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PAL eyes non-stop flights to Israel

May 3, 2021

FLAG carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is planning to mount non-stop flights between Manila and Tel Aviv, Israel by October.      The company is eyeing twice weekly nonstop flights to Tel Aviv’s Gurion international Airport using its Airbus A350 aircraft.      PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Gilbert F. Santa Maria has been in talks with Israel Ministry of Tourism Director General Amir Halevi on the possible Manila-Tel Aviv-Mania flights, the company said in a statement on Friday. Philippine passport holders can travel to Israel visa-free for up to 90-day visits.      “The Philippines is a strong source of potential travelers to Israel, which welcomes Filipinos without requiring a visa. Our countrymen have been longing for a direct flight to the Holy Land for spiritual pilgrimages or for a Mediterranean getaway when the travel climate allows,” PAL Chief Strategy and Planning Officer Dexter Lee said.      “We also look forward to inviting Israelis to visit the Philippines, so our direct flights will help us restart tourism here in our country.”      The Philippines on May 1 will lift its travel ban on foreign nationals, except for those travelling from India, where coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases have surged. Metro Manila and nearby regions are still under a strict lockdown where tourism attractions are not allowed to open.      Israel, which has fully vaccinated more than half its population, is slowly opening up its borders to international tourists, starting with vaccinated tour groups next month.      “‘Once the global travel climate improves and restrictions are eased, the planned PAL service will enable Israeli tourists to fly nonstop to Manila and connect to the flag carrier’s domestic route network,” PAL said.      The company last week announced that it would test run an international travel pass mobile application that allows passengers to manage travel documents and share COVID-19 test results and vaccination status.

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Aboitiz unit, Swiss firm to build local telco towers

May 3, 2021

ABOITIZ InfraCapital, Inc. said it is working with Switzerland-based global private markets investment management firm Partners Group Holding AG to build and operate telecommunication towers in the Philippines.      Aboitiz InfraCapital and Partners Group intend to “build and operate telecommunication towers and support infrastructure across the country” through a telecommunications infrastructure platform called Unity Digital Infrastructure, Inc., the listed company told the local bourse on Thursday.      In February, Unity Digital Infrastructure secured a certificate of registration as an independent tower company from the Department of Information and Communications Technology.      “It is now working on the rollout of its pilot batch of towers with the mobile network operators,” Aboitiz InfraCapital said.      The company said the partnership aims to support the government’s goal to improve the country’s internet connectivity in local communities by increasing the number of cell sites.      Existing mobile network operators may co-locate on Unity Digital Infrastructure’s tower assets, Aboitiz InfraCapital said.      Co-location and sharing of telecom infrastructure should help fast-track expansion, increase service reliability, reduce costs, and lessen redundant sites, it noted.      “The urgent need to expand the country’s infrastructure is creating opportunities for new providers to quickly capture market share,” said Grace del Rosario-Castaño, operating director of Unity Digital Infrastructure and member of Board of Directors of Partners Group.

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2GO Group buys new Japan vessel

May 3, 2021

2GO Group, Inc. on Wednesday announced the purchase of a new vessel from Japan, which will make its maiden voyage in the Philippines in May.      “The newly purchased ship will be part of 2GO’s fleet of 10 ROPAX (roll-on/roll-off passenger) and freighter vessels, sailing to 20 major ports of call, linking Manila to Visayas and Mindanao,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.      The acquisition, the company noted, is part of its continuing modernization program, which includes upgrading of its fleet and modernizing its operations.      With its discounted tickets, the company said it is ready for the resumption of domestic tourism.      The company is banking on its modernization projects to return to profitability.      It recently reported an attributable net loss of P1.84 billion for 2020, significantly wider compared with the previous year’s loss of P890.35 million.      But the company said it has no plans to raise additional capital for its modernization efforts.      “At this time, the management is able to fund these investments internally; thus, [we] have no current plans to raise additional capital,” William Charles Howell, 2GO chief financial officer, said at the company’s annual stockholders’ meeting on April 23.

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Landbank okays P60-B to UCT beneficiaries

May 3, 2021

THE Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) has released P60.36 billion in unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) as of December 2020 to beneficiary-households of the Duterte administration's social mitigation program under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN).      These disbursements were from the program funds for the UCT program released from March 2018 up to December last year, Landbank president-chief executive officer Cecilia Borromeo said in a statement Thursday.       From March 2018 to December 2020, a total of P22.53 billion was disbursed by the Landbank to UCT beneficiaries from the UCT program funds under the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA)      Another P23.71 billion under the FY 2019 UCT program funds was released from July 2019 to December 2020, and P14.12 billion from the 2020 UCT program fund in December last year.       Borromeo submitted her report on the usage of the UCT funds transferred by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) to Landbank to Senate President Vicente Sotto III.       Finance Secretary and Landbank chairman Carlos Dominguez III was furnished a copy of the report.       Under the TRAIN, up to 30 percent of the incremental revenues from the law is earmarked for social mitigation measures, such as the UCTs, while 70 percent is earmarked for President Duterte's centerpiece program “Build, Build, Build."      Republic Act (RA) No. 10963 or the TRAIN Law, which also slashed personal income tax (PIT) rates for 99 percent of salary earners, was implemented starting January 2018.       RA 10963 benefits salary earners because the hefty cuts in their PIT tax payments translates into extra income for these taxpayers equivalent to about a one-month take-home pay.      This law also adjusted the excise taxes on fuel, which prompted the inclusion of the social mitigation program to ease the initial impact of the adjustments on the poorest 50 percent of the population.       For 2018, the law provided a UCT of P2,400 each for some 10 million targeted households.        For the succeeding years of 2019 and 2020, each beneficiary-household received P3,600.       The UCT fund for 2018 of P24.488 billion covered the P24 billion in cash grants for 10 million beneficiaries.       While P22.53 billion in UCT funds were disbursed, around P1.47 billion has yet to be distributed because the Landbank is still waiting for the submission by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) of the remaining payroll files of beneficiaries under the UCT program.      Under the 2019 national budget, the UCT fund amounted to P36.488 billion, of which P6 billion have yet to be downloaded by the BTr to Landbank, leaving it with P30.488 billion for the implementation of the program.        Of the P30.488 billion, P23.71 billion was released to UCT beneficiaries.       About P6.29 billion in funds have yet to be disbursed, pending the DSWD submission of the beneficiaries’ payroll files.        A total of P5.5 billion of this UCT fund was transferred to the BTr on April 1, 2020, to help fund the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response programs, and was returned to the fund on December 29, 2020.      For 2020, the total UCT fund under the GAAs was P36.488 billion, of which P13.19 billion have yet to be downloaded to the Landbank.       The downloaded sum of P23.3 billion covered the P14.12 billion disbursed so far to UCT beneficiaries in December last year, while PHP8.9 billion have yet to be released pending the submission by the DSWD of the beneficiaries’ payroll files. (PR)

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SM CDO partners with LGU for free Covid-19 vaccination drive

May 3, 2021

SM Supermalls nationwide begins its multi-mall vaccination drive as it inks partnership with various LGUs nationwide to be the venue for their COVID-19 vaccination program.      In Cagayan de Oro City, the local government has partnered with SM CDO Downtown Premier for the mall to become a venue for the Covid-19 vaccination drive.      “As part of our continuing efforts in preventing the further spread of COVID-19, SM malls all over the country can provide convenient, safe and accessible venues for the community to get vaccinated. Through our long-standing relationship with the LGUs, we remain committed in ensuring the health and safety of the public,” said SM Supermalls president Steven Tan.        SM CDO Downtown Premier’s cinema hallway at the fourth level was repurposed to hold the vaccination activity. The program prioritizes the inoculation of senior citizens.      SM is closely coordinating with more LGUs as it begins to roll out more vaccination centers nationwide to help expedite the administration of COVID-19 vaccines and curb the spread of the virus.

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Private sector importation of vaccines

May 3, 2021

The Duterte administration has taken a lot of hit for its handling (or mishandling) of the COVID 19 pandemic. But to be fair, this pandemic is something which no government anticipated and prepared for. There has been no previous reliable playbook which government could consult. Thus for most governments, it was “learn as you go” and “trial and error” during the early part of the pandemic.       I would not be too harsh in judging this administration. It was doing its best under the circumstances.  However, if I were to fault the administration, it will be in its much delayed decision to allow the private sector to import  vaccines. It is a given that the private sector has consistently been more efficient in the matter of procurement. Had the go-signal been given much earlier, we will probably be  more than 25 percent of targeted vaccination by now.       Last April 13,  I had the good fortune to get my first jab of Atra Zeneca, courtesy of the local government of Muntinlupa City. No, I did not have to jump the line. I was included in the A2 priority (Senior Citizen). I stayed thirty minutes  at the vaccination center for observation and, good for me, I did not show any adverse reaction. Even the next day, my left arm did not feel numb but I did feel sleepy in the afternoon. I am scheduled to get my second dose on June 12.  In the case of a friend who got injected with Sinovac, the only after-effect he reported  was his sudden unexplained craving for Chinese food.       Despite my vaccination, I will never let my guard down. Vaccination only reduces the chance of getting sick by 85 percent or 60 per cent, depending on the vaccine. Even if I don’t get sick, I may still become a carrier. So I will continue to observe all health protocols like wearing of face mask and face shield, regularly wash my hands (while humming the happy birthday song twice) and observe physical distancing. I don’t quite agree with the reported decision of President Biden to dispense with the use of face masks outdoors by those who have already completed their vaccinations.       Here is how seriously we take health protocols at the Kiwanis Club of Muntinlupa Rizal. Before the scheduled Board of Directors meeting of the club  last April 24, Club President Larry Molera  issued the following reminders:      “As our precautionary measures:- 1) Our venue will be held at the LOBBY, an open area w/o aircon. 2. Let us maintain social distancing. 3) Wear face mask and face shield at all times (except when eating). 4) No talking when eating!!” Bank of the Philippine Islands board      During the April annual stockholders meeting of the Bank of the Philippine Islands, the following were elected to the  15-member Board of Directors: Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Fernando Zobel de Ayala,  Cezar P. Consing,  Romeo L. Bernardo, Ignacio R. Bunye ,  Ramon R. Del Rosario, Jr., Octavio V. Espiritu,  Rebecca G. Fernando, Jose Teodoro K.  Limcaoco, Aurelio P. Montinola III, Mercedita S. Nolledo, Antonio Jose U. Periquet, Cesar  V. Purisima,  Eli M. Remolona, Jr., and Maria Dolores V. Yuvienco. Purisima took the place of Xavier P. Loinaz who earlier resigned for health reasons.       In the immediately following organizational meeting, the following were elected as officers:      Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Chairman; Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Vice Chairman; Jose Teodoro K. Limcaoco, President/CEO; Dino R. Gasmen, Treasurer; Angela Pilar B. Maramag, Corporate Secretary; Emeliana Elisa F. Navarro, Assistant Corporate Secretary and Marie Christine M. Ty-Doromal, Assistant Corporate Secretary.       The 170-year old bank had a good run in a bad year. Despite its slowest balance sheet growth in years (1.3 percent), BPI had its moments in 2020.  Outgoing President Cezar P. “Bong” Consing enumerated them, as follows:      -Having executed 1.8 billion in online transactions in 2020, BPI has become  the acknowledged leader in digital banking.        -Capital adequacy ratio grew to 17.1 percent.       -BPI’s asset management and mutual funds businesses saw assets under management growing by 16.8  percent and 95.6 percent, respectively.       -Mortgage lending grew by 6.6 percent.       -BPI’s microfinance bank, BPI Direct BanKo, already the second largest (in its class) in the country, grew by 6.5 percent.       -BPI’s investment banking unit, BPI Capital, was the leading debt and equity underwriter in the country.       -BPI was one of only two Philippine companies which was given by Standard and Poor’s,  a BBB+ rating,  equaling  that of the Philippine government.       -The BSP continues to give BPI the highest ratings for its capital position, asset quality, management, and low sensitivity to market risk.        -BPI’s ESG scores consistently place it  either first  or second among Philippine banks.       -BPI is the only large Philippine bank whose shares outperformed the Philippine Stock Exchange index in 2020.       -BPI remains the second largest bank by market capitalization.       -The prestigious finance publication Euromoney named BPI as the Best Philippine Bank in 2020.       Note: You may wish to share this via Facebook, Twitter or Linked-In.

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