), the Philippine merchandize exports to China reached more than $4 billion dollars in 2005, representing a 53 percent rise over its 2004 figures. In the year 2000, China was not part of the country’s export markets; in the just five years, China has claimed the fourth spot, next only to the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Currently, the country’s top exports to China include semiconductors, parts and accessories of machines, storage units, input or output units for automatic data processing machines, cathodes and sections of cathodes of refine copper, petroleum naphtha, electronic integrated circuits and microassembly, flat roll product of alloy steel, and fuel oils.

To be able to sell Philippine products to China, Philippine entrepreneurs—he explained—should focus on niche marketing, build-up brand and product image, develop internet presence, tie-up with existing foreign companies, and actively participate in trade shows.

Right now, the Judan says the DTI are also giving priority promoting fresh and processed fruits, marine or acquatic based products like tuna and carageenan, coconut by products including virgin coconut oil, coco-based alkyd resins and oleochemicals, abaca, natural rubber, and e-services including information technology services, and business process outsourcing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

“Offshore Nation” and the myths about services globalization

This book Offshore Nation: Strategies for Success in Global Outsourcing and Offshoring (McGraw-Hill, 2006) written by Atul and Avinash Vashistha is a must read for all those who want to maximize the benefits of business process outsourcing. As an avid observer of this emerging industry in the Philippines, its value lies on how it dispels the myths surrounding this exciting industry.

Myth 1: that services globalization adds risk to business organizations.
Not true, says the authors. “Offshoring can actually reduce the risk … by reducing your cost structure and diversifying your supply base to economies that are removed from the fluctuations of your home country economy and your core markets, and by providing access to a much larger labor pool.”

Myth 2: Offshore suppliers use slave labor.
Reality: “The workforce is generally from the middle or even upper-middle classes of their respective countries… The delivery facilities in countries such as India and the Philippines rival or even exceed those of the US and UK,” says the book.

Myth 3: The infrastructure is poor at offshore centers
. Reality: “The IT parks in India, the Philippines, China, Hungary, Mexico, Ireland and other big offshoring locales rival those of Silicon Valley in terms of telecommunications, power generation and other infrastructure—and in many cases exceed them,” says the book.

This book’s quotation on Ernest Cu of SPI Technologies engaged in various outsourcing activities (eg. content editorial, production and electronic delivery; medical transcription; legal transcription; content aggregation; among others) here in Manila really amazes me.

“One potential client came to us with some graphic needs and asked if our capacity can handle it? We have 35 g-series Macs, high-end four-color scanners, and handle at least 20,000 graphics a month. Can we handle it? I told him we can handle 10 times that.”

Outsourcing unaffected by Manila's political noise

My impression was that the State of Emergency didn’t have any perceptible negative impact on the country’s outsourcing industry. After the lifting of Proclamation 1017, I had the chance to talk to Robert Sears, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry regarding the matter and he confirmed my observation. He said the conference of American chambers all over the Asia-Pacific Region was pushing through. We were not concerned, he said. “We have faith in the Philippines.” The conference, in fact, pushed through without any hitch.

“There was minimal impact…,” said NeoIT, in its recent report entitled Philippines: Impact of Current Political Developments on Offshore Outsourcing Industry. “Service delivery has been unaffected by these protest rallies… Power companies and telco providers continued to provide uninterrupted service throughout the country. Airports and seaports experienced normal operations as well.”

Based in California, neoIT provides consultancy services to companies that are outsourcing their operations globally.

neoIT also said expansion plans of existing service providers are pushing through. Specifically, the operations of the ICT group in Riverbanks Center in Marikina have started. Call center eTelecare is going to hire 3,000 more agents in addition to its 4,100 staff. “The benefits of leveraging the Philippines to address business imperatives of global services sourcing far [outweigh] political issues,” concludes neoIT.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Yahoo's booboo: Now i know why editors still have their places under the sun!


The story "Arroyo sad about leaving Red Sox" in the March 22 edition of Yahoo Philippines (yes, the Philippines is interesting enough to merit a separate Yahoo page!) seems to tell us that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in some way connected with the Red Sox, an American baseball team. Or is she a former fan of the Red Sox? Try clicking the headline and you will know that the story is not about President Arroyo but Bronson Arroyo, a baseball player, who is transferring to another team. Why this booboo? It's apparent that the one choosing the stories for Yahoo Philippines is a machine, a computer. My conclusion? Human editors are not yet obsolete, contrary to some observations that the journalism profession is going down the way of the dinosaurs. The machine simply doesn't have the subtle sensitivity to distinguish between Gloria the president and Bronson the baseball player. It's nice to know that we journalists still have our own place under the sun. For how long?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Restricting skilled labor migration is absurd!

SUMMARY: “Labor is just like capital in a free market place. Investors will take their money to where it will get the best return. Workers will take their skill to where it will get the greatest reward… Thus the proposal that government ought to ban or in any way restrict the migration of aviators and aircraft mechanics is simply absurd and ridiculous,” says former Senator Ernesto Herrera. Please read the entire post.

It’s nice to know former senator Ernesto Herrera has taken the cudgels for overseas Filipino workers who are likely to be hit by the proposed travel ban or moratorium on skilled Filipino workers. In the recent employment summit, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are contemplating of said measures supposedly in the name of “national interest” and “public welfare.” Senator Herrera calls these proposed policy “ridiculous” stressing that government “cannot effectively prevent Filipino pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers from leaving the country, should they decide to seek greener pastures abroad.”

Could the government restrict or control workers deployment overseas? The government thinks it could. Could the government prevent Henry Sy or Lucio Tan from bringing out their money for some investments in China or elsewhere in the name of national security or public welfare? Definitely not. What the government bureaucrats are contemplating therefore is simply another form of double standard. It’s unfair and unjust.

Would the migration of labor not kill the local companies that need these skills? Of course not.

ICTSI example
Take the case of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc (ICTSI), a Filipino global ports management company. ICTSI operates a lot of ports here in the Philippines and abroad, specifically international container terminals in Suape, Brazil; Port of Gdynia in Poland; Naha in Okinawa (Japan); and Madagascar. Because of ICTSI’s global reach and apparent success in port operations, it has taken the attention of “poachers” who are on the lookout for skilled workers particularly in areas of port management, operations, and administration; port development and construction; and port planning and programming.

Dubai World Ports, one of the largest port operators in the world based in the United Arab Emirates, practically knocks on the doors of ICTSI to pirate its employees. The numbers of employees being “raided” each year could sometimes reach 30, many of them highly skilled gantry crane operators. Captain Francis Andrews, ICTSI’s senior vice president and operations manager of the Manila International Container Terminal, says this “raiding” of ICTSI skilled staff each year gives them problems but it doesn’t disrupt their operations. This is because, he explained, its employees are multi-skilled; the company could easily redeploy them to other functions when the need arises. Also, the company keeps on training more people each year in anticipation of rising demand for skilled operators of port handling equipment worldwide. Besides continuous in-house training, ICTSI also provides productivity incentives for container handling equipment operators so that their employees get more money as their efficiencies improve. Families of these workers are also given attractive incentives including medical and dental benefits. Thus given the choice between working abroad and staying with the company, many of its staff would rather not leave for the added incentive of being with the family and being able to watch the kids grow.

A thousand ways to retain staff
There are a thousand and one ways to retain staff without resorting to coercive measures. The fear that only journalists will remain in this country if we open the floodgates to overseas jobs is understandable. The latest statistics say the current number mining engineers, geologists, and geodetic engineers would not be enough meet the demand for these skills in the next four years. The Dole blamed low labor supply on few tertiary schools offering said discipline and even fewer students who passed the board examinations. The reason for this trend is that in the last several decades, mining (prior to the Mining Act of 1995) were stagnant for lack of fresh investments. It’s only after the Supreme Court declared the constitutionality of the Mining Act that allows 100 foreign equity ownership (through the financial and technical assistance agreement) when the mining industry has started to hire more skilled professionals. Give it a few more years and soon smart kids will flock into this profession.

Filipino worker as No. 1
Ask Professor Eduardo Morato of the Asian Institute of Management about skilled labor migration and he will tell you that the real problem lies with local capitalists. Citing a recent survey by AIM in tandem with the Switzerland-based Institute of Management Development, Morato said Filipinos is Number 1 in the world in terms of skill and competence. Yet Morato complains that local business owners do not know how to motivate their employees. Their idea of a good employee is someone who works hard, is meek as a lamb, and gets slave wages. That’s the reason why headhunters and multinationals are always on the lookout for skilled Philippine professionals whom they could pirate. They know that if they could put in a better working environment, the Filipino professional would always excel and contribute a lot to the company.

Moral lesson? Local employers and the government should change their mindsets. They should stop looking at the skilled Filipino working class as “surplus” to be employed at the lowest price. They should start looking at the Filipino working class as an asset to the country, people whose skills are appreciated and valued for the good of the country.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Skilled Filipino workers of the world unite!

Government is thinking of employing coercive means to restrict OFW’s freedom to work abroad. Please read the rest of the post.

It seems the Government is really bent on restricting skilled overseas Filipino workers’ freedom to work abroad. Yesterday, Representative Roseller Barinaga (Second District, Zamboanga de Norte) suggested in an employment summit that government should employ coercive means like putting a “moratorium” or ban on the deployment of skilled workers pursuant to Republic Act 8042 in a bid to address “domestic labor shortages” in the mining and aviation industries during an employment summit last week. A few weeks ago, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency has revealed government plans to restrict deployment of nurses and teachers.

My view is that it’s not in the best interest of the country to restrict people’s choices in life unless the country is experiencing a real crisis like war. Putting a moratorium on deployment of skilled workers violate the people’s right to travel, to seek employment, and pursue his or her own happiness. In this day and age, government and industry managers should stop thinking as if workers are slaves whose work, lives, and souls they control. People have choices and the State or business leaders should learn to respect that fact. After all, real development is really all about expanding people’s choices.

Restricting people’s job choices is not an effective way to produce more skilled workers for both the airline and the mining industries. That approach will only drive skilled workers away to foreign shores. The best way to keep skilled people here in the country is for the local industry to apply economic incentives, including better employment package. You want their skills? You treat them with respect by giving them better pay!

Allowing the free interaction of labor supply and demand is the better way to develop more skilled workers. Allowing local wages to rise in important skills will encourage a lot of smart kids from all over the country to take up these professions. Coupled with private sector initiatives like the setting up centers of excellence in certain skills like airline maintenance, geodetic, and mining engineering, nursing, and education, the Philippines could actually emerge as major supplier of these skills all over the world while satisfying our own local requirements. All we need to do is shift our mindset away from destructive protectionism that has been hobbling the country’s capability for economic development.

Airline or mining companies will probably say that they can’t match what is offered abroad. That’s baloney. Last Friday, Professor Eduardo Morato from the Asian Institute of Management has disclosed that local airlines are now sending their planes for servicing and maintenance to companies abroad that are manned by Filipinos mechanics and engineers. Morato said local airlines could have saved a lot more by keeping those Filipino airplane mechanics by paying them comparable salaries back home. Skilled mechanics, Morato said, leave the country because local airlines are not good at managing their workers and treating them with respect.

The coercive measure the government is contemplating vis-à-vis the mining and the airline industry should alarm the Filipino working class in this country. Once in place, the same coercive measure could extend to other industries until most Filipinos are no longer free to choose their place of work. Besides, mining and aviation, the government has also been contemplating about restricting overseas placement of teachers and nurses. Whom are they going to go after next?

The world is fast globalizing and countries in the Asia-Pacific Region are growing at dizzying speeds. These countries are going to need lots of skilled workers from the Philippines. It’s obvious that the State and its cronies are going to ban the deployment of accountants, crane operators, bank managers, MBA graduates, lawyers, surveyors, civil engineers, information technology experts, human resource managers, among many others soon. The State will restrict their deployment until one day Filipinos will wake up knowing they could not longer leave the country because some bureaucrats and political cronies thought their quasi-slavery is necessary for “national security” and “public welfare.”

These coercive measures will only hurt Filipinos even more as people who have skills may resort to illegal means to go around the labor export ban or moratorium. The difficulties to seek employment abroad may also force skilled workers who are already abroad not to return home for fear of not being able to get back to their overseas jobs. That also could mean they are going to keep their dollars abroad so they have something for themselves once they retire in foreign shores. This will certainly have devastating impact of the local economy. Restrictions on job mobility would also mean lack of market signals for the skills that the country needs, thus perpetuating the current trend of so many people with college degrees who could not find work because of job-skills mismatch.

Related posts

Government contemplates restrictions on overseas deployment of workers from "critical industries"

Don’t blame the nurses for the “medical crisis”

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Terrorists as heroes

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people," says V (played by Hugo Weaving) in the film "V for Vendetta" (Warner Brothers), apparently paraphrasing political philoshoper John Locke. More so if such government has wronged the likes of V who is lethal with both the blade and the bomb.

Please see my full review of the film V for Vendetta in Without Borders: Films and Books.

Friday, March 17, 2006

SOS Blogger.com: Something funny is happening to my blog site

Have you seen that fish box below my blogger logo? Yes, I'm now a member of the Bluefish Network. I should be happier by now since being a member of the Bluefish means I'm able to reach a wider audience and be with the company of erudite and interesting bloggers. But I am not. My blog site, powered by blogger.com, doesnt seem to connect with the bluefish. The feed is there but it doesnt get through that's why readers couldn't see my post updates at the Bluefishnetwork portal. I tried feedburner and validate the feeds but it doesnt work either. What's happening here, Blogger.com? I need your help!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Outsourcing is great but the farms and factories still matter

It seems like the services sector alone couldn’t yet lick poverty and joblessness in the Philippines, contrary to the assumptions of a service-sector driven growth strategy being peddled by economists from the academe. Producing more graduates with smooth American accents is cool but not enough. Please read the rest of the post.

They are there—those glamorous workers in business process outsourcing including call centers and medical transcription, information industry-enabled services and telecommunications who are transforming the urban landscape of Metro Manila and the secondary urban centers of Cebu, and Davao City. And yet, they hardly make their presence felt in the latest labor force survey.

Supposedly, these jobs that mushroomed in the last five years, are part of the “transport, storage and communication” component of the survey. In the January 2006 labor force survey, workers under this category numbered 2.547 million, indicating an incremental 21,000 jobs from its January 2005 figure of 2.526 million. That’s a significant figure but it hardly changed the whole picture of rising joblessness in the country. Joblessness—which under the new definition refers to those people 15 years of age without work, currently available for work, seeking work or nor seeking work for some valid reasons—rose to 8.1 percent from 7.4 percent in October 2005. That percentage translates to 2.84 million Filipinos unproductive Filipinos.

Why this minimal contribution? First, we suspect the survey doesn’t capture yet extent of the employment in the ICT, but that’s a wild guess given the fact that we don’t have access to the sampling design as of this writing. Second, and most probably, employment in outsourcing, information technology-enabled services are still in its embryonic stage to make a difference in the labor force picture. And third, the high rates of job creation in the said industries are whittled down also by high turnover rates particularly in high pressure jobs like customer care services.

Services sector in general did a good job of generating a lot of work opportunities. Overall, the sector produced 373,000 incremental jobs, contributed mainly by transportation, storage and communications; education; hotels and restaurants; real estate, renting; and private households with employed persons.

Surprise, surprise!—private households actually accounted for a hundred thousand of the total service sector incremental jobs. That’s a lot of house maids being hired by urban dwellers. Why? The reason is reflected in higher underemployment this survey: 6.9 million workers as against 5.1 million in January last year. Take note that 4.2 million out of the 6.9 million are part-time workers. That means that—due to the rising cost of living (i.e. higher transport fare, high inflation rate, higher utility rates)—more people are hiring house maids so they would have time to seek for full-time or more productive work that should cover for their lost purchasing power as a result of high inflation rates.

The labor force survey say the entire economy has produced 750,000 incremental jobs. The bulk really of that figure comes from the farm sector that produced 475 incremental jobs. That’s because of the mild La Niña phenomenon that produced more rains. Farmers are simply taking advantage of the good soil moisture to plant their third crop. They were busy preparing the land and planting rice and other crops when the enumerators from the National Statistics Office came. That explains the higher job figure from the farms. But these jobs are seasonal.

Why the rise in unemployment despite the increase in the absolute number of jobs? It’s primarily because of the loss of 95,000 jobs from the industry sector, coming particularly from manufacturing and construction. The average capacity utilization of the manufacturing firms has stayed close to 80 percent so the sector is not in bad shape. The loss of these jobs could probably be attributed to the continuing downsizing and computerization to improve efficiency as managers respond to the competitive pressures of globalization.

There are moral lessons from this labor force survey. First, the services sector alone couldn’t yet lick poverty and joblessness in this country, contrary to the assumptions of a service-sector driven growth strategy being advocated by economists from the academe. Producing more graduates with smooth American accents for our outsourcing companies is very important but not enough. Second, the Promise Land for Filipinos still hinge on broad-based growth. Agriculture and industry will have to continue an important role. That means government will still have to invest more in strategic economic infrastructure and capabilities including strategic roads, bridges, research and development.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

American Chamber of Commerce expresses “faith in the Philippines"

APCAC MEETS IN MANILA. The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. recently hosted the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC) 2006 meeting at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel.

Led by APCAC Chairman George Drysdale, Jr. (seated at the center), APCAC delegates discussed key policy issues to prepare for the June Washington Doorknock, APCAC’s annual meeting with US Government Leaders. Shown also in photo are the APCAC executive directors from L-R (Seating): Patricia Warman, Indonesia; Bo Kim and Tami Overby, Korea; Brenda Foster, China-Shanghai; Christy Chen, China-Tianjin; Judy Benn, Thailand; and Eloise Baza, Guam; (Standing) Tim Shaver, China-Guandong; Richard Vuylsteke, Taiwan; James Pogue, Okinawa, Japan; Charles Martin, China-Beijing; Donald Westmore, Japan; Robert Sears, Philippines; Ramesh Bajpai, India; Mike Hearn, New Zealand; Dominic Lavigne, Malaysia; Nicholas De Boursac, Singapore; A. Gafur, Bangladesh; Jack Maisano, Hong Kong; and Herb Cochran, Vietnam.

APCAC represents the interests of over 10,000 business entities in 26 countries of the region with $300 billion in investments.

Robert Sears
, Amcham Philippines executive director say Proclamation 1017 (State of Emergency) did not scare off American investors in the Philippines. In fact, told me that they never doubted that democracy was in danger during the week-long state of emergency. The recent APCAC meeting is proof of that, he said.

“We have great faith in the Philippines,” he said. “Investors here, the people here, understand that there’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of rhetorics and you have to cut through the chaff to see what’s really there.” And despite that week-long political drama, he believes the Philippines still has a “fantastic potential” in several niches like information and communications technology, outsourcing, call centers. But Sears, however, say that the Philippines do have a lot of catching up to do especially in infrastructure development so it could attract more investments that is now lining up for a few countries like China and India.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Cruel media

Manila TimesMarch 14, 2006 banner story as shown above is perfectly grammatical but the veterans of this journalism game know that it's an old senseless, sexist, tasteless “joke” among headline writers at the expense of the subject—no less than former social welfare secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman. The Manila Times story is about a certain Jaime Fuentes, supposedly a former member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who claims he witnessed Soliman meeting with the leaders of the CPP and the “Black and White Movement,” supposedly a “center-right” coalition of anti-Arroyo forces. Cruel media? It’s your call. But if I’m the editor, I would rather say “hooded ex-NPA tags Soliman.” Or something like that.

(By the way, you may want to see my notes on Brokeback Mountain and V for Vendetta at Without Borders: Films and Books).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Americans went against their better selves to block the DP World Deal

American politicians went against the advice of their own thinking classes when they scuttled the DP Word deal. All along the conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have stressing the UAE, or DP World for that matter, is not a threat to American society. Stresses James Jay Carafano, Ph.D, the foundation’s senior research fellow:

The UAE government is not a state-sponsor of terrorism, nor has any evidence been presented that Dubai Ports World has ever facilitated terrorist activities. In addition, Dubai Ports World is a holding company, and would have little to do with the day-to-day management of U.S. port facilities. Its ownership alone does not entitle its employees to access classified or sensitive security information, unless, as now, they meet the requirements of ISPS and U.S. law. Moreover, almost all of the employees at these facilities are U.S. citizens. Additionally, with over $6 billion invested, no company would want to see its facilities used by terrorists. Finally, terrorist tradecraft does not involve high-profile purchases of companies. Terrorism infiltration, like criminal smuggling, involves penetration by individuals, often at very low levels. That is a challenge for any company.

Daniel Ikenson, trade policy analyst of the Cato Institute castigates politicians who blocked the deal, specifically Democratic senator (New York) Charles Schumer, as being ignorant of the real issues. Said Ikenson:

To speak from a position of authority without understanding port security operations is reckless and misleading. Such demagoguery is worthy of stern rebuke, particularly considering the potential collateral damage caused by the hysteria.

Ikenson laments that the failed deal may have dealt a serious blow to America’s fight against terror. He said:

The Bush Administration's Middle East policy, which some argue has been an utter failure, consists of carrots to complement the more familiar sticks. The carrots include access to the U.S. market through bilateral free trade agreements. The United States has agreements with Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and Oman, and is in the process of completing a deal with the UAE. None of the Arab free trade agreement partners participates in the Arab boycott of Israel. Bahrain turned its back on the boycott right after signing the agreement. The UAE would likely follow suit….Encouraging moderate Arab states to remain moderate and to embrace capitalism and other western institutions is the quiet success of the administration's Middle East policy. It is also threatened by reflexive political opportunism that is driving the furor over the port deal.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Poison from the failed DP World Ports deal

In the Philippines, oligarchs might just cite “national security” to derail reforms to remove monopolies in shipping and port operations, telecommunications, transport, banking. These monopolies, experts have been saying are among the major reasons why the Philippines could not take off and join the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific Region. Please read the entire post.

The Americans have invented a new term for protectionism. It’s called “national security.” By the term “Americans” I don’t mean those nice families (in Washington DC, Florida, and Nebraska) during my visit there late last year under the US State Department’s International Visitors Program. What I’m referring to are the politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties who pressured DP World to withdraw its offer to buy a British firm Penisular and Oriental Navigation Co, a $6.8 billion deal that would enable the Arab firm to operate five major American ports including those in New York City, Baltimore, and Miami. Americans politicians fear that Al Qaeda may worm through Dubai World’s Port, a state-owned business organization based in the United Arab Emirates, and eventually cause damage to American lives, property, and economy.

Danny Griswold, executive director of Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies (CTPS) dismissed politician’s objections to the port deal as plain demagoguery:

“…Dubai Ports World would not be in charge of security at the U.S. port facilities it would be managing. That responsibility remains firmly in the hands of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Protection Agency….The demagoguery surrounding this issue has the potential to do serious damage to our efforts to build alliances with moderate regimes in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates has cooperated with the United States in our war on terrorism. Its capital of Dubai has become an important hub for commerce and free enterprise in the region. We are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the UAE. What sort of signal does it send to moderates in the Middle East who are seeking to engage in the global economy if we reject their investment in the United States simply because they are Arabs?”

Viewed from the Philippines, that failed business deal could look like plain double standards. I hope it’s not racism. But what I’m concerned really is the poison that the scuttled deal may have put on the ongoing efforts to free up international trade and investments.

For so many decades, experts and investors from the West have been telling us here in the developing world that “free trade” is a positive sum game—that everybody benefits from the rising tide of commerce. We have been responding to that message by dismantling a lot of our trade and investment barriers. Now that developing countries are returning the favor, capitalism has become a threat to national security.

Unwittingly, American politicians are teaching the rest of the world how to go about protecting special or vested interests that are blocking progress in much of the developing world.

Countries are currently trying to conclude the Doha Round of trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization. Now, Fortress Europe could now cite “national security” to block exports from developing countries.

In the Philippines, oligarchs might just cite “national security” to derail reforms to remove monopolies in shipping and port operations, telecommunications, transport, banking—one of the major reasons why the Philippines could not take off and join the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific Region.

(Note: Please visit Without Borders: Films and Books for my new blog on, what else?, films and books. Thanks.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Friendships without borders: a message from Ramya

I love Friday because it’s my day off and I don’t have to think about what’s happening in this world. I fact, I don't have to use my neurons at all. Friday is really about escape from the salt mines, a time for the family, the books, and movies. Sometimes, we really just hang out at Powerbooks Alabang for hours browsing possible good book buys. This morning though I got an email from a friend from India, Ramya Janakiraman (www.musingmoments.blogspot.com), an editor for a corporate publishing firm in Chennai who assured me she is fine and was not affected by the recent spate of bombings in her country. That email further gave me another reason to be happy about the weekend. But her message also makes me sad.

“I am fine, am in Mumbai, that happened in Varnasi, which is in another state,” said Ramya. “That is the religious pinnacle of Hinduism. That explains the bombings...I can only sigh at this sad state of affairs with no religious tolerance...Regards, Ramya."

Indeed, religious intolerance is increasingly becoming a scourge of this world, especially after 9/11. I wonder how accurate is Samuel Huntington's theory of the “clash of civilizations.” Is this the same reason why John Lennon wrote “Imagine” in 1971? Let me share the lyrics with you as we try to “enjoy” the weekend.

Imagine there's no heaven,
it's easy if you try,
no hell below us,
above us only sky.
Imagine all the people,
living for today yu-huh.
Imagine there's no countries,
it isn't hard to do,
nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion too.
Imagine all the people,
living life in peace yu-huh.
You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us,
and the world will be as one.
Imagine no possesions,
I wonder if you can,
no need for greed or hunger,
a brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people,
sharing all the world yu-huh.
You may say I'm a dreamer ...
karma

Will blogs transform Philippine media?

Blogs have become so ubiquitous that it has captured the attention of mainstream media. Journalists and major news organizations are joining the bandwagon seeing the blog’s potential to reach a wider, more responsive audience. “Because access to the Internet is growing, blogs are potentially going to be a major source of information in the Philippines. Globally, especially in developed countries, it’s already a major source of information,” observes Professor Luis Teodoro (www.luisteodoro.com) of the University of the Philippines.

Last year, blogs started to make a mark in the Philippine politics. Dubbed as the year of Filipino blogs, 2005 saw the emergence of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) blog which was instrumental in the exposure of the ‘Gloriagate’ scandal. Full recordings of the Hello Garci tapes along with supporting documents were made available from the site (http://www.pcij.org/blog). Shortly after, Sun Star Chronicles came up with its Citizen Watch blog (http://sunstar.com.ph/blogs/citizenwatch) which encouraged readers to post articles rather than just comments following the developments involving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.

Politically, blogs could also be a forum to tackle important issues ignored by mainstream media. Lately, Philippine Commentary (www.philippinecommentary.blogspot.com) is getting a lot of attention for his well-thought out commentaries on the issues related to the Danish cartoons that inflamed the Muslim world. While, the mainstream media stood silent on the issue probably for fear of a violent backlash, Bocobo expressed support for Flemming Rose, the editor of the Jyllands-Posten, who published the 12 cartoons, and attacked the Philippine Daily Inquirer for its supposed advocacy of the “separation of the Church and Press.”

Bocobo in his February 19 post ruminates: “When a taboo on idolatry produces a far more virulent and violent reaction over Danish cartoons than the Bali Bombings, or Zarqawi’s wedding blood feasts in Jordan, it would seem they [mainstream media] could do with a little quiet reflection and criticism from journalists. Not fear and appeasement alone though, are what motivate the religious editors of PDI. It is a desire to protect the rights of DOMINANT religions in LOCAL habitats. The members of the Roman Catholic upper crust in the Philippines who basically control media and education, are sensitive and respectful and understanding towards the Islamist rage over the cartoons because both are protecting the current practices of religions (Islam and Roman Catholicism) that were imperial theocracies but today must bow to common Democracy, which demotes Religion from the status of wielding state power to that of "mere" form of free speech and expression. I have advanced the theory that what we have here is the "intolerant urging tolerance for other intolerants.”

Straddling print and broadcast?
“Blogs have the advantage of both print and broadcasting,” says Teodoro. If done properly, it can be speedy but not sacrifice accuracy. However, the former UP College of Mass Communication Dean laments the fact that the blogosphere, like most Internet- based mediums, has no set standards. What I don’t like about it is that there’s no way of self regulation. There’s no authority that tries to establish standards,” he says. Thus, information from blogs can be suspect. He stresses that while bloggers can be journalists and vice versa, both still have to adhere to the standards of journalism if blogs are to be vehicles of empowerment and contribute to healthy debate.

Whether or not blogs will ultimately bridge the gap between traditional news media and its audience remains to be seen. But the fact remains that Filipinos are getting into it with gusto. “You make something easy enough and people will flock,” says Chris (www.cianoy.blogspot.com), a confessed techie and writer.

The tension between public and private will continue to rage as technology churns out new forms of communication. Perhaps, for most Filipinos, the following post by Mindovervaginawonam sums up their blogging experience: “I am a writer at heart, a writer with an exhibitionist streak and hopefully not the other way around. I don’t come in search of friends or lovers or enemies. Everything here is carved to point towards things universal, where I am nothing but a speck of dust in. Writing is reaching out enough; comment boxes are the only things open.”

Blogging spawns “culture of self-disclosure”

Try opening the www.mindovervagina.blogspot.com, scroll a few pages down to her January 22, 2006 blog post and you will see a pretty woman, her nipple protruding through the slit of the cup of her black brassiere. She asks, “Tell me why I hate Mondays?”

Click on the comments box below the post and you will see reactions from readers: “Because of your bra ripped,” said an anonymous comment. “Hmmm... this is my first time to read a Pinay blog of this type. C'est intéressant!,” said another anonymous reader. “It’s a day after Sunday, when one is forced to return to the weekly routine after a weekend of deserved rest or fun or sexual romp...,” said another.

If you are one of those who spend a lot of time online, reading these very personal, sometimes racy journals called ‘blogs’ and posting ones yourself, you are one of the growing millions of people out there who are hooked on blogging.

Academics call it mediated exhibitionism. Others call it empowerment and freedom of speech. Still others simply call it entertainment.

Media since the late 90s have been characterized by the continuous blurring of the boundaries between public and private. In television, this was evident in the popularity of talk shows and reality TV. What was deemed scandalous or inappropriate a decade before is now accepted and even expected in the name of free speech. This ‘culture of self-disclosure’ is especially showing up on the Internet.

“On personal home pages and message boards, in chat rooms and on listservs, and most especially in blogs, people are sharing unprecedented amounts of personal information with total strangers, potentially millions of them,” says North Carolina State University researchers Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere).

Exhibitionist’s world
Most blogs discuss personal experiences. According to The Cath, a US-based Filipina blogger, in her blog “Now What, Cat?” (http://cathcath.com/?page_id=1206), majority (76 percent) of the Philippine based blogs belonging to the Top 100 Blogs ranked by Technorati, an internet search engine for blogs, belong to this category. Whether it’s the illusion of anonymity afforded by Cyberspace or simply the need to be heard, most bloggers don’t have qualms about publishing their very private thoughts online.

“Blogging has given the ‘average people’ the ability to communicate and publish their work, without having to face publishers and editors,” said Melissa Atienza-Petri (www.pinayexpat.com), a Filipina expatriate working as mathematical analyst for a high tech firm in Germany. “That means that more and more people are given the chance to express themselves, even anonymously. The internet in general makes a big difference, especially to those who have never been exposed to other cultures. One could broaden one's horizons without having to line up for a visa.”

“Oh yes, I also exhibit myself, not new. I’ve crossed my exhibitionist barrier in Yahoo Messenger where I strip for lots of random people. Lately, I’ve penetrated Pinoys and Pinays like me who are also offering whatever it is I’m offering, and have actually encountered someone I know. Should I be open with my life or is that living dangerously? Now that I have a community? Pinoys aren’t Pinoys unless they reach out in a personal way with their hearths and hearts,” says Mindovervaginawoman in her February 18 2006 post.

“You blog because you want people to read what you post. Otherwise, why blog at all?” says Vlad, an avid blogger who maintains several sites including www.awbholdings.com/blog for his thoughts on technology and politics. Like the rest of the world, Filipinos are flocking towards blogs as a new way of expressing themselves and connecting with other people.

Some do it to clarify what they want to do with their lives. Roseraven11 (www.roseraven11.blogspot.com), for instance, writes about her day-to-day experiences, viewpoints, and her ‘quarter-life crisis’: “A couple of months after I started working, I was asking myself whether or not I’m happy with where I am right now – if I took the right degree, if I liked my job and if I can see myself doing it until I retire..It [blogging] helped me know more about myself and explore new horizons. I tend to dwell on my ideas when I write so they become more concrete.”

Voyeur’s delight
When asked what was so appealing about reading other people’s blogs, Egai, a Filipino expat in Korea laughingly points out that people are naturally nosy. “People are generally voyeuristic and tsismoso [gossips]—I think it’s the drive for knowledge.”

For other OFWs, blogs are a more convenient and less expensive way to update friends and family back home. “I blog when I have good news or if I want to share some pictures—things I normally want my friends to know right away. It’s a hassle to call them one by one, especially those who are there in the Philippines, so I blog them instead,” says Osang (www.kaseladang.blogspot.com), a Filipina expatriate working in Dubai. (Written with Debbie Pepit0. Next post: will blogs transform Philippine media?)

Related post

Blogging for money is not for the faint-hearted

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Foreign ownership restrictions constrain ICT growth in developing countries

Poor countries including the Philippines continue to lag behind the developed world in making information and communication technology applications commonplace in government, schools, and business despite global progress in improving peoples’ access to ICTs, the World Bank said yesterday.

In its recent report entitled Information and Communications for Development 2006: Global Trends and Policies, the World Bank (WB) noted that while developing countries have considerably increased ICT access particularly for telephone services in the past 25 years, there remain considerable barriers to investments like foreign ownership restrictions, thus preventing them from maximizing the economic benefits offered by ICT.

“In 1980, developing countries accounted for only 20 percent of the world's telephone lines. In 2005, 60 percent of the world's phones were in developing countries. Such expansion has been driven by the technological revolution of mobile telephony as well as private competition,” said the WB Report.

The WB report, however, has noted that these gains in ICT have largely benefited a limited number of people.

“Although progress has been made reaching out rural areas and the urban poor, in many countries, these groups still lag behind,” said the WB report. “And the advanced information and communication services available through the Internet initially reach mainly better off groups.”

In the Philippines, the WB said 194 people per 1000 have access to telephone lines and 248 people for every thousand are mobile subscribers. There are also 13.4 persons for every 1000 persons who have access to broadband or high speed internet, yet there are observations that these ICT facilities are largely concentrated in major urban centers like Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu, Davao, and other secondary cities.

“While the developing world has seen huge progress in rollout of basic ICT infrastructure, the picture is more mixed for advanced use of ICT,” said the WB Report. “Worldwide, Internet use more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2005, but differences in the number of secure Internet servers, a proxy for the availability of e-commerce, remain stark. While developed nations have more than 300 such servers per 1 million people, developing nations have fewer than 2.”

Extending the reach of ICT to the broader segments of the population, the WB report argues, could boost economic growth and address poverty in developing countries by creating more growth opportunities for the private sector. Citing it’s survey of 56 developing countries including the Philippines, the report observes that “firms that use ICT grow faster, invest more, and are more productive and profitable than those that do not.”

The first step to boost the growth of the ICT sector and take advantages of this economic benefit, the WB Report said, is to allow the markets to work complemented by regulatory measures such as open entry, cost-based pricing, access to infrastructure and access to radio spectrum.

“Competitive, private-led markets go a long way toward making communication and information services available to the entire population,” the WB report said.

Worse than Proclamation 1017: government contemplates restricting overseas deployment of workers from "critical industries"

After curtailing our basic rights of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press under Proclamation 1017, the Arroyo Administration is again contemplating about curving the people’s other basic rights including our rights to travel, to find gainful employment, and pursue our own happiness. For amidst the hysteria generated by the “State of Emergency,” no less than the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration—the agency tasked to look after the interest of overseas Filipino Workers—has announced On March 2 that the government is formulating a strategy of “determining critical skills” or an inventory of industries that are losing skilled labor because of overseas deployment. This is a terrible irony because overseas workers are supposedly the "new heroes" in this country.

Under this strategy, the government will determine local demand and supply and will “compel” a worker with an application for an overseas employment to submit a six-month notice to the employer before the POEA would process the applicant’s papers. The idea is that workers falling under critical skills should be "kept domestically" before they leave for abroad to allow the local market to make up for their loss. As reported by our reporter Cher Jimenez, the inventory will initially focus on aviation, nursing, and the teaching professions.

This proposed policy is alarming. Consider this: Supposing you are a nurse working long hours in a hospital earning P6,000 monthly. You want to send your kids to good schools so they won’t inherit your quasi-slavery and poverty. What are the options? Ask for a raise? Forget it. Work for outsourcing firms like call centers or medical transcription where you get P16,000 a month? Possible. Or work as a nurse in Europe where the pay is even higher? Why not?

Supposing you got an opportunity to work abroad and your would-be employers are asking you to report within three months otherwise they will hire someone else from Indonesia or India. You started processing the papers only to be told by a bureaucrat from POEA that you can’t leave within six months. There goes your dream of a better life for your family! Good opportunity knocks only once and some government functionary blew it. Of course, there would be thousands and thousands more whose dreams will be shattered because some government bureaucrats thought the industries they are slaving for are “critical.”

This proposed policy is counterproductive and should never be implemented.

For one, such restrictions will just become a means by which bureaucrats in government agencies dealing with overseas employment could extort bribes from labor migrants. They know that OFWs are desperate; the new deployment restrictions will only make them more desperate enough to cough up bribes. If they couldn’t pay their way out, OFWs might just leave through illegal means, thus making them vulnerable to abuse in foreign shores. Others—for lack of bribe money or out of fear of suffering the fates of undocumented migrant workers—might just leave nursing profession just the same out of frustration, and opt for a stint at medical transcription firms or call centers where the pays are double.

But what about the industries that will be affected once the workers left for foreign shores? Surely this is a valid concern but putting restrictions on people’s work mobility is the wrong way to go. This is because governments are lousy at determining labor supply and demand. Government bureaucrats could conduct an inventory of labor requirements at the industry level but such information is never adequate to represent the dynamics of labor supply and demand.

The best example of this is nursing. Every body, particularly owners of hospitals, now seems to believe that the country is experiencing a shortage in the supply of nurses. It turned that, based on POEA data, supply of nurses is 120 percent more than demand. The problem really is in the supply of nurses possessing specialized skills like those in intensive care units and operating rooms. The solution, therefore, is not restricting workers' mobility and choices; it’s is in providing adequate in-house training and better compensation. The hospitals could actually keep their staff by providing career paths for them.

The idea that “critical workers” should be "kept domestically" before they leave “to allow the local market to make up for their loss” is preposterous. In truth, such measures will only provide more distortions in the labor market, the reason why more workers are leaving in the first place. Instead, the best way to ensure adequate supply of skilled workers in certain industries is to allow the labor market to work. The government could only compliment this process through continuous workers training. Better yet, industries like aviation might as well provide in-house training and raise their staff’s pay commensurate to their skills acquired.

It’s not true that all skilled workers will leave our shores once you allow them all to leave anytime they want. In reality, higher demand for certain skills like nursing and airline pilots triggers higher incomes for these skills, assuming the government doesn’t intervene artificially. This situation in turn encourages more people to take these professions, thus raising supply of these skills. Based on empirical studies, most of these fresh graduates with skills are not going to leave for foreign shores because of several factors like improvement in local pay as competition for these skills abroad forces local employers to offer better employment packages; friction of distance, including difficulties of getting visas; and cultural factors like emotional attachment to families and love. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for the skilled worker and society as a whole.

Restrictions being contemplated by POEA violate Section 6 of the Bill of Rights. The law says “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health,…” In this globalized world, opportunities worldwide come and go; it’s immoral therefore for governments to put limits on people’s chances for a better life wherever on earth those good prospects are, especially if such governments could not provide decent work opportunities at home for their own citizens.

POEA’s proposal betrays a lack of understanding of development. For what is “development” but the expansion of people’s choices in life? In history, only authoritarian and communist countries are resorting to drastic measures such as putting limits on people’s mobility and job options. China in fact has abandoned such policies decades ago after Chairman Deng Xiaoping learned that “to get rich is glorious.” Why should the Philippines, a country that pretends to be democratic, even think about it?

Related posts

Don’t blame the nurses for the medical crisis

Dollar remittances and social paralysis

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blogging for money is not for the faint-hearted

“Since the first week of November [2005], I have gone into full-time problogging,” declares Abe Olandres, aka Yuga, in his December 31 2005 post in his personal website www.yugatech.com.

“That means, I stay at home, wake up in the morning and check my blogs, check my emails, read some comments, blog a little, read my RSS [rich site summary, a web feed format used for web content syndication] subscriptions, have lunch, watch some TV, blog some more, post comments, surf Technorati, blog some more, check some stats, tweak the archives, watch the evening news, dinner, read some more blogs, read my RSS subscriptions, reply to emails, blog again, read and blog until I’m too sleepy to write,” he explained.

That sounds like a boring kind of life for most of us. Not for Olandres who describes himself “as a web designer, developer and blog entrepreneur in his mid-twenties who is happily blogging from rags to riches.” For him, problogging, short for “professional blogging,” is an exciting life that he long desired.

“I stopped going to my regular day job,” he said. “I was hoping to do this for quite some time now but I just had to wait until that damn contract expires. That means I am relying on my blogs to generate a majority of my revenue to get me by for the month.”

Olandres explains the professional blogging is a relatively new “career” in the Philippines. No one has become a “tycoon” out of it yet. But in other countries like the United States and Australia, blogging for bucks has become a very profitable entrepreneurial option for many.

Last year, Poynter Institute (www.poynter.org) reported the case of Darren Rowse, an Australian, who—maintaining 17 blogs on problogging and reviews of high-technology products like digital cameras, camera phones, and laptops—earns as much as $14,000 a month from Google AdSense alone.

Google AdSense are contextual ads placed in blogs in which the blogger shares some of the money from Google. Rowse also earns money from independent ad sales and ad networks.

Olandres, however, doesn’t look like a business mogul yet. He walks around in cargo shorts, sandals, collared shirts, and tarpaulin rucksack (containing a nice Apple laptop) like a happy-go-lucky beach bum. His confidence and perpetual smile, however, seem to exude the aura of a contented entrepreneur whose prospects for success are getting brighter by the day.

Olandres maintains five other money-earning blogs (Pinoy tech blog, Pinoy top blogs, Pinoy Travel blog, Pinoy urban blog, and PinoyBlog) together with twelve other techie friends and colleagues. How much money he makes from those blogs and projects is a secret. But he admits in an interview that his own personal blog yugatech.com earns him at least $500 dollars a month from sponsorships, direct ad sales, and Google AdSense.

Apparently that is just gasoline money because Olandres still maintains his business (www.plogphost.com) offering web hosting for weblogs as well as .ph domains. He also does occasional blog consulting work. But his heart is really into problogging where he gets his money for personal expenditures.

“Yes, there’s still that business and occassional blog consulting work. But they’re all set aside as some sort of an insurance or Plan B,” said Olandres. “From now on, I will only use whatever I earn from my blogs may it be via contextual advertising, sponsorships, or direct ad sales. And so far, the budget seems to fit, with a few extra for some R&R [rest and recreation].”

Olandres’ friends and colleagues in the Pinoy Tech Blog network, however, warn that problogging could be a very risky proposition.

In an interview, J. Angelo Racoma, an economist who also writes for ten blogs including the “Pinoy” blog series including his own (J Spot - http://jangelo.i.ph and J Spotter- http://jangelo.racoma.net), said only few bloggers could really make money from blogs because of the difficulties in developing a niche that could attract very high traffic that brings in the cash. He observes that besides their tech blogs, other blogs that seem to attract high traffic and ads are oriented towards showbiz, travel, and fashion.

“Politics-oriented blogs are not money makers,” said Marc Hil Macalua, internet marketing specialist, web designer and director of development of the ePacific Global Contact Center, Inc., a call center company, in an interview.

He explained that while politically oriented blogs may attract high visitor traffic, most of those who visit the sites are intellectuals who read the pages thoroughly but are not likely to click on the ads. “In blogs, monetization is through the volume of clicks, and not on the number of pages read,” he said.

Macalua himself has his own site (www.macalua.com) with a lot of money earning advertisements but he could not imagine himself doing full-time problogging. It’s the last thing he will do in his life, he said.

“Somehow, maintaining a blog (or an army of blogs) and living off [Google] AdSense do not answer the segurista in me. You all know how temperamental and fickle AdSense revenues are, one day you’re hitting 3 digits, the next you’re ripping your hair off ,” he said in his 15 January 2006 post.

Blogging, he stressed in July 15 2005 post, can hardly make real money for two major reasons.

First is that blogs with low traffic would never do so well.

“Unless you are Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes or Paris Hilton, nobody cares about your diary. Nobody’s interested in your latest confession or your latest success story,” he stressed. “Unless your blog’s hosted at www.sex.com, you’re doomed traffic-wise,” he said. “[Google] AdSense revenue is directly proportional to website traffic. Good traffic = good AdSense revenue. Bad traffic…you do the math.”

And second, Macalua said, is that bloggers with sites that don’t have a specific theme don’t have great targeting. It’s really all about positioning. The formula, he said, is Position = Theme = Keywords = Ads. But the problem, he said, is that Philippine related keywords don’t command top bids in Google Adwords. “With so few companies fighting over these keywords, you’re looking at maximum bids of $.05 per click, the lowest possible bid in [Google] AdWords.”

“You, the publisher, will get 20% per click. That’s 1 cent per click. That’s 100 clicks to reach a dollar. That’s 10,000 clicks to reach $100. Now forget the Philippine keywords, what about those pesky blog-related ads that no reader in his right mind (who also happens to be a blogger himself) would click? You’re basically looking at zero clicks. Zero click equals….do the math,” Macalua stresses.

“So except for the only legit Pinoy power blogger that is Sassy Lawyer [Connie Veneracion, The Sassy Lawyer’s Journal], I don’t see me or anyone else making significant income off [Google AdSense],” he said. “I think the inner desire to go problogger should be tempered with the thought that there’s more to Internet marketing than just blogging.”

Despite Macalua’s pessimism, however, Racoma has recently decided to go on full-time problogging. He currently writes for several big blog news media organizations or networks including blogmedia.biz, wordcontent.com besides the "Pinoy blogs" series and his own two blogs. Lately, he said that one blog network is recruiting him to write for a fixed monthly pay of at least $800 (including performance perks) and he is inclined to take the offer.

"I actually quit my day job a few months before I started blogging for money; it was a lucky break," Racoma said.

Apparently, Racoma is taking on the route that Melissa Atienza-Petri, a Filipina expatriate in Germany, took.

“I started problogging (earning from my blogs) in March of 2005. I signed up with Creative Weblogging and have, since then, signed up with more networks (9rules and b5media), with the intention to earn from blogging,” said Petri in an e-mail interview.

An architect by training, Atienza-Petri had a website since 1997 prior to the emergence of blogger.com that triggered the global blogging revolution. “At that time and up until 2004, it never really crossed my mind that soon, ‘normal people’ who are online could actually earn from blogging,” she said.

She said that she started problogging in March 2005 by signing up with several networks including Creative Weblogging, 9rules, and b5media.

“At present, my blogging gig with one network gives me a fixed monthly payment of 450USD,” she said. “In addition, I get revenues from the 2 other networks but the payment I receive at the end of every month varies. From those two, I earn from 78USD up to 300USD. I have also signed another contract with another network, with an expected fixed payment of 250USD per month.”

That makes a cool $1000 a month. Not bad as additional money on top of what she gets from her day job as a mathematical analyst in a high tech firm in Germany.