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April 10, 2024

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New Zealand tightens visa rules amid near record migration

SYDNEY, Australia, April 10 ------ New Zealand said that it was making immediate changes to its employment visa program after a near record migration last year which it said was “unsustainable”.


The changes include measures such as introducing English language requirement for low skilled jobs and setting a minimum skills and work experience threshold for most employer work visas. The maximum continuous stay for most low skilled roles will also be reduced to three years from five years. “The Government is focused on attracting and retaining the highly skilled migrants such as secondary teachers, where there is a skill shortage,” Immigration Minister Erica Stanford said in a statement. “At the same time we need to ensure that New Zealanders are put to the front of the line for jobs where there are no skills shortages,” she said.


Last year, a near record 173,000 people migrated to New Zealand, the statement said. New Zealand, which has a population of about 5.1 million, has seen a rapid growth in its migrant numbers since the end of the pandemic, raising concerns last year that it was fanning inflation. Neighbouring Australia, which has also seen a big jump in migrants, has said it would halve its migrant intake over the next two years. 





WHO announces giant rollout of cholera tests as cases surge

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 10 ------ The largest-ever global deployment of cholera rapid diagnostic tests got underway, the World Health Organization and its partners said, boosting the fight against surging infections. Malawi received the initial shipment of tests, kicking off a global diagnostics program aimed to speed up the detection of outbreaks.


In total, more than 1.2 million tests will be distributed to 14 high-risk countries over coming months, the UN health agency said in a statement. "Countries that will receive kits in the coming weeks in this largest-ever global deployment include those currently severely impacted by cholera outbreaks, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Syria, and Zambia," the statement said. The program is a joint venture, with the Gavi vaccine alliance handling funding and coordination and the UN children's agency UNICEF taking care of procurement.


WHO said that it and the Global Task Force on Cholera Control were also lending their support. The program is aimed at helping countries speed up and improve the accuracy of cholera outbreak detection and response by boosting routine surveillance and testing capacity, the organizations said. "We are experiencing an unprecedented multi-year upsurge in cholera cases worldwide, and today's announcement provides a critical boost in the fight against the disease," Gavi's chief program officer Aurelia Nguyen said in the statement.


Cholera, which is contracted from a bacterium generally transmitted through contaminated food or water, causes diarrhea and vomiting, and can be especially dangerous for young children. Cases have been surging in recent years, with 473,000 globally reported to WHO in 2022 -- double the previous year -- and preliminary data indicating that more than 700,000 cases were reported last year. The soaring number of outbreaks has created unprecedented demand for vaccines from impacted countries. Even though the global supply of oral cholera vaccines ballooned eighteen-fold between 2013 and 2023, the surging demand has created a global shortage, Friday's statement said.


WHO last month called for "immediate action" to address the shortage, warning of "unprecedented pressure on the global stockpile of vaccines". The situation, it said Friday, has forced delays in preventative vaccination campaigns to preserve doses for emergency outbreak responses. At the same time, recurring outbreaks in countries where emergency vaccination campaigns have already been carried out, shows a clear need to improve the speed and accuracy in identifying areas where new or persistent transmission is occurring, the statement said. "Surveillance diagnostics help pinpoint hotspots with great precision," Leila Pakkala, head of UNICEF's supply division, said in the statement. "This allows partners to target cholera vaccines to exactly the time and place where the limited supply will save the most lives."





Ship Speed Reduction Lowers California Coastal Air Pollution
Ship Speed Reduction Lowers California Coastal Air Pollution.jpg

April 10 ------ The Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies vessel speed reduction (VSR) program announced results from 2023, including a reduction in coastal California air pollution, lowered risk to whales, and reduced ocean noise. The voluntary program ran May 1 through December 15, 2023. 


Thirty-three global shipping companies participated in the voluntary VSR program in 2023. Companies reduced ship speeds off California, transiting at 10 knots or less in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay region and the Southern California region. Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies achieved the highest participation and cooperation levels since its inception in 2014, even after phasing out financial incentives. Shipping companies are recognized with awards for their level of performance.


Cooperation levels continue to improve in both regions with an overall 81% cooperation rate from participants, up from 78% in the 2022 season. The number of participants was also greater than any previous year, increasing from 23 shipping companies in 2022. Highlights of the 2023 program include: 

• Shipping companies that participated in the 2023 program reduced their air pollutant emissions by approximately 1,250 tons of NOx (nitrogen oxides) and 45,000 metric tons of regional GHGs (greenhouse gases). These numbers represent a 27% reduction in NOx and GHG pollution from the ships that participated in the program, as compared to 2016 baseline conditions. For comparison, the NOx reductions are equivalent to converting 800,000 passenger vehicles to zero emissions for a single year.

• The transits of vessels participating in the program posed approximately 58% less strike mortality risk to whales than if those vessels did not reduce their speed.

• Ships in the qualifying performance tiers had sound levels that were 5.4 dB per transit lower when compared to 2016 baseline source levels. With a reduction in noise pollution, whales can likely communicate easier.

• Of the 462,500 nautical miles of ocean transited by all the ships in the program, nearly 375,437 nautical miles were at 10 knots or less, equivalent to traversing the circumference of the Earth more than 15 times.

• Ships in the program transiting the 200-nautical-mile VSR zone in Southern California traveled at 10 knots or less for 83% of the total miles traveled. Cooperation has steadily increased season after season, (in 2017, approximately 21% of the miles were traveled at 10 knots or less). This shows the increasing commitment by the participating companies over the years.

• In the approximately 200-nautical-mile San Francisco Bay Area VSR zone, cooperation levels from the participating companies rose to 76%, up from 72% in 2022. 


Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies recognized cooperating shipping companies in three performance measurement tiers: Sapphire (85-100% of fleet total distance in VSR zones traveled at 10 knots or less), Gold (60%-84%), and Blue Sky (35%-59%). Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders on each ship transmit the ship’s speed and location. AIS data was analyzed for each fleet, and the company’s performance was classified by tier.


Thirteen companies reached the Sapphire level, the most in the top level category since the program began. They are CMA CGM, CSL Group, D'Amico Tankers DAC, Hapag-Lloyd, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), NingBo Ocean Shipping Co, NYK Ro-Ro, Ocean Network Express (ONE), Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), OSG Ship Management, Swire Shipping, Yang Ming, and Wallenius Wilhelmsen.


Container, car carrier, bulk and fuel carrier ships are eligible to participate in Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies. The program complements the NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, and Environmental Protection Agency voluntary requests for all vessels 300 gross tons or larger to reduce speeds during the months of peak air pollution and endangered blue, humpback, and fin whale abundance to protect them from ship strikes.


Ship strikes are a major threat to whales globally and to the recovery of endangered and threatened blue, fin, and humpback whales in California waters. Reducing the risk of ship strikes is a high priority for NOAA’s West Coast national marine sanctuaries. From 2007-2022, observed and documented deaths off of California totaled 52 endangered whales. This is thought to represent only a small fraction of the total number of ship strikes taking place annually.


The timing of the program coincides with the season when ground-level ozone (smog) concentrations are typically high. The 10-knot target allows ships to travel safely and at an efficient operating load using less fuel and producing less pollution and regional greenhouse gas emissions. The 2024 program runs May through December 2024. 





NYK, JMU: New method to evaluate ship performance in actual seas
NYK, JMU New method to evaluate ship performance in actual seas.jpg

April 10 ------ Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) and compatriot shipbuilder Japan Marine United Corporation (JMU) have decided to formulate an analysis and evaluation method to evaluate ship performance in actual sees before construction is completed. The duo recently verified a vessel’s propulsive performance in wind and wave conditions in actual seas.


As explained, the two companies aim to know a vessel’s performance in actual seas before the conclusion of a shipbuilding contract and aid in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by procuring highly fuel-efficient vessels.


In conventional shipbuilding contracts, the guaranteed speed is set and agreed upon based on the relationship between the ship’s speed and horsepower in calm waters, and the shipyard and shipping company mutually confirm the guaranteed speed during sea trials in the final phase of construction. However, since actual voyages are strongly affected by waves and winds, the guaranteed performance in calm seas deviates significantly from the performance in actual seas.


NYK and JMU introduced a clause guaranteeing ship performance in actual seas in a shipbuilding contract in September 2020 and have been working to verify performance in actual seas. The duo selected two new very large crude carriers (VLCCs) designed and built at JMU as target vessels and collected data on vessel speed, main engine horsepower, wind direction, wind speed, etc., for one year from the delivery of the vessels in 2022.


In actual seas, the two companies mutually verified the degree of achievement against the guaranteed speed/power curve formulated in 2020. The evaluation determined the difference between the guaranteed speed/power curve and the vessel’s data for each wind direction (headwind, crosswind, and tailwind) and calculated the average value. NYK and JMU confirmed that the guaranteed speed/power curve for the ship performance in actual seas was highly accurate.


One of the two new VLCCs was built using JMU technology to improve the shape of the vessel’s hull for better performance in actual seas, and the two companies confirmed a significant difference in this ship’s performance in actual seas, as expected. In the future, the two Japanese partners intend to use a new method of developing new hull forms to further improve performance in actual seas. The two companies will also evaluate the performance of other vessel types in actual seas.


NYK said it will continue to evaluate the performance of its vessels with an emphasis on ship performance in actual seas and introduce new technologies to promote the procurement of highly fuel-efficient vessels.





DNV okays Bergen Engines’ methanol-ready notation for marine engines
DNV okays Bergen Engines’ methanol-ready notation for marine engines.jpg

April 10 ------ Norway-based medium-speed engine builder Bergen Engines has received approval from classification society DNV for its methanol-ready statement for marine engines. Bergen Engines said this approval reinforces the company’s commitment to sustainable solutions, aligning with the belief that methanol will be an important fuel option for marine applications. As explained, methanol, a versatile and sustainable fuel when produced from renewables, offers numerous advantages for Bergen medium-speed engines, such as reducing emissions and contributing to enhanced engine performance.


Data from DNV’s Alternative Fuels Insight (AFI) platform showed that methanol proved the most popular alternative fuel choice in 2023 with 138 ships ordered (excluding methanol carriers). In February 2024, the classification society reported that 23 more ships were added to the AFI database since the beginning of this year. “We are proud to announce the approval of our methanol-ready notation by DNV,” Jon Erik Røv, Managing Director of Bergen Engines, commented. “This achievement highlights our dedication to providing sustainable solutions to address the evolving needs of our customers and the environment. With methanol, we can offer a cleaner alternative to ship owners that aligns with our mission to drive positive change in the industry.”


In addition to methanol, Bergen Engines is looking into other alternative fuels, including hydrogen and ammonia. The Norwegian company claims to be the first medium-speed engine producer in the world to successfully test a 30% volume blend of hydrogen at 100% load, thus setting the stage for the upcoming 100% hydrogen-fueled engine. Field testing was completed in 2023 in Caseda, Spain, in collaboration with Viscofan. Prior to this, the tests on a B-Series Bergen engine running on a blend of 15% hydrogen and 85% were completed in 2022.


The company aims to develop a 100% hydrogen-fueled engine by the end of 2024. Simultaneously, Bergen Engines continues its research to assess the feasibility of utilizing ammonia as a primary fuel source to further expand its green solutions portfolio for land and marine-based applications.





SSS to introduce calamity loan for OFW members

April 10 ------ After the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan, the Social Security System (SSS) will extend its calamity loan to the affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).


In a briefing, Rolando Ledesma Macasaet, SSS president and chief executive officer said on Thursday, April 4, that active members working in Taiwan can soon avail of the loan program. The Calamity Loan program allows pension fund members in the Philippines to get social security assistance if the applicant is residing in an area declared under a state of calamity by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).


According to Macasaet, this will be the first time that the pension fund will extend its loan scheme outside of the country. “There are a lot of OFWs who are also members of the SSS. About 10,000 Filipinos are working in Taiwan,” Macasaet told reporters. He added that the loan will be able to disperse a maximum of P20,000, while its repayment terms, as well as interest rates, will be similar to the existing local program. However, the SSS chief explained that the loan can only be dispersed in the Philippines, stating that “their money cannot be forwarded to Taiwan, because it might be more difficult [to process].”


Macasaet also reminded active SSS-OFW members who wish to avail of the calamity loan to settle their dues on time, as the borrowing program would not be doled out by the social security system. Meanwhile, the pension fund head said that the active members affected by the Taiwan earthquake may still claim other benefits made available by the SSS. “Even without the calamity loan, all OFWs around the world have benefits like maternity, bereavement, or unemployment insurance that are open to active SSS members,” he elaborated.


The Department of Migrant Workers reported three Filipinos who sustained minor injuries due to the Taiwan earthquake– one of the strongest shocks that struck the country in decades.





Rice prices to remain high until midyear - DA

April 10 ------ THE DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) said that rice prices are expected to remain high until midyear, as the agriculture sector reels from the impact of the El Niño weather event. At the same time, analysts warned elevated prices of the staple may add to inflationary pressures. “Hopefully, prices go down during the second half of the year. But as of the moment, since there are still the lingering effects of El Niño, I don’t think it will go down,” Agriculture Secretary Francisco P. Tiu Laurel, Jr. told reporters.


Agricultural damage caused by the El Niño has risen to P2.63 billion, affecting 54,203 farmers and 53,879 hectares of farmland, according to the DA. “We expect that (agricultural damage) would increase. We are at the height of El Niño now. Hopefully, by the end of May, it will decrease,” Mr. Tiu Laurel said.


Rice was the most affected crop with 72,733 metric tons (MT) of damage, equivalent to P1.7 billion or about 65% of total agricultural losses. “Rice is heavily water and rainfall dependent, so if the rice areas are affected (by El Niño) then it is a major issue. Also, if the drought hits at stages in the crop’s life when it most needs water then that worsens the issue,” Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino said in a Viber message.


Federation of Free Farmers National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said that agricultural damage from the El Niño may rise further. “Some crops that are still on the ground have already been affected by the lack of water and this will result in lower output and yields when these crops are harvested (assuming they survive),” he said in a Viber message.


The El Niño across the tropical Pacific Ocean is showing signs of weakening and is expected to persist until May, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). “Based on reports from PAGASA, the El Niño decay started in March. We are expecting that by May, it will be gone. We can expect additional agricultural damage but not by a lot,” DA spokesperson Arnel V. de Mesa said in mixed English and Filipino in a phone call on Wednesday.


Latest PAGASA data showed that 24 provinces from Luzon and one in Visayas are experiencing meteorological drought; 16 provinces are under dry spells; and 10 reported dry conditions. Provinces that are in a drought include Cagayan, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, and Negros Occidental, which are among the top rice-producing provinces in the country. “Farmers will be able to replant only when the rains come, and the lingering effects of El Niño may delay the onset of rains by about a month (from its usual onset in May),” Mr. Montemayor said. “Dam levels may also be too low to sustain irrigation to crops even if El Niño subsides. Lower output means less supply and could lead to higher food prices,” he added.



Former Agriculture Undersecretary Fermin D. Adriano also noted the effect of scarce water supply on agriculture. “Because of inadequate supply of water, local supply will not be enough and hence food prices might increase,” he said in a Viber message. Rice inflation surged to 23.7% in February, its fastest pace since the 24.6% seen in February 2009. Mr. Tolentino said it is difficult to forecast the full impact of the dry weather event on agriculture and food prices. “The impact depends on exactly where the drought hits whether or not the areas affected are heavily agricultural or not, and at what growing stage the crop is,” he added.


However, he noted that rice prices in general have been elevated for some time now due to rising fertilizer prices, supply chain disruptions and India’s ban on exports. As of April 2, the average retail price of local well-milled rice ranged from P48 to P55 per kilogram from P39 to P46 per kilogram a year ago. Regular milled rice also rose to P50 per kilogram from the P34 to P40 range a year earlier.


The Philippine Statistics Authority data showed the national average price for well milled rice was P56.95 per kilogram as of mid-March. The highest retail price during the period was reported in the Central Visayas, with the average at P59.27 per kilogram. The Ilocos Region, on the other hand, reported the lowest price for well milled rice at P52.89 per kilogram.



Meanwhile, Mr. Tiu Laurel said stocks may remain sufficient for the country’s rice requirements, due to the ongoing harvest season and continued purchase of palay or unmilled rice by the National Food Authority (NFA). “Well, the NFA has already bought a certain amount… it’s harvest season, as we all know, (which) will continue until May. So, there’s enough stock,” he added.


Mr. Tiu Laurel said that rice imports have also been regularly arriving to bolster local supply. Rice imports have reached 995,841 MT as of March 21, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry. To help ease price pressures in the short term, the government should consider allowing more imports. “In the medium term, pressure can ease if trade policies are stabilized, and tariff reductions made permanent.  Long term, the sustainable solution is improved domestic productivity through research and development,” Mr. Tolentino said.


The US Department of Agriculture projects Philippine rice imports to reach 4 million MT this year.





LTO reminds motorists to renew driver’s licenses

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ The Land Transportation Office (LTO) has advised motorists with expiring licenses this month to renew their driver’s permit before April 30.


LTO chief Vigor Mendoza said motorists should comply with the renewal schedules issued by the agency to expedite the release of plastic card licenses. Driver’s licenses that expired from April 1 to Aug. 31, 2023 and expiring from April 1 to 30, 2024 should be renewed from April 15 to 30 to avoid fines, according to the LTO.


Motorists with expiring licenses from  Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, and from May 1 to 31, 2024 are scheduled for renewal in May. Driver’s licenses that expired from Jan. 1 to March 31, and June 1 to 30 will be scheduled for renewal in June. The LTO will start the issuance of plastic card licenses on April 15, Mendoza said. At least one million plastic cards have been delivered to the LTO after the Court of Appeals lifted the preliminary injunction issued by a Quezon City court last month.             





Intense heat to slightly affect chicken supply, says broiler group

MANILA, April 10 ------ While there is no alarming effect that has been monitored on the supply of poultry, the intense heat may however affect the growth of chicken, according to the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA). “Wala kaming nakikitang sakit para sabihin natin na mag-alarma pagdating sa supply ng kinakain nating karne (We are not seeing a disease that we can mark as alarming when it comes to the supply of our meat)," UBRA President Jay Feliciano said in a radio interview.


However, he mentioned several effects on chicken due to hot weather conditions, which may cause delay in their growth and later on could cause artificial shortage. "Ang pangunahing epekto niyan is iyong delay sa paglaki. Magbibilang ka siguro dalawa o apat na araw," he said. "Iyong mga dapat 34, 35, nagiging 38. Pero hindi ko nakikitang magiging dahilan siya na magkaroon kami sa kakulangan ng manok," Feliciano added. He explained that these delays may cause a supply drop in markets for a day or more leading to price tweaks. These changes in retail prices, however, stabilize on its own once the delayed chicken supply reaches the market, Feliciano said.


Based on UBRA's monitoring, the average farmgate price of chicken is pegged at PHP95/per kilogram to PHP102/kg. As of Thursday, the prevailing retail price range of whole chicken in the National Capital Region (NCR) is set at PHP150/kg to PHP200/kg, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA)'s Bantay Presyo (price watch). 





DA: P20/kilo rice remains a government aspiration

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ President Marcos’ election campaign pitch of P20 per kilo of rice remains an aspiration of the government, a Department of Agriculture (DA) official said.


“The P20 per kilo of rice is still the aspiration and goal of the department (even if) at present it is difficult to achieve,” Agriculture Assistant Secretary and spokesman Arnel de Mesa said over the weekend.


Marcos campaigned partly on a platform of cutting rice prices to P20 a kilo during the 2022 presidential race. He later clarified that it was merely an “aspiration.” “Our plans and activities are geared toward reducing the cost to produce and for us to be competitive in the future. If our neighboring countries can bring down the cost of production, we will also do it,” De Mesa added.


Based on Philippine Statistics Authority data, he said the spike in the retail price of rice has contributed largely to the increase in inflation. “When I examined the data of the PSA, the retail price of rice, especially for regular and well-milled from January to June, July last year ranged between P39 and P40 per kilo only. It started to increase in July, August when it reached P43 (per kilo) and P49 in September,” De Mesa noted. This contributed to a 23 percent increase in the retail price of the staple or P10 per kilo, he said. “Imagine from P39 (per kilo) of March last year, it is now P49.50 (per kilo) or P10 increase,” he added.


Based on the DA’s monitoring of Metro Manila markets, the retail price of local regular milled rice ranged between P46 and P53 per kilo; local well-milled rice, around P48 per kilo; local premium rice, between P52 and P60 per kilo; and local special rice, between P54 and P68 per kilo.


Imported regular rice ranged between P49 and P51 per kilo; imported well-milled rice, P50 and P55 per kilo; imported premium rice, between P54 and P63 per kilo; and imported special rice, between P56 and P65 per kilo. The DA has no plan to impose a suggested retail price or price cap on the grains despite the increase in costs, De Mesa said. “We have no plan to have a price cap or SRP amid its impact in the long run. The retail price of rice (already) went down from P52 (per kilo) last month to P50, P49 (per kilo),” he said. He admitted that the DA does not expect rice retail prices to go down. “In terms of prices, we don’t expect much movement because of the external shocks. For example, the farmgate price of palay is still high despite the harvest season. It cannot drive the continuous decline in the retail price of rice despite a slight drop,” he noted.





PSA urges parents to register children aged 1 to 4

MANILA, April 10 ------ The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is urging parents to register their children aged 1 to 4 years old with the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys).


PSA Deputy National Statistician Fred Sollesta said the PSA has received 220,000 registrants since they opened the registration for young children last February. But that is still way below the total number of children in the age group which is about 10 million. He said they are holding mobile registration booths like the one at the Santulan Daycare Center in Malabon to encourage more Filipinos to register. 


Sollesta said registration would help the children in future government transactions and they won’t need to bring their birth certificates in schools or other establishments. “Health benefits mas madali siya kung registered sa PhilSys… Moving forward na mag-enroll siya sa eskwelehan if DepEd eventually [make] use of national ID in learners record, mas madali siya,” said Sollesta. 


PSA said it is easy for parents to register their children. The only requirements are birth certificate and for a parent to be registered already. Children 1 to 4 years old will only undergo picture taking, but biometrics will not be taken. Only the parent’s biometrics will be taken and linked to the child. Once the child turns 5 years old, he or she can not take his or her biometrics recorded. The PSA also urged teens and adults to register as well. “Dapat magpa-register na kayo. And sooner or later makikita natin ang benefits of being registered sa Philsys pag na integrate na processes ng government sa Philsys,” he added.





Bukidnon claims top spot as Philippines' leading agricultural area

April 10 ------ Bukidnon is the top agricultural area in the country, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed. Based on the survey of 82 provinces and 17 highly urbanized cities, it reported that Bukidnon had the highest gross value added (GVA) to agriculture, forestry, and fishing (AFF) in 2022 which stood at P125 billion. The province contributed seven percent to the sector's overall national GVA.


GVA is defined as the total of all revenues, from final sales and net subsidies, which are incomes into businesses; these incomes are then used to cover expenses, savings, and taxes. It is also used to adjust gross domestic product, which is a key indicator of the state of a nation's total economy. Nueva Ecija comes after Bukidnon, with a GVA of P79.74 billion or 4.5 percentage share, followed by Pangasinan with P66.93 billion, Pampanga with P62.71 billion, and Isabela with P58.78 billion.


Completing the top 10 provinces outside the National Capital Region (NCR) that had the highest shares of GVA of AFF were Negros Occidental, Iloilo, Davao del Norte, Batangas, and Quezon. On the other hand, the country reached over P1.78 trillion in GVA of AFF. In terms of per capita GDP among provinces and cities outside NCR in 2022, Baguio City shared the highest per capita GDP of over P420 billion.


The per capita GDP is a measurement of wealth or poverty through the economic output to a per-person allocation. Also sharing the highest per capita GDP were the cities of Cagayan de Oro (P343 billion), Lapu-Lapu (P313 billion), Iloilo (P306 billion), and Bataan (P297 billion). Rounding out the top 10 wealthiest areas outside NCR were Cebu City, Laguna, Mandaue City, Davao City, and Batanes.


The Marcos administration is targeting to achieve an economic growth of 6.5 to 7.5 percent target band this year and 6.5 to 8.0 percent in the next four years. The country’s GDP is already above pre-pandemic levels in peso terms, according to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort, however, it could be slowed by higher prices and interest rates.





Practical, easy tips for saving water amid El Niño

MANILA, April 10 ------ Have you ever been told to take a shower while standing inside a large basin just so you can recycle all that used water? The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) admits such practice entails effort for some.


Undersecretary Carlos Primo David said this is the reason why DENR came up with more practical and easier water conservation measures. “Kung masyadong mahirap, very tedious ‘yung activity para makapagtipid ng tubig, hindi rin naman gagawin at hindi rin masyadong maraming tao ang gagawa nito. Kaya ang binibigay namin tips sa conservation measure natin ay ‘yung halos walang effort na gawin,” he said.


David added that some water-saving measures are also not feasible especially when they have something to do with hygiene and sanitation. Among them, delaying flushing of used toilets. Instead, a practical way of saving up on water while pressing the flush button is to place a 250 milliliter water bottle inside the tank. “‘Pag ginamit natin yung flush nito, ‘yung pressure na kailangan magkaroon para higupin yung nasa toilet bowl ay nakadepende doon sa level ng tubig na nasa ating water tank. ‘Pag nilagyan natin ng water bottle na may tubig sa loob, we maintain the level of water. Pero every time that we flush, we only flush the amount of water in the tank, minus the 250 mL water in the bottle that we placed.”


Unsure whether your toilet has leaks, DENR says these can be easily spotted by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet’s water tank. A leaky tank is revealed if the food color seeps into the toilet bowl. Fixing leaky tanks can save as much as 3,785 liters a month. David also says that those looking into constructing homes can opt for finishing equipped with water-saving features. “Try to buy the toilets that have a dual flush feature. Usually bilog ito at may semi-circle na malaki at isang maliit. Alam mo ang ginagamit natin diyan ay 6 liters per flush. This is potable water that we’re flushing. Kapag number 2 ang ginawa, kailangan ng lahat ng power ng toilet mo kaya 6 liters ‘yan. Pero kung number one lang, ‘yung wee-wee lang naman ang nasa bowl, three liters per flush, ‘yung maliit na butones na may mga dual flush features.”


Another practical way of saving up to 20-50 liters of water every month is washing fruits and vegetables using a sink basin instead of running water. Similarly, you can save water by taking out frozen food early and leaving them to thaw without having to place it under running water. Cutting shower time by a minute or two is also an easier and more practical way of saving up to almost six hundred liters per month. For a complete list of best-practices, hacks, and best-buy furnishings for water conservation check out the DENR’s infographic.



Despite the continuous decline of the Angat Dam water level, David says allocation for irrigation and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System remains unchanged. “Up to this point in time, we are providing full allocation to both irrigation and potable water. In fact for potable water, nagdagdag pa tayo ng extra two cubic meters per second dahil puno pa naman yung dam.”


However, the months of April, May, and June are seen to be the most critical months where its level should remain comfortably above the minimum operating level of 180 meters, until the onset of the rainy season, to avoid any changes in allocation. “If there is a concerted effort of all Metro Manila residents to save water just by a little bit, but everyone does it, ay hindi tayo aabot sa sitwasyon na kailangan natin magkaroon ng water interruption,” David said.


As of April 4, the level of Angat Dam was recorded at 197.87 meters.





Bigger Metro Manila Film Festival for its 50th year

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ The annual summer Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) will be canceled this year to give way to a bigger, grander and much-awaited 50th anniversary of the MMFF this December.


The MMFF will return to its original roots in the City of Manila, where it all started in 1974. Even the awards ceremony or the annual Gabi ng Parangal will be held at the Manila Metropolitan Theater (Met), where the maiden awards ceremony also took place. “Manila is very excited to host the 50th anniversary of the MMFF 2024 edition,” declared Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna. “Historically, the festival started in Manila. We are 110 percent in support of this year’s festival. Gagawin naming bonggang-bongga talaga.” 


Mayor Lacuna expects to surpass the success of last year’s MMFF parade held at the CaMaNaVa (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela) areas. “We will also pass by Tondo, where the bulk of our kababayans are,” said Mayor Lacuna. “The areas where there are thousands of residents, will be covered by the Parade of Stars that will be held on a Sunday, so more people can watch.”


Even US-based Filipino filmmakers can field in their respective entries shot abroad, announced MMFF executive committee led by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Don Artes. Unlike last year when 10 film entries were selected and shown, the MMFF will return to having only eight entries this year. “But if there are really good entries, we can expand the choices to 10 again,” chairman Don said. “Last year, we had 800 cinemas for the MMFF,” said Chairman Don. “This year, we like to cover 900 cinemas.”


Product placements will be welcomed for the entries this year, according to chairman Don. “In the past years, we didn’t allow product endorsements in the films. This year, we will allow them to help producers since we know the cost of production is huge. “When box-office returns are not guaranteed. We will allow producers to get sponsors on a limited exposure. We will discuss the mechanics with the producers.” Working closely with Mowelfund, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and Cinema Exhibitors Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the MMDA will feature Sine Singkwenta, where 50 memorable MMFF classic movies will be shown in selected local theaters nationwide for only P50. There will also be the student short film caravan, where the length of entry should not exceed five minutes. Criteria for the selection of official entries are artistic excellence (70 percent), Filipino cultural sensibility (15 percent) and global appeal (15 percent). The Best Student Short Film will be given the festival award.


The successful Manila International Film Festival held in Los Angeles last January will happen again next year. “We already talked to the organizers,” disclosed chairman Don. “We told them to work starting in the promotions locally of the entries, so the filmfest will be successful again.” “That event in Los Angeles brought the Filipinos in the US to the cinemas to watch the entries,” said MMFF spokesperson Noel Ferrer. “The stars and the producers are all enthusiastic to promote the films. They all had a concerted effort to promote.”


The MMFF calendar was bared by Boots Anson-Roa, who is part of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Mowelfund, the annual beneficiary of the MMFF since 1974. She also announced this year’s guidelines. The deadline for submission of the Letter of Intent is not later than 5 p.m. of May 15 (Wednesday). For the scripts, submission of the soft copy with 10 hard copies is on June 14 (Friday). The announcement of the first four official script entries is July 1 (Monday). Submission of finished film based on script submitted is not later than 5 p.m. of Sept. 30 (Monday). For the finished film, deadline for submission of finished film entries and other required documents, including official trailer, clippings and behind the scenes will be Sept. 30 (Monday). Announcement of the next four official finished film entries is on Oct. 15 (Tuesday). The annual Parade of Stars will be advanced to Dec. 15 (Sunday) and will be held in the City of Manila. The areas to be likely covered are Tondo, Leveriza, Quirino and Sampaloc, although the official route will be drawn out come December. Theatrical release of the official entries will be from Dec. 25 (Wednesday) this year to Jan. 7, 2025 (Tuesday). The Gabi ng Parangal will be held Dec. 27 at the Metropolitan Theater in Manila. Boots was thankful to former Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada for his initiative in creating the Mowelfund, which will also mark its 50th year this 2024.


Riding on the success of MMFF 2023 that surpassed the target and doubled the income, MMFF 2024 aims to create better films and yield bigger box office results. While MMFF 2023 registered P1.2 billion, chairman Don wants to exceed that amount for this year. “We need to create noise for the entries, so the 2024 MMFF will be successful, too,” Don said. “If we can’t surpass last year, at least we can match the earnings this year.”





Laurenti Dyogi reveals 'PBB' new season, on-ground auditions

MANILA, Philippine, April 10 ------ Laurenti Dyogi announced that they are looking for a "new breed of idol trainees and young artists" to join Star Magic as well as new housemates for the upcoming season of "Pinoy Big Brother" for the show's return in June.


In an Instagram live on Saturday, the Head of Star Magic and Head of ABS-CBN TV Production revealed that they are holding on-ground auditions for "PBB" starting end of April. There will be four on-ground auditions, beginning April 27 and 28 in Metro Manila. They will head to Visayas, Mindanao and Luzon on the following weekends leading to the opening of the famous Bahay ni Kuya to a new set of housemates in June. 


In addition, they will also be reviving their artista/idol search "Star Hunt Academy." "Sa lahat ng gustong maging bahagi ng Star Magic, kung meron kayong potential maging artista, this is the chance for you to audition in front of us, our panel, managers and scouts. We are looking for a new breed of young artists... We are looking for a new breed of idol trainees like Bini and BGYO," Dyogi said. There will also be virtual or online auditions. Those interested to join "PBB" must be 16 to 32 years old, while those who wish to join "Star Hunt" must be 13 to 25 years old. 


Like many programs, both reality TV shows were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last season of "PBB" was held in 2021. "PBB" has made the artista dreams come true for the likes of Kim Chiu, Melai Cantiveros, Gerald Anderson, Ejay Falcon, Maris Racal, to name a few. 





Happy ABBA-versary! Fans mark 50 years since ‘Waterloo’ took the world by storm

LONDON, April 10 ------ It’s 50 years since ABBA won a major battle with “Waterloo.” A half-century ago, the Swedish quartet triumphed at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with the peppy love song, which opens: “My my, at Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way.”


The song rang out again Saturday at London’s Waterloo railway station — also named after the 1815 battle that dealt defeat to the French leader — where a choir belted out a rendition for commuters. In the English coastal town of Brighton, where the 1974 competition was held, fans were staging a flashmob dance and silent ABBA disco to mark the anniversary. Eurovision victory turned ABBA into a pop juggernaut, by far the most successful band to win the pan-continental music contest, which will hold its 68th edition in May in ABBA’s home country, Sweden. The Eurovision final will take place May 11 in Malmö, after Swedish singer Loreen won last year’s competition with “Tattoo.”


ABBA’s melodic disco pop sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide. The stage musical “Mamma Mia!” based on its songs is 25 years old and spawned two movies. The band members have not performed together live for four decades, but released a comeback album, “Voyage,” in 2021. Every day, fans attend a concert by digital “ABBA-tars” at the hit show “Abba Voyage,” which opened in London in 2022.


In a thank-you message to fans on Saturday, the four band members said it was “slightly dizzying and deeply humbling” to know that their songs had been passed down the generations and “still resonate around the world.” “Music you discover and learn to love when you grow up or even later in life has a way of staying with you forever,” said Agnetha Faltskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. “We share that experience with you and to know that our music has become a constant in your lives is a wonderful thing.” A tribute concert titled “A party for ABBA” was set to take place in Stockholm on Saturday evening featuring prominent Swedish artists, a 21-person band and a large choir. Organizers said it was a salute to a band that changed the Nordic country’s music scene “forever.”


Swedish public broadcaster SVT, which planned to broadcast the concert live on television and on its streaming service, said “April 6, 1974 is considered by some to be Sweden’s national music day.”





Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups highlight 2024 Hall of Fame class
Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups highlight 2024 Hall of Fame class.jpg

GLENDALE, USA, April 10 ------ Final Four began with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2024 announcement in Glendale, Arizona. The 13 honorees include former NBA stars Chauncey Billups (now head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers), dunk specialist Vince Carter, former Los Angeles Lakers defensive guru Michael Cooper, and Phoenix Suns legend Walter Davis.


Carter, an eight-time All-Star who scored 25,728 points in 22 seasons, found the day to be highly emotional. “It’s mind-blowing for me,” said Carter, the 1999 Rookie of the Year with the Toronto Raptors. “I enjoyed playing the game of basketball every day. I’m just overjoyed.”


Billups was known as “Mr. Big Shot” as a player due to his clutch nature. Billups was a five-time All-Star and the 2004 NBA Finals MVP when he led the Detroit Pistons to the title. “It really is crazy,” said Billups, who played 17 NBA seasons. “I’ve spent a lot of the past few days being speechless knowing I was going into what I call ‘Basketball Heaven.'”


Cooper was one of the NBA’s top defenders during his 12 seasons. He was part of five championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers.


Davis was a six-time All-Star during 15 NBA seasons. The 1978 Rookie of the Year is still the leading scorer (15,666) in Phoenix Suns history.


Former New York Knicks star Dick Barnett also was inducted.


Former Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan and Louisiana high school coaching legend Charles Smith are to be inducted as coaches. Ryan won 747 overall games as a college coach, while Smith won nine high school championships in Louisiana.


Four-time WNBA champion and eight-time All-Star Seimone Augustus also earn induction into the Hall of Fame.


The late Harley Redin, who coached the Wayland Baptist women for 18 seasons, also will be entering the Hall of Fame.


Former WNBA star Michelle Timms was chosen by the Hall of Fame’s International Committee. Former coach, player and broadcaster Doug Collins, Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and player/executive Jerry West were named as contributors. West is the first member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to be inducted as a player and contributor.


The induction ceremonies are Aug. 16 and 17 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Uncasville, Connecticut. 





Joson second Filipino after Animam in Aussie league
Joson second Filipino after Animam in Aussie league.jpg

April 10 ------ Jack Danielle Animam’s latest overseas gig is in Australia, where she will soon be joined there by another Gilas Pilipinas fixture in Jhazmin Joson. And their stints there will, without a doubt, bolster the national basketball program as it forges ahead. “The involvement of Jack and Jhaz can inspire young athletes and potentially attract more attention to women’s basketball in the country,” national coach Pat Aquino told the Inquirer on Sunday, shortly after helping oversee a Gilas girls tryout in Davao. “Their stints there will contribute to the growth and development (of the program),” he went on.


Animam, who has played in Serbia, France and China, has signed with the NBL1 club Ringwood Hawks. She has since debuted for the squad, turning in a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds in an 83-55 rout of Kilsyth Cobras. Days later, Joson also turned pro, her path leading to the Goldfields Giants that compete in the Western Conference of the Aussie league.





Top triathletes vie in Lapu-Lapu joust
Top triathletes vie in Lapu-Lapu joust.jpg

MANILA, Philippines, April 10 ------ The IRONMAN Philippines celebrates a milestone 10th anniversary staging of its 70.3 triathlon series in Lapu-Lapu City on April 21, featuring a diverse and international roster of competitors, all vying for the overall championships in the men’s and women’s divisions.


Over the years, the IRONMAN 70.3 Lapu-Lapu has evolved into a highly prestigious event, drawing the country’s leading athletes and emerging talents, along with the top triathletes from around the world. This speaks volumes about its soaring popularity and the exceptional experience it offers athletes, bolstered by its recognition as the best spectator race globally in 2018.


Billed as the Crown Jewel of Asia, the IM 70.3 presented by Megaworld and Mactan Newtown will unfold across a challenging 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21k run course. Registration is ongoing. For details, visit


Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan has expressed excitement about hosting the event, which also features competitions in various age categories, emphasizing the unique opportunity to present the city’s top sites and adventures while heralding its status as a premier destination for sports and adventure.




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