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E-mail address: [email protected] Telephone 895-3995 / 895-3994 Fax 890-4517 (Reference: Manila Times) ************************************************************************************************************************************************ INDUSTRY AND INVESTMENTS Sales of the local automotive industry continue to pick up this year as units sold last month totaled 8,628, which is 19 percent higher than the 7,265 units sold in April 2006. The strong sales last month helped the year-to-date sales of the industry to jump by 18.7 percent to 34,829 units for the first four months of the year. “Auto industry sales are on track to hurdle the 100,000-unit sales mark by year-end assuming the continued implementation of the used-car import ban coupled with the strong peso,” Elizabeth Lee, president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc said. ( ZAMBOANGA CITY—Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced that seven major infrastructure projects worth P18 billion under President Arroyo’s Mindanao super-region strategy are now ready for implementation. Dureza, who is the development champion for Mindanao super-region, said the infrastructure projects include roads, bridges, irrigation with power generation, and a food complex, which he said have greater economic viability and with high impact on peace. Dureza said the projects are meant to provide much-needed jobs and income sources, particularly for families in the conflict-affected and poor communities. “While standard economic measurements estimate positive dividends for these projects, their actual social and political benefits will simply outweigh the economic gains because of the beneficial impact on peace and security,” he said. Topping the list of projects is the Kabulnan-II Multipurpose Irrigation and Power Project located in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao, which involves the construction of 80-meter-high-zoned earthfill dam that would irrigate a 19,300-hectare service area, according to Dureza. ( Top Philippine construction firms went on a business matching mission to Qatar to capture a slice of the booming infrastructure business and at the same time improve the image of the Philippines as more a source of expertise and technology and not so much of domestics.Philippine ambassador to Qatar Isaias Begonia identified the eight construction and allied services companies as the H.S. Pow Construction and Development Corporation, Sta. Clara International Corporation, Romago Incorporated, Worldchem Enviro Technologies Incorporated, Zarrbuilt Construction, LEY Construction and Development Corporation, Philippine Institute of Interior Designers, and Phesco Incorporated. Executives from key public and private agencies in Qatar, such as the Qatar Petroleum, Salam International, Qatari Businessmen Association, and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry briefed the Filipino executives. Begonia reported to the Foreign Affairs department that the Qatar business sector was very enthusiastic in receiving the trade mission and the trade chamber hosted a grand reception where the Filipinos and Qatari executives had a more relaxed time networking. One-on-one meetings between the mission participants and their Qatari counterparts were held throughout the day, added Begonia. ( INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC TRADE With each country having its own biofuels program, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand energy heads have agreed to pursue the development of common standards for biofuels, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said. “Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia have something in common in terms of having a strong agricultural base and are, therefore, in the position to develop a biofuels sector,” Lotilla said. The energy chief said Thai energy minister Piyavasti Amaranand agreed that the Philippines and Thailand ought to pursue this agenda in different international fora. “It will be recalled that the Philippines pushed for the development of common standards at the Asean-Europe Meeting and at the East Asian Leaders’ Summit,” said Lotilla. He added that the countries, on the other hand, then have opted to develop their respective national standards first. Lotilla said the Philippines has proposed to begin the initiative through a workshop that will allow all countries to exchange information on the status of their respective national efforts on developing biofuels standards and to determine the next steps for moving forward. ( The Philippines has committed to implement a regional plan of action to combat illegal fishing in Asia-Pacific. The regional plan of action was drawn up during a recent ministerial meeting attended by 10 senior officials in Bali, Indonesia. “The ministers agreed on a common and collaborative approach to promote responsible fishing practices and to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region, in particular, in the South China Sea, the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, and the Arafura-Timor Seas,” said the joint ministerial statement. Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Malcolm I. Sarmiento said the RPOA is voluntary and takes its principles from established international fisheries instruments for promoting responsible fishing practices. Among these international covenants are the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, and the Food and Agriculture’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. ( CONSUMER WELFARE AND TRADE REGULATION You can’t win if you did not participate in any raffle or contest; it’s as simple as that. This was the advice given by the Department of Trade and Industry to the public to avoid getting victimized by text scams that have lately been proliferating anew, with complaints filed with DTI rising to over 500 in the first quarter. Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said scammers thrive because there are people who fall for their modus operandi, even though they know very well they did not join any raffle or promo. So aside from educating consumers constantly, Favila said the DTI is appealing to the public to “exercise sheer vigilance so that perpetrators would be discouraged from keeping on with their acts.” The best way to confront them also, Favila said, is just to ignore them. ( The Philippine International Trading Corp. sought the cancellation of Pfizer’s patent over one of its top-selling anti-hypertensive drugs, setting off the country’s biggest intellectual property case against the world’s biggest commercial company. The PITC, represented by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, filed the “interpartes” case with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, seeking cancellation of Pfizer’s (United Kingdom) patent over Norvasc, alleging fraudulent claims on the part of the firm. The company’s licensee in the country, Pfizer Philippines, declined to comment on the case, saying it was not the party which should be reacting, adding that it has yet to be officially notified about the filing and details of the case. “We have not seen the copy (case) and we are not aware of the grounds (alleged),” said lawyer Millete Arnedo, Pfizer Philippines’ public affairs and legal director. The petition asked the government’s IP regulator to cancel Pfizer UK’s 18-year patent on “besylate salt of amplodipine,” one of the components or ingredients of Norvasc, alleging that such had not been invented by the pharmaceutical firm. Drugs are patented over their formulas. “Amplodipine besylate is merely a variation of the molecule amplodipine by combining it with salt besylate instead of another salt. Significantly, the salt besylate was already well known and recognized as a pharmaceutically acceptable salt long before Pfizer Ltd.’s patent application,” the PITC said. ( CORPORATE NORZAGARAY, Bulacan—Cement manufacturer Holcim Philippines Inc. is rolling out a new product—Holcim Wallright, a cement mortar, as it steadily becomes bullish over the future of construction, which it expects to rise in the next several months after a steady decline in demand for cement since seven years ago. “We expect a 13-percent increase in demand for cement as soon as government restarts its infrastructure program after the elections,” said senior vice president Francis C. Felizardo said. Felizardo, who heads sales, marketing and distribution, said the shrinkage in the market was 2 percent from the 1997 Asian financial crisis that bogged down government and private construction projects. Now, they have seen a slight pick-up in demand from December last year and that as government goes into its planned spending spree on infrastructure, the demand would steadily go up. “That would be the second wind for the industry.” ( The Philippine government has finally opened the bidding for the privatization of the North Harbor, one of the country’s largest terminals. Documents indicate that private entities will be asked to bid for a 25-year contract to run and manage the North Harbor’s container terminal, the general cargo terminal, and the passenger terminal complex as a single operational area. The contract is renewable for another 25 years. The Philippine Ports Authority has formed a special bids and awards committee, headed by PPA general manager Oscar M. Sevilla, to handle the bidding procedures starting this month through October. It said interested bidders must submit their letter of intent and purchase the necessary documents at the PPA head office in Manila starting Thursday. A pre-eligibility conference will be held on June 20. By July 2, PPA is expected to have streamlined the number of eligible bidders so that bidding proper can already be conducted during July 18 to October 17. ( Food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp. is spinning off its flagship domestic beer and regional packaging businesses in preparation for an initial public offering to raise funds for new ventures and boost growth, the company said. SMC said its board of directors approved yesterday the listing of San Miguel Beer Domestic, which will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the group in partnership with Japan’s Kirin Brewery Ltd. with a 20 percent stake. Kirin has been a strategic investor of SMC since 2002. "We are excited about our plans for driving San Miguel’s long-term growth in our core and new businesses through our strategy of portfolio transformation. We are confident these steps will create more value for our shareholders," said Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of SMC. Earlier, SMC confirmed it is looking at entering the mining, power, infrastructure and utility sectors to reignite growth after saturating its core home market. This will be presented to stockholders for their approval at the company’s annual meeting on July 24. ( Shopping mall giant SM Prime Holdings Inc. posted a net profit of P1.5 billion in the first quarter this year, up 11 percent from a year ago on higher income from lease operations. SM Prime said gross revenues grew 24 percent to P3.6 billion due to the opening of five malls in 2006, including the SM Mall of Asia, the largest shopping mall in the country to date. Rental income rose 26 percent to P3 billion, accounting for 83 percent of total revenues. SM’s malls, on the average, enjoyed an occupancy rate of 97 percent. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) amounted to P2.5 billion or an increase of 19 percent from the year earlier, translating to an EBITDA margin of 71 percent. The malls that opened last year were SM City Sta. Rosa, SM City Clark, SM Supercenter Pasig and SM City Lipa. SM North Edsa was also expanded with the block. "Expect more to come from us as we carry out our goal of bringing more SM malls to provincial communities and expand some of our existing malls that have naturally grown and evolved with its markets," said SM Prime president Hans Sy. ( Chevron Philippines, Inc. yesterday announced that it has divested its liquefied petroleum gas retail business unit to Petron Corporation. The divestment to Petron covers Chevron’s Caltex LPG-branded dealerships, branded refillers, various equipment on loan, LPG cylinders and the use of the Caltex’s LPG brand for a two-year period. Randy Johnson, Chevron country chairman for the Philippines and CPI general manager for retail, said his company considered several options prior to the divestment. "The local LPG business underwent evaluation for better alignment with Chevron’s global business portfolio," he said. CPI’s divestment of its LPG retail business, which serves mostly household consumers, is part of a larger strategy to focus on its core business of marketing and distributing Caltex- branded motor fuels and lubricants products to retail and commercial customers. The deal with Petron was made on the basis of a commitment to sell the dealership network to a reliable and reputable LPG supplier CPI’s dealer network is being transferred essentially intact to Petron and the transaction is expected to have no effect on the supply of LPG nationwide. "We are confident that Petron will provide the same level of service and product quality to our customers," added Johnson. Over the next few months, Petron will integrate CPI’s dealers into its nationwide LPG network. The company will likewise convert and rebrand Caltex LPG cylinders to Gasul cylinders over a two-year period. (Bulletin, pB1) BANKING AND FINANCE The Court of Appeals has affirmed the constitutionality of Central Bank Circular 905 which removes the ceiling on interest that may be charged on loans. In a 14-page decision penned by Associate Justice Mario L. Guariña III, the CA First Division declared that CB Circular 905 which took effect on January 1, 1983, has effectively suspended the implementation of Commonwealth Act 2655 or the Usury Law, which prohibits the imposition of annual interest higher than 12 percent for secured and 14 percent for unsecured loans. Thus, the appellate court junked the petition for review filed by Eduardo Rayo assailing the July 10, 2003, ruling of the regional trial court of Las Piñas, which held that the more than 12 percent interest that Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company imposed on loan transactions involving 42 parcels of land that petitioner acquired in March 2002 were not violative of the Usury Law in the light of CB 905. “With the validity of CB 905, it follows that the interests stipulated in the loan contracts are not usurious although above the maximum rates in the Usury Law…The plaintiff is thus liable for the full obligations of its assignors under the loans and as secured by the real estate mortgages…CB 905 clearly applies to secured and unsecured loans regardless of maturity,” the CA noted. ( Assets held by foreign currency deposit units totaled $23.6 billion at end-2006, nearly 14 percent higher than a year earlier and representing an all-time high, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said. Some 80 percent of the assets consisted of deposits of $18.8 billion, itself a 14-percent increase from the end-2005 level of only $16.5 billion. This number is significant in that FCDU assets are seen as the country’s second-tier foreign exchange reserve, next in importance to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ gross international reserves. At $23.6 billion, the FCDU assets were “the highest level recorded” that surpassed the end-1997 peak of $21.7 billion. Some 96 percent of the assets were owned by expanded license or the universal banks and their regular commercial bank counterparts, according to the BSP. The thrift banking system, which has FCDU assets of $1 billion, accounted for 4.1 percent of aggregate. ( Chinatrust Phils. Commercial Bank will further increase its consumer loan business to address the high demand for salary loans. Tony Robles, Chinatrust executive vice-president and retail banking head, said Chinatrust provided close to P6.8-billion loans for 120,000 salaried employees from 2003 to 2006. The borrowers, particularly middle-income employees, came from business outsourcing, manufacturing, distribution, information technology, and banking industries, among others. Most employees are using their payroll ATM as collateral. During payday, you will see long lines of borrowers at the ATM together with their lender, who first withdraws the loan payment before giving the rest of the borrower’s salary, Robles narrated. Chinatrust offers personal loans under the Salary Stretch brand since 2004. The bank likewise introduced its Same Day Loan, allowing borrowers to apply for a loan in the morning and get their cash before the end of the day. ( NATIONAL Observers from 11 countries and seven organizations arrived yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to monitor the May 14 elections. The poll observers came from Australia, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain and Sweden. They were accompanied by representatives of the Asia Foundation, ACF Compact, European Commission, Friedrich Neumann, USAID Philippines, National Democratic Institute, and International Foundation for Election Systems. Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos had earlier announced that 219 foreign observers had applied for Comelec accreditation to monitor the coming polls. Comelec records showed that the US Embassy would deploy the biggest contingent numbering 86, all of them based in the Philippines, followed by the embassy of Japan (26); British embassy (11); Canadian embassy (10); Australian embassy (nine); Spanish embassy (eight); the Singaporean and French embassies (five each); the embassies of Sweden, Finland and Germany (three each) and the New Zealand embassy (one). 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