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Personal Remittances Rise to $7.8-B in Q1

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Personal remittances from Overseas Filipinos (OFs) reached USD7.8 billion in the first quarter of 2018, registering 1.3 percent year-on-year growth, BSP Officer-in-Charge Diwa C. Guinigundo announced today.

The bulk (77.5 percent) of personal remittances was from land-based workers with work contracts of one year or more, which summed up to USD6.1 billion (growing by 0.4 percent), while 20 percent derived from sea-based and land-based workers with work contracts of less than one year, amounting to US$1.6 billion (rising by 2.2 percent) for the same period.

However, personal remittances in March 2018, at US$2.6 billion, were 9.9 percent lower than the level posted in the same month last year.

In the first three months of 2018, cash remittances from OFs coursed through banks stood at USD7 billion, posting 0.8 percent growth from the level posted in the same period a year ago. Cash remittances sent by land-based workers and sea-based workers aggregated USD5.6 billion and USD1.4 billion, respectively, with growth of 0.4 percent and 2.3 percent.

In March alone, total cash remittances fell by 9.8 percent year-on-year to USD2.4 billion. This was attributed to the 9.7 percent drop in cash remittances from land-based workers and 10.2 percent decrease in transfers from sea-based workers.

The countries that registered the biggest declines in cash remittances in March were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and the United States (US). The negative growth during the month was primarily due to base effect following the sharp increase in remittances in March 2017 at 10.7 percent.

Further contributing to the decline was the lesser number of banking days in March 2018 compared to the same month in 2017 since the celebration of the Holy Week happened during the last week of March as opposed to April in 2017.

Moreover, the continued repatriation of OF workers from the Middle East countries could have affected the inflows of cash remittances. Preliminary data from the Department of Labor and Employment indicated that as of 8 Feb 2018, a total of 1,124 OF workers were repatriated from Kuwait.

Cash remittances coming from the US, UAE, Japan, Singapore, United Kingdom, Canada, Qatar, Germany and Hong Kong comprised 80.1 percent of total cash remittances in the first quarter of 2018. (PR)

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Smart Posts PHP 14-B in Revenues Due to Robust Mobile Data Services

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Mobile services provider Smart Communications reported that it has managed to post PHP14.8 billion in service revenues for the first quarter of this year higher by 2 percent from the previous year driven by ongoing improvements on its mobile data network.

Wireless individual service revenues reached PHP6.5 billion during the first quarter which was up by 21 percent year on year compared to the same period last year with mobile data services contributing 44 percent of its revenues.

“The contribution from data and digital to our total business continues to grow steadily. We will accelerate this further as we transform our networks into powerful platforms for delivering digital services and solutions. This will enable us to more effectively pursue our goal of becoming the preferred digital partner of our customers,” Ernesto Alberto, PLDT and Smart Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, said in a statement Monday.

Smart has installed more than 1,300 Long Term Evolution (LTE) base stations for the first three months of 2018 leading to a total of more than 10,000 stations nationwide.

These facilities utilize various radio frequency bands particularly the 700 megahertz (MHz) band for better coverage and penetration and the 1,800 MHz and 2,100 MHz bands for additional capacity.

The rollout of LTE services has resulted in the number of LTE subscribers tripling year-on-year, posting an increase of 211 percent.

Luzon, where more than half of the LTE sites were deployed in the past six months, likewise posted a 5 percent revenue growth in the first quarter.

The installation of multiple LTE base stations in existing cell sites has brought about the activation of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology which can deliver faster mobile data services to subscribers.

“On mobile, as shown by the experience of other countries, the network rollout must be accompanied by the adoption of LTE-Advanced-capable mobile phones and devices,” according to Mario Tamayo, PLDT-Smart Senior Vice President for Network Planning and Engineering.

Smart has also expanded its network coverage to include high foot traffic areas such as tourist spots like Baguio, Sagada, and Batanes, among others, in line with its commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to bring high-speed mobile data using LTE, LTE-A and 3G to over 90 percent of the country’s cities and municipalities.

Its parent company PLDT has allocated PHP58 billion as capital expenditures for this year for the rollout of its fixed and mobile services. (PNA)

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PH Banking Sector Organizes 1st Blockchain Group

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The country’s banking sector is set to spawn its first blockchain-related organization, the Blockchain Association of the Philippines (BAP) next week.

The BAP will be led by Union Bank of the Philippines, one of the first enterprises in the country to integrate the blockchain system in its business operation. UnionBank Chairman Justo Ortiz will also chair the BAP.

The BAP will be launched during the Blockchain Applications and Economics Forum 2018 from May 28 to 30, which aims to educate Filipinos on blockchain application and opportunities.

Blockchain is a digital ledger with large network of entities where data is stored in “blocks” — not in any single location — that are continuously updated and are secured using cryptography. This technology is commonly associated with bitcoin, but it has many applications and can be used by different industries.

In a press conference Monday, Ortiz said there is a huge opportunities for blockchain technology in the country. He noted that educating Filipinos is critical for the growth of blockchain in the Philippines. UnionBank aims to have 25,000 blockchain programmers over the next two years, he said. Currently, the bank has 30 only blockchain programmers.

In the same event, UnionBank’s Fintech Business Group Head Ramon Vicente de Vera announced the bank’s Project i2i, which initial project is to involve rural banks in blockchain technology of UnionBank in order to promote financial inclusion.

De Vera said rural banks have strong presence in remote communities, which universal banks cannot reach.

Through the Project i2i, UnionBank will interconnect five rural banks to national and international payment networks, allowing their customers to access fund transfer, remittances, and other payment systems through these rural banks.

This pilot project will be online by next month, de Vera said.

“We are just starting with rural banks. We will tech them up and help them bring to life,” he said, noting that from 3,000 rural banks, the country now has less than 500 rural banks. (PNA)

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Locally-Based Euro Firms Hired More Than 800K Filipinos in 40 Yrs

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Member companies of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) have created more than 800,000 jobs in the country since its establishment in 1978, its President Guenter Taus said as the influential business group marks its 40th anniversary.

In a media event Thursday evening, Taus noted that the business group has played a significant role in promoting stronger trade and investment ties between the Philippines and the EU. He added that the business group has been closely working with the Philippine government through its advocacy tools in promoting policies that would improve business environment in the country.

The ECCP, together with the EU-Philippines Business Network, issues advocacy tools, such as letters to members of the government, drafting of bills, position papers on proposed reforms or current issues, and advocacy papers.

It also lists recommendations in sectors that would enable long-term economic growth in the country, including the sectors of agriculture, automotive, consumer goods and retail, energy and renewables, environment and water, energy efficiency, food and beverages, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, human capital, information technology and business process outsourcing, infrastructure and transportation, manufacturing, maritime, tax and financial services, and tourism.

Data from the EU showed that its bilateral trade with the Philippines in the first half of 2017 grew by 17 percent to USD7.8 billion. Philippine exports to the 28 EU member states increased by 36 percent in H1 2017 from the same period a year ago with the help of the EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), wherein it allows some 6,274 goods from the Philippines to enter the EU market duty-free.

In 2016, EU was the largest investor in the Philippines. About 28 percent or PHP62 billion of investments in the country in 2016 originated from companies from the EU. “Looking into the future, it is my hope that the ECCP will continue to do the good work it has done in the past,” said Taus.

“Our hope is that the Chamber will continue to serve the European-Philippine business community with the same vigor and commitment it has over the past 40 years,” he added. The ECCP has gained nearly 800 member companies ranging from medium-sized to multinational corporations since its inception. (PNA)

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Japan Formalizes 2-Billion Yen Grant for Marawi Rehab

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Manila and Tokyo signed Tuesday (May 15, 2018) an agreement that would provide the Philippine government with a 2-billion yen grant from Japan to support ongoing efforts for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the devastated city of Marawi in Mindanao.

The agreement was signed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on behalf of the Philippines, and Yoshio Wada, the chief representative in the Philippines of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), on behalf of Japan.

Dominguez said the Philippine government has so far identified 902 priority projects and activities for the rehabilitation and recovery of Marawi City and its surrounding areas, which are estimated to cost a total of P55 billion, with close to half of the funding to be drawn from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Project Fund.

The other sources of financing for these priority projects under the Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (BMCRRP) approved in early April will come from the various government agencies, the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the city government of Marawi, non-government organizations, development partners, and the private sector, Dominguez said.

He said the government is also considering holding a pledging session similar to what was done after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) to help fund Marawi’s reconstruction efforts.

The government is also continuing discussions with JICA on drawing funds from the 2-billion yen grant to finance several projects identified under the BMCRRP, Dominguez said.

According to the Department of Finance (DOF), the ‘Grant Agreement for the Programme for the Support for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Marawi City and Its Surrounding Areas’ signed today will cover infrastructure projects, particularly the construction of transcentral roads that need to be rebuilt immediately in the war-ravaged communities.

This grant (approximately $18.66 million or about P970 million), is the fourth aid package provided by Japan to the Philippines following earlier grants that include the provision of heavy equipment for Marawi City’s reconstruction program that was formalized on Nov. 12 last year between the two governments.

“I would like to assure the ambassador and the chief representative of JICA that we are very keenly aware that these funds come from the taxpayers of Japan, and that we will honor them by not wasting those funds,” Dominguez said after the signing of the 2-billion yen grant agreement.

Japan has so far provided the Philippines an estimated US$36 million to assist in Marawi’s relief and rehabilitation.

“On behalf of the Philippine Government, I express profound gratitude for the generous support by the Government of Japan to the great task of rebuilding the City of Marawi,” Dominguez said.

The infrastructure projects covered by the grant will be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which serves as vice-chair of the interagency Task Force Bangon Marawi.

Also present at the signing of the grant agreement at the DOF Main Office in Manila were DPWH Undersecretary Emil Sadain; Task Force Bangon Marawi chairperson Eduardo del Rosario, who heads the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC); and Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda.

“I believe that all these initiatives, we affirm Japan’s commitment to the Philipines as a special friend, and closer than a brother, always willing to lend a helping hand, “ Ambassador Haneda said. “Together let eagerly rebuild Marawi from the ground up and help Marawi rise again.”

Japan and the Philippines earlier signed a 1.5 billion-yen grant (approximately US$13.98 million or about P727.05 million) on the sidelines of the 31stASEAN Summit and Related Meetings held in Manila in November last year for the procurement and importation of heavy equipment for Marawi.

This assistance in kind forms part of Japan’s 2.5 billion yen Non-Project Grant Aid to the Philippines, of which the remaining 1 billion yen (about $8.9 million) is allocated for the provision of anti-terrorism equipment, such as radar systems, to the Philippine Coast Guard.

To date, 27 units of heavy equipment that include excavators, wheel loaders, motor graders, bulldozers and dump trucks worth a total of 800 million yen have been procured and turned over to the DPWH last March 15 and are now being extensively used in Marawi.

“As we respond to the most immediate needs for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi, we thank the Government of Japan for its immediate response. We are extremely grateful for the empathy and sense of urgency that made these grants possible,” Dominguez said.

Besides the grant signed today and the heavy equipment aid package, Japan also agreed to provide a 1.1 billion yen funding support (about $9.8 million) to provide core shelters and livelihood training for Marawi City’s residents under a UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlement Programme) project and $2 million worth of assistance to help the relief operations of the UN World Food Programme and the UN International Children’s Fund in Marawi.

JICA is also currently financing a feasibility study for the construction of a Road Network Development Project in Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao, which include road components in Marawi City. (DOF/Photo by JICA)

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