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Melbourne orders non-vital businesses shut to curb virus

Agence France-Presse

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Non-essential businesses in Australia’s second-biggest city of Melbourne were ordered Monday to close for six weeks as officials struggle to control a growing coronavirus outbreak.

Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews said most retail outlets in Melbourne would have to shut from midnight Wednesday into Thursday, with exemptions for supermarkets, pharmacies, and liquor stores.

The measures are the most restrictive Australia has seen since the epidemic began and came on top of mandatory mask-wearing, stay-at-home orders, and a night-time curfew in the city.

The closures are aimed at helping ensure an estimated one million fewer people are moving around the region for work, as hundreds of coronavirus cases continue to be recorded daily despite a lockdown that began in early July.

“As heartbreaking as it is to close down places of employment… that is what we have to do in order to stop the spread of this wildly infectious virus,” Andrews told a press conference.

“This six-week period is absolutely critical.”

Other sectors — such as meat production and construction — will be required to scale down significantly from Friday.

‘Don’t panic buy”

Andrew urged people not to panic buy.

“I can’t guarantee that every single product at exactly the volumes you would like to buy will be there, but there will be enough for people to get what they need.”

An overnight curfew was imposed Sunday and people banned from moving more than five kilometers (about 3 miles) from home.

Melbourne residents must also stay at home from 8 pm to 5 am until at least September 13. Only those carrying out essential work, or seeking or providing care, are allowed out.

Those caught breaking the rules can be slapped with a fine of Aus$1,652 ($1,177) from police who are patrolling the city’s streets, though Andrews said “significant boosts” to penalties would be announced Tuesday.

The radical new restrictions set Melbourne apart from the rest of Australia, where most regions have significantly relaxed restrictions as just handfuls of new cases are reported daily.

Victoria state now has almost 6,500 active coronavirus cases, recording 429 new cases and 13 deaths from the virus Monday.

In Melbourne, weddings have also been banned, in-person religious services canceled and students are poised to return to online lessons.

“It’s hard, especially knowing that in other parts of the country people are quite free to go around and (enjoy) almost normal life,” cafe manager Tracy Skilling told AFP.

Australia’s total reported infections topped 18,000 on Monday, with 221 deaths, from a population of 25 million.

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Ovialand: Pioneering the premier living experience

TDT

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It has been over six months since the pandemic has shaken the global economy, including realty business.

While many organizations have chosen the path of caution, Ovialand Inc., one of the fast-growing property developers in the country, has chosen the path of grit and courage.

Led by their promise of “Premier Living you Deserve,”  Ovialand Inc. is not slowing down even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as it has a strong determination to deliver its commitment to its clients.

“We made commitments to our clients that we will provide their dream homes this year. We decided as a team that we will not let a pandemic prevent us from fulfilling our promises. Especially now that more families are deciding to stay home to keep their loved ones safe, we realized that we had to find safe ways to help them move to their new homes as soon as possible,” shares Pammy Vital, President of Ovialand Inc.

Merely five years since Ovialand launched its first premier project in the heart of Sto. Tomas, Batangas, Terrazza de Sto. Tomas, Ovialand has strived to keep its promise to provide its clientele with a premier living experience.

Since the Company launched its first project in 2015, Ovialand has launched four more premier residential projects during the first half of 2020, all located in the south of Luzon.

“To say that it has been a busy past five years is an understatement, but we are enjoying every minute of this journey. We are proud of our developments that provide more than adequate space not just inside the living spaces but the community as a whole. Our developments have wide-open spaces and each family unit has more than enough space to feel comfortable and secure especially during the times of the stringiest quarantine guidelines,” shares Vital.

Led by Leaders

Ovialand takes its success from its people who are mostly composed of disciplined managers and supervisors who are goal-driven and put the Company’s mission of giving its clients the “Premier Living Experience” as the center of all their tasks. Led by Vital, its president, OLI’s recipe for success includes the Company’s strong emphasis on working with values and consciously being aware of the company culture that every member is laying down.

“We know that the culture we build today will dictate the success of our company in the years to come; that is why our team strives to work together to give you the Premier Living Experience you deserve,” Vital added.

The COVID-19 pandemic truly put the team’s commitment to a test without sacrificing the health and safety of everyone.

The company set up a work-from-home for its employees. Team members who have to report to work are taken care of through provided daily shuttles as well as comfortable staff housing for easy and safe access to their offices and communities.

As for the construction workers, the Company provided free COVID-19 testing as well as additional allowances to ensure their and their families’ health and safety during the pandemic.

“We were surprised that even during Enhanced Community Quarantine, we received online inquiries about our developments, and we believe this is because the pandemic has reminded almost every one of the importance of having a safe, secure and relaxing home, and they think that this is something they can have within the areas of our premier developments,” Vital shared.

Further Delivering Premier Living to Every Family

Ovialand launched its fourth premier housing project in the Province of Quezon, bringing the Company’s total to 28 hectares of developments with 1,688 house and lot units.

The Company has sold 1,100 of these units and has completed 661 houses and lots over its five years of its operations.

These projects are Terrazza de Sto. Tomas in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, which is 100% completed and turned over as committed; Sannera in San Pablo Laguna, which currently stands at 70% completion for Phase 1 and 15% completion for Phase 2; Caliya Phase 1 in Candelaria, Quezon, with the initial turnover scheduled this coming October.

In the coming months, Ovialand will be launching as scheduled the second phase of its Caliya project in Candelaria, Quezon, as well as two more premier projects in Laguna and Quezon Province. These two new projects are expected to add eight hectares to the Company’s sprawling premier residential projects, which will provide an additional 650 house and lot units. More houses mean that more families can enjoy Ovialand’s Premier Living Experience.

 

 

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PCCI urges IATF to allow more jeepneys to operate

Raffy Ayeng

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THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI), tapped by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to be its consultant with regards to COVID 19 pandemic response, has suggested opening more routes for jeepneys to aide more employees that are going to their workplaces during this general community quarantine (GCQ).

In a virtual media conference for the launch of the 46th Philippine Business Conference and Expo, slated to happen on 7-8 October this year, PCCI President, Ambassador Benedicto V. Yujuico urged the IATF to allow more jeeps to operate and open more routes to drivers and operators.

“The IATF should allow jeepneys to ply routes from secondary roads so our people can be brought to the main arteries like EDSA so that they can take buses. That will also help the jeepney drivers who, for more than 6 months without income,” according to Yujuico.

Yujuico added that besides jeepneys, their group is also asking the IATF to consider increasing the percentage capacity of buses to allow more workers to report to their respective workplaces.

A total number of 64,512 public utility jeepneys (PUJs) plying Metro routes are allowed to operate by the IATF as of June, with 50 percent passenger capacity, to augment for the gradual reopening of the economy amid COVID 19 pandemic.

“The IATF should consider the business aspect and the economic recovery and part of the economic recovery is we must allow employees to report to their workplaces for businesses to make money, otherwise they are going to close down. Baka pwede in accordance with what they think what’s right,” according to Yujuico.

He said the PCCI was allowed by the IATF to be observers of what the IATF is doing, and perhaps “little backdoor channeling in terms of some of their suggestions.”

Last August, the PCCI in a resolution, asked the IATF to include private sectors to its pandemic related decisions, as they will be able to use their on-the-ground experience to come up with a holistic approach that will make businesses easier to resume operation and for workers to return to work.

Yujuico maintained that they hope the government would recognize the vital role of businesses in creating jobs and providing income, as well as the need to address the issue of livelihood and poverty to avoid social unrest.

Subsequently, Malacañang had welcomed the group’s inclusion as resource persons and their inclusion, but only on matters related to trade, business, the economy, and policy discussions with regards to the country’s coronavirus response.

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Shell sells 45% stake in Malampaya

Maria Romero

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The Department of Energy (DoE) on Wednesday confirmed that the Philippine upstream subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell is selling its 45-percent stake in the Malampaya deep water gas-to-power facility.
 
In an interview Wednesday, Energy Chief Alfonso G. Cusi told the Daily Tribune that they have only been notified of the plan last Tuesday. 
 
Cusi said the sale is part of Shell’s plan to rationalize its assets. 
 
However, Cusi assured that the planned sale will not affect the operations of Malampaya and that supply will remain intact. 
 
It can be recalled that Shell’s former partner, American energy giant Chevron Corporation, also sold its 45-percent interest in the gas field to Udenna Corporation led by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy with a DoE-floated price of $565 million.
 
Despite the buyout, Shell remained as the operator of Malampaya.
 
Pilipinas Shell communications manager Cesar Abaricia previously told reporters that the transfer of ownership will not have any material impact on the operations of the gas-to-power facility since expertise is still with Shell.
 
With Shell selling it’s stake, the Malampaya power plant may be operated by another firm. The Daily Tribune sought comment from Shell about the issue but to no avail. 
 
The Malampaya gas-to-power facility fuels three gas-fired power plants with a total generating capacity of 2,700 megawatts (MW). It provides up to 30 percent of the power generation needs of Luzon.
 
Connected to onshore gas plants in Batangas, the Malampaya offshore facility in Northern Palawan was inaugurated in 2001.
 
Estimates showed that Malampaya gas field reserves are sufficient until 2022 to 2024.
 
However, the DoE recently pointed out that the exhaustion of the Malampaya gas field would lead to massive brownouts in Luzon. 
 
To address energy insecurity, the Philippine Petroleum Association of the Upstream (Oil and Gas) Industry (PAP) was mandated to working closely with the government agencies to revitalize oil and gas explorations. 
 
The DoE noted that the Philippines is still underexplored that even in Palawan — where oil and gas fields are also located — new prospects have already been delineated for drilling and exploration.
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DTI sees close to 5.1 percent unemployment rate by end 2020

Raffy Ayeng

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The Department of Trade and Industry is seeing close to 5.1 percent unemployment rate by the end of 2020, as the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) is into reopening the economy safely.

“We’re seeing our unemployment rate going down from the worst rate of 17.7 percent last April to 10 percent in July. We hope to get back closer to our pre-pandemic 5.1%-level before yearend,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in his report to the members of Franchise Asia Philippines (FAP) Monday.

Lopez said that in the 3-run surveys in three periods done by the department to over 2,000 MSMEs nationwide, it showed that 38 percent of companies were closed and about 50 percent partially operating during the height of the ECQ last April-May.

“This went down to 11 percent (from 38 percent) in June-July, and to 6 percent in August-September as we were reopening the economy,” according to Lopez.

He also noted that the country’s manufacturing climbed back closer to the benchmark 50 index, up to 49.7 in June, from its record-low of 31.6 in April.

“The Philippines has always been posting 50 indexes. Above 50 suggests an increase in manufacturing activities and below 50 suggests a contraction—so we are about to surpass the 50 indexes. This reflected a recovery in our manufacturing indices as we eased down the community quarantine in several regions across the country. Furthermore, our Output Index has been climbing from 10.2 last April to 51.1 last June,” said Lopez.

The DTI chief also relayed that exports that declined by 49% in April, has now recovered to just -9 percent in July this year.

“We are hoping to recover to positive growth territory by yearend, in the same way, that they have been posting positive growth rates in 2019, as well as in January and February before the lockdown this year. We are one of the few countries that have been posting positive growth last year and early this year prior to the pandemic

Lopez also hopes that the reported recovery momentum will lead our country towards full recovery by early next year.

“Remember that we were the second-fastest growing economy in the region before the pandemic, ranging consistently at 6-7.5% GDP growth, low unemployment rate, lower poverty rate, Investment grade and ranking high, Top 6 on financial and fiscal stability among many countries. We were already there before, and we can be back at those growth planes again,” according to Lopez.

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Meralco settles P19-M fine over ‘bill shocks’

Maria Romero

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The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s biggest distribution utility, on Monday said it has paid the P19-million fine imposed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for allegedly violating billing advisories during the coronavirus lockdown period, which resulted in “bill shocks.”
 
Meralco said it has settled the amount a month after the ERC imposed the penalties. However, the electricity retailer wanted the regulator to reconsider the second component of the fine.
 
“Meralco filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration (concerning) the directive to provide a retail rate discount to lifeline customers,” Meralco told the local bourse. The company was referring to the discounted rate given to low-income households that cannot afford to pay at full cost. 
 
The ERC previously directed Meralco to set the charges to zero for a month for some two million “lifeline” or low-income customers who use less than 100-kilowatt hours, to provide them relief amid the health and economic crisis.
 
The discount to be provided to all lifeline consumers was estimated to be around P200 million, which should not be charged to the non-lifeline consumers.
 
Meralco earlier announced it would voluntarily provide a power rate discount totaling P101 million as a relief to 2.77 million lifeline customers to mitigate the impact of the health crisis.
 
To recall, the ERC pointed out that Meralco failed to inform consumers that their electricity bills were “estimated” during the strict quarantine period, or when restrictions prevented Meralco representatives from reading household meters.
 
According to ERC chief Agnes Devanadera, Meralco also violated the installment payment scheme mandated by the commission, adding that the firm’s neglect “created chaos and confusion” among the public.
 
The backlash from customers over allegedly high power rates during the quarantine period has prompted the ERC, the Department of Energy, and lawmakers to conduct separate probes.
 
Meralco has since apologized for the bill shock and assured lawmakers that customers were only charged for the actual electricity they consumed.
 

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Revocation of GSP+ to aggravate situation of low-income sectors

Raffy Ayeng

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The European Chamber of Commerce (ECC) has aired its concern over the European Union Parliament’s threat to revoke the Philippines export tariff incentives, as it will aggravate the situation of low-income sectors, its members, and the country’s economic situation.

In an interview, ECC President Nabil Francis emphasized that his group strongly calls for the retention of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) grant in the Philippines, threatened to be withdrawn by the European Parliament in a resolution last 17 September mainly because of the deteriorating human rights violations happening in the Philippines.

“The EU is among the largest trading partners of the Philippines. The year after qualifying for the GSP+, Filipino exports to the EU expanded by 27 percent according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The removal of the GSP+ will put at risk thousands of jobs generated in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors,” according to Mr. Nabil, who governs more than 200 predominantly European businesses venturing in the country for years.

The ECC reiterated that the EU’s mull revocation of the country’s tariff benefits in the midst of a pandemic will also exacerbate the economic situation of the country.

“The International Trade Centre has estimated that the total export and import loss of the Philippines from its EU trading partners could reach $300 million and $175 million, respectively, due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions,” Francis told the Daily Tribune.

The ECC in its July survey said 91.8 percent of its members have significantly been affected by the pandemic, and cancellation of the GSP+ rating will add another burden to its members.

“The Chamber’s membership roster widely varies in terms of industry and company size. A considerable number of them are GSP+ beneficiaries. Among the top Philippine exports under the EU GSP+ to the EU are agricultural oil products, electrical machinery, processed meat & fish, optical products, processed vegetables, and fruits and nuts,” Francis emphasized.

He added that the revocation of the GSP+ in the midst of a pandemic will surely aggravate the situation of low-income sectors, and the country by and large.

“Furthermore, current investor confidence among the European-Philippine business community remains dampened due to the uncertain business landscape in the country as revealed in a recent study conducted by the ECCP,” according to Francis.

On its 17 September decision, the EU legislative assembly ruled “given the seriousness of the human rights violations in the country, calls on the European Commission, in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities, to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences.”

The GSP+ status of the Philippines covers 6,274 locally-made products, including those manufactured by the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Last Friday, 18 September, Malacanang, through Spokesman Harry Roque, berated EU’s Parliament move and even provoked the EU to go on with its economic sanctions, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which plunged the economy into a recession, the worst in three decades.

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Labor group to Palace: Resolve issues with EU parliament

Raffy Ayeng

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Following Malacañang’s provocation to the European Union’s Parliament to revoke tariff privileges given to Philippine products, a labor group on Saturday urged the government to properly resolve the mess without stirring the hornet’s nest to avoid further job losses to Filipinos.

In a statement, workers group Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) called on the Philippine government to address the resolution of the European Union Parliament that calls for a review of the tariff incentives extended to the country’s export products in the light of the allegations on abuses on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.

“We urge the government to take the right action and take more steps in addressing the issues raised by the resolution. We have workers and their families behind every products being sold in the EU market, if the Philippine government fails to make the right response to the resolution we will lose the market which result to more unemployment and to loss of business opportunities, ” said Gerard R. Seno, ALU National Executive Vice President.

It can be recalled that in a news briefing Friday, a fuming Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque dared the EU to go on with its economic sanctions, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which plunged the economy into a recession which was the worst in three decades.

“If they want to add to the burden of the Filipino nation during this pandemic, so be it. We will accept that as history repeating itself. Let’s stop these discussions,” Roque said.

The labor group vice president maintained that the Philippines has been enjoying since 25 December 2014 a zero tariff on 6,274 products to the EU market to help the country develop, provided it improves its compliance to human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance standards.

Seno revealed some of these products which enjoy no tariff includes pineapples, mangoes, tuna, vegetables, nuts, coffee, cacao and garments, footwear, pearls, precious metals and selected furniture.

The group noted that based on the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) records, in 2014, the then granting of GSP+ tariff-free export increase Philippine exports to the EU by 35 percent and created 200,000 more jobs.

“If the revocation of the GSP+ privilege is completed, we will lose these jobs,” the group stated.

For his part, ALU TUCP spokesman Alan Tanjusay said the government should not be proud, but instead ponder on what should be done to address the problem.

“Sana wag na maging proud. Tingnan kung ano pa ang pagkukulang natin at gawin ang tamang response to satisfy or meet the requirements of the EU GSP+,” Tanjusay told the Daily Tribune.

Asked for his comment regarding the Palace’ statement, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said he will not comment anymore since he already issued statement regarding the matter.

“So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we dont see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn. It is precisely helping address poverty and attendant social and economic issues, and helping MSMEs in many parts of the country, by allowing greater EU market access for Philippine products,” Lopez told reporters, Friday.

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Regulations on virtual-only banks needed amid contactless era

TDT

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VIRTUAL or online banks do not incur costs to open and operate a network of branches. (PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SOVEREIGN GROUP)

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas fully supports the bill that seeks to establish a separate regulatory authority for virtual-only banks.

Governor Benjamin Diokno said the central bank welcomes House Bill (HB) 5913, or the Virtual Banking Act, as “the creation of a regulatory framework for digital banks promotes a level playing field by allowing new entrants to credibly compete with existing banks, as well as prevents regulatory arbitrage.”

“This will reinforce the provisions of the General Banking Law with respect to the proposal of the BSP which introduces digital banks as a new bank classification, distinct from the existing categories of banks, i.e., universal and commercial banks (U/KBs), thrift banks (TBs), rural banks (RBs), cooperative banks, and Islamic banks,” Diokno stated in a letter to the House of Representatives and bill author Albay Representative Joey Salceda.

Under the proposal, which also gained the support of the Cebu Bankers Club, virtual-only banks will be a separate classification of banks and will be encouraged to pursue financial inclusion initiatives.

HB 5913 also outlines the minimum macro-prudential standards for virtual-only banks, and opens the virtual banking sector to some degree of foreign ownership. It is expected to attract some of the financial technology know-hows of other countries and ensure adequate capital.

The bill may also incorporate measures to further develop financial technology to help modernize payment systems in the country.

The BSP assured regulatory “sandboxes” are in place to help financial technology companies thrive.

Regulatory sandboxing is a practice of piloting a new sector or technology within a limited scope to protect the wider economy from the risks of the novel sector.

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Swedish retailer H&M bounces back into profit

Agence France-Presse

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Swedish clothing giant Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) bounced back into profit last quarter despite many of its stores remaining closed due to coronavirus restrictions, sending its share price surging Tuesday.

H&M had tumbled into a loss in its March-May quarter when, like many other non-essential retailers, lockdowns forced it to close shops.

And while sales for the June-August quarter were still down 19 percent from last year to 50.9 billion Swedish kronor (4.9 billion euros, $5.8 billion), a move towards higher value collections, less discounting, and cost-cutting helped it turn a profit, the company said in a preliminary earnings statement.

The preliminary pre-tax profit of approximately 2.0 billion kronor was much more than the 250 million expected by analysts, sending H&M shares climbing by more than 10 percent in morning trading in Stockholm.

The group is to publish its complete third quarter results on October 1.

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