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Saturday, January 26, 2013

IMF raises PHL 2013 economic growth forecast to 6%

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Wednesday it has raised its economic growth forecast for the Philippines for this year to 6 percent and 5.5 percent in 2014, but warned a surge in capital flows could make growth more volatile.
Strong growth would be fueled by strong domestic demand and higher public spending, the IMF said in a statement.
It also said potentially volatile capital flows were placing upward pressure on the peso exchange rate.
“There remains the possibility of extreme events originating in advanced economies. On the domestic side, a surge in capital flows could extend asset price gains in the near term, but make asset prices and growth more volatile down the road,” the IMF said.
“Large, stable foreign earnings over the past decade as well as potentially volatile capital flows are placing upward pressure on the exchange rate,” the Fund also said, adding low interest rates were fueling a rise in prices of financial assets and a switch of investments to sectors such as real estate.
But it said the central bank’s move to tighten policies via a broader definition of banks’ real estate exposure, stronger bank governance requirements, and the accelerated start of Basel III capital from January 2014 would help prevent the emergence of financial sector risks.
The Fund had projected growth of 4.8 percent for the Philippines in 2013, based on its forecast as of October, though IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in November during a visit to Manila that the economy may grow around 5 percent this year after projected growth of more than 5 percent in 2012.
The government has forecast growth at 6 to 7 percent this year, rising to 6.5 to 7.5 percent in 2014.
The Fund also said it expects domestic consumer prices to stay manageable and come in near the lower end of the government’s target band of 3-5 percent this year and the next.
The Philippine central bank, which will meet on Thursday to review policy, looks certain to keep the benchmark overnight borrowing rate at a record low of 3.5 percent for a second meeting in a row.
Manila has committed to increase spending on infrastructure this year after successfully raising revenues through stricter imposition of tax laws and prudent debt management.
The IMF said timely and transparent execution of private-public partnership projects and state spending on infrastructure could boost private investment, while relaxed foreign ownership limits may enhance growth prospects.
Manila’s fiscal management efforts have been rewarded with credit rating upgrades, and analysts expect the country to attain an investment grade rating as early as this year.
But Fitch Ratings has said more work needs to be done.
While the country’s public finances have become less of a drag on its credit profile, Fitch said in a Jan. 22 report, the Philippines must prove it can sustain reforms to raise investments and widen its revenue base.
“A key weakness of the sovereign credit profile is a narrow revenue base,” Fitch had said.
(Story courtesy of Karen Lema of Reuters)

Pinoy film wins at Sundance

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) A Filipino-British co-production took home the Audience Award for Best Film in the world cinema category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, which has been dubbed the premier showcase for independent films.
“Metro Manila,” which stars Filipino actors Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla and Althea Vega, had its world premiere at the Robert Redford-founded film fest, which will ran from January 17-27, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
The movie, which is credited to both the Philippines and the United Kingdom, was among the 12 films vying in the annual festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, which also included films from South Korea, Indonesia and Afghanistan.

Shot in the Philippines, “Metro Manila” is directed by Sean Ellis, who also co-wrote the script with Frank E. Flowers.
According to the Sundance website, the movie is about Oscar and his family, who, searching for a better life, move from “the poverty-stricken rice fields to the big city of Manila, where they fall victim to various inhabitants whose manipulative ways are a daily part of city survival.”
The movie also stars theater actors Miles Kanapi, Ana Abad Santos and JM Rodriguez, according to its entry on the movie website
Trade publication The Hollywood Reporter praised the film's actors, saying "much of the film’s effectiveness is attributable to the lead actors’ well-modulated performances."
"More of a slow-burner than an outright actioner, Metro Manila reveals how the pitfalls of surviving urban life can drive even a principled family to the ends of desperation. Although it doesn’t have the action muscle of other recently distributed titles from the region, like Indonesia’s The Raid or Thailand's Chocolate, internationally oriented fests will do well to consider programming the film, and it could also prosper in home entertainment formats," The Hollywood Reporter's Justin Lowe said in his review.
In his Facebook page, Arcilla posted photos of the cast, including Macapagal, Abad Santos and Rodriguez at the victory party.
"We won the audience award, for our film 'Metro Manila' in the Sundance world dramatic competition!' Arcilla wrote in his post on Sunday afternoon, Manila time.
Arcilla also reported that the movie was nominated in seven categories and was "well-received."
World cinema winners
In the other world cinema categories, South Korean drama "Jiseul" picked up the grand jury drama prize. The film, directed by Muel O, follows the residents of a small town who were forced to hide in a cave for 60 days after the military attacked their village.
Cambodian documentary "A River Changes Course," about three young Cambodians struggling with adversity in a country ravaged by war and debt, picked up the world cinema grand jury award.
"Events like these really bring our communities together to share in the beauty of the world and the beauty of our future," director Kalyanee Mam said.
"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," which follows the story of three members of a Russian feminist punk band jailed for performing a "punk prayer" in a Russian Orthodox church, picked up special jury prize in the world documentary category.
Co-director Mike Lerner said the three members of the band had "started a feminist revolution that we hope will continue around the world."
'Fruitvale,' 'Blood Brothers'
Drama film "Fruitvale" and documentary "Blood Brothers" won the top awards, giving them a big boost to reach independent movie audiences this year.
"Fruitvale," starring Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan and directed by 26-year-old, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler," picked up the U.S. drama jury and audience awards for its "moral and social urgency."
The film is based on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was killed by police in Oakland, California, on New Year's Eve in 2008 and whose death sparked riots against police brutality. Movie studio The Weinstein Company purchased distribution rights for the film.
"This film had a profound impact on the audience that saw it ... this award goes out to my home in the Bay Area where Oscar Grant breathed, slept, loved, had fun and survived for 22 years," Coogler said in his acceptance speech.
Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim awarded the U.S. documentary jury prize to "Blood Brothers," saying it shook the voting panel to their core.
The documentary follows an American man who moves to Africa and works with children suffering from HIV at an orphanage, and through his work, the children gain a voice.
"It is so encouraging for the kids ... their lives are so encouraging, and they die and no one remembers their name ... To take their story so that everyone sees it, it's so awesome," director Steve Hoover said."
Young actress Shailene Woodley, praised for her performance in "The Descendants" last year, and her co-star Miles Teller won the Special Jury acting prize in "The Spectacular Now."
Actress Lake Bell, who made her directorial debut in the U.S. drama category with quirky comedy "In A World," picked up the drama screenwriting award.
Hosted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who premiered his raunchy directorial debut "Don Jon's Addiction" this year, the Sundance Film Festival Awards pick winners at the top gathering for independent movies made outside of Hollywood's major studios.
"Sundance is a community of people of filmmakers and film lovers who all believe together that there's more to movies than glitz and glamour and money and the box office. In Hollywood, you can feel like a freak if you talk about movies as art, and here, you don't have that," Gordon-Levitt said.
The Sundance Film Festival, now in its 35th year, is backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. The 10-day gathering of the independent film industry is held in snowy Park City, Utah.
In previous years, films that win the top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival often go on to achieve Hollywood awards success as well.
Last year, mythological drama "Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the top prize at Sundance and is now nominated for four Oscars in major categories.
The award winners are voted for by special juries of industry professionals and by the audience for the audience favorite awards.
List of winners
Following is a list of winners at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the top gathering for independent movies made outside of Hollywood's major studios.
The competition categories are grouped for drama films and documentaries in sections for U.S. films and world cinema.
Best Film, Jury Prize - "Fruitvale"
Best Film, Audience Award - "Fruitvale"
Directing - Jill Soloway, "Afternoon Delight"
Screenwriting - Lake Bell, "In A World"
Cinematography - Bradford Young, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" and "Mother of George"
Special Jury Prize, ensemble acting - Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, "The Spectacular Now"
Special Jury Prize, sound design - Shane Carruth, Johnny Marshall, "Upstream Color"
Best Documentary, Jury Prize - "Blood Brother"
Best Documentary, Audience Award - "Blood Brother"
Directing - Zachary Heinzerling, "Cutie and the Boxer"
Editing - Matthew Hamachek, "Gideon's Army"
Cinematography - Richard Rowley, "Dirty Wars"
Special Jury Prize - "Inequality for All" (tied), "American Promise" (tied)
Best Film, Jury Prize - "Jiseul"
Best Film, Audience Award - "Metro Manila"
Directing - "Crystal Fairy," Sebastian Silva
Screenwriting - "Wajma," Barmak Akram
Cinematography - "Lasting (Nieulotne)," Michal Englert
Special Jury Prize, artistic vision - "Circles"
Best Documentary, Jury Prize - "A River Changes Course"
Best Documentary, Audience Award - "The Square"
Directing - Tinatin Gurchiani, "The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear"
Editing - Ben Stark, "The Summit"
Cinematography - Marc Silver, "Who is Dayani Cristal?"
Special Jury Prize, film - "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer"
Shorts, Jury Prize - "The Whistle," Grzegorz Zariczny
Shorts, Audience Award - "Catnip: Egress To Oblivion," Jason Willis -- With report from Reuters

Friday, January 25, 2013

PHL sets tourism record with 4.2 million foreign visitors in 2012

More than 4 million foreign visitors arrived in the Philippines in 2012, the highest number posted in the country’s tourism history.
The Department of Tourism said on Wednesday that a total of 4,272,811 visitors arrived in the country last year, 9.07 percent higher than the 3,917,454 posted in 2011.
Leading the list of the country’s top visitors are South Koreans, who supplied a total of 1,031,155 visitors or 24.13 percent of the total volume. South Korea was the first to supply more than a million visitors to the country, reflecting an 11.45 percent growth from 2011 figures.
This was followed by the United States, which accounted for 625,626 visitors or a 15.27 percent share. Japan ranked third with 412,474 visitors or 9.65 percent of the total inbound traffic, DOT said.
Rounding out the list are are China with 250,883 arrivals (5.87 percent), Taiwan with 216,511 (5.07 percent), Australia with 191,150 (4.47 percent), Singapore with 148,215 (3.47 percent), Canada with 123,699 (2.9 percent), Hong Kong with 118,666 (2.78 percent), Malaysia with 114,513 (2.68 percent), United Kingdom with 113,282 (2.65 percent) and Germany with 67,023 (1.57 percent).
Overseas Filipinos, meanwhile, supplied 5.05 percent to the total tourist traffic with 215,943 arrivals, posting a growth rate of 4.24 percent.
“Crossing the 4-million mark is a feat in itself and puts us well on track to achieve our ultimate goal of 10 million visitor arrivals by 2016,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said.
DOT added that Japan, Taiwan and Russia surpassed their respective target arrivals.
However, the country was not able to reach its 4,556,582 visitor arrival target for the year, citing economic and political pressures from traditional markets such as the US, Europe and China.
“It is going to become increasingly challenging tomeet future targets. But we know that Filipinos are the biggest believers of our slogan,
It’s more fun in the Philippines. We remain confident and will continue to build on the positive energies in order to cross the 5-million milestone in 2013,” Jimenez said, adding that DOT will focus on market development this year.
(Story courtesy of Jovan Cerda of the Philippine Star)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Moody’s say Philippine banks immune to global economic shocks

Philippine banks are immune to global economic shocks, one of the major international credit rating agencies said Monday.
Moody’s Investors Service said in its Asia-Pacific Banking Outlook 2013 report the Philippine banking system would continue to be resilient and would not be affected by negative events overseas.
Moodys said “with the positive outlook for the Philippines… its banking system will remain relatively immune to global shocks and continue to benefit from steady credit growth.”
Moody’s said that the broad credit outlook for banks in the Asia-Pacific region in 2013 was stable on the expectation that they would remain largely insulated from the negative credit pressures affecting their peers in many Western economies.
“We consider that this stable outlook is driven mainly by the region’s economic resilience; its relatively accommodative monetary policy; and the banks’ own strong liquidity when compared to global norms, as well as their relatively robust capital buffers,” Stephen Long, managing director for Moody’s Financial Institutions Group in Asia Pacific, said.
Moody’s examines the trends for 14 banking systems in the region, with only the Philippines exhibiting a positive outlook and 11 countries with stable outlooks. India and Vietnam had negative outlooks.
“For the region, in terms of specifics, we consider that the economic recovery from the troughs reached in mid-2012 will continue in much of the region in 2013. At the same time, interest rates will remain low, making an asset quality shock unlikely during this year in most Asian countries,” Long said.
(Story courtesy of Julito G. Rada of Manila Standard Today)

Coca-Cola reiterates confidence in the Philippine economy

The world’s largest franchise bottler of Coca-Cola products has reiterated its confidence in the country’s economic prospects a month after it acquired a majority stake in the Philippine operations of The Coca-Cola Co.
The commitment of Coca-Cola Femsa to the country came during the visit of its CEO Carlos Salazar Lomelin to President Aquino at the Malacañang Palace on Monday.
The visit comes in the wake of Coca-Cola Femsa’s acquisition of a 51-percent stake in Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc. for $688.5 million in December 2012—the Latin American bottling giant’s first foray into the Philippine market.
“We are very honored to meet President Aquino and we look forward to a successful relationship with the Philippine government, as we explore additional growth and investment opportunities in our home in Asia,” Salazar said in a statement after his courtesy call.
“We’re happy to have this unique opportunity to operate in a country with healthy growth prospects, dynamic internal consumption and an attractive socio-economic and demographic profile,” he added.
The Coca-Cola Femsa chief was accompanied on his visit by Juan Ramon Felix, Coca-Cola Femsa director for Asia and Juan C. Dominguez, Coca-Cola Femsa director of human resource and corporate affairs for Asia.
During his meeting with the President, Salazar outlined Coca-Cola Femsa’s plans for the Philippines, and the vision of the company for its future undertaking with the government.
“The visit was also an opportunity for Coca-Cola Femsa to exemplify its firm belief and confidence in the Philippine government and economy and to demonstrate its commitment to continuously strengthen and enhance the legacy of its brands in the Philippines,” the company statement said.
Coca-Cola has been present in the Philippines since the beginning of the 20th century and has been locally produced since 1912. The Philippines is the recipient of the first Coca-Cola bottling and distribution franchise in Asia.
In December, Coca-Cola Femsa bought a majority stake of the local Coca-Cola operations from The Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta.
The deal gave the Philippine bottler an enterprise valuation of $1.35 billion for a 100 percent stake. Under the deal, Coca-Cola Femsa has the option to buy the remaining 49 percent of CCBPI within a seven-year period following the closing. The buyer has the “put option” to sell its ownership to The Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta at any time during the sixth year.
CCBPI has 23 production plants and serves close to 800,000 customers. It is expected to sell about 530 million unit cases of beverages in 2012, Femsa said.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Shining Light' of PHL boxing wins world championship in Italy

Dubbed the "Shining Light" of Philippine boxing, Charly Suarez of Davao City bagged his second winin the World Series of Boxing when he defeated his opponent in a close match on January 12.

Suarez fought toe-to-toe with Anvar Yunusov of Tajikistan in the Lightweight division of the WSB held at the Mediolanum Forum Stadium in Milan, Italy, according to a news release of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The fifth seed Suarez slightly edged out his opponent after two judges scored the match even for both boxers with the third judge awarding his scorecard and ultimately the bout to Suarez.

Suarez was considered to be one of the most promising young boxers in the Philippines, according to the Examiner news site.

Two years before the 2012 London Olympics, Suarez, then 22 years old, was referred to as the “shining light” by Ed Picson, Executive Director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines.

He boxes for the Italia Thunder team and is its only member of Filipino nationality and decent.

His opponent in the recent boxing world series in Italy, Yunusov, is a bronze medalist from 2011's WBS and a member of the USA Knockouts team.

Suarez, on the other hand, is a Silver medalist in the 2012 Asian Olympic qualifiers and 2011 President's Cup.

Potential 2012 Olympic bet

Suarez first gained international recognition when he won the 2009 AINA World Championships in Milan, Italy.

This successful boxing campaign even led to Suarez being an endorser for G4S , one of the top security agencies in the world.

He started his boxing career as a member of the Barangay Una Boxing Team and eventually made it to the Philippine training pool and is now making a name for himself overseas. - VVP, GMA News

Fil-Dutch boy passes 'The Voice Kids' audition

NETHERLANDS - An 11-year-old Filipino-Dutch boy passed the blind auditions of the TV talent search "The Voice Kids" in Holland.
A rising star of the Filipino community, Kim Regasa impressed the judges at the auditions of The Voice Kids Holland aired on Dutch channel RTL4 last Friday.
Regasa became popular in Holland and a star in the Pinoy community when he was dubbed by the Dutch media as the “mini Michael Jackson” in "Holland's Got Talent" in 2010.
He was only nine years old then and managed to finish in fourth place.
But that did not stop the very young boy from pursuing his dreams.
He took voice lessons and this year he’s back, trying his luck at The Voice Kids.
In the blind auditions, the judges are seated with their backs turned and they can only hear the voice of the contestant. Just one push of a button from a judge for the duration of the contestant’s song is enough to qualify the contestant to the next round.
If more than one judge pushed a button, the contestant will have the option to choose who he or she wants to be the coach.
In Regasa’s case, duo Nick and Simon immediately pushed their buttons and later followed by Angela Groothuizen.
The last judge Marco Borsato pushed his button a tad late.
Borsato explained he pushed his button at the last minute but it wasn't counted. To add to his disappointment, when Regasa was asked to choose his coach, he said he had always wanted Borsato to be his mentor.
Regasa ended choosing veteran songwriter and '80s singer Groothuizen with the hope that she will train him and properly hone his talent.
Regasa was among the 90 contestants picked from a total of 10,000 who registered for the The Voice Kids Holland.
Talpa, the production outfit of The Voice Kids, doesn't allow interviews while the contestants are still in competition.
Many youngsters who saw Regasa on the The Voice Kids are in awe of his voice.
Anne, a Dutch student who is on her last year of primary school, finds Regasa very good.
"Such beautiful tone," Anne said.
"He has a good style, he’s very good and he can sing," said Indy, another Dutch student.
After the blind auditions, only 45 contestants were left. They now form the three competing teams.
With his performance of “I Follow Rivers”, Regasa did not only captivate the judges but also now has amassed would-be voters.
“I invited my whole class and they said they're gonna watch and they thought sure I’m gonna watch and the next day, I mean the next Monday, they said he's very good. I think they like him,” eleven-year-old Pinay Lauren-Rome said.
Regasa is now preparing for the Battle Round on Friday, which will begin airing at 8:30 pm Holland time.
All that Regasa needs now is the full and solid support from the Filipinos in Holland, if ever he makes it to the live shows because all the text votes are going to ensure his survival in the competition up to the finals.

Google opens office in PH, starts hiring

MANILA, Philippines - Google has finally opened office in the Philippines with the launch of its new unit in Makati.
The tech giant on Wednesday said the country is a key market in Southeast Asia amid its growing Internet population.
"The Philippines is a key country in Southeast Asia in terms of its digital economy and tech-savvy population," Julian Persaud, managing director of Google in Southeast Asia, said in the statement.
"This new office will allow us better engage with our local users, partners and advertisers. Over 33 million Filipinos access the Internet regularly... [and this] is set to grow exponentially," Persaud added.
Google also noted it is currently hiring for its Philippine office.
"We're excited to be deepening our investment in the Philippines with the opening of our office here in Manila," Narciso Reyes, country manager for the Philippines, said in the statement.
"Our local team will be committed to providing better services to our Filipino users and to helping businesses - large and small - grow locally and globally, contributing to the growth of the Philippine economy. We envision Google as part of everyday Filipino lives and as a partner in the development of local communities, culture and business," he added.

WB forecasts PH growth at more than 6% through 2015

The Philippine economy is expected to continue growing by more than 6% in the next three years, according to a World Bank report.
In its “Global Economic Prospects 2013″ report released on Wednesday, the World Bank said it projects a 6.2% growth for the Philippines in 2013; 6.4% in 2014 and 6.3% in 2015. This despite continuing concerns about the global economy’s vulnerability to the risks from the euro zone crisis and fiscal policy in the United States.
The World Bank estimated the Philippines grew by 6% in 2012.
For the East Asia and the Pacific region, the World Bank sees growth at 7.9% this year, reflecting firmer growth in China to 8.4%. This is an improvement from the region’s 7.5% growth in 2012.
“Improved global financial conditions, a gradual pickup of growth in high-income countries and a return to more normal global trade growth are expected to support a gradual strengthening of output in East Asia and the Pacific between 2013 and 2015,” the report said.
The report also noted that “accommodative monetary policy” and and low inflation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines is also a factor.
Major ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, are expected to continue their strong economic growth.
“Growth in this country group is expected to increase to 5.9% in 2015, as Indonesia continues to grow rapidly (at around 6.6%) and growth remains robust in Malaysia (around 5%), Thailand (4.5%) and the Philippines as well (around 6%),” it said.
Possible impact of US fiscal impasse
The World Bank cut its outlook for world growth this year. It estimates global gross domestic product will go up 2.4% this year, from 2.3% in 2012.
World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim said the global economic recovery remains fragile and uncertain, which clouds the prospects for a return to robust growth.
“Developing countries have remained remarkably resilient thus far. But we can’t wait for a return to growth in the high-income countries, so we have to continue to support developing countries in making investments in infrastructure, in health, in education. This will set the stage for the stronger growth that we know that they can achieve in the future.”
The growth prospects for the East Asia and Pacific region in 2013 remain vulnerable to the continuation of the euro zone crisis and the fiscal impasse in the United States.
The World Bank estimates a deepening euro zone crisis could cut East Asia and Pacific’s regional GDP by 1%. The impact of the US’ failure to resolve its fiscal problems could mean a 1.1% cut in East Asia and Pacific’s GDP in 2013.
“Among the EAP developing economies China, Thailand and Indonesia are projected to be most affected by a growth slowdown in high income countries (about 1-1.2% cut in GDP in both 2013 and 2014 relative to the baseline) followed by Vietnam and Malaysia (about 0.8-0.7% cut in the GDP relative to the baseline) due to reduced import demand in high- income countries, much tighter international capital conditions and increased pre-cautionary savings within the region,” the World Bank said.
(Story courtesy of Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Meet Megaupload founder's pretty Filipina wife

MANILA, Philippines - Kim Dotcom, the controversial founder of file-sharing website Megaupload, over the weekend launched a new cyberlocker called with much publicity.

Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US on charges of internet piracy, says the new site allows users to control who can access uploaded files. This would mean that Mega would not have access to the files, which could strip them of any possible liability for enabling users to distribute pirated content.
Despite his legal problems, the multimillionaire has continued to be supported by his Filipina wife Mona. A Reuters photo showed Mona, wearing a red jacket and skirt, at the Mega launch at their mansion in Auckland, New Zealand on January 20.
The pretty Filipina is an ex-model who has been married to Dotcom for several years now. 
On her Twitter account (@MonaDotcom), she tweeted about the Mega launch and her husband's birthday. "Happy Birthday to the BEST, most loving and sweet husband in the world!!! @KimDotcom So proud of you! I will always be your no.1 fan," she said.
Mona is also active on Instagram, where she posts photos of her family. One photo shows the Filipina with a white Birkin bag.
According to various news reports, Kim met Mona Verga in the Philippines in November 2007. They married in July 2009, a day after her 21st birthday They now have five children, including twin baby girls.
The Dotcom family lives in an estate just outside of Auckland, which was where Kim was arrested last year. New Zealand's elite special tactics forces arrived by helicopter on the mansion's grounds to arrest him on copyright charges.
During the raid, the police seized numerous items. The New Zealand Herald reported last May 2012 that Mona applied with the court for the return of her personal belongings, including a G55 Mercedes, Christian Colin sculptures, a Chanel diamond wristwatch and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. She said these were gifts from her husband.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Kim admitted he and his wife still panic when they hear loud noises.
"Every time you hear a helicopter, you automatically think, 'Oh, another raid', so it's something that stays with you for a long time," he said.

Monday, January 21, 2013

PHL in Lonely Planet’s top 3 unusual honeymoon global hotspots

The world’s leading travel guide publisher Lonely Planet has picked the Philippines as one of the top sites to have an unusual honeymoon. The article authored by Caroline Sieg has the Philippines ranked in the top 10 which also includes Argentina, Uganda, Switzerland, Germany and Mongolia.
Here’s the article:
It’s your honeymoon, so it has to be special and unique. From the windswept beaches of a car-free island in the Baltic to tasting wine rarely sipped outside Argentina, these hideaways rarely appear on the usual post-wedding itinerary:
  1. Snuggle in a beach basket built for two on Hiddensee Island, Germany. It’s unique and you know it: a pristine Baltic island with no motorised transport where horse-and-wagon rides or tooling around on bikes are the only ways around. Amble across dunes and long stretches of sand, or tuck yourselves into a Strandkorb (beach basket), a wicker half-shell chair for two that shelters you from the wind as you watch the waves.
  2. Sleep on a lakeside farm in Shelburne, Vermont. This hamlet boasts a 1400-acre workingfarm with an inn on the banks of Lake Champlain. Beyond, taste award-winning wine at the town’s namesake Shelburne Vineyards, known for its crisp northern varietals, and enjoy locavore-friendly (locally-sourced) food at elegant restaurants where farm-to-table cuisine reigns and tastes supreme.
  3. Enjoy a private beach on remote Pamalican Island, Philippines. At 5.5 km long, roughly 500 metres at its widest and only one five-star resort on the island, you’re guaranteed seclusion. Oh, and dive in to see vibrant colours – Pamalican is set smack in the centre of a 7 sq km coral reef.
  4. Unwind on a gorilla safari in Bwindi Forest National Park, Uganda. On guided walks to observe these gentle giants you’ll encounter jagged valleys, dramatic mountain scenery and monkeys. In the evenings, stargaze around campfires and retire in tents built into the jungle canopy while peering into the mist-shrouded rainforest from bed.
  5. Taste wine amid copper-coloured canyons in Cafayate, Argentina. Filled with estancias (sumptuous ranch lodging) and vineyards where you can taste rarely-shipped-abroad varietals like Torrontes, this handsome desert town begs you to wander hand-in-hand, past dusty buildings and candle-lit cafes spilling onto sidewalks.
  6. Smooching in Bettmeralp, Switzerland. It starts with a cable-car ride, launching you into a car-free Alpine village. We’re not sure what we love more: views of the Aletsch glacier and mountains (including the Matterhorn), strolling between chalets or indulging in fondue. Oh, and Swiss tradition says if you lose your bread in the cheese, you must kiss your dining neighbour – so let that bread disappear.
  7. Embark on a sunset ride in Khan Khentii, Mongolia. Peppered with rolling hills of birch forests and grasslands threaded with rivers, Khan Khentii is a protected wilderness area three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Go horseback-riding at sunset across the steppe, and try yak cart rafting together before disappearing into plush yurt lodgings.
  8. Cruise Alaska’s coast on an intimate small ship. Only small vessels can drop anchor at the quiet fjords, tranquil bays and inlets along Alaska’s inside passage. From your cabin, peer at bobbing icebergs, imposing glaciers and misty veils of clouds suspended above snow-capped mountain peaks. Or venture out for a walk on a remote beach or in a two-person kayak to float in enchanting coves and glimpse wildlife like otters and seals.
  9. Take a vintage train journey in Namibia. From the all-aboard whistle to the smart retro furnishings on the 1950s-esque Desert Express, this train feels like you’ve stepped on a classic film set. Recline in antique leather armchairs and clink glasses in the Spitzkoppe lounge to the sultry sway of the coach. Later, dine in the Welwitschia restaurant car below sandblasted glass panels featuring local animal footprints while rambling past gold-red dunes and African wildlife.
  10. Enjoy the simple pleasures on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Surrounded by tropical beaches and covered with verdant mangrove swamps in the centre, this island is home to the world’s second-largest barrier reef afterAustralia’s. Snorkelling, diving and sunset cruises on catamarans are the norm here, but we’re drawn to the balmy nights in basic thatched roof beach huts and napping in two-person hammocks.
A former commissioning editor in Lonely Planet’s London office, Caroline Sieg ( is a half-Swiss, half-American writer and editor specialising in Europe and the US. Follow her on Twitter @carolinesieg.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Alegria: Another reason to love Cebu

If you think you have seen much of Cebu, then try exploring beyond the city for a change.   One of the sleepy towns south of the province endowed with pristine beaches, enchanting falls and undiscovered caves is Alegria.  This 4th class municipality was baptized as Tuburan after the vibrant spring, locally called tubod.

An important structure in Alegria is the St. Francis Xavier Parish Church built in 1857. It is dedicated to the patron saint of the town and is believed to be the last bastion of the Japanese forces during the World War II.

Fronting the church is a heavily ruined watch tower, the Bantayan sa Hari, another historic landmark.  You may also visit the nearby Alegria Museum where artifacts unearthed from Kambulakan Cave in 1999 are on display.  The unassuming town center is dappled with rundown old colonial houses.

In recent years, Alegria has struggled to showcase its natural resources to visitors.  It prides itself with majestic caves mostly uncharted by tourists; one of them  is the enormous Salay Cave.  It is accredited by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) so it is generally safe for exploration.  The local government has organized a local caving group to facilitate spelunking for visitors.
The jump off point to Salay Cave can be reached by habal-habal (motorcycle) 30 minutes away from Alegria’s center.   The cave itself is roughly 20 minutes by foot from the jump-off point.  Hiring a guide is recommended since the entrance to the cave is barely noticeable.

Salay Cave is clad by fragile draws, stylish drapers and stalactites hanging down the ceiling.  Its floor is bursting with robust columns attached to slippery flowstones and majestic stalagmites.
For adventure-seekers, hike up Mt.Lanaya for a scenic view of Alegria town, Badian and Malabuyoc.  At the summit called Kalo-Kalo Peak, marvel at the view of Osmeña Peak from the north, and Mt.Kanlaon and Mt.Talinis of Negros.  Mt.Lanaya is clad by limestone hills and tropical jungles.  

In fact, the Black Shama a bird species of the Muscicapidae family is known to inhabit this mountain.  You can also plunge into the volcanic hot springs dotting the Lanaya-Kangbulagsing massif. Or go river trekking and see the pristine waterfalls of Alegria like the Cambais Falls and Kawa-Kawa Falls.
If you are looking forward to a luxurious vacation, Alegria also houses a posh resort - Costa de Leticia Resort and Spa.  And discover the magnificent dive sites or snorkeling spots hidden in the confines of Alegria.