Dec 312013

Revelers pose for a photograph as they wait for midnight during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK — A sea of horn-tooting, hat-wearing revelers cheered and some even kissed as the famed crystal ball dropped in a freezing New York City’s Times Square to ring in 2014, capping a world-wide wave of celebrations that included a dazzling 30-minute fireworks show in Dubai and a deluge of confetti in London that tasted as good as it looked.

Bronx-born U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the 60-second countdown and pushed the button that unleashed the shimmering orb with 2,688 crystals, a role usually filled by the New York City mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on his last day in office, was sitting the celebration out after 12 years on the job, while newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio took the oath of office just after midnight at his Brooklyn home.

Kerrie McConaghy, 20, a university student visiting Times Square from Armagh, Ireland, was dancing and jumping up and down, donning a big blue top hat.

“It’s unbelievable here,” she said. “The lights, seeing the ball, hearing the music, all the people. It’s amazing.”

“TV doesn’t do this justice,” she said. “You have to be here to believe it.”

The annual New York celebration, which this year featured performances from artists such as Miley Cyrus, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Blondie, has become part endurance sport because post-Sept. 11, 2001 security measures force spectators into pens at least 12 hours in advance, with no food, warmth or bathrooms.

“We’ve got adult diapers. We’re wearing them right now,” said 14-year-old Amber Woods, who came with friends from New York City’s suburbs to experience the event for the first time. They entered their corral at 10 a.m. Tuesday. For nourishment, they brought lollipops and popcorn. For the cold, they did a lot of jumping in place.

“Every time I say, it’s the last. But then I come back,” said Yasmina Merrir, a 42-year-old Washington, D.C., resident attending her fourth Times Square ball drop. In 2009, the cold was so bad, she got hypothermia. Her legs swelled up like balloons.

Merrir was fasting and not drinking anything to deal with the lack of restrooms. As for the cold, she recommended vigorous dancing for as long as you can stand on your feet.

“At a point,” she said, “your brain is not working anymore.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, London welcomed 2014 with a mixture of futuristic fireworks and torch-lit tradition. The city’s mayor said this year’s explosive display came packed with peach-flavored snow, edible banana confetti and orange-scented bubbles. The evening also included scratch-and-sniff programs, LED wristbands and fruit-flavored sweets.

In Russia, where two suicide bombings in two days killed 34 people, eerily empty buses lumbered through the streets of Volgograd, where authorities canceled mass events for New Year’s Eve and asked residents not to set off fireworks.

President Vladimir Putin, in his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, vowed that the fight against terrorists will continue “until their destruction is complete,” Russian news agencies reported.

In Dubai, a Persian Gulf city known for glitz, glamor and over-the-top achievements like the world’s tallest skyscraper, officials sought to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show.

The Dubai skyline was a canvas for a dazzling 30-minute show. The display capped off with six minutes of fireworks that engulfed the city’s man-made, palm-shaped island, with its fronds and trunk shimmering in thousands of lights. Organizers had promised that the fireworks would form a flying falcon, a sunrise and the United Arab Emirates flag.

In Ukraine, anti-government protesters hoped to set their own record for the most people to sing a national anthem at the same time. On Kiev’s main square, at least 100,000 Ukrainians sang their national anthem in a sign of support for integration with Europe. The square has been the scene of massive pro-European protests for more than a month, triggered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a key deal with the European Union.

More than 260 people were injured by firecracker blasts and celebratory gunfire in the Philippines, a nation marking the end of a year of tragic disasters, including a Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 missing.

“Many here are welcoming the new year after losing their mothers, fathers, siblings and children so you can imagine how it feels,” said village chief Maria Rosario Bactol of the Anibong community in Tacloban, the city worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. “I tell them to face the reality, to move on and stand up, but I know it will never be easy.”

In Sydney, Australia, there was a fireworks display that sprayed from the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the city’s harbor bridge.

“It filled up the whole sky,” said Mona Rucek, a 28-year-old tourist from Munich, Germany.

Closer to the International Dateline, New Zealand concluded 2013 with its own fireworks that erupted from Auckland’s Sky Tower while cheering crowds danced in the streets of the South Pacific island nation’s largest city.

In Tokyo, five priests at the Zojoji temple used ropes to swing a wooden pole against a large bell, sounding the first of 108 gongs to mark the new year. Simultaneously, “2014″ lit up in white lights on the modern Tokyo Tower in the background.

Juji Muto said he was curious to hear how the bell sounded. The 75-year-old retiree said he wishes every year for good health.

China had light shows at part of the Great Wall near Beijing and at the Bund waterfront in Shanghai. The city of Wuhan in central Hubei province called off its fireworks show and banned fireworks downtown to avoid worsening its smog.

Pope Francis used his year-end prayer service of thanksgiving to urge people to ask themselves: Did they spend 2013 to further their own interests or to help others?

The pontiff asked people to reflect if they used the past year to make the places where they live more livable and welcoming. Citing Rome as an example, Francis said the city is full of tourists, but also refugees.


Global fireworks party welcomes 2014

Samoa, Christmas Island first to welcome New Year

Dec 312013
Bombardier said to win order for $2.2B in jets

NEW YORK  — Bombardier Inc. said Tuesday it has received a firm order for 38 business jets with a combined list price of about $2.2 billion. Bombardier didn’t disclose the precise value of the deal — customers such as airlines routinely get discounts from plane manufacturers — and didn’t identify the buyer. The Canadian plane maker said the order covered 28 Global jets and 10 Challenger 605 aircraft. The Global line includes four models capable of carrying up to 19 passengers on flights as long as 7,900 nautical miles. The Challenger jet can carry 12 passengers and a crew of three up to 4,000 nautical miles. Separately, Bombardier announced that its transportation division ended a contract for new signaling equipment for the London Underground. The subway system said it would re-bid a contract that was awarded to Bombardier in 2011 and valued at $577 million at the time. The company didn’t provide a detailed explanation, but The Telegraph of London reported that Bombardier determined that its signaling system wasn’t compatible with the Underground’s old infrastructure. A spokeswoman for the Montreal-based company did not immediately return a call for comment. 

Dec 312013
DOTC to bid out P4-B Davao wharf

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) will bid out the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed P4.04-billion Sasa Wharf at the Davao Port in Mindanao in the first quarter this year. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo said the agency is set to present the project to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for approval early this year.  “We will go up to NEDA and we hope to bid out the project in the first quarter,” Abaya stressed. The project, he explained, would be under the government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. The government is looking at increasing the capacity of the Davao Port to 1.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) over the next five years based on the estimates made by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) from the current level of 700,000 TEUs. The DOTC earlier commissioned a team led by state-run Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) as transaction advisor for improvement works on the Sasa Wharf. Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 The DBP team is composed of the International Finance Corp. (IFC) and HPC Hamburg Port Consulting Gmbh of Germany. Davao Integrated Port Stevedoring Service Corp. of Razon-owned International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) operates a cargo handling facility at the Davao Port. Abaya earlier said the Aquino administration is set to rehabilitate more ports to energize the countryside and promote inter-island trading and tourism. He said the objective is to reduce compliance, transport and transaction costs for agriculture Read More …

Dec 312013
Reading helps make a better nation

The festive Christmas week provides me reason to momentarily deviate from writing mainly commentaries on economic issues in this column. So, today, I pay attention to a topic that is unexpectedly different: On reading. (In this way, too, I send holiday greetings to my readers.) “A nation of literates is not necessarily a nation of readers.” To some, the ultimate reward of leisure is peace of mind: restful use of time to enjoy. Reading is one such. A nation of readers is a nation of vigilant and knowledgeable literates. In our country, though the literacy rate is high, there are not enough readers among us. Many know just exactly what I mean. The lack of readers among us shows easily when groups of persons are massed in public places. Imagine a scene such as when people are traveling and there is so much free time available for them, because waiting is a major part of the activity. We wait for plane check-ins, for bus and metro rides, for people we expect to meet. And then, we wait for hours traveling to reach our destination. On such occasions, there is either much or little talk, food munching or sleep, or cellphone use or gaming, or, simply, blank expressions of bored people. It is a great rarity to see individuals focused on any reading material at all. Similar settings in most developed countries produce a common thread: a substantial fraction of the people is oftentimes quietly engaged in their own activities – Read More …

Dec 312013
LTO-IT project cost slashed to P3.44B after 2 failed bids

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has decided to slash the cost of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) information technology system project to P3.44 billion from the original P8.2 billion after two failed biddings. The DOTC said it would hold a pre-bid conference on Jan. 20 and open the bid documents on Feb. 18 for the DOTC Road Transportation IT Infrastructure project. It added that the project involves the customization, development, integration, procurement, supply, delivery, installation, implementation, service and maintenance of the information and communications technology system of the agency. The winning bidder would design and implement the required databases; establish or set up the LTO Data Center; supply, deliver, test, document, and install appropriate computing products and other resources relative to the implementation of the project on DOTC or LTO IT infrastructure and environment facilities; and deliver all hardware peripherals with software and corresponding licenses in the name of DOTC and warranties to efficiently run the system. Likewise, the winning bidder would also operate and maintain the IT service delivery for LTO within the period of the contract and identify key processes and systems for the improvement, efficiency, and security of the DOTC or LTO processing. Once the system is put in place, the DOTC said it would be easier for authorities to recover stolen vehicles, trace smuggled vehicles, prevent double registration, and monitor unregistered vehicles. Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 The agency added that the project would implement a server-based Read More …

Dec 312013
YEARENDER: Typhoons blow away early gains in DA’s food sufficiency program

MANILA, Philippines – The series of strong typhoons that entered the country in the second semester of the year dented the production of several industrial and staple crops, prompting the Agriculture department to review its flagship program on food staple production and institute various interventions for the subsector. Significant expansion opportunities in the fisheries and animal industry sectors, however, have opened this year as the Philippines remained free from, avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and early mortality syndrome (EMS) that devastated the poultry, livetstock and shrimp industries of neighboring Asian countries. After the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda in November, the Agriculture department conceded that self-sufficiency in rice would not be attained this year. Under the FSSP, self-sufficiency entails covering the annual domestic per capita consumption of 115 kilograms per year while still providing for the 90-day buffer stock requirement. After the super typhoon pummeled Visayas, the country is seen to attain a sufficiency level of 97 to 98 percent this year. To beef up the country’s buffer stock, the National Food Authority Council approved the importation of 500,000 metric tons (MT) of rice from Vietnam which would be shipped in tranches until the end of the first quarter of 2014. Even before Yolanda demolished rice cultivation areas in Visayas, Typhoon Santi battered  in October 214,640 hectares of rice lands in central Luzon, putting pressure on the country’s rice production target of more than 20 million metric tons this year. Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 Agriculture Secretary Proceso Read More …

Dec 312013
Phl flight passengers can now use laptops, mobile phones while on board

MANILA, Philippines – The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) is now allowing airline passengers to use their laptops, mobile phones and devices during flights. The agency has released memorandum circular 52-13 which lets the conditional use of transmitting portable electronic devices (TPEDs), music players, and global system for mobile communication on-board aircraft (GSMOBA) on all commercial aircraft operating within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines. According to the memorandum, airline passengers may use their laptops and cellular phones, internet or short-message-service (SMS) or voice communications and other broadband services during flights provided that they meet the conditions set by the CAAP. The memorandum states that when the aircraft doors are still open, the devices can be used unless the pilot-in-command or the senior cabin announce a prohibition. But when the aircraft is refuelling, the use of laptops, mobile phones and broadband communications will not be allowed. “In this instance, all transmitting portable electronice devices must be turned-off,” the memorandum said. Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 When the aircraft doors are closed, the devices should be placed on silent mode and could only be used for SMS, internet, or games. Voice communications are not allowed when the aircraft doors are closed except the use of GSMOBA if it does not interfere with the orderly conduct of flight. The use of MP3s should always be with earphones and not with additional or separate speaker and or amplifiers, the memorandum also said. The memorandum shall take effect Read More …

Dec 302013
Warren Buffett's firm acquiring Phillips 66 unit

OMAHA, Nebraska — Warren Buffett’s company has agreed to trade roughly $1.4 billion of its stock in Phillips 66 for one of the refiner’s chemical businesses. Houston-based Phillips 66 said Monday that Berkshire Hathaway will give up about 19 million of its 27.2 million Phillips 66 shares to acquire a business that makes additives that help crude oil flow through pipelines. The exact number of shares will be determined by the price of the Houston-based company’s stock when the deal closes. That’s expected to happen in the first half of 2014. Buffett says the business Berkshire is acquiring delivers consistently strong financial performance. He says Berkshire’s Ohio-based specialty chemical maker, Lubrizol, will oversee the unit’s strategic direction. Phillips 66’s stock closed at $74.72 on Monday.

Dec 302013
What we learn from Haiti, the Republic of NGOs

“The problem is I don’t know who is receiving aid, what they are doing with it and where it goes.” That was a statement made by Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, according to reports from the BBC. Three years on from Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the country’s UN deputy special envoy, Dr. Paul Farmer, has revealed that little official aid money has gone to the country’s government and organizations.  The devastating earthquake in Haiti left 200,000 dead and more than two million without homes.  The world dug deep into its pockets resulting in some $9 billion of aid for earthquake relief, $3 billion from private individuals and corporations and $6 billion from bilateral and multilateral donors. But Dr. Farmer and others have been asking why less than 10 percent of the $6 billion has gone to the Haitian government and why less than one percent was given to local governments. “Our experience in Haiti has reminded us that when it comes to aid dollars, how and where we spend them is often as important as how much we spend,” said Dr. Farmer. Three years after the earthquake, 80 percent of the Haitian population still subsists below the poverty line with an unemployment rate of 40 percent. Moreover, almost 400,000 Haitians still live in the 496 tent camps that were established throughout the country.  Cognizant of systemic corruption in Haiti, international donors were reluctant to channel their funds through Haiti’s NGOs and government. According to the US Institute of Peace, funneling Read More …

Dec 302013
YEARENDER: Market volatility likely to continue

MANILA, Philippines – Waves of volatility had hit global financial markets including those in the Philippines this year on the back of anticipation for the US Federal Reserve’s tapering of stimulus. Despite the Fed announcement on Dec. 18 that it will finally start decreasing the volume of its massive asset purchases, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said volatility is seen to remain as the pace and timing of further scaling back the stimulus are still unknown. “As long as there is uncertainty, volatility is likely to continue. So the less uncertainty there is, then we can expect dissipation of volatility,” BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. told The STAR. “Now at least the uncertainty has been somewhat reduced because of the announcement of the Fed of the start of the tapering in January 2014 but the speed or the pace of the tapering and the amount that will be reduced are still unknown at this point in time,” he added. The Fed, long expected to taper stimulus since May this year, has said it will finally reduce its monthly asset purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion starting January 2014 following the release of strong labor market data and proof that the recovery of the US economy is gaining traction. But the Fed said it may implement further cuts in its bond buying program next year depending on the US jobs data, inflation, and if the economy is really getting strong enough to warrant a complete scale back of the Read More …